Throughout my entire life I’ve always assumed that there has to be someone out there dumber than I am. Today Rick Reilly of espn.com dismantled that illusion. They say everyone has 15 minutes of fame. Good to know mine went towards a noble cause.
(For explanation of the picture, read the article.)
On weeks that I preach in church, Thursday marks my heavy writing day. Monday and Tuesday are spent with nothing but a Bible and notebook, Wednesday is commentary day, and Thursday is rough draft day. Except this Thursday. This Thursday has been spent vacillating between shivering and sweating while warning office visitors to stay away so I don’t infect them with whatever bug I’ve come down with.
In the middle of praying that God would bless my limited study time earlier this afternoon, I was struck by the realization that I don’t need the Lord’s aid any more this week than in weeks prior. When my need is infinite, small details like sickness don’t matter. While my realization of my need is much greater this week, the actual need for God’s wisdom and guidance to handle His Word in a right and compelling way isn’t any different.
When Paul wrote of his thorn in the flesh to the Corinthians he said, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor. 12:9). The Apostle’s experiencing the power of Christ is directly related to his understanding of his incredible need for Christ’s aid. The weaknesses are there whether he boasts in them or not; but the blessing created by the weaknesses only are his to own if he rejoices in seeing God’s power triumph in spite of his infirmities.
The more I read in preparation for moving to Kentucky, the more I’m realizing that there’s a very different mindset in Southerners than Californians. Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Seminary, wrote an article for Touchstone Magazine detailing his response to watching Hurricane Katrina wipe his hometown off the map. Entitled “Christ and Katrina,” click here to read it. It’ll be worth your time.
If you’ve had any exposure to the media over the last four days, chances are you’ve heard quite a bit about the perfect game that wasn’t quite. Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers was one out away from pitching the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history (which is the last 135 years) when first base umpire Jim Joyce missed the call on a close play at first base. Rather than having tossed a perfect game, Galarraga now owns the most famous one-hitter that the MLB has ever seen. Even more surprising than the missed call has been the character shown in the reactions of Galarraga and Joyce – understanding from the pitcher, regret from the umpire. Sports errors and character are usually not mentioned in the same sentence.
I’ve spent the last two summers umpiring baseball in Omaha, Nebraska. I’ve probably seen 20,000 pitches from behind the plate and an equal number from the field. Consequently, I have a little bit different vantage point than most sports fans talking about this event. The day after, I was watching a video clip on espn.com, where a baseball expert was dissecting how Jim Joyce could have possibly missed the call. It was his opinion that Joyce made a critical error when he watched the ball hop towards the second baseman, rather than keeping his attention focused on the area where the play would develop – first base.
I don’t know if this particular commentator has any umpiring experience. I doubt it given his critique, but I want to be fair and say I don’t know. The first lesson you’re taught as an umpire is “keep your eyes on the ball.” The only exceptions are on tag-ups and deep fly balls where you have to make sure the runners tag the bag as they’re running. A great example of this is on an attempted steal of second base. The play will be at second, and yet the base umpire doesn’t turn to look at the base until the ball is traveling past him. I leaned why when I came inches from getting pegged by an errant throw from the catcher. You always keep your eye on the ball, or else it will probably hit you.
I’ve heard several other critiques of Joyce since then. That he should have consulted with the other umpires. But doing that is abdicating your job and selling out your partners. They’re too far away to see anything. And you never appeal unless a manager directly asks. Even then the partner will back you 100% unless it’s a foot-off-the-bag situation. Or that Joyce should have been on the side of the pitcher, where any close play would have been an out since he was on the verge of pitching a perfect game. While that sounds great, as an umpire you try very hard to keep yourself oblivious of anything other than the play developing before you. To do anything else is biased, and that’s a very slippery slope to start heading down.
What I didn’t realize until I started umpiring games myself is that timing plays a huge role in being a successful umpire. Baseball is a game of split-second plays, and that requires split-second calls. When you’re behind the plate, from the time the ball hits the catcher’s mitt, you have about half a second before you have to make the call. If you delay any longer, it looks like you’re unsure about whatever call you make. And managers don’t exactly let you get away with anything that looks like indecision.
Likewise, you don’t think about a safe/out call. You react. And sometimes that reaction is wrong. The thump of the ball hitting the glove and the thump of the foot hitting the bag are almost, but not quite, identical. In a split-second decision, it’s easy to mix up the sounds and the sights. I know because I’ve done it, just like I’ve called a fastball right down the middle of the plate a ball because my timing was off and it was too late by the time I realized that the pitch was really a strike.
I don’t remember where, but I read one really insightful comment during the week: nobody feels worse about this than Jim Joyce, not even Armando Galarraga. That’s really true. The plays I remember most vividly are the ones I got wrong. The balk/fair ball/foul ball play in the Hooper tourney. The safe/out play at first at Kelly Field during the Runza Spring Classic. The hit batter/not hit batter/dead-ball tag out during the state tournament at Sandlot Field.
Nobody has higher standards for umpires than the umpires themselves. They’re a group of people who pride themselves on knowing a rulebook that was designed to cover every situation that could ever happen on a baseball field full of managers trying to circumvent the rules to gain a competitive edge.
I was just a baby umpire, and I have an immense amount of respect for the pros. They spend the whole season on the road, away from their families, living from hotel to hotel. It’s definitely a thankless job, but without them we would be without sports, and that would make life a little less fun.
Today I lost my desk chair, my work computer and my office. My name has been erased from the bulletin as the leader of the youth ministries at Cornerstone and the website will no longer direct all inquiries about youth ministry to my personal email. I’ve gone from being Beta Wolf to being Gamma Wolf.
Our church has been waiting excitedly for quite some time for our new Associate Pastor of Family Ministries, Curtis, to join us. My internship has about eight weeks left before I pack up and move to Kentucky to attend Southern Seminary. During these eight weeks of overlap, we’ll be team-teaching our youth group as he gradually takes over the helm of youth ministries.
As I’ve gone from being the director of the youth ministries to someone working under the director of youth ministries, I’ve been forced to wrestle with a question of ministerial identity the last couple of days. Do I define myself by what I do for the kingdom, or by the kingdom itself? Or put another way, do I find my identity, standing, and joy before the Lord in what I do for Him, or in what He’s done for me? Am I working for my kingdom or the Kingdom?
Sin is seductive and my heart is wandering, naturally turning its gaze from the Giver of all joy, all purpose, all meaning, all fulfillment, and all blessing to the things He has given for me to enjoy but never worship. And that can include ministry. It’s easy to build a kingdom. It’s much harder to remain dedicated while working for a Kingdom where the glory isn’t yours to have and hold. Oftentimes ministry begins with the best intentions, but jumps the track of worship into self-worship by failing to be ruthless with your own motives.
Curtis’ arrival has been a good heart-check. If there’s any resentment, if there’s any “my turf” mentality, then ministry has become an idol and I’m finding my identity in what I do for the Lord rather than in the all-sufficient atonement found in the cross of Christ. And anything other than finding my identity in the work Christ has done for me is idolatry. Thankfully, that has proven not to be the case.
It’s also a good reminder that I am entirely dispensable. God’s work in others’ lives is not dependent upon Nate Brooks ministering to them. People come, people go, and God works on. As the traditional “Who Will Weep When You Leave?” SLS Retreat Saturday morning message says, our job is to carry one brick in the lives of those around us. God is building a house of sanctification. It is He who does it, and He chooses to use his frail and battered creatures to aid in the process. But we’re not often called to be there for every aspect of construction. Our job is to faithfully carry one brick so another can lay yet another piece of clay on top of it.
I don’t think anyone is happier to see Curtis come than I am. Leading the group for the last year has made me painfully aware of my own glaring shortcomings as a teacher and a leader. My grasp of the Bible is limited, my ability to counsel shallow. I’m excited for them to sit under a man who can give them what they need much better than I can. And it’s exciting to commit them to the grace of God, knowing that He is faithful to complete in His children what He’s been faithful to begin.