Why Me?

“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1) is the epigraph in Days of Grace: A Memoir by tennis great Arthur Ashe.  Indeed, he endured much in his short life.

Ashe’s mother died when he was six.  His father raised him on the grounds of a recreation park, which providentially had tennis courts.  He spent childhood summers in the home of Dr. Walter Johnson who served up values and character along with tennis instruction.

Ashe was a student athlete at UCLA and coached tennis at West Point after graduation.  As a professional, he won three of four Grand Slam tournaments: the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, and Wimbledon.  In 1975, he was ranked #1 in the world.  Yet he said, “I don’t want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments.”

Life took a turn when he was diagnosed with heart disease.  During bypass surgery, he contracted HIV from a transfusion.  He officially retired from tennis in 1980 at age 36.

Yet he endured.  Ashe helped develop: the ABC Cities program to promote tennis and academics; the Safe Passage Foundation for poor children; the Athletes Career Connection; the Black Tennis & Sports Foundation; 15-Love for those recovering from substance abuse; and the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS.  He commented, “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life,” he said.  And what a life he made in his 49 years.

He could have been bitter about not growing old.  Yet he said, “If I were to say, ‘God, why me?’ about the bad things, then I should have said, ‘God, why me?’ about the good things that happened in my life.”  One of the best things that happened was his faith.  He was raised in the Christian tradition, but trusted Christ only after observing the lives of his friends Bob Briner (TV producer) and Stan Smith (Ashe’s competitor in tennis).  These men’s lives were consistent with their faith, and Ashe invited them to pray with him and help him in his faith in Christ.

Ashe’s accepting attitude is reflected in these sometimes difficult words:  “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes. 5:16-18).  You can be thankful that disease and death have no final authority over you.  To view health and earthly life as your standard of peace and reality is to obscure eternity.  The Psalmist says, “Lord make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am” (Psa. 39:4).  By faith you’re passing through this life saying, “Thank you!” not “Why me?”

Beginning and Ending

The WWII era was a frightening time as people realized that life as they knew it could actually end. Two leaders from that period noted the link between beginning and ending, expressing hope even in those dark days.

The British army had finally turned back Rommel’s tanks in North Africa. In a speech in November 1942, Winston Churchill tempered his nation’s thrill over the victory. “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” The beginning had been quite bleak with the embarrassing defeat at Dunkirk. Some had even called for terms that would have resulted in the liquidation of the British Empire. Yet Churchill saw reason for hope. He continued, “Here we are, and here we stand, a veritable rock of salvation in this drifting world.” A few years later, this hope would be realized as a new beginning for post-war Europe.

As the shooting war was ending, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for resisting Hitler and Nazi brutalities. He was in the Buchenwald concentration camp, and later Flossenburg. In April 1945, at the end of a Sunday service, the guards came for him. His fellow prisoners knew what this meant. He said, “This is the end…but for me it is the beginning.”

This history reminds you that what looks like an ending might well be a beginning. A childhood completed is an adult life begun. A long goodbye at the airport begins the journey of a lifetime. The loss of health begins a certain thoughtfulness about the gift of life. A career completed means time for new pursuits. A friendship turned toxic begins a season of forgiveness. The passing of the faithful means “to be at home with the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:8).

You are not abandoned to the chaos of meaningless endings. Jesus owns beginnings and endings! He said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 21:6). He is there in the world’s beginning (John 1:1). He is there in the end, promising, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He will be there when you take up residence in the Father’s house (John 14:2). You can trust him to renew you through your beginnings and endings.

The Christian life is an ending and a beginning. If you are in Christ, you are “a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17). Reconciled to God through Christ, you begin a life of peace with Him. If God can love you so, then He can take whatever rough ending you endure and buff it into a beginning.

To the River

America’s Voices In Israel is an organization that arranges trips to the Holy Land for prominent and influential Americans. Let’s hear from two men who had similar experiences on their trips.

As a believer in high school, Deshawn Watson prayed about his football career. He agreed to play at Clemson and was key to their college football national championship in 2016. He went on to become a star for the Houston Texans. During his trip to Israel, he was immersed in a place thought to be where John baptized Jesus. “It is simply overwhelming to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan River,” he said.

Mario Lopez began his acting career in 1984 and soon landed a key role in the TV sitcom “Saved by the Bell.” He still makes regular appearances in both small and large screen roles. He also received baptism during his trip to the Holy Land. On Twitter he announced, “I’m about to get baptized. It’s a beautiful day. There’s a really cool Catholic priest that’s gonna do me the honors. So I’m going to join these fine folks and then, bam! It’s on!”

The Jordan River meant quite the experience for those two men, as it did for John the Baptist. He baptized there to reflect repentance from sin, but he resisted baptizing Jesus “who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus insisted, “In this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mat. 3:15). Jesus’ baptism inaugurated his public life, and associated Him with John’s prophetic message. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection reveal the righteousness of God, accessible to you by faith (Rom. 1:17).

Christian baptism is often misunderstood as the entry point to a lifetime of earning God’s favor. Oxford Professor John Lennox likens that view to a college career. “There’s an entrance process and ceremony that gets you started. A few years later you face your final exams. Your professors cannot guarantee you graduating because the system is based on merit. People say, ‘Yes, my religion is like that. There’s a ceremony performed on a child or adult. There are teachers, but they cannot guarantee that at the final assessment God will accept me. I behave as well as I can, and cast myself on the mercy of God.’ That’s not Christianity. In religion, acceptance comes (hopefully) at the end of the journey. In Christianity, it comes at the beginning.”

Baptism, then, is a celebration of life and acceptance by God! It acknowledges God’s righteousness as a gift by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). It is authorized by Jesus when he tells his followers to baptize new disciples in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Luke 28:19). Baptism is your first witness to the world that you believe Jesus and identify with Him. Let’s go down to the river!