“It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”

When preaching in Montclair, New Jersey sixteen months ago I learned that Yogi Berra, the great baseball catcher for the New York Yankees, lived in that town. I began trying everyway under the sun to meet Mr. Berra.

Why? For years I have hoped to write a book on the theme finishing well. I wanted to give the book the title “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”, the famed phrase made popular by Yogi Berra. But I wanted to get Yogi Berra’s approval. I didn’t need it legally, but I would never use that title without asking him and getting his blessing on it.

I want to finish well. I’m sure you do too. But “it ain’t over til it’s over”. I hope to publish the book on my 80th birthday – in July 2015.

Trying to meet Yogi Berra was not exactly a piece of cake. I concluded it would be easier to meet the pope than to meet Yogi. Indeed, it took three well connected men to make it happen. First, Dr. David Ireland, the pastor of Christ Church (they have two campuses) of Rockaway and Montclair, New Jersey. Second, Harold Reynolds – the MLB sportscaster who is a member of Dr. Ireland’s church. Third, James Brown – known as JB – the CBS sportscaster for the NFL. JB was in our seminar last summer when I preached at The Cove (Billy Graham Training Center). JB felt led to get involved as well. He not only added his name to the previously mentioned men, but, after convincing Yogi’s people to see me, personally came from his home in Washington, D.C. to be there for the occasion!

If you follow me on Twitter you already knew that I met Mr. Berra recently. He is now 88, walks with a cane, and yet, with the Director David Kaplan, showed us around the Yogi Berra Museum which is part of Montclair University. Our son TR was there for the occasion too. For my 70th birthday TR gave me an autographed baseball by Yogi with his handwriting on it “It ain’t over til it’s over”. For my 75th birthday TR bought me a large plaque with nine of Yogi’s “Yogisms”. By the way, I have been a Yankee fan all my life.

I told Mr. Berra of my wish to write a book on finishing well. I pointed out that too many church leaders do not seem to finish well, not to mention prominent people and leaders outside the church. I wanted his blessing to use “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over” as the title. Not only that, if he would be willing – to allow a photo of himself and me on the cover of the book. He graciously did. We took several photos. Accompanying this blog you can see photos of Yogi with TR and me and one with Yogi, JB and me.

I asked Yogi if he could remember the first time he used this phrase which has become famous around the world. “Shea stadium”, he replied. It was not when he was a Yankee but when he was manager of the New York Mets. In mid season – July 1973 – the Mets were at the very bottom of the league and were apparently doomed to end there. A reporter asked Yogi, “Is it all over?” Yogi quipped, “It ain’t over til it’s over”. Yogi said to me, “It just came out”. And guess what? By the end of the season his team was first and won the National League pennant! Winning the pennant no doubt made the phrase all the more famous.

I have started writing my book. The opening words are: “I started well”. In fact, I had such a good beginning that I have no excuse if I don’t finish well. Great parents. Wonderful opportunities. An incredible wife. Beautiful family. And yet I fear I could still blow it before it’s “over”. One person came up to me very recently and said, “It is so good to meet someone who has finished well”. I tried to smile.

I’m not there yet. “It ain’t over til it’s over”.

When Jeremiah said “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah17:9), he described me. And you too. For that reason, none of us should presume how we will finish. I want to end well. Oh how true: “It ain’t over til it’s over”. I recently received a letter from someone who claimed that, surely, being redeemed by Christ’s blood gives us new hearts and therefore Jeremiah’s words do not apply to a Christian. Sorry, but no Christian is without sin. A new heart, or new creation (2 Cor.5:19), does not mean perfection in this life. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

We can know in advance that we are going to Heaven when we die. God wants us to know that we are saved and will absolutely go to Heaven. That is because Heaven is a free gift since Jesus Christ died on a cross for all our sins. Those who rely on His blood and not their good works will go to Heaven. But going to Heaven does not mean all will receive a reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is promised to those who finish well.

In 1 Corinthians 9:27, writing in 55 A.D., Paul was not absolutely sure he would finish well. “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” – “prize” – being a word referring not to Heaven but used interchangeably with “reward”, “crown” or “inheritance” – an award handed out at the Judgment Seat of Christ to those who finish well (1 Cor.3:14; 2 Cor.5:10; 2 Pet.1:11). I have heard people say, “I don’t care whether I get a reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ; I just want to make it to Heaven”. I reply: You won’t feel that way then. Never forget that a reward at the Judgment was very important to Paul. But ten years later – in 2 Timothy 4:6 he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day”. By then he knew he was finishing well. That’s what I want.

Today I am still in a 1 Corinthians 9:27 situation. Even if I do live to the age of 80, for all I know I may still be in that situation. So I will persevere to the very end. I know I am going to Heaven one day. I also want to finish well. But “it ain’t over til it’s over”.


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