That’s All They’ve Learned?
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Recently, I overheard a conversation about some spiritual issues between two ABCers that seemed to me to indicate a very superficial understanding of certain Biblical teachings. Later, I remarked to my wife, “I’ve been pastor of this church for nearly forty years, and that’s all they’ve learned?” I didn’t realize the irony of my statement until a few days later, when it dawned on me that this was more a judgment on the teacher than the taught!

In my pride, I found myself consciously identifying with Jesus when he responded to his disciple Philip, “Don’t you understand, even after I have been with you such a long time?” (John 14:9) But in contrast to my reaction, Jesus used this as an opportunity to share with Philip a mind-expanding revelation about his oneness with God: “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (verses 9-10). This insight gave Philip renewed faith and, in time, empowered him to become one of the church’s earliest missionaries to other cultures (Acts 8:4-8, 26-40). Instead of bemoaning the fact that Philip was such a slow learner, Jesus “doubled-down” his investment in him, and it paid off.

I’ve heard a wife, shocked by some mid-life acting out by her husband, say, “I thought I knew you!” The temptation may be for her to wash her hands of him, seeing their previous twenty-five years together as a monstrous lie. But her other option is to see the breach in their relationship as an opportunity to finally get to know him, on a deeper level than ever possible before. Their best days may still be ahead.

So then I got to thinking some more. There’s someone I’ve lived with longer than the time Jesus spent with Philip, longer than the twenty-five years of the marriage now in crisis, longer than the forty years I’ve ministered to the people of ABC. The one I’ve known longest is me! And there’s no one whose thoughts, and reactions, and feelings, and impulsive words can at times surprise me more than my own. Sometimes I hear myself or witness my own emotional responses, and I ask “Who is this person?”

When those moments of sudden self-judgment come, I hope I will not react to myself the way I reacted to the people I mentioned above, whom I overheard expressing “a very superficial understanding of certain Biblical teachings.” I hope, instead, I will be kind and forgiving to myself, as Jesus was to Philip, and that I will reinvest in myself, with renewed faith in my potential to please God, to serve God, and to glorify God in my life.