Closers: Own Your Role

(This is the fourth in a series on wisdom from baseball co-written with Mark Stanifer.)

New York Yankees. A lot of people love them. A lot of people don’t. I live just south of Tampa.

Love them or not, their history of great players is remarkable. So much so that they have their own greatest players list that could rival all other teams combined. Google “Yankees Greatest Players,” and you’ll see.

In most of those lists, the name Mariano Rivera appears at least in the top ten, some even higher. Writer Anthony Maimone placed Rivera number six. Here’s part of his explanation:

“There is no question that Rivera is the greatest closer MLB has ever seen. The real debate is whether or not he is the greatest pitcher of all time. The fact that is even a question shows the extreme dominance Rivera has had on the competition stretching his 19-year career. There has never been a pitcher as dominant as he has been, and there may never be one again.”

If you pull up the Wikipedia article on baseball closers, guess whose photo illustrates the article. Of course he does. Why? He set the bar (652 career saves), the standard (served the role for 17 years), basically defined the role (precise control, smooth motion, composed demeanor). Others before him might disagree that Rivera is the greatest closer ever, so that brings up the question: what exactly makes a closer great?

The greatness begins with acknowledging what their job is. They are the relief pitcher called in to get the final outs in a close game when their team is leading. To be great, a closer has to be reliable, very business-like, and certainly able to handle big pressure. Tony La Russa, a manager considered a developer of the role of the closer, said this:

“It is important that relievers know their roles in the situations which they will be called into a game. Sure, games can get away from you in the seventh and eighth, but those last three outs in the ninth are the toughest. You want a guy who can handle that pressure. That, to me, is most important.”

They know their role. I would add, not only does a great closer know their role, they also own it. They are part of a pitching staff of roughly 15 pitchers. The starting rotation usually consists of four to five pitchers, so the rest of the staff are relievers. But the closer, everyone knows what his job is. That pitcher must know his role and own it.

Most likely, that player didn’t grow up through little league, high school, and college thinking he was going to be a closer. He probably dreamt of being the star pitcher, the horse, the leader. Whether by choice or force, he now finds himself in the closing role. And to be great, he has to own it.

When it comes to owning your role, one of the best instructional writings available is actually found in the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul writes about the body of Christ in chapter 12. Using the body analogy, he says we all have a designated role to play by being part of a body. So if you are the ear, you have to own being the ear; you can’t decide you won’t without the body becoming dysfunctional. Every part must know their role and own it if the body is to function as it should, to be in winning form.

  • You want to be great at work? Know your role on the work body and own it.
  • You want to be great at home? Know your role in the home body and own it.
  • You want to be great in the community? Know your role in the community body and own it.
  • You want to be great in God’s kingdom? Know your role in the kingdom and own it.

Mariano Rivera played for the same “body” his entire career. His owners knew they wanted him and would do what it took to keep him. As a result, he has ridiculous amount of records and is considered one of the greats of the most celebrated team in all of sports. This was made possible because he found his role, and he owned it.

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He Gets on Base

(This is the second in a series on wisdom from baseball co-written with Mark Stanifer.)

Moneyball. Seen it (released 2011)? Read it (published 2003)? If your answer is no, go ahead and hit pause on whatever you’re doing, including reading this post, and get that done.

Yes, it’s that good.

If you’re a baseball fan, it’s a no-brainer. If you’re a movie fan, it received six Oscar nominations. If you love one liners, there are a plethora. So pardon my repetition, but if you haven’t watched or read it, you must.

Besides the one liner “Who’s Fabio,” one of the more memorable lines is when Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) asks Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) repeatedly why the scouts should consider several players that they otherwise weren’t. The answer over and over again was, “He gets on base.”

Beane and Brand were referencing principles based on sabermetrics, something not widely done at that time across Major League Baseball. Although it had its beginnings in the middle 20th century, sabermetrics had not been embraced by traditionalists. Beane and Brand were challenging tradition.

They didn’t care how the batter got on base; they just knew that the only way to win was scoring runs, and you can’t score runs without getting on base. If the batter is willing to take a walk, he still gets on base. If the homerun king hits a single rather than a homerun, he still gets on base.

This sounds fairly simple. But as a guy who had a whomping one hit all season in the only little league season I ever played, I can attest that getting on base is not simple. It requires several things. Several of those things are applicable to life, to what it takes to be considered worthy of the scout’s attention. Here is a short list.

Patience

Swinging at every pitch will not get you on base. Waiting for the right pitch takes discipline. Discipline and patience are teammates. It takes discipline to learn how a pitcher thinks, understand the rhythms of the game, and commit to the strategy of the manager. And this learning, understanding, and committing will require patience. The hitter who can grow in their patience at the plate and get on base will also grow in their value to the team.

Sacrifice

Every at bat is not a heroic moment. Just because you have home run capabilities doesn’t mean every swing has to be for the fences. Sometimes your ego must be checked by being satisfied with a single that gets that player in scoring position across home plate. A valuable player pursues humility and gets on base however he can.

Focus

Monumental, game-changing at bats often happen in a game. The at bat becomes a mind game or a cat-and-mouse exchange. When a normal at bat of four or fives pitches moves into double digits, the batter takes the upper hand. Why? Because he has made the pitcher see his focus. This out is not going to be easy. The hitter who can stay focused, deal with whatever pitch is thrown, raises their chances of getting on base.

The player who illustrates this so well for my team (Go Cards!) this season is Tommy Pham. As of the writing of this post, Pham leads the team in six of the twelve batting categories. His story? He was drafted in 2006 but didn’t make his big league debut until 2014 at age 26. For eight years he was working on getting on base. When he was brought up, he didn’t immediately have success. But he kept working at getting on base. So much so that this year is his most successful year, by far. Not only does he lead his team in six categories, he also is among the highest in several categories in all of baseball; in one category he’s seventh. Want to take a guess at which one? OBP-On Base Percentage.

Paul wrote in Colossians 3:23, “whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” Heartily means “from the core of one’s being.” Whatever our position-dad, husband, employer, son, leader, follower-God has given it to us. All he asks of us is to do it well, mean business, you might say, get on base. Each time it’s your turn to pick up the bat, approach the plate prepared to get on base. Grow in patience, practice sacrifice, and harness focus so when you stand before God he can say, “Good job. You kept getting on base.”

Fruity Fridays: Passing the Self-Control Test

(Final posting in this series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

(photo credit Amber Hatch FB page)

Nothing like a hurricane to test your self-control.

Publix test…check

Wawa test…check

I-75 test…still in progress

Saving the snacks…hasn’t even started

This very real storm brings to life how many situations in our lives make us feel in our minds and emotions. So Paul may have had some intention to placing this fruit at the end of the list. If the other fruits have been produced, this one should be easier to nurture. And we need it to pass the tests of life’s storms.

When I’ve not being doing well passing the self-control test, here are a few questions I review to check myself:

  • Where’s my sensitivity level? It’s entirely possible I’m making more of this situation than it is. Making more could mean I’m taking it too personally, I’m not paying attention to common sense, or I’m playing the “what if” game way too long.
  • What assumptions might I be making? Assumptions are usually the result of lacking communication (listening, clear explanations, waiting on someone else to take the first step, etc.). In these cases, I must review what has actually been said or not said and own my role in the communication failure.
  • What do I know? It’s my responsibility in my relationships to know who I am and who they are, what triggers I have and what triggers they have. That knowledge then should be the foundation for treating the relationship with the respect and the control it needs.
  • What boundaries are being violated? This question assumes boundaries are in place; if that’s not the case, then it’s time to set them. If they are in place, I must identify my violation and own up to it, both to myself and to the one I violated.

As we go through the next few days, let’s help each other pass the self-control test. 

*I want to thank the contributors to this series-Danny Bote, Jeremy Nixon, and Eric Vorhies. We started the series October 1, 2016. Alas, we’ve finished the task. Readers, thanks for sharing the journey with us.

Fruity Fridays: Digging Deep

(A series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

post by Eric Vorhies

Before I walk in, I think to myself, “Self-Control. I got this.

Why wouldn’t I? There are a lot of things in life to which people lose control of themselves. Alcohol, drugs, lust, hatred, anger, thoughts, friends, words. I mean, of course, I have slipped up here and there, but by no means do I consider to not have self-control. I don’t use destructive language. I don’t really get angry. I try hard to capture my thoughts before they capture me. I have never been drunk…not even buzzed.

But as I sit down, it doesn’t matter though because the chips and salsa are placed on the table before I even order. Game over. I haven’t even had a chip yet, and I already know that they will just need to place my meal in a to-go box.

Sad, but true. Though I do find it funny, that no matter how hard I try to discipline my life, there is always something that can defeat me.

Lately, that thing is me. As a freelance filmmaker, work isn’t always coming in. As someone new to an area, it can be challenging to meet the people who can give you the work you need. Lately, there has been a lot of pressure on me (mostly, by myself) to drum up new work. I have confidence in my abilities and in my personality. But when it comes time to solicit work or to network, the excuses come so naturally that I treat them as if they are the truth. “I don’t have time for this,” “I need to get this thing done before I can do that,” or “I can do this later …I wonder what’s on Netflix.” (It’s like trying to start a diet!) Then, when I lay my head down at night, I hate myself. I wasted my time. I set myself back another day…and for what, a few more scrolls of Facebook or a couple more episodes of TV.

I just read the parable of the two men who built houses in Matthew 7. One man built it on rock, and the other one built it on sand. It is easy to miss the depth of this because most of us have never built a house, let alone one in 1st-century Israel. To get to the rocky base of the land over there, people would have to dig several feet through hard-packed sand. That is miserable work that no one wants to do….unless…they want to build something that will last.

I am sure that you are like me, and you know exactly where you need to start digging down deep to build that thing that you want to last. You know what your excuses and weaknesses are. But if you want to be able to go to bed fulfilled each night, you need to become diligent and purposeful. For me, I quit watching TV on my own, I only am using Facebook to communicate with people I work with, and I definitely don’t sit down to eat some chips and salsa but that is related to a totally different problem. I am digging deep so that I won’t be defeated by some silly thing like excuses.

Now, I can’t close this without giving some specific clarity. Our strength and foundation aren’t found in ourselves. It is God. This whole series is about the fruit of the Spirit. I can honestly say that I don’t dig with my own strength, but with God’s. Eric, without God, takes shortcuts and finds the easiest-path-right-now option. But I receive strength from God through the Holy Spirit. The foundation is Him and His truth. And God is always taking people on journeys to help them discover just how much they can accomplish for His glory.

Fruity Fridays: We All Struggle with Something

(A series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

post by Jeremy Nixon

The last fruit of the Spirit is self-control. You know the old saying…”we saved the best for last?” Well this one is a doozy. To me, it’s the hardest fruit to attain. I say that only because I’m lacking the most in self-control. I’m a bit on the unhealthy side when it comes to weight, and the hardest thing for me to do is stop eating. Especially if it’s good, and believe me, in Arkansas, it’s all good! 

Many people may think the same way, but the deal is…I think we all struggle with something. Everybody has a vice…it may be ice cream, buying stuff, spending too much money or insert yours here, etc. Whatever it may be, there is good news: Paul tells us in Galatians that we can be free!!! Matter of fact, Paul urges us to choose this freedom that’s found in Christ instead of being enslaved. (I think he knows a thing or two about that.)

The very definition of self-control is this: the ability to control oneself. But for Christians it is much more than that. For us it means to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions. Basically, behavior that doesn’t please God and allowing things to be so important to you that they make you sinful or participate in sinful behavior is the very thing we have to stay away from. That’s self-control, and we don’t have to do it alone. Paul says that when the Holy Spirit is living in us God will help to maintain self-control.  

Self-Control is throughout the whole Bible. God is pretty serious when it comes to self-control. In Paul’s letter, Titus 2, the word self-control comes up several times and speaks to everyone young and old to have self-control in order for others to experience the love and salvation of the Lord. Another story: Jesus painted the picture of self-control when he rejected Satan’s temptations for 40 days. Jesus chose to honor God instead of giving in to Satan. We too have the same power through the Holy Spirit to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions.   

So what is self-control to you? What is your struggle? When are you most tempted to lose self-control? These are great questions to ask yourself so that when you are tempted, you can seek God for help…because God WILL help you maintain self-control.

The fruit of the Spirit study has been good for me. It has caused me to stop and think more about these fruits and see how God can use me. It has brought light to areas of my life that need improvement, and I hope it’s done the same for you. The truth is this: all Christians, we, should grow the fruit of the Spirit; the more we are nurtured and empowered by the Holy Spirit…our fruit grows. The first blog was about getting dirty, and sometimes we have to get dirty to produce fruit; but when it comes to self-control we have to ask for help. Christ wants us to be free! Stand firm. Produce fruit. Love God. Love people. When you are doing these, your fruits are blooming and God is being honored.

Condemnation vs. Salvation

Finger pointing. Hardly anything new. Remember Adam?

Whether the finger pointing is for something that happened today or yesterday, the question is does is really work. What does it accomplish? Is the end result what was the desired goal?

If anybody had the right to point his finger for something that happened today or yesterday, that would be God. But look at what he said in John 3:17 was his choice.

  • For God did not send his Son into the world that he might condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. (CSB)
  • God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. (MSG)

This verse states simply and clearly why the Father sent the Son into the world. Since this was the Son’s purpose, it seems to reason that followers of Jesus would strive to pursue the same purpose. Rather than finger pointing through conversation in person or online, we should be helping put the world right again through salvation.

  • Condemnation pushes away; salvation welcomes.
  • Condemnation builds walls and encloses potential; salvation builds relationships and opens possibilities.
  • Condemnation separates and rejects; salvation welcomes and accepts.
  • Condemnation fosters hate; salvation proclaims love.
  • Condemnation says, “I’m right; you’re wrong.” Salvation says, “We’re all messed up. Let’s seek healing together.”

Fruity Fridays: Gentle like Jesus

(A series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

My Bible reading plan has me in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Knowing it was my turn to write about gentleness and having already thought through some things, it was a natural connection to make between my thoughts and the actions of Jesus as told by these four authors. So first, think along with me about steps we can take toward being gentle, and then consider along with me how Jesus took these steps in three different scenes from the book of John.

Some things I know that produce the fruit of gentleness in me when I do them are listening, checking my emotions, and putting myself in other’s shoes.

Listening:

Very few things put us in a better state of humility than keeping our mouths shut and listening. Avoiding the temptations of interrupting or talking over others leans us into gentleness. Silence welcomes calmness and averts hotheadedness, in both parties.

Checking Emotions:

We all have triggers, which means, like it or not, we all have emotions. Knowing our triggers that might lead to harshness is vital to checking our emotions. Having a plan when the trigger goes off will enhance our chances of responding gently. With these triggers, maintaining a gentle spirit through all emotions can seem impossible. But let’s be honest, sometimes a situation calls for bold, powerful reactions. These are rare situations for most people. Our reactions don’t have to be mean-spirited or destructive. If you find yourself feeling like every situation ends in bold reactions, it’s definitely a sign that gentleness is missing.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes:

Over the years, this discipline has produced gentleness in me when I’ve most needed it. But it doesn’t come naturally to me. Does it you? So how do you nurture putting yourself in someone’s shoes if it isn’t how you’re bent? A few things come to mind:

  • You can’t be the focus of every moment or thought.
  • While listening, refrain from thinking how you’re going to respond or how you feel about the person or the situation.
  • Force yourself to do things that are out of your norm or that are uncomfortable but represent other’s reality, such as volunteer at a shelter, pause and talk with a homeless person, walk somewhere when you could have taken transportation, go without eating, or live on a fixed income.
  • Meditate on the specific dynamics of a person’s life that impact their perspectives, such as family of origin, education, employment, or religious background.

Jesus did these things very well. Take for example his interactions with three people as told by John.

John 3, Nicodemus

He listened to Nicodemus questioning and trying to understand. He checked his emotions by not dismissing him as another Pharisee who might be after him. He put himself in his shoes as a Jewish leader working out his beliefs about who Jesus was.

John 4, Samaritan woman

He actually started this conversation. His gentleness is seen in that move alone. He listened to her question his motives, his common sense, his culture understanding, and her attempts to distract him from her story. He checked his emotions when she tried to challenge him as a Jew, more than once. He put himself in her shoes by recognizing her situation and her desire for something different.

John 11, the village of Bethany

This village was hurting. They were mourning the death of their neighbor and family member, Lazarus. Even in his delay, which no one understood, he ultimately showed gentleness. He showed all gentleness is found in the purpose of glorifying the Father. Through his listening to the mourners, checking his own emotions, and putting himself in their shoes, he turned hearts of sadness and unbelief into joy and conviction.

There is power in gentleness. May we be gentle like Jesus.

Deep Water

Luke 5:4 (MSG)

When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”

If you’ve read the Gospels, you are familiar with this story.  Simon and his coworkers had been fishing all night and caught nothing.  Then Jesus tells them to do this.

Using that deep water thought, what area of life might God be telling you to push out?  What if He knows something you don’t and all you have to do is respond like Simon, “If you say so”?

  • It’s possible you’ve done all you can in the water where you are; it’s time to trust God by going into deeper water.
  • It’s possible you’ve exhausted all your resources in doing the same routine, doing what you know; it’s time to follow God in doing something new in deeper water.
  • It’s possible you’ve matured beyond the needs of your current location; it’s time to believe God has more for you by stretching you in deeper water.

Why be content in your “all night’s” work?

Why not consider the possibilities where God is offering to guide you?

When Has God Spoken to You (Journal Exercise Suggestion)

The back was too tight to do a morning run this morning (that’s what stretching and treadmill runs later in the day are for); so instead, God and I had a longer than usual conversation.

During the conversation I got a pretty clear message of something I am to do this week. Receiving that message made me ask this question, “If I made a list of the ‘big, writing-on-the-wall’ messages I’ve gotten from God in my life, what would that include?” 

Seemed like a good exercise, so I did it before I left for the office. As it turns out, in 30 years of adult living, I’d say I’ve received nine such messages. To be clear, “Be nice to idiots is not a ‘big’ message.” The daily messages we receive from the Holy Spirit are nothing more than atuning ourselves to communicating with Him regularly. A big message is something like, “Change your career path,” “I promise you if you’ll stop saying ‘no’ to me about this direction you’ll be 100% satisfied,” or “You’ve been waiting for the green light. Here it is.”

You might call these markers. Markers are specific times or places in our lives where significant things happen. Sure, your wedding day, your child’s birthday, and other physical events are markers. This intentional, spiritual exercise makes you think about your conversations-with-God markers. They can remind you who has been for you, where he has been with you, and what he has done through you.

So what are you waiting for? Get a blank page in front of you. Answer the question. You never know; another “big” message might be ready to get marked.

Closing the Gap

Nehemiah is a rich book. One great example of the story is how Nehemiah and his community managed themselves and others as they completed a massive project. As with any project, there is a starting point and a vision of what the finished work looks like. This gap between the start and the finish is where life happens.

Some of us have a tendency to expect the completion of our vision sooner than is logical. Sometimes this tendency leads us to go beyond ignoring logic and simply not having the patience to wait through the logical. It’s as if we are always asking God for miracles.

Does God still perform miracles? Sure. But many of the situations we want to experience change, where we envision the completion of a “project,” aren’t “lion’s den” moments. For example, changing the culture of an organization doesn’t happen in 24 hours, overcoming a cocaine addiction most likely takes months or years, and reshaping a dysfunctional family can be the work of an entire generation.

That’s reality. Some questions we should ask ourselves are, “Am I committed to closing the gap? Am I willing to see this through rather than expecting God to do what He intends me to do?” We know where we are and can probably envision where we want to be, but are we committed to the work and time to close the gap.

That’s doable. It actually may be even more life transforming than an instantaneous miracle.

So here are some questions to challenge ourselves when beginning a project, committing to closing a gap of any nature:

  • Where am I and where do I want to be?
  • What’s the real challenge I want to overcome?
  • What does God desire for this situation?
  • What steps are needed to start overcoming?
  • How long am I willing to work on closing the gap?
  • Who should I recruit to walk with me through this gap-closing season?
  • How will I celebrate when the gap is closed?