Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"It Ain't Over, Til It's Over"

Two weeks ago I took my father in law and his lady friend to a game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Arizona Diamondbacks at Great American Ball Park. At the age of 89 it was his second time to attend a big league game. For his friend, it was the first Reds game she had seen in person after being a life long fan. Both were excited about going, and my father in law called me two hours before our scheduled departure time, to let me know that he was dressed and ready.

I picked him up at his home in Greenup, KY, we filled up with gas, and picked up his friend, and we were off for Cincinnati and the 12:30 starting time.

The morning drive through the beautiful northern Kentucky countryside was a pleasant one. We arrived in the Queen City, and after parking in the handicapped section of the adjacent parking garage, we made our way to the nearest stadium gate. The seats were in the field boxes, down the third base line, about ten rows up. My father in law was pleased with the seats, since on his previous trip to the old Riverfront Stadium in 1978, we were in the "nosebleed section" of the red seats, about five rows from the top of the stadium. His lady friend was thrilled to be there! So, after purchasing a program and some high priced ball park food, we settled into our seats to enjoy the game.

And enjoy it we did - that is, until the bottom of the fifth inning. Down by one run, the Reds took the field in the top of the sixth, and my father in law turned to me and announced, "I'm ready to leave whenever you all are."

I was wondering how long it would take before I heard such a comment. My father in law is famous in our family circle for being ready to leave any event - shortly after arriving. His late wife use to say "He just can't sit still."

Needless to say, his friend was not happy. "I came to watch a game!" she told him firmly.

I tried logic, explaining how we had traveled 2 1/2 hours to get there, shelled out $34 for each ticket, paid $12 to park, and spent a small fortune on food. "We need to just sit back and enjoy the game", I reasoned. He grunted in assent, but I could tell, this would not deter him from his desire to "beat the crowd" out of the stadium, and to "get home before dark".

To make a long story short, by the top of the 8th with the Diamondbacks still leading by one run, he announced that he was leaving. We could stay if we wanted to, but he was going. "They are going to lose anyway" he announced. "Let's go!"

Well, the guy is 89, and knowing his determined nature, I reluctantly told his friend that we might as well take off. "We'll listen to the rest of the game on the radio", I assured her. We did. Reds lost, and he assured us that he already knew that they were going to lose.

He was right on that one, but this 2010 Reds team has made it a practice this year to come from behind in dramatic fashion to find a way to win.

That is exactly what happened last night. The Reds needed only one win to clinch the championship of the National League Central Division. When I turned the game on in the fourth inning, the Reds were down to the Houston Astros 2-1. They managed to tie it up with a bases loaded infield hit by Brandon Phillips, and the score remained tied at 2-2 until the Reds came to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning.

In dramatic fashion, Reds outfielder, Jay Bruce, (pictured above) blasted a walk off home run to clinch the division championship and send the Reds into post season play for the first time in 15 years!

Baseball is the only major team sport that is played without a clock. All true baseball fans know the adage, "The game isn't over till the last man is out". (Or as Yogi Berra famously misspoke it, "It ain't over till it's over.") This Reds team has proved that all year long. As they complete the last week of the 2010 season, the statistics show that they have come from behind 45 times this season to win games in which they had trailed their opponents. In fact, Bruce's shot last night was the 27th time this season, that the Reds have won a game in their last at bat.

It ain't over till it's over!

Seems to me that is a lesson we can take from baseball and apply to every aspect of our lives.

Have you ever been tempted to give up - throw in the towel - and and accept defeat - just because you don't see a way out of a particular situation? Sometimes we face problems that seem to be insurmountable. Nearly six years ago, I received a diagnosis of incurable cancer. The prognosis was an average survival time of 18-22 months. Now, I'm not saying that I had any control over what happened. I had no control whatsoever! However, after nearly six years, I am still here. For some reason, God has chosen to leave me here for a while. I can't explain it, and I have no idea why, but I have determined to try to make the best of every day He gives me. Deep in my heart, I know I won't be here forever - but I am now, and that is worth everything.

If you are discouraged, fearful, or depressed - trust God. He is in control. Every day He gives you, just keep stepping up to the plate and taking your swings.

It ain't over, till it's over!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Cheap, Easy, Believe-ism"

This post is not about what kind of clothing we wear.

It is, however, about how serious a matter it is when we think about following Jesus.

Way back when I was in Bible College, Professor Leroy Forlines spoke often about the danger of "Cheap, Easy, Believe-ism" in the church. Frankly, I sometimes passed it off as the ranting of an angry guy who wasn't happy with the fact that "The times, they were a changin'". However, after growing up a little, and having served in the pastorate for nearly four decades, I have come to realize that Brother Forlines was dead on the money.

I am not espousing legalism, here. In fact, learning more about the doctrines of grace, I have long ago grown tired of arbitrary, man made rules about dotting the I's and crossing the T's, in an effort to please God. Here in the Bible Belt it is quite common to hear regular preaching that is full of "the rules of the road" in the Christian life. Such teachings may involve certain wardrobe requirements, hair styles, warning about arbitrary "worldly activities", ritual, rants against certain types of worship music, and adherence to only one particular translation of the Bible. The "worship experience" is planned and dictated by what those in power may personally like, or dislike.

At the risk of being labeled a "liberal" or some kind of "radical", I have consciously tried to steer away from this type of 21st Century Pharisee-ism. In reality, the emphasis should not be so much on "how we live", as it should be on "who lives in us"!

Unfortunately the knee jerk reaction that some have had against such Pharisaic teaching, has contributed to what Brother Forlines referred to as "Cheap, Easy, Believe-ism". This is the attitude that basically says, "Discipleship is not important - just believe in Jesus".

Belief is, of course, the key element in coming to God. It is the first step to a relationship with the Creator. "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (Hebrews 11:6). Belief in Christ, as the only means of coming into that relationship, is imperative. After 20 chapters focusing on the works and teachings of Jesus, the Apostle John summed up the contents of his Gospel with these words, "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:30-31)

The other apostles also taught about the importance of belief in Christ. When asked by the Philippian Jailer, what he must do to be saved, Paul replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31).

Faith is the bedrock of salvation. Pure and simple. We are saved by believing in Christ, and not by doing certain "works of righteousness". "For 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).

But saving faith is more than just a mental assent to the existence of God. James shares these sobering words with us - "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!" (James 2:17-19).

What are these "works" that James speaks of? Does this statement contradict Eph. 2:8-9 ? Of course not! The works here are exhibited as proof of our relationship with God. They come from "following Jesus".

Believing in, and following Jesus, involve so much more than what we "believe about" Him, or how we dress or how we look. It is all about allowing Him to live through us.

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus is quoted as calling people to "Follow Him". A belief in His person and work would be necessary for one to forsake all to follow Him. Consider what he said as recorded in Mark 8:34-35 "And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."

Salvation is free, but it did not come cheap. It came at a great cost. True belief in Christ is not cheap or easy. Consider these words from 1 Peter chapter 1:14-18 "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot."

Matthew 5-7 gives us a microcosm of the teachings of Christ regarding those who follow Him. He speaks of the Christ Follower's character, influence, righteousness, piety, prayer, ambitions, and relationships.

Pretty powerful stuff. And it is not "cheap" or "easy" in any way. Check it out.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wise Words From A Young Man

Most everyone with any biblical background knows about Job. The narrative is arguably one of the most ancient of all the books of the Old Testament. Job was a great man, in his time, and we are all acquainted with the tremendous suffering he endured which pushed his physical and spiritual health to its very limits.

Much of the book (chapters 3 -31) contain dialog and debate between Job and three of his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Accusations are made against Job and assumptions spoken regarding God and His purposes. Then, in chapter 32 a most interesting character appears. His name is Elihu. Apparently he had been an observer to the dialog of the earlier chapters, and had remained silent due to his youth, and respect for his elders (32: 4-6). Finally, after hearing all that could be said, he could no longer hold his peace and felt compelled to speak.

In the 33rd chapter Elihu asserts some pretty strong words regarding those who foster a complaining attitude toward God, regarding human suffering.

There are several interesting points made in this chapter:

First, God does not have to answer to man. (v. 12-14) God is greater than man. Why do you contend against him,saying, ‘He will answer none of man's words’? For God speaks in one way,and in two, though man does not perceive it.

Secondly, in those days before the full canon of scripture, God reveal Himself and His plan in several ways.

  • Through Dreams and Visions (vs 14-18) " For God speaks in one way,and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night,when deep sleep falls on men,while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man; he keeps back his soul from the pit,his life from perishing by the sword."

  • Through Pain and Suffering (vs. 19-22) “Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed and with continual strife in his bones, so that his life loathes bread,and his appetite the choicest food. His flesh is so wasted away that it cannot be seen,and his bones that were not seen stick out. His soul draws near the pit,and his life to those who bring death.

  • Through Angelic Beings (v. 23) "If there be for him an angel,a mediator, one of the thousand,to declare to man what is right for him"

And finally, when a man responds favorably to suffering, God restores him (vs. 25-30) "let his flesh become fresh with youth;let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’; then man prays to God, and he accepts him;he sees his face with a shout of joy,and he restores to man his righteousness. He sings before men and says:‘I sinned and perverted what was right,and it was not repaid to me. He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,and my life shall look upon the light.’ “Behold, God does all these things,twice, three times, with a man, to bring back his soul from the pit,that he may be lighted with the light of life."

Elihu shows wisdom that belies his young age. I hope to look further into Elihu's discourse in future posts.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Nice Evening With A Bunch Of Pirates

I had a pleasant encounter with a group of "Pirates" last evening - Belfry High School Pirates, that is. The 1969, 1970, and 1971 graduating classes of the Pike County, Kentucky High School (now located near South Williamson, KY) held a joint reunion. The get together was held in the former high school building - which now houses Belfry Middle School. Although I only personally knew a handful of the members of the Class of '69, one of them is very special to me. She has been my wife for the past 39 of the 41 years since they picked up their diplomas.

For one reason or another, Linda has never been able to attend any of her previous class reunions. Little League and Babe Ruth Baseball tournaments, wedding anniversaries, and other conflicts had kept her from being able to reunite with classmates over the years.

Since there had not been a 40th reunion last year, a number of the class of '69 members had sought to have a joint reunion with the classes of '70 and '71 this summer. Thanks to their hard work, it all came together last night. The miracle of Facebook played a big role in reconnecting folks, many of whom had not seen each other in 41 years!

Spouses often dread attending their other half's reunions, but I knew that Linda had braved attending my 35th reunion several years ago, and it was only fair that I should accompany her to her own get together. I am glad we were able to go. It was nice to renew acquaintances with the few of her former classmates that I had met throughout the years, and very nice to make new acquaintances. I enjoyed hearing all the stories of high school days, and listening to long time friends catching up on each other's lives. Linda had a great time seeing old friends and even a couple of her former teachers were there.

Besides the excellent dinner of delicious barbecue and fried chicken, I truly enjoyed watching the reactions of grandmothers and grandfathers, who, for an evening, got to be high school kids again! There were numerous puzzled looks as faces were scrutinized and the wheels of memory ground away. Then the puzzled expressions turned to huge smiles as the names and faces were matched with high school photo name tags. Hugs were in abundance, the sounds of laughter filled the cafeteria, and years faded away for a few hours as old friends caught up on the events and family changes of the past four decades.

Each of the three classes had individual class photos made on the front steps of the old building. A memorial time was observed, remembering classmates who had passed away. Awards were given for those who had traveled furthest to attend the reunion. Some had traveled from as far away as the west coast. Many still live along the Kentucky/West Virginia border where they grew up. Awards were handed out to the most changed and least changed males and females from each class, and Linda won the "most changed girl" category from the class of '69. While happy to win the beautiful print of her old high school building, she wasn't sure if her selection was a good thing or a bad one.

"Have I really changed that much?" she asked her friends at our table. They assured her that they had ALL changed, a LOT over 41 years. I am convinced that she won in that category due to the fact that by all accounts, she had been one of the most shy and quiet girls in the whole school. Last night she was simply her happy, outgoing, talkative self that she has become since high school. I'm sure that is what her classmates recognized as they cast their ballots. Just watching her enjoy herself with long lost friends was well worth the four hour round trip.

Nice evening with a bunch of Pirates.

Hopefully we will be able to do this again in 2019 - before we all become septuagenarians!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

This 'N That

A friend on Facebook posted the other evening, "Be sure to watch the news tonight at 11:00 to see what happened at Westmoreland Foodland". Well, that certainly caught my attention. The Foodland store is just a couple of blocks from the church I serve as pastor. I often run by at lunch time to pick up something from their deli, or stop on the way home for items Linda asks me to pick up. (I don't know why she is unable to stop at one of the grocery stores she passes on her way home - but that would be another subject for another post)

Anyhow, the Facebook posting piqued my curiosity, and it was still an hour or so until the scheduled newscast. I wasn't sure I would still be awake at 11:00 so I went to the TV station's website to pick up the "breaking news". The story was shocking. The video feed showed that fire department and Haz Mat teams had roped off the parking lot, and guys in space suits were visible through the store windows going about some mysterious activity inside.

The report was that "6 to 8 employees" had become sick and had been transported to a local hospital after coming in contact with an unknown white powdery substance. The story said a "regular customer" had paid for groceries with $80.00 worth of pennies, and that the pennies were covered with the white powder. The store had been shut down and the suspicious pennies were taken to a state laboratory in Charleston for identification of the powder. Most of us remember the anthrax scares from the last decade, and any kind of white substance (not found in a Johnson's Baby Powder bottle) is deemed suspicious.

I went to bed that night, wondering about the strange happenings in the neighborhood, and concerned about several friends who work in the store, along with the many church members who shop there on a regular basis. Stories in the morning paper verified the reports from the previous evening, but reported that the store had been "completely cleaned" and that only two employees had been kept in the hospital. Officials were still awaiting lab reports on the mysterious powder covered pennies.

When I visited the store at lunch time yesterday, I asked one of the long time employees if he had been affected by the events of the previous day.

"Shucks!" he said. "That was all a bunch of junk. It wasn't $80.00 worth of pennies, it was $6.00! The guy wasn't what I would call a regular customer, either. He's a fellow that comes in here sometimes and buys cigarettes with loose change. That's what he was doing yesterday. There were two people who went to the emergency room, not six, and the firemen said it looked as though the pennies had been through some kind of fire. We're not going to take a bunch of loose change anymore" he continued. "From now on, they will have to be in rolls."

Well, that was a relief, but it just goes to show how stories can get blown out of proportion - even reports from a reputable news organization. The first clue should have been the story of a guy paying with $80.00 worth of pennies. Seems to me it would take a wheel barrow to transport that many little copper Lincolns!


Those of us who are long time Cincinnati Reds fans are reveling in the tremendous success this season by our beloved Redlegs. It seemed surreal that the Reds were leading the National League's Central Division by two games in early August, when MVP, Albert Pujols and the powerful second place St. Louis Cardinals came to town for a showdown for a highly anticipated series. The Cards swept the three game set, leaving the Queen City with a one game lead in the division standings, and Reds fans wondering if this were the beginning of the end for the miracle season.


Since the disastrous weekend series with the Cardinals, the Reds have been on a tear, and the wheels have seemed to come off for St. Louis. In only 20 days the Redlegs have made a 9 game swing in the standings, and now, on the second day of September, Dusty Baker's Reds have an 8 game lead in the standings, with only 30 more games remaining in the season.

Powerful offense, exciting base running, and tremendous outings from a young pitching staff have made for a magical season for us Reds fans. The Reds lead the league with 36 come from behind victories, many of which have come in their last at bats. They are a team that never gives up, and they are a joy to watch.

After a well deserved rest today, the Reds travel to St. Louis for a week end series with the Cardinals. The race could tighten by Sunday, or the Reds could drive the final nails in the Redbirds' coffin for 2010. I am hoping for the latter.


Speaking of sports, my beloved Marshall University Thundering Herd opens their 2010 football season tonight at the Horseshoe in Columbus, against the nationally number two ranked Buckeyes of The Ohio State University.

The new look Herd is poised for a turnaround season under first year head coach Doc Holliday, but the road to a winning season starts against two formidable opponents - two nationally ranked teams in OSU and the Mountaineers of West Virginia. In all, the Herd faces six teams who qualified for bowl games last year. Hopes are high, but reality tells one that tonight could be a real beat down, but who knows? Stranger things have happened. In fact, the only other time that Marshall has played at the "Shoe" it took a closing seconds, 55 yard Ohio State field goal to give the Buckeyes a 24-21 nail biting victory.

Go Herd!


From the "What are they thinking department": Cabell County Public Schools (Huntington, WV) have announced that all swing sets will be removed from their elementary school playgrounds immediately. It seems that the swings are just too big a liability hazard for little Johnny and little Susie.

Two lawsuits and the resulting settlements over swing set accidents last year, have prompted the litigation weary school board in to making the decision to remove the playground staple.

Can you believe this?

It is a sad state of affairs when swings are outlawed from the grade school playground. What ever happened to personal responsibility? How many of us have had playground accidents ourselves? Think about the playground equipment that those of us (of a certain age) were accustomed to in our youth. Remember playing on school grounds with an asphalt playground? Remember the steel Monkey Bars and Jungle Jim's? Remember climbing up the high slicky slide the wrong way? Remember how we use to see who could swing the highest? Remember the contests to see how far one could jump from a moving swing? Remember even standing up in the swing? Sometimes we got hurt. Did our parents sue? No. Did the school officials remove the "dangerous equipment? Of course not! We got patched up, sometimes busted on the bottom, and sternly warned to be more careful.

How did we ever survive?

No swings in Cabell County school playgrounds. What will the Nanny State outlaw next?