Stephen Strasburg: Once Upon A Whiz Kid

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Better is the end of a thing than its beginning; and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Ecclesiastes 7:8, RSV

Stephen Strasburg, pitcher for the Washington Nationals Baseball team, was once a whiz kid. He came in with high hopes and a hot arm. Now, he’s got the highest ERA (Earned Run Average) of his career, and tonight’s outing against the Marlins on the road in South Beach should be a good test for the one-time fan favorite phenom who has since fallen on hard times.

Stephen Strasburg has the tools and the talent to succeed; the question is, “does he have the tenacity?” Having potential is one thing; having totals is something else. At the end of the day, athletes are judged by what they do, and pitchers especially are judged by wins and losses. Period. That’s it. Strasburg is currently 7-8. That’s a barely respectable sub-par, sub-superstar, sub-500 record for the supposed ace of the staff who was once thought to be a shoe-in to win multiple Cy-Young Awards . . . – oh well.

Stephen Strasburg is a microcosm of some of us and the rest of us. He has much promise but also has much to prove. We wish him the best, but we also realize that his success may be a slugfest.

Stephen Strasburg is at a crossroads in his career. He’s gone from wonder-boy whiz kid and rookie sensation to a one hit wonder wannabe. Yes, at the tender, young age 26, in his fifth year, his best years seem to be behind him. In his best year, he went 15-6, with an ERA of 3.16. Now, with an ERA of 3.67, his future with the Nationals and with major league baseball could go either way.

And so his future is now, and it starts tonight in Miami. That’s just the same for the rest of us. What happens tomorrow is dictated and predicated by what we do today. And some of the weeds we’re now reaping are from the sour seeds we were heaping yesteryear. Likewise, some of the fruit we’re enjoying now is from the root someone labored to plant heretofore; like the root of a praying mother and the foundation of a Godly father. I know good and well that’s the case for me.

So start over. Start over now. As for Strasburg, the jury is still out. So stay tuned. His ship may still come in. As for me and you, we can call in the jury, because we can declare the verdict now. We can declare our best is yet to come. We can declare that God’s tomorrow is better than today. We can declare “better is the end of a thing.” Amen to that. Remember, your tomorrow starts today. So, if need be, sow in tears so that you can reap in joy.

Pete Rose, Charlie Hustle and Charlie the Hustler: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Pete Rose Confession

Pete Rose has been banned from baseball for life and he is ineligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. What a shame. All of that talent and testosterone, all of that ability and agility, all of that faculty and flair – all gone up in smoke. Why? Because he took his eyes off of the prize. Bruce Springsteen gave us the words and the song, and it’s a good song and it’s good advice indeed.

Pete Rose gave two examples – what to do and what not to do. But isn’t that like the rest of us? Isn’t that like the best of us? Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, followed a foolish footpath. He let wine and women and wealth get the best of him. And what about Samson? The strongest man let his weakness, wanton women, get the best of him too. And the list could go on and on. But for now, let’s learn the lessons of Pete Rose.

SI Pete Rose

The year Pete Rose was about to break Ty Cobb’s all time hits record in spring training he was being interviewed. One reporter blurted out, “Pete, you only need 78 hits to break the record. How many at-bats do you think you’ll need to get the 78 hits?” Without hesitation, Pete just stared at the reporter and very matter-of- factly said, “78.” The reporter yelled back, “Ah, come on Pete, you don’t expect to get 78 hits in 78 at-bats do you?” Pete calmly shared his philosophy with the throngs of reporters who were anxiously awaiting his reply to this seemingly boastful claim. “Every time I step up to the plate, I expect to get a hit! If I don’t expect to get a hit, I have no right to step in the batter’s box in the first place!” “If I go up hoping to get a hit,” he continued, “then I probably don’t have a prayer to get a hit. It is a positive expectation that has gotten me all of the hits in the first place.”

Pete, for all his fault and failure, made a choice to hustle, hit, and win. History records that, even with his shortcomings (gambling on baseball and betting on the games he played in), he accomplished his goal because he kept his eyes on the prize. That is exactly what Paul is telling us, what Jesus showed us, and what our God expects of us. But let’s break down this thought and ask, “If I am to keep my eyes on the prize and press on, what does it mean for me?” I suggest three things.

First, set priorities. God first, family second and yourself last. In sports-speak, that’s God first, team second, and records and personal recognition last.

Second, focus on the disciplines. In sports-speak, that’s practice, practice, practice. Just ask Allen Iverson, right? “I mean, we talking about practice!” (see blog August 1, 2013, https://godandsports.net/2013/08/01/we-talkin-bout-practice/)

Third, let the results take care of themselves. We can only control ourselves anyway, right? So – and I’m taking to myself here-, stop worrying about the results. God is the only one who can dictate the outcome and so God and God alone takes care of the results. He just wants us to take care of the reason we do what we do – the motivation behind why we play the game, the grounds for why we love and live and give and forgive. For if our root is right, our fruit will follow suit and be right too.

Charlie Is Strong, So Be Strong Like Charlie

University of Texas Introduces Charlie Strong
Charlie Strong is his name and Charlie Strong will have to stay true to his game if he is to succeed. Charlie Strong is now the face of Texas Longhorns football. A storied football power, Texas looks to return to collegiate glory with a strong coach at the helm, and Strong’s seminal strength and focal force is his sturdy and stalwart core: he is a “take no prisoners” kind of guy.

Strong is imbuing his team with the ethos that their focus is winning and graduating. Anything else is insignificant. He’s already dismissed seven players and mandated that all underclassmen live on campus. There’s a new sheriff in town, and his name is Strong. His motto is, “Let’s put the “T” back in Texas; and “T” is for toughness.

Strength is the opposite weakness, and yet we are only strong when we admit when and where we are weak. Texas’ weakness is that Strong is the first African-American coach of any major sports team on campus. That’s ANY sports team at the entire university. Ever. It is 2014, not 1964, so the hiring of a black coach shouldn’t be anything new and if anything it should be old news, right? Wrong. Not in Texas. Texas is still a bastion of old-school, old fashioned, out-of-date, and out-of-time principles and practices, and as we all know, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. But new tricks Texas must learn if they are to keep up with the rest of the NCAA.

Strength is the essence and epitome of greatness. However, we are only strong when we rely on the aid and assistance of the Almighty from above. In and of ourselves we are fearful and faint, we are fractured and faulty, we are feeble and frail, like a ship without a sail, as Thomas Elliot has well said:

Flesh-and-blood is weak and frail,
Susceptible to nervous shock;
While the True Church can never fail
For it is based upon a rock.

And so we must do as the Prophet Joel said “let the weak say, I am strong.” Like Joshua, we must “Be strong and of good courage;” we must be “be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law which Moses (God ‘s) servant commanded; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” Paul said “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” And He told Timothy to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” The Lord is our strength and our song, and in Him only is our salvation.

So let’s learn a lesson from Charlie Strong. He may not be a believer, but he believes in being strong.

Don’t Force It

U.S. Open - Final Round

Tiger Woods is forcing it. At one point, his driving and his putting and his short game and his long career were considered a thing of beauty. But not now. Now, because of sin and shame, he’s forcing it. And forcing it doesn’t work for anybody.

I’ve learned not to force it. And the great players of every sport have learned this truth too. Yes there are times when great players “take over a game” but the situation dictates it, and 9 times out of 10, the players on the court or field yield to the will and way of this great athlete, and there is nothing they can do to stop them.

God knows that we can’t force people to genuinely do anything. And God doesn’t force us either. God knows He could, but He wisely doesn’t. Why? Because forcing people and forcing things is a non-starter. A wise man once said “I won’t force myself to have space in your life because if you know my worth, you’ll create one for me.” Wow. How ‘bout that? And that’s exactly how God feels about us.

Spiritually speaking, we have been taught to “take the Kingdom by force.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The Kingdom of God is to be inherited and received and entered into, not forced or built or taken. Yeah. How ‘bout that? In Matthew 11:12 Jesus says “But the kingdom had been subject to violence and evil men were trying to take it by force.” Jesus was not saying that we are to take the Kingdom by force. If you really think about this statement, it doesn’t even make sense. How can mortal men take the immortal kingdom by force?

What Jesus was saying was that the religious leaders of His day (forceful men) were resisting the movement introduced by John, Jesus, and the apostles. The Greek word used for “take by force” means “Forcefully advancing.” The Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious elite of Jesus’ day, were those leaders who wanted a kingdom, but not the kind Jesus was offering. So they were resisting the message and attempting to establish their own rule. But John’s message was true, and if the nation would have accepted it, they would have consequently accepted Jesus. (Bible Knowledge Commentary/Old Testament Copyright © 1983, 2000 Cook Communications Ministries)

So instead of teaching that we should “take the kingdom by force,” we should be teaching to enter and to receive God’s best for us. It’s about choosing, not about forcing. Life is about making good choices. And I, speaking for all of us, have made my fair share of bad ones. And you have too.

So I’ve learned to let the game come to me. It’s not that I’m lazy or that I’m advocating lukewarm living or a lackluster life. Not so. On the contrary, we are to push and press, and progress and proceed in our lives towards our destiny. Our goal should be to meet God every day and to enter the Kingdom of God in every way. Choosing to enter and to receive and to inherit God’s power and presence is a whole lot better that trying to force our way in, which, thankfully, we don’t have to do. So, remember, don’t force it. Let the game come to you.

Derek Jeter: Baseball At Its’ Best?

Derek Jeter

From July, 2014

Derek Sanderson Jeter just played in his last All Star Game and is playing in his 20th and final season with the only team he’s ever known. At the All Star Game he went 2 for 2 and was the darling of the dance. The incomparable heart beat of the Bronx Bombers, Jeter is the poster child of the pinstripe prima donnas, and the captain of the team that captivates us all. Jeter’s team, the New Yankees, is the team that we love to hate, and Jeter is a player that we will hate to lose.

Jeter is the heart and soul and the modern “Pride” of the Yankees. He’s won five World Series rings, and lost 2. And the two he lost he hated to lose. And hating to lose, more so than loving to win, is his enduring legacy. His stats are stellar, but stats are only one thing; his persona, on the other hand, is something else altogether. He has what we call “presence.” He fills the room, or the field, for that matter. You know he’s there even without a sound from his mouth or a word from his lips. He‘s a star, a superstar for that matter, and yet his legacy will be in his significance, not his stardom.

Jeter gives us the lesson of longevity, the discipline of durability, and the aura of authenticity. In recent memory, few other baseball players have made such a big deal or lasted such a long time or meant as much to such a broad body of baseball fans as Jeter. The short list may contain Cal Ripken Jr., who played 21 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles. That’s it. That’s the list.

So don’t strive to be successful. Strive to be significant. A dear pastor friend told his congregation that “It is better to be significant than to be successful,” and “It is better to make a difference than to make a dollar.” And here’s one more “it is better:” the Bible says that “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:5, RSV). I imagine that Jeter has accepted the rebuke of the wise and rejected the song of many fools in his long, storied career.

So let’s learn the lessons and discern the didactics of Derek Jeter. He is one of the last of those players that I grew up with who truly love the game. In turn, the game has loved him right back, and rewarded him with significance to boot.

The Thrill of Victory

Germany's Goetze
Winning it all: there’s nothing quite like it. Winning games is one thing, winning the championship game is another, and is something else all together. Winning at the entry-level is nice, but winning at the highest level is sweet indeed. Beating a bad team is elementary; defeating the best team is doctorial. And we say this because the thrill of victory was amazingly displayed yet again as Germany won the 2014 FIFA World Cup over Argentina in Extra Time (OT for us Americans). Germany fought a good fight and was rewarded for their blood (literally), sweat and tears. Their toil matriculated into triumph as the hero, a sub, scored the winning goal in dramatic fashion.

We all want to win it all. Don’t we? I mean, didn’t Vince Lombardi say, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Well almost. On the other side of success, losing, to put it crassly, “sucks.” It hurts and it harms, it dents and it damages, it wounds and it wears, and it leaves us with an empty felling as big and as wide as the Grand Canyon. But enough of losing for now. We’ll learn the lessons of loss another time. For now, it’s time to focus on the win.
Germany's Goetze celebrates his goal against Argentina infront of teammate Mueller during extra time in their 2014 World Cup final at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro

Winning cures what losing kills. A loss kills or kindles the spirit; a loss embarrasses or emboldens the will; a loss destroys or defines the soul. Take your pick. You are either bitter or better because of a loss, not because of a win. But why all this talk of loss when we want to speak of gain? Because we learn more from our mistakes than we learn from our successes.
German's Win in 2014 FIFA World Cup

And so we have learned that wining is the fruit and the harvest of lack and loss. Winning is the culmination of learning from defeat after defeat, from disappointment after disappointment, and from despair after despair. The reason Christians, above all other believers in the Higher Power, can look forward to victory later and experience victory now is how we deal with death and demise. We may fall seven times, but we get back up every time. In the face of resistance and resentment, opposition and contradiction, tension and turmoil, variance and vitriol, we are victorious. We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us!
Germany's Schweinsteiger holds the World Cup trophy after winning the 2014 World Cup against Argentina in Rio de Janeiro

All of the wins and the victories of David and Daniel, Elijah and Elisha, and Peter and Paul will all seem like Jr. Varsity accomplishments in comparison to the ultimate victory of our Lord Jesus over all the forces of evil. God is angry with the wicked every day; that is why David prayed “Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end.” (Psalm 7:9). And the good news is that we don’t have to wait until the battle is over, we can shout now! Winning games is victory; winning the championship is triumph. So we can revel in the words of Paul: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 2:14, KJV

“Home, James”

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We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 2 Corinthians 5:8-9, RSV

“Home James,” is a movie cliché. The original saying (to the coach driver) was supposedly “Home, James, and don’t spare the horses!” In other words, get me home post-haste, James, because that’s where I want to be and that’s where I belong. That’s what LeBron James is doing and that’s what LeBron James is saying. By going home to Cleveland, he’s telling us that the place where we all belong is home.

Home is where the heart is. So said Pliny the Elder. And he was right. And he still is right. You can’t fault LeBron for going home. Home is our front and our border; home is our center and our perimeter; home is our frontispiece and our rear guard. Home represents family, and the foundation of our faith. Home is the place of hot chocolate on a cold winter day, and lemonade where we’ve got it made in the shade. That’s why we say “home, sweet, home.”

Yes, home is sweet. Paul said that to be absent from the body is to be Home – home with the Lord. That’s why Christianity, above all other faiths, gives us hope and a secure future. This world is not our home. And that is why we are so homesick. We long to be over on the other shore; we long to be somewhere over the rainbow; we long to be over in Gloryland. And that’s why we sing I’ll fly away, I’m goin’ up yonder, soon and very soon, and other such songs of a future hope.

Home is the only place we love to come back to. Bill Cosby said that “Human beings are the only creatures on earth that allow their children to come back home.” And that’s not a bad thing. But lest we become too Heavenly minded and are no earthly good, we must remember that we are at peace here on earth because the Lord is at home in our heart. And so, wherever we are, until we reach that celestial city, our Heavenly home, we are at peace, and at home, with Him.

Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.” And how right she was, and how right she is.