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My heart hurts … and it’s hurt for some time.

Over what?

Over the increasingly rare teaching about holiness in Christian churches.

Holiness is a major theme in Scripture.  1 Peter 1:15-16 puts it succinctly:

“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'”

I resonate with the praise song that says, “Holiness, holiness, is what I long for; holiness is what I need …”

In fact, the holiness of God is essential, because it’s the basis for Christian morality … and happiness.

The argument goes like this:

*There is only one God.

*The character of that one God is holy, meaning He is set apart from sin and too pure to look upon evil.

*God’s holiness demands that He punish sin, but Jesus took our place on the cross and paid for our sins.

*When an unbeliever receives Jesus, that person is given the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.

*The Spirit’s job is to transform an unholy person into a holy person, a process called sanctification.

*To become sanctified, a believer needs The Holy Bible, The Holy Spirit, and The Holy Church … all gifts from The Holy Trinity.

For a follower of Jesus, the basis for morality is not my parents … my friends … my school … my television … my music … my Twitter … my feelings … or my culture.

The basis for morality for a Christian is the holy character of God.

God’s character is unchangeable.

God’s requirements are unchangeable.

God’s expectations are unchangeable.

Even when my parents … friends … social media … feelings … and culture change, God doesn’t change.

And because God doesn’t change, my behavior needs to conform to His holy character, not to the culture around me.

But from what I’m hearing and reading these days, most Christians cannot answer this simple question:

What is the basis of morality for a Christian?

The most common answer would probably be, “The Bible,” but that’s not the best answer.

The basis for morality is God’s holy character as revealed in Scripture.

So Christian morality is rooted in God’s holiness as taught in His Word.

But when is the last time you heard that truth preached?

As I visit Christian churches, I’m hard pressed to hear the words “holy” or “holiness” mentioned anymore.

We no longer say “Holy Bible” … only “The Bible” or “The Word.”

We increasingly refer to “The Spirit” rather than “The Holy Spirit.”  (But isn’t the primary job of the Holy Spirit to make God’s people holy?)

We rarely say “Holy Communion” anymore … just “The Lord’s Supper.”

The word “holy” is slowly being dropped from Christian vocabulary.  Is it intentional?

It may be for some, but I believe that most Christians now think that the whole idea of holiness has become irrelevant.

Most pastors love to emphasize that God is love … so we should be loving, too … but find it difficult to say that God is also holy … and that means we need to be holy as well.

But He’s not just loving or holy … He’s both.

And God’s people need to be both loving and holy as well.

Why the de-emphasis on God’s holy character and our holy living?

Because it doesn’t sell anymore.  Pastors know that if they stress God’s love, people may continue to attend churches, but if pastors highlight God’s holiness, many will walk out the back door and never return.

But isn’t this really the problem?

Last Sunday, I heard an excellent message from John 12:37-50 at the church that my son and his family attend.

John 12:42 says that many of the Pharisees believed in Jesus privately, but they didn’t want to make their belief public “for they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:43).

Like the Pharisees, pastors like praise from men, but Jesus’ church needs pastors who desire praise from God even more … and that means dealing with unpopular issues in a loving but truthful manner.

There were times as a pastor when I got up to preach and knew that my message would not be well-received.  Those were usually the times when I was preaching on an issue where biblical teaching clearly clashed with cultural preferences.

But it wasn’t my job to take a poll, see how people felt about an issue, and then tell them what they wanted to hear.  No, it was my job to faithfully exegete God’s Word, explain it clearly, and relate it to contemporary life even if people left the church.  (But they rarely did.)

Let me briefly illustrate what happens in churches when pastors preach God’s holiness faithfully.

I grew up in a church where I had two different male Sunday School teachers in ninth grade.  As it turned out, both men slept with the same married woman, and when it was discovered, three families left the church.

Only later did I discover that the church was full of sexual immorality among the adults.

How could this happen in a fundamentalist, Bible-believing church?

In my view, it’s because the church’s founding pastor … whose marriage was rocky … slept with multiple women over time.

There were so many women involved that the news of his exploits was bound to get around the church … quite possibly “giving permission” for others to emulate his behavior.

But besides that pastor’s poor example, I never heard him preach on sexual issues.  He didn’t tell us what Scripture said about sex (good or bad) … he didn’t tell us anything about sexual boundaries … and he never discussed the consequences of sex outside of marriage.

So even though we had a Bible-believing church, the congregation was not receiving biblical teaching on sexual behavior … so everyone did what was right in their own eyes.

I have never been in a church that was so full of perversions.

This is where many Christian churches are at today.  In an attempt to keep people coming … and giving … all too many pastors are either avoiding what Scripture is saying about sexual matters, or they are redefining what is right and what is wrong.  (And maybe, just maybe, they’re avoiding certain issues due to their own personal struggles.)

In the process, are our churches becoming more holy or less holy?

I certainly don’t think they’re becoming more holy.

By contrast, let me share what happened to me the last time I preached on a sexual issue.

I was preaching on sex inside marriage from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5.  I emphasized that sex was a good gift from a gracious God but that God commanded that sex only be practiced inside a monogamous heterosexual relationship.

In the process, I emphasized some practices that would enhance a married couple’s sex life, and some practices that would harm their sex life.  It was all very PG stuff.

Several people whose opinions I valued commended me for my strong words after the service, but one of the seniors called and told me that the entire seniors group would be boycotting the rest of the series because they didn’t like what I said about sex inside marriage!

Of course, I didn’t want the seniors or anybody else to boycott my preaching, but I felt then … and still feel now … that we pastors need to be specific about what God expects from His people in Scripture.

But after visiting scores of churches over the past few years, I’m just not hearing much … if any … emphasis on holy living.

To test my theory, I asked my wife several days ago, “Can you tell me the last time you heard a pastor say that Scripture says that sex before marriage is wrong?”

She couldn’t recall a single instance.

Because I was listening for it, I did.  The last time I heard a pastor say that sex before marriage is wrong … which includes couples who live together … was more than three years ago at a church we attended near Phoenix.  (And the church was growing like crazy.)

Because pastors are avoiding the tough topics … especially involving sex … people are being instructed almost exclusively by the culture, and many of our cultural spokesmen believe that “anyone can have sex with anyone at any time for any reason.”

I don’t mean to harp on sexual practices alone while discussing holiness.  I could make a similar case for the immorality of lying and stealing and other misbehaviors.

But please do me a favor.  Over the next few weeks (and next week is widely known in Christian circles as Holy Week), please listen to your pastor preach … and listen for the words “holy,” “holiness,” and any other terms that convey the same meaning.

Write and let me know what you’re hearing … or not hearing.

Because I hope I’m wrong.

Last Sunday, when I listened to the Word of God being preached, I felt nothing.

Before you judge me as a heartless heretic, let me explain.

My wife and I decided to visit a nearby church that met in a school just to check it out.  The pastor was away and someone spoke in his place.

The speaker based his message on Psalm 78 and talked about the importance of passing our Christian faith onto the next generation.  Well and good.

During his entire 50-minute sermon, he spoke positively … pleasantly … and peacefully.  He smiled a lot, and kept encouraging us to read our Bibles.

But something about his message was missing, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

After the service, as my wife and I were walking to our car, it hit me.

I remembered a story that the great Welsh preacher D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once told.  He was attending a conference where various preachers were expounding the Word of God.  During one message, the person sitting next to Lloyd-Jones leaned over to him and said, “Heat without light.”  During the next message, that same person observed, “Light without heat.”

Some preachers excel in producing “heat without light.”  They get all worked up during their sermon but offer little insight about Scripture or life.

But to me, the great majority of preachers that I hear today fall into the “light without heat” category.  Even if they have something important and insightful to say, they just don’t seem to be very passionate about it.

If the preacher isn’t moved by the truth, then how can the congregation be moved?

Maybe I’m wrong, but all too often, the preaching I hear in my community is devoid of emotion.

Let me offer three examples:

I’d love to hear preachers demonstrate more righteous anger.  There is so much in the world and in the church that’s wrong, and sometimes I think I’m the only person around who becomes vexed by corrupt politicians or deceitful clergy.  While I know I’m not the only believer who feels strongly about corporate and personal wrongdoing, I would welcome hearing stronger words directed against the destructive effects of sinfulness … not careless condemnations, but careful warnings.

Jesus certainly exhibited righteous anger when He taught, especially when He was dealing with the Pharisees, who gave Him a lot of material to work with.  Jesus wasn’t always a nice guy when He spoke, and I seriously doubt if the Christian faith would have spread throughout the ancient world if His message could be reduced to, “Let’s be nice to everybody.”

Sometimes when I preached, I’d feel a surge of righteous anger come upon me when I was expounding a specific text, and I had to make a split-second judgment call as to whether I was going to restrain that urge or unleash it.  If I did let it fly, most of the time, those brief rants ended up being the most impactful – and memorable – part of the message.

Maybe it’s just me, but from time-to-time, a pastor’s preaching needs to be a bit edgy.  It’s good for the soul.

I’d love to hear preachers demonstrate genuine sadness.  I grew up listening to preachers who seemed to be able to manufacture tears on a dime, and I promised myself that I was never going to manipulate a congregation by crying all the time.  But looking back, I could have … and probably should have … let the tears flow once in a while.

Jesus publicly wept outside the tomb of Lazarus.  He lamented the coming destruction of Jerusalem within earshot of His disciples.  Even though He was the Son of God, Jesus didn’t cover up His humanity while ministering in public.  He let the tears come.

I’m sure that I’ve shed tears during one of the multitude of sermons I’ve heard over the past few years … but I can’t remember any specific occasion … which speaks volumes about how rare it is to hear a preacher shed tears anymore.

And this makes me wonder: how much does the preacher really care?

I’d love to hear preachers demonstrate more vulnerability.  Have you ever watched Star Trek: The Next Generation?  (I missed watching the original Star Trek so this example will have to do.)  Data, the android, looks human but is incapable of feeling human emotions.  His inability to feel means that he often can’t connect with the humans he works with.

Sometimes I wonder why so many preachers just don’t connect with their listeners.

Many of us … myself included … connect best with preachers who are vulnerable … who don’t just tell us what that they’re thinking but how they’re feeling … even if those feelings aren’t always EC (ecclesiastically correct).

I don’t want to hear an android or an angel preach.

I want to hear a sinner saved by God’s grace who lets us know that he’s been tempted … battered … doubtful … depressed … betrayed … abandoned … and weary … yet continually relies upon the grace of God to see him through.

Several years ago, my wife and I attended a worship service at a large church we passed all the time.  The church’s practices made us a bit uncomfortable that Sunday, but I loved the pastor’s message.

Near the end, he openly questioned whether he should tell us his story, then decided to drop his mask and tell us that he had left the mission field in Africa because of severe depression … and it took a long time for him to recover.

It was moving.  It was real.  It connected.  He had our full attention.

And thank God, we knew that we were alive because we could feel something during the sermon.

There is an ethos among too many Christian leaders that says, “Hide your emotions.  Never show anger.  Hold the tears back.  Always appear strong.  Give them the Word … just don’t give them yourself.”

I hate that ethos.

Especially when it comes to preaching.

A pastor friend who reads this blog told me a story recently that seems paradoxical.

My friend became the pastor of a church several years ago that averaged 45 people on Sundays.

Three years later, the attendance had tripled and the ministry was going great … except that the rapid growth upset some key leaders.

They began making accusations against the pastor … who was shocked by what they were saying and how they started treating him.

So he eventually resigned … those who came to the church because of him left … and the church reverted to its original size.

This pastor was asked recently to attend a function where many of his pastoral colleagues were present … and many of those men pastored congregations on the small side … even smaller than 45.

But they still had their jobs, and if history is any indication, most of them will remain as pastors for a long time.

We might put this ministry paradox this way:

If a pastor grows a church too rapidly, he can find himself unemployed … but if someone pastors a stagnant church, he may keep his position for years.

For an existing church to grow in 2015, a pastor must institute change … which usually involves risk … which creates anxiety among some people … which leads to complaining … which can lead to antagonism, plots, secret meetings, charges, demands, threats, and the ultimate resignation of that pastor.

Let me give you an example of this scenario from my own ministry:

Many years ago, I pastored a church that was growing at a steady pace.  I initially focused primarily on teaching and shepherding … and the ministry went very well.

We crowded out two services in our worship center, so I had to put on my leader hat and make plans to build a new worship center on our property.

This meant putting together a building team … allotting special funds to hire an architect … letting the architect explain his ideas to the congregation … letting the congregation respond to the architect’s proposal … hiring a contractor … starting a capital funds drive … collecting pledges … overseeing construction … dealing with the planning commission … dealing with resistant neighbors … calling in a federal mediator to help with the resistant neighbors … holding a groundbreaking ceremony … overseeing construction for a year … getting final city approvals … and holding a dedication Sunday.

And I’m sure I missed at least a dozen other steps!

I kept the congregation informed at every key juncture.  Every vote that our church took on every building-related issue was unanimous.  In my view, I handled the changes well.

But there was still fallout.  We lost around 8% of our regular attendees.  Some didn’t want to contribute to the building.  Several leaders tried to sabotage the entire project.  And when the building was finally unveiled, some people complained about colors … furnishings … room functionality … you name it.

I once heard that 70% of all pastors resign soon after completing a building program.  I can see why.  You’re so worn out by the time the building goes up that you have little energy left to grow the church.

But just constructing a worship center (called “architectural evangelism”) never attracts new people.  The pastor still needs to exercise leadership to fill the building, and when he begins taking risks again, the whole anxiety/complaining/antagonism/plots/threats cycle starts all over again.

If a pastor chooses to exercise true leadership in a church, then someone is going to attack him.  Most pastors instinctively know this, and because so many pastors are sensitive individuals, most opt not to lead, which is why 80-85% of all churches in America are stagnant or declining.

But when a pastor does lead, he invariably makes some enemies.

If those people perceive that the pastor is strong, they will probably leave the church.

If they perceive the pastor is weak, they may organize to try and force him to leave.

But if a pastor chooses not to lead … but to focus on administration and teaching and shepherding instead … the chances are much greater that he’ll keep his job for a long time … even if his church never grows.

I visited a church several years ago where the pastor had been there for more than three decades.  The church had been in decline for years (the attendance was half of what it once had been) but the pastor was allowed to stay because he functioned best as a teacher and a shepherd rather than a leader.

Although the boat was taking on water, at least the pastor wasn’t rocking it!

By contrast, Dennis Maynard mentions in his book When Sheep Attack that the 25 clergy he interviewed for his study were all leading growing churches when they were forced to resign.

Maynard states that “… several of our participants noted that they believed that returning the parish to its former state of mediocrity was what they thought the antagonists really wanted.  They observed that the antagonists often objected to the increase in attendance and new members.  They resented the expanded program.  They particularly objected to having new leadership raised up in the congregation.  Once the parish is returned to its former size and activity the antagonists are in a better position to, as one priest wrote – ‘run things themselves.'”

The idea that many of the pastors of rapidly growing churches lose their jobs while the pastors of stagnant/shrinking churches keep their jobs isn’t based on a scientific study.  It’s just a personal observation.  But in my mind, it seems to ring true much of the time.

All of this leads me to ask four questions:

First, is it better for a pastor’s career prospects for him to focus on teaching/shepherding rather than leading in any meaningful way? 

In other words, should a pastor focus on a few things and leave the leadership to the staff … the board … or other influencers?

Second, at what point do a church’s lay leaders begin to turn on the pastor of a growing church?

Is it when their friends/spouses threaten to leave?  When the church grows beyond their control?

Third, to what extent can a pastor be run out of a church for doing too much good?

Can a pastor be too successful?  How does a pastor know when he’s in career jeopardy?

Finally, why do Christian leaders permit this kind of sabotage in our churches?

Why aren’t our seminaries teaching prospective pastors that church success can very well lead to eventual unemployment?  Why don’t our denominations support productive pastors over against damaging antagonists?

Jesus wasn’t executed because His following was insignificant, but because His influence and popularity were expanding.  He was crucified for being too effective.

Twenty centuries later, the careers of many pastors end for the same reason.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the hundreds of baseball books I have read, and the scores that I own, five stand out among all the rest.

Here they are:

I never saw Ted Williams play.  His last season for the Red Sox just happened to be the year I started becoming interested in baseball.

But there are few players more fascinating than Teddy Ballgame.

Growing up in San Diego, his mother was devoted to The Salvation Army, and Ted and his brother practically raised themselves.  He strove to become the greatest hitter who ever lived, and in my book, he succeeded: .344 lifetime average … 521 home runs … a .406 average in 1941 … and he hit .388 at the age of 38!

But what makes The Kid most interesting is that he could never hold back how he felt … or what he said.  He’s the Original Uncensored Superstar.

On several occasions, I asked Ted Williams for his autograph, and he signed, but he was a bit gruff about it.

But I will never forget the day my brother John and Ted had a long chat.

It was 1969 or 1970 … I can’t remember the exact date.  Ted was managing the Texas Rangers, and he came out of the hotel in Anaheim and sat on the shoeshine chair outside all by himself.  He started reading the newspaper.

Although I’ve asked many superstars for their signatures, a few have been very intimidating: Mickey Mantle … Johnny Bench … and Ted Williams, among others.

I didn’t want to bother Ted while he was reading the paper, but John decided to approach him anyway.  I thought Ted would sign something for John and that would be it, but Ted put down his paper, looked through John’s baseball cards, and they had a lengthy conversation.

I couldn’t believe it, but it’s true: Ted Williams loved kids.

Sportswriters?  Not so much … and he spends a lot of time in his book slamming certain ones … with some justification.

I’ve read this book four times and have never grown tired of it.  It’s terrific … although a little on the profane side.

Tyrus Raymond Cobb was crazy … and maybe the greatest baseball player who ever lived.

He hit .367 lifetime (a record that will never be topped) … stole 892 bases … held the record for hits in a career with 4,191 (until Pete Rose broke it) … and had a will to win that made him both a great player and a lousy person.

I picked up Cobb’s autobiography as a kid and it greatly influenced the way I played baseball in two areas:

First, Cobb’s book made me more aggressive on the basepaths.  He said that it takes a perfect throw to nail a runner, and when you’re young, you’re going to beat a throw most of the time.

Second, Cobb’s book made me use my brain just as much as my skills.  He had a reason for everything he did on the field and knew how to anticipate plays.

As some reviewers on Amazon point out, Cobb’s autobiography isn’t always accurate, but it’s a lot of fun.  Several decades later, Al Stump – Cobb’s collaborator – wrote his own book on Cobb, and tried to tell the real story – and it wasn’t always pretty.

Although I never met Cobb, a friend used to sell newspapers to him in Menlo Park, California, and said he was a grouchy old man.  But I have driven past his old house in Atherton (I have a photo of it somewhere) and have visited his hometown of Royston, Georgia, including his museum and grave.

Lawrence Ritter loved baseball, and wanted to track down some old-time ballplayers and get their recollections on tape.  But first, he had to track down the players … often without much to go on … and published the first oral history of baseball in 1966 … the glorious The Glory of Their Times.

Even though every ballplayer in the book has been dead for decades, they still speak through Ritter’s book, including Rube Marquard, Stanley Coveleski, Edd Roush, and Harry Hooper: all members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

There are recollections from 22 players, and I was privileged to write to 13 of them and obtain their autographs, including two of my all-time favorites: Wahoo Sam Crawford and Smoky Joe Wood.

In fact, when I started writing players at the age of 13, Crawford was one of the first players to answer me.  He sent me a Hall of Fame plaque postcard which he signed at the top … and on the back, wrote, “To Jim, With All Good Wishes, Wahoo Sam.”  How can you not love someone like that?

Several months later, Crawford died, and it really hit me hard.  He was the all-time leader in triples with 312 and played in the outfield alongside Ty Cobb for years.

Two interesting facts about this book:

First, Ritter’s conversations with these players has been made into a CD which you can buy from Amazon.

Second, you can buy the Kindle version of this book for only $1.99 on Amazon … a purchase I encourage you to make ASAP!

When I was in second grade, I got pneumonia, and I was out of school for about a month.  My mother suggested that I write to the Dodgers and ask for a team roster, and they sent me their Press Guide instead.  I can still remember eating lunch while immersed in the statistics in that Press Guide … stats compiled by Allan Roth, the godfather of baseball numbers.

Fast forward ahead 8 years.  In 1969, the Macmillan Company published The Baseball Encyclopedia, a book that included the name of every player who ever lived up to that date … yes, including Moonlight Graham from Field of Dreams.  But whereas such encyclopedias only had basic information up to 1969, the Encyclopedia was thorough.

My mother gave it to me for Christmas.

I went through the entire book, writing down the names of ballplayers who were still alive that I wanted to write to.  Through a friend, I spoke to Charlie Deal on the phone, who played for the 1914 Boston “Miracle” Braves.  I still have scores of notes from old-time players who handwrote their greatest thrill in baseball for me.

The Encyclopedia has gone out of print now, and has been superseded by other encyclopedias … but I never got tired of looking through it.

Even the print was gorgeous.

This is the best baseball book that I own, and I have three copies: the original from 1985 … the updated version from 2001 … and a Kindle version.

And I read the Historical Abstract as frequently as I read my Bible.

This book is just so much fun!  Yes, James spends a lot of time writing about Win Shares … his statistical theory that determines a player’s true value … and that may or may not thrill you.

But his rankings of the Top 100 Players at each position is a never-ending source of delight.

He tells unique stories about some players … delves into archaic facts about others … and talks about the personalities of still others.

But the book is fun because James is opinionated … and usually accurate.

If you want to know about old-time players and how they compare with more recent superstars, this is the book for you.

And like the Bible, it never gets old.

 

 

 

 

Since baseball spring training is underway in both Arizona and Florida, I thought I’d change pace and write about my favorite books on baseball.

I have loved baseball for more than half a century.

It all started in 1960 when my father – a pastor – bought packs of baseball cards for me and my brother.  Some kid at church didn’t want his 1958 and 1959 Topps cards, and so Dad brought those home to us, too.

For years, I have wondered, “Why did those colored pictures of posed athletes mean so much to me?”  Maybe it’s that link to my father … or the fact that my friends began to collect cards, too … or because I was able to match the names of players that I heard about with their faces.

Growing up in Anaheim, California, my father took my brother and me to the Coliseum to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-2 in May, 1960.

Two things stand out for me from that game:

The grass on the field was so green that I instantly fell in love with being at the ballpark … and you could hear announcer Vin Scully’s voice reverberate throughout the stadium on people’s transistor radios.  (And 55 years later, the great Vin Scully is STILL the Voice of the Dodgers.)

We Dodger fans only got to watch 9 games on television every year: the games the Dodgers played at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

That’s why the All-Star Game and World Series were so special to me as a kid … because they were on television.

We had a black-and-white TV even when everyone else on our block had a color set, but to me, it didn’t matter: it was baseball.

I remember running home from school in second grade to watch the end of Game 7 of the World Series and watching Bill Mazeroski hit a walkoff homer to win the Series for the Pirates.

Because you could only hear Dodger games on the radio, the only way I could gain more information about famous players was to read about them in books.  So I devoured every book I could find in the school library about baseball … and eventually read every book I could find on baseball in the public library as well.

I’ve read hundreds of books on baseball: biographies, oral histories, team histories, record books, forecast books … you name it.

And out of all the baseball books I’ve read, these ten are my favorites:

Number Ten

Although I grew up a Dodgers fan, I greatly admired the San Francisco Giants.  In fact, when my brother John and I used to play baseball in our back yard (with a tennis ball), he would be the Dodgers, and I would be the Giants.

On September 4, 1962 – Labor Day – the Giants and Dodgers played a crucial game at Dodger Stadium.  Both teams were locked in a tight pennant race … back when there were only ten teams in each league.

The attendance that day was 54,418, including my dad, John, and me.  Even though the Dodgers lost, it was a day I’ll always cherish.

David Plaut’s book Chasing October gives all kinds of insights into that pennant race that an 8-year-old kid would never have known.  When I finally found the book at a reasonable price … and now you can buy it for just $7.99 for the Kindle … I read it quickly … on one memorable occasion, with Vin Scully announcing in the background.

Number Nine

Before I read this book – which came out in 1963 – I knew nothing about the fact that eight players from the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in 1919.  As a child, I was absolutely shocked that players would actually cheat on the field.  (This was long before steroids!)

Several years after I first read this book, I began writing old-time ballplayers in the mail, asking for their autographs, and although I wrote people Chick Gandil and Eddie Cicotte, they never responded to my requests.

But the catcher for the Black Sox, Ray Schalk … who wasn’t involved in the scandal … did answer me, as well as Edd Roush, center fielder for the Reds.

This book was made into a movie … a very good movie, I thought, even though Charlie Sheen is in it … but I highly recommend this book, which has been deemed a classic since its publication.

Number Eight

It is hard to put into words how much Sandy Koufax meant to me as a kid.

He threw four no-hitters … and I listened to each one on the radio, including his perfect game against the Cubs.

He set the all-time record for strikeouts in 1965 … 382 … and I saw that last strikeout at Dodger Stadium when he beat the Braves to clinch the National League pennant in 1965.

He beat the Yankees twice in the 1963 World Series … and the Twins twice in the 1965 World Series … to bring both championships home to Los Angeles.

He seemed to be a modest, self-effacing man who was conscious of the fact that he was expected to be a role model for kids … and did it well.

In 1967, the All-Star Game was in Anaheim, and Koufax had signed to announce the game for NBC.  While hanging around the Grand Hotel the day before the game, I saw Koufax … asked him to sign my autograph book … went home for dinner … found my mint condition 1955 Koufax rookie card … went back to the hotel, and asked Koufax to sign that one as well.

I’ve been told that his signature on the card devalues its worth, but I don’t care … it still means a great deal to me.

Leavy’s book details how much Koufax meant to the Jewish community … how much he suffered as a pitcher … and why he retired at the age of 30 after winning the Cy Young Award for the third time.

Number Seven

This is one of those books you’d like to have with you on a desert island … and it’s cheaper than cheap on Amazon.

The book gives brief biographies of every player of note … and many obscure players … through 2000.

There’s a small photo of each subject (color shots for more recent players) … a record of when and where they were born and died … one line of career totals … and hundreds of fascinating stories about the players.

It’s the kind of book to peruse while you’re watching a game.  If an announcer throws out the name of a former player, just turn to his entry, and you’ll learn not only what the player did on the field, but in many cases, what he did off the field.

The only problem with the book is that it’s heavy.

Number Six

Bob Broeg was a sportswriters for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a frequent contributor to The Sporting News, which is how I first became acquainted with him.

This book … a classic published by The Sporting News … was published in 1971, so it leaves out great players like Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Derek Jeter.

But the book includes 40 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, such as Grover Cleveland Alexander, Dizzy Dean, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson, Mickey Mantle, and Cy Young.

Filled with rare photos, Broeg is a terrific writer, and brings each of these superstars to life with biographies that are both brief and yet complete.

The book is relatively inexpensive and seems dated, but when I finally bought it, I devoured it … right after I got married.

I’ll share my five favorite baseball books next time, but until then:

What is your favorite baseball/sports book … and why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a megachurch in the United States that hires dozens of staff members all the time … and fires some as well.

According to one of the church’s former senior pastors, whenever a staff member is dismissed, the same reason is privately given as to why that person left:

“They had an affair.”

If a staff member leaves due to burnout … or ineffectiveness … or a poor relationship with his supervisor … the response is always the same.

Why would a church do this?

It’s simple: in evangelical circles, if a pastor/staff member has had an affair, there is a consensus that they did a bad thing … they need to leave the church … and people stop asking questions about why that individual left.

But it’s clearly wrong to do this … and sinful … and falls under the category of lying.

In addition, accusing someone of adultery could destroy their reputation … their career … and their marriage.

I suppose that those who quietly announce that the departing staffer had an affair figure that their concise explanation will never reach the ears of the departing staff member, and even if it does, nobody will be able to trace back the origin of the charge.

But that’s what is troubling me right now: that lying sometimes goes on in the upper echelons of Christian churches … especially when it comes to the departure of pastors and staff.

Back in 1995, Bill and Lynne Hybels wrote a book called Rediscovering Church.  At the time, Pastor Bill was the senior pastor of the largest church in America, Willow Creek Community, in South Barrington, Illinois.

Lynne describes a tense time early in the church’s history.  A key member of the church staff was involved in sinful misconduct.  The elders confronted the staff member, hoping he would repent, but he resigned instead.

Lynne writes: “The following morning an elder announced the staff member’s resignation, citing ‘differing philosophies of ministry,’ and wished him well in his new endeavors.  The elders assumed the congregation would accept the partial explanation given, but they clearly misjudged.  By the end of the service, the core members of the church were in an uproar.  ‘Give us the truth!  Tell us what’s really going on!'”

Lynne continues: “The elders tried to explain in positive terms the philosophical and personality issues that necessitated a ‘a parting of the ways.’  But in order to protect the privacy of the resigned staff member, they hid the real issue behind an opaque screen of secrecy.  When people questioned the former staff member, he too avoided a straight answer.”

Without being given enough information to process, many churchgoers speculated that Pastor Bill was seeking more power and decided to eliminate the competition … and that the elders were his “naïve accomplices.”

With some other issues that were going on at the time, the church experienced a major train wreck, and scores of people left the church … just when the church was getting to ready to start a building program.

I don’t think the elders needed to share all the bloody details of why that staff member resigned.  After all, as 1 Peter 4:8 states, “… love covers a multitude of sins.”

But sometimes the reasons given as to why a pastor has left a church aren’t intended to “cover the sins” of the person departing.

They’re designed to cover the sins of the leaders who bullied that pastor and bungled his exodus.

This lying trend inside churches makes me ashamed … but I know why many leaders do it.

Several weeks ago, I heard a former presidential advisor in the United States say that lying in the interests of national security is justified.

In the same way, many pastors … staff members … and board members believe that lying inside a church is justified if it’s in the name of church security.

Their reasoning: if they tell the truth about why they fired a pastor or staff member, that could put the whole church in jeopardy.

So to protect the survival of the institution … to keep people attending and serving … and especially to keep people donating:

*They concoct a story that’s untrue.

*They use overly broad and deceptive terms like “philosophical differences” to explain the departure.

*They privately blame the pastor or staff member for everything … without the accused knowing anything about it.

*They conceal their role in the dismissal even if they’re guilty of betrayal … overreacting … creating pretexts … and ignoring Scripture and church bylaws.

*They continue to tell untruths until people stop protesting the departure of the pastor or staff member in question.

The lies are intended to work for a short time.  As the truth eventually comes out … and it always does … people become less emotional about the pastor’s departure, they choose not to challenge anybody over the spin … and then they forget about it.

But slander … if it’s really slander … always results in the destruction of a person’s peace … family … reputation … or career.

And that’s not what the gospel or Christ’s church are all about.

Let me share with you five ways we can stop the slander that happens in Christian churches concerning terminated pastors:

First, remain skeptical about the public version of why the pastor left.

I once had a friend who was on the board of a prominent church.  He was a huge supporter of the pastor.  The church was growing like crazy.

One night, my friend couldn’t attend a board meeting, and because he was absent, the board took the opportunity to force the pastor to resign.

Although my friend wasn’t present, he obtained a copy of the board minutes from that night, and sent them to me for my counsel.

In the minutes, the board agreed together to announce the pastor’s resignation the following Sunday morning … and to lie about it to the congregation.

I was appalled … and so were others.  In fact, one person ended up suing the church to find out the truth.

I refuse to follow leaders who lie in private or in public, and you shouldn’t either.

If someone lies to you once … and they get away with it … you can guarantee they will lie to you again and again.

This is especially true of politicians who lie with impunity in hopes that the public will forget their deceptions over time.

But lying happens at times inside Christian churches as well.

If you’re in a church, and a staff member or elder announces that your pastor has left, I wouldn’t automatically believe the public explanation.  I’d proceed to the next step:

Second, contact the pastor directly and hear his side of the story.

Some pastors are prohibited from saying anything about their departure if they signed a severance agreement with the church board.

But that agreement almost never covers the pastor’s wife … the pastor’s family members and friends … and his supporters inside the congregation.

If you’re diligent, there are always ways to find out what really happened.

When I hear that a pastor or staff member is about to get the ax, I advise them to tell their side of the story to people they want to keep as friends before they sign a severance agreement.

Why?

Because after the pastor leaves, there may be a concerted effort to destroy his reputation, and in all too many cases, those friends who haven’t first heard the pastor’s side may abandon him if they pay attention to the whisperers.

Two family members told me what happened in their church.  The board forced the pastor to resign, and then stood up in front of the church and warned people not to discuss his departure with the pastor … or else!  (Those family members wisely left the church.)

While churchgoers don’t need to know all the gory details as to why a pastor left, they need to know enough so they can still trust the church’s leadership.

Third, correct any misinformation that you hear going around.

Those who believe the first thing they’re told about a pastor’s departure may unknowingly pass around slanderous information.  Be very careful.

Yes, pastors are fallible beings, and they may be guilty of a disqualifying sin, like sexual immorality or criminal behavior.  So if you hear that’s why they left the church, the information might be accurate.

But remember the story that begins this article … accusing a pastor of specific sins usually causes most people to back off from inquiries … even if the charges are false.

I believe that truth should trump unity inside a local church because unity is based on truth.

For example, let’s say that this Sunday, an announcement is made that your pastor has resigned, and you want to find out why.

So you speak to an elder … then to the pastor’s brother … and you’re convinced that church leaders pushed out the pastor in a power play.

Some people will tell you, “Let this go.  Drop it!  The pastor is gone.  Now is the time for the church to come together and be united.”

But how can a church unite around a lie?  The only way it can heal is for the people to be told the truth.

In Dennis Maynard’s book Healing for Pastors & People Following a Sheep Attack, the author writes:

“The wounded members of a congregation will share a common prescription with their wounded pastor or lay professional.  They need to talk about what happened.  If they remain silent their wounds will become gangrenous.  Allowing the antagonists to continue to spin their story only increases their pain and anger.  Their sense of justice demands that the antagonists be exposed for exactly what they did.  Based on the experiences that form the foundation of these books [Maynard’s books on sheep attacks], it is highly unlikely they will be offered such an opportunity in the congregation.  Yet these truth tellers need to speak.  Your healing begins by doing that very thing.  Follow the scriptural admonition to speak the truth in love.  Hearing yourself do so will contribute to your healing.”

It may take weeks or months for the truth about the pastor’s departure to emerge, but if you’re patient, you will learn as much of the truth as you want to know.

The pastor’s severance agreement may expire when he receives his last payment from the church.  Then he may be free to share his side without repercussions.

People can only cover up their sins for so long.  It only takes one or two individuals to blow the lid off of a cover-up.

Fourth, pastors need to add one paragraph to their severance agreements.

In most written separation contracts, the departing individual agrees that they will not harm or sue the institution they are leaving.

But from my experience, and from the stories I hear from terminated pastors, this isn’t the problem.

The problem is that people inside the church … including church leaders at times … end up harming the departing pastor’s reputation.

Now if a pastor was truly a destructive individual, then just telling the truth about him could destroy him.

But much of the time, a pastor is innocent of wrongdoing but quietly charged with major sin anyway after he departs.

For this reason … however it’s worded … I believe that before a pastor signs a separation agreement, he should insist that a paragraph be added that says that (a) church leaders will not slander him after his departure, (b) church leaders will swiftly and forcefully correct any misstatements going around about him, and (c) church leaders will only speak of the departing pastor in a truthful manner.

I can understand why church leaders might balk at such language, but only if they plan to do the very things that paragraph prohibits.

Finally, pastors need an ethical and legal recourse if they’re slandered.

I know a pastor who was under fire but innocent of wrongdoing.  He tried to stand strong against the opposition, but they began lying about him, and sadly, some people began to believe the lies.

Worn down, the pastor agreed to resign in exchange for a severance agreement, but when he left the church, there was still a cloud hanging over him.

Before he left, the pastor had commissioned a team of people to investigate the charges against him.  The team ended up being composed of various church leaders.  Several of them told the pastor before he left that the charges against him were baseless.

Two weeks after the pastor left, the board chairman stood in front of the church and publicly stated that an investigation had been conducted and that the pastor was innocent of any wrongdoing.

That should have put an end to the matter.

But there were still people inside the church … and on the outside … who didn’t want the pastor to be vindicated.  They had invested a great deal in forcing him out of office, and if he was exonerated, they might appear guilty by default.

So after the pastor left, they engaged in a whispering campaign and accused him of all kinds of misdeeds … all of them untrue.

But their strategy paid off when many churchgoers believed their falsehoods, cut all ties to that pastor, and castigated his reputation inside the church.

That pastor would like to visit that church someday … maybe to attend a memorial service, or a worship service … but he doesn’t believe he can because of the lies told about him … lies that should have been corrected but were permitted to spread throughout the church.

That pastor has little recourse.

*He would never sue the church … or any of the individuals connected to the church … past or present.

*He would never make demands or threats of the current administration.

*He would never demand that the denomination or district that church belongs to take action.

*He would never manipulate people inside the church into refuting the charges made against him.

But the church of Jesus Christ provides no forum he can use to clear his name.

So he did the only thing he could: he told his story in the pages of a book.

And it took me three years to write it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slander in the Church

Many years ago, I was preparing a sermon and decided to use a story I had read to illustrate a point.

There was just one problem: the book that told the story was buried in a box inside my garage.  Should I fish out the box and find the book?

I decided to tell the story from memory … and did just that the following Sunday.

Several days later, the pastor who wrote the book that was buried in my garage sent me an email.  He gently chided me for getting the story partly wrong.

Evidently he had been searching for his name online, found the manuscript of my message which was posted every week on the church’s website, read what I wrote, and decided to correct me directly.

I apologized to him for not getting the story completely accurate and learned a valuable lesson: when you refer to people by name – especially Christian leaders – you better tell the truth.

Since God “does not lie” (Titus 1:2), Jesus is “the truth” (John 14:6), and Jesus told the Father “your word is truth” (John 17:17), we can conclude that truth is extremely important to the Holy Trinity … and must characterize the lives of Jesus’ followers as well.

But during times of stress in churches, truth often becomes a major casualty … and even Christian leaders have been known to lie at times.

Let me share two fictional scenarios to illustrate my thesis:

The first scenario involves Pastor Bob who is struggling to manage the behavior of his youth pastor, Larry.

Larry has started avoiding worship services, causing most young people to follow his example and not attend, either.

In addition, Larry has been skipping staff meetings, which are mandatory.

And the pastor has received reports that Larry swears on youth outings … bashes Pastor Bob verbally whenever he can … and doesn’t agree with Pastor Bob’s vision.

Pastor Bob finally confronts Larry, who promises to change but quickly reverts to his old ways.

Pastor Bob doesn’t want to fire Larry because he is adored by both the parents and the youth … but Bob also knows that Larry deserves it.

So Bob goes to the church board … describes the situation … gains board approval … calls Larry into a meeting with the board chairman present … and fires Larry on the spot.

However, Bob is petrified by the potential fallout.  He’s worked hard to build the congregation and is concerned that if he tells the truth about Larry’s departure, people will blame Bob and leave the church in protest.

So Bob persuades the board to give a generous severance package to Larry as long as he keeps his mouth shut … the old “cash for silence” routine.

The following Sunday, Bob tells the congregation that Larry “is no longer our youth pastor” … but Bob avoids saying why.

However, six perceptive individuals corner Bob after the service and say, “Bob, tell us the truth … why is Larry no longer here?”

Knowing that Larry has been paid to stay quiet, Bob replies, “Well, Larry wasn’t really happy here, and some parents were upset with his performance, so Larry and I mutually agreed that he would leave.  That’s really the size of it.”

Those six individuals will now get on the phone … start sending emails … and repeat Pastor Bob’s untruths all over the church.

Some of those lies will make their way back to Larry … who will become livid that Pastor Bob didn’t tell the truth that Larry was unilaterally fired.

But Larry has been squashed like a bug and has no forum to rebut Pastor Bob’s inaccuracies.

The second scenario involves Pastor Bob and the church board two years later.

Two members of the eight-person board – Marshall and Stu – have become upset with Pastor Bob.  His crime?

He refused to marry each of their daughters because they weren’t marrying Christians.

Feeding off each other, and with their wives and daughters threatening not to attend church anymore, Marshall and Stu decide together that Pastor Bob has to go.  But they know that the other board members don’t care about their issue.

So they spend several lunch hours trying to create charges against Pastor Bob that will sound plausible and stick.

After several weeks of comparing notes, they decide on the following charges:

*Pastor Bob is not the right man to reach a changing community.

*Pastor Bob has been in the church too long and is past the point of effectiveness.

*Pastor Bob can’t manage his family well because his youngest son was suspended for skipping school.

And just in case those allegations don’t work, they add one more they can pull out of their back pocket without needing corroboration:

*Pastor Bob has been mismanaging church funds.

Over the next few months, Marshall lobbies three board members to see things his way.  Stu does the same with the other three members.

Eventually, two board members agree with Marshall, and one agrees with Stu, so the board has five votes to terminate Pastor Bob … and in the end, they vote 6-2 to fire him.

The church board is gravely concerned about the fallout after they announce Bob’s departure, so they decide to fortify their charges against him, adding several more.

They then meet with Bob … ask him to sign a separation agreement in exchange for a six-month severance package … but won’t answer one question that Bob asks:

“Why specifically am I being dismissed?”

Marshall mutters something about “it’s time for a change” and Bob walks into the night … stunned and abruptly unemployed.

After the board makes their announcement to the church, the spin begins: Bob could no longer manage his family … he mismanaged church funds … some people suspected him of having an affair … the staff no longer respected him … and on and on.

In fact, sometimes the board members change their story depending upon who they’re talking with at the time.

But the truth was that all of their “charges” were really pretexts because Marshall and Stu were angry that Pastor Bob hadn’t married their daughters.

Marshall and Stu knew the truth, but they didn’t dare tell the other board members or Pastor Bob.  That wouldn’t have sounded “Christian.”

Wounded and depressed, Pastor Bob withdrew from public life until two months before his separation agreement was set to expire.

He started applying for open pastoral positions inside his denomination, but four months and thirty-two applications later, he had not received one positive response from any church.

Then one day, out of the blue, a friend from his former church called Bob.  He told Bob that his reputation inside the church was in tatters … that it was going around that Bob’s son was on drugs, that Bob had stolen church funds, and that Bob had had an affair … none of it true.

No wonder Bob couldn’t generate any interest within his denomination!

The lies had done their work.

Believe me, what I have just written happens far more than it should inside of God-loving, Bible-believing Christian churches.

It evens happens in theological seminaries.

In the late Frank Pastore’s book Shattered, the former major league baseball pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds relates a story that still bothers me.

Frank (I spent an evening with him once) taught at my college and seminary.  A group of leaders wanted to “overthrow” the school’s president.

Frank was invited to participate, but he refused, making him a “loose end” that knew too much.  The result?

Frank writes, “So they put a kinder, gentler hit on me – character assassination by slander and gossip.  To my face they acted as though nothing had changed.  But all the while, they were destroying my reputation.”

Frank’s ministries suddenly evaporated.  And then he was dismissed from the school in the middle of a semester … and his son’s scholarship was pulled.

Understandably, Frank didn’t want anything more to do with ministry or the church again for a while … although he eventually became the host of a Christian radio program that perfectly suited his talents.

But here’s what I want to know:

Why do Christian leaders who claim to know and believe the truth sometimes resort to lying?

Why do some Christians tolerate the lies without calling out the leaders?

I’ll write more about slander in the church … including ways to stop it cold … next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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