Seventeen Inches

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A story from my good friend Dale Flynn.

In Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January, 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA convention.

While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to present during the weekend. One name, in particular, kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment — “John Scolinos is here? Oh man, worth every penny of my airfare.”

Who is John Scolinos, I wondered. No matter, I was just happy to be there.

In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948. He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate.

Seriously, I wondered, who in thunder is this guy?

After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew Coach Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he’d gotten on stage.

Then, finally …

“You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck. Or maybe you think I escaped from Camarillo State Hospital,” he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility. “No,” he continued, “I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”

Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room. “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?” After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches,” more question than answer.

“That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?”

Another long pause.

“Seventeen inches?” came a guess from another reluctant coach.

“That’s right,” said Scolinos. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?”

“Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.

“You’re right!” Scolinos barked. “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”

“Seventeen inches!” we said, in unison.

“Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?”

“Seventeen inches!”

RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?”

“Seventeen inches!”

SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. “And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches?” Pause. “They send him to Pocatello!” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter.

“What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. You can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches, or nineteen inches. We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.’”

Pause

“Coaches …”

Pause

“What do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? When our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him, do we widen home plate?

The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold. He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. “This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We widen the plate!”

Pause. Then, to the point at the top of the house he added a small American flag.

“This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?”

Silence. He replaced the flag with a Cross.

“And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate!”

I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curveballs and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable. From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.

“If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …” With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside.  “… dark days ahead.”

Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including mine. Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other coaches. He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known because he was so much more than a baseball coach.

His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your players — no matter how good they are — your own children, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches.

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Resurrected Lives

Chris

It was a great Easter Sunday today in the Wolfe household! We all gathered in our respective churches. Our one son, a pastor, along with his family led his growing flock in worshipping our Risen Lord. The rest of us gathered at my church which was packed to overflowing with worshippers followed by a family celebration at our home with our 3 son’s families including our eight grandchildren. There is something about Easter which brings people to church and families together. I was perusing Facebook and saw picture after picture of families celebrating together, posts from friends wishing everyone a happy or blessed Easter or Resurrection Sunday. It is a good thing!

Why is it such a big deal? What is all the hullabaloo about? I tell you, it’s about life! It’s about new resurrected lives! My pastor said it very straight forward today, “No one gets out of this world alive.” We are all on a journey to eternity, some sooner, some later but inevitably that day will come and it will be very important to know whether we are still living in our sins or have been saved from our sins. It’s that simple. The saved ones aren’t perfect, that’s a given. But they have a source of new life that is out of this world.

The Apostle Paul said it well, “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation. Old things are passed away, behold all things become new.” (2 Cor 5:17) We have a young preacher boy at our church named Chris. He’s only 16 but God has saved him and given him a burden to preach. He will preach at our church this coming Sunday before competing in a youth talent competion in a couple of weeks. Chris has experienced the New Birth spoken of by Jesus in John chapter three. Today he posted the below message on facebook. I thought I’d share his message just as he posted it:

Hello everyone and happy easter! In this time of year we go and meet family. And we usually spend time with each other. And we play games eat and have a good time. But a lot of people don’t seem to realize what easter is all about. Easter is about Jesus Christ resurrecting from the dead. Jesus Christ died on the cross and 3 days later he conquered death after dying and then he ascended up into heaven to open the gates for everyone. Sinners like me and sinners like you so that we can have eternal life with Jesus. Jesus did not have to die on the cross for us “No no no no” he wanted to die on the cross for us to give us eternal life. Don’t you see this is a free gift that Jesus gave us. I’m so thankful that he died for me because now I can see him forever in heaven. I’m so thankful that he forgives me of my sins that I confess to him. I’m so thankful that my father in heaven does not break his promises he says in John 3:16 “For god so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.” If you believe that Jesus Christ our lord and savior died on the cross for your sins and he rose again 3 days later I promise you he will save you. I’m so thankful that he has saved me.

This is an example of what Jesus can do in a life surrendered to Him. A resurrected life! If you want to know more about what it means to be saved then check out the below message which will explain in detail how you can  have a resurrected life and one that is ready for heaven.

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My Substitute

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What is good about Good Friday? On this day in the Biblical record Jesus was arrested, declared guilty in a mock trial, spit upon, beaten, mocked, a crown of thorns jammed onto His head, His back turned into ribbons of flesh by scourging and then He was forced to carry His cross to the place where He would be nailed onto it and die.

What is good about Good Friday? It is good because Jesus did it all for me! Yes, it is most powerful when we personalize it, because I would have had nothing to bring to a Holy God but my sins and my worthless works. But thankfully, His Son Jesus made a way for my sins to be forgiven on Good Friday. Is there any other way? No there isn’t. It took a sinless sacrifice to please a Holy Heavenly Father and there was no other person on earth that qualified. It took a sacrifice that would die for the sins of all mankind.

Consider the prophecy of Isaiah in chapter 53 which he wrote 700 years before Jesus was born. Take time to read this and ask yourself, “Who could this be written about?”

Isaiah 53:1-6 (NLT) Who has believed our message?
    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
    like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

There is no other life that fulfills this prophecy like Jesus. There is no other name under heaven, given among men by which we must be saved. Consider it, consider what Jesus did for you and then decide. Will you turn from your sins and trust Him as your Savior or continue to trust in yourself?

But to as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name. (John 1:12)

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

That’s what is so GOOD about GOOD FRIDAY!

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Once Upon A Time

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Once upon a time…. isn’t that a neat way to start a story? I love it. It kind of puts me in a fairy land of sorts. A time of wonder, a time of happy endings, a time when all the winding roads pass by storybook houses with manicured landscapes with skys of blue and geese floating on ponds of glass… but then life happens, and we find that not all stories have happy endings and the geese turn into squawking black birds messing up the premises! I have a story, you have a story. You have a once upon a time.

We are players involved in our own stories and we dream of happy endings. Then our story crosses the path of another and when your stories are shared, it becomes an opportunity to listen and to encourage a fellow traveler. But if that were the end of it all we would still be wandering! It’s only when we acknowledge the GOD component in our stories that we really start to see a higher purpose for it all.

As some of you know, I lost my job last summer after a 45 year successful career. I was replaced by more youthful workers, if you know what I mean. So now I find myself driving a school van over the winding roads of Pennsylvania to make a living, and I’m actually really enjoying it! This week I was given a new run and the previous driver was teamed up with me to teach me all the twists and turns of my new assignment. It ended up she was an old friend of mine, a daughter of my first pastor, and we had a great time catching up.

The most rewarding part of it is sharing how the Lord has been there for us during our “once upon a time” stories all along the way. God is all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful and most of all, all-loving and when we know Jesus as our Savior the Bible says He never leaves us nor forsakes us. We don’t know the full story of our lives and we won’t know how it all turns out, or why it all happened until the other side of the curtain of eternity is revealed.

We don’t know why jobs are lost, why tragedies happen, why loved ones are taken before when we think, is their time. But only God knows their “once upon a time” story. Can we just admit there is a MUCH higher Sovereign Power to Whom we are all tied? We make a great mistake when we run the other direction away from Him. RUN TO HIM for the other direction is a much much darker place! You might not understand it all, but just RUN TO HIM and your “Once Upon A Time” story will give “God the Glory” and that is the ending for which we were made.

Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24)

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Hand Me that Egg!

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I wonder why the world created alternate realities when it came to celebrating the two most crucial events of the Christian faith? For the birth of Jesus the prime focus is on a jolly old elf in a red and white suit flying around with a sleigh filled with presents pulled by reindeer. Then we have colored eggs and rabbits no less, being the focus for when Jesus was sacrificed for the sins of the whole world! These are two amazing and crucial interventions into mankind by our Heavenly Father, and yet the true message and purpose is sometimes thrown in as an afterthought if thought of at all!

So let us put down those eggs and Easter bunnies for a moment and take a closer look at the upcoming celebration of the Son of God’s crucifixion. Most people believe there is a God to whom we will one day give an account. This truth is inherent to the human experience.

Those of us who are true to ourselves know that someday we will stand before the Judge of all the Earth to answer for the things done in our bodies whether they be good or bad. To your surprise there will be no scale that weighs out your good on one side compared to your bad on the other. There is no amount of good that a fallen creature can do to erase their sin from our all knowing, all seeing Heavenly Father.

When I was a boy in a one room school the day came for the class to have their polio shots. Me being a wimp and afraid of needles, I began crying that I didn’t want the shot which could prevent me from getting that awful disease. My twin brother saw me in my anguish and moved with empathy said, “I’ll take it for him!”

Yes, it ended up I had to take my medicine but there is an eternal lesson to be gleaned from this story. For you see, you and I have a fatal disease called sin and there is no cure outside of ourselves. There is no amount of good things which we can do to take away that disease. Someone else must step in with love, empathy and compassion to provide a way for our sins to be erased.

That someone was Jesus Christ and He did it on a cruel Roman Cross 2,000 years ago when He shed His blood and died for the sins of the world. Tomorrow we celebrate “Palm Sunday” which is the wonderful day when Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem and the crowds cried, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Those shouts of praise would be turned into shouts of hate and cruelty within a few short hours as the crowd then asked for the release of Barabbas, a criminal, and for Jesus, the sinless Son of God they cried, “Crucify Him!”

It was all in God’s plan for our redemption and Jesus followed His course to a “T”. We will talk more about this great event in coming days as the grave could not hold Him and we’ll talk about what that means to our life in this world today.

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Grandma, A Pearl of Great Price

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By Grandson, Evangelist Larry E. Wolfe

Her first name was Margaret and many of her friends simply called her Maggie, but her name Margaret in the Greek language means “Pearl”.  In the New Testament Greek her name “Pearl” is found the first time when Jesus gave a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven: “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking  goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”(Matthew 13:45, 46)

Grandma’ was truly “One Pearl of Great Price” for her value cannot be measured in silver or gold even though pearls are always listed with these great treasures. No, her life will never be measured in ordinary wealth or riches, for what she invested is having great impact for eternity due to her investment in her children and her children’s children and that investment will go on for the rest of time on into eternity as we reap the benefits of her boldness when she decided it was time to go to church and take her children.

When she decided it was time to get a Bible for herself and her children even though it was not popular this “One Pearl of Great Price” did what was right for her family and today we are all reaping the benefits of this one solitary life. She had her eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ and His will be done…regardless of the consequences! All of us, who are the offspring of Margaret “Pearl” Anspach, must continue to thank the Lord for the Godly life that she gave to the Lord because she truly was “One Pearl of Great Price”!

LOBO COMMENT: When you peruse Grandma’s diaries you see at least two, and sometimes three entries a week about attending her church or the sister church Trinity at Lickdale. She comments regularly about the quality of her pastor’s sermon, about how the prayers were a blessing, how the Sunday School lesson was interesting, about the singing groups and many comments about prayer meeting and that people went to the altar for prayer or they held hands in a circle and prayed. Her practice of her faith was consistent & genuine and an example for all to see. Here are a few entries:

1970 Jan 4, Sunday, Cold, Sunny, 8 degrees
I arose early at 6. I filled the turkey and put it in the oven. I went to church with John and kids. Laura didn’t go she felt sick all week. We had election of SS officers. Rev Zim preached good sermon. John taught the lesson.

1970 Feb 28 Sunday, Fair 40 degrees
Stevie was very sleepy. Minnie & Fred came. We went to church together. Boy Scouts were in church. Rev Epler had a good sermon, Verna taught the lesson.

1971 Jan 17, Sunday cold 12 degrees
I went to Sunday School with John and family. Rev Epler preached very well. We had an altar call. John taught the lesson. Minnie came over for Sunday School also had dinner with me then we went to Totty and Jack’s place.

 Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Check back from time to time for more stories of Margaret (the Pearl) Anspach!

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Come Apart!

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There’s an old saying, “Come apart before you fall apart!” There is a lot of truth in that statement since all of us tend to get too busy, too distracted and too buried in the flow of life that we don’t know when we’re overloaded and we lose focus on the things that really matter. Someone also said, “A ditch is a grave with the two ends kicked out”. Well, there is a way to get out of that ditch before we literally fall apart! Maybe it is to tear yourself away from the demands of the day and spend some real quality time with the Lord in His Word. Maybe it is to purposely lose your electronic hand held device for an extended period of time and start listening for the “still small voice” calling for your attention. Or maybe it’s time to REALLY get away like a bunch of us guys did last weekend and attend a spiritual men’s conference like “Ignite Men’s Impact Weekend” which was held on the  campus of Liberty University.

I’ve been attending yearly men’s conferences like these since the mid nineties. At that time it was called “Promise Keepers” and they all have pretty much the same kind of format. They bring literally thousands of guys together in a big arena, assemble a program of powerful worship music, add testimonials of faith in Jesus by famous athletes or other notable figures and then include incredibly powerful preaching of the Gospel for salvation and personal revival for victory over sin.

Many times we saw Joe White (the current CEO at Kanakuk Ministries) physically drag a cross beam on his shoulder down the floor of the arena and up onto the stage, then pick up an axe and notch that beam to assemble a cross, all while telling the story of Jesus! He would hammer in huge spikes and then set up the cross and appeal for the men to come forward and surrender their lives to the Lord. Hundreds of men would give their lives to Jesus and devote themselves to surrendered lives for the sake of being better men, fathers, husbands and for spreading the Gospel.

This year’s Ignite conference included testimonies of famous athletes like Yankees Closer Mariano Rivera, Hall of Fame Quarterback Jim Kelly & current Redskins Quarterback Kirk Cousins. Powerful preaching was provided by pastor Rick Rigsby plus side-stitching humor from Dennis Swanberg. It was a life changing event for thousands of men.

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Below is my friend Jim (back left) and two of my sons Dan & Eric in the foreground.

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So in closing I encourage you to at least once a year to get away from the pressures of your schedule, come apart to re-energize and refill your spiritual batteries. I have seen men’s lives transformed by the power of the Cross and become new men. I took my neighbor along one year and he came home and led his dad to the Lord who was literally on his deathbed! Do not be timid or afraid to be under the powerful preaching of God’s Word. Your life will give glory to the Lord, your testimony for Jesus will be stronger and the people around you will be impacted for eternity. Come apart!

(You can find these yearly events for men at http://www.ignitemen.net and also for the ladies at http://www.womenoffaith.com/. I’m sure there are many other such ministries from which to choose)

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