Friday, March 18, 2011

Trophies or Crowns?

In the summer of 1971, between fifth and sixth grade, I played baseball for my church team.  It was the one and only summer that our church had a team.  My brother, Mike, was our catcher and third baseman.  He wasn’t crazy about baseball, but he played anyway, and was pretty good.  He was a big guy, fearless, and could handle a bat.  My friend, John, played first base.  John was a natural athlete who excelled in whatever sport he played.  He was also the nicest, most humble guy you would ever meet.  I was the left-handed pitcher.  There were no limits on innings pitched back then, so I pitched as many innings as the coaches could stand. 

From my perspective, the three of us were the core of the team.  We were also the best of friends.  John’s parents were missionaries to Taiwan, and they were home on furlough, so they were very well known and respected in our church.  My dad was a deacon and taught adult Sunday school, and my mom sang in the choir and taught Sunday school for the little kids, so we were high profile in the church.  At least, that was my perspective.

We played an entire season and didn’t win a single game.  Well, I think we had one victory, thanks to a forfeit by a team that didn’t show up for a game.  One evening, I don’t recall whether it was a Sunday evening or a Wednesday evening, the coaches recognized the team in church, and presented three trophies.  I just knew, hands down, the three trophies would go to John, Mike, and me.  There was an MVP trophy, a trophy for good sportsmanship, and a coaches’ trophy for the player that the coaches felt was an outstanding leader on the team.  I wondered which one would go to John, which one would go to Mike, and which would go to me.  From my perspective, any one of us would have qualified for any of the trophies.

As I recall, the first trophy went to a kid whose name I don’t even remember.  His nickname was Grasshopper, and I think he only came to church during the baseball season.  He was a scrawny little kid who lived in the projects across the street from the church, but played with heart and had a great sense of humor.  I think he received the MVP trophy, which I thought was odd.  As the coaches were getting ready to present the sportsmanship trophy, John leaned over and told me he thought I would get it.  Then the coaches called John’s name and presented him with the trophy.  True to form, John returned to his seat and told me that I should have gotten that one.  Now there was one trophy left, and as I was getting ready to stand up and receive the accolades of the crowd, the coaches called my brother’s name.  Now Mike deserved the trophy because he was a leader on the team and a real team player.  He had played most of the games behind the plate, wearing catcher’s gear in the Memphis summer heat, and never complained.  I was happy for him, but I was astonished that I had not received a trophy.  I sat there thinking that maybe there was one more, perhaps an honorable mention, or best left-handed pitcher trophy or something, but that was it.  The presentations were done.

Through my high school and college years, I continued to compete in sports.  I was pretty good at racquetball, and played intramural doubles in college.  My partner and I made it to the school finals and lost the championship match.  There was no trophy for second place.

When my two boys started playing baseball and basketball, everyone that played received a trophy.  It was meaningless to them, because they understood that they didn’t have to earn it.  Those trophies looked nice, but became as disposable as used batteries.  They were merely mementos, and had no real meaning. 

The Bible tells us that we will be rewarded with crowns when we get to heaven.  I was reading in James chapter 1 recently, and verse 12 was the inspiration for this story.  It says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”  I’m past the point of earning trophies in this life.  But God has promised a crown to me if I remain steadfast in Him!


  1. Excellent perspective, Joel!!! When you have to work for something, earn something, ... it means something!!!


  2. I, too, remember the special time playing baseball! However, what I've recalled since, was the special trophy you have today--your love for the Lord, your wife and sons! I still remember visiting Joel and Cheri early in their marriage--he was as meticulous about his dress, work ethic,and service as if he were CEO of the company. Since that time, the Lord has seen fit to give Joel an incredible job, a wonderful relationship with his family, and the joy of serving as short-term missionaries with his family. That's a lasting trophy!


  3. Great blog today! This passage in James also reminds me that even though I am a born again Christian, this does not mean that my life here is always going to be an easy life. However, as long as I remain faithful in following the Lord, I may never be considered a wealthy woman in earthly, man's terms. But the only riches of real value are in Heaven & those rewards last for eternity!

    By the way, John Lehman, it is so good to remember another friend from my days of growing up in the church, & how fun the summertimes were when your family was in the states. It brings back the memory of swimming at the Berry's home, or at my parent's home. What a wonderful family, the Lehmans!