The Agora
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What others did for me

Johnny Oates is a retired baseball manager. He was never more than a mediocre baseball player, but -- like some other athletes of marginal abilities -- he had a keen eye for the strategy and flow of a game, and was a quick learner. Ultimately he became a very successful manager: his team, the Texas Rangers, won their first three divisional championships under his guidance.

Johnny Oates is also dying of an inoperable brain tumor.

Just recently, he was honored -- along with three retired players -- by induction into the Texas Rangers Baseball Hall of Fame. The ceremony preceded a game in Arlington, Texas, and over 30,000 fans were in attendance. Almost needless to say, they reserved their loudest cheers for their favorite manager.

Johnny Oates is an avowed Christian, not one of the "closet" variety. He flourished in a profession not particularly known for Christian beliefs or conduct (though of course there are a number of baseball men who practice their faith while being professional athletes).

Johnny Oates succeeded at his chosen profession by employing a keen tactical sense, and a positive, constructive approach to dealing with lots of supersize egos. He did not yell, curse, or argue (very much!) with umpires. He treated every man, great star and bit player, alike -- with honesty and dignity. When his team did poorly, he shouldered the responsibility, and resigned from a very well-paying job.

At the induction, the current manager of the Texas Rangers, Buck Showalter, spoke of Johnny Oates as "a really good manager, but -- besides that -- he was the most honorable and moral man I ever knew."

Big, rich, tough professional athletes cried, and hugged and kissed their old manager Johnny Oates.

When Johnny stood to address the crowd, he moved carefully and awkwardly with his cane (he is now partially paralyzed on one side), but his words were strong and clear. After acknowledging certain dignitaries, and thanking the current management for their hospitality, and the fans for their support, he said: "It's quite an honor to be here. There's one big difference between each of the other inductees and myself. Each of them are here tonight because of what they did. I'm fortunate enough to be here tonight because of WHAT OTHERS DID FOR ME."


The believer in Christ is surely where he is because of what others did for him! There is no truer statement than that. But do we remember it? And do we thank the people who made us -- at least the better parts of us -- what we are?

The athlete may pat himself on the back, and say to himself (or even publicly) that he has gotten where he is by hard work and practice alone -- but that is not true. He did not create for himself his bone and muscle structure, and his reflexes -- those came from his parents and grandparents, but in the most meaningful sense they came from God. And the raw materials of the athlete required molding and training by coaches. Many of the multimillionaire professional athletes owe much of their success, if the truth be known and acknowledged, to volunteer youth league coaches and low-paid high school coaches who reshaped their natural talents into a supremely marketable skill. And sometimes, those who have climbed to the pinnacles of the athletic world even remember to thank those who helped them along their way.

The rich man may hold himself out to the world -- and may be praised by others -- for his hard, relentless work that brought him a great fortune, or for his brilliant foresight. He may have gotten "ahead of the curve", out on the frontier where vast sums of money accrue to the fellow who builds a better mousetrap, or writes a faster computer program, or develops a more efficient engine, or discovers a new life-saving drug. But look a little deeper, below the surface -- and you will often find a not-so-pretty story: a story of scheming and trickery; or a story of other, "little" people who were stepped on, or pushed aside, or manipulated, or stolen from... so the rich man might reach the heights. Certainly this is not always true, it may be granted, but it does happen all too often.

And many of those who achieve great wealth can thank parents whose nest eggs gave them a start, and benefactors or sponsors in business -- who saw their potential and gave them a valuable opportunity.

And others can thank family connections, or simply the fortuitous circumstance of being in the right place at the right time:

"I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all" (Eccl 9:11). Here it's worth pointing out too, that "chance" doesn't really mean "chance" -- so much as the "providence (of God)". What may look like a mere "roll of the dice", or "the luck of the draw", is really -- in the eyes of the Bible writer -- the design of the God, who sees the end from the beginning.

The educated man, the great scholar, may say, "I studied hard to get where I am. Nobody helped ME!" But again, his brain -- like the athlete's body -- is to a large degree the result of a fortunate arrangement of his parents' genetic material by a Creator God.

And besides that, many great men and women of learning -- like the proverbial twigs -- were given their early bent in a scholarly direction by those same parents, or grandparents, or perhaps teachers, or other mentors. And, for that matter, we have not mentioned nearly all the other factors that make scholars what they ultimately become:

Those who have succeeded, to any degree, in their workaday lives, has done so -- in no small part -- because of coworkers and subordinates. The woman who rises to a management position has benefited, quite directly, from the labors of others beneath her on the corporate chart. Like Johnny Oates, she can -- and should -- say, "I am fortunate enough to be here because of what others did for me!"

And more than all this, the very air we breathe in, and the capacity and ability to breathe it in -- a thousand times while we have been sitting here together -- so that we can achieve ANYTHING at all, is through no achievement of our own. It is only because the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth has given us life, and nurtured and protected that life, in a multitude of ways we can scarcely understand. "For in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). As the hymn writer put it,

"Unnumbered comforts to my soul
Thy tender care bestowed,
Before my infant heart conceived
From whom those blessings flowed."
I'll speak from personal experience for a moment. It only dawned on me, some years after the fact, that I was alive because of medical advancements over which I had absolutely no control. When I was a youngster, I had more than one case of pneumonia, and related respiratory problems; and the doctor said I was "lucky" to be alive, and that the only thing that saved me was penicillin. This I heard from a fairly early age. What I didn't learn until much later was that penicillin became a widely used antibiotic only in the 1940s. That's when it dawned on me that if I had been born a mere 5 or 10 years earlier, I could easily have died as a small child -- never having access to the drug that saved my life. Truly I am here because of what others (even people I never met) did for me!


But especially it is the believer in Christ who should say, "I am here because of what others did for me!" We might think to ourselves, "I am here because I learned the Truth!" But for most of us, we did not so much learn the Truth as we were taught the Truth -- perhaps at a quite early age (though it took more years to bring that early learning to fruition) by parents and grandparents and Sunday School teachers. To all them we owe a debt of gratitude that is simply too big ever to repay.

Many of us sitting here are directly descended from early families in Texas who happened to be in the right place at the right time, and were touched by a couple of pioneer Christadelphians. The Oatman brothers were physicians who learned the true gospel in Illinois from John Thomas, and migrated to Texas in the 1850s. These men traveled all over the hill country of Texas, healing the sick and preaching the Truth everywhere they went, finding one or two here and there, who learned and were baptized. In turn, many of these folks held out steadfast over whole lifetimes, in tough living conditions on the frontier, managing to teach their children the same truths they held most dear, and passing on to the next generation the precious promises of the Bible. We are here because of what they did for us.

Some of us sitting here have, much more recently, made their own choices to accept the teaching of the Bible, and be baptized, because of one particular person who introduced us to these concepts. Our "family line" or "family roots" don't go back nearly so far as those of some others, but they are no less precious -- and maybe they are held more dear because we have experienced more of the "other side":

"I once was lost, but now am found...
Was blind, but now I see!" (cp John 9:25).
For us who have more recently learned the Truth, there may be an immediacy and power to these ideas that changed our lives -- which make us especially thankful for what others did for us! And perhaps more eager to do for others what has been done for us!


For parents who provided a settled environment in which to grow up, safe from fear...

For a grandmother who lived nearby and encouraged us, in her own outspoken and unique way, to think of spiritual things...

For the example, learned at an early age, of driving an hour each way to attend Christadelphian Sunday school and meeting, practically every Sunday ("No, Mom, I want to sleep. I'm tired. I don't feel well." "Get up anyway; you can sleep in the car; you'll feel better when you get there. It's the right thing to do!" So off we would go!)...

For the old brother, who -- every time he exhorted -- repeated the same Bible verse, until it drove us to distraction: "For whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." Yes, it drove us crazy, and we laughed about it... but what we didn't realize at the time was that we were learning it so well, that we could never forget it!

For all these things, and more, we must say, "We are what we are because of what others did for us!"


But, most especially, as believers in Christ, we are what we are because of what one man did for us! And from this one supreme act of love, under the guidance of a Loving Father, all the other blessings flow. BECAUSE OF WHAT HE DID FOR US, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE!

"This is what the LORD says: 'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the LORD" (Jer 9:23,24).

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

"But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 6:22,23).

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).

"For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2Co 5:14-17).
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