The gospel and baseball: simple yet complex

While playing baseball with my four year old son in my gently sloping front yard the other day, I told him, “You pulled that ball foul.” Just a week or two earlier I tried to teach him another ball he hit was actually fair, but he had just hit it opposite field (that took a lot of explaining!). I have begun to realize that baseball, when you break it down, is far deeper than I originally thought. Not just with rules, but with concepts, with terms. Now football does have a number of different plays and formations, but baseball might just be as deep when it comes to terms, situations, and scenarios.

Yet at some level, the game isn’t too complicated to watch. And play. If the batter hits the ball, the fielder tries to catch the ball in the air, or tag him/ base before he gets there. My four year old is beginning to grasp this.

Such is the case with the gospel. It is simple enough that a thief on the cross can believe that Jesus will save him (Luke 23:42). And it is also simple enough that a young child can get a hold of it and come to Jesus (Matt 19:14); we can only assume that an adult with the mental capability of a child can “get it” as well. As a result, let us not forget to praise God for the simplicity of the gospel. It’s beautifully simple.

But its also beautifully deep. Like the game of baseball. Like the shipwreck or reef too deep to explore by snorkeling. It is both more simple than we think and deeper than we think. There are depths to plumb.

So what’s the point of this comparison?

1.) Praise God for its simplicity. When you doubt, don’t forget the simplicity of it. Jesus came, died, rose again, appeared, saved us and will be coming back to finish what he started.

2.) Praise God for its depth and never stop learning. If the thief on the cross had lived, he probably would have been the first in line to go to a bible study, learn some theology, familiarize himself with biblical terms that add depth in understand all that Jesus has accomplished. After all, Jesus does way more than just save us from hell. If the thief had lived, I imagine he’d read a bit, or at least have someone read to him. Imagine those little children that Jesus said, “Come to me.” When they grew up, don’t you think they would have wanted to go deeper, read, study and ask more questions? Now they wouldn’t, or shouldn’t lose that child-like faith, and that should always temper their study with humility and awe. But shouldn’t deeper study and reflection only increase that awe and child-like faith? After all, we can learn more reasons to trust him.

3.) Don’t assume everyone is at same level. When you talk to young believers, or unbelievers, it is necessary to recognize that your terms might be unrecognizable. Can you imagine a coach saying to my four year old, “Connar, you pulled that ball foul, choke up, shorten your swing, go with the pitch, hit behind the runner. Never assume the gospel. Instead start with and celebrate its simplicity before you expound on its depth and application in life.


A Rays Celebration of Redemption

Last night I witnessed perhaps the most improbable comeback in baseball history (well, if I’m recording it). The Tampa Bay Rays, down 7-0 in the bottom of the 8th inning, came back with 6 runs, then a 1 run homer in the 9th with two outs and two strikes to a hitter only batting .120. Dan Johnson had one homer in April, then stunk so bad they sent him down to the minors. Then, after a shaky 12th inning, where the Rays allowed runners to reach 1st and 3rd with no outs, the Yankees followed with three consecutive outs. Finally, Tampa Bay slugger Evan Longoria closed out the game with one of the shortest home runs Tropicana Field has ever seen. Sportswriters sum up the game here and you can watch highlights if my vivid writing falls flat to you. A home run that was only a home run because they shortened the height of the wall a few years ago.

To top that all off, only 3 minutes earlier, the Red Sox had blown a 3-2 lead with 2 outs and 2 strikes on the batter. Crazy. The script could not have been written any better. What I thought was so fascinating is that the Rays won in such a way as they could celebrate freely, yet humbly. They were remarkably humble, but that only added to the celebration. Here’s why.

1.) They played like garbage against a rookie pitcher making his first start and continued to play like garbage for 7 straight innings. They couldn’t boast in their play.

2.) While Longoria did come through with some clutch homers, it would have all been for naught if Dan Johnson, the unlikely hero-who had no plans of even getting into the game-didn’t hit his home run in the bottom of the ninth. With 2 outs and 2 strikes. Their star pitcher David Price gave up a grand slam. In the end, it took an unlikely hero. For the most part, the stars could not boast.

3.) The Yankees, either sensing that the Rays couldn’t come back from 7-0, or that they just didn’t care, didn’t use their stars. They couldn’t simply boast that they beat the best team in baseball. They beat the bench of the best team in baseball.

4.) It took several more innings, and a rookie base running mistake by the Yankees, for the Rays to finally capitalize. They couldn’t boast in someone else’s mistakes.

Now none of these things took anything away from the celebration. In fact, I happen to think they added to it. The celebration comprised a bunch of unlikely victors who depended upon a ton of factors which were out of their control. They were 9 games out of first place when September started. Even if they played well, the Red Sox had to play poorly. Impecuniously-if I may say-poorly. And they had to lose that night as well.

So in the end, it wasn’t simply a celebration of how good they were, but a celebration of a number of fortunate events like guys who aren’t very good making great plays, and timely decisions/guesses. That kind of celebration is much more special than simply winning the division because of your skill, then and resting players. I think that celebration would probably have been less special because it was a celebration of self achievement.

I don’t know how Yankee fan felt after they clinched the division. But I doubt the celebration was as great. And I don’t think its simply b/c they just want to win it all. Celebration in your own goodness pales in comparison to the celebration that comes with needing someone else to be good for you.

In God’s story of Redemption, he uses the Dan Johnson’s, the dependence upon factors we can’t control, and the goodness of the Redeemer. We can’t boast in anything except in Him. And as a result, the rejoicing in heaven is that much greater. And it should be just as crazy down here on Earth. Don’t ever forget to pop open a bottle of the bubbly when you think of the gospel. The celebration starts now, but remember this is just the beginning.

Merlowe Joe Maddon’s 30 minute rule

The last two nights I had both a rare privilege and frustration: watching the Tampa Bay Rays on TV. Unfortunately when the Rays are on TV, it is because they are playing either the Red Sox or Yankees. On back-to-back nights they lost by one run to both. 
One of the announcers, Rick Sutcliffe, commented on whether or not losing 1-0 to the Red Sox in 16 innings the night before would have a tangible adverse affect on the Rays playing the Yankees the next night. He believed the frustrating loss wouldn’t hurt the Rays, citing manager Joe Maddon’s “30 minute rule.”

The 30 minute rule means that the team can/should reflect on the bitterness for the loss for only 30 minutes. After that, they cannot dwell on it anymore. It’s in the past, and they have to play another game the next day (more often than not with 162 game season).
I’m not sure that there is a minimum time limit we should mourn for the bitterness of our sin. The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite Spirit, and that obviously involves being bothered by our general and particular sins. However, particularly in regard to our particular sins (but the general as well), we should be reminded that we must not remain in such a mournful state for too long. Christ has already forgiven sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God (I Peter 3:18).

But there has to be a maximum time limit on mourning our sins or else we will walk around like Eoyore, forgetting the victory which Jesus has secured. Repentance must lead to rejoicing (or it isn’t repentance) because God’s mercies, and our experience of them, are new every morning (Lam 3:22-23). A good reminder to us all, especially when we experience the consequences of our sin.

Barry Bonds is not the only user

Baseball season is upon us now, and that means a few things. First of all, I have a chance to repeat as the champ in fantasy baseball. Secondly, the Tampa Bay Rays will get to see whether Manny Ramirez will hit like Manny Ramirez or act like Manny Ramirez (that is one dude to whom you don’t want to say, “Just be yourself”). And thirdly, since games are starting up, it would be nice to see the Barry Bonds perjury trial not take center stage.
While its not been a media circus, on some levels this trial is quite comical. Former teammates have testified about his use, while the most incriminating man in this case, his trainer, would rather spend time in jail than testify. Even former mistresses have testified that Bonds’ testicles had shrunk over time. It’s fairly obvious that the unlikeable lad’s head literally grew; that kind of growth doesn’t happen with weights and protein supplements.  Here are a few of my takes on this trial.
1.) A need for truth
People don’t like to be lied to. The Feds really don’t like to be lied to. While Dr. House’s “everybody lies” philosophy of life is unfortunately very accurate, people still want some sort of ultimate arbiter, or at least a final accountability to actual tell the truth. That and the fact that he is perhaps baseball’s most unlikeable player ever (or at least top 5) will, in my estimation, leave many people pulling against him. 
2.) We’re all users.
Baseball really enabled this whole steroid era to flourish, and not simply by limiting drug testing. MLB promoted these new found home-run heroes because THEY put people in the seats. And people knew they were on roids, but people didn’t care. Baseball had use for rhoid freaks like Bonds and Mark McGuire. Fans had use for them as well. But now there is no use for Barry Bonds, and we no longer need him.
I find it funny how much I profited and enjoyed watching these home-run legends, and watching them chase such home-run single season and all time records. But now for some reason I feel cheated. Yet at the time, I didn’t want them to change. It’s not just that “chicks dig the long ball” as the commercial claimed, but guys did as well.
Martin Ban of ChristChurch Santa Fe gave a challenging, as well as fascinating sermon called “Sloth and Anger” on the connection between these two “deadly sins.” In his application, he questioned whether or not we really want people to stop being angry or slothful. Parents can use slothful children so that they feel needed. Folks use angry people to have someone tough to follow, and let them do the dirty work. Ban argues that we often don’t want people to change, because we benefit from them. We use them, and to call people to change will be hard because we’re good at using people.

I think this is what most fans did with Bond’s during the steroid era. We didn’t want him to change because we would no longer benefit from him. But after hearing Ban’s sermon, I’m beginning to think this happens in my life with more than just baseball.