Bot9 - Doing Spiritual Work

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Last week I referred to all of us as “baseball missionaries.” Through writing and coaching the game, I’ve learned how to help people make connections to faith with, through, and using examples from the game. It’s an opportunity to live like Jesus if just for a moment - you get to help someone make a connection to the Holy Spirit through an example from baseball. It’s truly amazing.

You can do this, too. In fact, I would say that you’re called to do it. You’re called to make disciples of baseball players and coaches, just as I am. You’re called to teach them and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In our Western model of education and ministry, we have come to believe that you need an expert to do these things. Nope, not a thing. The Bible doesn’t say you need certified, to take a class, or earn a degree to do spiritual work. I’m certainly not downplaying those things, and I have been looking into things like ordination, seminary, and the like. I’d enjoy doing that level of learning. But it’s not a requirement.

Check out John 4:2. The whole verse is in parentheses: (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples).

Interesting, isn’t it? Jesus is on earth, He’s the expert. Does He do the baptizing? Nope, the disciples do it. The guys He found in all walks of life and in all levels of failure. They did it. There’s are two really important principles in here, and I think it carries over to other parts of the ministry as well. The first is to just do the work the Holy Spirit is calling you to do. Be available to people and share what Jesus is teaching you.

The second is hold that work loosely. In Acts 8, we are blessed with the story of Philip and the eunuch. I’d encourage you to read the whole story, but take a look at the baptism part of the story in Acts 8:36-39:

And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

This was one of those stories that I had to pay attention to as it came up in a conversation with my wife and then in the sermon at church. Here’s Philip teaching the eunuch and they come upon some water. Philip baptizes him and the Lord carries Philip away. Philip’s work there was done. Move on. Let the Holy Spirit go from there.

Bot9 - We Are Baseball Missionaries

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If you’re reading this, I’d refer to you as a baseball missionary. You see your time on the baseball diamond as time in the harvest field. You recognize the lessons of God and Christ that are available to be taught in and through the game. You’re looking at things with spiritual eyes and not physical ones.

The audience of Bottom of the Ninth are baseball players, coaches, and parents across the country and world with similar eyes. But we know that few share this view with us. For most, baseball is just a source of recreation, a game to be played for fun. I’ve been floored by the number of Christian people who separate what happens in their spiritual lives with what occurs on the baseball field. Baseball (and other sports) is the microscope for where you are in your spiritual walk and maturity. It provides all of us with a stick by which we can measure our progress.

I watched Silence this weekend with my wife. Silence is the story of priests who endure incredible trials to share the Gospel in the nation of Japan in the 1600s. So much of the film was about the subversive, underground attempts to encourage the believers in the secret churches, and the violent attempts by the Buddhists to thwart the spread of Christianity in Japan. It’s a fascinating film and one worth watching and processing.

The thing that stuck with me is this - through Complete Game we are called to spread “The Gospel of Jesus in the Language of Baseball.” In Silence, they were called to spread the Gospel of Jesus through the language and culture of the Japanese. It’s a long, hard road and it requires deep, intimate understanding of the culture. You’re not going to colonize a group of people who process and think about things one way to an entirely different way of thinking overnight, through a single message, or a single blog post.

Our call as baseball missionaries is to learn, to observe, to walk this road, and to live out both of these Scriptures:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” - Matthew 10:16

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only…” - James 1:22

Get into the culture of baseball and learn it. Make the movement of Complete Game like the secret church. Help people to see that this game is meant to find and build disciples. For if the purpose is only the game, there is no purpose at all. This beautiful game was created so that we can show people the goodness of God and the glory of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” - John 1:3

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” - Colossians 1:16

Bot9 - Relationships

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We are made for relationship. Relationship with God and others. Follow this thought from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:5-8):

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus didn’t have to come from Heaven to dwell with us. But He did. He chose to serve us. All of us. He came to be in relationship with us and to express the importance of relationship in His teachings. The importance of Christ making this choice cannot be overstated. He didn’t stay in Heaven, turn the clock, and let everything go. He came to earth, to know and be known.

With this being the case, why do we justify barriers to relationship? As a player, you might choose to dislike a teammate, to hold onto a hurt, or to look down upon someone. As a coach, you might choose to protect yourself from relationships with parents, or draw lines in the sand that keeps you from knowing your players (or them knowing you). I’m not talking about the obvious boundaries protecting us all from inappropriate relationships. I’m talking about having a group of students over to your house for a barbecue, or a game, or inviting kids to come to church with you and your family. Like Christ, we should seek to know and be known.

The Maker of Life invested in our life. He seeks to dwell in each of us through the Holy Spirit. Take time in the next month to build deeper relationships. Talk about the pennant races, and invite players and teammates over for the World Series. Pull your players into your office and have a conversation about their life. Grab your teammates and do something together as a group in a low-pressure environment. It’s the best time in the annual cycle of college, high school, and youth baseball programs to invest in lives as a foundational element to your coaching. In this you will be living out the essence of servant leadership as Christ did.

Bot9 - Confidence

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I had an epiphany about confidence this weekend. This may be something that has occurred to many of you previously, but this idea became much more clear to me while coaching girls softball this past Saturday.

I’m coaching hitters on a high school softball team this fall. Coaching girls is awesome. They’re kind. They’re respectful. They listen. They also internalize their performance very differently than most boys. When they come up short on the field, they really FEEL it and show the emotion of those feelings. Boys seem to have it trained into them to bury the negative and forget it quicker. Girls seem to open up those emotions, whether they’re in the middle of a competition or not. As a coach it makes it so much easier to know what mountains you’re trying to move in that moment. It’s very cool.

Now here’s the epiphany - confidence and faith are connected. Deeply. They might be so similar that they’re close to the same thing. What I’m finding is that girls (and maybe people, in general, growing up in this generation where media is so readily available) connect their results to their confidence. If they don’t see it happen, it’s not real. It’s not possible.

Here’s the thing - that’s not faith. It’s not confidence either. Your results are not a firm foundation for confidence. They’re important building blocks towards confidence, but they’re not the foundation. Jesus says this in Matthew 7:24-27:

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

This parable connects the dots. Our foundation must be built on that which is constant, never changing. Our performance is always changing. Jesus and His teachings are never changing. They are eternal. How you play that day is like a storm. It’s calm, it rains and storms, and then it’s calm again. We must build our house of confidence and faith on a firm foundation.

We must continue to encourage people in this regard. I love verses like 2 Corinthians 5:7 (“For we live by faith, not by sight.”) and Hebrews 11:1 (“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”) because they also speak to this idea. Faith means we don’t see it, but confidence means we have belief in what we do not see. Listen to the voices in your life that raise your faith and confidence, and be one of those voices for others!

Bot9 - Errors & Mistakes

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Look at the picture. There is no part of that player who wanted to make that error in front of his teammates, his coaches, the fans, and the television audience. He didn’t make that error on purpose. What’s the proper response to an error such as this?

Yell at him!

Sorry, that was sarcastic. But a lot of coaches would choose that course of action, right? Belittle the person for the mistake he just made so that he’ll be so afraid he won’t repeat the error. What that teaches the players is to react in fear and to yell at their kids when they are coaching their own kids. It’s the circle of life.

Just kidding.

Paul’s words in Romans 3:32 will forever be true: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Yes, we all screw up. We all make errors. We all make mistakes. One of the keys to our own success is how quickly we realize the truth of Psalm 103:12 (“as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”) when we seek forgiveness for those sins and make a better path forward.

As coaches, one of the most valuable things we can do when we see a mistake or an error is take a step back and ask ourselves this question: “Is that person ignorant, weak in the habit, or rebelling?” If they are ignorant or weak in the habit, it’s up to us to train them better and create a stronger learning environment. If they are rebelling, we have the opportunity to restore them gently back into good living. That one reflective question will allow you to assess yourself as a coach and dive into deeper relationships with your team.

I’m watching the team I’m coaching now deal with themselves harshly. When they make an error or mistake, they beat themselves up pretty good. It is my hope that they will learn to forgive themselves the way their coaches and Christ already have!

Bot9 - How Should I Coach?

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One of my favorite podcasts is “GM Street” on The Ringer. Former NFL GM Michael Lombardi goes through a series of NFL topics from his perspective, as he draws on a wealth of personal interactions and experiences from NFL legends ranging from Bill Walsh to Al Davis to Bill Belichick.

This past week, Lombardi gave his perspective on how coaching should be done. The great coaches now learned from a great coach in the past, and it seems there’s a “way” to do it. Because a head coaching job in the NFL is harder to get than one in the US Senate (30 jobs vs. 100 jobs), fitting into that tight funnel doesn’t leave much room for error. Lombardi is convinced that you have to be a hard man, even somewhat distant as a leader, in order to become a head football coach in the NFL.

The NFL might be a lot like the military and require such an approach to be successful, but I’m concerned that people look to those coaches as their role models when their coaching context is nowhere near the National Football League, the military, or be an organization that would require “life or death” kinds of decisions for individuals and countries.

It’s important for us to realize that the idea of “coaching” is relatively new, one that in the sports context only stretches to about 150 years. The military style of coaching has dominated our understanding of that vocation, but I wonder if the history of coaching is much longer than we realize.

One of my mentors referred to Jesus as “the master coach.” Jesus was certainly many things (Lord, Savior, Lion, Lamb, keep the list coming…), and I love this image of Him as a coach. Choosing His team. Discipling His followers in the way to go. Helping people do more than they could do on their own. Would Jesus as a coach resemble the picture Lombardi portrays as the best practices for a coach, or would it look different?

At the end of the day, Jesus didn’t coach in the NFL, or the MLB, or the NBA…and neither do most coaches. The context of our coaching matters. If that’s the case, maybe we would do ourselves good to look to Jesus as the master coach, and not the leaders in the NFL. The context may not be the same as the end goal and purpose may not be the same. I’m not going to pretend to know what it looks like to coach at that level, but I think it is safe to say that the highest level of coaching would be one that keeps in mind the great commission as an end goal for coaching for most of us.

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…"(Matthew 28:19 NIV)

Bot9 - Arrogance of Knowledge

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I’ve been around a lot of baseball coaches in the past 20 years. One thing I have heard from many (not all, but many) is that they only want to work with the best kids. They might only want to coach Varsity baseball, or they might only feel fulfilled if they work with college players. I’ve even heard some say that they “wouldn’t waste their time” coaching younger kids or those with less talent.

It seems that there is a human tendency that brings our flesh to that point and I think the issue is valuing head knowledge over wisdom. The more we learn or feel like we know, the higher status we apply to ourselves. And, the better our experiences and success, that pride can go even higher. We forget the words of Albert Einstein - “the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

Here recently I’ve been feeling a strong pull to do more ministry in the baseball community. I want to coach more like Jesus. I want to point more kids to Jesus. I’m trying to reject and push against the resume I’ve accumulated through the years, and lean into what would allow me to show Jesus to more people.

As a part of that process, I met with a pastor from our church last week. As we discussed ministry, vocation, and so on, he asked me this question - “Would you prefer to do ministry for believers or non-believers?” I had never considered the difference, but there is a profound divide between ministry to both of these groups, isn’t there?

I wonder if some of this separation comes from the same thing as the older baseball coach experiences - a lot of head knowledge that leads to a level of arrogance. We all need reminders like this at different stages and different phases. Maybe my thoughts in this area come from the later-in-life transformation that I experienced in my 27th year. I resonate and celebrate with the person who comes to the Cross like a child. May we all take the reminder this week and walk with a child-like faith this week, seeking the newness and the wonder of a child in faith.

Matthew 18:1-4, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Bot9 - Rivalries

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This past weekend was another installment of one of the great rivalries in baseball, and all of sports - the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox. As a Red Sox guy, images like the one above and the weekend sweep bring joy to my heart. However, as a Red Sox guy, there’s also the lingering suspicion that this year’s team being touted as the “best Red Sox team ever” has the potential to end miserably. Old habits in the hearts of fans die hard, even after success!

The rekindling of an old rivalry got me thinking about the nature of rivalries. To say rivalries aren’t Biblical would be inaccurate. They’re everywhere in the Book! Cain and Abel. Jacob and Esau. Joseph and his brothers. David and Saul. The two brothers in the parable of the Prodigal son. Even Jesus and the religious leaders of the day sparked a rivalry ending in Christ’s death.

As I heard one popular preacher of the Word say this week, the Bible is a chronicle of people doing things wrong as much as it is a set of directions of how to do things right. Rivalries exist because of our fallen nature and they’re real. We create adversarial relationships against other people, teams, and ideas. Does competition really need to be this way?

I’m convinced that it doesn’t. I believe that the words of Christ and the words of Paul can be applied in such a way on the field that it will draw out the best in us. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:25-26) This speaks to the idea of rivalry and gives us an opportunity to focus on the Spirit in competition.

We have no need to become conceited when we experience success, and we have no need to envy someone else when we’re on the short end of the stick. We can accept success humbly and learn when we fall short. This makes sport an open door to learning. Rivalries in sport are fun in that they raise the intensity of a given contest. But what is God calling us to in those moments of highest intensity? An opportunity to live by the Spirit and be joyful no matter the outcome.

What’s your favorite rivalry and how has it drawn out the best in you? The CG community would love to know! Reply or share your answer via the Complete Game social media platforms today.

Bot9 - Called Up

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On Sunday night during a delay before Sunday Night Baseball, David Ross was telling Tim Kurkjian and Karl Ravech about his experience of being called up to the big leagues for the first time. His minor league manager brought the team together before the game, started talking about the plan for the game as a distraction, but then shared the news about Ross being called up with the whole team. It was a moment the whole team got to enjoy, a dream for all of them to share.

I will never forget the first time I watched a player get called up. When I was a batboy for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, our locker was at the end of the row, right in front of the pay phone (yep, the pay phone). In August of that 1990 season, Jeff Shaw got the call to the big leagues. I remember the congratulatory handshakes and pats on the back, but what really struck me was the phone call he made to is dad. He was shaking, nearly crying, as he called his father to share the news with him. It was an amazing moment to be able to witness.

As my wife, Alyson, and I continued reading Moving Mountains by John Eldredge this weekend, it became more apparent that Eldredge is calling us up to a higher level of prayer, a "big-league" level of prayer, if you will. He uses three words to describe different stages of one's prayer life - a slave, an orphan, and a son.

Many of us pray as if we are slaves - slaves to a religious system, to our thoughts, or to trying to limit the emotion we're willing to share with God (as if He doesn't know). We're bound in some way and Eldredge's encouragement is to "turn off the editor." This one really resonated with me as I wondered if I've been too controlled in my prayer life.

The next stage, phase, or mindset was as an orphan. Eldredge used the examples of praying for scraps, hoping to just get the stuff that falls from the table of God's feast. It's thinking that the world's resources are scarce, when the God who created the whole world only has a little for His creation.

The final idea was that of praying as a son. As my kids get older, I continue to connect deeply with this idea of a Father's relationship to his kids. When I got home from reading with Alyson, my son was standing up on the outside deck. He saw me and just said, "Hi, daddy." It made me think, "When was the last time I started my prayers for the day or in the moment with a simple, 'Hi, Daddy.'"? Ever? While I did reach a new level of authenticity in my prayers this week - a tearful call that was one of those, "this is just too hard and too much to handle" kind of prayer - I think it's time for me to be called up to a new level of relationship, a sonship, in my prayers with my Heavenly Father.

I want to encourage all of us to call our to our Father like a son this week. Maybe in a "Hi, Daddy" kind of prayer. Maybe in a real, authentic cry for mercy. Or maybe shaking with joy as you're overwhelmed because something incredible happened to you like when Jeff Shaw got called up to the big leagues. Let's make this our big-league level of prayer - one that we can all choose to attain.