Baseball & The Pharisee

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It was the summer before I got married in 1970. I was living in Franklin, Louisiana, working for Southern Natural Gas Company and coaching the Forest Motel Little League Baseball team. I was 20 yrs old and had only volunteered to help the head coach, Ronnie. At the end of the first practice, he reported that he had been called out on a 6 week job and would be leaving town the next morning. He then handed me the equipment bag and the scorebook and wished me luck. He forgot to tell me that we had been picked to finish in last place.

That was the summer when I got to watch God take an ignorant/inexperienced coach and a strangely different group of boys and take us all on a fabulous ride that I still clearly remember after 39 years. It was also the summer that I came face to face with my fallen nature.

Our baseball team didn’t spend the summer in the cellar as most predicted, but rather most of the season we were tied for 1st place with the team that had been favored to win the league. Now believe it or not, this article isn’t mainly about baseball. It really aims at asking just one question: “Is Jesus Christ really the #1 priority in your life?”

That previous spring I had been confronted with God’s call to full-time ministry and was ignoring it. It happened during a week long revival at our church. Bill Smith was the revivalist and he shared that the church where he preached was beginning a School of Preaching and looking for men who God was calling to the ministry.

God came down and hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew what He wanted me to do. I told Bill that I would be there. That is when I got the job offer call from Southern Natural Gas Company. I chickened out. I listened to the job call and dismissed God’s call.

That was just about the time when I started coaching the baseball team. I needed to get my mind on something besides the guilt from rejecting God’s call that haunted me every day.

Now you know the setting of this article. I immersed myself in the baseball team and combined with planning a wedding for November, I didn’t have any room for guilt.

One evening late in the season we were playing the team we were tied with for first place. The game was on Wednesday night and everyone knew that I went to church on Wednesday nights. I thought the game would be over in time, but it wasn’t. The game seemed to drag along at a snail’s pace while my watch seemed to be flying. Then I came face to face with the fact that I either had to stay and finish the game or leave right then to make it to church.

My rejection of God’s call to ministry flared up. I decided that I couldn’t miss church for a ballgame. So I handed the scorebook to one of the dad’s and told the boys to play hard and drove off. We were down 2 runs and the 5th inning had just finished; one more inning to go. We were the home team so we had last bat. I remember feeling so pious as I drove to the church.

As I walked in several asked about the game and I remember feeling even more pious when I explained that I had left the game to come to church. Everyone was so impressed with my commitment. Even I was quite impressed with myself.

Then the preacher, Grover Martin, started teaching the class. I didn’t hear a word he said. My body was at church, but my mind, heart and spirit were at the ballpark. The more I realized that, the more guilty I felt. And the more guilty I felt, the more I realized just how much like a Pharisee I was. Being at church instead of the ballgame wasn’t the wrong thing to do, in fact I still believe that it is the BEST choice.

What was wrong was: 1- my PRIDE and 2- hypocritically sitting in church like I was paying attention, all the while thinking of nothing except the game. God squashed me again. This time on something that was a much bigger deal than ministry. This time He smacked me about my relationship with Him, actually the lack thereof. When we can’t think about God, when we can’t focus our worship on Him, all the while having no problem being completely obsessed by some earthly something, SOMETHING BIG IS WRONG!

The preacher offered a brief invitation at the end of the class, not expecting anyone to respond. Nobody ever came forward on Wednesday nights. I burst into tears and came forward to ask for prayers for my hypocrisy and self-pride. I remember thinking about John Newton’s Amazing Grace the way he wrote that God “saved a wretch like me.” And of Isaac Watts’ hymn, Alas! and did my savior bleed, when it says “for such a worm as I.” Coming face to face with our fallen self can be overwhelming.

They prayed over me and I felt like a million dollars. At that moment I didn’t care about the game at all. I was just so happy that everything was square inside of me with Jesus. Everyone came forward and hugged my neck. One of the men asked me if I was going back out to the ballpark. I told him that I was.

On the drive to the ballpark all I could think about was the LORD. Strange how that worked.

I knew the moment I saw any of the boys I would know who won. I truly expected to see sad faces. But when I drove up in my old Thunderbird the boys started screaming and headed for my car. “Coach, you won’t believe what happened. With 2 outs in the bottom of the 6th inning and 2 runners on, Doug hit a home run and we won.” We all hugged and shouted together and enjoyed the moment.

A little while later I drove home. On the way there I had a chance to think that what had been going on at the ballpark and what had been happening at church were happening at the same moment. And I can’t believe that the 2 events weren’t connected. To this day I still believe that if I had spurned God again, Doug would never have hit that homerun. God gave me a sign that I was back on the right track, at least partially so.

Do you have something you need to face in your life? Is there something or someone occupying God’s seat on the throne of your life? Has something stolen Jesus’ rightful place as your #1 priority? Is there someone who robs God’s time of worship by stealing your mind or heart away during worship or during prayer or during Bible study? If so, let God squash you. The smacking doesn’t feel good, but it sure gets things back on track. God bless. Mike

Mike Sublett is a pastor at Hi-Land Christian Church, 1615 N. Banks St., Pampa, Texas 79065. Email him at pawdad@nts-online.net.

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