Tag Archives: Game

On a Brighter Note…

In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Awel-Marduk became king of Babylon, on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month, he released Jehoiachin king of Judah and freed him from prison. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon.
Jeremiah 52:31-32 (NIV)

Have you ever had one of those stretches of life’s journey in which seemingly everything that can go wrong does go wrong? Yeah, it’s been one of those.

I won’t bore you with all the details but the past two weeks have included a trip to the emergency room, stitches, illnesses, hospitalization of loved ones, multiple broken implements, breakdowns, and a cracked engine block. Ugh. Bob Dylan’s bluesy psalm Everything is Broken has been flitting through my head as I try to keep my bent towards pessimism in check:

Broken cutters broken saws
Broken buckles broken laws
Broken bodies broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath feel like you’re chokin’
Everything is broken

Anyone who has followed my posts for any length of time knows that I’m a baseball fan. And, every baseball fan knows that winning streaks and losing streaks are all part of “the long season.” When a team or player is in a funk, you’re waiting for that one clutch hit or amazing play that signals a turnaround. So it was last night that Wendy and I watched our beloved Cubs win on a two-outs-bottom-of-the-ninth walk-off grand slam by Jason Heyward.

<Watch the Grand Slam!>

I thought to myself, “Maybe this is a sign that this funk we’ve been in is over.” Hey, cut me a break. Baseball fans are superstitious. Rally caps work! (Sometimes.)

Today’s chapter is the last chapter in a long journey through the anthology of the ancient prophet Jeremiah’s messages. The unknown editor who put the anthology together concludes the book with a historical epilogue. Interesting enough, it’s almost a verbatim copy of a section from 2 Kings 24-25. It gives a Cliff Notes summary of the Babylonian exile and ends with a bright spot: King Nebuchadnezzar’s successor releases Judah’s King Jehoiachin from prison, raises him to a place of honor, and he remains there for the rest of his life.

In other words, a book full of pessimistic, apocalyptic doom and gloom ends with a base hit in the bottom of the ninth. “This game’s not over, folks,” the editor is telling us. Put on your rally caps!

This morning I’m mulling over life’s ups-and-downs. We all have them. They come and they go. Some weeks it feels like everything is flowing and you’re on a roll. Some weeks, well, everything breaks. C’est la vie. It is what it is. The further I get in my journey the more wisdom I have to know the winning streaks will eventually end, as will the losing streaks.

I just have to keep looking for that bright spot, that base knock, that reminds me this game’s not over.

Featured photo courtesy of the_matt via Flickr

The Prophet and The Politician

He is in your hands,” King Zedekiah answered. “The king can do nothing to oppose you.
Jeremiah 38:5 (NIV)

Not long ago I ran into an old school friend from my middle school and high school years. In casual conversation about where our respective journeys have taken us, she asked if I was ever going to run for political office as had been my plan and passion back in the day. I was taken aback that she remembered, and I laughed to myself as I realized how long ago I tossed that childhood dream by the wayside.

Along my journey I’ve known some individuals in politics. Being an Iowan, I have occasionally involved myself in the election process and rubbed shoulders with a few of the small army of candidates who come campaigning for President every four years. I believe that there are really good people in politics who do their best to do good for our country. Yet, here’s what I have observed:

Politics is a game. Power is the prize. A politician says what people want to hear just to get elected. They then say and vote as the power brokers of their party demand in order to get ahead. Both parties pull identical political stunts (depending on their power position in the moment) then point the finger at the opposing party and scream accusations as if they’ve not done the same thing a few years before.

While I’m sure it’s somewhat different at a local level, I learned long ago that I’m not wired to play that game. It would slowly drain all Life from my spirit.

To get a feel for what’s happening in today’s chapter of Jeremiah’s story, you’ve got to read the political situation that’s present between the lines. First of all, the ancient practice of siege warfare was a slow, brutal process. The Babylonian army had surrounded Jerusalem and cut off all supply lines into the city. As the supply of food and fresh water diminish, fear and anxiety grow to unprecedented levels among the population. Power structures break down and those in power desperately try to stave off anarchy.

King Zed finds himself between a rock and a hard place. His political rivals, sick of listening to Jeremiah’s incessant prophesies of defeat, ask the King for Jeremiah’s head. The King grants it (because that’s what you do when you’re a politician trying to hold onto power). Jeremiah is thrown down the bottom of a muddy well to die. The King’s eunuch then asks the King (in private) if he might rescue Jeremiah. The King tells him to do so in secret (because when you’re a politician you secretly work back channels to accomplish what you want).

Jeremiah is summoned by King Zed who asks the prophet to give him a Word from the Lord. “Give yourself up to the King of Babylon and you’ll live,” Jeremiah tells him. Zedekiah, however, is afraid that those citizens who have already surrendered themselves to the Babylonians will turn against him if he gives himself up (and a politician is always worried about maintaining his/her power, popularity, and position). Jeremiah assures the King this will not happen.

Upon conclusion of their private conversation, King Zed warns Jeremiah that he will be asked what they talked about. Being a politician, Zed tells Jeremiah how to “spin” his answer so as to avoid political trouble for both of them (because a politician is always looking for a good win-win).

This morning in the quiet I find myself thinking about the contrast between Jeremiah the prophet and Zedekiah the politician. The prophet suffers for speaking the truth and being true to the Message, but beneath the suffering the prophet seems to exemplify a certain spiritual peace that comes from being true, steadfast, and faithful. The politician, on the other hand, enjoys the position and creature comforts afforded by his power, but beneath the surface lie fear, anxiety, worry, and the mental chaos from constantly navigating political minefields in the endless desperation to survive.

I am thankful this morning for the good people I know doing their best to serve in the political arena (on both sides of the aisle). I’m also thankful that God led my journey down a different path than the one I’d desired when I was a wee lad. I’m wired to be more prophet than politician, I think.

Though, I confess that I’d prefer not to get thrown into a well.

…For 30 Minutes

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged….”
Joshua 8:1a (NIV)

Everyone who knows Wendy and me knows that we are baseball fans. In particular, we’re fans of the Chicago Cubs. Right now there is a lot of excitement in our house as the regular season opens next Monday night. The first game against Anaheim will start at 9:00 p.m. CDT. We will just be getting back from rehearsal. We’ll see how much of it we actually watch before we fall asleep. (Thank God for DVRs!)

Of all the major league sports, baseball’s season is truly a marathon. In the NFL’s 16 game season, every game is technically important, as one loss can come back to bite you when it comes time to the playoffs and home field advantage. In baseball, there are 162 regular season games between the beginning of April and the end of September. The best of teams will lose about a third of their games and occasionally suffer humiliating defeats. Even the worst teams in the league will win a third or more of their games and occasionally beat the best teams.

The Cubs manager, Joe Maddon, instituted a tradition in the Cub’s clubhouse last season. When the Cubs win, there is a party in the clubhouse for 30 minutes. Loud music, disco ball, dancing, shouting, and basking in the joy of the moment….for 30 minutes. Then, it’s back to work thinking about the next day’s game. Likewise, when the team loses, they are allowed to grieve for 30 minutes. Mope, scream, cry, commiserate, and feel the discouragement…for 30 minutes. Then, its back to work thinking about the next day’s game.

Our life journey is more like baseball season than football season. We all will experience our share of victories, and our share of defeats. No one, no matter how good the press and social media make them look, runs the table and is exempt from suffering loss and hardship. Everyone strikes out.

In today’s chapter, Josh and his team have just suffered an unexpected defeat after the huge victory at Jericho. It was the let down after the big game. Reality check. There is a sudden sense of gloom permeating the clubhouse. God, like a good manager, only lets the grief last for 30 minutes. It’s time to get the team’s focus on the next game: “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged. We’ve got a game against the King of Ai today, and I’ve got a game plan for one you’re gonna love!”

Today, I’m thinking about victories I’ve experienced in this life, and defeats. No matter how bad the loss, there are victories ahead. No matter how great the victory is, I’m going to strike out again at some point. As sure as the sun is going to rise and set. I need to let myself enjoy the victories…for about 30 minutes. Then I get back to work. I need to allow myself to grieve the losses…for about 30 minutes. Then get back to work.

Go get ’em.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image by yozza via Flickr

Missing the Signs

Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro at bat d...
Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro at bat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So [Saul] demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself. 1 Samuel 13:9 (NLT)

As anyone who reads my blog for any length of time knows, my wife Wendy and I are big baseball fans. In particular, we are fans of the Chicago Cubs. One of the hot topics this off season for our beloved team is the play of young short stop, Starlin Castro. A few years ago Castro was brought up to the major leagues when he was still a teenager. He hit a home run in his first major league at bat and set a major league record of six runs batted in in his first major league game. His rookie year showed all sorts of promise.

Fast forward a few years and everyone in Cub’s nation is wondering what happened to the young phenom. His defensive play is atrocious, his concentration in the field is sometimes non-existent, and the tremendous talent at the plate has waned to the point you could call him average, at best.

How quickly things change. It’s tough to be consistent in the spotlight. Case-in-point: King Saul. After an initially grand start to his monarchy (which we observed yesterday), King Saul quickly begins to reveal some classic leadership blunders. The rookie king came out of the gate with some huge wins against the national rival Philistines. Saul had to feel on top of the world. He was young. He was king. He was batting a thousand and feeling invincible. Everyone faces adversary, however. And it wasn’t long before the young leader found himself behind in the count in the bottom of the ninth and staring at a bitter defeat. Saul panicked.

Those who are not avid followers of baseball may miss a lot that happens in a game. To the uneducated, the game moves slowly and there are huge periods of time when it seems nothing is happening. But, the game of baseball is constantly in motion. There is a continuous chess match going on between managers. There is psychological warfare happening between pitcher and hitter. There are secret signs being delivered constantly between the coach and the hitter, the catcher and the pitcher, the dugout and the fielders and runners. Critical mistakes are sometimes made because a player missed or ignored a sign from his manger that you’ll never see on television. Games are won and lost by seemingly insignificant mistakes which, innings later, lead to defeat.

When reading the ancient stories of the Old Testament, there is a very similar parallel. For those who are unaware of Old Testament history, it is easy to miss the hidden customs and contexts of historic, cultural and spiritual significance. To the casual 21st century reader, it seems of little consequence that King Saul called for the offerings and burnt them himself. On the surface, it appears that the rookie king is taking initiative, doing what needs to be done, and honoring God. In the context of God’s story, however, Saul just blew it – big time. He ignored the coach’s sign and foolishly attempted to steal home.

The Old Testament rule book for the nation of Israel was the law of Moses which is contained largely in the book of Leviticus. The major league rules of Saul’s day were very specific. Only the prescribed priests from the tribe of Levi were allowed to offer sacrifices. Period. When Saul ignores the law and offers the sacrifice himself it is as clear cut as if Starlin Castro punched the umpire an the face because he didn’t like being called out at second base. There is no gray area. No instant replay is necessary. Immediate ejection.

I have learned along the journey that leadership is not just about taking initiative and decisive action. There are times when a leader is required to sit back, bite his or her tongue, and let others do their job – even if others don’t do them the way we’d like them done or as capably as you think you could do it yourself. Sometimes leadership requires you to choose not to swing. You take a few pitches and work the count even though your entire being wants to swing for the fences. Sometimes you have to hold yourself in check, be patient, and let others do their jobs. By his refusal to wait for Samuel, who as priest was the position player designated to make the offerings, Saul showed his pride, arrogance, foolishness, and contempt for God’s rule book. It was more than a simple rookie mistake. Saul broke the rules in a big way and dishonored the game. The commissioner quickly bans Saul from ever making the hall of fame.

Today, I’m thinking about my own leadership. Where am I acting on my own when I should be letting others do their jobs? How might I be displaying impatience? Where am I displaying an “I’m the only one who can do this job” attitude? In what areas do I secretly believe I am irreplaceable?

God, help me learn from Saul’s mistakes. Help me to lead in such a way that I elevate others and honor you.

Three Indelible Life Lessons from the Game of Baseball

Last Saturday morning, Wendy and I went out to the local ball diamond to watch my good friend Nathan playing Little League baseball. I grabbed my camera to capture my buddy in action. Anyone who follows my blog knows that Wendy and I love the game of baseball (and our hapless Chicago Cubs). In fact, as time goes by our love and appreciation of the game only seems to grow deeper. We thoroughly enjoyed the gorgeous, early summer morning watching Nathan play. It reminded me of all that is great about the game of baseball, and in particular I was reminded of three important life lessons that the game teaches me over and over again.

2013 06 08 Nathan VL Baseball 02

1. “Everyone strikes out. How you handle it is what makes you a man.”

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.
-from “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Thayer

When my young friend Nathan was just a few years old, Wendy and I gave him a copy of “Casey at the Bat” for his birthday and this was the inscription I penned on the inside cover of Ernest Thayer’s timeless classic. What an amazing word picture of life. The very BEST hitters in the big leagues will fail to get a hit 7 of every 10 attempts. Time and time and time again we will try and fail in life. Those who learn from failure, who dare to walk back up to the plate, who keep swinging despite overwhelming failure will eventually knock one out of the park. You’ll never know the thrill of driving in the winning run if you let failure discourage you from ever trying again.

2013 06 08 Nathan VL Baseball 012. It’s Not About Winning or Losing, but the Joy of Playing the Game.

Wendy and I watched and laughed ourselves silly on Saturday as we watched the young boys of summer doing their best to play and learn the Great American Pastime. I can guarantee you that at the end of the game not one of the li’l sluggers knew the final score of the game. But, as the team ran the bases together at the end of the game the look of joy on their faces was priceless.

I have known many a man who has wasted time, energy and resources in a manic drive to prove to who knows who that he is a “success” through winning every game, closing every deal, burying every enemy, and acquiring every needless possession. Never have I met such a man who experiences a deep, abiding sense of peace, joy, and love. The further I get in this life journey, the more I’m convinced that what is important is not winning every game, but loving every moment.

In similar fashion, those who love the game of baseball understand realize that the game itself transcends wins and losses. Win or lose, an afternoon or evening at the ballpark is time well-spent. As Chicago Cub great Ernie Banks is famed for saying, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame….let’s play TWO!”

2013 06 08 Nathan VL Baseball 03

3. The Point is to Make it Safely Home.

As we play the game of life, we will all make our share of errors. We all hit our share of foul balls. We all strike out. But as Yogi Berra said, “the game ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Every baseball fan can share stories of dramatic come from behind wins and walk-off “home runs” in the bottom of the ninth inning. In the end, the goal of the game is to arrive safe at home. Even the Prodigal Son eventually found his way home. Every funeral I’ve ever attended has included a recitation of the 23rd psalm (i.e. “The Lord is my Shepherd….”). The psalm ends with the words “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In other words, in the end the psalmist finds himself safely home. Baseball not only provides us a word picture for constant reminder, but even shapes home plate like a little house for added effect.

Our friend Nathan may, or may not, play baseball for long. Like millions of American kids (myself included) he may play a year or two of Little League only to hang up his bat and glove until his own children choose to run the bases. The love of baseball, however, lasts a lifetime, as does the life lessons baseball teaches each of us.