Reality checks – where would we be without them? We all get a little ahead of ourselves sometimes and need someone or something to bring us back down to earth. One such reality check happened to me during the summer after I finished 8th grade and was preparing for high school.
Up through that year, I had been playing football in my local town youth league. I loved playing football and not too toot my own horn, but I think I was pretty good (toot toot). There were three teams in each weight class – an “A” team and two “C” teams. The “A” team was comprised of the top 30-40 players in each weight class and the rest of the kids were divided equally amongst the two “C” teams.
I was chosen for the “A” team in my 7th grade and 8th grade years (hold your applause please).
Not only was I playing for the “A” team, but our team in particular was pretty good. One of my greatest memories was in 1988, when our team – unfortunately named the Vienna Cowboys – went down to Florida to compete in a national youth football league tournament and beat teams from St. Louis and Chicago to become National Champions in 95 lb. weight class (you may now feel free to cheer wildly).
Bottom line: I was riding high. On top of the world. Ready to move on to the next challenge. Preparing to just enjoy my final years of youth football before signing my deal in the NFL. I had it all planned out.
And then something happened… HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL. My reality check.
Before high school, you played in a league based on age and weight – so everyone was about the same size. But once you got to high school, the rules change. There you play with other kids your age – REGARDLESS OF SIZE!
Needless to say, that changed everything for me. At 105 pounds, I wasn’t really striking fear in anyone’s hearts and my football career pretty much fizzled out in an instant. I didn’t even try out for freshman football – wasn’t worth the risk of getting run over by a 180 pound running back or trying to tackle a 200 pound fullback.
Reality check. I needed that.
Every now and then we need a similar reality check in our spiritual lives. We need to remember who we really are and where we really belong. Yes, God gives us grace and treats us better than we deserve (MUCH better than we deserve), but we can never forget the truth about who we are.
Jesus once gave a reality check like this to His disciples. The story takes place in Matthew 18.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-3)
Ouch! How’s that for being brought down to earth?
The story starts with the disciples discussing who would be greatest in the kingdom. I imagine it went something like this:
Peter: “Hey guys, I want to let you know that since we’re friends, I am going to let you guys come and visit me when I am sitting at the highest chair in heaven.”
Andrew: “Uh, who said that seat will be yours Peter?”
John: “Yeah, I bet I’ll be higher in heaven than you – we all know who Jesus’ favorite is.”
Peter: “Excuse me, but exactly how many times did any of YOU walk on water?”
James: “Oh yeah, well we also never had Jesus call us SATAN EITHER! I’d say that balances out the whole walking on water thing.”
And so on.
They were trying to figure out who would be the greatest. But Jesus brought them back down to earth. He called a young child over to them – not the heir to a royal throne kind of a child, but just any old peasant child. Then He told them that unless they are converted and become as little children, they will BY NO MEANS ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
Excuse me? I beg your pardon. What’s that you said Jesus?
“Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will BY NO MEANS ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.”
Talk about a reality check. One minute they’re arguing which room they want in heaven and the next minute they’re asking just to be allowed in. They went from arguing over who would be greatest to just hoping to get inside!
We need that same reality check sometimes, don’t we? We need to remember that our place in heaven isn’t cemented permanently. Yes, we are all invited to the kingdom and we have a special place waiting for us there, but we can just as easily lose our place and find ourselves standing outside knocking and wondering what happened.
The path to the kingdom of heaven isn’t static; it's dynamic – an ever evolving and developing path that we must continue to seek daily. Just because we found the path yesterday doesn’t mean that will necessarily be on that path tomorrow. If we aren’t careful we can lose our way in the blink of an eye, before we even know what hit us.
That’s what happened to my professional football future. Don’t let it happen to your eternal future.
For discussion: what practices or habits do you need to have in your life to make sure you don’t miss your reality checks?