Wednesday, August 31, 2011

“Resisting the Urge”

Mathematically and statically for all intended purposes the season for both the Cardinals and Cubs are over. Neither will make the play offs so the excitement, enthusiasm, and fanfare has quickly faded. Already real sports fans are talking about the Rams and the Bears as football commences, it is tempting to move on with another year’s disappointment, under achieved expectations, and frustration. In baseball, whenever the pitcher has two strikes on the batter, he will intentionally throw one low or in the dirt. The pitcher is relying on the desperation of the batter to swing at the next pitch. Professional players, great hitters will swing at a pitch in the dirty. They will lung their bodies, adjust there swig just to make contact with the ball. Most batters just want to make contact with the ball and hope it goes foul. When a batter is struck out by a pitch in the dirt, they immediately know they “fell” for it. They walk back to the dug out, knowing full well they have been had. All their experience, practice, and patience were thrown out the window by their desire to swing.

In life we have all swung at bad pitches. We have all swung and missed at a pitch in the dirt. We have all chased after something we thought was success and realized we had been duped. Sometimes our desires can overcome our common sense and the results are we fall into temptation and strike out. Like in baseball and in life, the great hitters are the ones who fight the temptation to swing and hold off; allowing the pitch to hit the dirt and be called a ball. Mediocre batters swing and hope to make contact, good hitters swing and foul it off, but great hitters control their impulses and watch the pitch hit the dirt.

I am not sure about you, but I know I desire a great life. Mediocre is fine for some people, good is fine for others but I want a great life. I want to be the greatest husband, father, and minster I can be. I don’t want to look back at life and tell people, “You know I could have been great but….” I want to look back on ever season of my life and say, “At the time, under the circumstances, I was greatest _____.” I am not saying I want perfection, just to live up to the potential God has placed in my soul.

In reality we are surrounded by temptation that nudges us to take the easy way out, to take a short cut, to justify our actions. Like the batter, just swing, get out, and take your chances next time you face that pitcher. The only way one can defeat temptation is by discipline. The discipline batter stands firm and strong and resists the urge to swing at any bad pitch. Many people lives are uprooted because they lack the discipline to resist urges. We are reminded that Christ, himself was tempted to take a short cut. Join us Sunday as we look at Jesus’ temptation and learn from him; the discipline we need in our own life to resist the urge to swing, when we know we should hold back.

Peace & Love,

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Regrets I've Had a Few"

In honor of death week, a tradition of most Memphians who remember the week Elvis Pressley died, I immersed myself in Elvis music. One of my favorites is when the king sings, “Regrets I’ve had a few, then again to few to mention.” (For the purest out there, I know Frank Sinatra recorded it first.) Irony seems to dance through these words when we consider the circumstances surround Elvis’ death. It did however spark my conscious to think about the regrets I have in my own life. Regrets are weird crazy things. They are situations in our life that if we could magically do over again, we would do differently. Regrets are different than failures. Regrets are not situations that we do not go into without much thought, we think them through, we pray about them, we move forward but in retrospect looking back we would have chosen something different. Regrets are not all bad, wrong, immoral, illegal, or unchristian. I regret I ate the whole pizza; I should have stopped at three pieces. Regrets are just situations in life, if we had to do all over again, we would try something different. I regret not spending more time with my loved one before they died. We have all had moments when we have said something to someone and we regretted it the moment it came out of our mouths. We all have regrets in our life. Some of us have a few, to few to mention, and some of us have too many to list. The thing about regrets is that in the precise moment, the decision, the action seems like the right action to take, but looking back we are not so sure.

As we continue our Batter Up! Sermon series while preparing the message of  looking at the Home Run Swing, I discovered how regrets keep us from hitting the homerun. We all love the home run ball. Hitting a homerun is hard to do but some players seem to do it with ease and make it look easy. In life we look at other people’s life and it seems they have the homerun swing. Everything seems to go their way; their job, marriages, house, kids, relationships, and other things we sort of envy. We begin to compare thier life to ours and more regrets begin to mount up. We look at them and say, “Man I wish I was that lucky.” Like homerun hitting and life; luck might not play any part in their success. When you watch a homerun hitter, they seem to do it with ease. What we don’t see is the preparation, experience, confidence, and wisdom the homerun hitters have. We see the ball go over the fences, the crowd cheer, and the fireworks explode and we forget the hours in the batting cage, watching video, weight training, and what the hitter has learned from the million of times at bat. If our life is full or regrets, to stop repeating them, we may have to explore new questions we need to ask ourselves. We need to learn, practice, and dedicate ourelves to when we are in similuar situations we make more wise desicisons. We might need to ask ourselves: What did we learn from our past? What is the most wise thing to do for our present circumstances? What is the best decision for our hope and dreams for the future? Answering theses questions before we act, may help us all reduce the regrets in our life..
Take care of yourself and one another,
Peace & Grace,

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

“Handling the Strike Out"

Every one of us has moments in our life when we strike out. These are the moments in our life when we simply fail. We loose confidence, we mess up, we swing for something and miss, or we just stand there and watch the perfect pitch or opportunity pass us by. These moments in our life seem to stick with us forever. We can all remember freshly, no matter how much time has passed, those moments in our life when we have simple struck out. We have faced the humiliation and walked defeated back to the dug out. Each of us can recall when someone has hurt us or we have hurt someone else. We have all had situations in life when we have botched something up, messed up, made bad financial or business decision, trusted the wrong person, or someone we love has died. We automatically hold on to these moments and wonder why some people adjust better than we do.

Those that follow baseball will argue who is the best hitter of all time. If we look at statics only, (not getting into the steroid era debate) we look at three of the all time homerun leaders. George Herman (Babe) Ruth in 22 seasons hit 714 homeruns but also had 1330 strike outs. Hank Aaron in 23 seasons hit 755 homeruns with 1383 strike outs, and Barry Bonds 762 homeruns with 1539 strike outs. If you notice these hitters struck out about twice a many times than hit homeruns. What made them great was not their homeruns but how they overcame striking out. These great hitters did not allow the strike out to define who they were as a batter; if they did they would have never made it out of the minor leagues. When they stuck out, they adjusted their swing, reinstalled their confidence, and with great anticipation of success and enthusiasm stepped back into the batters box. They not once asked to be taken out of the game because of a strike out. They understand that slumps are just part of the game. When we look at baseball any great player will have a .300 battering average. A .300 batting average will get you into the Hall of Fame. Baseball is a game where greatness is defined by someone failing only 7 out of 10 times. In baseball like in life, you may fail more times than you succeed.

We all have failures in life, it is just apart of living. What is important is how we handle those strikeout moments. We have all made bad decisions, said the wrong thing, believed the wrong person, must trust in those who are not trust worthy, and let both ourselves and others down. Jesus’ own disciples struck out on him when he needed them most. Sometime in our prayers to God during our strike out moments we may be just asking the wrong question. We pray for God to deliver us, restore us, help us, and save us. These are great prayers however instead of simply asking God to rescue us; we may need to ask God what WE can do the next time we are in the batters box. We need to explore and be open to new ways God can help us adjust our swing, reinstall our confidence, and encourage us to get back in the game. Staying on the bench is not really an option. Just something to think about next time we strike out..
Peace & Love,

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Sacrifce Bunt

In the current sermon series I’m preaching, we learned that the sole goal and responsibility of the leadoff man in baseball is to get on first base. After getting on base, the next batter must strive to get the leadoff man into scoring position. With no outs, the best way to get the runner into scoring position, getting them to statically the desirable position to score is the sacrifice bunt.  For those who know nothing of baseball, the sacrifice bunt is where the batter takes a different stance and lightly hits the ball, so the infielder can get it and throw him out a first which advances the leadoff man to second.  When the batter bunts, he is trying to get out advancing his teammate into scoring position. If you have never played baseball, bunting is hard to do. You must expose yourself to the pitcher, when one squares away, you expose your intentions, and it ruins your own personal statics. A well timed, well placed bunt is not flashy. People in the stands don’t tend to get excited or cheer for a well-placed bunt.  ESPN doesn’t show highlights of greatest bunts. We want to see the home run hit. In a game where success, fame, and money are stressed on individual statics and achievements, a sacrifice bunt is not helpful to one’s contract negotiations.  I have yet to hear of a manager sign a contract for a player that is just a good bunter. I cannot name on person that became famous because of their bunting abilities. Yes, there are good hitters that can bunt well, but no one wants to be the guy who has to sacrifice bunt. If you ask most baseball players they would rather try to get a hit than bunt.

Our culture that we live in celebrates, rewards, and glorifies personal statics and achievements. We reward those who do what they do and do it well. In our personal careers we are evaluated, valued, and accepted by our personal statics and achievements. It begins to define who we are. We all want bigger and greater. This works for preachers too, I have yet to hear a minister of a large church not tell me within two minutes of any conversation how many members they have in their church. Listen carefully next time you hear a pastor of a mega church and you’ll hear the number, I’ll guarantee it. I’ll admit it most preachers don’t like to sacrifice bunt either. We begin to value our self-worth by such goals. As a society we cheer the runner as he crosses the plate but rarely acknowledge the guy who laid down the sacrifice bunt. 

There are crossroad moments in our lives that we must choose to do something for ourselves or sacrifice for others. I have found that these moments define who we are. I can recall these crossroads moments in my life where my life could go one way or the other. The problem is I struggled just like everyone else, I don’t want to sacrifice bunt. I want or need to swing for the fences; I want the attention of hitting the home run. I want people to acknowledge and celebrate my accomplishments, I want to improve my individual statics and Christ keeps asking me to lay down the bunt. When we sacrifice for others, it pleases Christ, but not necessarily brings about fame and fortune. When we sacrifice bunt for others, we find something more valuable. There is something intrinsic about sacrificing for others. The ability to give up a little of our self to influence someone else’s life is the greatest feeling in the world. It is a blessing upon all blessings. Even if we feel we have nothing to give, we can all lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance others. In the processes we may find we all win in this game of life. I have come to give thanks to God for these reoccurring crossroad moments, where I am reminded of the bigger game. The bunt may not be glorious but necessary to win the game.

Peace & Grace,

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Watering Plants

An elderly man in his nineties has the most beautiful garden in Centralia. He planted it for his wife who passed away some twenty years ago and has kept it going in her memory. Among the beautiful flowers are budding green asparagus plants. While admiring his stunning garden, in the brutal summer heat, an innocent observation was made. “I bet you have to water these all the time in this heat.”

“No” the gentleman replied. “I don’t water them at all. If you water them the roots will not grow deep. They will stay shallow and expect to get watered all the time. If you water them once, you will have to continue to water them daily. The plants become dependant on the water and will not grow deep roots. Deep roots strengthen the plant. It makes it stronger in times of excessive heat, drought, and frost in the winter. It is a lot like our relationship with God. In times of plenty we are not strong. Our roots don’t grow in faith to sustain us for the hard times ahead.”

When our life is sweltering away under the heat, when we are in a drought, when we thirst for more, maybe it is during these times we are establishing longer stronger roots for our Savior. These deep roots that will sustain us for the real tough times ahead as it is then our faith is strengthen so we may flourish while others expire to the heat.