Friday, October 12, 2018

Faith, Baseball and the Pursuit of Perfection

I am writing this Friday night at 4:36 p.m.  Two hours from now, to the minute, the pitcher will stretch. He will then pray, “Lord, whatever happens, be with me.” And at 7:09 p.m. the madness will begin.  Another post-season championship series, last stop before the World Series.

Leading the way in Game 1 for Los Angeles Dodgers will be this pitching machine, this man of faith.  What this pitcher believes is that his performance tonight is not about pleasing his team owner or manager, not his teammates, not his fans. No, tonight, like every night, is about pleasing God, about not wasting the talent God gave him.

This pitcher is one of the greats in the current era of major league baseball.  He has won many awards and carries a lifetime set of statistics to back up his belief that God is behind the talent in his left arm. That’s why this pitcher carries in his mind his favorite verse: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…”(Colossians 3:23). For this pitcher the old pitcher’s excuse,  “I executed the pitch really well”, will never be applied to his performance. His goal is ‘outs’, not ‘hits’.

So, a little after 1 p.m. today, Clayton Kershaw entered Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, on a mission to use that talent God has given him to give glory to God. He won’t be pointing towards heaven on a big strikeout; he will let his pitching do the work of pointing to God.

I am writing this post a couple hours before the game begins because I don’t know how charitable I can be towards him if Mr. Kershaw emerges victorious.  He won’t say that God is a Dodgers fan, but neither will I say God is a Brewers fan. But God probably loves us relishing a well-pitched championship game.

Win or lose, Mr. Kershaw knows one thing: as he walks to the mound tonight God is with him. “I know he’s already there.” I want Mr. Kershaw to know God is pleased with him. I know he wants to be perfect.  He probably won’t be. But, that doesn’t mean God left the mound.  Play ball!
(Source: The Control Pitcher, Stephanie Apstein, Sports Illustrated, May 7, 2018)

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Cup of Water's Reward

“Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.” Mark 9:41 (NIV)

One of the foundational minds of Christianity is an ancient writer by the name of Augustine.  Saint Augustine of Hippo taught in the Church following his conversion in 386 A.D. My discovery of his comment on these words of Jesus took my breath away. I came to a clearer understanding of the operation of God’s mercy and the expansiveness of grace found in Jesus.   What Augustine says, in essence, is that those who are not yet receiving sacraments in the church still, by their simple act of offering a cup of water to God’s children, give evidence that they are being so guided by God’s mercy that they may also come to receive the ‘loftier gifts’. 

Those who are not yet ‘in the church’ are not ‘lost causes.’ Rather, look at their lives. Do they so much as offer a cup of water? The word picture Jesus uses is representative of any act of kindness done in the name of Jesus for the sake of Jesus.  Kayla McClurg summarizes it like this: “Help your neighbor, listen to a child, notice the lost, rejoice and weep with your sisters and brothers. By such quotients as these will you be known for who you really are….”

I do not intend by this to diminish the importance of public profession of faith in Jesus Christ nor of participation in the formal administration of the sacraments.  But, sometimes people are ‘professing their faith’ in a very public way just by offering a cup of water to the children of God.

It is not that the act of offering a cup of water saves anyone. Rather, the act reveals their inner hearts: as they love the children of Jesus they show their love for Jesus.

If you have family members who do not partake in the formal worship life of the church, do not despair.  Look at the evidence in their actions which reveal their hearts. Believe that God is at work spreading mercy and grace over them in such a way that they will certainly not lose their reward of life with God.

Dedicated to the memory of my Mother, Janet, who taught her family to love Jesus, and who ‘prayed hard’ for evidence that everyone she met loved Jesus too. She has her reward.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

"I Don't Mind Not Having The Money"

Danny sits on the sunny side most noon hours. I see him at the adult day care building when I walk to a local deli, and I wave to him. Lately I started calling out, “Hey Danny!” And Danny would smile his big smile and wave back with his one arm that moves.

About forty years about Danny was walking home from work along a highway when a car struck him.  He was rendered a quadriplegic, with some brain damage. Danny was my first personal injury client.  I put my heart and soul into his case but I was 25 and made some rookie mistakes.  The jury said Danny was entitled to a million dollars.  But, the jury also said Danny was mostly at fault and in Wisconsin that means you get zero dollars from the verdict. We didn’t talk again until Friday.

I was preparing a sermon about how when we welcome the ‘least of these’ we are welcoming Jesus.  I had avoided telling Danny who I was in his life, because, frankly, for forty years I have felt guilty about not figuring out a way to help him. What would be the point of reminding him of the trial?  He probably doesn’t remember. He looks happy. So I just walked by, waving.  Now, there was Danny in his wheelchair, one of society’s ‘least of these.’  I decided to walk up to him and confess my guilt.  I told him my name. He said, “Yeah, Te Winkle handled my case.”  I told him how sorry I was that I lost his case. He asked how much money he would have received. I told him it was a million dollars.

He looked up at me and said, “I don’t mind not having the money. God doesn’t want us to have so much money.  He wants us to love people, to love everyone.  I believe in Jesus. He is coming again, in the sky, way up there,” he said pointing to sun. “And we all get to go meet him, in the clouds. I can’t wait.” (Pause, reflecting) “It’s going to be so cool.”

“And then,” he continued, “we go to heaven, to be with Jesus, way up there, farther than the sun.” Boy, did he smile.

I could feel the warmth.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

My Father's Name is Abraham

I am Ashkenazi Jewish. It is in my DNA. Literally speaking, I am 1.7% Ashkenazi Jewish, according the lab results which studied my saliva. Now, this is good news!

All my life I told people I was ‘100% Dutch’.  I am happy to report that this is not close to the truth.  Somewhere in the not so distant past, between 1710 and 1800, I most likely had a grandparent who was 100% Ashkenazi Jewish.  My other past generations of grandparents were Scandinavian, French & German, British & Irish.  I have so many new holidays to celebrate and cultural traditions to learn!

Being Ashkenazi Jewish allows me to claim a heritage with Abraham. Yes, that Abraham, in Genesis.  You remember the scene: it was a dark, clear night. Abram stands outside his tent and God promises him that not only will he have a son born to his wife, but he will have more offspring than the stars in the night sky.  And here I am to prove it.

Sharing the DNA of the Jewish people does not make me a member of the Jewish faith, however.  For that, my mother would need to have been 100% Jewish, and I am not going to ask her to take a DNA test at age 88 (though it is tempting).  I am and will remain a Christian, thankful for that call on my life.  But I am equally thankful for the promise of Scripture that the Jew and the Gentile (everyone not Jewish) will dwell together with God. (Read Ephesians, among other sources).

It took a Greek-speaking Lebanese woman to show the Jewish Jesus how wide was the wide expanse of God’s love for all of humanity. (Mark 7:24-30)  So, for those Jewish by faith, those who are Ashkenazi Jewish by blood, and for those who share no Jewish DNA, God’s love is the same. 

And your father’s name is Abraham too.  Let’s have a family reunion! 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

"I Weigh More Than the Orangutan"

We were watching Tommy sit in the corner of his home, getting groomed by his friend, picking away at the bugs hidden in the heavy fur coat.  We read the information sign which informed us that Tommy likes yogurt, nuts and popcorn. I talked about how I could live with Tommy and be quite happy. I love yogurt and nuts, and especially popcorn.  There’s a nice hammock to sleep in, and you get lots of visitors. What a life I could have with my buddy, Tommy.  We laughed about scenarios of me living with Tommy at the zoo.

And then my twelve-year old grandson read out loud how much Tommy weighs and, without missing a beat he asked me, “how much do you weigh?” (Slight pause, as a wave a realization comes over me) “Well Wil, I weigh more than the orangutan.”  He looked up at me with a face that said something between ‘wow’ and ‘you’re kidding, right?’

Moving on toward the dinosaur exhibit we came across a popcorn stand.  You cannot walk past a popcorn stand in the middle of an hours long excursion through the animal kingdom.  I shared my popcorn with Wil, and after we got through about half of the bag he commented, “You should go back and give the rest to Tommy.”  I don’t know if his concern was more for Tommy or for me.

The Milwaukee Zoo is home to over 1800 species of animals and fish. According to one source, scientists have recorded 20,000 species of fish, 6,000 species of reptiles, 9,000 birds, 1,000 amphibians, and 15,000 species of mammals. According to another scientific estimate there are about 8.7 million species of life on the earth.  The numbers are overwhelming.

I find it easier to just think of the fact that God made Tommy, and me, and we both like yogurt, nuts and popcorn.  And that on the New Earth, I will be able to share my popcorn with an orangutan. And there will be no scales.

“God made the wild animals according to their kind…” Genesis 1:25a

Saturday, July 28, 2018

"I Want To Be A Fireman!"

One of our grandsons was among the millions of little boys who was fascinated by firetrucks.  I recall clearly the private tour our firefighter friend set up for us so that Wil could sit try sit behind the wheel of the big red truck of his dreams.  Trying on the firefighter’s hat, he had this almost dazed look on his face, as if it was more than he could fully comprehend. If asked what he wanted to be when he grew up he would join the chorus of children declaring, “I want to be a fireman!” 

The early life fascination with the ‘uniformed’ professions, especially those who get to drive big, shiny vehicles, passes away in time as the same boys and girls instead dream of becoming famous athletes who get their pictures on the cover of video games. Yet some of the little boys and little girls do become ‘protectives’ as adults.  They do this, not because they get to wear cool hats and ride in shiny trucks, but because they care about saving people from danger.  Firefighters, police officers, first responders, they and so many more accept danger every day because they can make society a safer place, literally saving people from burning buildings.

People devote their careers to protecting others not for fame or fortune but because they love humanity.  As we are so tragically reminded every week, firefighters die fighting fires, police officers die taking the bullet which otherwise would kill someone else.  They accept the fact that in an effort to save others they expose themselves to giving up their own lives.

Why? The love of God spills out of the hearts of people called to protect society.  Thank God today for the little boys and little girls who grow up to become, to borrow Henri Nouwen’s phrase, ‘wounded healers’ for God’s children.
“Who can save a child from a burning house without taking the risk of being hurt by the flames? Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind? In short: Who can take away suffering without entering it?” -Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (Source:

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Exodus of the Wild Boars, Part 2

The rescue of the Wild Boars was not without tragedy. But it is in this tragedy that we find the definition of ‘courage’ and the meaning of ‘hero.’

Saman Kunan was a former SEAL who volunteered to return to duty in the rescue mission. In what turned out to be a prophetic moment, as he waited to board the airplane which would take him to the cave, he promised, “We will bring the kids home.”

The world was saddened to learn that he died after he was returning from placing air tanks along the roughly 3.2km route to the boys, the method for replenishing the air supply in the cave.  He died from a lack of oxygen, showing the necessity of his mission and the danger that lurked in the cave for the team and the rescuers.  He death could have served to frighten or discourage the rest of the rescue team.

Instead, as news of his death became public,  Arpakorn Yookongkaew, Commander of the Navy SEAL Unit was seen declaring, “I can guarantee that we will not panic, we will not stop our mission, we will not let his life be in vain”, as he sharply raises his right hand, piercing the air thickened with grief, an emphatic exclamation point on his resolve to bring the kids home. Still more prophetic words.

To Saman Kunan’s family, of course, he is still lost too young.  But, as with all those who carry in their being the courage to go where others would not go, to truly risk life for the sake of others, we pray that his family will see that, indeed, his life was not in vain. His life will live on forever in the memory of a world which witnessed prophecy become reality.

For reasons we cannot understand, sometimes sacrifice is the necessary factor to the success of a life-giving mission. Miracles often come at a great cost to one for the sake of the many.  While we cannot explain the ‘why’, we can continue to honor those who have the courage to ‘bring the kids home’, by remembering their sacrifice. These heroes model life’s perfect example. Romans 5:6-8.