In Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches came to the Opryland hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA convention.
During one of the more popular sessions, Coach John Scolinos spoke. This man was 78 years old and five years removed from a college coaching career that began in 1948. This man shuffled to the stage to a standing ovation, with a string around his neck that held a full size, stark white home plate.
After speaking for twenty minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, he brought it up.
“You’re probably wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck. I may be old but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.
Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many little league coaches were in the room. “Do you know how wide home plate is in little league?” After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches,” more question than answer. “That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?
Another long pause.
“Seventeen inches?” came a guess from another reluctant coach. “That’s right,” said Scolonos, “Now how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is the plate in high school baseball?” Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.
You’re right!” “Scolinos barked. And you college coaches, who wide is the home plate in college?” Seventeen inches said the room in unison.
And Minor League coaches and Major Leagues, how wide is the plate? “Seventeen inches!”
SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls.
“And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over those seventeen inches?” Pause. “He’s not a big league pitcher for very long,” he hollered, drawing huge laughter.
“What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Bobby. You can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches or twenty inches. If you can’t hit that, we’ll make it twenty-five inches so it’ll be easy on you.”
“What do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? What do we do if he violates curfew? What if he uses drugs? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him? Do we widen home plate?”
The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quite, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold.
The he turned the home plate toward himself and, sing s sharpie, began to draw on it. When he turned to the crowd, point up; a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. “This is the problem with our homes today. In our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. This is the issue with our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We widen the plate!” “On our sports teams, in our churches and in our homes, we refuse to hold to a standard. And when this happens we act shocked when people do not live by our standard.”
And there you have it. In a baseball convention where you’d expect to learn about curve balls and bunts, on that day we received a lesson on why our society is having so many problems. We need to have a standard in our life and hold ourselves accountable.
Life is not fair. We live in a world where innocent people die in car crashes, where good parents have children on drugs, where people who seem to live healthy lives get terminal cancer. When these things happen, we must admit that things are NOT going to be okay. Looking at it from every angle, in spite of the t-shirts, or the social media posts, or the euphemisms of saying we are going to “win our battle,” there is not a silver lining to the cloud. And certainly please stay away from quoting the verse that says “God is working these things for good” Romans 8:28.
Because these things are not good.
Unless perhaps, we don’t understand what “good” really is…
Perhaps God has a different idea of what good looks like than I do. My prayers and hopes and dreams revolve around things like having a happy family, being healthy, prosperity, going on an awesome vacation. That’s my idea of good and what I expect when God blesses me. But if God is good, and I have no doubt that he is, then his definition must be different than mine.
Isn’t it an interesting thing how what I consider to be “good” and “blessings” actually are things that separate us from God? They are things that perhaps unintentionally and perversely, lead us to believe that we no longer need God. These are things like enough money (or maybe too much), enough food (or too much), enough hobbies (or too much), or too much of everything as well as the absence of disease and absence of trials.
But on the other side, it is when we suffer and fall to our knees that we find a desperate need for a Savior. And of course, God longs more than anything else to draw us closer to him. He wants nothing more for all to come to trust in him and to obey the gospel.
What if perhaps, “health” in God’s view does not refer to the absence of disease, but instead, it looks to someone who completely relies on God every day for their existence. Since God is good and since he see’s things from an eternal perspective, what if he sees our health in a spiritual way instead of something to do with our physical bodies. Maybe in God’s view “wealth” isn’t a savings account in a bank or a fancy car. Maybe true wealth is understanding that family, friends, and purpose in life are actually the richest gifts God gives to us. Maybe we become rich when we truly realize how little we need stuff and start to live more simply. What is wealth is the exact opposite of what we always thought. Maybe in God’s dictionary, a “blessing” isn’t a concept we really understand. What if saying we are blessed when we speak of our health, jobs, children, and good fortune causes pain to those struggling with infertility, cancer, rebellious children, poverty, and loneliness, because it implies that God has withheld his blessing form these people. Are suffering people really not blessed?
Therefore we must seek God’s dictionary. We cannot make sense of the pain and suffering of good people when we hear these religious people who say God has richly blessed those who have no problems. We need a God who does not choose favorites.
So what does God’s dictionary say?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
So when you see pain and suffering. Please remember that God has not forsaken us; as a matter of fact, he is right there.
“Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge him and he shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6
A few years ago, a close friend of mine was having a knee replacement done. Before the surgery, the doctor realized that an infection had already attacked the knee. Instead of proceeding with the surgery, the doctor sent the patient home with a pump to allow the infection to drain and to heal. He understood that closing the wound and pretending that nothing was wrong would lead to greater pain instead of healing.
This illustration shows what often happens to those who do not have a good grasp of what forgiveness entails. Those who are hurt deeply wish to be free from their injury. They want to deal with it, move on, and get past the pain. In their rush to get over it, they heal too fast and trap the anger, bitterness, and hurt inside before it can drain out. And just like our bodies, our souls can get infected. If we fail to properly treat our wounds, the anger, embarrassment, and hurt will fester into bitterness and despair.
Let’s be honest. Most of us misunderstand biblical forgiveness. We’re told we have to forgive. Forgiving one other is a direct command of Jesus. So we someone wounds us, we say, “I forgive you,” and then we try to move on as if nothing has happened. When the injury is slight and we are not badly damaged, this quick method is often successful.
But quick, superficial ignoring of the problem is not real forgiveness. That’s evasion. That kind of superficial response doesn’t heal the wound and does not help the one who committed the offense. To act as if nothing happened doesn’t mean nothing did happen. Something did happen, and now we must deal with it. Forgiveness means dealing honestly, but redemptively, to injury. So how do we do that?
We begin with ruthless honesty. We confess that someone’s actions or words hurt us. We don’t brush it off. We don’t ignore it. This is our pain. We own it.
Secondly, we release the person who hurt us fro the expectation they can fix what they did. They can’t. As an example, think of the possibility of saying something that is very hurtful to someone. After you say such things, you may feel sorry for what you did. You may even wish you hadn’t said it or wish that you could take it back. Yet no matter what you do, that person you said hurtful things to will have to deal with what you’ve said. It’s now their pain and they will have to deal with it.
And we deal with our pain in prayer. This is not the simple peaceful prayer we say as we lay down to sleep or sit at the dinner table. These are prayers that are raw in their honesty. We tell the Lord we are hurt, we are angry, and when we open ourselves us to God, then he will heal us. Only Jesus can release the bitterness and anger in our wounded souls so they do not fester into a life threatening infection.
Of course this takes time. Forgiveness isn’t easy nor is it fast. Be very careful when someone tells you they’ve forgiven someone without being able to talk about the deep soul work that requires true forgiveness. When we forgive, we always learn something about ourselves. We find out truly what is important to ourselves as we ask question such as “What was at stake for me? What was threatened? Why did that remark hurt like it did?”
Jesus uses these times to expose our true selves. We find the things that perhaps we treasured more than God, and as we are healed we see the little idols that we’ve set up in the Lord’s place. What idols may these be? Well our own egos perhaps, false impressions of ourselves for one another, maybe our job or our family or our things. Our Savior is merciful and good. He uses the things that were meant to harm us for our good.
When you are hurt deeply, don’t rush through the process of forgiveness. But in prayer trust Jesus to do his work. Remember Jesus is working in your life and in the life of the person who hurt you. That’s why we love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us. Jesus is healing us, replacing our pain with his love, and in doing so, loving the person who hurt us through us.
“Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect,” Matthew 5:48.
This passage from the Bible could lead to great discouragement. As Jesus faces the hypocritical religion of the Pharisees during his Sermon on the Mount, he tells his audience to be perfect like God. This is a great command. But every one of us deals with sins and mistakes. We struggle in life and often feel great guilt because we cannot live up to the standard that we desire.We may want to be perfect and without sin, yet we often see that we aren’t measuring up to perfection. With this being the case, many people feel like giving up their faith and just admitting failure.