Daffodils & Deferment

We had a remarkably beautiful day yesterday.  A rare sunny, 80 degree gem  for so early in April.  My wife & I spent the day working in the yard, reclaiming it from the general mayhem that Winter had left.  We cleaned up all the sticks, raked up all the leaves that had been hidden under three months of snow, and bagged up all the yard garbage.

There are a few bulbs hidden in the earth of our garden.  Most of the year they sit dark, dormant, and forgotten.  Bur early every Spring, they are the stars of the show, as the flowers break through the thawing ground, the first of the plants to come back every year.  We’ve got several yellow daffodils that have returned just in the last week.  They are a vivid down payment from the garden that is regenerating.

So  I’m raking through the garden, scraping up the decomposed & moldy leaves that are plastered to the ground like paper-mache.  It’s not real exact work.  Flattened leaves, dead plants, and dry woody stalks all come out as the teeth of the rake chew through the remains of last years garden. The rake doesn’t discriminate; everything in it’s path is purged.  I try to be somewhat careful, but there’s a lot of garden and only so much time, so sacrifices have to be made.

The first time I raked up one of the new daffodils, I felt kind of bad about it.  I pushed it under the pile of leaves, so my wife wouldn’t see.  The second daffodil to go down was given to my daughter, who was not all that excited to get a broken, disjointed flower, but put it behind her ear anyway.  The third casualty was unceremoniously swept into the pile with the rest; by this time I had resigned to the knowledge that a few daffodils was just the cost of doing business.

Made me think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 13:24-30.  Here Jesus tells the parable of the weeds.  In Jesus’ story, a man plants a field of wheat, but an enemy secretly scatters weed seeds in the field as well.  As the wheat & the weeds grow together, the farmhands suggest that they pull up the weeds.  But the farmer declines, telling them that the wheat & the weeds are so intertwined, that to pull the bad plants out would destroy the good ones as well.  He decides to let them all grow together and sort them out after the crop is harvested.

So here is where the farmer & I acted differently.  Where I was willing to mangle a few daffodils for the sake of expediency, God isn’t willing to sacrifice even one of his, even if it means that evil & it’s effects aren’t annihilated right away.  So evil men continue on, and the effects of sin march forward in the midst of what God is accomplishing;  not realizing that their judgment is deferred.  All will receive justice or grace, but it doesn’t have to be right away.

While this parable wasn’t meant to be the complete answer to the aged question of why evil is allowed to continue, it does get us a good way down that road.  God is always looking at both the good of the individual and the good of the whole.  Most of the time those both conflict with what we want right now.  It’s up to us to trust him, even when it seems like bad things are allowed to go on unchecked, or that selfish people are getting away with whatever they want.  God is not willing that any one of his should perish, even if it means that evil has to wait a little longer to be extinguished.

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He Ain’t Heavy, We’re All Brothers

OK, this one’s been cooking for a while.  I have to give some props to my Sunday School teacher, who just got done going over the book of First Thessalonians with us.  So a lot of what I am about to impart I learned from him.

Paul didn’t intend to preach to the Thessalonians.  He was going to go somewhere else, but the Spirit knew better and directed him towards Thessalonica by way of Philippi (Acts 16:6-10).  Of course, it was in Philippi that Paul was broken out of jail and the jailer & his family came to know Jesus (Acts 16:16-34).  That Paul was one tough hombre,  getting the crap beat out of him & spending half a night in jail, then walking the two days to Thessalonica.

So for three Saturdays, Paul preaches in the synagogue in Thessalonica.  The people respond, and in those few short weeks several folks come to know Jesus.  A guy named Jason lets Paul crash at his house.  Seems the local Jews are not to jazzed with the religious competition,  and are looking to rub out Paul.  So they team up with some of the local societal dregs & get a riot going; in order to get the crowd frenzied up enough to swarm Paul & Silas.  But the evangelists can’t be found.  So the mob settles for Paul’s temporary landlord Jason.  They force Jason over to a local court and levy their complaint.  Here they mean to indict the apostles, but unwittingly pay them a great compliment.  “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here” (Acts 17:6).  When Paul & Silas heard about that, I bet they were a little bit proud.

So, not wanting to cause trouble for Jason & the new Christians, Paul & Silas quickly leave town(Acts 17:10).    They were probably tired of spending nights in jail & getting beaten, too.  So, after only a short time, they leave a brand new band of Christians all on their own in a hostile town.  But the Thessalonian Christians aren’t as isolated as it would seem.

Like a weed growing through a crack in the sidewalk, they establish a small, thriving church.  Their faith is exemplary.  Their excitement for  Jesus becomes known to the churches in other cities.  They know that Jesus has saved them and their lives are turned inside out by it.  They are young, zealous and immature.  They very much remind me of the 1970’s Hippie Jesus Freaks.

Paul writes to them to congratulate them on how well they are doing and give them some fatherly instruction.  He tells them how everyone is picking up on their adrenaline, and how they are giving a positive example to the rest of the believers.  Their faith is famous everywhere, and all the Christians are drawing on the enthusiasm of the Thessalonians.   You see this in  churches all the time today.   You’ve got the old guard, the Christians who have kept the faith for decades.  While their faithfulness is to be commended, often folks like this find it hard to maintain that aspect of falling in love with Jesus.  But then a group of young,  joyous new Christians comes along, and remind the dutiful, dusty old Christians how much they really do love God.  And their faith is renewed.  Just like the churches that could stomach the bare feet & suspect hygiene of the hippie Christians gained so much from the zeal of their younger brothers & sisters.

But, as the enthusiasm of the Thessalonians is their great strength, it it also their great weakness.  These folks are so bananas for Jesus, and so looking forward to his return, that they are quitting their jobs to wait for Jesus to come.  Paul sets them straight.  Like our 70’s hippies who were watching their favorite flick, A Thief in the Night, and singing along with Larry Norman’s ubiquitous Jesus Freak anthem, I Wish We’d All Been Ready.  He tells them that Jesus is most certainly coming back, but maybe not on the Thessalonians’ timetable.  He tells them at the beginning of chapter  that they shouldn’t worry themselves about when Jesus is coming(1 Thessalonians 5:1-2), but should instead concern themselves with living a holy & sanctified life (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).  Paul even expressly tells them to make sure they are know for their work ethic(1 Thessalonians 4:11-2), a sentiment shared by many who advised the hippies.

But this need for holiness brings us to their other main shortcoming.  Seems the pagan side of Thessalonica practiced temple prostitution.  And some of these new Christians are okay with a little pagan action on the side.  Paul addresses them head on in chapter four.  He tells them to avoid sexual sin like the heathen(1 Thessalonians 4:3-6), and to live a pure & holy life.  Just like some of the Jesus People found it hard to let go of a little reefer now & then, some of the Thessalonian Christians found it difficult to give up some of the pagan culture that they lived in.

The end of the letter in Chapter five fires off a lot of instruction with an extreme economy of words.  Paul tells them to be joyful(1 Thessalonians 5:16), to yield to the Spirit(1 Thessalonians 5:19-20); to examine all aspects of life carefully, discarding the evil while clinging to the good(1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).  But one piece of instruction is very telling.  Paul makes it a point to tell them to respect their leaders(1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).  Don’t know if they had a problem with this, but it wouldn’t be surprising that a group of new converts might have trouble understanding that a few of them had authority over the others.  We like our pastors to be older & wiser than we are, but the Thessalonian Christians didn’t have this advantage.  I’m now getting old enough where some of my pastors are younger than I am, and it does make for a different perspective.  The first time you learn something from a younger leader is somewhat humbling.

I like these Thessalonians.  Just like our Jesus Freak brothers, hey had their problems, but they were head over heels in love with Jesus.  The lessons Paul taught them apply well even now, especially to new Christians.  But the best lesson is taught by the Thessalonians themselves; to always maintain that fresh love for God, that real thankfulness for the sacrifice Jesus made for us, and to listen to the Spirit today rather than just run your Christianity on autopilot.

The Kid From Bus Number Four

When I was a grade school kid, my parents didn’t go to church at all.  But my Mom did make sure that my brother & I went.  Every Sunday, a rickety, past it’s prime school bus would lumber up the hill to our house & pick the two of us up.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, I was just another loud kid on a bus full of louder kids.  But now I reflect and think of the service of the driver.  Bill Jones was his name.  Sunday after Sunday, this man would get up probably earlier than he did for work, bring the old bus back to life, and spend an hour or so driving around the city, filling his bus with kids.  There was a regular route; we were about halfway.  This is how I got to church  up through sixth grade.

The church had about five buses,  so my heroic Mr. Jones was not the only one doing this.  Here it was so important to him that I be shown that Jesus loves me, that he did this for years.  That bus couldn’t have been in the greatest shape.  I would imagine that a church wouldn’t have a lot of discretionary income for bus upkeep.   I can just picture the jumper cables being stretched across the parking lot on a cold Wisconsin January Sunday morning.

Can you imagine how old that must have gotten for the driver?  Being a self absorbed grade school smart-alek, I never even though what kind of sacrifice this guy was making.   I became a Christian at about eight years old, and I believe in a large part I owe it to Bill Jones, the bus driver.   Most folks would never consider a crazy ministry like the one he labored through, and I have seen the benefits throughout my entire life.

Thanks for the ride, Mr. Jones.

Jake the Snake

So we’ve been studying the life of Joseph.  Joseph, the clearest picture of redemption save for Jesus himself.  And as I’m reading the last half of Genesis, I’m struck by the character of his father Jacob.

Maybe calling him Jake the Snake is a little over the top, but it’s uncanny how Jacob always focuses squarely non how every situation affects him.  Looking out for numero uno.

For instance, consider the account of the sexual assault of his daughter Dinah, recorded in Genesis 34.  Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, and they ain’t strummin’ on the old banjo.  Here Dina gets mixed up with this guy named Shechem, and he ends up raping her.  Shechem, being an honorable reprobate, decides he wants to marry Dinah.  Shechem’s dad even goes to Jacob to arrange the bride price.  Genesis doesn’t record any comments from Jacob that take exception to the treatment of his daughter.  Before the negotiations can commence, two of Dinah’s brothers speak up, and propose that the entire male side of Shechem’s clan be circumcised as a condition of the marriage.  Now how in the world does Shechem convince all his cousins & clansmen to agree to that?  Looks like it was motivation for economic gain.  But whatever the reason, Shechem’s family proves that they are some really good wingmen, and they all take one for the team.  So while everyone is recovering without the aid of Tylenol, Dinah’s brothers ambush and kill every last man in the group.  I could see Shechem, and possibly his enabling father,  had some punishment coming. However, rubbing out all the men was an extreme, over the top, evil reaction.  But how does Jacob react?  Does he mourn the loss of his daughter’s virtue?  Does he consider giving back the loot his boys have carried off?  Is he concerned at the evil, murderous acts of his own sons?  No, he is concerned with the trouble brought on himself.  He scolds the brothers for putting him in a tough political spot.  Instead of worrying about the lack of character in his own family, he worries about the Caananites getting good & ticked and joining forces to wipe him out.  A valid concern, but you would think there would at least be some mention the distress he should have felt at the evil in his own house.

And it’s that way over & over with Jacob.  Nearly every quote from the patriarch displays his concern for how events affect him.  From Esau’s birthright to his family’s redemption by Joseph, he is always making sure that he comes out on top.

But he is the man who wrestled with God.  He is the one who labored 14 years for his bride.  He is the one who God blessed.  And we’re comforted that God did not base his blessing of Jacob & his family on his actions.  True, a man’s words & actions show what is in his heart.  But even if our own hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts.  God’s blessing & favor is not dependent on the character of the one receiving the blessing, but rather on the character of God.  Jake the Snake shows up in all of us, but fortunately God loves us anyway.

Jacob’s family paid a long, hard price for the next 400 years in Egypt, but the blessing of God never left them.  Not when they were a murderous clan, and not when they were worthless slaves.  God’s love reaches way past what we are.

Confusing the Means for the End

Ever meet a guy who works in a pizza place?  Sometines, when you congratulate this fellow on his good fortune to have access to unlimited free deep dish, he replies, “Pizza?  I can’t stand the stuff any more.”

We do this sometimes.  I still like baseball an awful lot, but about fifteen years ago I got in way over my head.  I read every box score.  Could tell you the starting rotation for every Major League team.  Kept track of the top minor league prospects.  I started collecting the cards, and managed to put together a collection that included at every player who ever put on a Brewers uniform.  Calculated all the stats; I used to make a game of calculating the change in a hitters average after every hit or out.  I posted on the message boards, talked baseball waaaaaay too much.  And little by little, as I got more baseball stuff in my house and more baseball stats in my head, something unexpected happenned.  The more baseball claptrap I clouded my life with…the less I watched the games.

Had no idea that was going to happen.  But the tertiary items of the sport, with their lure of controllable ownership, choked off my affection for the game itself.  I’d miss a game on TV to go to a baseball card show.  I’d chase autographs instead of game tickets.   It really surprised me. 

Sometimes I see us do this with Jesus.  We have so much cool Christian stuff.  Take a look at some of the myspace pages linked on this blog and you’ll find list of some of my favorite Christian music.  Flip through my bookshelf and you’ll find Christian authors from Lewis to Miller.  I even used to have this cool “Jonah’s Surf Shop” t-shirt.  There is just so much Christian stuff that can overshadow Jesus.

It goes beyond the music, movies, books & t-shirts.  It can even get to the theology itself.  Like a golfer who gets infatuated with the clubs over the game, or the handyman who enjoys buying tools more than using them.  We can get so caught up in collecting correct theological understandings that we lose focus on who the object of the theology is.  It gets to where we jump headlong into the trap; where instead of worshipping Jesus, we worship truth.  The more pride we take in how much we understand the study of God, the less we may really know him.

I ended up cancelling ESPN.  I stopped buying cards, and gave a lot of them away.  Now my radio plays the ball games,  and I enjoy the actual game rather than all the officially liscenced merchandise.  We need to do the same with Jesus.  Can we still worship him if we aren’t singing along with Casting Crowns?  Can we still listen to him speak to us if we read the verses in our Bibles, instead of the extensive study notes?   I’m still listening to Larry Norman and Derek Webb, but only in an accessory type of fashion.  When we prefer our own books and our own music to his Word and a real worship of God, we fall victim to our own shell game. 

I worry that we invent a Jesus that really is no more than an amalgum of the merchandise we’ve collected and the grade we got in Theology 101. 

 Pray that we can know God for who he is.

Jim, Casper, & the rest of us go to Church

So I recently picked up this book, Jim & Casper go to Church; by Jim Henderson & Matt Casper.  Jim, a Christian Pastor, hires Casper, an articulate athiest, to attend the Sunday Morning service at several Christian churches and evaluate them.  A very interesesting and compelling premise.  In the book, Jim asks for Casper’s honest impressions on the churches that they visit. 

Casper makes some astute observations.  He usually is looking for  evidence of service to the community.  Not a bad thing to look for, as James told us that the real function of religion is to care for widows and orphans.  Casper is also very sensitive to authenticity, and notices several times that he is greeted at the door by someone who has volunteered to do that job, but not greeted by anyone else once he enters.  The manner in which the plate is passed is a big deal for him also, as one particular church that all but guarantees prosperity to contributors gets him pretty ticked off.  He is also turned off by the obvious use of formula.

Jim pretty much acts as Casper’s straight man, asking probing questions to elicit candid responses, but not really adding a lot to the narrative.  So we get a lot of the outsider’s perspective, and it is bristling at times.  But I would have liked to see more input from Jim.  Or, if Jim was really just to be a facillitator, I would have like to see him hire a committed, well-learned Christian to come along as well.  Because there are things that Casper just can’t tell us.  He can’t really tell us if the church that they are auditioning is really communicating the gospel.  The central truth of Christianity, that Jesus died to allow us to be saved, can only be fully understood by one who has experienced salvation.  To Casper’s credit, he doesn’t really attempt to speak to this point.  However, I would have liked to see that perspective addressed in a book like this, as the real effectiveness of a church as far as outsiders are concerned is how well they communicate the gospel.  Should an average non-Christian come into a  Christian church on a Sunday morning, we would hope that they have been given a real view of who Jesus is and how one can become a Christian.  If a church is not communicating the gospel, they might as well be a Moose Lodge.

I do have a favorite line from this book.  It is Casper’s line, and he repeats it a few times.  It comes up when he sees things in church that he would not expect to be there.  Like fog machines.  Like tearful pleas for funds.  Like sermons that did not mention the name of Jesus.  Like churches that spend more money tring to be relevant and cool rather than helping the poor.  Like an offer of salvation that amounts to little more than a get out of Hell free card.  His question, over and over again was, “Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?”  A great question, not only for the decision makers in each local church, but for each Christian as well.

Taking the Kids to a Ballgame

I took my own advice yesterday, and the kids & I, along with my Pop, went to Miller Park to catch the Brewers-Giants game.  We were fortunate to get some very good field level seats from my wife’s boss.   Sure, it’s fun to listen to Bob Uecker on the radio, or follow the in game thread at brewerfan.net, but still, there’s nothing like being there. 

The kids had a blast.  My 11 year old son went down to the edge of the field near home plate to watch the Giants take batting practice.  He got a couple of batting practice balls tossed to him by one of the Giants coaches, Tim Donnelly, I think.  He also got about 5 autographs, including Ben Sheets, David Riske & a few of the Giants players.

They hava a great kids area on the first base side of the field level concourse.  Both my son & daughter got to do things like race a cutout of Corey Hart to first base, pretend to be in the sausage race, and see how fast of a pitch they could throw.

The kids each got hot dogs, and were both disappointed at the selection of baseball cards included with their kids meals.  They each got the same card of an obscure Brewer backup catcher that neither of them had heard of.  Of course, we brought most of our own snacks in a duffel bag, which should surprise no one who has read my previous post on this topic.

Fortunately for them, the kids got baseball shirts, but we got them a couple days prior, to avoid the high prices and the phalanx of purchasers at the stadium store.  My son proudly wore his Ryan Braun Jersey and my daughter was thrilled with her pink Brewers shirt.

The Brewers starter, Manny Parra, threw no-hit ball through the first five innings.  I was vey proud of my boy, who a couple times leaned over to me, motioned to the scoreboard, and told me, “Parra has been very, very sharp so far.”  Even though it was a little early to get excited, it’s nice to see the boy knows enough not to talk about the possible no hitter.

My daughter is always a good sport at the ball game, and roots for the vistitors almost as much as she does for the Brewers.  The noise got a bit much for her, so she & I went back to the kid concourse during the eighth inning, but we made it back to our seats in plenty of time to see Eric “Game Over” Gagne get the save. 

A great game, all around, very enjoyable both for the kids & their Grandpa, and for me as well.

“Even if He does not”

The days work is done, the kids are in bed, and Creedence Clearwater Revival is playing.  What better time could there be to go over Daniel chapter 3?

 This is the very famous account of Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego defying Nebuchadnezzar; thus being sentenced to be burned alive.  It’s written very poetically, with a limited use of pronouns and a very lyical feel.

 Seems Nebuchadnezzar was so inspired by the vision  that is detailed in chapter 2, that he decides to make a literal representation of it.  And he takes the interpretation to it’s illogical end, requiring worship by proxy.  And of course, the three Hebrew boys don’t worship, even though they are set up in high governmental positions.  So they are sentenced to die, and God miraculously saves them.

 I have glossed over the narrative quickly, but I want to go back & highlight a couple of details.  In verse 16-18, the three heroes are responding to the king.  He has just pronounced their sentence, and thrown in a dig at their God for good measure.  Let me quote their reply for you;

     O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.  If it be so, our God, whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire: and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.

Can you imagine?  They have just been sentenced to a torturous death, and yet they remain openly defiant to the king and firmly trusting of God.  I can imagine the shouts and gasps from the courtiers.  It says in the next verse that Nebuchadnezzar’s “facial expression was altered.”  What a nice, understated way to put it.  According to verse 13, the king was already enraged, so this latest refusal must made his face even redder that the very furnace itself.

 “Even if he does not.”  Wow.  How do you stand at the edge of certain death, and retain the composure to utter such a statement.  Reminds me of Stephen, the martyr who is described to us in Acts chapter 7.  Stephen, as he is about to be stoned, has the audacity to tell the homicidal crowd that he can actually see Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father.  This compels the Council to angrily stone him.  And Stephen faced it bravely, just like Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego.

 Makes me think of the missionaries in Ecuador, who in the 50’s went almost knowingly to their deaths in bringing the gospel to the Aucas.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nate_Saint  How does a man, who has just lost everything, focus only on eternity and God, rather than whining through a checklist of all the things he has been forcibly divested of?

We all know the end of this story.  God saves the three men.  In a way so miraculous that the king does an about face, calling for the God of Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego to be honored.  But of course, as we’ll see in the next chapter, Nebuchadnezzar is given to the gargantuan relapse.

These men are amazing to me.  Shadrach.  Meshach.  Abednego.  Stephen.  Nate Saint.  All men, who embodied the apostle Paul’s credo that living is good so that we can embody the will of God, but dying is so much more personal gain.  I humbly submit that most of us do not believe that we could match the faith of these men.  But I would venture, that prior to the circumstance, they would also not ascibe such faith to themselves.  As God always does, he supplies the faith necessary to overcome the obstacle. 

We have to be careful not to discount the strength of our faith.  Because the faith shown by these men was the same faith that all Christians have.  It is not the faith that is strong.  The strengh is supplied by the object of the faith.  As the martyr John Rogers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rogers_%28Protestant_minister%29 said , “We are not saved by the strength of our faith; but we are saved by our Lord Jesus Christ, who is laid hold of by weak faith as well as by strong faith.”  

How To Take a Kid to a Baseball Game

The following was originally published in November of 2002 at the site brewerfan.net.  A very nice site, both for Brewers fans and baseball fans in general.

Everyone knows a kid who needs to go to a ball game. Maybe he lives down the street. Maybe your neighbors’ kids have never been to a game. Maybe you have grandchildren or neices & nephews who havn’t been to a game yet. Or maybe it’s the kid in the bedroom just down the hall from yours.

Taking a kid to a ball game can be one of the most enjoyable experiences anyone can have. To be able to see the look on the kid’s face when he sees his first home run is priceless. But, if you do it wrong, taking a kid to the game can degenerate into three hours of pure agony. Making a few easy preparations can not only make your day at the ballpark a lot easier to bear, it can turn a summer afternoon ito a memory that will last a lifetime.

A successful day at the ball game starts way in advance for the responsible adult. Sure, we’ve all had tickets drop into our laps at the last minute, & than we just grab the kids and go. But those times that can be planned in advance will surely go more smoothly than the spur of the moment games.

Choose the game carefully. For example, if a particular geographic rival is coming to town and bringing thousands of unruly rival fans with them, that may not be the best game for your child’s first time. Instead, choose a game that promises to be less rowdy in the stands. Also, if it is a game that is important to you personally, bringing a young child may not be the best idea, as you’ll miss a lot of the game. No kid is going to have a good time if they have to sit and be quiet all the way to the end so you can see your favorite closer. I have been known to set the VCR for a game I’m taking the kids to, just in case I actually want to see what happenned on the field.

Choose a seat location with the kids in mind. Stay away from areas frequented by the beer man. If you don’t mind a one game prohibition, see if your stadium has an alcohol free section. Nothing ruins a memory of a first game like the recollection of the drunk guy who kept yelling profanities two rows back. Probably the best places in the stadium for young kids would be right up front or way up in the upper deck. Up front, the kids are close enough to see all the action. Up top, the kids have a wide variety of things to look at, like the scoreboard and the mascot, as well as the game. And look for your home team’s discount games. There is the very strong possibility that you will need to bring a child home early, and you won’t feel so bad about missing half the game if you only paid half price for the tickets.

Pack a bag. Kids need to keep hydrated on a hot day, and need to drink fluids more often than adults. My kids are very happy to bring a sack of peanuts and a package of juice boxes to bring along, as a whole bunch will fit into a backpack while not violating the common stadium rule prohibiting bottles and cans. Go ahead and get some ballpark food at the stadium, like a hot dog or some popcorn, but also pack some snacks from home. Your child will have a better time with more frequent snacks, and you won’t end up paying a full day’s wages to the concessionaires.

Dress for the climate. No one likes having to placate a child who is too warm or too cold, so just get a good look at what they’re wearing and match it against the weather report before you go. Also, if you are a fan of the visiting team, don’t make the child wear the hostile colors to the game. So you Cardinal fans who plan on visiting Wrigley, leave the Redbird stuff at home when toting the little ones. And pack a change of clothes in that bag. Nothing is more frustrating than paying $100 for a team logo sweatshirt when there’s a whole closet full of perfectly good sweatshirts at home.

Be sure to prepare the child for what they will experience. Most kids do better being told of their upcoming trip to the ballgame very shortly before the game itself. To a young child, waiting a week to go to the ball game is roughly the equivalent of wondering how soon Christmas is going to come. Save yourself a lot of aggravating questions like “When do we get to go the gaaaaaaame?” by giving out information on a need to know basis. Explain to the youngster about the size of the crowd and the din of the cheering. My kids love that part the best–the ball park is one of the  places they are allowed to yell as loud as they want.

Let the child know what kind of behavior is expected at the park. This is usually best done in the stadium parking lot. It’s best to stick as closely to whatever rules and discipline that you use in everyday life. Some kids will need to try something just to see if the same rules apply in the new setting. Jump on the first infraction quick, and it will greatly cut down on any subsequent tomfoolery. Just like in any other situation, threaten only the consequences that you are willing to use. Any kid will likely figure out that we’re not going to have to get up and go home right away, so don’t tell them that unless you are fully prepared to do it.

The rules of baseball can be a bit overwhelming for a young child, so keep your explanations basic. Start by explaining that the man at the plate wants to hit the ball so he can run to the base. Then the best thing you can do is resist the urge to fill them up with every bit of baseball knowledge imaginable. They will come to you with the questions. Keep the explanations simple. When the child asks why the batter got to go to the base even though he didn’t hit the ball, explain that four bad pitches lets the man walk to first base. Then stop explaining. Kids don’t hear much beyond what answers their questions, so any additional explanation will be wasted, along with making the game seem like another day at school. There will be lots of games, both at the park and on the TV, to go ove rthe finer points of the sport of kings. Don’t try to make them learn it all in one day.

Keep the kids safe at the park, especially the preschoolers. When I took my three year old daughter to her first game, I introduced her to one of the ushers and told her to find someone wearing this uniform if she got lost. Also, not a bad idea to stick a piece of paper in the child’s pocket with your name and cell phone number on it.

A souvineir can go a long way in cementing a kid’s first ball park experience as a fond memory. Also, giving the child something to remember the day can be a good way in developing their loyalty for your favorite team. A cap with the logo of your favorite team is a perfect item to give the child at the game. And don’t go paying stadium prices for logo stuff. Your boy or girl will be just as happy with their prize if they get it in the car in the parking lot as they would have been if they got it at the souvineir stand in the stadium. If they already have a cap, maybe a few baseball cards that picture the players that will play on that particular day. And don’t forget the fun kids have waving a pennant at the game. I took my five year old son to the All Star Futures Game, and he was perfectly happy having an American Flag to wave for the home team. A souvineir could be as small as the miniature batting helmet that the ice cream came in, but it will mean a lot to the child.

Prepare the kids for what’s happening next in the game. Point out to them that if the man at the plate gets a hit the runner from third will score. Let them know that you expect the runner to attempt to steal. The more you keep their heads in the game, the better time both they and you will have. But also let the kids experience the other aspects of the stadium experience. Play the scoreboard games with them, take them to see the mascot, dance with them to the music. The kids need more than just the game to have a fun day. Raise them right and they will grow into knowledgable baseball fans, but let them be kids at their first games.

Go ahead and visit whatever kid friendly attractions are in your stadium, but be careful how you do it. For example, if you are going to Comerica Park in Detroit, by all means take the kids on the tiger carousel. But don’t go anywhere near there until you are ready to be done watching the game. Maybe your kids will be fascinated with the speedpitch, or maybe there’s some playground equipment inside the park. But save those things for when you are leaving. Remember, the last thing you want to do is be pulling the child off the slide to go back and watch some more of the dumb ol’ baseball game.

Leave the kids wanting more. No self respecting adult baseball fan should ever leave a game early, but with kids it’s a different story. The attention span of a child is about as long as a sacrifice bunt. Never wait until the child wants to go. The objective is to have someone to attend countless games with over a lifetime, and that’s not going to happen if they get to the point of being bored at the ball game. However, say you’re attending the game in Milwaukee and you think your child would really like to see the roof open and close at the end of the game. A simple solution would be to show up in the 5th inning. Never, ever allow your child to utter the words “I’m bored” at the baseball game. If you let it get to that too many times, the kids just aren’t going to want to go to the game anymore.

Explore all the baseball options out there. My kids are just as happy to go to a little league game as they are to see the major leaguers. There are probably a few high school teams that play near you. Church softball leagues and town teams are good options also. And be sure to support your nearby minor leage teams as well.

Remember that the main goal is to make sure the child has fun. Make sure that your kids enjoy baseball when they’re young, and you’ll spend a lifetime enjoying the game together.

Judah

Taking a break from Daniel.  Just a short one.  I was reading the story of Judah, son of Jacob, and was taken by the character development he experienced in his life.

 He starts out as the fourth of twelve sons.  In Genesis 37, he is an eager conspirator against his brother Joseph.  The text implies that he was in cahoots with the 10 brothers that wanted to deep six Joseph.  Only Reuben dissented, and it turns out that was enough.  Rueben planned on letting things blow over with Joseph, and was going to rescue him after the other brothers cooled off.  But in the interim, Judah convinces his brothers to sell their kin.  So here’s Judah, the broker of his own brother.

 Once Joseph is Potiphar’s property, we see a telling vignette about the character of Judah.  Seems he has moved off the family estate, gone to a place called Adullam, and taken a pagan Cannanite wife.  Of course, he knew this was high on the list of forbidden actions.  So this wife, Shua, produces three sons for Judah; Er, Onan, and Shelah.  These people could have used a good baby name book.  Er is a bad dude, and God causes his premature death.  There must have been some interesting Cannanite customs in play, because Judah’s second son, Onan, finds himself with the responsibility of impregnating Er’s widow, Tamar.  Evidently, the proposed children of Onan and Tamar would carry the family line of Er.  This makes some sense, as a woman needed sons for security, financial stability, and for securing her place in the extended family.  Now this Onan is a real character.  He doesn’t decline the opportunity to sleep with Tamar, but takes great care to make sure that his semen doesn’t actually end up inside of Tamar.  So this four-flusher Onan is some kind of selfish opportunist, like a cad who sneaks out of a diner without paying the check.  He’s taking advantage of his sister-in-law without actually delivering on his end of the bargain.  I find it very interesting that God honors this arrangement, as he gives Onan the same punishement as his late brother Er.  So Tamar is sent to live back at her father’s house until the third son, Shelah, is of marrying age.

 Judah is getting tired of losing sons in this whole deal, very ironic in that he was ok with Jacob losing a son earlier.  I bet this gives Judah some perspective on his earlier actions.  Judah’s wife Shua has died by this time.  So Shelah grows up, but Judah doesn’t keep his promise to Tamar.  So here is Tamar, a childless widow who is hanging around like an unpaid bill.  Tamar is resourceful, though.  She learns of a journey that Judah is taking to get the sheep sheared at Timnah.  Evidently, what happens in Timnah stays in Timnah, beacuase Tamar is able to entrap Judah fairly easily by masquerading as a prostitute.  Judah doesn’t recognize her, as by now it has been a few years, and she also has veiled her face.  They don’t really haggle over price, as Judah offers a young goat and she immediately accepts.  Of course, Judah is currently herding sheep, not goats, and doesn’t have the goat with him.  So he gets his action on credit.  Imagine what Dave Ramsey would say.  Judah leaves some identifying articles as collateral, a seal, a cord, and a staff.  Evidently, he wasn’t too concerned about leaving a trail, now that the wife was out of the picture.   But he left much more significant evidence, as Tamar finally gets her payment, becoming pregnant with twins.

 Judah has his good friend Hirah take the goat to Timnah to pay off the prostitute.   But Tamar has retired from the business, and is nowhere to be found.  Judah and Hirah discuss the situation and decide that it is best to let the matter drop, as it’s got to be pretty embarrasing to just go door to door with a goat, looking for a prostitute who let you run a tab.  But three months later, Tamar is visibly pregnant, and is evidently still under Judah’s authority. He takes the opportunity to rid himself of the Tamar problem once and for all by condemning her to death for her obvious immorality.  But before sentence can even be arranged for, Tamar pulls a great sneaky Pete move.  She announces that she has the seal, cord, and staff of the man who slept with her.  And Judah is shown for what he is, as she displays the very things he was earlier trying to redeem with a goat.  So Tamar gets her children (Perez and Zerah), Shelah doesn’t have to die like his brothers, and Judah gets a nice public comeuppance exposing his lack of character.  I bet he had to smile a bit, like when a chess master falls prey to a creative checkmate at the hands of a beginner.

 We see Judah again in the 42nd chapter of Genesis.  In the interim, Joseph has gone to prison, been released, and saved Egypt from famine.  Judah is back on the family ranch.  He probably wasn’t too keen on remaining in Adullam, where he was probably regarded somewhat humorously.  Or maybe he is just moving back home because of the famine, like a college dropout just crashing at his parent’s place until he can get on his feet.  Whatever the case, he’s back with his brothers again.  And they have still kept the secret about Joseph, probably believing him to be long dead. 

 But there’s food in Egypt, so they go to Egypt to buy food.  And they go back again to get more.  The mysterious Egyptian official insists that Benjamin come as well, in order to verify the brother’s earlier story.  Of course Jacob is gun shy about letting Benjamin go, he being Joseph’s full brother and all.  So Judah starts to turn it around here.  He steps up to the plate and gives Jacob his personal guarantee that Benjamin will return.  I can’t imagine that was very comforting for Jacob, given Judah’s recent history.  But times are desperate, and a hungy Jacob allows Benjamin to travel to Egypt in the custody of his brother Judah.

 The brothers buy the food, but Joseph had Benjamin framed for theft.  On the way out of town, Jacob’s sons are overtaken and brought back to Joseph where the false evidence is proof enough for Benjamin to be declared guilty.  Joseph declares that Benjamin will remain in Egypt, to be put into slavery for the offense.  But Judah steps forward again, insisting that he himself take the punishment.  Here Judah completes his journey from being a rule bending, selfish man to becoming a man who really does take responsibility for others.

 Of course, Judah and the brothers learn of Joseph’s true identity, and after some tenuous moments, everything ends well.  But in all this, Jacob’s fourth son rises to preeminence among his brothers.  And the son’s of Jacob, who were dead set against serving their younger brother Joseph, and up all falling in line behind son number four.  At the end of Jacob’s life, as he lay dying in Goshen, he delivers a commencement to his sons.  This is recorded in Genesis 49.  He starts with his oldest, Reuben.  The one who would have been the head of the clan but for an earlier dallience with one of Jacob’s concubines.  He then moves on to his next two sons, Simeon and Levi.  Addressing them as a pair, he explains that they also will not become the leaders of the family, due to their over-the-top retribution for the defilement of their sister Dinah.  So next up is Judah.  And Jacob declares that the scepter will not leave his hand.  This is like a wild card team winning the World Series.  As my sophomore theology professor liked to say, this is why they are called Jews instead of Roos.  Funny, but true.

 And Jacob is proved to be right.  The first chapter of Matthew records the lineage of Jesus.  This is the boring part, with all the begats, that we all zip over quickly as we read.  But right there we see that the line of the saviour goes back to Judah, right through Perez.  That’s right, the product of Judah’s tryst with his disguised daughter -in-law becomes an ancestor to the Messiah himself.  And God does with Judah what he does with all of us; he gives us on ocean of grace to overcome our trash barrel of sinfulness.   God ties all loose ends, not only making Judah grow up, but also uses that as part of how he gives us Jesus.