Denison Forum – Kyler Murray makes history: The importance of finishing well

The Arizona Cardinals made Kyler Murray the first pick in last night’s NFL draft. Murray is the first player to be selected in the first round by both the National Football League and Major League Baseball. (He was drafted ninth by the Oakland Athletics last June.)

Murray is obviously an amazing athlete, but the history of first picks in the NFL is not entirely encouraging.

The first player ever drafted in the NFL was Jay Berwanger in 1936. The team would not agree to his contract terms, so he never played a down in the league. Tom Cousineau was the first overall pick in 1979, but he chose to play in Canada instead and never played for the team that drafted him.

Steve Emtman was drafted first in 1992, but injuries cut short his career. Same for Ki-Jana Carter, drafted first in 1995, and for Courtney Brown, drafted first in 2000.

This trend shows that it’s not where you’re drafted but how long and well you play that counts. The same is true in life.

Shifting from “us” to “me”

I attended an event in Dallas yesterday morning featuring New York Times columnist and bestselling author David Brooks. I have admired Brooks’ work for years and consider him one of the most significant public intellectuals in America today.

Brooks spent much of his time discussing the shift in culture he has witnessed. In the 1950s, American life was communal. People lived in neighborhoods in which they did life together. Family, church, and collective rituals such as baptisms, weddings, and other life passages framed our experience.

In the 1960s, we shifted from “us” to “me.” Truth is what I say it is; morality is what works for me without harming you.

According to Brooks, we’ve now “run out the string” on self-centered living and are facing an epidemic of loneliness as a result. The opioid crisis, escalating suicide rates, and plethora of social ills we face are symptoms of this underlying disease.

Climbing the “second mountain”

In response to the need for meaning in a culture that is adrift, Brooks invited us to live for others in community. Find a way to be rooted to place and people. We cannot do life on our own or find meaning in ourselves.

This commitment to community is essential for others but for us as well. Brooks quoted a friend’s observation: “You cannot only clean the part of the pool you swim in.” What happens to you happens to us all.

Brooks’ latest book, The Second Mountain, is a metaphor for his theme. The “first mountain” is success, measured by popularity and possessions. But climbing this “mountain” never fulfills us.

So, we climb down into the valley and, hopefully, up the “second mountain” of significance. We learn to give more than we get, to serve more than we are served.

In other words, we live long enough to discover how to live best.

“Better is the end of a thing than its beginning”

The writer of Ecclesiastes makes an observation that is starkly countercultural today but expressive of David Brooks’ wisdom: “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth” (Ecclesiastes 7:1). He then states, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning” (v. 8).

On his way to Jerusalem and aware of the danger that awaited him, Paul told a group of Christian leaders: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Years later, looking back over his history-changing life and ministry, the apostle could testify: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Paul had been enormously successful in his early life (Philippians 3:4–6; Acts 22:3). Then he learned to “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

He climbed the “first mountain” of temporal success before discovering the “second mountain” of eternal significance.

How to grieve or glorify God

American culture has never embraced unbiblical morality as it does today. Ten years ago, would you have imagined that same-sex marriage would be legal? That Hollywood would be producing shows celebrating polygamy? That women would be livestreaming their abortions? That more than one hundred million people would view pornography every day?

Our secular society will cheer us as we scale the “first mountain” of popularity and temporal success. The more we agree with cultural wisdom on moral issues, the more our culture will applaud us. And the more our Father will grieve (Psalm 78:40; Ephesians 4:30).

Conversely, the more we focus on the “second mountain” of eternal significance, the more our culture will caricature and castigate us. And the more our Father will be glorified (Matthew 5:16).

Which “mountain” are you climbing today?

 

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