Baseball is the gift that keeps on giving. In a previous post, I detailed eight things that I have taken away from baseball that I think have impact on the Christian life and ministry. A recent game brought these other six things to light:
One: Sometimes you must step into a role you don’t expect and deal with discomfort for the sake of the team. It was the ninth inning. The opposing team had gone through their available pitchers for that game (it was a bad, bad game for them…but that’s a story for another day). Seated in the stands, the fans began to murmur–they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. The backup (yes, backup) catcher was coming in to, ahem, pitch. His first couple of pitches weren’t bad, but then there were the balls he flung into low-earth orbit and the succession of walks (and walked in runs) his pitching generated. The fans’ initial bemusement/sympathy turned quickly to hostility when it took a very looooong time to get out of the inning.
I thought, wow, what a guy! His coach had no other available options and he sent this guy in to pitch…and he went! He went out; he got put in one of the toughest situations a ballplayer can experience, and he did the best he could to serve the team. Now, I’m not saying that every game should go like that. And I am certainly not saying that the church should put people in at “positions” for which they are neither gifted or called. But I am saying that there are plenty of times in church life when something just has to get done and the perfectly gifted person is just not there. Step up, will you. Step in…the Coach needs you now while He positions another player to take the job on a regular basis. (“Put me in coach; I’m ready to play,” courtesy of John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival.) “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Two: Fair-weather fans are a thing. It’s interesting to me that there are lots more fans when a team is doing well than when the team is struggling. It happens that this year, my favorite team is doing pretty well so far, and it’s fun to watch them win. But I was at Fenway with a former parishioner once–enjoying a game–when he said something very interesting. He said he thought there were baseball fans (people who just loved the game), fans of a particular baseball team (people who loved their team), and fans of a particular team only when their team was doing well–fair weather fans. That’s what I’ve observed as well.
There are church fans–people who are engaged in the Christian life because that is where they find their joy and where they find grace for each day–good or bad. There are fans of a particular church–or something very specific about that church–and they will generally stick with that church as they put one foot in front of the other in their daily walk with Jesus. Then there are the fair-weather fans who define their church as “doing well” when everything on their expectation list is met exactly the way they’ve dictated that it should be. It’s not surprising that the fair-weather fans disappear when things don’t go their way. But it is another way that Kingdom work gets derailed. When we impose our preferences on the Body of Christ (or fume when our preferences are not honored), we handicap a local fellowship’s capacity to be the church. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3,4).
Three: Sometimes loud is just loud. “There he is! There he is!” screamed the fan, “there’s Big Papi!” Trouble is, it wasn’t Big Papi (#34, David Ortiz). It was just another big guy wearing the right uniform. Loud does not equal right. There are often voices in church life that are loud…loud in meetings…loud in conversation…just plain loud. The volume springs from conviction that they are right and that others, if they would only just listen, are wrong. In order to be heard, they increase the volume…or the backroom chit chat. Trouble is, like that loud fan at the baseball game, sometimes they’re loud while also being wrong. We must pay attention to the “still, small voice.” We look for “the least of these.” We measure both the truth and the grace in our communication as we seek to discern God’s way ahead. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
Four: Laughing when others fall is not cool. It was one of those silly, during the commercial break, stunts that they employ at Big League parks to keep the fans’ attention. The mustard guy was racing the ketchup guy and the relish guy. Twenty feet into the race, the mustard guy tripped and splatted to the ground in the outfield. The crowd’s unanimous response? Laughter. And, I admit, I laughed too. But then I thought, how much like the Body of Christ is that crowd. Someone is running the race the best they know how, and they tumble to the ground–sometimes the fall is their fault–sometimes it’s not. We laugh out loud (or we chuckle inwardly at their misfortune). Falling is hard. Getting back up, harder. We don’t need folks laughing at us when we fall, we need folks to come alongside (no matter the nature of the fall) and help us get back up. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1,2).
Five: When you let go of the bat, someone can get hurt. The batter took a powerful cut at a 97-mph fastball and the bat slipped from his grip. The bat sailed toward the visitor side seats and would have been genuine trouble for someone, except that nets had recently been installed at the ball park. Fans’ initial, reflexive panic gave way to bemused relief as we realized the bat wasn’t going to hurt anyone. Someone yelled to the batter, “Hold on!” Indeed. We have tools in our hands and hearts…amongst those tools are the words we speak. When we use our words, we best hold on tight…we best wield them carefully. We best wield our words in ways that honor God’s Word…making sure that they don’t get away from us and hurt someone. Because, unlike that bat which could be retrieved without any ill effect, our hurtful words may forever linger in the hearts and minds of those who hear them. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
Six: Graciousness is always in order, even when the opposition comes to town. I have been to opposition ball parks. When I go to a game, I usually wear a shirt or a hat that reveals my team allegiance. In some opposition ball parks, the mere act of showing up in another team’s colors is tantamount to begging some fan of the other team to hit you in the face. In some opposition parks, the hostility is more latent, but you know it could surface at any time. Imagine my surprise at Kauffman Stadium where I was not only genuinely welcomed (despite my Red Sox gear) but was able to engage in light-hearted banter with some Royals fans. It was a genuine delight to be there to watch a game. And yes, winning was great (see how I threw that in–subtle, eh?), but the atmosphere in the ball park, amongst those others who truly loved baseball, made the experience all the more memorable.
In today’s culture we have genuine and deeply seated disagreements across the theological spectrum. Imagine a local mainline church pastor being told that he wasn’t welcome at an evangelical pastors’ lunch. “Not welcome?!?” How can that be? It makes my head hurt and discounts the graciousness we are called to display in the Body of Christ. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:15-17).
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