Umpire Marty Springstead’s first major league appearance behind home plate was memorable.
It was 1966 in Washington, D.C. Frank Howard, the mountainous slugger of the Washington Senators, stepped up to the plate. The first pitch to Howard was a knee-high fast ball. Springstead called it a strike.
Howard turned around and thundered at the rookie umpire, “Get something straight, buster! I don’t know where you came from or how you got to the major leagues but they don’t call that pitch on me a strike. Understand?”
The next pitch was a knee-high fast ball. Springstead yelled, “Two!”
“Two what?” roared Howard.
“Too low, much too low,” said Springstead.
Every now and then we meet someone who wants us to compromise our values. They want us to call balls when they are strikes or call strikes when they are balls. They want us to say it’s safe when it’s out and say it’s out when it’s safe.
And sometimes there are some pretty intimidating incentives to forget who we are and who He is and what He expects us to do and who He expects us to be. Sometimes there are big people and big bucks and big politics and just a lot of big things that try to influence us to be and to do what betrays who we are as His. You know what I mean.
It’s nothing new. As he said good-bye to the Ephesian elders, Paul said, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (
“There will be scoffers,” wrote Jude in quoting the apostles, “who will follow their own ungodly desires.” There’s always somebody trying to get us to forget the Word and fit into the ways of the world.
It’s nothing new. And Jude acknowledged that Christians know their Christianity will be constantly challenged in the world. He wrote, “Though you already know all this, I want to remind you.” Jude wanted Christians to remember who they are in Him and the many worldly attempts to intimidate or sometimes entice Christians to compromise or even abandon their witness to the Word for the ways of the world.
Jude identified those anti-Christian influences who “have secretly slipped in among you” as “god-less men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” The primary purpose of the letter was to alert the church to the problem of Satanic forces which sneak into the church with the intent of replacing the church’s witness to the Word with the wicked ways of the world.
Jude wrote, “I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you.”
I’ll never forget the last class meeting on a course on Reformed worship and liturgy in seminary. An open discussion was sparked when one fellow advocated the ordination of some folks even though they affirmed a lifestyle absolutely antithetical to the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures.
The problem wasn’t ordaining sinners; we do that all the time. The good news of the gospel is that God died in Christ for all sinners. The good news is that faith in God’s saving act in Jesus Christ guarantees the forgiveness of sins. The good news is God doesn’t want to hold our sins against us. The good news is that God has provided an unbelievably gracious way to rid ourselves of the stain of every particular sin. The good news is that, as John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (
That’s not a bad deal. We become right with God when we confess that we’re not right with God. If you ask me, that’s plenty generous.
But this fellow was advocating the ordination of folks who boldly and blatantly affirmed behavior which betrayed the will of God as revealed in the Bible.
The real problem, of course, wasn’t the particular sin. Everybody sins. That’s why God came in Jesus. The real problem was they were calling their sin acceptable in the sight of God. They were saying the behavior prescribed by God in the Bible was outdated and non-binding. They were changing a strike into a ball. They were saying they were safe when they were out. They were challenging the church to compromise its biblical, confessional, constitutional, and historical values.
And this guy was saying we should jump on their wagon because it would be the loving thing to do. He said Jesus said to love everybody and, therefore, we should ordain them regardless of their belief or behavior. As Jude warned, there are “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” Or as William Barclay paraphrased this text, “They perverted the grace of God into an excuse for blatant immorality.”
It was a classic case of sloppy agape. We see it all the time. It happened in the first-century church. It happened in that seminary classroom. It happens in denominations. And it can happen right here. Jude’s letter was intended to alert the church to this problem. Jude’s letter reminds the church to be the Church — a reflection of the Word, not the world.
Jude quickly added, “They are godless men, who … deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” It follows. Everybody wants a Savior. Everybody wants to be told they are going to heaven. But few folks want a sovereign Lord who tells them who to be and what to do. But as a Christian, you cannot have one without the other.
Jesus Christ is our saving Lord. Through faith in Him, we live forever. We also live triumphantly amid the chaos of life here and now.
He is our Savior, but He is also our Lord. He calls the shots. He calls the balls and strikes. He says who is safe and who is out.
Yet, as Jude warned the church (along with Paul and Jesus Himself), there will always be folks who try to make Jesus a little less than God and a lot more like themselves. They are the ones who rewrite Genesis to read, “So man created God in his own image. In the image of man, man created God.”
So what’s the answer? “Though you already know all this,” wrote Jude, “I want to remind you.” In other words, we must remember who we are, who He is, who we are called to be, and what we are called to do.
We went water skiing a few weeks ago. David, B.J., and Nancy made valiant but less than successful attempts at it. So I was determined to save the family honor. I had been a lifeguard, swam competitively, and all of the rest. So I felt up to the challenge.
After a few tries, it became apparent to my boys and Nancy that we had one athletic thing in common. No one in the Kopp family can ski. I almost lost my fingernails and wrists along with my dignity. But as I sat drinking a diet cola and looking at the rope burns on my legs, Nancy made a fairly profound theological statement: “Well, Bobby, you can’t do everything.” As true as that may be, that wasn’t it!
She said, “Next time, remember to keep your arms straight, knees bent, and mouth shut!”
That’s it! That’s the answer! That’s how we can keep our church and ourselves from compromising our Christianity! Keep your arms straight! Jude wrote, “Contend for the faith.” Keep your knees bent! “But you dear friends,” counseled Jude, “build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.” Keep your mouth shut! Or as Jude said, “Keep yourself in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
I am reminded of the highland Scotswoman whose face and life and ministry reflected the love and light of Jesus Christ. When asked how she could be so consistently Christian, she replied, “I am always at His feet, and He is always in my heart.”
That’s why we are always talking about regular worship, regular Bible study, regular prayer, and hanging out with Christians. That’s why we observe the sacraments so often. We do it in remembrance. And when we are remembering or keeping in mind His identity and our identity in Him, it’s pretty hard to get into trouble.
Several months ago when I felt led to preach on this letter, I immediately picked “Hey Jude!” as the sermon title. Don’t ask me why. I guess it’s just a ’60s thing. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote some memorable lyrics in “Hey Jude”:
Hey Jude, don’t make it bad.
Take a sad song and make it better.
Remember to lei her into your heart.
Then you can start to make it better.
I’m not sure I know what that means. But I do know what it means to say, “Remember to let Him into your heart. Then He can start to make it better.” That’s what Charles Spurgeon had in mind when he had these words placed on a placard over the doorway to the entrance to his Pastor’s College in London: “Holding, I’m Held!”
“Hey Jude, what’s the answer?” And Jude wrote, “To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy — to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” That’s the answer. He’s the answer. Amen!
Umpire Marty Springstead’s first major league appearance behind home plate was memorable.