Lessons From Yogi Berra’s “Yogi-isms”

Neal Pollard

One of the great American personalities of the 20th Century, Yogi Berra, has died. The 90 year old died Tuesday, September 22, in West Caldwell, New Jersey.  In his wake, Berra, a Hall of Fame catcher with the New York Yankees in the 1940s-1960s, left a book full of memorable quotes, such as:

  • “It’s deja vu all over again”
  • “you should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours”
  • “if I can hit it, it’s a good pitch”
  • “when you come to a fork in the road…take it”
  • “you can observe a lot by watching”
  • “it gets late early out here”
  • “a nickel isn’t worth a dime anymore”
  • “if it’s an emergency, it’s usually urgent”
  • “nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded”
  • “never answer an anonymous letter”
  • “pair off in threes”
  • “I really didn’t say everything I said”    (via USA Today and Fox News)

Yogi’s inimitable wit and wisdom will long outlive him.  Those of us who were born after his amazing baseball career more likely remember him for the Yoo-Hoo ads or the Aflac Commercials. However, observers of human behavior can learn a lot from this legendary figure.

—“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). Yogi reminds us of the influence we wield by the very words we speak.  Paul would urge us to let our “speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt” so that we will know how we should answer every man (Col. 4:6).  Daily, people hear our speech. Are we “killing” them or “saving” them?

—Cause people to think.  The longer you mull over a “Yogi-ism,” the more profound it becomes. With the Bible, our source material is unmatched. Whether a preacher or a Bible class teacher or a one-on-one Bible teacher or even as a Christian being light and salt in the world, the “attention getter”—not to ever draw attention to us but to the Lord—is powerfully effective. Jesus caused hardened officers to confess, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46). He had a wisdom and insight we’ll never attain, but we have a message unmatched by even a wordsmith like Berra.

—You will be remembered. Do you remember how the writer of Hebrews memorialized righteous Abel? “…Through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks” (11:4).  Of course, how we are remembered is etched by the lives we live in these bodies. We will be recompensed for this before Christ one day (2 Cor. 5:10).  We’ll be remembered by the people we leave behind, from the eulogy and obituary to the memories people keep with them of us. We’ll be perfectly remembered by God (cf. Rev. 14:13).

We lost an iconic cultural figure with Yogi Berra’s demise. But people like that continue to leave an impression on us after they are gone. As Christians, may we live so that when we die the impression we leave can influence and positively alter the eternal destiny of those we touch.


Neal Pollard

There’s an old joke out there that goes, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”  If you say “yes,” you imply that you used to do it.  If you say “no,” you suggest that you are still doing it.  Obviously, the question may be where the problem lies.  If you do not beat your wife, the question would not be relevant and certainly not fair.

“I hear Brother So N So holds this position,” that “School X teaches error on such and such,” and that “Congregation A is ‘off’ on that.”  Too often, maybe based on a feeling that the source is credible, a person gullibly accepts the accusation at face value and even passes it along to others.  Of course, some are very blatant and public in teaching things that are contrary to the Word of God. They loudly proclaim and proudly publish their false views, but the aforementioned innuendoes and intimations are an altogether different matter. Why these rumors and accusations get started is sometimes hard to pinpoint.  Is it jealousy, misunderstanding coupled with indiscretion, meanness, or possibly something more benign?  Writing about presumption last year, I urged the presumptuous to “substantiate before you propagate, and then only carefully and prayerfully” (https://preacherpollard.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/the-problems-with-presumption/).

Solomon wrote that “a good name is to be more desired than great wealth” (Prov. 22:1) and that “A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth” (Ecc. 7:1).  While we are the primary stewards of our “good names,” others can tarnish it unfairly.

It is good to ask, “Do I know this rumor to be true?” Or, “Is it a matter of judgment and opinon with which I disagree, or is it truly a matter of doctrine and eternal truth?” Or, “Does the ‘reporter’ have an agenda that needs to be considered?” Or, “Why do I want to pass this along?”

“Slander” is a verbal offense that should not be in the Christian’s repertoire (Psa. 15:3; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 1 Pet. 2:1).  That is “old man” activity!  It is easy to besmirch someone’s character and reputation, but what a dangerous thing to do.  May we bridle our tongues lest we set fires (Js. 3:3,6).

Is It Clever Or Just Coarse?

Neal Pollard

What do a fantasy football service and a seafood restaurant have in common?  Maybe the advertisement firms they both hired and they felt proud of their play on words that made the commercial viewers hear one word but think of another, extremely vulgar and profane word.  Is this perhaps part of a linguistic trend in our current culture that seems to love to give a good shock to anyone who might still have sensitivity toward foul language?  Hopefully it isn’t, but it seems like a trend to twist speech in the apparent interest of the salty and salacious. Is it imaginative or just plain impure?

You hear it with these pun-like, substitute words that are like euphemisms only more edgy.  You hear it in drug references, referring to behavior, good or bad, as likened to one smoking, inhaling, or intravenously taking something illegal (or in the case of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, now legal). You hear it in crass references to body parts. You hear it in sexually suggestive and charged words, anywhere from “hot” and “sexy” to the more vulgar in an attempt to describe a project, product, or person.  How many of these cross the line of being sinful is difficult to assess, but so many of them flirt with crossing into inappropriate territory.

In Ephesians 5, Paul is in the middle of telling Christians how to “walk.”  Apparently, the walk includes the “talk.”  The chapter begins with his commanding us to imitate God and walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Then, Paul deals negatively by saying how we should not walk. He begins with actions of the mind and the body, then in verse four says, “…Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” To put an exclamation point on the discussion, he says that those practicing such things have no inheritance in the kingdom.  That’s pretty serious!  Bratcher and Nida sees all three nouns as referring to indecent, inappropriate speech, from sexually suggestive words to “shameful, shameless talk of every kind” (A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, np). At least the second two, “foolish talking” and “coarse jesting,” should cause us to give closer examination both to what we say and how we say it.

Our speech is powerful.  One wise word may result in a soul’s salvation.  As death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21), let’s heed the advice of the children’s song—”Be careful little mouths what you say!”

What Kind Of Religion Do You Have?

Neal Pollard

While people today want to emphasize “spirituality” over “religion,” that is not the biblical way.  By “spiritual,” people want to talk about a self-defined personal relationship with God, the way they feel, or their pursuit of some mystical or mysterious expression of the soul.  The Bible is much less abstract and more concrete in passages like James 1:26-27, and the result should be quite convicting.

James indicates that one’s religion could be worthless (1:26).  This one may even think himself to be religious, but instead he is a forgetful hearer.  In context, he has forgotten what God’s word has said about bridling the tongue.  But, the principle applies much more broadly.  One can think himself religious, but in ignoring what the Bible says on a specific matter—ethics, morality, the plan of salvation, worship, etc.—this one deceives his own heart and possesses a worthless religion.  Notice that there is a concrete, objective way to measure this.

James indicates that one’s religion can also be pure and undefiled (1:27).  In keeping with context, this is a person who is a doer and not only a hearer of the word.  This person consciously reads and strives to apply what God has said in Scripture.  James gives a couple of examples of this in the verse, from compassionate care for the unfortunate to not allowing the world to taint us by its influence.  Regardless of the challenge or obligation, because we strive to follow the Word, we will have a religion that is unsoiled and unsullied. James says so.

I may think I have a certain kind of religious, spiritual life, but the Bible is a mirror that shows me exactly where I am.  I can claim or assert that I have a certain relationship with God or spiritual feeling, but does the declaration match the deeds.  That determines what kind of religion I have.

Little Things?


Neal Pollard

Look what one look at a woman bathing on her rooftop cost a man, his home, and his country.  The pronunciation of one word spelled the difference between life and death for a nation of people.  One word inserted by a serpent changed the course of human history forever.

One visit to a website, one indiscreet email or phone call, one moment of anger and fury, one rash and foolish decision made before a new Christian, or one “white lie” can create unbearable consequences to the heart, destiny, and influence of a person.  Rationalization that it’s only once or only a little can be fatal, both to self and others.

But this “little thing” principle applies to attitude, too.  A brief, gossiping conversation may seem harmless, but discourage or devastate the subject of it.   Small, snide comments about the elders, Bible class teachers, deacons, or others may divide friends for a long time.  A grudge-bearer may help divide a church over a single, relatively minor incident having long since occurred.  “Little,” too often, is in the eye of the beholder.

A dear preacher friend of mine, David Sain, once illustrated this point very well.  He wrote:

I once read a statement that really got my attention.  It declared that a
tiny gnat can wreck an automobile.  Of  course, I wondered, “How?”
The article then explained that a tiny gnat had wrecked a car by flying
into the eye of the driver at a critical time, causing him to lose control.
So often in life, little things can do great harm.  It is easy for us to be
like that gnat.  Our petty criticisms, murmuring, complaints, and fault-
finding can “wreck” the most ambitious person or program.  Friend,
what our world needs is builders-not “wreckers.” (via Eastern Meadows Church
Bulletin, Montgomery, AL).

Let’s be careful with our influence, not minimizing our impact on others by our words, acts, and attitudes.  We want to do the little things that make a church great, through those same mediums.  As David says, let us build rather than wreck!

Temper And Tongue

Neal Pollard

Without wading into the waters of political correctness or questioning motives, Donald Sterling can blame his temper as much as his girlfriend’s surreptitious audio recording.  He joins an infinitely long line of those whose unrestrained anger has cost them much more than they anticipated.  While most people will not pay the earthly price Sterling appears destined to pay, so many have permanently damaged relationships and paid with their souls for failing to conquer temper and tongue.

James clearly sets forth God’s view on the matter.  “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity” (3:6). “It defiles the whole body” (3:6). “It is set on fire by hell” (3:6). “It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (3:8). It can reveal hypocrisy at a disgusting level (3:9-12).  James’ words are so convicting, yet, having privy to them, we still stumble with our speech.

I have seen the untamed tongue, so often fueled by anger and even rage, tear churches apart.  But, what has it done in the lives of individual members of those congregations?  Certainly, we think of it as characteristic of those outside the body of Christ, but so often it ignites deadly fires in Christians’ lives.

If I am honest with myself, I should be more concerned with the spiritual impact my tongue has on my soul than other deeds of the flesh.  There are so many ways for me to stumble over my tongue—gossip, lying, outbursts of anger, wrath, deception, filthy or suggestive speech, greed, and just about every outlet of sin seems to intersect with the misuse of the tongue!

James speaks to our hearts when he says, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (3:10).  Can I comprehend the impact that has on my soul, not just yours?  Rather than counting up ways you offend me with your tongue, may I have the humility and honesty to examine my use of my tongue and see how it might be hurting you and, even more importantly, hurting Almighty God!  Lord, help us see the power of the tongue.

The Haste Of The Hermandads

Neal Pollard

In the 1100s, in an effort to protect travelers going from northern Spain over the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Dogs of God, Reston, 50), a military force known as the hermandads (“the brotherhood”) was organized.  Soon, these vigilantes spread across Spain and offered themselves as protectors of roads and merchants.  Eventually appointed as a national police force who could collect taxes and prevent insurrection in every municipality, they would go on to exterminate untold numbers of Muslims, Jews, and other “enemies of the state” during the Middle Ages.  Reston mentions an unsettling “right” granted to the hermandads in the 15th Century, during the famous reign of Isabella and Ferdinand.  He writes, “In a curious turnabout, executions took place first, and trials were held afterwards” (51).

Given our country’s constitutional concept of “innocent until proven guilty,” this practice seems both backward and barbaric.  How useful is a trial to present facts about a case after the defendant has been executed?  What if the deceased was found innocent? What if there was no proof of guilt?  Of course, the “facts” of every case incredibly supported the punitive action that preceded it.

While we may find such a practice appalling, how often do we do the same with our tongues?  Through rash anger, reckless gossip, and rabid prejudice, we can serve as judge, jury, and executioner of the reputation and actions of another.  How often do we jump to conclusions and assassinate another’s character, but later revelations prove our actions both premature and unjustifiable?  Unfortunately, the damage having been done, nothing done by way of reparation can fully undo the effects upon the victim.

What we need to see is the spiritual danger we face who “execute” before “trial.”  Solomon wrote, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13).  A few verses later, he says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (21a).  That New Testament “wisdom writer,” James, adds, “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;  from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (3:8-10).

Be very careful!  Even when we think we have the facts about another, let us post a guard outside the door of our lips (cf. Ps. 141:3).  Better to deliberate and reserve judgment than to execute before the trial has been held!

The Price Of A Prank

Neal Pollard

A summer intern at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) apparently thought it would be funny to “confirm” the names of the four pilots of Asiana Flight 214 to a TV station in the bay area where the tragic crash occurred less than a week before the prank was played.  An Oakland news anchor read the false, insensitive names as the names appeared on screen.  It was horribly offensive.

While the intern no doubt thought it was funny (and perhaps others encouraged him and thought it was funny, too), he (or she) may feel differently today.  The intern was fired and both the TV station and the NTSB have profusely apologizes for the error.  Asiana Airlines has been seriously considering filing a lawsuit against the station for defamation.  Though the story will probably contain further developments, the damage done is considerable.

David once prayed, “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe Your commandments” (Ps. 119:66). Would you agree with me that demonstrating poor judgment is an all-too-common frailty with which many of us suffer?  Whether a hasty word  (see Prov. 29:20), impulsive action (cf. 2 Tim. 3:6; Ti. 3:3), or snap judgment (Prov. 18:13), the moment of thoughtlessness is often followed by a mountain of regret.

So many areas of life require sound judgment and forethought, whether big decisions like finances, relationships, education, and career or “little” decisions like how to respond to a store clerk or customer service agent, whether or not to tell the truth in a matter, or how to react to something harsh or negative that somebody says to you.

We never know how costly our rashness will be.  Jephthah could write a book about it (cf. Jud. 11:30ff).  May our prayer ever be, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3).

CONTRADICTING: The Pastime Of Our Time

Have you noticed that, no matter what the topic or matter one may choose to bring up, someone or ones seem to feel compelled to say something to contradict it?  What fuels the activity is known only to the doer, whether a need to seem expert or more knowledgeable, pride, a habit of argumentativeness, or the worldly, age-old practice of “disputing” (Phil. 2:14; 1 Tim. 6:4).  Doctrinally, we are called to lovingly defend God’s truth (Eph. 4:15), to gently help correct a brother (Gal. 6:1) or non-Christian (2 Tim. 2:24-26), and to guard the name of Christ against all attacks.  That is courageous and spiritual.

But, do you know what I am referencing?  That nit-picky, minute, non-essential practice of increasingly many to just “have” to correct somebody and everybody.  Why is that?  Perhaps forums like Facebook feed that tendency, where folks “drive by” somebody’s wall and “need” to be heard and seen as the guru and all-wise.  Perhaps it is something far more benign.  Surely, we don’t see how easily we sign up for the sport of sparring speech.  But, all of us are well served to ask, “What is my purpose in contradicting? What fruitful thing am I seeking to accomplish?”  If we can find no good answer, let’s challenge our own desire to challenge another.  Such makes for “seasonable speech” (cf. Col. 4:6).

“Without The Venom This Time”

Neal Pollard

In Bill Whitehead’s comic strip, “Free Range,” a marriage counselor is mediating an obviously angry dispute between two poisonous snakes.  She exhorts them, “Okay…both of you take a deep breath and try to talk to each other without the venom this time.”  That is hard for snakes to do, but it is important for husbands and wives to heed such advice.

Stress, exhaustion, undisciplined emotion, hurt, mistrust, and fear can all be toxic ingredients in communication between marriage partners.  Rivalry can rout relationship.

The Bible stresses both that the husband love his wife (Eph. 5:25, 28; Col. 3:19) and that the wife love her husband (Tit. 2:4).  Discussing the husband’s relationship to his wife, the Bible urges an attempt to understand her (1 Pet. 3:7), nourish and cherish her (Eph. 5:29), please her (1 Cor. 7:33), and be joined to her (Gen. 2:24).  Discussing her relationship to him, God’s Word uses ideas like respect (Eph. 5:33), be subject (Eph. 5:22; Tit. 2:5), be submissive (1 Pet. 3:1), display chaste and respectful behavior (1 Pet. 3:2), and be kind (Tit. 2:5).  There is not much wiggle room in these passages for verbal venom.

Next time you feel your rattler rising, remember who you are and what God expects of you.  Then, take a moment to see your spouse for who they are and all they mean to you.  You are friends (and lovers), not foes.  You are heirs together of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7).  That is enough to de-fang our discussions!  Disagreements are inevitable.  Destructiveness is iniquity.