When I was a kid several decades ago, we used to play a game called “Jacks.” I loved that game, but I haven’t played it in many years. It’s played with a small rubber ball and a set of ten jacks. And it’s not as easy as it looks, either. I found the instructions on how to play “Jacks” on GrandParents.com:
Bounce the ball, pick up the jacks. Sound easy? It’s not.By Zachary Collinger
At least 2 people, but more people make for more fun
A small rubber ball
A set of jacks (most sets contain ten jacks)
To decide who goes first, use a method of “flipping”; place the jacks in cupped hands, flip them to the back of the hands, then back to cupped hands. The player who holds the most jacks goes first. That player scatters the jacks into the playing area with a throw from one hand. A game is divided into rounds of ascending numbers, which are based on the number of jacks each player must pick up per throw. The first round, “Onesies,” means that the player throws the ball in the air and picks up one jack then grabs the ball after it bounces once. The player must pick up all jacks this way without missing the jack or letting the ball bounce more than once. If that happens, it becomes the other player’s turn and the first player is back to the beginning of Onesies. If all the jacks are picked up successfully, the player moves on to Twosies (pick up 2 jacks per throw), then Threesies, and so on.
The winning player is the one to pick up the largest number of jacks at once to get to the highest round.
What Doesn’t Kill You…
In some Southern African countries, there is a variation of this fun childhood game, called Death Jacks. Instead of playing with nubby metallic jacks, the pieces are sharp spikes that seriously injure the participants. The winner is not the person who reaches the highest level — rather it is he who lasts the longest before forfeiting. This game has been known to carry with it unusually high stakes; it is often used to determine the next tribe leader. (Quote source here.)
I have to be honest in that after I read that description, I had never heard of the version of Jacks called “Death Jacks.” That is a much more serious game and not for the faint of heart, either. The objective, as stated above, is that “the winner is not the person who reaches the highest level—rather it is he who lasts the longest before forfeiting.” And also as stated, it was often used to determine the next tribal leader.
The apostle Paul describes a similar situation when running a race in I Corinthians 9:24-30:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Christianity over the long haul is not for the faint of heart, but neither are we alone in this race. Along with Paul’s words above, the writer of Hebrews 12:1-3 also starts off by describing it as a race:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [see Hebrews 11], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
With all that we have available in America today, I’m not sure we often recognize those things that “hinder” us. We too often and too easily give in to them and don’t even think about the fact that they might be a hindrance to us. If we want it, we get it (if we can afford it). And what, exactly, does it mean to “run with perseverance”? We run after a lot of stuff, but most of the stuff we run after is stuff we want in this material world of ours and has no lasting or eternal value. The verse actually states, “and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus . . .”
In our very material world today what exactly does it mean to “fix our eyes on Jesus”? Do we fix our eyes on Jesus hoping he’ll give us a great career and a big fat salary and a lot of perks? Do we fix our eyes on Jesus hoping he’ll give us name recognition among our peers and accolades for our accomplishments? Do we fix our eyes on Jesus hoping to have a nice retirement with plenty of cash to get by on in our golden years? Do we fix our eyes on Jesus for what we want instead of what he wants for us? If the race has already been “marked out for us” why do we insist on getting what we want without any thought for what Jesus wants? Why do we ask him to bless our endeavors instead of asking him to show us what he would have us do with our lives? I’m not saying it is wrong to ask Jesus to bless us in the things that we do, but what do we do in return? Just ask for more? Do we ever consider what he wants for us?
Our Christianity in America tends to be too “us” centered. We might persevere if it will mean more money in our pocket, a bigger home, and fancier car, even a modicum of fame, but would we consider persevering when there is nothing personally in it for us as far as fame, fortune, and “the good life”?
James speaks to the subject of perseverance in James 1:2-18:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
We all face trials in this life. While nobody likes experiencing trials, it’s the testing of our faith in the midst of these trials that produces perseverance. And that perseverance has nothing to do with the material world, but instead it makes one mature and complete. This life is not about who dies with the most toys, the biggest bank account, with name recognition or accolades. It’s about being faithful to the end and “fixing our eyes on Jesus.”
With that in mind, I think it is important that we address the subject of materialism since it has such a hold on most of us living in America (whether we have a little or a lot). GotQuestions.org addresses the subject of materialism:
Materialism is defined as “the preoccupation with material things rather than intellectual or spiritual things.” If a Christian is preoccupied with material things, it is definitely wrong. That is not to say we cannot have material things, but the obsession with acquiring and caring for “stuff” is a dangerous thing for the Christian, for two reasons.
First, any preoccupation, obsession or fascination with anything other than God is sinful and is displeasing to God. We are to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5), which is, according to Jesus, the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38). Therefore, God is the only thing we can (and should) occupy ourselves with habitually. He alone is worthy of our complete attention, love and service. To offer these things to anything, or anyone else is idolatry.
Second, when we concern ourselves with the material world, we are easily drawn in by the “deceitfulness of wealth” (Mark 4:19), thinking that we will be happy or fulfilled or content if only we had more of whatever it is we are chasing. This is a lie from the father of lies, Satan. He wants us to be chasing after something he knows will never satisfy us so we will be kept from pursuing that which is the only thing that can satisfy—God Himself. Luke 16:13 tells us we “cannot serve both God and money.” We must seek to be content with what we have, and materialism is the exact opposite of that contentment. It causes us to strive for more and more and more, all the while telling us that this will be the answer to all our needs and dreams. The Bible tells us that a person’s “life is not in the abundance of the things which he possesses” (Luke 12:15) and that we are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
If materialism was ever to satisfy anyone, it would have been Solomon, the richest king the world has ever known. He had absolutely everything and had more of it than anyone, and yet he found it was all worthless and futile. It did not produce happiness or the satisfaction our souls long for. He declared, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). In the end, Solomon came to the conclusion that we are to “fear God, and keep His commandments. For this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). (Quote source here.)
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
And also what Paul stated to Timothy in I Timothy 6:10:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
If we would only learn to keep our lives free from the love of money. . . .
In closing, the titled of this post, “Pick Up The Pieces,” came from a jazz instrumental song that was popular back in 1974 played by the Average White Band (I’ve included the song below as the YouTube Video for this post). When I thought about the title, what came to mind was how I wished we would do more “picking up the pieces” of an authentic Christianity sans so much of the focus on materialism and prosperity, and put the emphasis back where it belongs . . .
On the One . . .
We claim . . .
To believe in . . . .
YouTube Video: “Pick Up The Pieces” (1974), a jazz instrumental by the Average White Band: