Monday, May 7, 2012

How to know you are relevant

This past weekend, the Philadelphia Phillies, a perennial power in the National League, came to Washington for a three game series with the Nationals. In the past, fans from Philadelphia have followed their team to the nation's capital in droves, buying thousands of tickets and turning the Nationals' ballpark into "Philadelphia South." This was because the successful Phillies often sell out their games, while the yet-to-be-successful Nationals rarely do. Enthusiastic Phillies fans found it easy to annex DC as another venue to watch their team's quest for the pennant.

This year, things are a bit different. The Phillies are struggling at .500 as several of their aging stars have been relegated to the disabled list. Meanwhile, the Nationals are in first place, and are becoming the talk of baseball. They boast the game's two most-hyped young superstars (Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper) and an improving lineup that appears poised to be a perennial title contender.

In an effort to defend their team and create some pride, Nationals management and several DC community leaders launched the "Take Back the Ballpark" campaign. The campaign encouraged Washington fans to come to the park themselves and not allow the illegal aliens from Philadelphia to become DC squatters. The Nationals even went so far as to film a short commercial in which their mascot (Screech) "tricked" two Phillies fans to get onto the Nationals team bus so they could be unceremoniously dumped in parking lot of Citizens' Bank Park in Philly. (On a side note: Screech has a long way to go before he can rival the Philly Phanatic. And who named him "Screech?" What in the world does that have to do with Washington, DC? They should have named him "Philly-buster." )

More important, however, is what took place on the field. After the Nationals took the first two games of the series, the Phillies were feeling somewhat offended. So on Sunday night, in the bottom of the first inning, with two outs and none on, Phillies star pitcher Cole Hamels decided to throw at 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper. He hit him squarely in the back. Harper shook it off, then proceeded to aggressively run his way around the bases, eventually stealing home on a pickoff attempt. Hamels later admitted he hit Harper on purpose, calling it "old school baseball" and claiming he was teaching the young buck a lesson. Harper was not allowed to comment, but Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo responded by calling Hamels a "chickens_ _t" and demanding he be suspended. I find it all quite entertaining.

The Phillies won the game, and saved some face in the process. However, this exchange is a harbinger of a new era of baseball for DC. A rivalry has been born--one not possible before because the Nationals weren't any good. Now the Phillies feel threatened by Harper and his teammates and genuine dislike is building between two clubs separated only by 100 miles and a basket of cheese steaks. As Bryce Harper's back can now attest, the Nationals are a threat.

This is proof of a universal truth: Until you get plunked, you aren't a threat to anyone. Until you have an enemy throwing at you, you are irrelevant.

It's true in baseball, and it's true in the Christian life. If we are doing nothing for the Lord, sitting on the bench, wasting our time, with no ambition of contending for anything, we are no threat to the devil and need not fear his wrath. However, if we are making progress for his kingdom -- sharing the gospel, spreading the glory of God, loving people into the kingdom, fighting evil -- then, indeed, we tick off our enemy. The devil does not bother much with irrelevant people. He goes for the ones who are making a difference. Personally, I have often felt the greatest degree of spiritual attack when I am doing the most good for God. As unpleasant as it may be, being attacked by discouragement, conflict, and temptation is one of the surest signs that I am doing something that matters. The devil is a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). In other words, when I am relevant, I have to watch my back.

Did you get plunked today? That's a good sign. It might hurt, but shake it off and keep running until you reach home. Only those who present a threat are worthy of being called a rival.

Welcome to relevance.