The title of this post just might bring to memory Yogi Berra, famed catcher of the New York Yankees back in the years when I was a pre-teen devouring everything baseball. Yogi became known for what I would call linguistic conundrums such as “baseball is 90% physical and the other half mental,” or “No one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded,” or “A nickel isn’t worth a dime anymore,” or “It’s like de ja vu all over again,” or “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” and scores of others that have been attributed to the baseball hall of famer.
I thought of Yogi and his famous “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” quip last Thursday night, August 12, when Major League Baseball recreated at the expense of $5,000,000 a regulation size baseball field in the middle of a corn field in northern Iowa, my home state, reminiscent of the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams,” with the now famous mantra “If you build it, they will come.”
Well MLB did rebuild it for Thursday’s game that pitted the Chicago White Sox against the New York Yankees, bussing the teams in I believe from Chicago and Minneapolis to the small town of Dyersville, Iowa, where every one of the 8,000 bleacher seats were filled, each ticket costing about $1800. I did not watch much of the game except the 8thand 9th innings tuning in at the 8th inning. After a see/saw scoring game played well by both teams dressed in their retro uniforms, it looked as though the Yankees had it in the bag going into the bottom of the 9th inning with an 8-7 lead, but in the back of my mind was the Yogi Berra ism “It ain’t over till it’s over.” I thought I would brush my teeth, then turn off the TV and retire to bed for the night, but as I came out of the bathroom, I noticed a lot of players out of the dug-out and it looked as though the last three outs must have come quickly as I had only taken about a five-minute break; so, I put the tube to sleep and went to my bedroom thinking the Yanks had won 8-7. Was I surprised Friday morning to learn that a walk-on hitter, with a man on base, knocked one out of the park for the White Sox sending the Yankees home with another L in their column, the Sox winning 9-8! Again, I pinched myself and drew a line under the Berra ism that was then going through my mind again, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
If I have not lost you by now (realizing some of my readers could not care less about the recreated Field of Dreams or a ball-game played on it by the Sox and Yankees) I want to share with you an obvious spiritual application to this real time illustration. I have recently tried to enter into the Apostle Paul’s final moments as he recorded his farewell words in 2 Timothy 4. The great missionary mentor and evangelist said plainly “the time of my departure is at hand.” For Paul, at that time, in a prison in Rome, he was no doubt expecting death by decapitation or by being impaled on a pole that would be placed in Nero’s palace garden where Christians, whom Nero blamed for the fire that destroyed more than half of the city, were routinely set on fire lighting the gardens for Nero’s night parties. Paul was reconciled and ready for his departure, affirming that he had “fought a good fight… finished my course… kept the faith.” For Paul now, it was over.
There was a time when Paul was not ready to concede that fact. When he met a few years earlier with the elders of Ephesus at Miletus Paul said that he was not moved by any of the afflictions that he had suffered, “neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy….” He had quite a way to go yet and he was looking forward to finishing in due time “with joy.”
I thought about my course. The idea of life as a “course” is used sparingly in the Bible. Paul used it in a sermon he preached in Antioch of Pisidia when on his first missionary journey he preached in the synagogue there, reaching back into Jewish history harkening to Israel’s bondage in Egypt, their wandering in the wilderness, their occupying Canaan, the period of the judges and then the kings, coming down to the advent of the Messiah and the preparation for that by the ministry of John the Baptist. Paul says “And as John fulfilled his course….” (Acts 13:25). The word course is used in extra Biblical literature at the time of the writing of the New Testament to refer to the heavenly bodies, the galaxies, that have been set in their courses. It suggests plan, purpose and providence. John and Paul and every servant of Christ by extension had/has a fixed course in the big picture of God’s world and work. As we, like Paul, fight the fight while keeping the faith, we can with Paul one day say by the grace of God, “I have finished my course.” When Paul and the 276 men on the ship heading toward Rome felt that they might well lose their lives after weeks in a fierce storm at sea, an angel of God appeared to Paul in the night assuring him that his course was not yet finished and that he would still be brought before Caesar. (Acts 27:23,24)
We may not have Christ appear personally to us affirming that we yet have work to do before we finish our course, but we can be certain that “…He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6) Our job was summarized by the words of Christ to that 1st century church at Smyrna when He said through John to the church there, “…be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10)
So, in finishing his course, Paul was not expecting, as Nero no doubt was, an execution to happen but rather an offering to occur. He had alluded to it in Philippians 2 when he encouraged that model church by declaring that “…if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all.” (Phil.2:17) Paul borrowed the Old Testament language of a sacrificial offering to God, much as he did in Romans 12:1 when he exhorted the Roman believers to “present your bodies a living sacrifice….” Tomorrow, or the next day or whatever day they should lead me to the place of my departure, it will not be an execution, Paul reasoned, but rather an offering that will cause joy and rejoicing. This was the attitude of a man who said, “I am in a straight betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better….” (Phil. 1:23
How is it with you, my beloved brethren? Are you striving by grace to be able to affirm with Paul “I have finished my course (with joy); I have fought a good fight; I have kept the faith?” If you are reading this today, there is still something for you to do. Remember, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over!”
“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:8)