I Died Just a Little

I’m a Yankee fan.

I don’t know if you knew that about me; it is something I tend to hold pretty close to the vest. Oh, there are a few hints out there – the large decals on the back window of my truck, the plethora of paraphernalia around my office, the shirts and shorts and jackets, 8 Yankees ball caps, the cell-phone cover, the life-sized cardboard cutout of Babe Ruth in my office, you know – a few minor things. Other than that, I try to keep my sports allegiances to myself. It’s just not something I feel comfortable talking about.

Being a Yankee fan is both a joy and a trial. One word sums up the joy – 27. That’s how many World Series championships we have. The trials come, of course, from those who are jealous of the Yankees’ accomplishments, those who are fans of lesser teams who wish they were the boys from the Bronx. They come from those who feel Yankees fans are fair game for ridicule (though we are uniformly humble and unassuming in our cheering practices). They come from frustrated fans of teams who don’t have the Yankees’ resources.

My love affair with the Yankees began in earnest on Saturday, October 10, 1964. I was watching game 3 of the World Series with my dad on our grainy black and white set. Mickey Mantle led off the bottom of the ninth inning of a 1-1 game. My dad, a Yankee fan since growing up in eastern Pennsylvania listening to Yankees games on the radio in the Lou Gehrig era, was begging for Mickey to hit a home run and end the game. That is exactly what he did. We didn’t call them “walk-offs” back then but that was the first time I remember pulling for the Yankees and rejoicing at their success.

Soon after that game, the Yankees took a turn for the worse. They lost that series and became a mediocre to poor team for the next decade. I still cheered for them even though there wasn’t much to get excited about.

Then, in the mid 70s George Steinbrenner discovered free agency and a new Golden Era was born. Reggie Jackson. Sweet Lou. Catfish Hunter. Thurman Munson. Willie Randolph. And, of course, Billy Martin. Those Yankees were pretty good, reaching 3 straight World Series and winning two of them, both against the much-hated and evil Los Angeles Dodgers.

The second of those years was the greatest of all seasons for a Yankee fan. In 1978, the Yankees started out in turmoil. Reggie and Billy were fighting and the Yanks were losing. In the middle of August they were 14.5 games out of first (no wildcards then) and given up for dead. Then, the Yankee miracle took place. They won…and won…and won again. After 162 games they were dead even with the forces of darkness and they went into Fenway (the vortex of evil in the world) for a tie-breaking game. Down 2-0 with the innings slipping away, light-hitting Bucky Dent stepped to the plate and deposited a ball in the netting over the Green Monster. After a soul-grinding 3 inning save by Goose Gossage, the Yankees were on their way to an easy win over the sinfully wicked Kansas City Royals and the Dodgers – each easily brushed away. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

Then things got bad. Real bad. George Steinbrenner decided to see if he could single-handedly turn my beloved Bombers into a joke. Firing and hiring managers on a nearly daily basis. Trading away any prospect in the Yankee system for broken down outfielders who couldn’t hit anymore. Criticizing and ridiculing his own players. From 1981 until the mid 90s the Yankees were a joke.

But an interesting thing happened in the early 90s. Steinbrenner got in trouble for some shenanigans he pulled against Dave Winfield and was suspended for a couple of years. Gene “Stick” Michaels, one of the former managers, took over the operation of the team. He built the farm system up and in the mid 90s a crop of young talent came up that changed the course of the Yankees over the last 20 years.

You haters say, “The Yankees are the best team money can buy.” Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard it a million times. And they do spend a lot of money. But the truth is that the backbone of the Yankees championship teams of the 90s and 2000s was a cadre of farmhands who never wore anything but pinstripes (with one exception). A young man named Derek Jeter (who Steinbrenner wanted to trade!), Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte (left for Houston for a couple of seasons), Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera (G.O.A.T.) and later, Robinson Cano.

This team was different. Oh, they were still hated because of the uniform they wore, but even the haters had to admit that this core group of players (later known as the Core 4 after Bernie retired) was a classy group and a credit to game of baseball.

And now, they are gone. Gone. None of them will ever play in the Bronx again, except perhaps on Old-Timers Day.

I sat in my hotel room in Des Moines in a puddle of tears when I watched Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee stadium. I can’t help but wonder if it was all staged – Hollywood would reject a script like that because it was too perfect. Derek puts the Yanks ahead in the 7th, then the bullpen gives up three runs in the ninth to tie the game. In the bottom on the ninth, Derek lines a single (yes, an inside-out swing to right field – he Jeterized it!) to score the winning run. That was fun.

But then I saw them standing there. Andy. Mo. Jorge. Tino Martinez. Bernie. And of course, the Mr. Joe Torre. Standing in a line waiting to greet the last of their group to walk away. Jeter didn’t see them and greeted all his teammates. Then, as he was headed to the dugout, CC Sabathia came over to him and pointed him to the reception committee.

My wife walked in and thought I’d lost my mind. There I am blubbering as a bunch of men hug one another on a baseball field.

But I love the Yankees. And the last 20 years, the Derek Jeter era, has been the true golden eera for my boys. Year after year they made it to and dominated the playoffs. They have been a joy to watch. And its gone. An era has ended.

Of course, it all started to end in the winter before the 2004 season when we traded for a steroid-enhanced infielder from Texas (we Yankee fans do not speak his name). He Who Must Not Be Named had some good years and helped us win the Series in 2009, but we could never feel about him the way we did about the Core 4.

And the era really ended in Yankee Stadium in 2012. The Yankees were playing Detroit in the first game of the ALCS championship. In the first game, down 4-0, the Yanks came up in the bottom of the 9th. Two 2-run home runs later, Yankee stadium was rocking and confidence was high that we would roll through the Tigers and go back to the Series where we belonged.

Then came the second worst moment of my Yankee-cheering career. The worst was in 1979 when a news flash told us that the Captain, Thurman Munson, died in a plane crash over the All-Star break. This one came in the top of the 12th when the new Captain ranged to his left to field a fairly simple ground ball. His ankle snapped and he fell in a heap and the heart of the Yankees was gone. We lost 4 straight.

Derek tried to come back last year, but played in only 17 games. This year, he has been a leader, an inspiration, and a .255 hitter.

But Thursday night he was Captain Clutch all over again. It was dramatic, wonderful, fitting – like a glimpse into the old days. But it was also a reminder that those old days are now historical.

It is hard to imagine that next year someone else will be at short. The Core 4 is gone. I suspect the Yankees will spend enough money to field a decent team in 2015. But the glory days of the Core 4 are gone.

It’s gonna be hard for this old codger to get my soul stirred to watch. I’ll keep cheering. If the Yankees are bad, or worse, mediocre, for a few years, I’ll be a fan – like I was in the 60s and the 80s. I realize my passion for the pinstripes is at times out of balance – the Holy Spirit and I have had several meetings about idolatry through the years. I know there are more important things than baseball out there. But all of my life I’ve loved the Yankees and this bunch, this Core-4 led, championship-winning, classy iteration of the Bronx Bombers has given me many a a joyous moment through the last 20 years – more than I can remember.

And when Derek Jeter walked off the field Thursday night, I died a little. As he rides off, the Captain takes a piece of my heart with him!

Keep the safety on guns and marriage

I have seen the awesome power of guns. I have heard of people innocently cleaning their gun and shockingly a spouse, a child, a brother is killed when an unrealized bullet is shot. In the heat of the argument people are killed and wounded for life. Limbs are lost, lives are ended, and in the matter of seconds everything about a person’s life can be completely changed. Guns have awesome power and can be used for the good too. Guns properly handled can provide safety and security to a home from intruders. Guns can provide meat and nourishment for a family all year. Hunting together can bring incredible bonding time between a father and a son. Guns can be used to kill enemies and protect a homeland. Guns have awesome power and those who know the guns best, often are the ones who fear them the most. Fear not as being scared but one of respect due to the incredible power guns have for the very good and very bad.

Marriage is also an awesome power. Those who know marriage best often are the ones who fear the power of the institution of marriage the most. Children who have seen their parents divorce and are now being tossed between two homes see the power of marriage. A betrayed spouse who is shattered inside and out can speak of the awesome power of marriage. Children of an adulterous parent knows the overwhelming and profound impact of marriage can have on all parties involved. Counselors are often called in and the cords of dysfunction and betrayal may take decades to unravel from a divorce. Sadly too many take marriage lightly and claim, “it is just a piece of paper.” They open their fragile hearts up again and again entering into multiple marriages. All unaware of the tearing of their soul as each marriage and divorce takes a part of them away never to return. A broken marriage can redirect generations within ones family in cycles of dysfunction and infidelity. Infidelity can begin very innocently but can quickly lead to the destruction of innocence, the shattering of trust, and the stability of a home being wrecked. While affairs may only last a few weeks with physical contact being measured in a matter of minutes, the consequences and real life pain because of betrayal may last a lifetime. God created marriage to be a safe haven and refuge. Marriage is following the example Christ has set in His love for His bride, the church. One faithful and stable marriage can become an oak and a force in a community from which a whole society can gain stability, security, and inspiration, not just the participants. 50th wedding anniversaries are not just an accomplishment for the couple but for their whole community.  Their 50th wedding anniversary accomplishment stands as a testimony to God’s grace, wisdom, and desire in securing the family tree. Generations can be redirected and can rest in the security of the Godly foundation set down for them by a Godly marriage.

Pastors, don’t be cheap marrying men.  Put a “safety” check on all you marry and who you bind together before God and men.  Too many pastors simply will marry anybody who pays them $50 and then signs the license.  This blog is a challenge to you.  Have a healthy fear of the institution of marriage.  You will be held accountable.

The use of marriage and the use of guns are not to be taken lightly. Their power is awesome and their impact profound. Entering into marriage must be taken reverently, wisely, and cautiously. The use of a gun must always be done with the utmost of caution and safety. Both are tools which can have lifelong lasting impact and must be feared.

Joy in Suffering (Mike Bergman)

joy2This past Sunday, I continued preaching a Sunday morning series on joy from Philippians. In it we talked about taking joy in the accomplishments of Jesus (3:1-12).

Paul told the church once more to “rejoice in the Lord” and tells them that he will keep on reminding them of this again and again. Such a statement brought no trouble to Paul, after all it keeps everyone focused right where they should be: on Jesus. And he said it was safe for them (and us), after all it keeps us focused right where we need to be: on Jesus.

Then Paul shifted gears to something that robs joy: thinking we somehow must trust in our own works, obedience, or rituals to make ourselves right before God. Paul told the church that if people wanted to compare background, ethnicity, education, zeal, and obedience to the letter of the law, then he would match up to any challengers. He had it all—all the accomplishments, accolades, and gains.

Yet, when he came to realize the greatness of Christ then he was ready to toss it all upon a giant rubbish pile. Not that things like education, zeal, possessions, and good works are bad. They just gain nothing eternally significant apart from Christ and compared to knowing Christ everything else is rubbish.

What matters, then, is not a “righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which come through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (3:9). Here we see joy in the accomplishments of Jesus. It was his perfect life, his firm stance against temptation, his obedience to the Father and the law, his sacrifice and death, and his resurrection which gains righteousness for you and me.

God made him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:21

Pure, beautiful, perfect grace; received by faith—open hands that let go of sin, self, and the things of the world to offer nothing to God and to receive the fullness of Jesus, grasping tightly to him.

It is no wonder why Paul wrote from the midst of prison and having truly lost most everything he gained before Acts 9, “That I may know him.” This wasn’t a monotone, bored statement of information gain. This was a passionate breathing, bleeding, crying plea… I WANT TO KNOW JESUS!

It is here that I want to focus for this article; not on Paul’s main point of joy in the accomplishments of Jesus, but a sub-point of this: joy in relationship with Jesus and even more specific, joy in suffering because of a relationship with Jesus.

Track with what Paul wrote in 3:10. “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection.” Good so far? We like this part. To know Jesus—to have a relationship with him that defines eternal life (John 17:3). A relationship built on faith, and a relationship that takes time. To know Jesus requires the same thing as any other relationship: time to speak and time to listen (prayer and the word). God is a person (more accurately: 3 persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). We can know about someone by studying them, but to really know them takes time well spent with them.

And then that resurrection part? Amen and hallelujah! Life beyond life, an eternity in glorified bodies with Jesus, no more pain, no more sorrow, perfect joy and peace—yeah, we want that too.

But Paul didn’t end his thought with that. “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his suffering, becoming like him in his death.” Okay, wait a minute, Paul. Sufferings? Death?—his death? The cross death? That death?

This is where our comfort loving bodies and mind scream: Paul, just stop! We were good at knowing Jesus and the resurrection. Just leave it there! But no, Paul went on to suffering and death. Same sentence, same passion, same idea…

Same joy?

All Paul did was follow Jesus’ lead. He fixed his eyes on Jesus, the Savior-King, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Consider, then, for a moment John 17 where Jesus prayed for all of his followers then, now, and throughout history. He said to the Father:

13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. ~ 17:13-18

Again, let’s track along: Jesus was getting ready to leave the world, first in his soon-coming crucifixion, and then forty days after his resurrection in his ascension. He would go to the Father and send the Spirit (John 14 & 16). With this, he says of his people: I have given them your word, I have spoken these things. And that word accomplishes something.

For those who receive it, we are made like Jesus so that we are no longer of this world. God continues to work sanctification in us so that we will live more and more like Jesus. And we have Jesus’ joy fulfilled within us. God’s word transforms us, makes us more like Jesus, and gives us the joy of Jesus.

But by doing so, the word also has a different effect. The world hates Jesus (15:18). Yes those who hear the gospel, receive the word, and are forever changed by it love Jesus, but they are no longer of the world. The world loves its sin. Sin is rebellion against God. Sin would rather crucify love and grace than receive it. If the world hates Jesus, and his word makes us more and more like Jesus, then the world will also hate us. This brings suffering.

So what is the answer? After all God is love and God is good and God wants us to be joyful and to have his joy fulfilled in us. Therefore, God must be ready to take us out of this world of suffering, right? Nope. Jesus prayed, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world.” Sure, protect us from the wiles of Satan but leave us in the world.

Okay. We can deal with that. That just must mean we gather our selves together in isolated and insulated communities with minimal interaction with the world in which we will find suffering because it hates Jesus, right? Again, nope. “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

So we receive the word, the word makes us more like Jesus, and the word gives us the joy of Christ. However, in being more like Jesus, the world hates us because it hates Jesus. Instead of rescuing us from this at this present moment, Jesus instead sends us rushing headlong into the world that hates him and hates us to tell them about him, love them by meeting their needs, and showing them how Jesus has changed us.

That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

God is very interested in our joy, but not so much our comfort…at least in this life. And why? The world is broken, sin-stained, and desperate. It is messy and bloody. It is painful and tragic. It is frustrating. It is like a wild animal caught in a trap—it needs freedom, but it’s going to bite at the hands trying to free it.

Jesus sends us headlong into this world to deliver the only fix: him. Whatever things we suffer in this life, whatever pain we experience, and whatever persecution we face it is mere “light momentary affliction preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Yet for those without Jesus, the sufferings of this world will be bliss compared to the wrath of God upon sin in hell.

I spoke with a young man today who is frustrated with his job and wondering if such frustration is what the rest of life has in store. We talked about Philippians 3 and John 17. At the end I told him: “The headache and the frustrations are part of the sufferings in the world where Jesus has sent you. You’re at where you’re at right now because God in his infinite wisdom knew that place needs a witness for Christ at this moment.”

Jesus took joy in his suffering because he knew the end result: the defeat of death and Satan, and the eternal salvation of those who follow him. We can take joy in the suffering as Jesus sends us headlong into the world, because we know the end result: all who hear his gospel and turn to him through his grace will have an eternal salvation and joy beyond compare.

If we keep that in mind, then the things we suffer today will be worth it tomorrow.

Speculative Theology and the Great Commission (Joel Rainey)

Joel Rainey leads the Engagement Team for Evangelism and Missions at the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network. He is on the adjunct faculty of two seminaries,and the author of three books. He blogs at Themelios, where this was originally posted on Monday.  

 October 3, “Left Behind” will debut in theaters across America, and its release will prompt a fresh discussion among evangelicals about our view of the end times.  Additionally, the movie will encourage general discussion about what happens after we die, who goes to heaven, and how they get there.  These are very important subjects, and for that reason, I’m thankful followers of Jesus can use popular movies to talk to their non-Christian friends about the Gospel.

I just hope that’s what actually happens.

Full disclosure:  The “Left Behind” movie is based on a particular view of the end times that I don’t personally share.  I’m not a Dispensationalist, so while I believe the end of the age will include mass numbers of our Jewish friends coming to realize who their Messiah is, I don’t see a distinction in the text between Israel as a nation-state and the church.  Consequently, I don’t believe in a pre-tribulational “rapture” of the church.  So it would be easy for someone with my bias to simply dismiss films like this as a waste of time.  But I know too many good and godly pastors whose eschatology matches that of the upcoming film–serious students of Scripture whose theology is far deeper than celluloid and who have a genuine heart for Jesus and the Gospel, and who will use films like this as opportunities to share their faith, and encourage others to do so.

Speculative theology isn’t wrong, so long as we realize and admit that it is speculative.  But when it is used in the wrong way, the results can be detrimental to the Great Commission.  For example, if I spend more time pontificating on who the “elect” are than I do calling them out of lostness and into the light of the Gospel, then I’ve allowed my speculation to devolve into outright disobedience.

This is a particularly dangerous prospect in our current world, where over the last year world events have been the catalyst for heightened discussions about the end of the age.  When does the “rapture” take place?  Who is “the beast” of Revelation 13?  What is the nature of the millennium?  All Scripture is inspired and profitable, which makes these questions valid and worth exploring.  But when set against a 2000-year history that includes three different millennial views, four different interpretive approaches to Revelation, and at least two different perceptions of the prophetic significance of the nation of Israel, we should all hold our opinions loosely.  Otherwise, we risk being driven by speculation rather than by Scripture.  Deuteronomy 29:29 states that “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever.”  In short, explore the unclear, but not at the expense of disobeying the clear!

How should we strike that balance?  I offer the following four principles.

1. Your Primary motivation should be making disciples.  At the end of the day, if speculation about unclear doctrines is more important to you than making disciples of Jesus, you are in a very bad place.  What good does it do to try and identify the antiChrist if you aren’t sharing the Gospel so people won’t follow him?

Where end times teaching is concerned, it is helpful to remember that these prophecies were originally given to a severely persecuted church as a tool of encouragement.  When Paul writes to the Thessalonians, he speaks of the end when those who have passed away prior to the coming of Jesus will be called out of their graves, after which those in Christ who are still alive will join them in the air, being “caught up” (the phrase that translates the greek term from whence comes the Latin concept of the “rapture”) to meet the Lord Himself.  He then concludes “therefore, comfort one another with these words.”  I’ve quoted from that passage at innumerable gravesides for exactly that reason!  Studying the Scriptures to discern whenthis event might take place (before or after the tribulation, for example) is to seek answers to a legitimate question.  But ultimately, these words are given to suffering people for comfort, not speculation.

Eschatology, like any other Biblical subject, is given for the ultimate purpose of making followers of Jesus more like Jesus.  And we don’t look very much like Jesus when we are drawing prophecy charts and fighting with each other.

2. You should have a Passion for all people to hear and respond to the Gospel. Since 1948, differences of opinion have existed between Bible-believing Christians as to whether the re-instatement of Israel is a prophetically significant event.  I have many academic colleagues and fellow pastors who are convinced that this is the case.  Count me among those who have our doubts about that assertion.  But since 1830, dispensational and covenantal interpreters of Scripture  have both faithfully proclaimed the Gospel and made disciples.  The problems occur at the extremes of these views.

On the dispensational end of the spectrum, the problem is a kind of Zionism that presents a God who “plays favorites” where the Jews are concerned–to the extent that utter hatred is expressed toward any other Semitic peoples in the middle-east, including many of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Gaza, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Turkey.  On the Covenantal end, the problem is a move from seeing the promises of God in the Old Testament as fulfilled in both Jews and Gentiles, to a hermeneutic that sees Gentiles as fully replacing the Jews.  The anti-Semitism that sometimes results from this view is quite frightening.

The bottom line is this:  Both Testaments clearly state that God is not finished with ethnic Israel, and that there is coming a day when great numbers of them will recognize their true Messiah.  I long for that day.  But the same Bible that makes these promises to the sons and daughters of Isaac also clearly reveals a God who loves the sons of Ishmael (see Genesis 16!).  I am for all groups finding Jesus.

3. You must maintain a conviction that all must respond to the Gospel.  Here is where I”m going to speak candidly for a bit.  If you listen to John Hagee, stop!  There is only one label that can be given to a man who has publicly said that sharing the Gospel with our Jewish friends is a waste of time and has intimated that they do not need the Gospel to be saved–and that label is “false prophet.” And false-prophecy is always and exactly the result of allowing speculative teaching to overtake the clear teaching of Scripture.

I can work with any follower of Jesus who differs with me on the prophetic significance of Israel as a nation-state.  But I can’t work with you if you talk more about Israel than you do Jesus.  Neither ethnicity, or nationality gets you into heaven.  Getting there takes bowing before the reality of a bloody cross and an empty tomb!  Christians have disagreed for centuries about less perspicuous prophetic texts, but Acts 4:12 has never been in dispute!

4. You must remember that its all about Jesus.  Personally, I am wary of any Bible teacher from any school of thought who is not actively sharing his faith with others.  I’ve known men who spent inordinate amounts of time seeking to “fit” Communism within some prophetic scheme, but who have never crossed an ocean to actually engage someone of that mindset with the Gospel.  I know men who say similar things about Islam, but have spent very little time actually getting to know Muslims. In the end, all my prophetic speculation does nothing to get those people any closer to Jesus, and the last time I read Matthew 28, this was my primary mandate.  So as I explore Biblical prophecy, I need to do so with the realization that all those world events we speculate on have Jesus at the center.  If you don’t get to the Gospel, your speculation isn’t just useless.  Its sinful.

I don’t know exactly how history will end.  But I do know the One who wrote out history before it began.  I may be wrong about the rapture.  Perhaps we will miss the tribulation, or maybe we will go through it.  I don’t know.  But I do know that no matter who is right, Jesus gives us the joy to be content regardless of our circumstances.  I have no idea who the antiChrist is.  But I know who Christ is!  So sure, let’s have some serious conversations about unclear texts, but let’s be sure we don’t do it at the expense of our clear mission.