(Photo: Dan Delzell)
When a major league baseball player enters the Hall of Fame, he is entering "baseball heaven." When a whole team wins the World Series, the entire team enters "baseball heaven." The Texas Rangers made it to the front gate of that utopia last week, but were not allowed inside. They were so close they could taste it, but that euphoric tease quickly turned very bitter.
The Rangers came within one strike of winning the World Series not once, but twice in the final innings of Game 6. This would have been the first World Series victory for the franchise. The St. Louis Cardinals squeaked by in Game 6 on some heroic efforts and then went on to win the title in Game 7.
The thing about "baseball heaven" is that you don't get to stay there very long. The fans leave the ballpark. The memories begin to fade. Time keeps on moving in one direction. For example, it was 93 years ago that the Boston Red Sox entered baseball's paradise by defeating the Chicago Cubs four games to two. It was the fifth time the Red Sox had won the World Series in five tries. That was then and this is now.
How many people are experiencing significant joy today because the Red Sox won it all in 1918? I wonder how many people are aware that one of the Red Sox pitchers on that team was none other than Babe Ruth. Yes, that Babe Ruth. How many people are aware that the Red Sox scored only nine runs in the entire Series which is a record that stands to this day? By the way, Boston didn't make it back to heaven again until 2004.
"Baseball heaven" is a lot like baseball statistics. It becomes something that gets written down in books and written in our memory bank. While it's happening, we thoroughly enjoy the adrenaline rush of hoping that our team will go all the way. But once it's over, the elation slowly floats away like a helium-filled balloon. It was fun while it lasted, but the thrill decreases greatly in intensity over the years.
The Texas Rangers came so close to heaven and yet landed so far away. There is no prize for the runner-up. The team that loses in the World Series has to endure the pain of knowing just how close they made it to glory. Now switch gears for a second. Think about those people who come that close to making it into the real heaven.
The real heaven is not a memory for those who make it there. It is an ongoing experience of delight and immeasurable joy. Unlike "baseball heaven," the real heaven is a real place. Jesus told his disciples, "I am going to prepare a place for you." (John 14:2) He didn't say, "I am going there to keep your memory of me alive."
"Baseball heaven" lives in the minds of players and fans, but there is no place to really call "home." Players who make it into the Hall of Fame can certainly visit Cooperstown which is a real place. But even that pales in comparison to the day they were inducted into the Hall of Fame. As with the World Series, the memories begin to grow dim. The applause is a thing of the past. The initial exuberance morphs into a warm feeling which can be drawn upon anytime you decide to relive the event in your mind.
Aren't you glad there is a real heaven? Aren't you thankful that God has made a place that produces perpetual exuberance? If all we had to experience was "baseball heaven" or "football heaven," what a short-lived adrenaline rush that would be. Or what if Christian joy was only temporary the way that sports victories are so fleeting? The Apostle Paul put it this way: "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Some people get as close to the real heaven as the Texas Rangers did to "baseball heaven." They get within one strike of victory. At the last minute, they experience defeat. Some of them were invited to a Christian church where the Bible is faithfully preached. Their spirit was stirred by the preaching. They experienced the conviction of their sin. They felt drawn to place their trust in Christ alone to save them. But at the last minute, they pulled back. They went home without a crown, just like the Rangers who made their way back to Texas without the prize they had fought so hard to achieve.
The Texas Rangers will no doubt work to regroup and bounce back in 2012. This will be a tough loss to get past, but they have no choice except to press on. The much bigger question is this: Will you ever be able to bounce back if you lose the battle for your soul this time around? Will you ever be this close to victory again? The Texas Rangers may not even make it back to the playoffs for years, let alone the World Series. How long will it take you to go back to a church where the Bible is faithfully preached and Jesus Christ is lifted up as the Savior who brings us into His eternal victory party?
If you are determined to live in the memory of a victory from years ago, here is the best way to do it: Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look back long ago; His cross makes men winners, who are still sinners below; and for 2000 years God has been building His team; if you'll receive Him as Savior, you'll go to His field of dreams!
In that land, there is no need to try to get by only on the fumes of pleasant memories. The ecstasy is constant in that place and it never ever ends! Don't get left standing outside the gate after all Jesus did to earn your free ticket into His magnificent and glorious stadium.