From The Pastor's Desk.
Parable of the Bowling Alley
Walter was a regular at the bowling alley ever since he had retired. He had many friends who appreciated his wit and penchant for telling stories. One Saturday, an old acquaintance of his, Reggie, showed up to bowl. They had worked together at a foundry many years before. The decided to bowl together and enjoyed retelling old stories. At the end of the bowling Walter asked Reggie if he went to church anywhere. Walter invited him to join in worship the next day at Walter’s home church. Reggie did not appreciate the question and responded by saying, “Why should I even bother? I can’t remember even one sermon that I heard from back when I did go to church! I believe in God, but I just don’t believe in going to church.” Reggie went on for another five minutes with further complaints about Christian churches where he had worshipped and how they all seemed out of touch with today’s issues.
Walter patiently listened. Then he invited Reggie to a different place. “Since you are not comfortable attending church anymore, how about if you and I plan to bowl together right here next week for five days in a row? I can tell you how God’s kingdom is just like bowling. We could meet at about 10 o’clock each morning starting Monday since we are both retired.” Reggie was intrigued with the notion of how bowling could have anything to do with God. He liked the idea of having a regular bowling partner, so he agreed.
The following Monday, Walter and Reggie met at the bowling alley. While they were putting on their bowling shoes, Walter said, “Each day this week, I am going to share one bowling term and show you how that helps to explain how God relates to us. I have thought about how many of the terms used in bowling can serve as metaphors in talking about the love the Heavenly Father has shown us as He has given us His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Here is my thought for today. If you knock down all ten pins in bowling it is called a strike. The night before Jesus died, He quoted the Old Testament by saying: "You will all fall away, for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' We often fail to follow Jesus during our times of adversity, just like his own disciples scattered. Yet when He went to the cross, He forgave those disciples and us. Though we often flee from God in our sinful ways, He wants us back. God’s own Word calls us to repentance for our sins that we may be gathered around Him in for eternity.” Reggie thanked Walter for his thoughts about that word strike and the men stepped up to enjoy their bowling for the morning.
On Tuesday Walter shared another bowling term. “When we fail to knock down all the pins with a bowling ball we are given an extra ball to knock the rest down. If we are successful, we are credited with a spare. Good bowlers try to pick up their spares. But might there be a time when you don’t want to spare? I am reminded how the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans said that, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, with him, graciously give us all things?” We have indeed been given all that we need for this day and for the life to come by the sacrifice that the Father made of His one and only Son. Our response is to also not spare anything about ourselves from God. With the help of the Holy Spirit, He desires that we open our hearts to His heart, that we change our ways to His ways and that we love others because He first loved us.”
On Wednesday Walter waited until the right moment in their game to make his point of the day. Reggie had just bowled his first ball in a frame and was upset that he had left the 7 pin and the 10 pin standing. Walter asked Reggie to pause before he tried to pick up the spare. He explained, “Obviously, one of the dreaded experiences while bowling is to leave the number 7 pin and the number 10 pin standing after your first ball. It is nearly impossible for the amateur bowler to pick up that 7-10 split. Yet sometimes we are perfectly comfortable trying to split our devotion between things of God and the love of money. Jesus taught about it this way in His Sermon on the Mount: "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” It is wise for us to reflect upon where our own affections lie. If we have trusted in the promised pay raise, or the new job, or a bull run in the stock market, or the winning lottery ticket to change our lives, we will be greatly disappointed. God never disappoints us, especially in His gift to us of undeserved love by the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Reggie chuckled a bit at Walter’s analogy and then, as expected, failed to pick up the 7-10 split.
On Thursday, Walter again waited until they had been bowling a while to make his analogy of the day. Reggie had just been talking about his own strategy of mental preparation before he rolled his ball down the lane. Walter injected, “Those who are avid bowlers know that the way to consistently do well in the game is to aim at one of the marks in a row that is painted in the lane close to the bowler. The strategy is, if you hit the mark with your ball as it rolls down the lane, the pins will fall down. Thankfully God does not do it that way against us. Regarding our own sinful ways and our rebellion against God, the Psalmist said, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” If God used the mark of complete obedience to His commandments, we would all fall just like those bowling pins, because “all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” But God has allowed us to stand because “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The Holy Spirit calls us away from our sins by the Gospel of Jesus Christ to believe and be saved from those sins. Those who believe are declared to be “not guilty” and are assured of eternal life with the Father in heaven.” Reggie looked away from Walter because his eyes were tearing up. He mumbled something to Walter about how he had missed the mark way to many times both in bowling and in life.
On Friday the men met one more time. Reggie was really on with his game. He collected strikes all the way through the sixth frame during their second game. He ended up with a score of 234 for that game and Walter congratulated him. After their third game, while they were getting ready to leave, Walter spoke again about how bowling can be compared to God’s kingdom. He said, “You know Reggie, the ultimate achievement for a bowler is to bowl a perfect game. Nailing those twelve strikes in a row does not happen very often. Someone told me it only happens once in every 11,500 games. Considering my lack of aptitude in bowling, it would never happen for me. In the same way, my own sinful nature keeps me from being perfect. Though God demands perfect obedience to His law, it is only through Christ that we can be made perfect. Here is what the writer to the Hebrews advised believers to do, “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” One day we will experience perfection in the inheritance given to all believers of heaven itself.”
Reggie offered to buy Walter a sandwich for lunch at a local diner. While they were waiting for the waitress to bring their order he said, “I have enjoyed our bowling together this week. You have given me a lot to think about. I was wondering if we could meet again at 10 o’clock in the morning. But let’s meet on Sunday instead. I heard that is the time your church has their worship service. I could meet you there!” Walter smiled.