With hopes my wife never reads the above paragraph allow me to explain. The Indians and the old Cleveland Stadium hold so many memories for me. I remember going to the ballpark at 5 years old to see the likes of McDowell, Tiant and Seibert. Dad would only take us to the ballpark for a giveaway – bat day, ball day, cap day or doubleheaders. I loved the doubleheaders. Back in the day, fans would be allowed in three hours before game time. Dad loved watching fielding and batting practice. I would take my glove and stand behind the dugout, trying to get autographs. On Aug. 12,1978 I asked Julie to marry me while we sat in the upper deck right behind home plate; my favorite seats with my favorite girl watching my favorite team. The only thing keeping the day from perfect is the fact that Texas beat the Tribe 6-1 that day. Oh yeah, Julie did say, “Yes.” I had asked her several times, always receiving a “no” before this, but that is another story.
While growing up I knew, if given the opportunity, my name would go down in history with Ruth, Mays, Mantle and the rest of the great players, but alas, no big league team gave me the first look.
OK, enough of my memories and wishes for stardom. Let us move on to the meat of this week’s column.
As noted in the first paragraph, the start of spring training is a big day on my calendar. While the ballplayers will be in the warmth of Arizona and Florida, I will be in the cold of Indiana, but nevertheless, when baseball is played in the South, spring will soon be in the North.
One of the marvels to spring training is men who are paid millions to play a game, the best players in the world, will practice fielding ground balls, catching flies, hitting, bunting, sliding into a base – all those things they did out in the yard, the wheat field and city streets as children. The vast majority of these men have done these things since they were children, and they do it better than nearly all others on the planet, yet, they take the time to hone their skills.
As a minister I am often asked, “How can I be a better Christian?”
My immediate response is, “How are you doing with the basics?”
Just as baseball players go to spring training to drill in the fundamentals of baseball, Christians need to be proficient in the fundamentals of Christianity.
In any craft, one must be proficient with the skills to succeed. A carpenter needs to be proficient with a hammer, a screwdriver, a drill, a saw and the other tools of the trade to be successful. Our carpenter probably beat stuff with a hammer as a child. His early nails were probably all crooked at first, but as time progressed, bent nails became a rarity. The more he did it, the better he became.
If you want to be a “better Christian” how often do you study the scripture, attend church, pray or witness to the unsaved? You cannot get better at anything without doing it. You cannot become a better Christian without practicing Christianity. Being a Christian is far more than reading the Bible, praying and so on, but once someone becomes a Christian becoming proficient in those things will cause you to grow in your usefulness to God as a Christian.
To be a “better Christian” one must first be a Christian. A Christian is anyone who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ as the only means of their salvation. A Christian does not have eternal life because of the things we do, but because of Christ shedding His blood as payment for our sins. A person places their faith in that, and God grants salvation (John 1:12, 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:9-10).
Once a Christian, God begins to work on our spiritual growth. Here is where the fundamentals come into play.
• Studying the scripture: The Bible never tells us to read it, but it does tell us to study it (2 Timothy 2:15). Reading is like panning for gold. A few nuggets will come down steam enough to add some value, but to study is like digging that gold mine and hitting the mother load. By studying you will do things like compare one passage with another, following one word throughout the scripture, doing the math through the early genealogies discovering that Noah’s children died near the time Issac was born.
• Prayer: Every ballplayer needs to communicate with the manager. From pregame talks, on field instructions and private sessions by a team’s manager, so is prayer for the Christian. The study mentioned above and prayer here is how we communicate with God.
• Attending church: “I can worship God just as well at home as I can at church.” I have only heard that from people who do not attend church. That statement is not a reason at all to miss church. We are to be worshiping God at all time within everything we do. Therefore, you better be worshiping God just as well at home as in church anyway. In church we can learn through the preaching and teaching, we can grow relationships as we fellowship with fellow believers, and we can be used in the work of the ministry. Never attending, or attending church haphazardly will not help anyone become a better Christian.
• Witnessing to the unsaved: God does command us to do this, and He commands us to do a lot of things, but I believe this is fundamental because as the love for Christ overflows our hearts, His love should flow from our lips. Telling someone about Christ is displays our love for them and Christ. Listen to what people say – we talk about what we love. How much do you love Him if you never talk about Him.
If you want to be a better Christian, it is time to attend spring training.
Preacher Tim Johnson is pastor of Countryside Baptist Church in Parke County, Indiana. Email him at [email protected].