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The Need to be a Good Closer

Because many of you have somehow forgotten to buy my books (Shameless plug) I have made my primary living by directing sporting events. I am the faceless guy (actually I have a face, it just isn’t on camera) that selects the camera shots that you see during a televised game. For thirty-seven years I have directed Texas Rangers baseball. And all of those seasons have taught me a valuable spiritual lesson from the National Pastime. I have learned how important it is to be a good closer.

In baseball parlance the closer is the pitcher who comes into the game in the last inning to protect the lead and finish off the win. It all comes down to the closer. If he does well the collective efforts of eight position players and the pitchers that proceeded will end in triumph and celebration. If the closer fails all of that effort is wasted. There is nothing more demoralizing than playing a great game for eight innings and seeing it all blow-up in the last one. So what is the spiritual lesson learned from a baseball closer?

Closing out well is critical as a follower of Christ. I am praying and seeking to be a good closer in my faith walk with Jesus. Sadly that is not a given. Many great men of the Bible did not finish well. They allowed the efforts of many around them to end in frustration and anguish because they did not close well. The honest portrayal of human success and failing is something I love about God’s Word. It is one important aspect that makes the Bible unique and real. The Bible does not spin the failures of godly men and women. Would you write a book attempting to persuade others to adopt your beliefs and deliberately choose to detail adherents who failed miserably? The successes and failures are equally displayed. Men with great stories still managed to not close well. Examples? How about the story of Saul? How sad to hear words like this at the end of your journey.

“How foolish!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have disobeyed the command of the LORD your God. Had you obeyed, the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your dynasty must end, for the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart. The LORD has already chosen him to be king over his people, for you have not obeyed the LORD’s command.” (1 Sam 13, NLT)

Or imagine when the prophet came to Eli and proclaimed this dire message. What a kick in the spiritual gut this must have been.

“Therefore, the LORD, the God of Israel, says: The terrible things you are doing cannot continue! I had promised that your branch of the tribe of Levi would always be my priests. But I will honor only those who honor me.”

I would be willing to wager (note to Spiritual Hall Monitors – a figure of speech – no actual wagering occurred) that Saul and Eli were planning on closing well. They had moments of great leadership and fellowship with God. But they couldn’t close. You know that Saul’s story ended in madness. The results for Levi’s sons were horrific. His family needed a man who could start well, stay strong, and close it out with integrity and faith.

I am nearing the end of my sports directing season. I am excited about the journey ahead with family, friends, and especially grandkids. I don’t know the length of my last inning but I am praying for one thing to be true. I want to close triumphantly. I want to finish this journey with an effort that honors the One who was willing to finish for me. Paul understood athletics. Sports can be a good metaphor for life and he knew that well. At the end of my life race there are a couple of things that could be true about how I close.

a) You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? (Galatians 5:7, NLT)

b) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. (2 Timothy 4, NLT)

I hope that (b) reflects my finish. I am committed to this journey with Jesus. I will fall at times. But I intend to get right back up and follow Jesus. If I can remember daily the grace that has been given to me and remember who I am in Christ then I have a real hope to close out well.

Coach W.T. Johnston finished well. You can read his inspirational and uplifting story in Between the White Lines.