Bot9 - Triumph

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The word "triumph" fits when a person or character overcomes their greatest obstacle. Triumph only works as it applies to a great victory or achievement. It comes at the end of a long journey and it doesn't come easily. Triumph doesn't fit anything that applies to instant gratification. It's a word that hints at a great spiritual overcoming.

The triumphant moment is worthy of horns blaring or fireworks falling on the field, as they did at the conclusion of The Natural. The word once referred to how a victorious general would be greeted back home in Ancient Rome. Crowds cheering, music playing, and people celebrating. These are the signs of a triumph.

One of my favorite moments of triumph happened in the dugout of the 2016 state championship at Valor Christian. We were up 9-5 going into the bottom of the seventh, but those last three outs were far from easy. Our opponent, Pueblo West, was a gritty, very competitive group. They had beaten us in the double elimination tournament the weekend before. With one out and a runner on first, a potential double play ball bounced oddly over our shortstop's head. Then with two outs, the hitter hit a ball to our pitcher's backhand. While the ball hit his glove and bounced close enough for an easy play at first base, that particular pitcher had experienced the "yips" throwing to first base throughout the spring. He bounced the ball to our first baseman, who made a great play to keep the ball in front of him (video would show that he caught the ball for an out, but whatever), the runner was called safe and a run scored. The score was now 9-6 with their most powerful hitter coming to the plate.

It was here that the sounds of triumph began. First, I took a mound visit to check on the guys. Let's just say that the first baseman made a joke, the team laughed, and I felt good about where they were mentally. But my tension was still high. That tightness in my belly kept growing as I went down the dugout steps. As I turned to watch the action, a song came to my ear - Chris Tomlin's "Good, Good Father." It wasn't actually playing, but I heard a song and I started quietly singing along. Soon after the chorus began, the opposing hitter blasted a line drive that landed in our right fielder's glove. The celebration was on and the triumph was complete.

While at the end of the day this is just winning a baseball game, it's a symbol of being victorious after a long journey. It's a reminder that keeps me believing that I can triumph again. I hope our Bot9 readers have those same reminders as they walk with the Lord through their journeys. They are valuable for more than just the victory.

Bot9 - The Greatest Obstacle

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The highest mountain.

The darkest tunnel.

The deepest abyss.

The greatest obstacle of any character or person is the climax of the journey, the moment of desperation, that all-in moment. It’s the moment when we ask “Will he survive this?” or “Will he emerge victorious?” Hollywood has desensitized us to this, to some extent by making every character win in the end, but more on that in a minute.

This is the moment in the journey that has to be so bleak that we (the audience or those witnessing it) are just not sure if the character or person is going to succeed or even survive. The ultimate example of this is Easter - Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Jesus was dead. The Scripture makes this clear in John 19:34 when the solider pierces Jesus’s side and blood and water comes from the wound. His disciples are downtrodden and all seems lost.

But Jesus emerges from the tomb. He is raised from the dead and overcomes the ultimate. Hallelujah!

On the baseball field, this journey is occurring on some level throughout a season for every player. Everyone faces a series of difficulties, often coming to a head late in the season. Sometimes it even looks like Roy Hobbs from The Natural. His bat has been broken, his weapon vanquished. He’s bleeding from the side, the wound he suffered earlier in his journey (those wounds look different for every player, but they’re always there). There’s a young fireballer on the mound looking to grab the mantle of fame. It’s a beautiful picture of a climactic moment on a baseball field, and we see it all of the time.

Now, and here’s a spoiler alert of all spoiler alerts, the best part of The Natural is largely unknown. While Hobbs succeeds in overcoming his greatest obstacle in the movie, he fails in the book. Can you believe that? What an incredible juxtaposition of the same character! The filmmakers paint the classic picture of Hollywood success, while the author (Bernard Malamud) provides a very human picture of what so many experience in baseball. The amazing thing is that both stories work.

In the words of another wise baseball sage, “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. And sometimes it rains.” This is true in the game of baseball and in some of the great journeys of life. Thankfully, at the end of all of it, for those who acknowledge Christ as Lord, we know that through Jesus’s resurrection that we will all share eternal life with Him. That represents the ultimate journey for all of us.

Bot9 - Trials & Temptations

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The next stage of the spiritual journey includes trials and temptations. Many trials and many temptations. Generally speaking, either in life or when watching a character work through this journey in film, this is the bulk of time spent. We have so many things to work through, confront, and overcome before we are prepared. The preparation is for the final mountain to climb or to dive deep into the abyss (to mix metaphors). It’s the preparation for the greatest struggle and every step along the way is necessary.

Scripture, in particular the New Testament writings, speaks specifically to trials and temptations. James 1:2-4 is probably the verse referenced most often in the context of trials:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The Apostle Peter also references trials in 1 Peter 1:6-7:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Though we often point to the Cross when connecting the idea of trials and temptations to Jesus, Christ refers directly to trials in Luke 22:28-30:

You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Trials and temptations are real and they will be rewarded. It is also important to remember that nothing will be wasted in the process. Erwin McManus spoke to this idea in his weekly message through the Mosaic podcast just this past week. As we work through difficulty, nothing will be wasted in the process. We will need and use all of the lessons learned in our journey, and everything we go through has value.

In this vein, I think about Roy Hobbs from The Natural and The Lady in White. She is his long-since-forgotten love from back on the farm, the one that he left behind to chase his dream. But, right in the middle of a road trip, there she is. An experience not wasted and on opportunity to learn. As you work through a trial yourself, or as your watch a character work through it in film, remember that every lesson learned will be used for good. Nothing is wasted.

Inside-Out Living - HS Coaches Edition

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Complete Game has partnered with the Colorado Dugout Club, the high school baseball coaches association. As a part of that partnership, CG will be producing a series specifically for high school coaches. As this special series draws to a close, we hope these posts have served to unite, encourage, and resource the baseball community in Colorado and across the country.

It’s playoff time. As the saying goes, “the cows are in the barn.” Coaches and players across the state have done all they can to prepare for the moments to come - the elimination games, the moments of passion and excitement, and the trophy presentations. May is in exciting time for baseball in the state of Colorado.

During this time of the year, it’s incredibly important for us to recognize and remember where we are placing our identities as coaches as the season draws to a close. If your identity as a man and as a coach is based on the outcome of your season, odds are you’re going to judge yourself as a disappointment. Five teams will win a baseball state championship, while over 300 started the year on the diamond. Outcomes cannot dictate our identity.

Throughout the Bible, it seems that God is far more interested in humans engaging in inside-out living, keeping our identity centered on Christ. The heart is where God desires to dwell. He’s not looking at the outside, but the inside. As David is chosen by the Lord for His purposes in 1 Samuel 16:7, the Lord says to Samuel, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

As a coach and as a leader, you control two things - the atmosphere you create in the program and the habits you’ve allowed to develop throughout the year. Has the atmosphere you’ve created reflected the joyous overflow of your heart? Are you building intentional, loving relationships with our God and with your athletes to an effort to build your atmosphere? Are the habits you’re trying to create within the players based on living ideas? Do those habits reflect Paul’s thoughts to the Philippians: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8)?

Whether your season is coming to an end or playoff intensity is set to rise, seek to get your team to compete WITH the team in the other dugout and not AGAINST that team. You’re each playing the game and drawing out the best in one another. The greatest athletes in the world understand this idea and it draws out the beauty in a competition. Your players and your coaches are going to rise to the level of their training. You might as well create a beautiful atmosphere and enjoy the day, win or lose. Continue to find new ways to live an inside-out life with Christ at the center of your heart!

Bot9 - Community

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One of the most important phases of a transformational journey is being introduced to the community around the hero. For baseball players, like Roy Hobbs, the community includes teammates, coaches, and others who are consistently around the team like trainers, mental game coaches, etc.

Biblically, this theme and idea appears time after time. One of the capstone verses around this idea appears in Hebrews 12:1 when the author of the letter says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” The heading of that section points to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of Our Faith, as the one who places this cloud of witnesses all around us.

It’s interesting that Jesus had a community surrounding Him as well, further enhancing the importance of living the Christian life with others. For the disciples, Jesus has planned rewards for those who stood with Him through His many trials in Luke 22:28-30:

“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

This brings me to wonder this - when we stand beside brothers and sisters in Christ through their trials, will we also receive a treasure in heaven? When we choose to stand by a teammate or a friend in their most difficult times, what do we gain? I’m not suggesting that we should do so for a personal gain, but I wonder if we will be rewarded in some way later. If nothing else, we should seek to grow the community around us and grow that community for others as well.

Bot9 - No Turning Back

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As you’ve taken your first steps out of your comfort zone and overcome the hesitation to move forward, you reach the third stage of the journey - no turning back.

In my opinion, this may actually be a more frightening stage than even the climactic obstacle to conquer, which comes much later. It’s here where everything’s different. The rules have changed. You aren’t sure who is in power and where you fit. You’re not in Kansas anymore.

For Roy Hobbs in The Natural, the New York Knights represent this whole new world and no turning back moment. Why can’t he get in the lineup? Who are the owners up in the private luxury box int he sky? Why is this team stuck in a wasteland without success? This isn’t the joy and glamour he was hoping to experience by reaching the highest level of the game. But it doesn’t matter, there’s no turning back. He’s in the journey and must continue to forge forward.

Take this to the New Testament and imagine the disciples who have chosen to follow Jesus. They’ve seen and heard him do some amazing things - turn water into wine, healings, and a new levels of grace. But you’ve also seen him raise the ire of the establishment. People want to kill him. Is Jesus truly the Son of God who will overcome the power of the Sanhedrin and Pharisees? The disciples are along for the ride. They don’t have any power in the situation, but there’s no turning back. 

Peter’s response to Jesus in John 6:66-69 may capture this the best. The scene goes like this:

“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

When we reach the point of no turning back, it’s vital that we live our lives inside out. Our relationship with God is central to our being - He is the unchanging rock and we trust no one before Him. When we are struck with fear in this no turning back moment, we lean back into the Lord and trust that He does indeed have the words of eternal life.

Bot9 - A Fork In The Road

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Baseball players face many fork-in-the-road moments that have life-altering consequences. For many drafted players, the decision is to choose between going pro or going to college. For high school underclassmen, the decision is to choose a college and baseball program that will be a great fit. For some it is whether to continue playing baseball at all.

After being back in the big leagues for a while, Roy Hobbs from The Natural isn’t getting the time he feels he deserves. When his manager, Pop Fisher, tells him that he’s going to be sent down, Roy faces a fork in the road - to accept the news and go to the minor leagues or stand up for his chance. Roy stands up and his story changes. He’s been biding his time, waiting patiently, and begins his journey to transformation.

Scripture has many of these same fork-in-the-road moments in the story of God’s people. One that has been resonating with me here recently is that of Stephen in Acts 7. We first meet Stephen in Acts 6 as he is chosen as one of those “who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” to fulfill the ministry of God’s word. Stephen becomes well-know for performing “great wonders and signs among the people,” but is brought before the Sanhedrin for blasphemy.

Stephen’s fork-in-the-road moment begins in Acts 7:1 when he is asked, “Are these charges true?” For 50 verses, Stephen eloquently explains the story of God and His people, most often citing stories back to the age surrounding Moses. And, while I’m sure those in the Sanhedrin were increasing with anger throughout Stephen’s outline of the failures of people to recognize that which was right in front of their eyes, I’m going to say that Acts 51-53 is what pushed everything over the edge:

You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.

Oh boy. Stephen’s statements were surely true, but I’m not planning on making a habit of running around calling people “stiff-necked” any time soon.

We all face fork-in-the-road moments that change our lives. For Hobbs, it transforms him into a hero on the big screen. For Stephen, it transforms him into one of the early martyrs of the Christian church. The key is to face your fear as you hesitate in that moment, seek the wisdom of God, and embrace how the Lord wishes to transform you during the upcoming journey.

Love Beats Hate - HS Coaches Edition

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Complete Game has partnered with the Colorado Dugout Club, the high school baseball coaches association. As a part of that partnership, CG will be producing a series specifically for high school coaches. We hope these posts serve to unite, encourage, and resource the baseball community in Colorado and across the country.

Psalm 97:10, “Let those who love the Lord hate evil…”

Can you feel the tension in the picture above? I know I can. I’ve probably caused more of those moments with players than I even realize. It’s not like this coach is preparing to go Bobby Knight on his player and grab him by the throat (yes, I watched The Last Days of Knight this weekend so it’s fresh in my mind), but there’s a high level of conflict here.

As the spring season has progressed, I’ve noticed the amount of time I have to spend outside of competition to get out of an internal state of conflict. Three games in six days raised my frustration and I found my heart in a very judgmental place. I found myself frustrated at other people and paying less attention to my own heart and actions. “Why did their coach create an atmosphere void of joy?” “Why did that coach say that about his own player?” “Why did that coach say that about another team?” Then, during the last game of the week, an opposing player went into second base aggressively when he was clearly out, knocking our second baseman to the ground. I rose up with a “HEY!” and found my body in an angry posture. Our shortstop said something to the player sliding into second as he walked to the opposing coach. Then the opposing coach said something to our shortstop. I’m still bowing up and yelled across the field at their coach.

In reflection, I realized that that moment and my lack of emotional control in that moment had been growing all week. Baseball is a beautiful game where hundreds of little things grow into a crescendo of a big moment or two. It resembles classical music or an incredible film score. While we have no control over where a conductor or author of beautiful music takes what we hear, we do have control over choosing to love and hating evil.

Now that we’re deep into our spring seasons, we have to take a moment to choose love and hate evil. Choose to love that parent who is really after you. Choose to love the player who has just been under your skin. Choose to love your opponents before and after the game. After all, there wouldn’t be a game without them. Make a commitment to yourself to live in the love of the Lord this week and reject evil.

Bot9 - Beginning the Journey

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The beginning of any journey starts with simple choices. For the disciples of Jesus Christ, it was choosing to drop whatever it was that they were doing when Jesus asked them to “Follow me.” (Luke 18:22, Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21). They had to release their known world and enter into something unknown.

For someone like Roy Hobbs from The Natural, a journey might have two beginnings. Think about the courage Hobbs had to posses to leave the farm the first time to follow his dream of becoming "the best baseball player that ever was." And then, after the horrific ending to the first journey due to a bullet shot into his midsection, Hobbs has the courage to continue on the same journey later in his life.

It’s that second journey that has me thinking. In many ways, the first journey we take is fueled by naivete. We believe that we can change the world and conquer any challenge that we may face. We succeed and we fail, and we may even reach the top of the game or a selected profession. Our energy seems without bounds. And then we have a “bullet in the belly” moment like Hobbs. The courage to engage in a second journey, choosing to walk through the runway for another journey, is in there somewhere, but we’re not quite sure if we want to go through it all again.

What incredible grace Christ showed His disciples by squeezing their final experience with Him where the arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection all occur within a week!

I know for me that seeking and choosing to take a second journey is taking time. It’s taking time to learn, to heal, and to grow. It’s taking time to let God show me where He does and does not want me, and even more time to soak in the lessons He wants to teach me. Often times I wish it had only taken a week. Yet, at the same time, I know that deep spiritual lessons that come from the Lord take time. The same was true for Hobbs. It took him years and years to get back to that level of skill and courage. I do hope, especially in those difficult moments, that any season of difficulty I experience is closer to that of the disciples' timeline rather than Hobbs' timeline.

Journeys begin by recognizing you’re in your known world and it’s time to move out of that comfort zone. Sometimes the most important step is the first one, but it sure is a hard one, especially the second time around.