When I was young, very young, I loved playing baseball. I don’t think I was ever really good but I loved playing. I remember my first little league team. I remember the feeling of putting on the uniform and that brand-new baseball cap. I remember the first game I ever played under the lights. I can close my eyes and relive the experience.
It was only natural I guess that I would want my sons to have that same experience, so we made sure that Josh was introduced to baseball early. I was pastoring in Springfield, Ohio and one of the leaders in the church, a good friend, was a former collegiate baseball player. Dave Maute agreed to help Josh (I refer you to paragraph 1, “I don’t think I was ever really good.”), and coach Josh’s team. Dave was a great player, a great coach, and loved Josh. Very quickly he discovered that Josh could pitch. Now pitching on that level meant about three of every ten throws would come somewhere near the strike zone, but Josh had pretty good control for a 10-year-old, and he could get the ball over the plate.
Dave and Josh worked out a plan. When Josh would get two strikes on a batter, Dave would reach up and touch the bill of his cap. That meant Josh was supposed to throw the next pitch high, level with the bill of the kid’s cap. I don’t know if you’ve watched much 10-year-old baseball, but little kids cannot lay off high pitches. They also can’t hit them. So, two strikes. Dave touches his cap. Josh throws it high. Strike three! What a great experience.
The only problem was, Josh had a tell. A tell is when you let the other team know what you are going to do. Dave would touch his cap and Josh would grin from ear to ear. After a while, the other coach would catch on and when he saw Josh grin, he would yell out, “Don’t swing. It’s going to be high.” Between innings Dave would get down on his knees, look right in Josh’s eyes and say, “Josh, YOU CANNOT SMILE when I give you the sign.” (I expected him to say, “There’s no smiling in baseball!”) Josh would nod intently, give Dave his most serious 10-year-old look, go out the next inning, and grin from ear to ear when he got the cap sign. Man, I loved those days, those experiences.
At this point in my life, my kids are no longer playing baseball. They are coaching THEIR kids playing baseball. Jakson pitches. He is pretty good. When Jakson, who is 10, gets two strikes on the batter, I watch Josh. He will yell Jakson’s name, reach up and touch the bill of his cap, and Jakson will grin from ear to ear. I love it. I love the game. I love my grandkids and watching them compete. But you know what I love best, I love watching them all experience the experience. I love watching his eyes when Jon-Mical buttons up his uniform. I love looking at Jakson’s face when he walks out under the lights. I love seeing Josh’s heart while he watches his kids play the game that we all have loved. Experiencing the experience.
One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is in Joshua 3 and 4 when the Children of Israel finally end their 40-year trek through the wilderness and cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. They have packed up all their stuff, loaded up the camels, put out the last of the campfires, and they stand on the edge of the river getting last-minute instructions. Joshua has the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant, that symbol of God’s presence, go in the water first. The Bible says, “When their feet touched the water’s edge, the waters from upstream stopped flowing and the river dried up.” (Sometimes, before God can do the great thing He is about to do for us, we have to be willing to get our feet wet.) The people cross on dry ground, and, I imagine, there is a lot of shouting and celebrating on the other side. Then, God says, “Go back out and get 12 big rocks from the middle of the creek. Pile them up here. From now on, your kids and grandkids will pass this pile of rocks. They will ask, ‘What do these rocks mean?’, and you will tell them, once we were on that side and now we are on this side.” In other words, you will help them experience the experience.
Time and nature, being what it is, our kids and grandkids are not going to experience everything we have experienced. That’s probably a good thing. But there are some experiences, maybe a handful, that are so meaningful, so vital, that we need to do all we can to help them experience the experience.
Here’s one that comes to mind, and I confess it’s on my “hobby-horse” list, I remember the experience of God showing up at a youth group meeting at church and kids getting all emotional and snot-nosed, crying and talking about how they were going to save the world and live for Jesus forever. Now, in all fairness, very few actually did, but that experience of being in the presence of God with a bunch of peers was life changing. I remember standing on the sidelines while that same Dave Maute led a bunch of kids in a campfire service, and God coming and Josh getting all emotional and snot-nosed, feeling the presence of God. I remember watching Josh, as a young youth pastor, leading a youth service at his church and the teens in HIS group experiencing that experience. My concern is that in today’s mega-church environment, that is harder to find. So, I am looking for ways to help my grandkids experience the experience. As much as I enjoy watching Josh coach his kids in baseball, I get far more delight watching him lead them in prayer, teach them Bible stories, sit with them in church. Those experiences matter far more than striking a kid out on a high fastball.
So, how can I help them experience the experience? First, talk about it a lot. My grandkids have heard me tell that baseball story about Josh throwing the ball high a hundred times. They have also heard me talk about those times in our lives when God “showed up and showed out.” They are very familiar with our experiences. Deuteronomy 6:7 tells us what to do with our experiences. “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home, when you walk along the road when you lie down and get up.”
Second, pile up some rock. Put some signs in place. In baseball, it was touching the bill of the cap. In Israel, it was the rocks. In our house, it is a yearly family prayer meeting, and a Bible storybook, and the picture of Doris’s dad kneeling down to pray. Have some rituals and icons that remind them often of the experiences that God has brought you through. In another Old Testament story, they put a serpent on a pole and when people looked at it they were saved from snake bites. We need some things we hold up in front of our families so they can look at them when the “serpent’ is chasing them.
Finally, make Jesus fun. I imagine there was a lot of dancing and singing going on when they finally entered Canaan. I imagine that every time one of the kids passed the rock pile and asked the question, it brought a smile to the faces of the old people. I imagine that somebody grinned from ear to ear and said, “Once we were on that side and now we are on this side. What an experience.” We laugh in our house about the baseball stories. We also rejoice about the many experiences we have enjoyed with God. In fact, when the kids come over to spend the night before we go to bed, I will say, “Jon-Mical, get the Bible storybook. And both guys will grin from ear to ear.” They know it’s going to be an experience.