Thou Shalt Not Steal…Except in Baseball

This post is actually hard for me to write. See, if you’ve just joined us, I like to combine baseball and faith to put my thoughts out there. I’m working my way through the Ten Commandments. I’m on Exodus 20:15, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ Stealing is a huge part of baseball strategy.

That being the case, we’re going to delve into an area of baseball where stealing is a no-no — stealing the catcher’s signs. It’s not technically illegal, though, so we’re going to push the analogy a bit.

Why is sign-stealing taboo? Well, really, for the same reason stealing is prohibited in the Ten Commandments:  it relates directly to how we treat people.

If you look at the Commandments, you’ve got four that deal with how we treat God:

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

and we’ve got five that deal with how we treat our fellow man:

  1.  Thou shalt not kill.
  2. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  3. Thou shalt not steal.
  4. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
  5. Thou shalt not covet.

Remember, the Fifth (Honour thy father and thy mother) serves as a sort of bridge between the two sets.

All Ten Commandments tie into the two greatest Commandments that Jesus gave in Matthew 26:36-40:

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets..

This is why stealing, whether it’s the catcher’s signs, someone’s identity, bearer bonds, or illegally downloaded music, is wrong. It points back to how we treat people. It shows that we do not love our neighbors.

You don’t steal from someone you love as yourself.

OK, guys, what do you think? Am I being too hard on the guys in the bullpen with the binoculars? Should I have talked about that a little more? How about illegal downloads? At what point do you think it becomes theft?

 

Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery or Stick with the Team God Put You On

Here’s the Commandment everyone loves (to break). I think the reason it’s broken so often is because it’s so easy. Like most easy things, though, it has serious consequences.

See, it’s not just sleeping with someone you’re not married to. It’s wanting to. Jesus tells us that lust is adultery of the heart. The very act of wanting to sleep with someone is on par with actually doing it. We’re commanded to keep our minds and eyes in check, not just keep our pants on.

Let’s go back to baseball for a minute. Say you’re a high school kid who loves to play baseball. You really want to play in the pros and you want to play for your home team. Since I grew up in Western Washington, we’ll call the local pro team the Mariners.

You would give anything to play for the M’s. You love that team. You know everything about her. The color of her logo excites you. You spend every available moment fantasizing about her.

You get a phone call from Atlanta. The Braves want you. What do you do? Your Mariners, who you have lusted after since you could hold a bat have taken no notice of you. Whether you go to Atlanta or not, you’re always going to wonder what it would be like to play with the Mariners.

You should love the team God put you on. Every bit of your ability and loyalty should be poured into that giant A on your hat and on your chest, but your heart has gone somewhere else. You still lust over that beautiful M. You’re not going to play with your full heart. You’ll be wishing and hoping that Seattle will still call you, so you can fly from Atlanta and be with team you want.

After a while, your lust for Seattle fades, and you settle in with your team in Atlanta. It’s not your first choice, and she doesn’t really do everything for you that you’d like, but she’s comfortable. Along comes San Diego with an incredible offer. You’ll be back on the west coast. You’ll be the starting the short stop. The pay is better. The uniform has been freshly updated. They’d like you to come and talk.

You jump on a plane and head west. You meet with the coaches and team president. The manager loves you. You spend a glorious weekend in San Diego, playing with the team, taking in the sights. You still have a contract with Atlanta, though. So, you head home.

You can’t hide that you’ve been playing in someone else’s ballpark. Atlanta knows what you did. She’s not treating you the same, anymore. The fans don’t cheer quite as loudly when you step up to bat. Your teammates don’t seem to want to hear your words of encouragement like they used to. You have damaged your relationship with your team.

Now, if you realize what you’ve done, it’s possible to save that relationship. It’ll never be the same again, but it can be salvaged with a lot of hard work. The fans may never fully trust you again, though. In most cases, you’ll be traded in a year or two, because it just isn’t working anymore. You’ll get sent to another team, maybe even San Diego or Seattle, and Atlanta will find someone who will be true and loyal.

See what happened there? Your relationship with Atlanta (your wife) wasn’t what it was supposed to be because you weren’t fully committed to her. You were flirting with another team. Your heart was still with that other team when you signed the contract. She was never truly first among women in your life. She was hurt by your actions and attitudes before you even met.

Later, because you still weren’t 100% committed, when San Diego (the other woman) came along, it was easy to jump ship for a weekend.

The first offense, though, the one that put all this into motion, happened when you were very young. It happened before you committed to anyone. Maybe you attended a training camp or field day with Seattle, maybe you didn’t. What caused the problem is that you wanted to so bad that it affected your future relationships.

Thou Shalt Not Kill

This one gets thrown around to defend all sorts of beliefs, and to attack many others. It all boils down to a proper understanding of the verse to realize that it does not conflict with any other verse.

If you go to evilbible.com (and I really don’t recommend it), you’ll find a nice list of things that earned the death penalty, particularly in the Old Testament. Maybe we’ll get into some of the particulars at a later date. I simply use the list to show that God does condone capital punishment, and for a much wider assortment of transgressions than we do.

God, Himself, drowned the entire population of the world, sparing only one family.

God called on Israel to wage war. He gave David the ability to kill Goliath. He gave Samson the ability to crush many Philistines.

Looking at these facts tend to make a person think God, if He exists, is inconsistent. He doesn’t obey His own laws. He must be a member of Congress.

None of that is true. When God says “Thou shalt not kill”, He is really talking about murder.

Not all killing is murder. War is not murder. Enforcing Biblical law is not murder.

Killing someone because of jealousy (Cain) is murder. Killing someone because you’ve decided you don’t want to be a mother is murder. (Hmm…there’s a whole new blog post.) Killing people because of whatever motivates these guys shooting up movies theaters and schools is murder. Killing someone because he’s a horrible president is murder.

People tend to break murder down into subsets. We have “justifiable homicide”, which is revenge. You could even make a case for it not being murder, if you twist the Old Testament just a bit and ignore what Jesus said on the subject. There are “crimes of passion” which don’t really involve malice aforethought, just gut reaction. Yes, they’re murder, and they show a huge lack of self-control. “Accidental homicide” is one that just kills me (pun intended). It’s either an accident or a homicide. It can’t really be both.

So, you see, God isn’t talking about every killing. Killing in some circumstances is justified. In fact, Jesus clarified this in Matthew 19:18, when he said “Thou shalt do no murder”

Honor Thy Coaches

We left our series on the Ten Commandments a while back. I think it’s time we get back there.

I started this series last year, and don’t rightly remembers why I stopped writing on it. I’ve been meaning to get back to it for quite awhile.

OK, so, we left off with the 5th Commandment, found in Exodus 20:12, which says, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

This Commandment stands alone in a couple ways. First, it is the connecting Commandment between how our relationship with God should look and how our relationships with our fellow men should look. Second, this is the only Commandment that has a promise directly attached. As usual, we’ll turn to baseball to illustrate the first point. I’m not sure how to draw a baseball illustration for the second yet, so, if I can’t do it without being horribly awkward, I’ll try a different approach.

We’re not going to be on the diamond today, but in the dugout. Take a moment and get yourself there. Your teammates (fellow Christians) are there, the manager (Jesus) is there, the batting and fielding coaches (parents) are there, too.

The manager knows all there is to know about the game. He knows how to hit, bunt, pitch, catch, field, throw, slide, sacrifice, all of it. He can teach it, too. He has other people to help Him with the coaching duties, though. He has parents in the lower coaching positions, and He wants His coaches to be treated with the same respect He is.

Let’s drop the baseball analogy for a minute while we discuss exactly what “honor” means. Ranch hands have another term for it. They call it “riding for the brand”, and it goes way beyond just obedience.

Honor means to respect and to build a positive impression for. I know that sounds a little clunky, but sometimes the exact words I’m looking for elude me. I’ll show you what I mean, though.

Think back to when you were a kid. If you were anything like me, the most dreaded chore was cleaning your room. Being told to clean your room was usually met with grumbling and slow, begrudging obedience. The thoughts about the parents were never pleasant while the task was being done. That’s obedience, but it is not honor.

Now, fast-forward to your teen years. You’re out with the gang and everyone’s talking about their parents. How they don’t understand, how they’re so old-fashioned, how the rules are too strict, how your friends won’t be like that when they grow up. That’s not honor.

Forward a bit more. You’re out on your own, have a family of your own, and it’s time for a family reunion. You really don’t want to go back home. You have plans to take your vacation elsewhere this year. You do go back for the reunion, but your grumbly and surly the whole time, thinking about the great ball parks you’re not visiting this year. That’s not honor.

We’ve looked at a few examples of what honor isn’t, now let’s dig into what it is. Honor is an attitude of love and respect. It’s obedience, not out of obligation, but out of love. It’s defending the reputation of your parents. It’s talking them up, not tearing them down. It’s looking out for them when they can’t look out for themselves. It’s listening and learning and loving, not because of what they can/can’t do or have/haven’t done for/to you, but just because they are your parents.

I hope that wasn’t too preachy.

Now, let’s look at the second point. This is the only Commandment with a promise directly attached. God says if you honor your parents, your days on this earth will be long. You’ll stick around and have a long life.

Now, maybe, that’s because parents don’t brain the kids who honor them. I think we’ve all heard the old “I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out”. If you honor your parents, you don’t hear that.

Seriously, though, this is extremely important to God. This is the transition between the vertical relationship with God that is covered in the first four Commandments and the horizontal relationships that are covered in the next five Commandments.

Traded

I’m watching the fallout from the NFL season and preparing for baseball season. Coaches and players are getting dropped and traded left and right. It’s got me thinking…

Usually, trades happen because of a performance issue. A player finds himself sent down to the minors or traded if he doesn’t perform to expectations. Let’s face it, nobody performs at their peak at all times, and we all fail. This means, in the sports world, we would all be subject to be traded at any time.

We do something worse than what pro athletes do, though. Scouts look at an athlete’s current and past performance, and make a judgement regarding how well that athlete will most likely perform in the future. We, on the other hand, look at our failures and how poorly we have performed, and make unrealistic statements regarding our future performance. At times, we even promise God we’re going to do something.

We promise Him we’ll lose weight, quit smoking, get control of our tempers, pray more, spend more time in the Bible, start doing daily devotions, whatever. (Hmm…there was my laundry list of resolutions for the past five years or so..same list, different year.) We have every intention of following through on all these things. We start strong. We fail. We become a tradeable asset in the sports world.

Fortunately, God has promised not to trade us. Once we’re on His team, we’re on His team for good. Romans 8:39 (Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.) tells us that we cannot be separated from the love of God. Ephesians 1 tells us that we are adopted as sons. Adoption is not a temporary thing. It is a statement that we are family. Essentially, it is God saying, “You’re mine and I’m not letting go.”

Even better than God’s promise not to trade us is the knowledge that He didn’t scout our performance before He decided to sign us. He knows how poorly we performed without Him. He even tells us that He knows without Him we “can do nothing” (John 15:5).

We are saved by grace. The Bible tells us this repeatedly. We were signed to God’s team, not because we’re such great players, but because He loves us. Even the Bad News Bears were better players, but God doesn’t care that we can’t get the bat around, we can’t get a pitch over the plate, we commit constant errors.

We were signed because God loves us and knows we need Him, not the other way around. He doesn’t need our bat, our glove, our arm. We need His coaching, mentoring, and love.

Can We Truly Do All Things?

Those who know me know I’ve been struggling to quit smoking, and not kill anyone or gain 100 pounds in the process. It has not been easy, and I’m still fighting.

A cursory glance at Philippians 4:13 (I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.) combined with Matthew 17:20 (And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.) says I should have the victory over that, and my anger management issue, and my coarse language, and my lack of patience, and a myriad other issues, just because I have faith God can and will take care of it.

The understanding many of us have of those verses is almost like “I can tell God this needs taken care of, believe He’ll take care of it, and carry on because I told God what to do and He’ll listen to me.” How arrogant is that understanding? We’re going to tell the Creator and Master of the universe, who gave us all when we were worth nothing, how we want it done, and expect Him to just fall in line, because we said so?

I was guilty of that understanding, and it caused some serious issues culminating in a crisis of faith that I’ve been struggling with for months. I don’t feel my prayers go past the ceiling. There is no power there. I’m angrier and shorter than ever. I feel as though God isn’t listening to me anymore.

Byron Yawn (@byronyawn on twitter) at Community Bible Church, in Nashville, TN, set me straight. I read an article he wrote, Why You Cannot “Do All Things” Through Christ, and it woke me up. I realized that we really misunderstand those passages. We shouldn’t be reading “I can do anything I set my mind to if I have faith”, we should be reading “I can ENDURE all things through Christ which strengthens me”. It’s not about accomplishment, it’s about endurance.

Just having the proper understanding made an immediate impact. I’ve realized God isn’t ignoring me, I’ve been listening for Him wrong. I couldn’t understand why I struggled so hard with everything when He was supposed to have it all in His hands. He wasn’t refusing to help, I didn’t see His help because it wasn’t what I was looking for; it wasn’t the easy way out that I selfishly wanted.

It reminds me of an old joke:

A man was drowning in the ocean. A small fishing vessel came by and the captain was about to throw him a lifeline, when the man said, “It’s OK. God’s going to save me. I don’t need your help.” The fishing vessel floated on past.

A while later, a cruise ship came into view. They started to lower down a life boat to get him, when the man said, “It’s OK. God’s going to save me. I don’t need your help.” The cruise ship went on past.

A short time later, the man’s arms and legs were cramping up and he was really getting tired of treading water. A Coast Guard Cutter came upon him and a diver prepared to go in after him. Again, the man said, “It’s OK. God’s going to save me. I don’t need your help.” Against the captain’s better judgement, the cutter moved on.

It wasn’t long after that that the man finally drowned.

When he got to Heaven, he had an opportunity to talk to God. He asked, “Why did you let me drown out there? Why didn’t you help me?”

God looked at the man and said, “I sent you three ships. What more did you want?”

 

Team Defense

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted, and I apologize for that.  Coaching t-ball this year has put my mind back in this mode, and given me plenty of material.  I’ll try to keep posting this year, even after t-ball season is over.

OK, I’m not sure if this is going to come out of my head and to the keyboard the way I envision it, but here goes.  Picture yourself on the bleachers of a Little League game, preferably Minors or Rookies, because the analogy misses something in t-ball, and usually doesn’t look the same in Majors or above.

Now, in this game, the pitcher is God, the batter is a person’s first impression of God, religion, the church, etc.  The ball is an unsaved person.

Our game is a little backward.  When you get an out, it’s a person saved.  If they make it home, it’s a life lived without Jesus, ending in Hell.

I know, as saved people, we associate home with Heaven, and in most of my posts, that’s the way it works, but this a different scenario.

Let’s put the ball in play.

God pitches and our person is hit into the field of believers, to convert.  The Short Stop is watching for the ball, but he dives and misses.  He told our lost person about Jesus, but didn’t have an immediate impact.  The left fielder , however, was on it, backed him up, fired the ball off as the runner is now nearly at second.  He spoke into this person’s life a little more, and something happened because of it.  The second baseman catches the ball, sweeps down for the sliding base-runner, and tags him out.  He made the conversion!

It took all three players to get that one.  You could say the Short Stop didn’t have any impact, and in a baseball game, it’s easy to see who did and didn’t have an impact on a play, but not so in life always, so we’ll give him credit for the attempt.

While the Second Baseman got the out, it took the work of other team members to make the play.  He could not have fielded the ball in left field and made the tag at second alone.

Sometimes, you’ll get a pop fly, and it’s a one-man out.  No one else has ever spoken to this person about the Bible, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or religion in general.  He’s never seen a televangelist, never heard a single Scripture.  You are the first person to ever make contact with him in regards to spiritual things, and the Holy Spirit enables you to make the play.

OK, really, where are you if you have that opportunity, the Amazon?  That just doesn’t happen in the world we live in today.  There is always someone assisting on the play; maybe years before you spoke to this person, but there was someone there ahead of you.  It may even have gone very badly in the past, but there was someone there.  At some point, this person heard or saw something relating to God.

This correlates directly to John 4:35-38.  There, Jesus tells the disciples that they will reap where another has sown.  Someone else has prepared the ground and planted the harvest.  The crops are ready to be harvested.

That’s what we’re saying here.  You will get the out where another has chased down the ball, and thrown it to you.  All you have to do is catch it, and make the tag.

Sometimes, though, you’re not the one who gets the tag.  You’re one of the people along the way who will get the assist on the play.

It doesn’t matter where in the play you are.  What matters is that you’re out there, playing defense.  You have your glove on, and you’re ready when God sends a ball your way.  If you’re in on the play, you’re in on the win.

Thou Shalt Take a Day Off

In Exodus 20:8, we are commanded to “Remember the sabath day, to keep it holy”.  God actually told Moses to tell the people to take a day off EVERY week.  Why did He do that?

OK, I’m not arrogant enough to say I know how God thinks, but I do have a basic understanding of how baseball thinks, especially where it comes to pitchers.

Pitchers are required, in Little League, to take a certain amount of days off, depending on how many pitches they throw.  They’re also limited as to the number of pitches they can throw in a game.  There are a few reasons we do that.

First, we’re trying to prevent injury.  Hurling that ball at full speed wears on the shoulder and the elbow, even if your form is perfect, and nobody’s form is perfect.  We pull pitchers off the mound, and rest them, to give their bodies a chance to recuperate.

Second, we rest pitchers so they have a chance to reflect on their last plate appearances.  They can examine what they did well, and what they could have done better.  Why didn’t that curve break?  What happened in the delivery that caused that ball to hit the batter?  Why did that fastball hit the dirt?  How, exactly, did I get that slider to break that hard, and get the batter to swing right by it?  How did that sinker happen?

Third, we rest pitchers so they understand that the game doesn’t revolve around them.  There are other kids who can do the job.  They may be good, but we can get through the game if they’re not there.

So, let’s look back at what God’s telling us.  Perhaps, what baseball tells us isn’t too far off.

Does God tell us to rest so we don’t hurt ourselves?  How common are things like carpal tunnel syndrome?  This type of injury happens by doing the same thing over and over again, without proper rest and recuperation.  That’s why they’re called repetitive motion injuries.  We need to take that rest so that our bodies can recuperate.

Does He want us to reflect?  We do a lot that doesn’t quite turn out the way it should.  Perhaps, God wants us to take the opportunity to figure out what went wrong so we can make adjustments.  I think He also wants us to take a look at what went right, though.  Only by truly examining the steps that led to the outcome can we consistently repeat the results.

One thing’s for sure.  God wants us to remember that it’s not all about us.  He wants us to take ourselves out of the game one day a week so we can see the Earth still revolves without our efforts.  There are necessary things, like feeding children, that still have to be done, and there is no law against that.  The trick is figuring out what’s really necessary, and what’s “necessary” to you.

I think there’s something else in God’s commandment to take a day off.  One, we were designed to be social, not solitary.  Two, He wants us to take time to meditate on Him.

God gives us the gifts of children, friends, family, spouses, and other people to spend our lives with.  If we are always working, and we take no time to rest, we’re not taking time to nourish those relationships.  Those relationships are important.  God gave us the responsibility of raising our children to honor Him, and to care for our spouses.  How can you do that if you’re always laboring?

We need to take time to meditate on God.  If we don’t take the time to soak in who and what He is, we soon fall out of touch with Him.  He hasn’t gone anywhere, but our focus has.  The only way to get that focus back on God is to take the time to reacquaint ourselves with Him.  We simply can’t devote the time to Him that we should if we’re constantly working.

Remember, as you go through your week, God has blessed you immensely.  Take a day, every week, to remember all that God has done, and all the gifts He has blessed you with.

The Third Commandment

Exodus 20:7 — Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Looks pretty straight forward, doesn’t it?  Let’s take a closer look, though.  When the Bible says “name of the LORD”, is it really just talking about using God’s name as a swear word, or is it talking about something more?

Your name is more than a simple appelation.  It’s also your reputation, your character, and your authority.

From 1973-2010, George Steinbrenner was the owner of the New York Yankees.  His name carried (and still does) a certain weight.  If someone came in Steinbrenner’s name, he carried the same authority Steinbrenner had.  His reputation worked for you, or against you, when you worked for him.  When his name was mentioned, people instantly knew who being spoken of, and had an idea of the kind of person they thought he was.

If someone started damaging his reputation by misusing his name, it wouldn’t take long for that to get around.  If someone started using his authority in New York in a negative manner, it would tarnish his name.  Who he was was tied to his name.  If someone slandered him, and it was believed, that damaged his name.

So it is with God.  His Name is not just what He is called.  It signifies who He is, what He stands for, His authority.

If we, His people, use His name to intimidate (if you do this, God’s going to punish you), that’s how people will view God.  They won’t see the just, loving Father we have, but an abusive stepfather.

If we, His people, claim His name and then go out and live sinful lives, then God is seen as a hypocrite, because His people are hypocrites.

There is much more to taking the Lord’s name in vain than using it to swear and curse.  Think a moment about all your name means to you.  How do people associate your name?  How do people associate God, and His name, by what they see in you?  That’s a truer and more complete view of whether you’re guilty of taking the Lord’s name in vain than just whether or not you use His name as a swear word.

Who Truly Owns Your Team?

A lot of people consider the Second Commandment to be more like Commandment 1(a).  They seem to be almost two parts of one whole, but, in truth, they are actually different.  In fact, it’s possible to break the Second Commandment while focusing very intently on keeping the First.

Suppose you’re a rookie baseball player who’s just been drafted.  You’ve seen your coach, trainers, agent, player rep, etc., but you haven’t gotten a look at the team owner.  You start asking around.  Has anyone seen this guy?  What’s he like?  What does he look like?

You start gathering some information, and think you’ve got a pretty good idea.  You really want a visual, though, so you pick up your chisel or your pencil, and you set to work.  You create what you believe to be a likeness of the owner, and that is who you play for.

Is your image correct?  Maybe, maybe not.  One thing is absolutely certain, though.  That image is NOT the team owner.  Whether it’s a good likeness or not doesn’t matter.  It still isn’t the man who signs your paycheck.

In life, what you did in our example is called making an idol.  It doesn’t matter if that idol is a picture of an artist’s idea of what Christ looked like when He walked the earth, or a trout, or a six-armed woman, or a cute, little, fat man.  Whatever it is, it is not God.

If you look at it as though it is God, though, it becomes your god.  Whatever it is, it will never be God, but can easily replace God in your heart, as you begin to look at it as though it is.

You see, the First Commandment is joining a different team, which can happen unintentionally, as we discussed last week.  The Second Commandment, as you can see here, is more like creating an image of the team owner in your mind, and playing for him, instead of truly playing for Him.

Next week, we look at taking the Lord’s name in vain, or using the Team Owner’s name as a swear word.

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