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Mired in the Weeds

It was a bright afternoon in Forbes Field, in Pittsburgh. The date was October 13, 1960. It was game seven of the World Series. The dominant New York Yankees were in town against the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates. Though the Series was tied at three games apiece, the Yankees were clearly the superior team, amassing a total run advantage of 46-17. The Pirates were mild competition for the likes of Mantle, Maris, Berra, Ford, and MVP Bobby Richardson. But it all came down to the final inning of the final game. The score was 9-9. At 3:36 p.m., light hitting second baseman Bill Mazeroski stepped to the plate. And with one swing of the bat, the World Series had its first-ever walk-off home run. Mazeroski drove the ball to left field, completely out of the stadium.

Now, if you visit Cooperstown, you will see all the great historic home run balls on display: Babe Ruth’s 60th home run ball from 1927, Roger Maris’ 61st from 1961, etc. But you won’t find the most significant ball ever hit. The Mazeroski ball isn’t there. Here’s what happened. A 14-year-old boy named Andy Jerpe went to the game that day. He left in the bottom of the 9th so he wouldn’t be late for dinner. Walking beyond the stadium, he heard the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd. Unexpectedly, 15 feet away, landed “the ball.” A police officer ran over to Andy as he picked up the historic ball, and he escorted the 9th grader to the Pirates’ clubhouse. There, Andy offered the ball to Mazeroski, who declined. “No thanks, son. You can keep the ball. The memory is good enough for me.” He signed the historic ball, and Andy walked home, now late for dinner and much in trouble.

Andy put the ball in a case on the mantle above the fireplace at home. Six months later, some friends came over, and they decided to get up a game of baseball. The problem was, they didn’t have a ball. But Andy did. So they took the Mazeroski ball to the field. Soon, someone knocked the ball into a field. After a brief search for the ball, they gave up. It was mired in the weeds. A few days later, Andy’s dad noticed the ball missing from the mantle. When Andy told him the story, they went back to the field to look for the ball again. The field had been mowed and the historic ball was lost forever.

Many of us are like that ball. We have great value. But we get mired in the weeds. We have big plans, but get sidetracked by insignificant issues of day-to-day life. We become mired in the weeds. We stop growing in our faith because of our pursuit for the next dollar. We find ourselves mired in the weeds. We didn’t intend to end up there. Nor did we give ample time to finding our way out. God has huge plans for each of us. When we get lost, we are like that baseball. We don’t want to be lost. It just happens. It happens because we get mired in the weeds.  

Rolling Stones’ Lies

The Phi Kappa Psi college fraternity has been around since 1852. Their motto is “United by friendship, sustained by honor, and led by truth, we live and we flourish.” The fraternity has 101 chapters and has initiated 119,000 members over the past 163 years. In November, the “honor” part of the fraternity’s motto was called into serious question by Sabrina Erdely, writing for The Rolling Stones magazine. She uncovered the story of “Jackie,” a University of Virginia freshman who was raped at the frat house by seven members of the fraternity.

Erdely was the only journalist to expose the horror of what happened that terrible night at Psi Kappy Psi. Her work and bravery are deserving of a Pulitzer. Except for one thing. It seems “Jackie” made the whole thing up, and Erdely was too lazy to interview any of the accused. When the truth came out, it was Rolling Stones that was exposed. Neither the writer nor the editor bothered to question any of the accused or get a single iota of evidence. “Clearly our fraternity and its members have been defamed, but more importantly we fear this entire episode may prompt some victims to remain in the shadows, fearful to confront their attackers.” For their part, the leaders of Rolling Stones have not dismissed the writer or editor behind the false accusations. The first amendment to the Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

But this leaves out one very important word: responsibility. What is the lesson from this incident? Read the words of that great philosopher, Bob Dylan. “A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” I admit I don’t know much about Phi Kappa Psi. But I do know this. In order for a freedom to be enjoyed, it must be accompanied by responsibility.

Where’s His Cap?

Leslie Weatherford tells the story of a sailor who dove into the water to rescue a drowning boy. A few days later the boy and his mom were shopping and the boy saw the sailor and told his mom that he was the man who had saved his life. His mother walked up to the young man and asked if he was, indeed, the one who had pulled her son out of the water. The sailor confirmed that he was the one. He then anticipated a warm embrace, a heartfelt “thank you,” and perhaps a reward, though he didn’t seek any of those things. What he got was far different: a question, not an affirmation. Said the boy’s mother, “My son had a new cap on that day when he fell into the water. You were right there. Did you find it?”

People are funny. The man saved the boy’s life, and all his mother seemed to care about was a $10 cap. But think about it. A couple thousand years ago, Jesus dove into the lake of sin to pull you out. He did it to save your life forever. In response, do you thank him? Or do you ask for things as meaningless as a $10 cap? Let me ask it a bit differently. Do you spend more time seeking God’s hand or God’s face? Jesus risked his life to save yours. Is it too much to whisper a simple “thank you”? The apostle Paul said it like this. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Unknown Revolutionary Hero

You have probably heard of George Washington. You may have heard of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Paul Revere. These are among our greatest Revolutionary War heroes. Add another name to that list: John Woolman.

You remember him, don’t you? Not an outgoing, gregarious type, Woolman was a quiet Quaker from Pennsylvania. In a time when almost all men were hunters, John did not carry a gun. His hobbies included tailoring clothes and long nature hikes. Intent on learning about his fellow man, Woolman embarked on an unarmed expedition into the Indian territories. His goal was to simply learn about the natives while spreading a message of love.

As his admiration for Native Americans grew, he became conflicted on the matter of human rights. He began to question the accepted institution of slavery at a time when it was a universally accepted practice. Woolman spent 20 years traveling the colonies and journeyed back to England. He became a quiet advocate for the abolishment of slavery. His audience was his own religion. His message was universally rejected, but there was something different about John Woolman that his opponents could not easily dismiss – his character.

John was a peaceful, kind, patient man. Never rude or confrontational, he let his integrity carry his message. Woolman died in 1772, never seeing his dream fulfilled. But in just four short years, the Religious Society of Friends (aka “Quakers”) voted to abolish slavery. It would take another 89 years before the country followed suit.

You need a cause bigger than yourself. John Woolman found one. What is yours? A few years ago, Beth and I enjoyed a dream vacation, a cruise to Alaska. On one of our many hikes, we witnessed salmon swimming upstream toward their death. Sometimes, when you carry an unpopular message that is bigger than you, you will have to swim upstream. And like the salmon, you may die before you reach your intended destination.

John Woolman lived for a cause worth dying for. He was a man of character, a man ahead of his time. But this quiet Quaker was an American hero for one reason. He found a cause bigger than himself and he gave himself to that cause in the face of opposition in his new land and even from his Church. That is character. That is integrity. And that can be you.

Clocks

What do Henry Ford, Robert Fulton, Eli Whitney, and Paul Revere have in common? The answer is so obvious! They all were clockmakers at one point in their lives. Levi Hutchins made the first modern alarm clock in 1787. Fastidious by nature, Hutchins fashioned a mechanical ringing bell clock so that he could arrive punctually at work each morning. He never bothered to patent or mass-produce his invention, which only went off at 4:00 a.m. Leonardo de Vinci invented and used an alarm clock in which water flowed in a thin stream from one receptacle to another. Greek mathematician and scientist Heron of Alexandria invented a water clock during the reign of Alexander the Great. Its purpose was to limit the time a lawyer could speak in court.

We have had a fascination with time for centuries. The average American owns 3.7 watches. Did you know the average person looks at a watch or clock 452 times a day? On Sunday mornings at church, the number doubles. We always want to know the time. But God says, “No one knows the time when Jesus will return.” Instead of looking at your watch, just be ready! So how do you get ready? I know people who have gone through really hard times, some of their own doing, some not. Can they be ready? It is just when a man steps onto the stage of failure and pain that he is about to become ready. No one said it better than Henry Lyte. “When God wants to drill a man, and thrill a man, and skill a man, when God want to mold a man to play the noblest part; when He yearns with all His heart to create so great and bold a man, that all the world shall be amazed, watch His methods, watch His ways – how He ruthlessly perfects whom He royally elects, how He hammers and hurts him and with mighty blows converts him into trial shapes of clay. How He bends but never breaks when His good He undertakes. How He uses whom He chooses, and with every purpose fuses him; but every act induces him to try his splendor out – God knows what He’s about!” Jesus is coming again. It’s time to get ready. The clock is ticking . . .

Praying Sisters

Peggy Smith was 84. Her sister, Christine, was 82. Peggy could barely see and Christine could hardly walk. But together, they changed Scotland. It happened in 1849 on the Scottish Island of Lewis, in the tiny village of Barvas. Their pastor longed for revival. He preached for revival. But nothing happened. Nothing, that is, until he visited Peggy and Christine and asked them to pray. Unable to attend church, they figured that was the least they could do. So Peggy and Christine began to pray for a movement of God. The sisters invited a few friends to join them for prayer. They extended their prayer gatherings to six hours, starting at 10 p.m. They prayed that evangelist Duncan Campbell would come to their little church for a one-night meeting. Campbell came for five weeks. He led four services every day, at 7 p.m., 10 p.m., midnight, and 3 a.m. The move of God was undeniable. Hundreds were converted. Saloons went out of business. Gambling ceased. Marriages were restored. And all of Scotland was changed.

It is amazing to see what happens when two sisters decide to really pray. Jesus said there is power in two or three coming together in prayer. He also said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7). If you want to be a part of something big, you need to do three things. First, find a cause bigger than you. Second, find a buddy (or sister) to join you in prayer. Third, find the God of the universe on your knees. If you pray the way Peggy and Christine prayed, heaven will be moved, your heart will be changed, and your world will be better.

Reflections on Robert Schuller

Three years ago, we lost one of the most influential religious leaders of the 20th century. Rev. Robert Schuller, founder of the Crystal Cathedral, died at age 88. The charismatic televangelist built an empire over 50 years, starting with a small church meeting at a drive-in movie theater. In recent years, this empire crumbled under the weight of divided leadership, declining attendance, and lost donations that drove the church into bankruptcy, with debt topping $43 million. The glass-paned cathedral was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in 2011. Schuller lost a lawsuit to recoup $5 million.

At his popularity peak, Schuller was seen by 20 million viewers in 180 countries every week. In his declining years, the author of over 30 books lived in a care facility where he received treatment for tumors that spread from his esophagus. Schuller was roundly attacked by the establishment and by fundamentalists. He was widely viewed as a heretic and humanist. His friendship with President Bill Clinton sparked an outrage among the conservative citizens of Orange County and among other religious leaders around the nation. Schuller was mocked for being self-serving, shallow, and Biblically illiterate.

But this is not a time to pile on. It is too easy to take shots at those in the spotlight. I loved Robert Schuller, for I do not make agreement on every point a necessity for acknowledging the good and the God I see in that person. It was Schuller who said, “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” As a young minister, I remember hearing him ask, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” He said, “Always look at what you have left, not at what you have lost.” “Build a dream and that dream will build you.” And I love this word of encouragement: “Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.”

On September 16, 1926, Robert Harold Schuller was born in the small town of Alton, Iowa. Yesterday he stepped into the presence of God. The man who hosted Hour of Power for 40 years has lived his last hour in this world. Today he has a new body as he has joined his wife of 64 years, Arvella, before the throne of God. Today is not the day to criticize one of America’s most influential spiritual leaders. It is a day to grasp the hope and grace that he taught millions around the world.

To you whose life is touched by both hopes and hurts (all of us), I leave you with these words: “Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.” And as you follow your hopes, thank God for a simple man from Iowa – a loving husband, adoring father, gifted author, influential leader, faithful pastor, and child of the King. Breathe a prayer of gratitude for the father of positive living. Without him, earth just got sadder. With him, heaven became an even happier place. It is truly amazing – what God can do through one man. His name was Robert Schuller.

We’ll Miss You, Gary Dahl

On March 23, we lost a legend. You may not know the name Gary Dahl, but I bet you know his work. Dahl was the genius who invented the Pet Rock. Here’s how it happened. One day, 40 years ago, Mr. Dahl was sitting in a bar in Los Angeles listening to his buddies complain about their pets. They were too loud, too expensive, and too big a hassle. Gary came up with a brilliant idea. He would create the perfect pet. He mass produced the Pet Rock.

He sold these rocks as pets, with instructions. This 1975 fad lasted just a few months, but it made Dahl a millionaire. This was the brilliance of the Pet Rock. It would never need to be fed, walked, bathed, or groomed. It would never be disobedient, get sick, or die. It could easily be taught to stay, roll over, or play dead. The Pet Rock was a gray stone, sold in a box with holes punched in the top to give the pet some air. Dahl wrote a 32-page manual on how to care for the rocks: The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock. The manual explained everything the new owner needed to know about his pet. After an impressive six month run, the Pet Rock disappeared from our consciousness.

But a new generation of Rock lovers has come to embrace the perfect pet nearly 40 years later. On September 3, 2012, the Pet Rock was re-introduced to the public by Rosebud Entertainment. So, at age 40, the Pet Rock lives on, with an anticipated life span beyond measure. What created a market of the Pet Rock? In a word, loneliness. The Rock is the perfect companion. You can walk it, play with it, and even sleep with it. The only thing the Pet Rock won’t do is love you back.

God created a whole bunch of rocks. And he said, “It is good.” He said the same thing about the rest of his creation: the birds and bees, sun and stars. But then he made something that could respond to him on a personal level. He made man and woman. And then he said, “It is very good.” God has given us free wills. We can choose for or against him. That is a risk for God, because many of us choose against him. But God did not want a bunch of mind-numbed robots. He wanted us to follow him because we want to. It would have been easier for him to create Pet Rocks instead of men with rocks in their heads. But for God, it is all about relationship. Now, there is a major stream of theology running around today that says God has pre-determined who would be saved and who wouldn’t. It is the product of the Reformed Movement. Some call it Calvinism. The Hebrew word is bologna. Yes, God is sovereign. But in his sovereignty, he made us with free wills, able to choose him or not choose him. God will spend eternity with those who chose the one who died for their sins. If God wanted to create us with our eternal destiny pre-determined, he would have just made Pet Rocks. So when you put your Pet Rock to bed tonight, remember the name Gary Dahl. And when you put yourself to bed after that, remember the name Jesus Christ. You don’t love him because you have to; you do it because you want to. That is the lesson of the Pet Rock.

Top Ten Lists

A certain late night comedian used to offer up a Top Ten list every night. We all love lists. In my never ending journey to keep you informed, I offer three Top Ten lists for your critique. Let’s start with television. According to The Writers Guild, the top ten shows of all time are, in order: The Sopranos, Seinfeld, The Twilight Zone, All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mad Men (huh?), Cheers, The Wire (double huh?), and West Wing. TV Guide takes seven of those shows out for their list, and includes I Love Lucy, 60 Minutes, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Honeymooners, The Simpsons (huh?), The Andy Griffith Show, and Saturday Night Live.  Let’s move to the world of baseball. The top ten players of all time, according to The Sporting News, are Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewsen, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, and Stan Musial. Not so fast, says AskMen.com. They toss in Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Nolan Ryan, and Barry Bonds. How about presidents? According to a C-Span poll, you ranked them in this order: George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Harry Truman, Thomas Jefferson, John Kennedy, and Dwight Eisenhower. But ABC took a poll and got this result: Abe Lincoln, John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, George Washington, Bill Clinton, Teddy Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush, Thomas Jefferson, and Harry Truman.

Any time you want to stir up discussion and disagreement, ask a group of people to agree on a top ten list of anything: movies, food, beaches, books, churches, cities, actors, singers, authors, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. We can’t agree on anything. Oh, wait a minute. There is one Top Ten list that has never changed. It’s called The Ten Commandments. We would do well if we could master just the first one: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Life is full of uncertainties. We all have opinions on the best restaurant, team, and place to take a walk. And your opinion matters. But when we come to The Ten Commandments, we are not looking at ten suggestions. If you break them, they will break you. So go ahead. Make your lists. But there is one list that will never change. Start with the first command and start today. “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Political Correctness

Do you know how to never offend anyone with what you say? It’s simple. Never say anything. Or at least, never say anything about religion, politics, or cats. The only exception is that in most circles it is okay to criticize Christianity, but not other religions. Avoid attempts at humor at all cost. It is acceptable to laugh at anything crude, but don’t “force” your morality on anyone else. The phrase for today is “political correctness.” If you are new to the PC game, let me help. We no longer “man” an office or position…We “person” it. We don’t allow our children to play Cowboys and Indians…They are to play Cowpersons and Native Americans.

Vice President Al Gore said it well. “My mother always made it clear to my sister and me that men and women were equal, if not more so.” You have your assignment. May all mankind and womankind strive for equality, if not “more so.” Strive for non-offensive, non-controversial speech in everything you say. But if it is political correctness you want, you may want to avoid the Scriptures. They are all about truth, whether it stings or not. King David, a “man after God’s own heart,” once prayed, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight” (Psalm 19:14). The choice is yours. You can play for the crowd and seek PC at every turn, in everything you do and in everything you say. Or you can give up and play for an audience of One.