Thursday, June 27, 2013

Trusting your Manager

You may not have liked Tony La Russa’s management style.  He had a signature way of pulling pitchers and moving guys in and out.  At times it was frustrating that he didn’t let a guy just finish out an inning.  Yet, his style brought the Cardinals two World Series wins.  This hadn’t happened from a Cardinals’ Manager in over fifty years.  La Russa loved the dynamic of pinch-hitting and using relievers. He also said it was one of the reasons he loved the National League because there is more strategy allowed with the pitcher hitting.  La Russa was known for his unique pitching moves and his somber after game talks.  Once when I was watching a game, Mindy asked, “Is he mad?” I said, “Nope, that is just how he is.”  La Russa was unique, yet Cardinals’ fans and so many others will not forget those recent World Series wins.

When Mike Matheny joined the club as manager many were shocked that the Cardinals chose someone without managerial experience.  I heard many doubts, and even after a successful last season, some people still commented, “Well, he inherited La Russa’s team.”  This year we will find out if this noise has quieted with the use of so many rookie pitchers and some other key moves.  (Not to mention we are number one in the Major Leagues.)  It is like Matheny picked up right where La Russa left off with unique pitching moves and a somber manner after game talks.  I guess when you see a manager perform successfully you learn to accept the quirks he exhibits.

Like baseball, sometimes the moves can be so questionable.  There are times we might look up and ask, “God, are you really making a pitching change now?  Why would you do that?”  As we begin sharing the message of Jesus, we find people we are attached to and feel like we should be the person who is able to watch them come to faith.  The honest truth is that God’s plan is not revealed to us.  Yet, this is challenging.  It can be one of the final things to personally pull us out of the game. We can wrestle with the idea that if we don’t get to see that person come to faith, then is our sharing of the Gospel even working?  This is one of the ways that could persuade us to go back to square one and not share our faith with others.

So the final point of this series becomes important, because if we don’t trust in God to do the work, we lose the power of our message.  The message of Jesus is based on the fact that He came to rescue and save us because we couldn’t do it.  He knows the lives of every individual we talk to, and without His expertise, not to mention His hand in the saving, no person would be rescued.  So we find our pitch, learn the game, hit the ball, and then trust that our manager will use our faithful work, which is from the Holy Spirit, to change the lives of people.  That’s Red Bird Evangelism!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hitting the Ball

One of the goals at a previous youth conference was to teach kids how to share their faith.  The leaders would take them to a mall so they could practice doing this.  Yes, I did it too.  It was one of those intense moments for them as they went up to a total stranger and shared their faith.  Why, though?
            I can’t explain it but I have experienced that scary feeling also.  There is something about going up to someone and sharing your faith.  When you look at all the facts, it seems puzzling.  First, you probably will never see that person again.  Second, that person doesn’t know you so who cares if he or she was put off by what you did.  Third, if God could die and rise again, then can’t He use you to change a few lives?
            Hitting the ball in baseball is such a great challenge, depending on the speed of the pitch.  Some of the most feared pitchers are the ones with high velocity pitches.  And all it takes is one time to get hit by a ball to realize the intensity of the batter’s box.  Yet, the only way to win the game is in the batter’s box.  It takes dedicated swinging practice, and preparation for the various styles of pitching.
            When the youth would return from their journey of sharing their faith with complete strangers, they had some of the greatest stories.  They would all want to share their experiences with me.  You could see the power, and the way they were inspired as they shared the Gospel.  They found out that most of the things they were worried about didn’t matter.  Once they hit the ball, they forgot about the batter’s box entirely.
            I studied one of my favorite readings in Acts as I prepared for this series in evangelism.  I recognized Philip’s depth as he talked to the Eunuch about his faith.  There may be some truth that this guy did have some sense of God’s Word before his conversation with Philip.  There is definitely a reminder that to a certain extent, this was a guy who was an outcast.  Philip’s willingness to speak to him, showed his desire to hit the ball.
            There are so many introspective moments in the Christian walk.  Honestly, some of these self focused moments pull us away from the commission Jesus has given us.  The key is to stay as focused as possible; to hit the ball, and not let the distractions get to us.  
            An amazing thing that is happening this year is that the Red Birds are able to keep scoring with two outs.  They are one of the best teams in the major leagues able to accomplish this.  When the strikes are against them they still come through.
            Week three is never about the count.  It is all about hitting the ball.  Forget the count.  Forget what you did last week.  Start fresh and be ready to hit the ball!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Learning the Game

As you enter Busch Stadium there are always people selling programs.  I wonder who really sits down and marks those things up.  There is a unique way in programs to note every at bat and every pitch.  Honestly, it is a lost art because fewer programs are being sold.  Today all those details are at your fingertips on your phone.  You can watch the stats update from your ESPN app on your phone.  It’s not really any work, and as stats just update, you don’t really get to learn the game.
            Three unique categories that score points for me in fantasy baseball are OPS, Holds, and Saves.  Baseball seems like a simple game, but these categories boggled my mind.  OPS is an acronym for on base percentage plus slugging percentage.  Therefore a home run or triple really heightens your OPS score.  Saves are also unique:  a player must enter the game as a relief pitcher with the lead already established.  The lead cannot be greater than three runs.  It does not matter what the count is when the reliever enters, but there must be enough batters or runners to tie the game when he comes in.  He must maintain the lead for one inning.  A hold is something with similar rules.  A relief pitcher must enter in a Save situation.  He records at least one out and does not relinquish the lead at any point.  He leaves before the ball game is over and does not record the Save.  It would be much easier to explain if I told you Matt Adams has the best OPS for the Cardinals.  A Hold is what Trevor Rosenthal does for us as the 8th inning man.  Mujica is our closer and has saved the most games for us.  This is much easier than explaining all those details because you know what those guys do.  When the game is in play the details make sense, but learning all those things creates a few challenging moments.  Yet when details like this are learned, the player can properly carry out his task in the game.
            Being a pastor means people sometimes ask me odd questions from the Bible.  I find myself more prepared now with six years into ministry.  I remember once I was visiting someone in the hospital, and really didn’t have anything on me to prove I was a pastor.  So this guy told me I’d have to answer one question:  “How many of each animal did Moses put on the Ark?”  Caught off guard because I hadn’t been asked that before, I said, “Two.” He said, “Wrong answer!”  I said, “What?”  Then I realized he said Moses. How embarrassing is that?  I have found that not just my training in college and seminary help me, but learning from Sunday School, high school and, of course, worship.  Sometimes I am surprised at the responses I give because I don’t anticipate remembering all the details I was taught.
            One of the biggest things that move Christians away from evangelism, besides worry that people will just dismiss you, is lack of confidence in their Biblical knowledge. They fear someone will ask them something they don’t know.  This is why learning the game is so important.  It eliminates that worry that you might not know something, and also gives you the confidence to say, “I am not sure about that one, let me find out.“
            This weekend we dive into the importance of learning the game.  How do we spend time learning more about Jesus?  How do we prepare ourselves for open conversation about the Bible?  We are ready to share God’s Word when we learn the game, and then put it in play.   

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Finding Your Pitch

A few weeks ago my pastor friends and I were at a restaurant before our conference.  We were talking about all kinds of things, when this guy next to us chimed in.  I was the more extroverted of the group so I began to engage this guy. Our conversations were all about guy things, and so I brought up food.  I know you are shocked.  This guy told us he was vegan, and I was shocked.  Not to judge someone on being vegan, but most vegans are thin, and clean cut.  I know I just stereotyped, but hang on; I have a point.  This guy was bigger, with a huge beard, and tattooed all up.  I remind you I have a brother who has over 20 tattoos, so no judgment, just curiosity.  I asked him why he was vegan.  He pulled out this answer I never expected.  He was fighting for a cause.  He asked me, “Do you know how much land it takes to raise cows, chickens, and animals for us to eat?”  I said, “No, not really.”  He informed me, “If we took all the land it took to raise these animals we could feed most of the world, if not all of it.”  It was then that I saw his passion for a cause.  (Many of our younger generations have this kind of passion for something. ) The guy went on for 20 minutes.  I always expect this.  When that passion comes out you sell it.  I knew this was my opening from the minute he started talking.  I was listening, but formulating in my head how to ask it.  He finished and I asked, “So what do you think about religion?”  He dodged the question with some mumbo jumbo, and I jumped back in with “What do you think of Christianity?”  He described how he grew up in the Church and that his dad is still active, but in a church he doesn’t like.  He has seen too many church people not truly believing what they are saying.  This is the reality of young adults.  They want people to fight for a cause the way they do; if they believe in Jesus then fight for it.  At this point I revealed that he was talking to three pastors, and I showed my hand.  I told him, “We need people like you in our church who are passionately sharing their beliefs with people.”  I gave him my card.  At this point, we transitioned into normal conversation as he shared his love for pro wrestling and pinball machines.  I resisted the urge to share my disgust for pro wrestling, and talked little about pinball machines.  I don’t know if he will ever step foot in our church, but I know this:  I was faithful to listen to the voice of the Spirit.         If any of you are thinking, You are a pastor--of course you do this.  Trust me-- this is practiced.  In seminary I used to move quickly out of conversations like this.  I was worried that my friends who were hanging out with me would feel like our time was taken away by my talking to someone else.  This is absolutely the Holy Spirit who opens the opportunities.  I just pray that I recognize them.
            I could tell you that I have had a passion for evangelism my whole life.  Sure I could impress you with stories of telling a kid about God when I was five.  But the honest truth is that I did not share that message with many of my friends.  Sure my actions may have given evidence of the depth of my faith, but when it came time to pull the trigger I was scared of being cast off like most people in faith.  I was fearful of how they would view me after I shared my faith.  So, I did what any good future pastor would do.  I pretended it was someone else’s job.  I wanted people to know about Jesus, but I was just afraid they would throw away our friendship if I did.
As we begin a new series on evangelism, this is the key to understanding this. I often think that people of faith just assume this will just come to them naturally. But as the saying goes, Don’t pray for patience--God will give it to you by helping you train for it by letting you wait for something.  The same thing is true of evangelism; the only way to get better is to know yourself and the gifts God has given you.  Read His Word so you are ready, take the opportunity, and trust that He will bless it.  Simple, right?
            This is Red Bird Evangelism.   My passion for the Cardinals has increased the longer I stay in St. Louis.  And you’d better believe I will argue why they are the best team in baseball to any Cubs’ fan who wants to take me on.  And to my family who labels me a traitor because I grew up in Kansas City, I tell them I want my boys to support a team they can watch.  I still support the farm team of the Major Leagues; that is why I have a Beltran jersey.  Thanks to the Royals his RBIs keep us in first place.  Once you begin the practice of being a Cardinal fan, you can’t help but fall in love with them, and tell people about it.  In St. Louis that translates to Red Bird Evangelism, and the Cardinals can be a good analogy of how to prepare to share the Word of God.
                                                Finding your Pitch
                                                Learning the Game
                                                Hitting the Ball
                                                Trusting your Manager