A Baseball Guy's Bible Guide - Judges

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As Joshua passes away and we transition into the book of Judges, we are again reminded of a leader who calls his people to be faithful to the Lord. Joshua’s desire is for the people to show the other nations what God is like. In that vein, Judges is one of the most disappointing accounts in the Bible. We see distinctly what it is like when God’s people choose their own path instead of the Lord’s. As you prepare to read about some of the big ideas from Judges, take some time to read Judges and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of the book (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/judges/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”

Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- My Way
- Cycles
- Stories of Warning


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My Way

Sometimes we like to think we’re living in the most relativistic time in history. We see everyone defining their own path to “truth” and believe this is as bad as it can be. But those of us who immerse ourselves in the Word of God know better. All we’re experiencing now is a repeat of the book of Judges. The final line of Judges, which appears in Judges 21:25, reads, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

This warning brings a special importance to the stories included in the book of Judges. There is much for us to learn about the repercussions of turning away from God and choosing to do things “my way.” In a baseball context, Bryce Harper may provide us with a profound example of the idea of doing things “my way” and illustrating the idea of doing what is right in his own eyes. In no way am I judging Harper - a generational talent who clearly possesses extraordinary skill in the game of baseball. 

Harper’s path to the big leagues began with a choice to circumvent traditional means and accelerate his process to get to the draft at a younger age. He earned his GED in October of 2009 during his sophomore year of high school to earn eligibility for the June 2010 MLB Draft. In the spring 2010 season, he enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada and promptly dominated the league, and was named the conference player of the year along with the Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur player in the United States.

Just nine years later after winning the Rookie of the Year in 2012, MVP in 2015, and being named to the All-Star team six times, Harper signed a record 13-year, $330 million dollar contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. It certainly seems like Harper’s way is working. But his commitment to his way will be something to watch and observe through the course of his whole career. Will he win a World Series? Make the Hall of Fame? Be a beloved member of the community? We will all wait and see without judgment, and in observation of the fruit of doing things “my way” over the long haul.


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Cycles

Building a championship baseball team takes a lot of effort and happens in a similar cycle. There is a period of Building followed by Learning or Gelling as a unit. Those stages are followed by Winning and reaching that team’s Pinnacle, the window for potential championships. Finally, the cycle ends with a period of Falling.

The Red Sox of the 2000s followed this cycle.. Their period of Building included the signing of Manny Ramirez in 2000, a new ownership group in 2002, the hiring of Theo Epstein, and a commitment to cultivating homegrown talent to match the great free agent signings. The organization’s Learning/Gelling and Winning phases flowed together. They lost the 2003 ALCS and hiring Terry Francona after that season. Then in 2004, a symbolic come-from-behind win and fight with the Yankees on July 24 led to them coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS that fall against the Yankees to advance in win the World Series. Three years later, the organization would win the World Series again in 2007. Lastly, the organization experienced an epic stage of Falling in 2011 when they blew the biggest September lead - a nine-game margin through September 3 - and missed the playoffs.

The book of Judges also shows a cycle, this one is a spiral downward before coming to a positive end. The six main Judges in the book show a cycle of Sin leading to the Oppression of the people. It leads the people to Repentance and a period of Deliverance, which ends with a period of Peace. In simple terms, we see the Israelites repeatedly turning away from God and facing the consequences. God raise up judges in different times of rebellion, repentance, and restoration.

Teams working to build a baseball championship are a lot like each of us in different times of our spiritual walks. We go through periods that are easily labelled, possibly even big-picture themes such as Sin, Oppression, Repentance, Deliverance, and Peace.


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Stories of Warning

Baseball history is littered with stories that make our spirits squirm. Gambling scandals such as the 1919 Black Sox and Pete Rose. The cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, the subsequent trials around cocaine usage and distribution in the game, and the peak of the problem taking down stars such as Cy Young award-winner Dwight Gooden. Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus being shot by an obsessed fan in 1949 like Roy Hobbs at the beginning of The Natural. Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson swapping wives and lives in 1973. Mass hysteria during Disco Demolition Night in 1979 and 10-Cent Beer Night in Cleveland in 1974. Baseball has not been immune to iniquity.

The book of Judges is filled with disturbing, violent, and tragic tales. The stories seem to progress form okay to bad to worse throughout the text. We have epic and bloody stories, sexual abuse and violence leading to civil war, and stories serving as a warning to turn away from the wicked ways that have perverted the way of life for all people.

These stories simply point to a hope for the future. A need for God’s grace and a belief that he will send a gracious, capital-K King who will rescue all of God’s people. Even in its worst moments, the book of Judges points us to Jesus - the King of all kings. Let us be reminded through the book of Judges that our ways are limited, that there is a cycle of redemption in which we find ourselves, and the worst stories in history lead to an ultimate redemption in Jesus Christ.

A Baseball Guy's Bible Guide - Joshua

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We made it. We’ve read the Torah and we’re in the Promised Land. Now what? The struggle is actually the same. We’ve got the Torah in hand and now we have to choose God’s ways over our own. We have to seek His will instead of living by the flesh. As you prepare to read about some of the big ideas from Joshua, take some time to read Joshua and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of the book (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/joshua/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”

Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- Being Strong and Courageous
- God-Sized Victories
- What is the Promised Land?


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Being Strong and Courageous

As God commissions Joshua to become the leader of the people, the Lord leaves Joshua with an oft-quoted Bible verse from Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua is the new leader and God’s encouragement is firm. Joshua can be the person to focus the people on being faithful to God through the Torah and experience the blessing of the Promised Land.

The Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers have an extraordinary history of faithfulness and blessing. The organization had two managers from 1954-1996 in Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda, and a clearly articulated philosophy known simply as “The Dodger Way.” For over 40 years the Dodgers experienced blessing and success thanks to that consistency in vision and leadership. When that changed and the “Dodger Way” was thrown aside, it took a long time and a lot of money for the team to recover. Reading more about this has provided me with something of a life goal to get a copy of The Dodger Way and read it cover to cover.

Leadership changes can be difficult, and it takes strength and courage to maintain similar visions for leadership and philosophy. Lasorda took the mantle from Alston just as Joshua took his from Moses. Ultimately, both leaders who followed other great leaders experience blessing because they were willing to be consistent and follow someone else’s lead.


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God-Sized Victories

A good chunk of Joshua deals with the amazing victories the Israelites experienced on the battlefield over the Canaanites. God’s faithfulness and Joshua’s dependance upon the Lord is on full display. I’m glad I’ve never been asked to take my warriors around a city and bring down the walls with trumpets!

In 2007, we had the amazing pleasure of watching a baseball team experienced what can only be called a God-Sized Victory. The Colorado Rockies were 76-72 at the start of play on September 16. 29 days later, they would find themselves in the World Series having won 21 of 22 games, including a 9-8, 13-inning victory in a one-game playoff over the San Diego Padres.

The organization was filled with many faith-filled people and, when they received their championship rings with the team’s “CR” emblazoned on it, they couldn’t help but give credit to God. To the believers in the organization, the “CR” simply meant “Christ Risen.” They had witnessed the power of God through the game of baseball in 2007.

These stories should lead us into deeper faithfulness and commitment so that we, too, might get to experience miracles of the same level.


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What is the Promised Land?

While it is clear that the Promised Land was an actual, geographic place in the Old Testament, reading the Torah and Joshua got me thinking. Does the Promised Land exist as something more internal than external today? Because the Tabernacle became the Temple and Jesus tore the veil of the Temple so the Holy Spirt could dwell in each of us, is the Promised Land accessible to me today?

One of my favorite times is on the high school baseball field on a Saturday morning. The school week is over and instead of practicing or playing in the afternoon, we get to play on Saturday morning. I love it when I walk up to the field, not a hint of wind in the air, and the sound of birds and lawnmowers in the neighborhood resonate through the atmosphere. The peace of those mornings make me think that the Promised Land is accessible to us as well. Sure, moments of success and the opportunities for great joy that the game provides might also give us a sense of the fulfillment of a promise, but I think those moments of internal peace give us the best picture of the Promised Land.

What are your Promised Land moments of peace on the baseball field? I’d love to hear from you as you reflect on God’s Promised Land in your own life. Reply to the Bottom of the Ninth email or send yours to bot9@completegameministries.org.

A Baseball Guy's Bible Guide - Deuteronomy

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The book of Deuteronomy is the final book of the Torah and represents the final words of Moses to the Israelites. This is the final step in the journey before God instructs them to take the promised land in Joshua. Deuteronomy represents a moment where Moses gives the people his wisdom with a set of reminders including to “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” As you prepare to read about some of the big ideas from Deuteronomy, take some time to read Deuteronomy and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of the book (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/deuteronomy/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”

Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- Silliness of Postgame Talks
- Discipleship Needed
- Importance of the Torah


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Silliness of Postgame Talks

Parents - how many times have you watched your son’s baseball coach take his team up the line for an inordinately long speech at the end of a game? Each coach drones on about what they saw and how it needs to get fixed. Words, words, words. Then, the next day, the team practices all of the same old things they do every other day at practice with no effort to correct the issues from the game the day before. This pattern repeats itself anywhere from 30-50 times in the season depending on how many games they play.

Players - how much do you hear in a postgame talk? Your mind drifting in and out from what your coaches are saying, your mind focused on your performance that day, what your parents are going to say to you after the game, what your teammates think of you, what your friends think about you, or maybe where you’re going to eat after the game. Needless to say, you’re probably not all that engaged with what the coaches are saying.

Coaches - stop this tradition of the postgame talk. Give the players a quick word of encouragement and start thinking about how you can address your team’s flaws the next day at practice. Don’t come out the next day with the same old practice plan, and figure out some way to address something that happened the day before in the next practice. Spend less time talking at them, more time in engaging in relationship with the players, and fix flaws through practice, not through speeches.

I’ve seen one postgame talk that worked and that was Dave Belisle’s final talk to his Rhode Island team in the Little League World Series. If you want to give a talk at the end of a game, make sure it looks like this one.


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Discipleship Needed

People don’t want motivational speeches. They want elders who are willing to live life with them. This is what Deuteronomy is for the Israelites. It’s the final collection of wisdom from the man who has led them for years upon years.

Moses provides wisdom, but he also provides words of warning before they enter the promised land. He challenges that next generation to be faithful to God. He has room to do this because he’s lived life with the people for so long. He’s seen their rebellion and wants to encourage the next generation to be different. Because they know Moses, these words can serve as a blessing to them. Because Moses truly knows them, he can bless them with words of challenge.

Far too often coaches take license in this area without actually knowing the players. This is the challenge set before us to be great coaches for the next generation. We have to walk the long road of the desert with the players, learn them, know them, and then share wisdom with them. We can’t expect to be able to share wisdom with a generation that has more access to information than any previous generation. We need to engage life with them, like Moses did with the Israelites, and then wait for opportunities to share wisdom. That’s the long road of discipleship and it’s needed in our world today.


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Importance of the Torah

The Torah has been one of the most important and influential set of writings in the history of mankind. It ties the story of Israel all the way back to Adam & Eve and operates under the promise that God will somehow transform their lives.

One of the central problems of the Torah is the hard and selfish hearts of the people. The only antidote for a hard heart is to listen and love. Listening to God, loving God and loving others, and responding through obedience and devotion is our call. All of our hearts have a tendency to be hardened and selfish, and we must soften that stance through listening and love.

As the Torah encourages us to recognize that God’s way is better and that we should soften our hearts toward Him, we come to realize the importance of the Torah. The Torah was written for those outside of the promised and waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise to bless the whole world. This was true of the Israelites and it’s true for Christians today as we wait for the second coming of Jesus Christ. This will be the ultimate fulfillment of all divine prophecy.

In a baseball context, maybe you’re waiting to make a certain team, move up a level of play, get bumped up in the lineup, or even get drafted. In those times of eager anticipation, remember that God has put that in us to anticipate Him coming to bless the whole world. There is no promise that you’ll achieve what you want on the baseball field, but God’s promises will never go unfulfilled.

A Baseball Guy's Bible Guide - Numbers

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The book of Numbers starts where Leviticus ends. God has provided a path to be in His presence and now He will outline the particulars of this society of people. We’re still on the journey with God’s chosen people and we’re moving towards the promised land. As you prepare to read about some of the big ideas from Numbers, take some time to read Numbers and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of the book (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/numbers/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”

Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- The Wilderness
- Causing Unrest
- Loving Numbers


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The Wilderness

While we know this book of the Bible as Numbers, the Hebrew phrase for Numbers is “In the Wilderness.” Knowing this context, we can engage with the book less focused on the census (which is certainly still important), and more on the difficulty of the people. The strongest parallel for an “in the wilderness” feeling in baseball is the slump.

For anyone who has played, it is likely that he has gone through a dry spell at the plate. The mental toll of strolling to the plate after a spell of hitless at bats can feel as grueling spiritually as wandering through the desert as the Israelites did. The worst slump in Major League history belongs to Bill Bergen at 46 games, but he was a career .170 hitter. It seems like people may have expected such a slump from him in the early 1900s. But in the late 1980s, no one expected such a slump from Robin Ventura.

Ventura entered the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox during the 1989 season after a much-heralded college career at Oklahoma State. A Golden Spikes and gold medal winner in 1988, Ventura posted an NCAA record 58-game hitting streak in 1987 as he led the Cowboys to the national title game. After a quick start in the major leagues, Ventura found himself in the wilderness. 41 consecutive at bats of wilderness. An 0-for-41 slump as a rookie.

Ventura would find his way out of the wilderness and play for 16 years, and later managing the White Sox. He was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner multiple times. His time in the wilderness is one that players at all levels of the game can relate. The Israelites time in the wilderness is one that those who experience long periods of spiritual dryness can also relate. It’s why the story is in the Scriptures. And, while we’d like to think we’d react better, many of us react poorly in times of difficulty.


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Causing Unrest

Unfortunately, many of us (yes, I’m including myself) react as the Israelites in those times when we’re in the desert. We cause unrest. We rile things up. We force our problems on others and make more problems. Our lack of peace becomes a lack of peace for everyone around us.

Bleacher Report posted an article of the 50 biggest clubhouse distractions in MLB history, those times when the problems became bigger than the team. One name came up repeatedly - Milton Bradley. I don’t know Milton Bradley and have certainly never interacted with him personally, and it’s not my intent to throw another man under the bus. It seems, though, that his clubhouse problems make for a fitting example of how the Israelites acted and reacted to their time in the desert.

In the book of Numbers, the people complain and complain. They badmouth Moses. They stage a mutiny and ask for God to deliver them back to Egypt because of what they see during their scouting mission into the Promised Land. Ultimately, God grants their request and doesn’t allow that generation to enter the Promised Land. God has provided for them throughout their journey, and now He is just with the people as He gives them what they want. Even then, God is faithful.


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Loving Numbers (from October 22, 2018)

I love numbers. Anyone who knows me or has coached with me or has played for me knows that I’m always trying to figure out which numbers to use to guide our thinking and performance. If I’m coaching a game, I’m watching the numbers tell me a story. If I’m teaching a hitter, he’s got a sensor on his bat and I’m measuring other external data as well. Without the numbers, I believe I’m uninformed. With the numbers, I feel informed and like a more effective guide for a team or player. I love numbers.

I know that the Red Sox and the Dodgers are a step ahead of their competitors in how they use the data as well and that’s one reason they appeared in the World Series in 2018. That can be said for most, if not all, of the teams in the MLB Postseason. In fact, this winter I met a young man who pitched in the big leagues for two organizations this year. One of the organizations had made the postseason and the other did not. I asked him about the difference between the two organizations. He said it boiled down to the scouting reports and the data. The one who made the postseason was way ahead of the game in using data and giving it to their players, even in the minor leagues.

I’m also coming to love (maybe appreciate is a better word) the book of Numbers in the Bible. God instructs the people to take a census and He arranges the people around the tabernacle. God shows an order and He’s in the center.

But that’s not the most interesting part of Numbers. That’s in the rebellion of the people in the wilderness. It is in the book of Numbers that the people’s complaining intensifies and they demand to go back to Egypt. We see that God allows His people to obey or disobey, and face the consequences of those choices. In the end, God determines that this generation of people will not enter the promised land but that their children will.

God’s grace, mercy, and faithfulness in the face of rebellion is on display through the book of Numbers. We see how God allows us to walk towards him or walk away, and to face the consequences of our choices. It’s free will and sovereignty on display. Having walked into the wilderness for a couple of years now, I can tell you that I’m thankful for God’s grace, mercy, and faithfulness. I continue to pray that we will be proven obedient and worthy to enter whatever promised land He has for us. It is my hope that one day I will look back and love Numbers as much as I love numbers.

A Baseball Guy's Bible Guide - Leviticus

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Genesis and Exodus provide us with some powerful themes to remember and take into our baseball lives. As we move into Leviticus, I believe that baseball players might be the people group best positioned to understand the book of Leviticus through the spirit of the game. The themes and ideas presented in Leviticus still exist in our game in many ways, and I hope you are able to connect to this difficult book of the Bible.

Again, I am sure you are somewhat familiar with the stories of Leviticus, but take some time to read Leviticus and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of the book as well (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/leviticus/). In addition, watch the Bible Project’s exposition on the theme of “Holiness” (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/holiness/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”

Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- Perfection
- Rituals, Priesthood, Purity
- The Scapegoat


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Perfection

Whether we want to admit it or not, every baseball player has a desire for perfection. A hitter wants to go 4-for-4 every day. A fielder wants to make every play that comes his way. A pitcher wants to throw a perfect game. The hardest thing to accept is that those glimpses of perfection are often years apart. The last perfect game in Major League Baseball was thrown on August 15, 2012 by Felix Hernandez, the 21st in MLB history. That occurred 6 1/2 years ago now. That’s a long time to wait for perfection.

One thing that Leviticus can help us understand is God’s perfection, God’s holiness, and God’s heart. In spite of being so unique, set apart as the Creator of every ounce of reality, God wants to invite people into His holiness so they can experience true life. This is the heart behind the Levitical law - our purification so we can experience the perfection of God.

But our impurities make God’s presence dangerous. He’s so good, any level of impurity cannot come near to Him. That lack of perfection leads to immediate death in His presence. Moses being unable to enter the temple created the need for an articulation of how one can enter into God’s presence. God’s desire is to be close to us so He lays out the way for us to be closer to Him.

The solution He presents is for us to become morally and ritually pure so we can step back into the temple and get closer to the center of the temple, the most holy place in proximity to God’s holy presence. Now, on this side of Christ’s resurrection, this is mind-blowing and life-altering. The temple is no longer in one place in the Middle East, it’s in the heart of every believer that Jesus is the Son of God. Whoa. Through Christ’s perfect sacrifice, purity is transferred to us and we become His temple. Streams of living water can now flow through each one of us. We should reflect on this more often and stop worrying about rituals, priesthood, and purity the way that we do.


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Rituals, Priesthood, Purity

Classic baseball films capture the baseball culture’s obsession with rituals, priesthood, and purity. Bull Durham talks about curses and chicken-bone crosses. Major League throws in live animal sacrifices. Those films and others have an obvious hierarchy for those who operate with higher standards. We’ve all tried to seek purity or unity by wearing the same clothes under our jersey, or some other thing that represents our purity of purpose on the field. These three things seem to be our way of dealing with the tension between a desire for perfection and the absence of it in our baseball lives.

Rituals, Priesthood, and Purity are the three ways the corrupt Israelites can get close to God’s goodness without being destroyed. There are rituals with lots of animal sacrifices to thank God, provide offerings, or ask for forgiveness. There is a priesthood called and ordained to higher standards, those who must live at the highest level of moral integrity and ritual holiness. Then there are ways to become pure so you can be near God’s presence. The Levitical Law is the way for the Israelite people to find their way into God’s presence.

It’s strange how these things, which have been a part of our faith tradition for hundreds of years, still enter into our Christian and baseball cultures. Our rituals, the priesthood, and our pursuit of personal purity often become idols before He who proved to be the Lord. We are too quick to forget about the sacrifice of the Scapegoat and rely on things we can see and even control like rituals, priesthoods, and purity.


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The Scapegoat

Baseball lovers are quite familiar with the term “scapegoat.” Unfortunately, Bill Buckner wore that title for the Boston Red Sox after 1986. Steve Bartman was tabbed the “scapegoat” for the Chicago Cubs after the incident in Wrigley Field. Both of these events are highlighted in the ESPN Film Chasing Hell as well as the idea of the “scapegoat.”

In the middle of Leviticus, we see an outline for the Day of Atonement. We are presented with two goats. The first goat is killed and covers in blood the sacrifice as the purification offering. Sacrifice was the way of buying favor from the gods in the ancient world. The second goat, the scapegoat, represents the sins of the people and God’s desire to remove sin from His people. The people would yell and scream hatred at the goat as their sins sat symbolically upon the goat. All of the sins of the people are thrown on the goat and that goat is sent out of the town to die.

When you watch replays of the Bartman incident, this idea of the scapegoat becomes intensely clear. People yell profanities at him, spit at him, and throw beer and other items at him. He has to be escorted from his seat amid screaming fans and people threatening violence. Bartman slips into a life of anonymity after the incident in order to survive. It’s so absurd when viewed from afar, but all too true when you realize that you could be one of the people submitting to the mob mentality.

The picture becomes ever more vivid as we recognize that Christ was our scapegoat, the one sent to atone for our sins forever. Jesus endured the same things, and more, as the scapegoat and Bartman in order to provide a clear way to live safe and near God’s presence. So close, in fact, that He dwells in us through the Holy Spirit.

Exodus 19-40: A Baseball Guy's Bible Guide

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I hope the first part of Exodus was challenging for you personally. It was for me. Handling threats to your territory, working on a hardened heart, and accepting that your journey is like that of Israel’s are three big themes speaking to our heart’s condition. As we move into the second half of Exodus, we get an even closer look into God’s heart and our own.

This week we’ll explore three key ideas from Exodus 19-40 and help bring them to the baseball field. Again, I am sure you know the stories, but take some time to read Exodus 19-40 and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of Exodus 19-40 as well (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/exodus-19-40/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”

Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- Set Apart
- Moses’ Intercession
- The Tabernacle


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Set Apart

Some guys are just set apart. Jason Varitek is one of those guys. The first time I got to see Tek play was in my first visit to Omaha for the College World Series in 1994. He led his Georgia Tech team, along with future Red Sox teammate Nomar Garciaparra, to a 2-0 victory over Cal State Fullerton on a sunny day at old Rosenblatt Stadium. Tek did so many things that stood out that day and his career is one of extraordinary achievement. Not only did he play in the College World Series, but he also played in the Little League World Series, Major League World Series, the Olympics, and the World Baseball Classic. That’s a career set apart.

This idea of being set apart is what God entrusts the Jewish people with through the story of Exodus. Direct communion with God was initially lost in the Garden, but through God’s promise to Abraham He will again give access to His presence through the Israelites. God gives these people a whole set of laws and they will become the people who will represent God to the nations of the world. Obeying the laws is going to be difficult, but if anyone can do it, it’s these people.

Well, that is before Moses takes too long on top of the mountain.


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Moses’ Intercession

Exodus 32, 33, and 34 outlines how Moses stands up for the people and intercedes with God for their good. God interrupts His meeting with Moses and tells him to go down because the people have made an idol, the Golden Calf. Moses finds the people worshiping the Calf after agreeing to the covenant with God and he’s angry. He destroys the tablets and continues talking with God on behalf of the people.

Moses reminds God of His covenant with Abraham and we get an incredible picture of our God. God chooses faithfulness in spite of His grief and pain thanks, in part, to the intercession of Moses. God knows what this broken promise will cost Him, but He will abound in covenant faithfulness. He will keep His promise. The Golden Calf becomes an opportunity for Moses to stand up for his people.

This is the role of leaders. It’s to intercede for all teammates and remind them of what is good. It is to encourage mercy and grace. The evildoers will not go unpunished, but that punishment might look different that we might imagine. Leaders don’t need to enact the heavy hand of justice, but they know time will show what is good and right. Sometimes we need a physical manifestation of this goodness beyond just a person and that’s what brings us to the Tabernacle.


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The Tabernacle

Exodus ends with the Tabernacle being constructed. This sacred tent and all of the detail of the construction of the sanctuary for God is so important. It is the temple where God can be among His people and echoes back to the Garden of Eden when God and Israel can live in peace. It becomes the model for the Temple in Jerusalem later and also gives us a picture of Christ dwelling in each of us as temples designed for the Holy Spirit to live.

But after all of effort that went into the construction of the Tabernacle, Moses can’t enter into God’s presence because of Israel’s sin. The relationship has been damaged, and this leads us into Leviticus and the law next time.

This picture of Moses not being able to enter brought me back to one of my earliest baseball memories. I was supposed to see my first live baseball game in Kansas City in 1981. Imagine that. I’m 7 years old and we’re heading on a road trip so I can see the defending American League champions play at Royals Stadium. The fountains. George Brett. Dan Quisenberry. Frank White. Willie Wilson. My dad had been planning this trip around his work schedule and we were on our way.

But there was a problem. The 1981 season was shortened by a strike. All of that anticipation I had of going into the stadium to see my first game became a whole different reality. I remember walking around the stadium only able to peer through a chainlink fence. I distinctly recall standing behind left field at a vast emptiness. The colored seats, a blank scoreboard, no fountains. A boundary between me and what should have been a much different memory.

I did get to see my first game a year later in Anaheim between the Angels and Tigers, but the picture here is an important one. Moses builds the Tabernacle with his people, but is unable to enter because of the damaged relationship (Exodus 40:34-35). He goes through all of this effort to commune with God, and is unable to enter in the same way I was unable to enter Royals Stadium in 1981. That’s one layer of the story.

But there’s another layer. Instead of picturing Moses on the outside unable to enter, imagine God being on the outside of our heart because of our departure from His ways. He wants nothing more than to be on the inside of that temple enjoying a game with you and He’s been making ways for us all to have that level of communion with us from the beginning of time. The picture of God as a loving Father is an important one, but I wonder if we’d benefit from seeing God as a young boy hoping to see His first ballgame, too.

Exodus 1-18: A Baseball Guy's Bible Guide

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As we move from Genesis and into Exodus, I will continue to build on the themes from the Bible and bring them into the context of baseball. Part of the point of the Word is to examine the story but also to let the stories examine you. I know I’ve been challenged personally by this first round of writing. Am I more concerned with knowing or doing? Am I building my kingdom or God’s Kingdom? Do I trust God to use my failures to show His faithfulness? How am I doing with perseverance? I hope you’re enjoying and engaging with the Word as I am as I write.

This week we’ll explore three key ideas from Exodus 1-18 and help bring them to the baseball field. Again, I am sure you know the stories, but take some time to read Exodus 1-18 and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of Exodus 1-18 as well (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/exodus-1-18/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”

Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- Handling Threats
- Hardened Hearts
- Israel’s Journey


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Handling Threats

I wonder how Mark Belanger felt in 1981. Belanger won the Gold Glove 8 times between 1969 and 1978, was an All-Star in 1976, and received MVP votes three times. But in 1981, a young man named Cal Ripken, Jr. showed up in the Baltimore Oriole clubhouse. Life changed for Belanger in that moment.

Or how about Paul Schaal in 1973? Schaal had his best season as a pro in 1971 when he hit 11 home runs, drove in 63, and hit .274. In 1973, he hit a career high .288. But in 1973, a young man named George Brett showed up in the Kansas City Royal clubhouse. Schaal’s baseball life was never the same.

This leads me to this question from Exodus - how do you treat people you see as a threat? I wonder if Belanger and Schaal helped Ripken and Brett find their way in the big leagues, or if the threat they felt caused them to become bitter towards these future Hall of Famers.

In Exodus, we see the story of the nation of Israel 400 years after Abraham living in captivity to Pharaoh in Egypt. Israel was fruitful, multiplied and filled the land of Egypt. Pharaoh sees Israel as a threat. He enslaves the people and orders all of the Israelite boys to be drowned in the Nile River. That’s one way to deal with a threat!

It’s natural to deal with a threat by trying to fight for your own survival. That’s what makes the opposite reaction the way of Jesus. The idea of “working yourself out of a job” or preparing the path for your replacement is how to build God’s kingdom and not your own. Focus on others and their success, and watch what God does though your life.


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Hardened Hearts

One of the risks of focusing on yourself and building your own kingdom is that your heart can become hardened towards other people and towards God. This is what occurred to Pharaoh and the book of Exodus outlines how this happened.

Before getting into the details, let’s grab on to this idea - God is a redeemer. His plan of redemption for all of mankind is recognized through Jesus Christ, but He will also redeem individuals from oppressive situations. In the case of the Israelites and Pharaoh, He hears the cries of the people and follows through on His promise to redeem. When saving such a large group of people, this plan takes many steps and a lot of time. It’s not an overnight flip of the switch.

One of the most interesting parts of Exodus is the plagues that begin in Exodus 7. There’s an interesting thing happening in Pharaoh’s heart, a repetition at the end of each plague that says one of three things - Pharaoh hardened his heart, that his heart was hardened, or that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

I’m convinced that a hardened heart happens to all of us in that order. We harden it ourselves first, people recognize that our hearts are hardened towards something, and then God allows or even hardens our heart further to accomplish His purposes. In this case, God was going to keep His promise to rescue the Israelite people. Pharaoh had done the hard work of hardening his own heart, and God allowed that choice to continue to manifest itself.

When it comes to our hearts, it’s up to us to keep our arteries from hardening so life’s blood can continue to flow. If we allow debris and distraction to harden our hearts, our outflow to our friends, families, coaches and teammates will be affected deeply. It’s up to us to prevent our hearts from hardening so Jesus has a clear temple from which to operate through our lives.


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Israel’s Journey

Though God is on a mission to confront evil and redeem the Israelite people, the hearts of the very people He’s trying to save start to change while they’re on their journey. Even though the Israelites experience feasts, pillars of clouds and fire, crossing the Red Sea, turning bitter water into sweet water, bread from heaven, water from a rock, and defeating an army, they still start criticizing and complaining. Their hearts harden as well.

Think the Israelites are unique? Nah. The people Jesus encountered wanted His magic as much as they wanted Him.

We’re no different. How many prayers have we said and forgotten in the midst of a baseball game or season? We’ve all had those conversations with God in the middle of our baseball journey. And we’ve forgotten Him or turned on Him just as fast as the Israelites.

This is what I referred to earlier as letting the stories of the Bible examine you. It’s easy for us to criticize or judge the Israelites in hindsight. We know the end of the story. They’re the ones in the desert trying to survive. Get yourself into a desert experience and watch how quickly you thank Him in one moment and let fear and anxiety run away with you in the next. This journey of Israel represents our journey with God. We have to read it that way and understand the importance of the wisdom gained in the journey. We have to reject the moment-to-moment emotion and let God work out what He needs to work out. Sometimes it just takes a little time. Keep your heart soft to God and His leading.

Genesis 12-50: A Baseball Guy's Bible Guide

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Last week I went through Genesis 1-11 and explored the themes of Knowing vs. Doing, Defining good and evil, and Building kingdoms. One of the best things about the Word is that those themes will be repeated and expanded upon throughout the work. We have to hold on to previous learnings and allow them to expand. They provide the foundation on which we will continue to build our understanding in this “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”

This week we’ll explore three key ideas from Genesis 12-50 and bring them into the context of baseball. Again, I am sure you know the stories, but take some time to read Genesis 12-50 and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of Genesis 12-50 as well (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/genesis-12-50/).

Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- The Blessing of Abraham 
- Failure, Commitment of God, Blessing
- The Perseverance of Joseph


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The Blessing of Abraham

As we move out of the early stories and into the Call of Abram (later to be known as Abraham), we get a taste of the power of God’s prophecy over a person. Prophecy is what makes the Word the Word. God speaks something over someone and it comes true. It is how we can test and know that this living, loving God is trustworthy. Prophecy is what makes Jesus so amazing. More on that throughout the year.

God speaks this prophecy over Abram in Genesis 12:2-3 (NIV):

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

The ESV version finishes the prophecy like this: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” What an amazing and overwhelming prophecy to be spoken over one man. I can’t imagine the amount of doubt Abram must have felt in the moment God spoke this over him. It’s a prophecy that only God could accomplish.

This got me thinking about baseball’s version of Abraham. We don’t have a set of prophecies about the game, but there is one figure in the game that changed baseball in such a way that all of the baseball families who came after him were blessed.

Babe Ruth.

He changed the history of the New York Yankees and made that franchise a great nation. His name became great and home run hitters for the next century had him to thank. Oh, and the Boston Red Sox had to deal with the “Curse of the Bambino” after trading him (and watch out for some sort of curse on Adam Ottavino because of his recent Babe Ruth comments - insert a little “haha” here). Through Babe Ruth, the baseball nation has been blessed.

But it’s such a small blessing compared to that of Abraham on all of humanity. God is going to rescue humanity through Abraham - his land, his nation. We are blessed because of the blessing of Abraham.


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Failure, Commitment of God, Blessing

But Abraham wasn’t the perfect Savior. He was just a man. Yes, a man God would use mightily, but still a man nonetheless. He would fail. And in spite of his failure, God would still use him and bless the nations.

Walk in Abram’s shoes for a minute. God speaks this incredible prophecy over you. You want to believe Him. But you have no children. You’re walking with God and you’re seeing Him do amazing things. He even gives you a vision and says “your reward shall be very great” (Genesis 15:1). What’s your response? The same as Abraham’s. “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless” (Genesis 15:2) and “Behold, you have given me no offspring” (Genesis 15:3). In spite of the visions God gives you, you’re swayed by your wife to take matters into your own hands and you have a child with one of your servants.

Does God react to this in anger and pull His prophecy from Abram? Nope. This is where we have to grab and hold on for life. In spite of our failures, God’s commitment to His Word will end in blessing. He is going to execute His plan no matter what we do. In fact, He may use our failures to make our human perception of His power even greater.

How do we take this to the field? Baseball is a hard game. It’s brutal. I was speaking to one of my dear friends in the game this past week about how exposed we are on the field. He works with hitters and made a connection with developing a hitter to an artist showing a sculpture to the masses in the early phases. The crowd, the opposition, the player’s teammates all expect the work to be complete in that moment when he is to come through. But the sculptor isn’t finished yet. He still has a lot of marble to chisel. This is our lesson from Abraham. God has promises and prophecies over your life, too. He has a plan for you, and much of that plan is centered on making God known. It has way less to do with your success on the field. You’re going to fail on the field, but God is never going to fail in making Himself known through your shortcomings. Be blessed in those failures and make God known through your weaknesses.


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The Perseverance of Joseph

The number of Hall of Fame players who were traded from one team to another is staggering. The class of 2015 included three pitchers (Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Pedro Martinez) who had all been traded early in the careers. Babe Ruth, Nolan Ryan, Frank Robinson, and Lou Brock were given away for something their trading teams thought to be a better opportunity to win. I am certain that these trades provided a spark for those Hall of Famers to achieve new levels of success on the field.

I wonder if believing players who have been traded from one team to another have called upon Genesis 50:20 in those times of unexpected change - “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” In baseball terms, they may have said, “You don’t believe in me any more. God does and He’s going to use this trade for His glory.”

That verse comes from the story of Joseph and his perseverance through trial is extraordinary. I would encourage you to read through his life starting in Genesis 37. There are so many twists and turns in the life of Joseph that you’re left saying, “again?!?!” No matter what the circumstance, God proves that he can turn evil into good into Joseph’s life and that’s what we have to believe. Even though humans continue to prove themselves as evil, God will turn that evil into good. God’s plan is to rescue and bless His rebellious world. God’s faithfulness in the long term is to deliver a king that will restore the Garden. His promises are true and will continue to be proven true no matter the short-term circumstance.

Genesis 1-11: A Baseball Guy's Bible Guide

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Cracking open the Bible is an intimidating and daunting task. Just reading it can be difficult, and applying the ideas can be even more so. “A Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide” will walk readers through the Word, recommending readings and videos to accompany the ideas that we can take to the diamond along the way. It’s all about trying to get us, as baseball people, more engaged in the Bible and speaking “The Gospel of Jesus in the Language of Baseball.” We’ll start by exploring three ideas from Genesis 1-11 and bringing them into the context of baseball. I am sure you know the stories, but take some time to read Genesis 1-11 and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of Genesis 1-11 as well.

Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- Knowing vs. Doing
- Defining Good and Evil
- Building Kingdoms

Knowing vs. Doing

In Bull Durham, Nuke Laloosh is a struggling, arrogant, young pitcher in need of guidance. He is listening to a lot of different voices and trying to find his way on the mound. In a moment of clarity, he finds freedom, whips in a strike, and stands on the mound shocked. In that moment he says, “God, that was beautiful, what’d I do?” Anyone who has played the game can relate to Nuke as we know there is a distinct difference between Knowing and Doing. The interesting thing about this moment is that it brings us back to the Garden of Eden. Take a look at Genesis 2:9,16-17:

“And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

We have the Tree of Life and we have the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. One leads to freedom, while the other leads to bondage and death. One leads to those beautiful moments on the field like Nuke experienced, and the other leads to a tailspin of frustration. It seems that this disconnect between a free mind designed for the life we were designed to live and those moments when we can’t get out of our own heads has roots in the very beginning of creation and the fall. We can tap into those moments like Nuke did on this side of eternity, but not grasp them consistently.

I wonder a couple of things. I wonder if there is abundantly more life in creating beautiful moments on the field than there is in filling our minds with all of the knowledge available at our fingertips in the internet age. I wonder if players are to focus on being artists and creating those moments, and coaches are supposed to focus on creating life-giving relationships and environments for the players. I wonder if this is what is rooted in the story of the Garden of Eden.


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Defining good and evil

The fact of it is that once Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, God allowed us the opportunity to choose between His way and our way. We can choose to define good and evil for ourselves, or we can let God define it for us. Newsflash - we’re terrible at defining good and evil.

Have you ever engaged in an argument/discussion/debate about how a certain play should be scored during a game? We have rule books at all levels of baseball, but there are still areas where controversy brews. While these plays are fewer at the big-league level, I can tell you that the JV and Freshman levels of high school baseball are full of moments leaving everyone saying “I’ve never seen that before” and asking “How would you score that?”

The answer in these scenarios is to go to the source. In baseball, you go to the rule book. In life, we should go to the Bible. God wants us to flourish - we have to remember that. The Bible provides us with what is good and we should follow God’s definition of good in order to reflect the goodness, creativity, and character of God. In this effort, God will commune with us and He is constantly available to us. Like Noah who did all that God commended of him, we, too, can be a cleansing agent in this world by not seeking our own definitions of good and evil.


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Building kingdoms

Whether we’re talking about the Garden of Eden or Noah and the Flood, the extraordinary truths portrayed in the stories of Genesis are so rich. The Tower of Babel is the same and we continue to see this story lived out year after year.

The people have come upon a new technology, the brick, and they say, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4). How often do we see players, managers, or owners seeking to build their own kingdoms with their own interests in mind? We see it in someone else and we recognize that abundance of the wrong kind of pride in someone else. The problem becomes that we often fail to recognize that failing in ourselves.

The greatest in the game make those around him better. The greatest leaders in our world are marked with humility. While we witness individuals building their own Tower of Babel, we have to resist the urge to only make a name for ourselves. We are called to be people who are set apart by God, just like the Jewish people who transcribed these stories. We have to seek life, let God define good and evil for us, and find our freedom through Jesus, the promised one who defeated evil at the source.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments on this installment of “A Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide” and look forward to walking through Genesis 12-50 soon!