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Posts Tagged ‘baseball’

umpiresDid you hear that Major League Baseball has approved a broad expansion of instant replay reviews beginning with the 2014 season.  I think that is a great idea—so good, in fact, that I’m thinking about suggesting instant replay for churches!  Here is what it would look like . . . oops, that won’t work. There are no umpires at church!

One could, of course, argue that God is the Big Umpire in the Sky, and that He doesn’t need instant reply because He always makes the right call.

One could argue that it is hard to have rules for and expectations of churches because there is no enforcement mechanism—at least not since Ananias and Sapphira!

But let’s set aside for the moment Judgment Day questions that God will ask and focus on daily decisions that most likely fall into the category of opinion, not into the category of deadly sins.  Let’s look at decisions like whether to have Bible classes for children, how long the worship and praise service should be, whether to spend 8 million dollars on a new building, which preacher to hire, or whether to discipline adulterous church members or not.

Besides these opinion questions,  church leaders are called upon to decide doctrinal questions as well,  like whether this church will be Calvinistic or pre-millennial, or whether to baptize with the Spirit or with water—or both. They almost always decide who can be a member of this church and who can’t.

With no “umpires” who holds your church leaders accountable for their decisions?  Who decides if they are wise, if they are prudent, if they are good shepherds, or if they are incompetent or unwise or cowardly?  Who determines what is foul or fair when a church leader is at bat?

It’s not as if churches make no attempt at holding leaders accountable:

  • Some churches use a democratic vote. The vocal majority leads and the loyal opposition attempts to hold them accountable.  Sounds good to Americans, but it is not really biblical.
  • Some churches use a representative vote.  Members vote church leaders in or out, according to whether they have represented your viewpoint successfully in church meetings. Again, more a pragmatic solution than a biblical one.
  • Some churches choose to allow an oligarchy.  These are the churches who either allow a small group of life-time appointed leaders to have absolute rule, or it could be a small group of senior staff with so much seniority that they are like banks which are too big to fail.  The common thread is no accountability.
  • Many newer churches and some very old ones are centered around single persons as the Hegemon. Dictator or tyrant is too strong and negative. Monarch suggests divine right—and some make this claim—but it is still not my favorite term. The underlying problem is the very fact of a single leader with absolute power and no accountability, and this danger is a fact even if the church acquiesces to a benevolent, but absolute leader.
  • Some churches—usually smaller ones–believe they exist without leaders. In my opinion, those don’t really exist because the more likely truth is that the church has leaders, but they are simply not designated leaders, rather leaders by default.

I think we can all agree that regardless of how your church is organized that it is accountable to God as are all the leaders as well as all the members. But how do we have an accountable leadership on earth in time and space when God does not seem to strike people dead for lying or open the earth to swallow his people for rebellion.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Recognize that leadership in the Body of Christ is a gift of God (Romans 12:8). Those who have the gift are the true leaders, whether designated or not, and those without the gift of leadership may be doing leadership tasks, but are not the true leaders of your church.  A healthy church identifies those with the gift of leadership and uses them to lead.
  • While you may not believe that Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus are a divine checklist for church pastors/bishops/elders/deacons/leaders/servants, they are certainly inspired instructional information and should not be ignored or lightly amended.  If every church leader were of the caliber required by Paul, fewer replays would be needed.
  • Implement what we at Let’s Start Talking call 1A Leadership, that is “One Another” leadership.  Here are the instructions for this leadership model. You will find them very simple:

Be devoted to one another in love.

Honor one another above yourselves.

Live in harmony with one another.

Stop passing judgment on one another.

Accept one another.

Instruct one another.

Encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.

Serve one another.

Submit to one another

Bear with each other and forgive one another.

Teach and admonish one another.

Love one another.

So everyone is an umpire?  Somehow the baseball metaphor begins to break down because umpires are determiners and enforcers. What churches should have are encouragers, instructors, servants, admonishers, and lovers.

If churches were led by these kinds of leaders, our Sundays would be filled with replays—not to determine who is safe and who is out—no, rather to celebrate over and over again the exemplary displays of Christ-likeness.

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babe ruthBases loaded! One run down! Bottom of the ninth! Two outs! And you, the team captain come up to bat! Best player!  Most dependable! Cheerleader for the whole team!

And you strike out on three pitches!

I’ve read that one of the most difficult things for great baseball players to accept as they move from being a high school or college superstar to playing professionally is the inevitable and frequent disappointments—even failure—that is part of the game.

Hall of Fame players only get hits 30% of the time!  That means 7 out of 10 times that they bat, they make an out!

The big sluggers, the home-run kings, strike out more than anyone else, and only hit a home run about 1 out of 15 times at bat.

What do you do as a church/ministry leader when you “strike out?”  What do you do when you make a bad financial decision, the wrong hire, a damaging strategic decision?  What do you do when you and everyone in the whole stadium know that you just struck out on three pitches?

  • Some players blame the umpire, the fans, their wife, the team spirit—everybody but themselves.
  • Some players just throw the bat and slam their helmet down in rage. That helps everybody on the team feel better!
  • Some players give up on themselves; they quit.
  • Some players play cavalier—just pretend like it didn’t make any difference!

If these are not productive ways to respond when you strike out, what might we do:

  • Admit that you struck out!  Don’t try to pretend that you didn’t.
  • Don’t blame other people! Even if the pitcher is GREAT, he’s not striking everyone out, so somebody is hitting him!  The umpire is not calling everyone out on strikes.
  • Seek to understand the reason you struck out. Did you guess incorrectly? Were you too aggressive, too impatient, too unfocused? Did you irritate the umpire?
  • When you think you might know why, you might think about whether this is an area that you can improve upon with training, with practice, with coaching, with self-control—and then do what you need to do!
  • If you can’t figure out what you did wrong, then ask other people to tell you—and listen to them.
  • Get back up to bat as soon as you can.  Fear of failure is really bad! Once that gets into your head and takes over, it is increasingly difficult to succeed again.

In church leadership and ministry, even the best leaders are going to make dramatic errors. I’m not talking about moral choices or integrity issues, I’m just talking about bad decisions.  These decisions affect people’s jobs, people’s lives, and sometimes even people’s faith because so much of what people believe is wrapped up in the leaders they follow.

That is why it is so painful, just gut-wrenching when you make big, wrong decisions.

The Bible is full of great men who made terrible decisions:

  • Abram passes Sara off as his sister to Pharaoh
  • Jacob steals the birthright from Esau
  • Joseph can’t keep his dreams to himself
  • Moses kills the Egyptian in rage. Later he gets so frustrated with his people that he overstates his own role in satisfying their needs and offends God.
  • Samson, Jephthah, Eli—the judges God chose made big mistakes.
  • King Saul, even David, and especially Solomon

Haven’t you wondered as I have about the great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, that is, how some of them made the list?  All of these were leaders—but all of them only got hits 3 out of 10 at-bats!!

After that list of great heroes in Hebrews 11, the writer says thatout of weakness [they]were made strong “ (v.34).

You will strike out!  Maybe a lot!  But if you can acknowledge your weakness and respond to it in a godly way, He can still make you a Hall of Fame player!

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Jackie Robinson We finally saw 42 last night! The theater was so full that we could not sit with our friends who came with us, so either lots of people are seeing it more than once, or we are not the only ones who waited too long to see it.

If you haven’t seen 42 yet, go see it tonight before it disappears from the theaters in your city.

42 is the story of Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) and Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman)  breaking the color line in Major League Baseball.  Sure, it’s a baseball movie, but it’s so much more.  It’s a reminder of how ugly racism and prejudice are; the film is also a lesson in the kind of bravery and extraordinary effort required to challenge the status quo.

In 1943, Branch Rickey, then general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, quite intentionally began looking for the right black ballplayer to be the first African American in Major League Baseball since the1880s.  He may not have chosen the best baseball player in the Negro League, but he chose the one who could withstand the intense and acrimonious personal attacks that would come with being the first black major leaguer.  The one chosen had to not only be a great ballplayer, but one who “had the guts not to fight back” when the inevitable blows and threats came.

branch rickeyIn 1945, Rickey signed Jackie Robinson! The real drama of the film is Robinson’s struggle to answer the brutal harassment and racial slurring without stooping to similar tactics—a great lesson for the kids that will watch this movie!

The movie carries a rating of PG-13, not really because of the usual suspects: sex, violence, or even bad language, but because of the vicious racial comments. One particular scene has the opposing manager smugly slandering Robinson with every racial slur you’ve ever heard and it just goes on and on and on! I don’t know if a 10-year-old should be exposed to such vitriol, perhaps at least until they have studied some of the history and have a context for understanding it.

But your teenagers should see it!  They need to know what racism looks like and what it has taken to make any progress, so that they are not guilty in the future of the same social hatred.

Here are some ideas for the conversation on the way home—or if you are renting, even as you watch.

  • Why was Branch Rickey willing to go against all of his friends and advisors, why was he willing to “cause trouble” just to have a black baseball player on his team?  What would it take for you to do something like that?
  • How hard was it for Jackie Robinson to always “turn the other cheek?”  Do you think he should have fought back in a different way?
  • Did you notice one of the last scenes when the little boy learns to use the “n” word from listening to his dad at the ballpark?  What happened then that really confused the boy?  (The boy’s baseball hero Pee Wee Reese puts his arm around Robinson as a friend! Now the boy is getting two conflicting messages about Robinson.)
  • Are there any people around that our family looks down on? Or certain groups of kids at school that other kids look down on? (Be quiet and let your kids answer! You could really learn a lot!)

Don’t let your kids forget that this is a true story—and only part of the story.  A strength of the film is that it doesn’t take on Robinson’s whole career or his life story. It’s just the story of the breakthrough.  That does give you and your children plenty of space for further reading and research if you want.

Branch Rickey—and despite some critics who thought otherwise, I thought Harrison Ford did a terrific job, both of not just playing Harrison Ford, but also of bringing a historic  person to life—had some especially memorable lines.

But the speech that made the audience clap was when Rickey is talking to another GM who is refusing to allow his team to take the field against the Dodgers if Robinson is on the field, Rickey asks if him if he thinks God likes baseball. Rickey then tells him that if on Judgment Day God asks him why his team didn’t take the field and his answer is because of Robinson, that God is going to find that answer “insufficient!”

I think Rickey is right!  This movie portrays good people doing good things in the face of an immoral system propagated by hatred and ignorance, and the good prevails!  That’s a movie you should watch!

And, btw, God does like baseball!  His first book starts out, “In the big inning!”

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Wildcard Wednesday was a historic night in major league baseball.  The losers lost after being ahead and appearing to be winners. The winners won after looking like losers until the very last moment.  The losers (Boston and Atlanta) lost worse than anybody before them! No team had ever collapsed as badly as both of these teams did in September.

It was a great day for the game of baseball—but that’s not the way life really works!

Let’s lay out the metaphor to make sure we are talking about the same things. Instead of a game, I’m talking about Life—your life and my life—and in place of the last game, I’m talking about what the Scriptures call the Day of Judgment.   What is at stake is eternal life, not a pennant.

Here’s where I want to go with this metaphor:

First, there will be no surprises on that last day!  Everyone will know what is true. They will also know what is false.  They will all confess that Jesus is Lord! Those who are saved will know why and those who are lost will know why. No surprises.

Second, the winners will all be winners and the losers will lose.  Those who have been saved are guarded, their salvation is sealed, and no one will be lost.  The losers may have pretended at times to be saved, but they don’t fool God. He has seen their heart from the beginning and known its hardness.

Third, no walk-offs –no unexpected victory for the hopeless !  Jesus already has defeated death. He trampled it—so while a last minute conversion may appear to us as a last minute victory, we have not surprised Jesus! He has been pursuing and preparing for that “last minute” since the foundation of the world.

Fourth, no triple play can spoil the victory! The opponent is helpless against the righteousness of God. The opponent is helpless—not that he cannot create pain and havoc, not that he can’t challenge and twist and lie—but the opponent does not have the power to pull off a miraculous play that dooms one that wants to be saved and belongs to the Lord.

I love baseball and can’t wait for the roller coaster of emotions during the playoffs this year, but I’m glad that my salvation does not depend on something as capricious as—me!

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Roger Clemens, first round draft pick in 1983 by the Boston Red Sox, Cy Young Award Winner seven times for being the best pitcher in baseball that season, Most Valuable Player in the American League in 1986, winner of 354 games in twenty-four seasons, and one of the greatest pitchers of the modern era, this same Roger Clemens is going to trial next week for lying to Congress—committing perjury is the formal term for it, but it is still just lying!

Pitchers are paid big bucks to be deceptive. They hide their hands in their delivery to keep the batter from discovering how they hold the ball. They hide their mouths when they talk to the catcher. The throw one pitch to make the batter think they are getting ready to throw another. With only talent and no deception, would Clemens have been as successful as he was?

Of course, in a game where both sides know that deception is part of the strategy, we don’t feel any moral dilemma, but when one swears before a court to tell the truth and then lies, the consequences are more dire.

Psychologists say that most people lie multiple times every day, from the simple “what a nice dress!” to  lies that seem only for convenience: “I got caught in traffic, that’s why I’m late.” Then, of course, other lies grow in seriousness: “no, I was working late at the office” or your signature on your tax form that says you have told the truth.

We know what God thinks about lying.  “The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy,” says the writer of Proverbs (12:22). Liars are included in the same list with the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, and idolaters, who all will receive final punishment.

If that isn’t enough, here are some other reasons to avoid lying:

  1. Lying hurts people. Just lie to someone you love about anything important and see if they aren’t hurt! See if the relationship doesn’t suffer! Sometimes even jokingly lying will produce the same effect–which is sometimes a cover-up anyway!
  2. Lying makes you distrust other people. You think they lie too.
  3. Lying keeps you on edge for fear of being caught.
  4. Lying successfully is very difficult to do. It is easy to mess up and get caught in one’s own web.
  5. Lying shows a lack of courage to face the truth, so the liar feels like a coward.
  6. People don’t like liars when they are found out, so you can lose lots of friends.
  7. One lie can destroy a whole career of achievement!

Telling the truth sets you free!  Sure it is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and sometimes even incriminating because we are all sinners, but isn’t that the First Truth that we have to confess before God can do His work of Grace on us.  My name is Mark Woodward and I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Until we can tell the truth, God may let us believe our own lies and suffer the consequences in our own bodies (Romans 1).  Perversion of truth leads to perversion everything good.

Once we learn to tell the truth, then we learn to love the truth!  ! Speaking the truth in love!  The truth proceeds from love, is motivated by love, and is framed by love.  Truth and Love seem to be indivisible, don’t they! Both are the same core attribute of God.

I always liked Roger Clemens and I hope he wasn’t lying. If he was, I hope he’ll tell the truth now. But I pray even harder that I will love the truth and tell the truth—all the time.

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