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Basketball-shooting robot doesn’t miss at Olympics: The path to God’s transforming power

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Toyota's basketball robot aims his shot
Toyota’s basketball robot Cue 3 demonstrates Monday, April 1, 2019 at a gymnasium in Fuchu, Tokyo. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama)

A basketball-shooting robot came out during halftime of Team USA men’s basketball contest against France at the Olympics. It took three shots—a free throw, a three-pointer, and a half-court shot—and made all three.

The American men’s team could have used the help—they lost in an upset. 

As a former church league basketball player (emphasis on the “former”), I can testify that few humans would go three-for-three in that situation. Many would not go one-for-three. But humans are not robots. 

Nor are we electric cars, though if we were we, the day could come when the concrete on which we drive could charge our motor. Indiana’s Department of Transport is testing a new type of cement embedded with magnetized particles that could one day provide efficient, high-speed charging at “standard roadbuilding costs.” 

They are testing the “magment” in the lab now, then they will try it out on roads and eventually on heavy trucks operating at high power. If it passes these tests, they will electrify an undetermined segment of the public interstate in Indiana. 

In other news, Walmart announced this week that it will pay for college tuition and books at a group of schools for its part-time and full-time associates. As a result, approximately 1.5 million Walmart and Sam’s Club employees “can earn college degrees or learn trade skills without the burden of education debt.” 

Here’s why these stories caught my eye: they each illustrate an “empowering” principle Christians need to remember and experience every day. 

Why we are desktop computers 

In a website article I wrote earlier today, I focused on David’s prayer: “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” (Psalm 39:4). I noted that our mortality and brevity call us to depend on God to empower and use us in this life for an eternal purpose. 

Here’s the companion principle: you and I must be continually surrendered to God’s Spirit to be continually empowered by him. 

We are not robots that can be charged and then sent out onto a basketball court. Nor are we electric vehicles that can be charged on “magment” so we can drive on normal concrete. We are not even empowered like employees who can be educated and then expected to use what they learn in the service of their employer and the common good. 

You and I are more like a desktop computer that must be constantly connected to its power source. The moment it is unplugged, the screen goes blank and the machine stops operating. There is never a moment when it can fulfill its purpose apart from the power it was designed to use. 

The “new normal” we need today 

Herein lies the problem: we have been enculturated in a society that celebrates and advances the myth of the self-made person. Our secular existentialism teaches us that it’s all about us. Our consumerism teaches us that the world exists to serve us. The “sexual revolution” convinced millions that their sexual identity and practices are theirs to choose. Abortion and euthanasia advocates insist that our bodies are ours to do with as we wish. 

God’s word could not disagree with such self-reliance more vehemently. 

  • Our salvation comes not by our works but by those of our Savior: “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
  • Our service is to be performed in God’s power for his glory: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).
  • We are to stay continually yielded to the Spirit of God: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). 
  • We are to solve our problems by first bringing them to God: “Draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Neither grace nor mercy can be deserved, only requested and received with humility.

God cannot give what we will not receive or lead where we will not go. Writing in First15, Craig Denison noted: “Unless we allow God to create a new normal for us, we will never experience the fullness of life Jesus died to give us. Unless we open our hearts to the Spirit and allow him to teach us how to live life in communion with him, we will never be rooted and grounded in God’s love and grace. And without being rooted in the love of God the storms of this life will always wreak unnecessary havoc.” 

Will you seek this “new normal” with God today?