Calling All Sports Fans!

Baseball, NASCAR and Circumcision

Jackson Snyder, July 9, 2004

Dedicated to C.  M. “Skip” Cody

 

We played baseball, football and marched in the band.

We saw the Gemini shooting stars of ‘67 come to land.

We met a “man in black”; he was really small.

We set G.I. Joes ablaze and tossed them off the quarry wall.

Like shooting stars in nineteen sixty-sev’n,

May we two boys play ball again in Heav’n.

 

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http://covers.spreadtheword.com/Covers_SA_th/0877936021.jpgFaced with the road to heaven or the slippery slope into sin, you know which you should choose.  But if you make the wrong choice and fall into sin, rise quickly, confess your failure and do penance.  If you are wounded, don’t you seek a physician rather than die?  Likewise if you sin, why would you not seek out your Father who can deliver you from death?  When evil stirs in you, let your Father’s love reach into the very heart of your being and ask him to help you by taking the evil out of your path and giving you the strength to do good.  If an enemy were to capture you, you would turn quickly to anyone who could help you.  Do the same thing when evil overtakes you.  Turn to your Father.  Beg, pray, resolve to change, and he will help you.  St. Hildegard  Preview: Hildegard von Bingen (St. Hildegard)

 

1 Corithians 9:24.  Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  25.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  26.  Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air;  27.  but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 

 

Ephesians 6:12.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Matthew 22:15 Then went the Pharisees and took counsel that they might entrap him in a word. 16 And they send to him their disciples with the Herodians, saying: Teacher, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, and thou carest for no one, for thou lookest not on the person of men: 17 tell us therefore, what thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not? 18 But Yahshua knowing their wickedness said: Why tempt me, hypocrites? 19 Show me the tribute money. And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Yahshua says to them: Whose image is this, and the superscription? 21 They say: Caesar's. Then says he to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. 22 And hearing they wondered, and leaving him they went away. (CODEX SINAITICUS: The New Testament translated from the Sinaitic Manuscript Discovered by Constantine Tischendorf at Mt. Sinai by H. T. Anderson, begun in 1861, Copyright ©2004 Jackson H. Snyder II)

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Luke 10:25.  And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  26.  He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read?"  27.  And he answered, "You shall love Yahweh your Elohim with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."  28.  And he said to him, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live."

{

Ken Griffey

   This year I watched a little of the Reds vs. the Dodgers.  I was surprised to see Ken Griffey come to bat for the Reds.  I saw Ken play at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati years ago.  At the age of fifty-six, how could Ken compete with all the youngsters?  I thought, “Who’s up next?  George Foster?  Pete Rose?  Sparky Anderson?”  {pause}

   I can name most on the Tigers’ and Yankees’ rosters from the 60s.  Grampa Pete took me to Cleveland Municipal Stadium in the early sixties to watch the Yanks beat the Indians 11 to 9.  In that game, I saw both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris hit home runs.

   ¿But to see Ken Griffey beating out an infield single on television at his age?  What a man.  When I told the boys I was watching the game with Griffey’s age, I was informed that this was Griffey, Jr., not the ‘old’ man.  Oh, yeah – then I remembered!  How foolish of me.  Nevertheless, Griffey Sr.’s a great example to parents and grandparents, having devoted so much quality time to his son’s nurture – even during the years Senior was himself a superstar –enough to insure Junior’s success as a pro ball player.

}

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Racing, Wrestling and Boxing – Those are For Me!

   It’s World Series time again.  However, I’m no longer a baseball fan ‘cause I can’t play anymore.  I’ve had to find another sport to play based on my ability NOW.  So I wrestle, box and race.

   Have you been to the Imax Theater in Tallahassee?  The IMAX screen is eight stories tall and the sound system packs twelve thousand watts of digital surround sound.  The picture showing was NASCAR 3D, the IMAX Experiencethe story of NASCAR featuring a number of races and drivers up to the 2003 Daytona 500.  (If you didn’t know, NASCAR stands for “National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.”)  Can you imagine a rail-side seat for the Daytona 500?  Well, with the eight-story screen and all that sound power, the motion picture was far more awesome than a seat in the infield.

   Still, though NASCAR is the fastest-growing sport in the nation (especially among Republicans), stock car racing isn’t what interests me.   I like what I can do: foot racing – the kind described in the Bible.  Here’s St. Paul to tell about my kind of sports:

1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Ephesians 6:12. paraphrase.  All the runners compete in a race but only one receives the prize, so you’d better run to win.  And we wrestle – but not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness in high places.  And we box, but I don’t swing my fists at the air, like you do.  To win, a spiritual athlete must exercise self-control in everything.  Most winners only get a wreath that decays in a day.  But our prize for winning is a lot better – ours is indestructible.  Pay attention, sports fans!  I don’t run around willy-nilly; but I exercise, discipline and subdue myself lest after telling you what to do, I should be disqualified and humiliated before you.  (See another message using the UNADULTERATED use of this text.)

   Maybe you too’ve been competing in racing, boxing and wrestling.  If so, you know the difficulty and danger of each match-up, for you’ve had to run uphill all the way, train as you’ve gone, and beat off competitors every grueling step.  All the while, everyone’s judging how you’re doing.  The crowd never fails to jeer when you fall behind – most want you disqualified and humiliated.  When you get ahead, even your fans betray you, laying stumbling-stones on your track so you have to dodge and jump.

   For those of us who really love the sport – we know that, despite the difficulty of the course, the hostility of the crowd and the dangerous tricks of the opponents, the reward for finishing has value beyond anything else.  It’s the pearl of great price: eternal life, eternal joy, eternal purpose; and eternal friendship with G-d.  Amen!

 

It’s Circumcision! 

   What surprised me most about NASCAR is that all the cars have to be in exact proportion and weight, and all have to use the same kind of tires.   The IMAX had a scene in which all the crews met to discuss the race rules.  There’re so many rules, even just for qualifying, it’s mind-boggling.  Each crew has many specialists on the payroll who only check to make sure a car meets the standard.  This is long before the car gets near the track.

   The race toward immortality that we drive also has a hefty set of principles, rules and commandments that must be followed to the letter to get near the track.  These standards are written down in a book – The Bible – set down to paper by at least fifty authors over fifteen hundred years.  Yet all these authorities are of one opinion in regards to qualifying.  What’s that one qualifier?  Can you guess?  No, it’s not an altar call.  No, it’s not church membership.  No, it’s not baptism.  No, it’s not “gettin’ saved.”  Those are all essential, but the one, primary qualifier that gets you on track is circumcision. 

   Every contender for the faith, man, woman or child, must first be circumcised: circumcised of heart, that is.  Yes, that’s right!  You can’t even throw a punch, you can’t even get a half-nelson on your opponent, until you’ve been heart-circumcised.  ¿Don’t believe me?  Look in the rulebook, sport.  Moses wrote it down in:

Deuteronomy 10:12-16 paraphrase. “What does Yahweh require you?  To revere him, walk in all his ways, love him, and serve him with all your ability, and to keep his directives and decrees for your own good.  Yahweh set his heart to love your ancestors, and above all others, you.  So circumcise your heart so you can be flexible enough to keep his word.” 

   There’s no auto mechanic or coronary butcher or rabbinical authority who may circumcise your heart.  This procedure may only be done by the Almighty Referee after your urgent request.  Circumcision is your license; and, like any heart surgery, it’s going to cost you plenty.  Open heart surgery costs $100,000.  But circumcision of the heart costs many times that much.  It costs everything you’ve got. 

   You must defeat your own will – subdue yourself – to allow Yahweh to make you fit for the type of love that works on the behalf of others.  Surrender is the very first discipline you must master – and it takes exercise, especially for obstinate, stubborn folk, like you and me.  Only through heart surgery may you have the strength to pass the first few markers on the track: reverence, obedience, then finally love.  We need to have flexible hearts so that we might love Yahweh.  For most, such love isn’t natural affection.  It’s to be acquired.  Amen?

   The love that fuels a circumcised heart permits a new level of communication as we fly down the track: i.e. spirit-to-spirit communication.  It’s like having a radiophone to the Heavenly Father – only there’s no phone – it’s in the heart.  From his perch way up above, he can see when we need help and contact us directly – and set us beyond the danger zone.  He can also let us know when it’s time for a pit stop – which, according to our rulebook, is called a fast or a Sabbath.  Yahweh becomes your eye in the sky.  When you achieve a level of success, he sees that too, and calls a feast, like the Feast of Tabernacles.  That’s the time to celebrate your many victories.

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On to Baseball

   My ambition at twelve was to play ball for the Tigers.  I loved those boys.  I cried when Rocky Colavito was traded to Kansas City.  I sent a get well card to Al Kaline after I watched him break his collarbone during a shoestring catch off Elston Howard’s bat. 

   Us boys played a lot of sand lot ball.  But when I was twelve and my brother ten, we tried out for the Phillies little league team.  We tore ‘em up at the tryouts.  Yet both of us were cut.  We were really upset.  The coach just told us to go home. 

   Dad called that coach to ask him why we were cut.  Dad knew his boys were great players.  The coach was quite honest.  He said, “Mr. Snyder, Jack was cut because he’s twelve.  I only keep one twelve-year old since they can’t play little league at thirteen.  I already have a boy on the team that’s twelve.  He’s MY boy, so he stays.”  Dad then asked, “What about Pete?  He’s ten and has a couple good years to play.”  The coach said, “Mr. Snyder, I also play only one ten-year old; and my youngest boy’s ten.   So, what would you do, sir?” 

   “No fair!” Pete and I cried.  But now I understand why the coach couldn’t cut his own kids, even if they were lousy players, or why he only played eleven-year olds.  (Although that was common then.)  The advantage his sons had was that the coach loved them.  They were his boys!  Because they were loved, they loved, and had favor above those with greater skills.  

   And that’s the first rule of sports.  To be heart-circumcised means to open up to love and to being loved.  Not by might, power or skill, but by a spiritual operation that leads to favor. 

 

Tigers Once Again

   For many would-bes, this first rule keeps them out of the race entirely; “For whoever would draw near to Yahweh must first believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).   The Tigers and Indians were always on the bottom of the standings throughout the 60s.   But in 1968, the Tigers began to believe in something.  They made a comeback, going from dead last to beat the Cardinals in the World Series four games to three.  After watching them lose year after year, I’ll not forget their inspiring comeback.  It teaches us something about faith and hope.  It’s never too late to start seeking Yahweh’s prize, knowing that he always rewards seekers with eventual victory.  Hang in for the win!

 

Six Hundred Thirteen Rules

   Now back to the rules:  After heart-circumcision, there’re six hundred twelve more rules Moses wrote down for heavenly roadrunners.  We call the most important “The Ten Commandments.”  That’s where we go next if we want to follow.  The Ten Commandments must be worth a great deal if, three thousand five hundred years after they were written in stone, politicians are still fighting about them.

   After Moses came and went, referees called Judges further set to writing how racers were doing according to the rules of their sport.  They wrote so that these many years later we might hearken unto the lives of Kings and commoners, and judge our own love, obedience and performance, right alongside theirs.  There are many success stories – like Elijah and Elisha, like Deborah and Judith.  But by and large, most competitors in their times failed miserably to stay in the race.  Others didn’t even try.  Still others thought they were going great, yet they went unacknowledged by the judges.  That’s because they tried to wrestle the enemy without the circumcision – and they lost.

   As for the group that thought  they had it made – one judge says of them:

They tell me: “Isn't it true that we spoke in your name?  That we cast out demons and performed many miracles in your name?”  But I’ll have to tell them, “Well, maybe you did, but you’ve never been one of mine!  I cut you from the team!  Get out of here, scoundrels!” (Matthew 7:22,23 paraphrase)

This judge, known as Yahshua, was sent down here from the Commissioner to help us understand the rulebook.   Yahshua gave us a secret formula – a winning formula – “a formula one” – a perfect example of how not only to qualify, but how to get on first.  (First resurrection, that is.)  He took the six hundred and thirteen rules and updated and condensed them so we could have a ready measure of our own progress in sports. 

   As for the rules, Yahshua brings us together before the big day for our pep talk: “So you say you believe in G-d; then also believe in me(John 14:1).   I was sent into the world to rescue you (John 3:17) – to look out for and save the lost (Luke 19:10) – to bless the poorer players (Matthew 5:3).  So if you know me, then you’ll also know my Father (John 14:7).  That’s because the Game Boss is my Father, and we’re united in every way (John 10:30).  So my job’s easy and my equipment light (Matthew 11:30) – let me help you with yours.  If you do love me, keep the rules (John 14:9).  If you keep the rules, you prove you love me, and you’ll be loved by my Father, the Boss (John 14:21). As for what you do to win: First, love me and my Father with heart, soul and mind.  Second, love others as you love yourself.  On these two sayings hang all the rules of the sport and the conclusions of the referees (Matthew 22:37-40).   Do these in all things and you’ll be off to a grand start!  Boys and girls, you’ve gotta go, fight and win – that’s for sure.  But in this race, you gotta love even more (John 11:35,36).”

   And then the cheerleaders cried, “Two, four, six, eight!  Who do we appreciate?  Yahshua!  Yahshua!  Yeah, team!

 

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Back to NASCAR

   Boxers and wrestlers don’t like each other much, if the commercials for their matches are any indication.  They don’t fight the devil – they fight each other, just like folks did in the Corinthian church.  Yes, they threatened and fought and sinned.  But the NASCAR team guys and gals really love each other and stick together.  And the fans love ‘em too.  That’s because NASCAR heroes pay attention to their fans.

   I was surprised to learn that in the Daytona 500 trials, out of hundreds of cars entered, only 43 qualify – there’s only so much room on that narrow speedway.  Many entries are disqualified just because the car sets a quarter inch too low or high, or is a sixteenth of an inch too long.  Even though they’ve put millions into the car, if they’re too long, too heavy, too high or low, the team members just have to watch from the bleachers like anyone else. 

   The cars that make it through the size and standardization requirements get to try-out the field, racing individually against the clock for the first time, following very strict orders as to where they can and can’t drive.  Then only the fastest forty-three that kept to the rules get to race.  But once they’re in, they’re in.  And the pressure’s off for a little while – until just hours before the most famous phrase of sports is heralded over the bullhorn – “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!” 

   Why are the rules so strict?  Because the stakes are so high and the race is so dangerous.  Even if you know nothing about NASCAR, you’ve certainly heard the name Dale Earnhardt, right? 

   Sunday, February 18, 2004: After being clipped from behind by another racer, Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s #3 car spun out of control and crashed into a concrete wall. It was the final lap of the Daytona 500 and the final race for Earnhardt. He died from head injuries just minutes after the crash. Earnhardt was one of the greatest NASCAR racers ever. He was nicknamed “Iron Horse” and “The Intimidator” for the [aggressive] way he drove on the track.  He was tough and competitive and would do almost anything to win.  Over his career, he won 76 races.   But it's pretty tough to intimidate a concrete wall. (KW Sports Zone)

   Though Earnhardt crashed and died just before its completion, everyone else in that race lived.  There was a photo finish.  Two cars that were smashed together crossed the finish line at the same time.  It was amazing to see on an eight-story screen.  I’d never heard of Earnhardt before February 18th.  But I’ll never forget the public outcry of grief.  It’s like, for millions of people, one of their own kin had gone on.   

 

The Narrow Gate

   There are many safeguards and hundreds of hours of practice to make for a death-free NASCAR race.  Actually, it’s amazing anyone lives at all, driving so close through such a narrow place at such incredible speeds – 200 mph or more.  Yet, these drivers are so highly experienced that they survive year after year.  That’s the difference between them and us when it comes to competitive driving (though we’re cursed with some crazed wannabes on US 29 – SR 90).  We can play NASCAR on Xbox or one of those other contraptions, crash a hundred times, yet never die.  These top drivers crash once and they may die.  That’s the cut.

   With that danger in mind, consider again what Yahshua said, despite his presence to see that we succeed.  He warns,

Heaven can be entered only through the narrow gate!  The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide enough for all the multitudes who choose its easy way.  But the Gateway to Life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever even find it.  (Matthew 7:13,14 TLB) 

Yahshua / Yahshua is the line on the track.  His life is the guideline.  Though once on the track, he’ll spot for you and rescue you and see you through, there’s only one way to get on the track in the first place – to take the narrow road of qualification: to be circumcised of heart through belief, to know him and love him and obey him.  He’s the doorway  (John 10:7).  (Only the thief and liar try to sneak in by another way.)

   Once on the track, the whistle blows, the engines start with a deafening rumble, and they’re off!  To get into the race, you gotta get on track.  Only a very few do, while that other freeway is as broad as the New Jersey Turnpike – broad enough that millions who think they’re in the race drive like lunatics.  If you’ve ever been there, you know that no matter how wide the New Jersey Turnpike, it’s always crowded – and it always leads to Hell: that is, hell on earth – a place known as East Camden.

 

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Games

   Let me finish by reminding us that, while NASCAR, baseball, football and other sports may be dangerous, the danger is seldom unto death.  While Venus Williams made a shocking exit from Wimbleton because of one affliction or another, or Al Kaline was benched for six weeks until his collarbone healed, today’s tame sports seldom put anyone’s life at risk.  Even in NASCAR, less than a dozen drivers have died in forty years.  The New Jersey Turnpike is far more hazardous than even the most dangerous contact sport. 

   I like the bumper sticker that’s so popular on Florida’s east coast – “I drove US 1 and lived.”  I’ve seen them on the West Coast, too – “I drove US 41 and lived.”  (But of course, the US 1 bumper sticker is the truth.)  Friend, if you’ve the courage to drive US 1 or the NJ Turnpike, then you need little more than circumcision and humility to reach the Heavenly Highway.

   In spiritual sports, the type in which we’re engaged – racing, boxing and wrestling – someone’s eternity is always at stake in every step we take, every word we speak, every principality we slap down, every contender we challenge.  Lives are always on the line. 

   Spiritual athletics are also very strenuous – they’re not for sissies like professional basketball players.  How many have ever tried to fast and pray for two, three or four weeks?  How about one week?  Yahshua woke Peter up and asked him if he couldn’t just watch and pray for ONE HOUR.  How many have prayed for one hour?  How many for fifteen minutes?  It’s hard, isn’t it?  How many have given money to the point you doubted you could pay your bills?  And how many have been so pugnacious with the devil that they’ve gained a victory, or saved a soul, healed a sick person or prayed themselves free from some debilitating, filthy habit or disease.  How many give G+d what’s his?  Too many in the cheap seats; not enough on the field.

   Let me advise you now that, once you make a commitment to the team, you can’t put in a proxy.  You’ve got to come in off the bench yourself.  Ask Yahweh to circumcise your heart then get to the mission.  The schedule is full and the players are few.  Pray the Coach Wooden to send in replacements.  ¿And who can say whose eternity depends on your performance?  I know the eternity of some in this congregation depends on how I perform.  Now Yahshua drafts YOU from spectator sports and commands you up to heavenly courts with him.  Yes,

 

                        Sports Fan, Follow Me!

Yesu drafts us from the bleachers of the world’s vainglorious play,

From each game and match commands us, saying, “Sports fan, watch and pray!”

Through the thrill of victory and through the ag’ny of defeat

That we worship from our couches, He cries, “Sportsman, leave your seat!”

Of these trophies that surround us, all the pennants, plaques and keys,

Of the tickets and equipment: do you love Him more than these?

Yesu drafts you from the sports world by a greater, nobler call:

Take up racing, boxing, wrestling, “Sports fan, won’t you take up all?”

All this world of hell-bound loved ones now depends upon your skill;

Skill in praying, fasting, weeping, exercises of the will.

Then in truth you’ll leave the box seats for a higher, greater chair.

You yourself will race with greatness – in the Spirit, in the air.

Yesu calls you o’er the tumult: revving engines on TV;

Day by day His stern voice bids you, crying, “Sports fan, follow Me!”

                                                                             - jhs, 7/9/04