The baseball world is abuzz this summer over the fact that one of the most hallowed individual records in American sport—the number of home runs hit over a career—will soon be broken. For years, the record was 714– held by the legendary Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees. Then, about 30 years ago, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves took over the top spot with 755 career homers. And now, barring the apocalypse or a grand jury indictment, San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds will break that record some time in the next month or so.
Of course, there is a major problem. Bonds has played the last few years under a constant cloud of suspicion over the use of performance enhancing drugs. He can be obnoxious, so few people really like the guy. You have this weird scene in which Bonds is getting booed mercilessly at every away game, Aaron has already announced he’ll be too busy all summer to attend any Giants games–and the commissioner of baseball is hinting that he probably won’t show up at the game when Bonds breaks the record, either. So, the record may fall, but there is no joy in Mudville or any place else. As a matter of fact, many fans are holding their nose.
I say all of that as background to Larry Stones’ fascinating Seattle Times story this week wondering how different this chase might be if Ken Griffey, Jr. of the Cincinnati Reds was the one nearing the record instead of Bonds. Griffey has a baseball pedigree ( he is son of the star of the “Big Red Machine” Cincinnati teams of the 70’s) and has always had the aura of superstar. He came into the league as a teenager, three years after Bonds. He possessed the slick fielding (with multiple Golden Gloves to prove it), speed and baseball sense to be an immediate impact player. Oh, and he has one of the sweetest swings anyone has ever seen.
For a guy with a slight frame, “The Kid” has always had a lot of pop. Stone notes that he was the youngest in history to reach, 350, 400, and 450 home runs. In the late 90’s Hank Aaron said that Griffey had the best shot to pass him and “the only things that would probably stand in his way would be if he got injured or he got complacent.” If you’ve followed baseball at all, you know that he has been repeatedly—and often freakishly- injured since he came to the Reds in 2000, playing in less than 60% of the games. And so, he sits this week with 584 homers, in seventh place on the list. And some, including his former manager Lou Piniella, think that his complacency and lax training regimen early in his career have contributed to that. “I told him that he needed to work harder as he got older. But it’s hard to convince a young man at the top of his game…He could have (conditioned) as hard as possible and suffered the same fate he has. Or, by preparing a little better, he might have remained as healthy and productive.”
Griffey refuses to play the “what if?” game or bemoans a lost legacy. Classy guy. He just plays the game when they yell, ‘Play ball!”
But consider Piniella’s theory for a moment. What if lackadaisical training in the off-season and assuming on his body’s strength and continuing productivity put Griffey in a place where he was more likely to be injured and out of the game– or at least compromised in his ability to go all out? That not only cost him a shot at something remarkable—it also cost his team…a lot. (Ask any Reds fan)
There is a clear connection between consistency and legacy. It’s true with baseball players, politicians, parents, students, entry-level employees, restaurants—and Christians in churches. When Christians choose to consistently “train” their souls in the joyful pursuit of Christ-likeness, it is much more likely that an impact (legacy) will result in their life and sphere of influence. John Ortberg is fond of saying that “Christianity is not a matter of trying, but of training.” He compares it to a pianist practicing order to train their fingers for a concerto, though we could just as easily talk about a hitter facing hit dozens of curve balls to develop the hand-eye coordination necessary to handle it. In other words, a disciple grows best when their faith is consistently applied as part of everyday life.
What happens if a disciple leaves this soul training or conditioning out—even for a season? Gets lackadaisical or assumes on their spiritual strength? Well, there is a greater potential for injury. So, for instance, if you get hurt, disappointed or angry in a relationship, it is much less likely that you will pursue forgiveness and reconciliation. If you leave meditation on the gospels out of your thinking, you are much less likely to articulate a cross-centered worldview in watercooler conversations. So, you are, in a sense, either out of the game or at best, compromised in your ability to go all out.
And then, of course, the twin impact is that it costs the team—the church. We’re Christ’s body—and “each one of you is a member of it.” (1 Cor. 12:26) We’re connected, and each one of us has a vital part to play in the living of Victory’s mission. If you or I check out, there is impact on that mission. So, when Christians are irregular in gathering for worship, participating in a small group, giving tithes and offering, or serving Kingdom purposes—it costs our Victory team… a lot. But even more, it costs a far-from-God world.
So, can I encourage you to choose consistency in these summer months? Set some goals for your individual spiritual formation, like Scripture memory or reading a part of the Bible you never have or studying a doctrine. Then commit to faithfulness in our faith community, too. Have a great vacation for a week or two—and then jump right back into gathering for worship, service, giving & more.
Our legacy is measured by more than numbers in a record book. It’s measured by the glory of God seen in the spreading fame of Jesus among people who know and treasure Him above all things. Yes, there are numbers –of people whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
And it’s not just the spiritual home run hitters who help us reach that goal. It takes disciples who (spiritually speaking) consistently slap singles, bunt, sacrifice or just get the wood on the ball—so that people of all sorts can make their way Home.