Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

As Yogi Berra once said, ‘It was almost déjà vu all over again.’ The USA Olympic hockey team, in their home blue uniforms, is playing for the gold medal on the last day of the Winter Olympics. Team USA is down 2-1 to the red-clad Canadians with time running out. The fans in blue were chanting ‘U-S-A, U-S-A!’

The announcers couldn’t even hear themselves over the noise of the crowd as they screamed, ‘DO YOU BELIEVE?’ And just before time ran out, USA scored to tie the game at 2-2, and send it into sudden death overtime. Instant bedlam! First team to score wins the gold medal.

Did we dare to believe? Could it be true? Would team USA roll back 30 years to 1980 and pull off another ‘Miracle on Ice?’ Would the boys in blue stand tall on the podium and have gold medals placed around their necks while the Star Spangled Banner was played and Old Glory was raised once again?

ALMOST!!! But not quite. Russia, excuse me, I mean Canada scores first and it’s over. The collective hearts of everyone in blue sank like a rock thrown in the creek. The game is over. We lost. No gold medal this time. Only the bitter taste of silver.

Is it just me, or does the word almost leave an empty taste in your mouth, too? An adverb (thank you again, Miss Barron!) meaning ‘very nearly.’ So close, but yet so far away. And, as we used to say back home on the farm at Route 4, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

If you don’t mind, please take a short trip back with me back down that Route 4 dirt road. A watermelon that was very nearly ripe looked almost like the real deal. But, oh, the taste! It reminds me of the time that George and Oliver convinced me to chomp down on a handful of green persimmons. They were almost ripe, according to the wisdom of my older brothers!

But hope springs eternal, and already they’re saying, ‘just wait till next year.’ And on this cold winter morning, some young 8-year-old straps on his ice skates as Mom or Dad drives him through the pre-dawn hours to the local skatin’ rink. He’ll practice long and hard just hopin’ that someday he’ll really be there, not very nearly there, when the gold medals are passed out.

Ok, OK, I’ll get to my point. Where will you and I be when the gold medal ceremony is held for this real life battle that we face with the forces of evil every day of our lives? In the hockey players’ minds, there’ll be another Olympics in four years. Another chance to go for the gold. But, make no mistake, my friends, our war has only one outcome. And it’s forever. Saved or lost. No second or third place. No silver or bronze medals.

But there’s only one problem. We don’t know how much time is left on the clock. It may be in sudden death overtime already. Why not play this ‘game’ of life like the score is tied and the clock is running out? In my red-letter edition of Matthew 24:36-44, Jesus said that not even the angels in Heaven know the hour or the day.

He will not make an appointment with us before He comes to take His team home. In the days of Noah, people were going about their normal daily activities, even up to the day that Noah went aboard the ark. They knew nothing about what was about to happen.

And so it will be when Jesus announces that the clock has run out. Two men plowin’ their field. Only one of them is ready. One will be taken; the other left. Two women at work in their office. Only one of them is ready. One will be taken, the other left. Three spaces under almost in my Webster’s New World Vest Pocket Dictionary is another adverb, alone. As in ‘with no other.’    

So it just makes plain good sense to me that we should get ready and stay ready (v. 42). After all, if you knew that the game would be over tomorrow, would there be any urgency in gettin’ ready today? Are you almost there? Very nearly ready to live for the One who died for us?

I saw a church sign that said ‘To be almost saved is to be totally lost.’ Yes, the USA hockey players lost their game. But in the game that counts, they, and you and I, can still score and win. We just don’t know how much time is left on the clock.

So what’s our game plan? What plays do we need to run? What do we need to do to secure the victory? That same question was asked a long time ago by the jailer where Paul and Silas, a couple of God’s players, had been locked up after taking a real beating (Acts 16:25-34).

About midnight, the clock ran out. Sound asleep, the jailer had no idea. But God said that anybody who believed could be on His team. So He started recruiting the jailer and his family. In a very unusual way. But first He had to get the jailer’s attention. So He sent an earthquake that shook the prison so hard, the doors flew open and the chains fell off of Paul and Silas and everybody else!

When he woke up, the jailer knew immediately that his team had lost. But just before he was about to kill himself, he thought maybe, just maybe, he could change jerseys and play on the winning team. He needed a miracle or the game was over for him.

One of my favorite gospel groups of all time was The Cathedrals. Some of them are singing in the Heavenly Choir now, but they used to sing a song about winning that says it all. One of the verses goes like this.

We all wanna be winners in the games of life that we play. But, friends, if we’re just sinners, we’ve already lost the race. But listen, Jesus’ blood can take that sin and throw it in the deep blue sea. He can put an end to your last-place living and give you the victory. Then you can sing, “I’ve read the back of the book and we win. No more living in darkness, we’ll be living with Him. There ain’t no need to worry about it if you’re born again. ‘Cause I’ve read the back of the book and we win!”    

So the jailer asked the co-captains of God’s team what he needed to do to be on their team (v. 30). And Paul and Silas called the play that won the gold medal. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you and all your family will be saved” (v.31). Even at that hour of the night, the jailer and all his family were baptized onto a new team, the winning team.

Take your highlighter or pen and draw circles around verse 34. It describes a gold medal miracle unlike any hockey team has ever or will ever experience. And it’s available for you and me, as they say, for a limited time only, because we don’t keep the clock.

‘The jailer was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family.’