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Idle Talk on a California Pier


People talk. Sometimes with a purpose, sometimes just to pass the time. Even idle conversation can lead to unintended run-ins with the truth. So... there were these three drunks on the Huntington Beach pier in California. On that particular day, the railing at the end of the pier had somehow been removed. So the fellas sat there, feet dangling off the end, talking. And drinking.


After talking about what it would be like to live in Hawaii, one of them suggested that he was stronger and more athletic than the other two and that he could jump closer to Hawaii than they could. They considered his boast, then looked at his beer belly and thought, “Nah. No way. We can take him. Game on.” So the second bum suggested that they jump not only for title but for drinking money.


The first bum stood and volunteered to go first. He bent his knees and practically squatted to the dock and then gave a mighty leap. More of a dive. Not such a great landing. Belly flop from 30 feet up. But he managed to land about about 20 feet out. He decided to float a bit while recovering.


The second bum stood up a little woozily. He said the first fella's technique was all wrong. You had to swing your arms back and forth a few times and get your entire body into the jump like a giant spring. A well-timed tuck and flip would help hurl you further out too. This he proceeded to demonstrate. Sort of. The flip was a bit of a muff and he landed mostly on his back. Knocked the breath right out of him. But a full three feet past his comrade who was still floating in recovery.


Bum number three couldn't help but express his contempt for the guys in the water. “You don't know nothin'. You gotta have momentum. You gotta get a running start.” He then backed up about halfway down the pier, took a few deep cleansing breaths, and started running (trotting? stumbling very quickly?) toward the end. He practically threw himself off the pier. Good thing, as the police were on their way down to investigate. He more or less cartwheeled somewhat diagonally out into mid-air, suspended almost magically for a split second before his rapid descent. Impossible to describe the landing. But he lost his shorts in the process. Clearly the winner, for when he came up for a good wheeze he was nearly ten feet past everyone else. Totally worth it. Free drinks for the rest of the day! Hooray!


Drone shot ending starting just above the men in the water. There you can see the rankings – first, second, third. A bit higher and the pier starts to come into view. Then the shoreline. Then the businesses off the beach. At this height, the bums appear as three colorful dots in the water, almost in the same place. A little higher and you can no longer tell them apart. Not much higher and they disappear from view altogether, swallowed up by their significantly larger surroundings.....


Sentimental music, and end.


“Nutty, dumb story,” you say? Agreed, but it comes round to a point about now.


So, on the basis of raw distance from the pier, our lovely local beerfesters could order themselves and determine who was “best” - for whatever that was worth. But remember, they had set out to see who could jump the closest to Hawaii. On that basis, none of them were even close. For all practical purposes, they were in exactly the same place. Relative to their target, they never even left the coast of California.


I would put that this is what we human creatures do all the time. We try to rank and order ourselves in order to give ourselves assurance that we are 'alright' or 'good enough' for the celestial city. “At least I'm not like so-and-so. I'm certainly better off than that scoundrel. Why, I'm a far more decent person than most everyone I know. I (emphatically) never did ____.” Or whatever. We try to rank ourselves for some reason, like that matters or something. The goal is the holiness of God. The goal is perfection of character. The goal is an unstained heart. And the winner is.....


Nobody is even close. We have all fallen short. And not just by a little bit either. Even if we are successfully ahead of everyone in our high school graduating class on our self-chosen moral grading scale, we aren't even in the neighborhood of our intended destination (in heaven, with God).


And somehow, despite our tendencies to keep on trying to be better than the next guy, we would be much better off if we assume that others are better than we are and if we humble ourselves a bit in our own eyes.


Speaking of some folks that were going around in the church making themselves out to be some kind of super apostles, Saint Paul said: Of course we would not dare classify ourselves or compare ourselves with those who rate themselves so highly. How stupid they are! They make up their own standards to measure themselves by, and they judge themselves by their own standards! (2 Cor 10:12, GNT) And in Philippians 2:3 he tells us: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.


Let's take a lesson from a few bums. Sure we can rank ourselves among those around us. But we're nowhere close to the goal. The gold standard of humanity and goodness is Jesus Christ, and thank God He has done what we could not. He can see us safely Home.

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