Jeff Iorg Blog
Sports fan that I am, I have been to my share of stadiums and ballparks. For the un-initiated, football is played in a stadium and baseball in a ballpark. The reasons for this make an interesting essay – but not today! I like to arrive early to tour a new facility, noting the architectural and historical accouterments that make every place unique. I also like to try the interesting food offerings that make each place special.
Part of the food experience is connected to the vendors – some of the most interesting characters in any stadium or ballpark. Until recently, my favorite vendor is a guy who works at least at two ballparks in Arizona. He has a booming, melodic voice and a signature call hawking his product. He bellows, “Lemonade, lemonade, like grandma made. You know you want it.” And, the way he says it, you do want it!
During the World Series, however, I met another vendor who was equally memorable. He carried his product into our section, set down his carrying case, and shouted, “Alcohol.” Not “beer” or “wine” or “have a cold one” or “this Bud’s for you.” Just plain, “alcohol.” He cut out all the folderol and high-sounding pseudonyms and just asked people if they wanted the drug itself – “alcohol.”
While his product has no interest for me, his blunt appeal was refreshingly honest. He knows people want to self-medicate and he was willing to supply the means. Even after all these years, it still amazes me how much people drink while watching sports. One guy in the row in front of me drank a beer an inning, and then doubled up in the seventh when they cut off the sales. He started out a nice guy, but ended up a belligerent boor his friends apologized for as they helped him out of the stadium.
As if alcohol hasn’t been enough to keep us plastered, now Colorado and Washington voters have approved the recreational use of marijuana. It’s sad so many people need a lubricant to ease their anxiety in social situations or a drug to self-medicate personal pain. And it’s not just young people who use and abuse. A senior adult recently told a friend of mine, “I’m lonely at night but a drink or two gets me through.”
Life is hard, no doubt. It can be frightening, lonely, and intimidating. Those of us who have found peace through Jesus are mandated to get the word out – he makes life meaningful without the hangover. Rather than shout, “Alcohol,” perhaps we should be more vocal with another one word answer, “Jesus.”
I received an unusual gift yesterday, a used sports-coat style jacket that is now one of my most prized possessions. Why so? I’ll explain momentarily.
God has a way of bringing special gifts into our lives to encourage us at appropriate times. Sometimes, it can be as simple as a card or note thanking us for something we have done. Other times, the card includes a gift card or cash which also says “thank you.” A gift sometimes is special because of how personal it is – showing the giver really had your needs or interests in mind. Finally, gifts encourage when they are timely. Just when you think no one notices what you have done, God will send you a friendly reminder – through a gift he prompts – to energize you for further service.
Over the years, all of these have happened to me. And, from time to time, Ann and I have been the givers in the equation – helping and encouraging others by expressing appreciation for their service. Receiving and giving gifts is a special part of God’s economy.
So, why is a used jacket so special to me?
Over the years, my ministry in the baseball community has grown to include work with professional umpires. One of these guys has become a good friend. He happened to be the plate umpire for two important games involving the Giants this year. The first was Matt Cain’s perfect game. The second was Barry Zito’s gem in Game 5 of the current NLCS. My friend prefers the traditional umpire jacket when he works behind the plate. He wore the same jacket for both the aforementioned games – and gave it to me as a gift.
As an amateur (very amateur) umpire, this is about the coolest gift imaginable! Tears welled up in my eyes, old softy that I am. What would prompt a guy to give up a Hall of Fame caliber memento? My friend simply said, “God told me to give it to you. Thanks for serving.”
Do you know someone who needs encouragement today? Do you have the capability of giving a gift – small perhaps, but personal? If so, and as God prompts, give it! Whatever it costs you will be more than rewarded in the joy God gives – both to you and the receiver.
Does God Care Who Wins?
Oct 08 2012
October is like sports heaven. The college football season is in full swing, the NFL is going strong (now that the real officials are back), the Ryder Cup was thrilling (in a downer sort of way), and the major league baseball playoffs are underway. The World Series will wrap up one of the best sports months of the year.
In my work as a sports chaplain, we cover the usual subjects in our chapel services. This week the lesson is on prayer. Surely, and humorously, when I ask for prayer requests some guy will probably say, “Pray that we win!” All athletes want to win but the Christian athletes I work with don’t seriously pray to win. They have a bigger view of God than that.
Does God care who wins? Only as it relates to his true purposes. God cares about two overarching things that factor into every answer to prayer – his kingdom expanding and his kingdom people having their character transformed. God cares that more and more people know Jesus and those who know Jesus become more and more like him.
Sometimes, while watching a baseball game, I will see a Christian pitcher throwing to a Christian catcher, with a Christian batter trying to hit, while a Christian umpire gets ready to call the pitch. I know all these men! They are good Christians, who probably prayed earlier in the day. If they all prayed to “win,” someone is about to be disappointed. Not everyone can pray for and get success every time. For every winner, there is a loser – sometimes a Christian loser.
My conclusion: God only cares who wins in sports in relation to expanding his kingdom and shaping the character of his followers. If winning or losing has anything to do with those priorities, then he cares. If not, he doesn’t.
I saw a great cartoon recently. A football player scored a touchdown and shouted, “Jesus, this one is for you.” In the next frame, we see Jesus watching a game on television – a hockey game!
So, even you SEC fans, before you pray to God for your team to win and expect you will win because you have a Christian coach or quarterback, think again. God may be watching baseball right now – like every other true Christian!
Baseball is Back!
Apr 14 2008
Baseball is one of the best parts of the Spring. Actually, it may be the best part but I need to avoid so many superlatives! Many things reveal my love for the game, but Ann says this is the best (or worst). Sometimes, while traveling, when I see a youth baseball game I will stop, buy a hotdog, and watch a few innings. All for the love of the game! Baseball is important to me for several reasons.
First, my son Caleb also follows the sport and so we talk about it (and argue about it good-naturedly) throughout the season. It’s always good to be able to talk to your 19 year-old son about shared interests. After all, we can’t talk about school and girls all the time.
Second, umpiring resumes. Some people play golf or hunt or fish. I umpire baseball. I know it seems like a weird hobby but I really enjoy it. Why? One person said, “You like to umpire because all week you serve God but on Saturday you get to play god.” That’s funny! There are better reasons I enjoy umpiring. I like being outside. I enjoy being around young men (and the occasional young lady). It’s fun to see unusual plays and even outstanding plays by young players. When I do a good job, it gives players a fair chance to compete and builds their love for the game. And, I enjoy competing against myself to master the rules and the art of umpiring well. Only another umpire even knows what that means.
Third, baseball reminds me of good times growing up. My earliest sports memories are playing at a field behind a large bakery. Oh the aroma of freshly baked goodies! Somehow, subliminally, baseball brings back the best of my childhood. Making an all-star team, traveling to out of town games, and even my first (and only so far) fistfight are among those important baseball memories.
Finally, baseball has become a focus for my personal ministry for the past 15 years. Beginning in Oregon, most of my personal witnessing and ministry has been done in the baseball community. I have cared for bereaved friends, performed memorial services, spoken at special events, shared the gospel many times, saw some friends converted, and generally tried to bring the Christian worldview to a community of people I care about and identify with.
Now, my baseball ministry includes chaplain work with professional athletes. While it is rewarding, it is no more important than the work with Little Leaguers in Oregon. The reason God has given me a more public assignment is because of my faithfulness in the previous less-noticeable venue. When you are faithful in a smaller assignment, God often gives a larger opportunity.
So, play ball. And, let’s get the gospel to as many people in the “baseball people group” as possible.
A Day for Love
Feb 11 2008
Later this week is a special day we celebrate with those we love. It’s a once-a-year day for remembering past joys and thinking hopeful thoughts about the future. Even though it’s still winter, it feels like a spring day – full of new possibilities.
This week, pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
The beginning of the baseball season means resuming my work as chaplain for the San Francisco Giants. We work intensely during spring training to reconnect with players, meet new players, help players build the habit of chapel attendance, organize plans for Bible study, and establish good working relationships with other team personnel. The minor league chaplains from the minor league affiliates come to spring training for at least one weekend. This helps them meet players who may potentially be assigned to their city. All in all, it is a busy six weeks essential to a good year for Baseball Chapel.
Working as a chaplain energizes me. Sharing the gospel, leading Bible studies, doing marriage counseling, helping families with grief situations, etc. is fulfilling, hands-on ministry. God has assigned me to the seminary – to training leaders and leading a Christian organization. But nothing replaces the intense work of “the cure of souls.” Being a part, first-hand, of life transformation is the most fulfilling part of ministry.
Some Christians, including leaders, lose the immediacy of seeing God work through them because they default to talking about ministry, analyzing ministry, debating ministry methods, or encouraging others to do ministry. This has a deadening effect. We, all of us, have to keep our hands dirty meeting the needs of people. When we do, we experience God’s power in fresh ways. We see him working to change people. We know God, rather than know about him.
So, this is a good week. A week of new beginnings, new challenges, and new possibilities – starting a season of sharing the gospel, making disciples, building marriages, and extending Christian influence. Let’s play ball!
And, oh yeah, happy Valentine’s Day too!