Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Greatest Sacrifice

This is a story about a boy named Shay. Shay had a learning disability. He couldn't learn tasks like other children could. He not only struggled in the classroom, but with simple activities we take for granted like household chores, grooming habits, and childhood games. Despite his difficulties, Shay enjoyed life. One of his favorite routines was going on walks with his father.

One day on their walk, Shay and his dad came to a park where some boys Shay knew from school were playing baseball. As they approached the field, Shay looked up at his dad. "Dad, do you think they'll let me play?"

His father knew the majority of the boys would not want Shay on their team. However, his common sense was overpowered by the understanding that his son needed to feel like he belonged. If for some reason he was allowed to play, it would give him a feeling of acceptance, in spite of his handicaps, that nothing could replace. Trying not to get his hopes up, Shay's father approached one of the boys on the field and asked if it would be alright for his son to play.

The boy looked from Shay to his teammates for some sort of guidance. Finally, he said, "Well, we're losing by six runs, and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team, and we'll try to let him bat before the game ends."

Shay awkwardly "ran" over the the team's bench, and with a huge smile on his face, put on one of the team shirts. His father tried to hold back his tears of joy, but he could not help but express his happiness. The boys on the team couldn't help but notice how much this small gesture meant to both Shay and his father.

During the eighth inning, Shay's team gained three runs. When they went back to the field, they gave Shay a glove and put him in the right field. No activity came his way, but Shay didn't care. He was so excited to be in the game, grinning and waving to his father in the stands, who waved back, just as enthusiastic.

Shay's team didn't let the other team score in the 9th inning and headed back to the batting cage. The team put Shay in the batting order. Shay's team scored another run, but they also got two more outs. With the bases loaded, the potential winning run and no room for error, was on base. Shay was up next to bat.

His father's heart sank a little as he realized Shay's team had no chance to win the game if Shay took his scheduled turn to bat.
The same boy who agreed to let him play handed Shay the bat, and guided him towards home plate. All of the boys knew a hit was impossible. Shay couldn't even hold the bat right. They could forget him actually connecting with the ball.

The pitcher for the other team realized that the other team was giving up the win for this moment in Shay's life. The pitcher moved a few steps closer so he could throw softer, in hopes that Shay would at least be able to hit the ball.

Shay swung clumsily and missed. Strike one.

The pitcher stepped even closer and tossed the ball softly. Shay swung too late. Strike two.

As the third and final pitch came, Shay swung at the perfect time, hitting a slow ground ball right back at the pitcher's feet.

Realizing the game was over, his father stood to cheer for his son, trying to be happy that Shay had made contact with the ball. As he did, he realized that the pitcher picked up the ball and threw the ball way over the first baseman's head.

Shane should have been out. The game wasn't over. But it wasn't. The boys on both teams and the crowds in the stands began yelling, "Run to first, Shay! Run to first!"

Shay had never ran that far, but he scampered down the baseline to first base. Once he got there, the instructions changed to, "Second base, Shay! Run to second!" Still trying to catch his breath, Shay struggled to the next base. Once he made it to that base, the right fielder, the smallest guy on the other team, had the chance to be the team hero.

Instead, the right fielder grinned, and through the ball as high as he could, way past third base. Without instruction this time, Shay took off for third base.

"All the way, Shay! All the way!" The crowd kept encouraging him to run home. "Home run, Shay!"

When Shay reached home plate, his teammates and the crowed cheered as if he had hit a grand slam to win the game for the team. His father could barely stand because of his joy. Shay was lifted off the ground on the shoulders of his teammates. He raised his fists in the air as he had only seen athletes do on television.

Shay didn't live to play baseball the next summer. He died that winter, but he never forgot the day he was a hero. He didn't understand that his victory was a gift, but everyone in the stands got a lesson that day on the blessing of sacrificial love.

I doubt that these elementary-aged boys were fully aware of what they did that day. At the very most, they realized they were potentially giving up winning a game. However, they also recognized they would have hundreds of more opportunities to win.

I doubt they recognized that Shay would never play another game. Or that for the rest of his short life, he would sleep with the baseball from that day in his arms. Or that his parents would be eternally grateful for the acceptance and normalcy their special son felt that day. Or that you and I would hear this story today, be touched, and be changed.

There is a much bigger story of sacrificial love. More powerful than the story of Shay.

There was a man named Jesus Christ. He was God's Son and had all of the same divine power and characteristics. Jesus didn't question His Father's authority as most children do. Instead, He denied Himself of all of his divine rights and lowered Himself to human form at His Father's command. God's plan included redemption for all who would accept the free gift of salvation. God's plan involved the sacrifice of His Son's life. Jesus did not rebel. He didn't run away. He didn't even pout. He responded out of obedience, put Himself through persecution and humiliation, and died a sinner's death on the cross.

I doubt the Roman soldiers and crowds knew that they were watching the death of the only One who could offer them life. Or that they were not murdering Jesus, but that He was willingly laying down His life. Or that His death would bring the acceptance for anyone who would believe in Jesus into the royal family of God to be adopted as sons. Or that the story of Jesus Christ would be the greatest story ever told, translated into more languages than any other book, and change lives indefinitely.

You and I are a lot like Shay. Just like he didn't deserve to get a home run that day, you and I don't deserve full acceptance into God's family. God is perfect. God does not change. He cannot be shaken. He cannot be stopped. We are sinful chameleons, trying to blend in wherever we are. Our faith shifts as easily as sand with a light breeze. Our strength has limitations. But God has the same love for the Shay's of the faith - those who want to be a part of His team, try, and fail repeatedly - as he does for those more like Shay's teammates - who come alongside those who are struggling and guide them towards Victory.

The radical love shown by Shay's teammates is rare in today's world, but it is the very love we are instructed to have as we follow the example of Jesus Christ.

"Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility, count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:3-8).

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