Showing Up When It Counts

Showing Up When It Counts

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

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Brent Pollard

I recall watching the Atlanta Braves when they were the perennial cellar dwellers of the National League. The Braves’ games were broadcast on UHF station 17 out of Atlanta before the little independent television station went national via cable and satellite. In those days of the baby blue uniforms and small letter “a’s,” I watched stars like Dale Murphy, Rafael Ramirez, and Phil Niekro play the game of baseball on a TV with rabbit ears.  

Fast forward to 2021, and the Atlanta Braves have won the World Series. It is interesting to talk to younger fans who only know of above-average play in the last few decades. Such fans are blissfully ignorant of those days when you could count on the Braves to have more losses than wins. Yet, I noticed something about this championship year. If you look at the records of the LA Dodgers (106-56) and Houston Astros (95-67), both teams won more games during the season than the Atlanta Braves (88-73). This truth suggests that it is essential to prevail when it counts. In other words, the Braves showed up when they had to, which is why they are the national champions.  

There is something to be said of that in Christianity as well. Regarding this, Jesus gave a parable about two sons (Matthew 21.28-32). A father went and asked his first son to work in the vineyard. He refused. So, the father went to his second son. The second son said he would go and work but never showed up. In the interim, the first son regretted his answer and went to work in his father’s vineyard. Jesus ends the parable by asking who had been obedient. The crowd responded that the first son had obeyed. Jesus informed them that there would be sinners entering the kingdom of God in like manner before the religious elite.  

The religious leaders were like the second son. They gave lip service but never actually followed the Law of Moses, only their traditions. As a result, they did not show up when it counted. But the prostitutes and tax collectors, cognizant of their sins, showed up when Jesus extended His invitation (Matthew 11.28-30). So, while it is true that there is none righteous (Romans 3.10), we still note that there are people who we count on to show up despite their flaws. Ultimately, this is what matters.  

As the saying that we attribute to Benjamin Franklin goes: “Well done is better than well said.” But, of course, this idea was Biblical long before the famous Pennsylvanian put quill to paper. James reminds us to be doers of the Word, not just hearers (James 1.22). It is far too easy for us to blend in with other congregants. “Worship, Fellowship, Retreat, and Repeat.” Now, I will be the first to say that worship service attendance indicates spiritual health, but there is a vineyard out there in which we must labor. The Father asks us to go out and work in the vineyard. What is our response? We will have fulfilled our required tasks even if we have previously said no by our words or conduct but have shown up anyway. Better to be a latecomer than a no-show. Yes, we must show up when it counts. A gracious God will make up for a less-than-stellar record and proclaim us champions (cf. Matthew 25.24). 

 

Jeff Burroughs (1977) (via http://atlantabraves19701980.blogspot.com)

Do You Believe In Goats?

Do You Believe In Goats?

Neal Pollard

With the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series since 1908, which year was near the end of Teddy Roosevelt’s second presidential term when there were only 46 United States and the first that Mother’s Day was celebrated in America, diehard fans believe a World War II-era “curse” has been lifted. Chicago tavern owner, Billy Sianis, “put” the curse on the Cubs when he and his goat were asked to leave game four of the 1945 World Series against the Tigers (imagine a goat even getting into a Major League park today). Fans point to strange, “inexplicable” events through time—most famously Steve Bartman in 2003—to support the “fact” of that curse (see more here: http://www.billygoattavern.com/legend/curse/).

For most of us, this is a fun and playful distraction that makes sports, particularly baseball, that much more fun. Superstition is a nuance that shows up in so many places: pitchers stepping over the foul line going back to the dugout, players not washing and re-wearing underclothes and uniforms, pre-game and post-game meals, etc. I would guess precious few actually believe there is real power in these rituals (on a personal note, my continuous practice of having to wake up wearing UGA apparel on football game days—begun in 1980—was once and for all broken in the midst of a bad 2016 season).

All joking aside, goats get negative attention in a place much more important than Wrigley Field. In Scripture, Jesus, in the last of five parables of preparation in Matthew 24-25, likens the lost to goats (Mat. 25:32-33). Commentators tell us that “their normal dirty state, it might even have been considered wise to leave it to the skilled shepherd to distinguish with confidence the sheep from the goats” (Nolland, NIGTC, np). In fact, throughout the Old Testament, sheep and goats were mostly interchangeable for milk, meat, sacrifice, and general use (ibid.). But, for the purpose of Judgment, Jesus is skillful and discerning enough to know with perfect discernment whether every individual is “goat” or “sheep.” No one is inadvertently mislabeled or misplaced. He will perfectly divide the saved from the lost.  Placement at Judgment will not be influenced by looks, wealth, popularity, education, or any other criteria the world embraces as success. Jesus tells us who both the goat and sheep are (Mat. 25:31-46).

Billy’s goat was not responsible for a “Cubs curse.” Yet, we should understand in a day when the world and even the religious are less inclined to label any activity goat-like, i.e., soul-condemning, Scripture makes it clear that Jesus has not lost any such ability to discern. In fact, He tells us most will be placed in the goat column (cf. Mat. 7:13-14). Let us love and respect God’s Word enough to avoid the curse He came to undo (Gal. 3:13; Rev. 22:3).

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“Snodgrass’s Muff”

“Snodgrass’s Muff”

Neal Pollard

It happened on October 16, 1912, the eighth (*) and deciding game of the World Series. In the bottom of the 10th, with his New York Giants winning by a run, Clyde Engle sent a lazy pop fly to centerfield.  Fred Snodgrass, an average hitter and dependable fielder, settled under it and ultimately dropped it.  A lot of other things happened. Snodgrass made a spectacular catch on the next play.  Hall of Fame pitcher walked the next batter.  Tris Speaker, before driving in the winning run with a single, hit a pop foul that both Fred Merkle (aka “Bonehead Merkle,” but that’s a story for another day) and Chief Meyers failed to catch.  Snodgrass’ blunder was the scapegoat for the Giants’ series loss to the Boston Red Sox. Fred would go on to be successful in business as a banker, an appliance merchant, and a rancher, was elected mayor of Oxnard, California, and served on the City Council for three terms.  There was so much more to Fred Snodgrass than a single unfortunate moment in time, but even his obituary read: “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.” In a 1940 interview, Fred spoke of how that fated fly ball would come up as he met or spoke with people (info via sabr.org and history.com).

Isn’t it interesting how a mistake or sin committed in a moment can have such lasting implications, bringing infamy and an enormous challenge of trying to live it down?  But doesn’t Snodgrass also prove that we do not have to be defined by our failures? Maybe our blunder is not played out with such renown and infamy, but it can still stay with us and dog our continued steps.

Have you dropped the ball with something?  Maybe you let down somebody you loved or somebody that was really counting on you.  Maybe you hurt someone special to you.  It might have been a foolish or ungodly word or deed when someone was watching.  The bigger the blunder, the heavier that burden of guilt might be in your heart.  There’s no excusing it. But what will you do now?  Will you let it keep you down or will you refuse to be defined by it?  The writer of Hebrews urges us, “Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1b). The focal point must be what’s before us, not what’s behind us.  So said Paul (Phil. 3:13).

Dust yourself off. Regroup. Get ready for what’s next! Focus on what’s next, not on what’s over and done.

(*) Game 2 was called on account of “impending darkness”