Nobody Goes…to the Hall of Fame

In four decades of voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, only once before has this happened. Out of the field of 37 candidates eligible for the Hall of Fame this year, the association selected exactly zero. That’s right, none. Not Bonds, Clemens or Sosa. Not Biggio, Piazza or Bagwell. Nobody.

This is somewhat understandable. After all, it’s pretty common for a player to not make the Hall on their first try and this particular class was tainted by a steroid scandal that put a dark cloud over baseball and over some of it’s greatest stars of the last 20 years.

But there’s something more going on here. At the end of the day, these writers have failed to agree on what really makes someone a great baseball player. In a game where statistics are everything and where writers like to make mention of how many hits a player has on Tuesdays in June in the rain, these writers are unable to quantify greatness.

It’s a tough thing to do, when you really think about it. Cal Ripken, Jr., a first-ballot inductee in 2007, had an incredible streak of 2,532 straight starts, but consistency alone doesn’t mean you’re a great player. Hall of Famer Hank Aaron hit over 30 home runs in 15 seasons, but homers alone won’t do it either (just ask Bonds and Sosa).

What makes a great baseball player, it seems, is some combination of consistency, skill, gamesmanship and character – the last of which has been the downfall of baseball greats like Joe Jackson and Pet Rose.

In life, too, our greatness is defined by our character. Accomplishments in business, art or other endeavors only get us so far. If you’re a scoundrel, people know it. If you’re selfish, they resent you, if you are cruel, they despise you. Climbing your way to the top by stepping on the throats of others doesn’t make you great.

Jesus actually had a definition of greatness that he shared with his closest followers. If you want to be great, he said, become a servant. If you want to be important, humble yourself. But far from suggesting that you should not try to be great, Jesus suggested that this was truly the path to greatness. In other words, the most selfish thing you can do is to be selfless.

This is just another one of Jesus’ sometimes confusing teachings which, if you really examine it closely, makes incredible sense. If we live in a self-serving world, then the best way to get people to like you is to do something that feeds their self-serving personality. Serve the person whose admiration you desire and that admiration is almost sure to come. Try to one-up them and they will spend their time trying to defeat you – to squash you like a bug.

Perhaps next year’s Hall of Fame candidates will take Jesus’ words to heart. Perhaps they’ll go up to Cooperstown and polish the brass railings at the hall. A little humility in baseball might be appreciated.

Holy Spirit – The Missing Piece of God

Last week, my friend Weldon was speaking at church and he said something that I have been thinking about ever since. Weldon was recalling a conversation that he and his wife Angelina had with a 90 year old woman named Elizabeth. The conversation was wide-ranging, but the bit that caught my attention was something that Elizabeth said to them.

She said that she found it so interesting that people don’t talk about the Holy Spirit more today. After all, she said, the people who spent 24/7 with Jesus for three years, sitting under his teaching and watching his example, still didn’t get it. They failed to grasp any true understanding of the Kingdom of God and, ultimately, deserted Jesus in his time of need. They didn’t really get it until after he had died, risen, ascended to heaven and then sent the Holy Spirit to empower them.

You see, spending time with Jesus was life-changing, but it took the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to pull the puzzle together, cause it to make sense and propel these world-changers forward with the good news of the Kingdom of God. I wonder, like Elizabeth, how it is that we have failed to understand this Biblical message. How is it that we try to understand our God while missing the crucial “Holy Spirit piece.”

So often we tell ourselves that if someone just knows enough, that they will “get it.” We’re determined that if others see a good life example – a mentor or a coach – that the switch will go on and they will change the way they live their life. We’re convinced that getting to know Jesus is enough. And then, we are disappointed when, in our own life and the lives of others, we don’t see that play out.

The truth is, knowing Jesus is enough, but only if we know all of him. The God that we worship exists, sometimes confusingly, in three “persons” – Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Most of us recognize the Father part. Our earliest thoughts of God are probably mentally tied to our image either of our human father or of an idealized version of what a father should be. The Son, Jesus, is easy to grasp, too, in that there is much written about his life to which we can relate. But what about the third person of God, the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps the fact that we don’t even have a great analogy to describe the Holy Spirit – something like “Father” or “Son” that helps us understand this facet of God – is indication enough that we don’t really “get it.” But however you may think of the Holy Spirit, the words of that 90 year old woman ring true – they are true, straight from the Bible! Jesus’ closest followers were completely lost, disillusioned and confused until they were visited by the Holy Spirit. And yet, so often, we leave the Holy Spirit (33% of God) out of our life, out of our discussions and out of our understanding of God.

This year, let me encourage you to think about the Holy Spirit. If need be, set aside any notions you have of who the Holy Spirit is or does, especially if you have negative associations with the words “Holy Spirit.” Rather, pray that God will bring clarity to your idea of just who the Holy Spirit is and what the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is all about. Then, if you have the guts, pray directly to the Holy Spirit and ask to receive that power and presence.

If Jesus’ closest friends, allies and confidants required a visitation from the Holy Spirit before they could get it, why would we expect anything else for ourselves and our friends? In 2013, I pray that you and I will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to “get” things that we never “got” before, to see things we never saw before and to do things we’ve never done before. If we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, then, without a doubt, the best is yet to come!

TED Talk Tuesday: Lessons in Business…From Prison

Today, we have a very short, but interesting talk from a former “rising star” in the Missouri Senate who found himself behind bars with plenty of time to contemplate his future. As I listened to his talk, I was struck by the fact that each person is created in God’s image and that we all have incredible potential hard-wired into us. The difference between us, so often, comes down to the opportunities we’ve had in life. The family we are born into, the circumstances of our life, the education we have access to and the chance encounters that we have along the way all play a factor into whether we end up in the penthouse, the big house or some house in-between.

Jeff Smith’s challenge is simple. Let’s work together to ensure that others get to have some of the same opportunities that we’ve had, in business and in life, and we might just see some of their potential begin to bear fruit.

Les Misérables and The Kingdom of God

les-mis-posterWith a classic story by Victor Hugo, music and lyrics by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil respectively, direction by Tom Hooper and a star-studded cast headed by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Seyfried, the film version of Les Misérables is a blockbuster hit that is being hailed as a masterpiece by critics and audiences alike.

I saw the film and I have to say that I agree, although there were some shortcomings. Now, first, I must warn you that I was a musical theater guy in high school and college and even spent some time in theatre conservatory (you know it’s serious when the word is spelled t-h-e-a-t-r-e), so I know the story and music of “Les Mis” like the back of my hand. This, of course, serves to both inform and bias my opinion of the film. With that confession, here is my quick take before getting to the heart of this post.

The story is as compelling as ever (more on that momentarily) and the music brilliant as always. The direction and cinematography are well-done and add depth and intimacy to the story that simply can’t be captured on stage. The cast is hit-and-miss, with Hathaway being surprisingly good, Jackman holding his own, but not great, and Seyfried sounding OK, but a little like a modern-day fluttery Cinderella. Then there’s Russell Crowe – far out-classed by his co-stars and outmatched by the vocal score, the guy just isn’t up to the task. It’s not just bad. It’s really bad – embarrassingly bad.

The standouts are some of the unknowns of the film. Little Isabelle Allen as young Cosette, Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche and Natalya Angel Wallace as the grown-up Éponine all shine in their roles as do Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thénardiers. Eddie Redmayne as Marius is ho-hum.les_miserables_hathaway

With all of that taken into consideration, what I walked away from the film with was this: the story of Les Misérables is a story of redemption and forgiveness. It is a story of a cynical man being undeservedly forgiven and living the rest of his life trying to reconcile himself to that forgiveness. A single act, carried out without hesitation by a priest, pivots Jean Valjean’s life and opens up something in him that can never be resealed.

This, to me, is the story of the Kingdom of God. A single act of forgiveness that brings redemption to us all and (if recognized for what it truly is) affects us to our core for the rest of our existence. If we understand the forgiveness we’ve received, then we can give forgiveness when it seems the least warranted. If we understand the death from which we were spared, then we can spare others who deserve a similar fate. If we understand the brokenness of our own humanity, then we can see more clearly the humanity of even the most broken people.

les-miserables-openThe story of Les Misérables is the story of us. We are the miserable ones who, without the redemptive person of Jesus are “standing in our graves” here on earth. He rescues us – from prison, from the gutter, from being orphaned and, ultimately, from death. He died as one accused so that we could make a clean getaway.

If you venture out to see Les Misérables in the coming days, consider for yourself just how much forgiveness one man had to offer in order for you to live the life you’re living. Then, resolve to offer the same forgiveness to others that you have received for yourself.

The Rape That Started A Revolution?

It’s a horrific and brutal image – a 23 year old girl, on her way home from a movie, gang-raped by six men who used, among other things, an iron bar to inflict deadly injury in the most inhumane way possible. And yet, like other brutal images – bloodied slaves, Nazi concentration camps and even the cross of Jesus – the rape of this young girl may go down in history as the beginning of a revolution.

At the core of this revolution is a generation of young people, male and female, at odds with their elder counterparts. Gender equality is a relatively new idea in much of the world, but this generation is catching on fast. They refuse to allow an international news story about a 23 year old girl being raped and murdered to simply be swept under the rug. they refuse to accept that “boys will be boys” or that “she must have asked for it. They are repulsed by the fact that they have sitting parliament members who are facing rape charges of their own.

For this group of young protesters, the old male-centric ways simply will not do. Even the threat of death penalty against the girl’s six attackers can’t quell their protests. Why? Because this is not about the rape of one girl. It’s not about her six attackers. This is about a fundamental cultural shift that is taking place – that must take place – in India and in many other parts of the world.

By and large, this revolution is being led by young women, supported by young men and discouraged by the very leaders, mentors and teachers who should be supportive. These brave cultural warriors are risking their relationships, their careers and even their lives fighting not for themselves, but for future generations. They are the Freedom Fighters of the developing world – on a mission to right a systematic wrong.

It won’t be easy. Revolutions never are. But as the body of that 23 year old girl was cremated in New Delhi the other day, those ashes may just represent the beginning of something great – the fire of a generation of people who refuse to accept the status quo and who are passionate about ensuring justice for all people.

Whether they know it or not, these young people are walking very closely to the heart of God for his people, his kingdom and his world. I, for one, will be walking with them.

What’s Next?

2012 was a great year for this blog! This time last year, I launched the Bible in a Year journey and for 365 days blogged my questions, thoughts and occasional insights as I read through the Bible. Over 180,000 words later, that journey is complete and yet, there is always something beyond the horizon. So, what’s next for this blog? What’s next for me? What is the plan for 2013?

Keep On Reading

First, I plan to keep on reading. As I mentioned in my last BIAY post, I am on an interesting trajectory in my Bible reading. First, I read through the Bible in 90 days, then the New Testament in 30 days, then the Bible in a Year with blog writing. For 2013, I’m slowing down even more. This year’s reading plan will be devoted entirely to the New Testament. Reading about a chapter a day (sometimes more, sometimes less) I will spend more time in prayer and contemplation about the words I’m reading. I will seek wisdom from the Holy Spirit, fresh insights from the words I read and I’m sure I’ll get plenty of reminders about things I already know.

This year’s reading plan will be much more personal than last year’s. I won’t be blogging my journey or asking others to join me (although you may, of course, if you want). This year is going to be more about spending time with the Scripture and the God of the Scripture – slowing my pace enough to allow more room for the Holy Spirit to speak through the life found in those words.

So, I’ll keep on reading and I want to encourage you to keep on reading, too!

Keep On Blogging…Differently

One thing I learned very quickly on my BIAY journey is that when you’re blogging 500ish words every single day, there is little time or brain space left to blog about anything else. At least, that was the case for me. Over the course of 2012, there were so many thoughts and ideas that I had, so many things I wanted to say, but at the end of the day, my brain and fingers could never seem to connect to get it in writing.

This year will be different. I still plan to blog regularly, but not every single day and not always about the Bible or even about “spiritual stuff” (although my thoughts regularly come back to spiritual matters). I will blog about current events, about my life, about random stuff on my mind and, yes, sometimes I’ll probably blog about something I read in the Bible. If you want to know what I’m writing about, I guess you’ll just have to keep coming back!

A New Feature

One thing I have committed myself to this year (I really can’t help it) is a new feature on the blog that I’m calling “TED Talk Tuesday.” For those who aren’t familiar with TED Talks, you can visit TED.com for more info, but basically, these are short talks from some of the brightest, most innovative and/or most interesting people in the world. The topics they cover span a wide range of issues and disciplines, but they are almost always challenging. They challenge the things we do, the ways we think and the way we think about the things we do.

These talks are always challenging and inspiring for me and I think they might be for you, too. So, each Tuesday, I will feature one TED Talk video and make some comments about it. My hope is that you will get as much out of these talks as I do.

A Great Year

Honestly, I don’t really know what 2013 holds for me or for this blog, but I can say this: It won’t be boring. It won’t be dull. I’ll write things you agree with and things you disagree with. I’ll write about things you find interesting and things you don’t. There will be big announcements (trust me on this) and stories of the mundane. But whatever happens, it will be a great year.

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