By Pastor Bryan Niebanck

leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:24

I keep seeing ads that baseball season is almost here.  It was 100 days, then 50 days, and as of today Opening Day is 46 days away.  I usually start counting down once my football team is eliminated.  I keep saying that my football team is still alive, so the real feeling of the offseason is a lot shorter this year.

I read these six baseball lessons this week, which Pastor Craig Groeschel learned from his father.  I want to share them with you.

  1. Keep your eye on the ball.
  2. You can’t win with a bad attitude.
  3. You never score runs staying on first base.
  4. Always run through the bag.
  5. Don’t ever go down taking strike three.
  6. You win by moving one runner at a time.

What is the ball in your life?  What is it that you are keeping your eyes on?  What do you want to hit out of the park?  In other words, what do you put all your effort into doing?  What do you spend all your love and energy doing?  When Paul talked about the Corinthian church rejecting his teachings, and following the ways of another, he admitted that he was in pain, but he kept his eyes on the ball and said these words: “I hope you will find out that we have not failed.  But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong – not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed.  For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.  For we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong.  This is what we pray for, that you may become perfect” (2 Corinthians 13:6-9).  He also wrote, “We are speaking in Christ before God.  Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up” (2 Corinthians 12:19).  Even when Paul was hurting, he reached out to the Corinthian church and let him know how much he cared.  He kept his eye on the ball.  He knew that whatever happened, Christ would be with the body of Christ, and that is what mattered.

Second, you can’t win with a bad attitude.  Have you ever had a bad attitude?  No, of course not, right?  At least you would probably not want to admit it.  The truth is, if you have a bad attitude, it makes everything seem worse than it really is.  Job expressed his emotion when everything he knew and loved was taken away from him: He expressed, “My sighing comes like my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water.  Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me.  I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes” (Job 3:24-26).  It sounds like a pretty hopeless time.  But Paul affirmed that we do actually have reason for hope, because our God never departs us.  He said to the Thessalonians, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).  Further, we find in Lamentations, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).  You can’t win with a bad attitude, but you can win in every way when you are confident of God’s faithfulness, whatever happens, whatever your lamentation might be.  You always have God’s love, and it always comes in a new way every morning.

Third, you never score runs staying on first base.  Look for something beyond where you are now.  Seek to grow.  Seek to develop your relationship with the Lord.  Read more, study more, pray more – whatever you need.  Try something you have never tried before.  Try out a mission trip when you are not sure you know what you are doing.  Try out the book group when you have never been a part of a group before.  Offer to help put together bulletins in the office when you want to hang out with a friend.  I have so many reasons to be encouraged.  As I have seen many of you try something new, I also have tried something new; it expands my love for you all.

Fourth, always run through the bag.  Don’t slow down before you get there.  Don’t stop running because you are sad or depressed.  Keep running, even when two other players are running at you trying to get you out.  You are more likely to be safe when you run through the bag.  The bag is the destination.  It is the goal that you set for yourself back a few months ago, or a few years ago, or however long ago it was.  When you are about to reach the goal, don’t relax because you are almost there and are sure of your safety.  Think about the next goal you want to set.  Every runner in baseball is looking around the diamond looking to see if they can’t stretch it to second.  Maybe a player will bobble the ball.  Anything can happen.  Don’t slow down when you are reaching your intended goal, but keep on going.  If you are a football fan, you may have witnessed a player celebrating too early before scoring a touchdown.  And then, at the last moment, a player sprinting to catch up knocks them down at the three-yard line.  What seemed like a sure touchdown became a stand at the goal line, and perhaps cut to a field goal.  Run through the bag.  Feel the energy that the Spirit brings you for everything that you do, and in every moment.

Fifth, don’t ever go down taking strike three.  Do not stand and let the world and people in the world defeat you.  Cling to the Lord your God for hope.  Swing with the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6).  Follow the words in Deuteronomy: “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days” (Deut. 30:19-20).  Choose life.  Foul off ten balls in a row if you have to, until you get a good one to hit.  But at least get a piece of the ball.  At least keep a piece of Christ with you at all times, until you can summon all of Christ, and hit that ball for a home run.  You can do it.  Believe you can.  It is better to go down swinging than leaving the bat on your shoulder because you do not have the strength to move it.

And lastly, you win by moving one runner at a time.  You will not reach all your goals overnight.  We may dream of more people in church, for example, but we will not see fifty more join us next Sunday.  The work takes time.   It takes patience.  In the same way, you are not going to accomplish all of your goals in one week.  Focus on one at a time.  Take the small steps.  Take steps in bite size chunks.  It will be easier to handle, and give you more confidence as you handle one step at a time.

The last few weeks, we have been reviewing how to recommit to our baptism vows.  Recommit to the life that you promised to live when you first joined the Body of Christ in an act of faith, and in an act of mercy given by God.  You may not have deserved the act of mercy, but you were given it.  You were shown God’s love and forgiveness.  And you still are today.  In our final call to recommit to our commitment, we are called to serve in whatever way we have, with whatever we have.  Take whatever energy that you have, and use it to share love with a neighbor.  Reconcile if someone has done you wrong.  Hear their story, for it may be a different one than you expected.  It may be a different one than you thought.

In 1 Corinthians 3:3 Paul calls out the Corinthian church: “As long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?” We do not want this in the Christian church.  We do not want division and quarreling.  We want freedom, love, and forgiveness.  So, according to the words of Jesus, this is what we must do: “If you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).  Do whatever you can to be at peace with your neighbor.  Do whatever you can to love your neighbor.  Do whatever you can to serve your neighbor, and to serve God.  Keep your eye on the ball.  Keep a positive attitude with your spirit.  Don’t settle for being on first base.  Always run through the bag.  Don’t go down taking strike three.  You win by moving one runner at a time.  You are given so many gifts.  You are given a mind to serve.  Be the church.  Do justice.  Love kindly.  Walk humbly with your God.  May all honor and glory be to God!  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
30:15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.
30:16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.
30:17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them,
30:18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,
30:20 loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9
3:1 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.
3:2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready,
3:3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?
3:4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?
3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each.
3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
3:7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
3:8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each.
3:9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Matthew 5:21-30
5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’
5:22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
5:23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,
5:24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
5:25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.
5:26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
5:30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

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