Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday in First Person: What's with the Crowd?


It wasn’t exactly Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, but it was a pretty big deal for our little part of the world. We had no mammoth balloons of cartoon characters, no bands, no floats, no celebrity emcees. But we had Jesus, and on that day He seemed to be enough.

To put it in your terms, Jesus was “hot.” Had He lived in your day, Jesus would have been hounded by the paparazzi—invading His privacy, snapping pictures, a hundred flashing lights in his face every time they could steal a shot. He would have been on magazine covers, would have made the list of People magazine’s “The Year’s 25 Most Intriguing People.” He would have been a celebrity—and not just famous for being famous either, but famous for His mighty acts and deeds.

It’s not that Jesus tried to be famous or anything. He really didn’t court all the attention He received. Truth is, Jesus enjoyed quiet times and solitude as much or more than the attention of the crowds. But crowds were drawn to Him nonetheless. And it’s easy to see why. Jesus did things no one else could do—supernatural things, miraculous things, Messiah things. He healed the sick. He stopped a storm. He walked on water. He took one sack lunch and fed thousands. He made mincemeat out of demons, restoring the people they once possessed to sanity and wholeness, to family and community. He did some very amazing things. Things nobody else could do.

And word gets around about somebody like that. Even though Jesus usually told the people he healed not to blab it all over town, people just couldn’t keep it to themselves. And how could they anyway? Suppose you’d been blind all your life, led around by the hand wherever you went, and one day Jesus healed you. What do you say when a friend sees you walking around with 20/20 vision and asks what in the world happened to you? Do you say, “Gee … I don’t know … uh … I’ve been eating a lot of carrots lately”? Like who’s gonna believe that? Nobody, that’s who. So word got out. Jesus’ fame began to spread like a prairie fire. And people flocked around Him like bugs around a lamp.

He drew a crowd most everywhere He went. Many wanted His healing touch. Some loved to listen to His stories. Others were just curious and wanted to see this celebrity up close. You know, just in case Jesus ever amounted to anything lasting, they wanted to be able to tell their grandchildren, “Yes, I saw Jesus with my own eyes. Yes sir, I was close enough to touch him.” I don’t know, maybe they hoped some of Jesus’ fame might rub off on them.

Jesus was a celebrity in many ways, but He was not without His critics. He was not universally popular. For the most part, the common folks gave Him a thumbs-up, while the majority of the religious leaders gave Him a thumbs-down. They didn’t like Jesus much. Fact is, some of them hated him with a passion. I think they felt threatened by Him. In every encounter with them, Jesus ate their lunch. They could never outwit Him, outsmart Him, or outthink Him. Plus, Jesus didn’t keep the Laws like they thought He should—especially the Sabbath laws. And when Jesus said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” well, in the minds of the religious leaders, that was blasphemy. “Only God can forgive sins,” they said. And they pretty much had it in for Jesus the rest of the way. So whether for good or for bad, Jesus was the talk of Israel in those days.

And now it was time to go to Jerusalem for the Passover. We had a hunch that once word leaked out about this, there would be a crowd waiting for us. And sure enough there was. We had a pretty good contingent of followers already as we climbed up the mountains to Jerusalem.

And once we got up the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem, we stopped for a break. But this was more than a rest stop; this break had purpose. We didn’t stop just to rub our aching feet. We stopped because Jesus had a little mission to accomplish. He sent two of His disciples to get it done. The whole thing sounded like something out of a spy novel. The two disciples were to go to the village up ahead. Jesus told them that they would find a donkey and her colt tied up there. “Untie them,” Jesus said, “and bring them to me.” You could see these two disciples were a little confused about this. It showed in their eyes. And it looked like they were thinking, “Okay, You’re telling us to go steal a couple of donkeys. A fellow can get hung for something like that.” Jesus must have sensed their anxiety, so He quickly added, “If anyone says anything to you, your code words are, ‘The Lord needs them.’ Just say that and you’re home free.”

Those of us in the group who were paying attention realized that our entry into Jerusalem was going to be different from our entry into a hundred other dusty little towns in Israel. Believing Jesus to be the Messiah, some of us wondered if this was somehow connected to the prophecy of Zechariah: “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” We wondered if that prophecy was about this entrance? But surely not. Messiah’s bound to enter Jerusalem with more boldness than on the back of some donkey’s colt. Why not a white stallion, a bleached charger—ready to rumble with the Romans and set things right?

Anyway, we laid our cloaks on the animals and Jesus sat on the colt. A humble way to enter the city. But the humility of Christ was balanced by the jubilation of the crowd. It was a very large crowd. You should have seen it. As Jesus made His way into the city, the crowd began throwing their cloaks on the road. I know that sounds odd to you. You roll out the red carpet; we threw down our cloaks. And with knives flashing in the sunlight, some in the crowd began to strip nearby trees of their branches. They threw them in the road too. People began to circle Jesus, some behind, some in front. And while we had no bands in this parade, we had shouting and singing. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” It was quite a spectacle really. The whole city was caught up in it. People were asking who it was that was stirring up such a fuss. For a man who never seemed to be much in for fanfare, Jesus made anything but a quiet entrance on this day.

Some of us had been a little nervous about going to Jerusalem. The reception Jesus received was quite a relief. Jesus had been talking about going to Jerusalem to suffer and die (whatever that means), but with such a warm welcome, maybe Jerusalem will be kind to us after all.

The crowds that greeted us were certainly hospitable. But you never know about crowds. Were they sincere? Or did many of them just get swept up by the momentum of numbers? People can act very differently in crowds than they might act alone. There’s security in a crowd. There’s anonymity in a crowd. And there’s pressure too. Crowds create pressure to conform—for good or for bad. When a crowd is moving one way, it’s hard to move against them. I think your courts call this “mob mentality”—“He couldn’t help it, your Honor, he was the victim of mob mentality. He was swept up by the crowd. He would never have done this were it not for the crowd. He would never do such a thing alone.” We’re talking about mob mentality here … about crowds.

So we didn’t really know about this crowd on Palm Sunday. They were giving three cheers for Jesus today, but were they sincere, or were they just swept up in crowd and the passion of the moment? We didn’t know. But one thing appeared obvious: Jesus wasn’t caught up in this crowd. He seemed almost oblivious to their praise—as if He knew something about this crowd that we did not know.

But there was one particular thing that did trouble some of us on that day. When we got into Jerusalem, people were in quite a stir by all the commotion and you could hear them asking people in the crowd, “What’s going on? What’s all the fuss? Who’s the man on the colt?”

“This is Jesus,” the crowds answered, “the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” The crowd was with us now, but they called Him a prophet. Those of us closest to Jesus believed Him to be more than a prophet. We believed He was Messiah. This prophet thing is troubling. Here we are in Jerusalem, and anybody who knows anything about Jerusalem knows this: Jerusalem is a good place for a prophet to get himself killed.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

You Count


I mailed in our 2010 U.S. Census form today. When the government starts adding up the number of citizens that live in the good old USA, Dayna and I will be in the count. Even though I’m only 53 years old, this is the sixth time I’ve been counted in a census. I may just be 1 out of over 200 million, but it’s nice to count for something.

Anyway, this whole census thing stirred me to thinking about numbers and counting. I remember when I got my Social Security card. I had just finished fifth-grade as I recall. I got a summer job as a busboy at a restaurant and before they could start paying me my $1.25 an hour, they had to have a Social Security number. Seems the government wanted some of my buck and a quarter—a harsh awakening for a working-class little kid with dollar signs in his eyes. So I got my card and with the card my number. I’ve had it ever since. I’m not supposed to lose it. I’m not supposed to give it out to just anybody who asks. And if it gets in the wrong hands, it could create real trouble for me. Why? It’s just a number, right? Well, it’s not just any number; it’s my number. That’s how the government knows me. That’s how I transact business in a variety of venues. If somebody steals my number, the authorities don’t call it number theft; they call it identity theft. In many ways, that number is me. “So take care of the number,” we’re told. “Guard and protect the number.”

But that’s just one of many numbers I’ve been across the years. When I played football I was a jersey number. In college I was a student ID number. Since I turned 16 I’ve been a driver’s license number. To my insurance companies I’m a policy number. To my bank I’m an account number. If I were in the military, I’d be a serial number. And in this difficult economy, do you know someone who’s counted among the number of unemployed we hear tallied up week by week on the news? Numbers, numbers everywhere. People gripe about this sometimes. “I’m not a person anymore,” they moan. “I’m just a number.” I wonder if we’re being a bit too sensitive about this. You are who you are. Your various numbers are just a way of counting, identifying, and keeping track.

You might find it a bit surprising that even God seems to be into numbers himself. Just read the Old Testament. In Genesis, when there wasn’t much of anything yet to count, over and over God tells people and animals to “multiply and increase in number.” When Abraham was praying for Sodom and Gomorrah, he said, “Lord, if you can find as few as 10 righteous people in Sodom, would you spare the city?” And God said, “Yes, if I can find 10 I will spare the city.” Well, God couldn’t find even 10. So He must have been counting. That’s Genesis, and when we get to the book of Numbers (that’s right, Numbers), God really gets into counting, telling Israel’s leaders to count the various tribes, count the priests, count this, count that. He wants numbers.

And that doesn’t change in the New Testament either. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, is loaded with numbers: 7 beatitudes, 7 churches, 7 seals, trumpets, and bowls. Then there’s the 144,000, the 3.5 years, and the evil number 666. Lots and lots of numbers. And in the gospels, Jesus gets in on the act. Apparently, God really likes sparrows because Jesus said God knows when even one of them bites the dust. Doesn’t matter whether it flies into a window, gets pounced on by a cat, becomes grill-fodder for a speeding car, succumbs to bird flu, or just dies of old age, God knows when a sparrow falls—which means He must keep track, keep count, of His little feathered friends. Then right on the heels of that teaching, Jesus says, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore, do not fear, you are worth more than many sparrows” (Mt. 6:30-31). I know guys who make that hair numbering easy on God. I know others whose heads are so full of hair that guessing their number would be as hard as guessing how many gumballs are in five-gallon jug. Yet God doesn’t have to guess; He knows. He numbers them. You’d think God would have better things to do with His time than number our hairs, but our great God is the ultimate multi-tasker so it’s no sweat off His back to keep track of even the number of hairs on our head.

So God is into numbers, I guess. But my suspicion is that it’s not so much about God’s love of numbers as it is about God’s love of people—and not just people in general, but people in particular—people like you and me, people with names and faces and a particular number of hairs on our heads. God loves us. Perhaps numbering us is just one of the ways He keeps track of us. I don’t think God knows me as #18,987,692; He knows me as John. He knows your name too. And if you’re in Christ, He will see to it that you spend eternity with Him someday. He keeps track of you. Jesus pretty much said just that: “And this is the will of him of sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up on the last day” (Jn. 6:39). That’s a comforting thought, isn’t it? You may be just 1 of more than a billion people in God’s census, but God knows you well and loves you much. You are numbered but you are more than a number. You are you, and you are God’s, and you count. You really count.

You know what that makes me want to do? It makes me want to give thanks to God and praise His name! What love! What care! What a ONE-derful God!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beware the Ides of March?



According to Shakespeare, by way of the Roman historian Plutarch, a soothsayer passed along to Julius Caesar this solemn warning: “Beware the Ides of March.” Caesar should have taken those words more seriously. In spite of the soothsayer’s warning, fearsome thundering, and his wife’s dreams of murder, Caesar went about his business on the ides, March 15, 44 B.C., and Brutus and about sixty co-conspirators stabbed him to death in the Roman Senate. I guess that's when Caesar got the point.

“Beware the ides of March.” I don’t remember if I first heard that phrase on one of my mother’s Shakespeare LPs or if it was in Mr. Larson’s eleventh-grade English class. Seems like that’s the year we read some of Shakespeare’s plays, including Julius Caesar, from which that phrase comes.

“Beware the ides of March.” The term ides was used to describe the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October. But thanks to Shakespeare, our contemporary understanding thinks only of the ides of March. When was the last time you heard anyone say anything about the ides of July? Probably never. “Beware the ides of March.”

But why March? I did a little internet research (you know what that means: I googled once and clicked twice) and much to surprise I found a site called “The Top Ten Reasons to Beware the Ides of March.” No kidding. The site reveals ten nasty things that have happened on March 15 across the centuries—among them: the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.; a raid on Southern England in 1360; a destructive Samoan cyclone in 1889 that sunk a bunch of ships and killed a bunch of people; Czar Nicholas II abdication of the throne to the Bolsheviks in 1917; Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939; a deadly Midwest blizzard in 1941; a world record rainfall of 73.62 inches on the Indian Ocean island of La Reunion in 1952; and the CBS’s cancellation of the Ed Sullivan Show in 1971. Holy Moley! That’s some nasty stuff right there. Maybe we should beware the ides of March.

Or maybe not. I can’t speak for you or Caesar or the Russians or the Czechs or the poor islanders who live on La Reunion, but the ides of March has never been cruel to me. The worst thing the ides of March means for me is that I only have one month left to procrastinate on my taxes. Other than that, I like March 15 just fine.

In fact, I pretty much like the whole month of March. I’ll admit it is a bit schizophrenic: comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion or is it the other way around? And it is the month when winter and spring seem to arm-wrestle for control. But all in all, especially in our wonderful South, March, including the 15th, is all right by me. Cherry blossoms and forsythia in bloom. Daffodils and tulips waking up from a long winter’s nap and dressing in their prettiest clothes for their coming out party. Spring break, spring training, and a spring in everybody’s step. Short-sleeve shirts. March Madness. Easter (sometimes). My big brother’s birthday. New leaves, green grass, bluebirds and robins. March is just fine by me. It takes me back to my high school days when some of my buddies and I would pitch kites into the March wind and fly them off Table Rock Dam. And in the present, even though I’m Scotch by descent, because of my last name and my redheaded countenance lots of people confuse me for an Irishman and wish me an extra hearty Happy St. Patty’s Day. And that's okay by me. So three cheers for March!

And that goes for the ides of March too. So in spite of the soothsayer’s warning to Caesar, I’m not going to beware the ides of March; I’m going to embrace it and live it and give thanks for it. The psalmist said, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” There’s no exception clause in that verse for March 15; God wants us to rejoice and be glad in that day too. So Happy Ides of March everyone … Happy Ides of March!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Ready, Get Set, Go!



Did you notice last week that the Arkansas Razorbacks won yet another title in the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championship? Go Hogs! Though not as dominant as we once were, when Arkansas wins track championships the world is in its right order. But enough schmoozing about my Razorbacks!

Reading about that championship stirred some of my own high school track and field memories. My favorite is when our 6-man freshmen team from Branson High School went to Ozark and won a three team meet outright against schools fielding much larger teams. We rode up to the meet in Coach Russell's car. And we took turns holding the pole vault pole which was suspended over the side-view mirror. The other schools had a big laugh when we piled out of the car. They weren't laughing when we whipped their tails a couple of hours later. We all participated in maximum events and all scored lots of points for the team. That's my favorite track memory.

Here's my second favorite memory, and it's one that has been much more formative for me throughout my life. When I was a senior in high school, I ran track and tried to hold down a job at the same time. In my situation it was no work, no money. It wasn't easy either. I missed a lot of practice. In some ways it didn't much matter because we didn't have a track anyway. We just ran the streets and in an unlevel, old field with a lot of holes and soft spots in it. But I fell into a bad habit of not running on my own. I was getting out of shape. So I was feeling pretty nervous when I went to the meet at Ozark. I was assigned the second leg in the two-mile relay. I ran the half-mile (the old 880—two laps around the track). When we lined up for the start of the race, I was feeling worried that I may hurt the team and embarrass myself. But I pepped up a bit when I saw who I was running against. It was a guy I wanted to beat pretty badly because I’d finished second to his first on more than one occasion. After the first leg, I received the baton trailing the guy I wanted to beat. And I don't know what it was, maybe adrenaline, but I shot out of there as if from a cannon. I hadn't felt this good running in my life. My ears were pinned back, my arms and legs pumping like well-oiled pistons, my breathing measured, steady, and smooth as silk. I remember thinking: "This is the race I was born to run." I soon breezed past my opponent as if he were standing still. I finished the first lap with a pretty good lead. And the last lap felt good too … until I rounded the last corner to take me home.

Suddenly, my arms and legs felt like lead. I could hear my pulse pounding in my temples. I hit the proverbial wall. I wanted to quit. I really thought if I kept going I might die—I really did. But with the encouragement of others alongside the track, I sucked it up and gutted out the last hundred yards or so. I just had to beat the kid from Ozark. But I'll be danged if he didn't pass me with not more than 20 yards to go. I really wanted to quit then. But I finished. I handed off the baton, staggered into the infield, and lost my lunch somewhere around the 30-yard line. I was sick to my stomach all right, but I was sicker in my soul. I had that guy. I could have won that race. But I didn't. I lost. I lost to him again. I was throwing myself quite a poor-me pity party.

Pretty soon, though, the coach found me. And he told me that I had run the best time I'd ever run in that event. And in reflection sometime later it dawned on me: I may not have won the race, but I did win my race. I ran the best time I would ever run in that event, and I did it while not in the best of shape. I may not have won the race, but I won my race.

Near the end of his life, the apostle Paul wrote, "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7). God has a race for you to run, a plan for your life. Discover it. Run it. Don't worry about everybody else and the race they're running. Don't worry about beating somebody else. Don't worry about pleasing somebody else. Just run the race God has in front of you, as your brothers and sisters in Christ cheer you on. Run it with all of your heart. Even when you feel like quitting, run it. Finish it. And regardless of how everybody else does around you, you will know the joy and peace of glorifying God with your life.

It's your race. God has given you the baton. It's your turn to run. Ready, get set, go!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

In Praise of the Triune God


My life has been a whirlwind of travel and trouble in the last few weeks—a mission trip to Senegal, unexpected deaths immediately before and after my trip, a church business matter that lacked much of our usual harmony—a whirlwind. Honestly, I have been reeling a bit from all of that. But God knew what I needed as He always does. A man who took part in a doctrinal study that I recently taught asked me to send him a copy of the doxologies I composed as a summary for each of the doctrines we studied. I believe that rather than a gaping yawn, doctrine should provoke a heart of praise. So as I prepared to send them to my friend, I looked at them once again. And I was reminded that God has met me in the whirlwind of my life: sustaining me, blessing me, using me, loving me—and He put a new song of praise in my heart again.

So I want to share one of those doxologies with you. We began our doctrinal studies with a look at the mysterious nature of Trinity: one God in three persons. It's a complex truth, a complex oneness. It's not about mathematics; it's about relationship. It is no easy truth to get one's mind around, yet the Bible teaches us that it is in Trinity that we relate to God and God relates to us. God expresses Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As the hymn declares: "God in three persons, blessed Trinity." So though I can't fully grasp the depth of the meaning of Trinity, I can certainly express my praise. I offer the following doxology in the hope that it may inspire your own praise to our Triune God.

________________________


Praise the Father from whom all blessings flow! Praise Him who speaks whole worlds into existence. Praise Him for His holiness and for His majesty. For His largeness and His vastness. Praise Him to whom the oceans are as puddles, and the mountains are as plains. Praise Him who can fling stars from His fingertips and hold the earth in the palm of His hand. Praise Him who could squash us like grapes under His feet, and yet has chosen to love us and to save us instead. Praise Him who hears our prayers and our cries for help, and who reaches down, in Jesus Christ, with His long, long arm to lift us up. Praise! Praise the Father!

Praise the Son! Praise Jesus who left His throne and His kingly crown to come to earth for us. Praise Him who showed us the face of God in a way that would not kill us dead. Praise Him whose eyes are full of compassion and whose hands are full of grace. Praise Him who has borne our sins and carried our sorrows; who was pierced for our transgressions, and wounded for our iniquities; and by whose stripes we are healed. Praise Him who died for us and yet came forth from the grave: Him who forgives us by His death and saves us by His life. Praise Him who is head of the church. Praise Him who comes to judge the living and the dead. Praise Him who, in the Father's house, prepares a place for us and will doubtless come again and receive us to Himself so that where He is, there we may be also. Praise! Praise the Son!

Praise the Spirit! Praise the Holy Spirit who is our Comforter, Counselor, Encourager, and Friend. Praise Him who makes His home in us: who convicts us when we sin; who comforts us when we hurt; who encourages us when we're down; and who prays for us when we just can't find the words. Praise Him who tells us the truth and reminds us of everything that Jesus taught. Praise Him who fills us and grows within us the fruit of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, and all the rest. Praise Him who gifts and empowers the church and who alone can conform us into the image of Christ the Son to the glory of God the Father forever and ever.

No wonder St. Francis of Assisi would be compelled to write …

Praise! Praise the Father!
Praise the Son!
And praise the Spirit,
Three in One.
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!


Monday, March 1, 2010

Ryan at the Bat


Danny knocked on the door, opened it and said, “John, you’ve got an emergency call.” I was meeting with somebody at the time, but an emergency is an emergency. We were wrapping up anyway, so I excused myself. I took the call standing up; I finished it sitting down. After identifying himself as the Coroner for DeSoto County, Mississippi, and telling me how he got my number, he gave me the news that dropped me into my chair: “I really hate to tell you this news but Ryan White was killed in a car wreck this afternoon.”

“What? … Who?”

“Ryan White. I understand you know him and that his parents are members of your church. I didn’t want them hearing from a police officer or hearing it over the phone. So I’m asking you to let them know.”

“Oh, no … not Ryan.” But a pastor has to put off his own grief so he can help others process theirs. I got a little more information, called two of the White’s best friends, and asked them to meet me at the school to let them know. A third friend who had heard the news by way of Mississippi connections joined us there too. We told them. And so began what became a sad week for our whole community.

But as I reflect on that week, it’s not the sadness that will linger in my memory; it’s the sustaining love God whose strength is made perfect in our weakness and whose grace is sufficient for every need. Ryan loved God with all his heart. He learned that from his parents, Tommy and Jan—devoted Christians, lovers of God, and dependent on Him too. God promised He would carry His children in times like these, and God is keeping His promise. There is still much grief to process, many tears yet to shed, still some wrestling with God to work out over this unexpected tragedy. But God will be as faithful in days to come as He has been in the first week since Ryan’s death.

A lot of folks are going to miss Ryan. He was only 27. He was the baseball coach at Senatobia High School in Senatobia, Mississippi. Ryan loved baseball—always has. When he was in first grade he tried to change the spelling of his name from R-y-a-n to R-y-n-e for Ryne Sandberg, famous second-basemen for the Chicago Cubs. I’m glad his mom and dad didn’t let him get away with that. Ryan didn’t need to be anybody else. He was a star all by himself, and pretty much all of us who knew him are part of his fan club. Ryan still holds several batting records at Arkansas Tech where he played his college ball. He coached Legion teams in Hot Springs—one of them to a state championship. He’s been an assistant coach at Ouachita Baptist University—helping one of those teams advance to the 2008 NCAA Division II College World Series. He lived and breathed baseball. But those of us who knew him weren’t just members of his baseball fan club.

We were fans of the way he lived his life. Ryan had more friends than just about anybody I know. His positive Christian influence extended not only to those younger than he was but to those older as well. There were well over 1000 people who attended the visitation Thursday night and around 1000 who attended his funeral on Friday—some traveling from very far away to be here. A unique thing about Ryan is that almost every one of us at the service felt like that on some level we were a friend of Ryan’s too.

Ryan was also a friend of Jesus. He trusted Jesus when he was in first grade. Then, year by year, he grew in his faith and in his understanding of who God is and what God wanted to do in and through his life. And Ryan lived that as best he could—serving as a positive influence for Jesus in the lives of others, doing what he did to the glory of God. And people noticed—not just Ryan, but Jesus in Ryan. I remember reading about an evangelist who was approached by a little boy who had heard the evangelist preach all week long. The little boy explained his dilemma to the preacher: “Since Jesus is a man and I’m a little boy, if I ask Him into my life won’t he stick out?” The preacher thought about it for a few seconds and said, “Yes, son. That’s the idea.” Jesus stuck out in Ryan’s life: in his love for people, in his dedication to family, in his zest for living, in his joy of baseball and play. One of Ryan’s friends and colleagues, Matt Teale, wrote a tribute to Ryan in which he stated, “You only get to live one life, but if you live it right, one is enough. Ryan lived his life the right way.” Amen, Matt.

And now Ryan is with Jesus. He didn’t get as many innings as most, but he made the most of the innings he had. And I suspect when he crossed home plate and trotted into heaven he was met there by his Uncle Jerry and his grandparents and many others who high-fived him, doused him with Gatorade, and celebrated the victory that was Ryan’s life in Jesus Christ our Lord. In spite of the fact that we miss him terribly, for those of us who know Jesus, we live with the gratitude and joy that we have not seen the last of Ryan White. When it comes our time to round the bases and make it all the way home, we will enjoy his smile again. We will laugh with him again. We will chest bump and forearm bump and embrace him yet again. We will take infield and play catch and hit pop flies with him again. Playing ball with Ryan is over for just a little while. Enjoying his company is over for just a bit. But absence won’t get the last word; presence will—present with Jesus and Ryan and all who know and love the Lord. “I am the resurrection and the life,” said Jesus. “He who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. He who lives and believes in me will never die.” Praise the Lord for eternal life! Praise the Lord for heaven and hope and sweet reunion on the other side!

1 Corinthians 9:24-25 says, “You know that many runners enter a race, and only one of them wins the prize. So run to win! Athletes work hard to win a crown that cannot last, but we do it for crown that will last forever.” Ryan enjoyed his share of crowns in this life, but now he wears the crown that lasts forever. And of this I am sure: he is wearing it well.

In Ernest Thayer’s famous poem, Casey at the Bat, there was no joy in Mudville because when they needed him most, the mighty Casey struck out. Our joy is taking a bit of beating right now too. But in spite of our sadness over Ryan’s passing at such a young age, there is still some joy in our hearts and even the hint of a smile on our face because we know this: even in the short life God gave him, the mighty Ryan hit it out of the park.