Hearing Willie Mays’ Cheers

            Although I followed the St. Louis Cardinals, collected cards and played baseball a lot when I was younger, these days you wouldn’t classify me as a baseball fanatic.  Living in Kentucky, basketball sort of took over, so I don’t follow it as closely as I used to—except in the great college basketball black-out from mid-July to October. 

Last week there was a flurry of activity at the baseball trading deadline: Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers, Ken Griffey, Jr. to the White Sox and others.  That followed a great extra-inning All-Star game—which went to almost 2am and looked like it might be a tie again.  Before that, there was a remarkable performance in the Home Run Derby by Josh Hamilton, who unapologetically credits his Lazarus-like story of redemption and a second chance to his relationship with Jesus. (That comment made Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated comment that “it was a bad night to be an atheist.”)

Noticeably absent from the baseball conversation this summer is Barry Bonds—he of the all-time home run record and the steroids cloud.  Last summer, in spite of the doping accusations, his every at-bat and rare comment was being religiously followed.  On the night he tied Hank Aaron’s record with his 755th homer, the reaction from the crowd was mixed—cheers, boos and a lot of nothing.

Someone asked Bonds’ godfather, the great Hall of Fame slugger Willie Mays, for his reaction to that. I thought his words were fascinating: “I’m not a fan,” Mays said. “I’m a fan of his. When you’re a fan of his, it doesn’t matter what other people think or how they react. If you’re a fan of his, you don’t worry about the other stuff.”   Willie was saying, for all then world to hear, “I’m for Barry—and nothing or nobody is going to change that.”  His encouragement and support was unyielding,

As Christ-followers, we are part of a family—a family that is to be marked by relationships of love, grace, support, compassion, joy and more.  Check out all the “one anothers” in the New Testament: “love…honor…encourage…restore…

forgive…spur on…serve…weep with…rejoice with, etc….one another” That’s sometimes tough when we have such drastically different personalities, backgrounds, emotional dispositions, needs and expectations.  But most Christians I know really want to be a better brother or sister to others in our Father’s family.

            Willie’s encouragement may be a great place to start. “I’m for ____________________ (fill in the name of somebody else in your fellowship, maybe even someone it has been tough to connect with).”  I’m for them in their success and failure, on their good and bad days, when they have it together and when they are falling apart, no matter what anybody else may say.  My heart is to be for this person. My disposition is to cheer them on their journey—even if nobody else claps along.

Encouragement is part of the oil that best lubricates the rough edges of our life together.  It means somebody is in my corner, no matter what comes. That doesn’t mean we allow fan-dom of any person to oustrip loyalty to King Jesus.  That doesn’t negate our responsibility to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) as we grow up together—even when it’s a hard word.  It doesn’t mean we ignore sin or overlook people acting like jerks.  But our heartbeat is to see each other win and celebrate what we see of Jesus in each other.

This is fundamental to fellowship—to sharing life together—because it so clearly reflects the good news of the gospel—that we are accepted in the Beloved.  Tullian Tchividjian (Billy Graham’s grandson) gets at this in an excerpt from his new book. He’s talking about encouragement as a form of evangelism, but the same holds true once a person comes to Christ.

               Since encouraging others is the verbal affirmation of God’s reflection in and through them, then encouraging people awakens in them their sense of being made in God’s image. It causes them to feel different, alive, profoundly human—and this helps them to become aware that they are more than a number, more than a product, more than a machine, more than a chance happening. It helps them to feel that they are, in fact, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” This forces them to reflect deeply on who they really are as human beings, which in turn causes them to reflect on their Creator. As Calvin observed, none of us can honestly examine ourselves without coming to see that we’re created by someone for someone. This recognition stirs up real humanness in people, causing them to reflect on what they’re missing spiritually (not materially). They start sensing how there’s more to who they are than what this world is telling them.

            Catch that last line and compare it to what Willie said: “when you’re a fan of his, it doesn’t matter what other people think or how they react.”  The “Say Hey Kid” is a theologian!  Our encouragement of each other is crucial to knowing ourselves and living out the realities of our creation and redemption. 

            I want to be a better encourager of brothers and sisters in Christ—whether they are hitting spiritual home runs or are in a slump where they strike out a lot. I want them to know that I am their fan– maybe especially when they are in a slump. That I still see who Jesus says they are—trophies of grace (Eph. 2:7), masterpieces of the Redeemer (Eph. 2:10) that leave angels overwhelmed (1 Peter 1:12).  That’s worth cheering about!

It’s amazing how just one voice cheering can cut through the boos and the silence.  One voice that says, “I’m a fan—no matter what—and I’m not going anywhere”, may be just what somebody needs to keep playing the game. 


2 responses

  1. Me too! Our first step is to remember what Jesus said about loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. Our brother Paul added the fact that love is patient and kind at the same time. Being a “fan” through thick and through thin must take that kind of love. The kind of love Jesus has that flows from Him and is available always for us to “tap” into.

  2. David, I love this metaphor. Years ago Chuck Swindoll said that the church should be a place where people gather and receive IV transfusions of courage, but instead we are often the greatest source of discouragement. Our petty and self-absorbed issues must grieve the Father because every minute we tear down, criticize, judge, condemn or criticize a fellow Christ-follower, or church, we are sucking away minutes that could be given to encouragement, peace, unconditional love, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, etc.

    Hey let’s face it, the church is seriously flawed because we’re part of it, but she is God’s chosen vessel to be the hands and feet of Jesus this side of eternity. We can pick it apart or get behind her. I’m with Willie, I want to be a better fan regardless of what the world is saying! Thanks for reminding and calling us to the ministry of encouragement David.

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