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Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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Book Reviews
The Matheny ManifestoThe Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old School Views on Success in Sports and Life by Mike Matheny and Jerry B. Jenkins. Crown Archetype. 226 pages.
****

Mike Matheny is the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. He succeeded the legendary Tony La Russa in 2012, who retired after winning the 2011 World Series. Matheny, whose career as a catcher was cut short in 2006 at age 35 due to complications from numerous concussions, was at that time the youngest manager in the game. This book builds on a five-page letter that he sent to the Chesterfield (just outside of St. Louis) parents who had asked him to coach a youth baseball team. The letter would end up on the internet, go viral, and be referred to as the “Matheny Manifesto”. In the book Matheny shares his eight keys to success: leadership, confidence, teamwork, faith, class, character, toughness and humility.

Matheny’s letter begins:

“I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans, and now here we are. The reason for me saying this is that I have found the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents.”
Ouch.

Despite the letter, Matheny was asked by the parents to coach the team. He states: “They gave me the chance, and I put into practice what I believed was right. It wasn’t always easy, and not everyone was on board from the beginning. Not everyone lasted. But good values are good values for a reason, and in the end, they work.”

Matheny shares the lessons he and fellow coach John Mabry taught and the many they learned in the process, some painful but all valuable. He tells a lot of stories that I enjoyed along the way, from his childhood and upbringing, his days as a young ballplayer, a college player, a minor leaguer, and a big leaguer (as both a player and a manager). He also examines how the values he emphasizes apply to life beyond baseball, beyond sports, and can plant a seed of hope in the next generation.

He shares the core values that affected everything on and off the field:

  1. Service
  2. Teamwork
  3. Discipline
  4. Excellence
  5. Responsibility
  6. Leadership

The following were their nonnegotiables:

  • A baseball experience focused on the boys
  • Baseball played the right way—with class
  • Attitude, concentration, and effort (ACE)—factors the boys can control (with excellence required)
  • Biblical truths as our moral compass
  • A culture of respect from players, parents, and coaches
  • An emphasis on the mental aspect of the game
  • The parent’s role as a silent source of support
  • The players’ responsibility to make themselves better

Matheny states that in his personal life as well as his professional life, he has—without doubt—learned more from failure than from success.

He shares his appreciation of (as do I) legendary UCLA Men’s Basketball Coach John Wooden. He states that some refer to Wooden as the fountainhead of successful modern leadership, and they don’t even limit it to sports. He writes that Wooden is the coach to whom he owes the most, the one whose approach and philosophy he works hardest to imitate, though the two never met. He shares helpful maxims from Wooden in a number of categories.

I was particularly interested in the sections where Matheny discussed his faith, though that is unfair, because it’s clear that Matheny’s faith impacts all aspects of his life. I enjoyed hearing the story of his conversion. After hearing a revival speaker at his church one evening he was troubled about whether he was truly a believer, despite being a regular church attender. He couldn’t sleep that night and got out of bed to talk to his parents. He writes: “They got out their Bible, opened it to the New Testament book of Romans, and walked me through its Road to Salvation. Then they prayed with me, and I received Christ.”

About his faith he writes: “I have committed to my players and coaches that I will never force my faith down their throats or assume they see the world as I see it; however, neither will I cower from any question. My goal is to live in such a way that what I believe is obvious by how I go about my business and how I treat others.”

Respect is one of the values that he tried to instill in the boys on his youth team. He states: “It’s one thing to get kids to treat their opponents with respect—shake their hands and say, “Good game,” and mean it—win or lose. It’s quite another to get them to extend that courtesy to umpires.” It was a requirement that the boys would shake the hands of the umpire after each game, win or lose.

Matheny writes that his career was exceptional in only three ways: its longevity (especially for a catcher); that he got to play in the postseason four times, including a World Series; and because of his defense. Of his defense, Matheny won four Gold Gloves, and holds the Major League Baseball record for most consecutive games without an error.

I enjoyed Matheny discussion of his favorite teammates. About Yadier Molina, his current catcher on the Cardinals, he writes “I now manage the most valuable catcher in the game—maybe in history.”

Matheny states that “Character is forged not on the mountaintop but in the valley”. A moving part of the book is his recollection of how his career ended as a result of complications from a number (he doesn’t know how many) concussions. He writes that he went from an everyday starter, respected by teammates and peers as a no-nonsense competitor, to virtually an invalid almost overnight.

He discusses a topic near and dear to my heart – servant leadership. He states that the point of servant leadership is leading by serving. He writes about real estate investments that went bad during the economic downturn resulting in personal embarrassment when the news became public in St. Louis. Needing help like never before, he reached out to eight trusted men and asked if they would come alongside, counsel him and hold him accountable. These men would become what he refers to as his personal board. They are mostly business leaders, with one in ministry. They are leaders in their respective fields and follow the servant leadership model Matheny had been studying. They would later help him prepare for the interview with Cardinal General Manager John Mozeliak, which would result in Matheny being offered the job. In discussing his role as manager of the Cardinals, Matheny states: “My job is to show leadership and impact people. That’s what we were trying to accomplish with the youth-league team, and now I’m applying that same approach in a big-league clubhouse.”

Bob Costas writes a short “Afterword”. This is a well-written book that Matheny collaborated with Jerry B. Jenkins on.

Here’s a short video that gives an overview of Matheny’s philosophy on youth sports: https://vimeo.com/73468824. You can read his “manifesto” (not his word) that went viral here: http://www.mac-n-seitz.com/teams/mike-matheny-letter.html

As a St. Louis Cardinals fan I was aware of Matheny and that he was a Christian. After reading this book and getting to know more about him I appreciate him even more.

The Generous Justice Book ClubGenerous Justice

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller

This book, which I had read when it was first published, was listed under recommended reading in Matt Perman’s fine book What’s Best Next. Tammy and I are reading it and being challenged on every page. Won’t you read along with us?  This week we’re reading:

Chapter Four – JUSTICE AND YOUR NEIGHBOR

  • The text that most informs Christians’ relationships with their neighbors is the parable of the Good Samaritan.
  • Do you love God with every fiber of your being every minute of the day? Do you meet the needs of your neighbor with all the joy, energy, and fastidiousness with which you meet your own needs? That is the kind of life you owe your God and your fellow human beings.
  • “Surely,” he implied, “you don’t mean I have to love and meet the needs of everyone!” The Good Samaritan In response, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.
  • What was Jesus doing with this story? He was giving a radical answer to the question, What does it mean to love your neighbor? What is the definition of “love”? Jesus answered that by depicting a man meeting material, physical, and economic needs through deeds. Caring for people’s material and economic needs is not an option for Jesus. He refused to allow the law expert to limit the implications of this command to love. He said it meant being sacrificially involved with the vulnerable, just as the Samaritan risked his life by stopping on the road. But Jesus refuses to let us limit not only how we love, but who we love.
  • By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need—regardless of race, politics, class, and religion—is your neighbor.
  • I have preached this parable over the years, and it always raises a host of questions and objections, many of which sound like the kind of questions that the law expert would have asked. No one has helped me answer these questions more than Jonathan Edwards,
  • In 1733 he preached a sermon entitled “The Duty of Charity to the Poor.” The word “neighbor” is found in the sermon nearly sixty times, and the discourse stands as one of the most thoroughgoing applications of the parable of the Good Samaritan to a body of believers that can be found anywhere. The heart of the sermon is a set of answers to a series of common objections Edwards always heard whenever he preached or spoke about the duty of sharing money and goods with the poor.
  • We don’t wait until we are in “extremity” before doing something about our condition, he argued, so why should we wait until our neighbor is literally starving before we help?
  • We ought to have such a spirit of love to him that we should be afflicted with him in his affliction.”
  • Another objection comes from people who say they “have nothing to spare” and that they barely have enough for their own needs. But one of the main lessons of the Good Samaritan parable is that real love entails risk and sacrifice. Edwards responds that when you say, “I can’t help anyone,” you usually mean, “I can’t help anyone without burdening myself, cutting in to how I live my life.” But, Edwards argues, that’s exactly what Biblical love requires.
  • In dealing with the objection that many of the poor do not have upright, moral characters, he counters that we did not either, and yet Christ put himself out for us.
  • When answering the objection that the poor have often contributed to their condition, Edwards is remarkably balanced yet insistently generous. He points out that it is possible some people simply do not have “a natural faculty to manage affairs to advantage.” In other words, some people persistently make sincere but very bad decisions about money and possessions.
  • But what if their economic plight is more directly the result of selfish, indolent, or violent behavior?
  • Christ found us in the same condition. Our spiritual bankruptcy was due to our own sin, yet he came and gave us what we needed.
  • Edwards says that we should not continue to aid a poor person if that person continues to act “viciously” and to persist in the same behavior. Yet Edwards has a final blow to strike. What about the rest of the person’s family? Sometimes, he says, we will need to give aid to families even when the parents act irresponsibly, for the children’s sake.
  • Your neighbor is anyone in need.
  • Jesus is the Great Samaritan to whom the Good Samaritan points. Before you can give this neighbor-love, you need to receive it. Only if you see that you have been saved graciously by someone who owes you the opposite will you go out into the world looking to help absolutely anyone in need. Once we receive this ultimate, radical neighbor-love through Jesus, we can start to be the neighbors that the Bible calls us to be.

Reading Together Week 4

Counter Culture by David Platt Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography by David Platt.

David Platt, author of Radical, has written an important new book. So important, I believe, that rather than doing one book review, I’m going to review the content chapter by chapter. Note, all of Platt’s royalties from this book will go toward promoting the glory of Christ in all nations.

Each chapter concludes by offering some initial suggestions for practical requests you can pray in light of these issues, potential ways you might engage culture with the gospel, and biblical truths we must proclaim regarding every one of these issues. These suggestions will also direct you to a website www.counterculturebook.com/resources, where you can explore more specific steps you might take.

This week we look at Chapter 4: The Lonely in Families: The Gospel and Orphans and Widows:

  • God used infertility to open our eyes to the orphan crisis around the world. And it is a crisis. Approximately 153 million children live as orphans, meaning they have lost at least one parent. Not included in that number, though, are the millions of effectively orphaned children who live in institutions or on the streets, in addition to vast multitudes who live as “social orphans,” meaning that even if a parent is alive, the children rarely, if ever, see that parent or experience life as part of a family.
  • True religion counters culture and results in sacrificially caring for people who can benefit you the least, who have the least to offer you in return for your kindness.
  • So what does this mean for followers of Christ in a world of 153 million orphans? Moreover, what shall we do in a world filled with 245 million widows, 115 million of whom live in poverty and suffer from social isolation and economic deprivation as a result of losing their husbands?
  • In a culture that increasingly views the orphan and the widow as liabilities, countercultural opportunities for Boaz-like generosity abound all around us.
  • That night, more than 160 families signed up (at his church), to help with foster care and adoption in our county. As a family of faith in Christ we said, “We want to make sure, as best we are able, that every child in our county has loving arms around him or her at night. We want to point every one of these children to the Father of the fatherless and Defender of the weak who cares for them.”
  • We realized that the majority of homes in that community had both orphans and widows living under the same roof. Needless to say, in a culture like this, the opportunities for ministry are many.
  • Christ compels us to counter culture by stepping in to care for orphans and widows when significant people have stepped out of their lives.
  • We must be finished and done with talk in our homes of “not wanting to adopt until we have children of our own” or of “wondering whether we could love a foster child as much as we love our own child.”
  • God is calling every child of his to look after the orphan and the widow in some way.

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Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence. I’m married to my best friend. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan, a manager at a Fortune 100 company, a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people determine their callings, develop to their fullest potential and to utilize their strengths more fully. My favorite book is the Bible, and some other favorite books are Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul and Crazy Love by Francis Chan.

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