Before I relate a story that might make you want to either laugh or shake your head in amazement, let me share some quick research on the effects of hitting with a baseball bat that is dented. The Western Region Umpire School offers three reasons why bats that are dented, or “out of round” should not be used. The reasons they offer are that, (1) bats that are not both “round and smooth” are illegal, (2) aluminum bats that are dented are dangerous and can split or shatter, and (3) such bats perform poorly as the “trampoline” effect of the bat is negated by the dent – and if you get a hit “on the flat spot, odds are, you’re looking at an infield dribbler, easy out, or if it catches the edge of the dent, maybe a pop fly.”
So, be sure to bring a good, round bat to your next church softball game! But what if you, for some reason, do not bring a good round bat to your church softball game? Here is a true story of something that just might happen to you…
My friend Doug serves as an associate pastor of a Presbyterian church in North Carolina. And he is an athlete. He plays hockey, excels at skiing, and plays for the church’s softball team.
Like most church league softball teams, the roster is no doubt a mix of folks with various skill sets and interest levels who are playing for various reasons. They are, generally speaking, recreational leagues that are intended to create community and offer a fun and challenging opportunity for folks to get know each other in ways less easily attained by hymn sings and progressive dinners.
Well, one day Doug’s team has a fairly significant miscommunication as a result of which the team manager does not bring the bat bag. Doug’s team arrives at the playing fields and, while they all have their gloves, they can only produce one old, out of round bat. The swing is ungainly. Batting practice goes poorly. Folks are bummed out. But fortunately for Doug’s team, this cloud has a silver lining! The other team is named “Grace”- and they live up to it. The Grace team lends Doug’s team their bats.
Until the third inning. By then Doug’s team was winning with their borrowed bats, so Grace politely requested that they give them back their good bats and use the dented one. Suddenly Doug’s team is hitting a lot of infield dribblers and short pop flies… The outcome became a forgone conclusion – Grace wins.
But did grace win? I think not. The very definition of grace requires according someone something that they do not deserve. To be gracious to someone requires us to give them something that they do not have a “right” to. If they did have a right to it, giving it to them would be justice, not grace. In fact, grace goes even further. Grace is not merely giving someone something they haven’t exactly earned, but it is giving someone something that they positively forfeited. The ultimate account of grace, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is well stated in Ephesians 2:3-9:
“Like the rest [all people], we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Even as God has so graciously given us himself, we are called to graciously give to one another. To be loving or respectful to a stranger or an unobtrusive acquaintance is merely civility or politeness. To be loving and respectful to someone who has hurt you – that is grace. To lend your bats to an inferior team you are going to beat anyway – that is civil. To lend your bats to a team that will proceed to beat you? That is grace.
Dear Christian, every day is game day. Bring a bat to share.