Last weekend the Red Sox began their new season, exactly five months after winning the World Series, concluding their best statistical season in franchise history. Throughout the season, they led the league in wins (108), RBIs (829) and team batting average (.286). To top it all off, their star player, Mookie Betts, was named the AL MVP. By all means of measuring success, the Red Sox had a historic season. The city was blessed to enjoy a rolling rally throughout the streets and the sporting goods stores in the area sold a bunch of merchandise celebrating the team’s victory over every foe.
Last weekend the Red Sox began their new season and, as of this posting, proceeded to lose more games than they had won. The good news in anticipating the current season is that most of the key elements in prior success is still in place for the present campaign. The bad news in anticipating the current season is that past performance is no guarantee of success in the present. The slate has been wiped clean and the wins of the past season no longer matter. Every team, both winners like the Red Sox and non-winners like the Baltimore Orioles (who amassed a mere 47 wins last season), starts on Opening Day in the same place.
As I think about the Red Sox, I also think about myself. I remember all the victories I won last season: I battled temptation and won more times than I lost. I faced discouragement, home and away, and won the season series; I went into the stadium of sexual purity and came away with a win; I stood in ‘the box’ against the enemy’s strongest arms (hurlers with names like lying, cheating and stealing) and bested them with base hits and deep bombs. There were days that I did not have my best stuff, but over the course of the entire season I ended up with many more wins than losses.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13
But, like baseball, that was last season and while I have many of the same tools and much of the same training, I still must engage the enemy. And, like baseball, past performance is no guarantee of success in the present. This season, along with the regular adversaries, the measure of victory I have enjoyed has made me vulnerable to other forms of attack from things like personal pride and common complacency. I am going to take it one day at a time, one ‘at-bat’ at a time: I will have to enjoy the success of victory only for a moment, accept the sting of loss only for an instant, and fight the good fight each and every day.
There is no spiritual World Series and the faithfully obedient will not receive a trophy at end of each season. Still, the one who resists and remains after going nine innings with temptation is not without reward. There is, for that one, a crown – of life, of righteousness, of glory – that will never be taken away.
Have a great season!
On Sunday night, the Boston Red Sox won their fourth World Series in the last fifteen years. As I was preparing my thoughts for this post, I read my post from November 1, 2013, the last time the Red Sox won it all. At that time, I was particularly impressed with John Lackey, who had a checkered past as a Red Sox pitcher but came up big in the playoffs, even getting the win in the Series clinching game. He was a living example of the biblical practice of “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13).”
This time around it was another pitcher, in fact the pitcher who got the win in this year’s Series clinching game, with whom I was particularly enamored. David Price, the highest paid player on the Red Sox, has always been an ace (an exceptional starting pitcher) in the regular season, but, entering the 2018 post-season, had amassed an 0-9 record in games he started in the playoffs. It looked like it would be more of the same this year when Price lost to the Yankees in game 2 of the A.L. Divisional Series and received a no-decision in game 2 of the A.L. Championship Series.
Hope for the hometown team was flagging when Price was named the starter for game 5 of the ALCS. However, as Price put it, he “figured something out while [warming up in the bullpen for a possible relief appearance in game 4], and it kind of just carried over” into his start the following day. He was spectacular, earning his first win in the playoffs as a starter (and clinching the American League pennant). He was then spectacular a few days later, in game 2 of the World Series, earning his second win, and then, a few days after that, winning his third consecutive start and securing the World Series for the Red Sox.
The amazing truth in all this is that David Price is in the middle of his contract (which, I remind you, is the highest in Red Sox history) and – win, lose or no-decision – would have been paid the same amount for the next 4 years. Yet, Price pitched three times in the World Series (once as a reliever) and willingly sacrificed himself for he team. Price literally did everything he could do to win, leaving everything he had on the field of play. By doing this, he went from scapegoat to hero in the span of ten days.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
Because of David Price, I am reminded that all that I do can and should glorify God. It is only reasonable for me to do all that I am capable of doing in building for His kingdom, expanding His gospel and expressing His love to those around me. I am able to sacrifice more than I think so that I can accomplish more than I expect. I thank God that our record from the past does not dictate our productivity in the future. When we are willing to do whatever it takes, sometimes God will use that to enable us to take it all.
The Red Sox are rebuilding, again. On Monday, they exited the playoffs with a season-ending loss at the hands of the Houston Astros. On Wednesday, the organization and the field manager parted ways, effectively ushering the hometown team into a season of transition and change. Rumors have already begun about trades and free-agent signings; only time will tell who will stay, who will go and who will join the team. Despite their recent successes (winning the American League East Division title for the last two seasons and winning the World Series five seasons ago), the team’s inability to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs was unacceptable. The front office personnel at Fenway Park has decided that the answer to “what have you done for me lately?” is “not enough”.
I am thankful the God does not have the same business plan as the Red Sox. I am grateful that a few seasons with less-than-optimal results (despite a modicum of success) does not disqualify me from being part of His team. I rejoice that when my production or power has waned, He will not replace me with someone who could do better. As opposed to a sport where, in 2017, a batter is nearly as likely to strike out (21.6% of all plate appearances) as get a hit (22.8% of all plate appearances), it is remarkable that the Lord allows us to miss the mark so frequently without relegating us to the bench.
…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12
While most of us have never played baseball professionally, we all have our list of failures. We all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. We all have stepped out of bounds and trespassed against one another. We all have made mistakes, lapses in judgement, erred and fouled up. We all have reasons why our dismissal would be warranted. We all have places in our track record where our disappointments greatly outnumber our successes. What does God offer us when we are in the midst of these less-than memorable moments? He offers us yet another chance to get it right.
The struggles of life and the challenges of baseball are surprisingly similar. I have never faced a 100mph fastball, but I imagine that making contact with the curveballs of life is equally difficult (considering how often I have swung and missed them). I have struck out relationally, flied out morally, grounded out conversationally, and fouled out professionally. I have never stood in front of the Green Monster at Fenway, but I have misplayed routine interactions and lost my focus while fielding temptations. Through it all, God has encouraged and corrected me, discipled and guided me, so that I would do better the next time.
The results of following the Red Sox and following Christ could not be more different. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I am used to saying, “wait until next year” – when (hopefully) the big bat arrives, when the ace pitcher performs and when they win the pennant. As a Christian, I am used to saying, “forgive me” (as I strike out, underperform and fail) – which results in (certainly) His restoration of my soul and refreshment of my spirit. I will take God’s comfort over a hometown championship any day.
On Monday afternoon, the Boston Red Sox will begin the process of repeating as World Champions. After 5 months of waiting for the season to begin, our hometown baseball team will take the field in defense of their World Series trophy. The Sox, due to their success last year, is at a distinct disadvantage this year: every other team in Major League Baseball would like nothing less than defeating the champs. In addition to that, every team, including the Sox, have had their records wiped clean; everyone starts the season on an even footing with no wins and no losses.
Athletic competition is merciless. This was demonstrated last month at both the Winter Olympics and the Super Bowl. Gold medalists must compete and if they have a bad day on the ice, in the half-pipe or on the slopes they are no longer gold medalists. And just because you enter the stadium with football’s most potent offense and have secured a number of the NFL’s scoring records doesn’t guarantee you will leave with the Lombardi Trophy. Unfortunately, for the athlete the competition is new every season and one is not able to rest upon past successes.
Imagine that there was a contest where, upon the final victory, the competition ceased and the final records were secured for all time. What if there were no more boxing matches, basketball games, swim meets or marathons and whoever is the current champion maintains the title forever. Now imagine you are that contestant, the competitor who secures the final win. There would be such joy in knowing that the victory can never be taken away and that you will henceforth be known as the victor. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Whatever your athletic ability, or intellectual power for that matter, God has afforded you a victory against a formidable foe. From the beginning of all time death has been our enemy and each and every human being, when challenged by death, has lost the battle. Every human being, that is, until Christ.
In about three weeks we will celebrate Easter, the date on the Christian calendar where we rejoice in the sudden and certain victory of our Savior over death. Like many epic battles, it looked like it could have gone either way: the aggressive offense of the Devil in the early moment s of the game, the apparent lack of a defensive game by Jesus, a team defection in the second half, and the killer blow as the clock was winding down. Satan started the celebration before the final bell rang, savoring his apparent win. It was at that moment that the champion, Jesus Christ, rose up and claimed the final and lasting victory – and we, the bench players who never needed to do anything more than dress for the game, were awarded the victory with Him.
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:55–57 (NIV)
Hallelujah and Happy Easter! I encourage you to participate in the “holy rolling” rally on Sunday, April 20th.
On Wednesday night the Boston Red Sox won their third World Championship in the last ten seasons. What made this achievement so remarkable was the journey that the team and its player took over the last 26 months. The road to this unlikely World Series title began in September of 2011 when the Red Sox finished that season losing 18 of its last 24 games – erasing a 9-game lead in the wildcard race and missing the playoffs by losing their last game. The coach was fired and the general manager moved on before the 2012 season, which saw the Red Sox flounder to a 69-93 season and, in the process trade away a great deal of talent.
Then came 2013, when a gang of free agents and rookies came in and complemented the remnants of the gang know for “chicken and beer” – the cliché used to explain the 2011 collapse. Another new coach was hired and expectations were, rightfully so, low. The only thing was that the Red Sox began to win – single run games, extra inning games, come-from-behind games, pitchers duels and slugfests – and win consistently. They earned the best record in the major leagues and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (thanks in no small part to the closer Sox fans love to hate, Mariano Rivera). They beat the Tampa Bay Rays, the Detroit Tigers and (on Wednesday) the St. Louis Cardinals to become World Champions.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us….” Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)
There are times when we need to ‘forget’ the past and focus on the present. In the case of the Red Sox, this is perhaps best demonstrated by the play of one player – John Lackey. He came to the Red Sox on 2010 and had a decent season, only to suffer injury and pitch poorly in 2011. It was so bad that he was rumored to have been drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games that he wasn’t pitching. After missing the entire season in 2012 due to surgery, Lackey came back and pitched admirably during the past season and exceptionally during the playoffs. He even pitched the clinching game on Wednesday night.
Perhaps there are critical people surrounding you, reminding you of all the mistakes you’ve made and all the ways you’ve disappointed. Perhaps there are expectations you or others established that you’ve been unable to reach in the past. Perhaps your path has been marked by failure at every turn. As the author of Hebrews recommends, at those times remember the Old Testament pillars of faith, men and women who were not perfect (and some who were far from it) but men and women who God used. He knows our past history and our present hurdles and, just as He did in days of old, He is calling us to keep running the course He’s designed for us. When we heave our hindrances and slip free of the entangling sin all about us, we can reach the places He’s created us to see. Just ask the 2013 World Champion Boston Red Sox.