Major league baseball has a couple of ugly twins whose names are “The Brush-Back Pitch” and “Charging the Mound.” Here’s how they work.
A new batter comes to the plate and he drives the first pitch about 410 feet into the upper deck of the outfield. But it is not a home run because it is foul by just about 3 feet. The pitcher is thinking to himself, “We cannot have that! So, I’ll brush him back from the plate a little.” The next pitch is a fast ball – sometimes way inside, sometimes very fast. This is the “brush back” pitch and it is designed to warn the hitter about hitting home runs, to throw the hitter off balance and to “teach him a lesson” about getting hits off me! (The brush-back pitch can be thrown for many other reasons and it can sometimes be upgraded to the full-blown “Bean-Ball.” The bean-ball is shot right at the ear-hole of the batter’s helmet as if he had a little bull’s eye painted there. The bean-ball is more malicious than the brush-back pitch, though both can be very dangerous to the hitter and, ultimately, the pitcher.
Back to our story. In order to avoid being hit by the brush-back pitch, or the bean-ball, the batter must quickly jerk his entire body backwards, often flopping onto his back in the dirt with a body-jarring thud. What comes next in the chain of events is often a tactic known as ”the charging of the mound.” The hitter, angered by the pitch and hurt by the fall, jumps up, throws down his bat, and charges out to the pitcher’s mound to teach a lesson of his own. From here the story line can go any number of directions including, but not limited to, a fist fight between the two angry players, a bench-clearing brawl involving both teams and both dugouts, ejections of various players from the game, fines, injuries to players, managers or umpires, and, in rare cases, fans joining the melee.
There are some significant hazards to charging the mound. You can get hurt. You can get ejected from the game. You can get fined. You can look stupid. I once saw future hall-of-famer Nolan Ryan throw a brush-back pitch to a hitter. When the hitter had charged the mound, Ryan got him in a head-lock with his left arm and pounded on his head with his right fist. This continued until cooler heads arrived and rectified the situation. There are significant hazards to charging the mound.
While most of us have never played professional baseball and most of us never will, nevertheless, we are given to ‘charging the mound” in our own settings. I have, on rare occasions, “charged the mound” on my father, my friend, my fellow believers, and my wife. As in major league baseball, I figured someone had done me an intentional and malicious wrong, and I was going out to the mound to retaliate. This has often been very hazardous to me and those involved. Sometimes just the two of us get hurt and other times both “benches clear” as my supporters and the other person’s allies join the battle. I will leave these hazards to your imagination as my purpose here is to deal specifically with the hazards of one narrow type of “mound charging.”
I confess that I have, on too many occasions, charged the mound on God Himself. Believing that God had done me some great disservice – which is ludicrous – and also suspecting that God harbored some malice toward me – which is ludicrous – I charged the mound to retaliate, demand an explanation and extract from God the thing I was wanting – which was also ludicrous. Anyone in the mound-charging mode is not thinking well, they are only feeling deeply.
Before I tell you what I charged the mound on God about this most recent time, I want to say two other things. First, on my last trip up the mound to get even with God, something profound happened to me. It changed my whole perspective on mound charging. Second, there are a myriad of reasons for which we as children of God, or for which unbelievers, can be motivated to charge the mound. For their divorce or their spouse’s adultery. Some for the death of a child or the loss of a business. Some for the failure of an idea or the treachery of a friend.
Mound charging is based on a contract approach to relationship with God. We are usually not consciously and verbally honest about this contract approach. But we usually have a quiet contract with God about how we expect things to go. The thinking goes like this: a) God sacrificed His Son to save me. I am grateful for that and I will put my full trust in the work of Christ for my eternal salvation. b) I will keep my nose clean for God and live for Him. Let me qualify that. If not fully for Him as demanded by the radical discipleship of the New Testament, at least I will live for Him according to my definitions of what it reasonable. c) God will ensure that certain minimum things happen for me so that my life is a “good life” as defined by me.
These “minimum things” for delivering the good life will vary greatly from believer to believer. However, they usually include things like: God will provide for us financially at a middle income level or better. God will keep our children safe from drug use, sexual promiscuity, bad grades, inappropriate friends, severe illness, and injury. God will keep our home and possessions safe from fire, flood, theft, vandalism and outdated, embarrassing décor. God will keep us from severe relational alienation like divorce, family fights, and employment hostilities. God will keep my work at least tolerably enjoyable and insure good benefits from my employer. This list can go on and on. Sadly, the list of minimum expectations for the good life seems to be escalating at an embarrassing rate with each new generation of Americans.
The problem with “contract relationship” is that, while only God signed the contract to save you, if you look carefully you will find that only we have signed the contract for a “good life.” God is a loving Father Who has zero commitment to giving any of His children the “good life” as I have just defined that life. God’s commitments in our lives are more eternal and more profound. He is committed to things like growth, maturity, Christ-likeness, servanthood, sojourning, impact, salvations, reconciliations, repentance, and justice. (Do not confuse justice with equality or fairness. Justice is right things while equality is equal things. God is committed to right things while Americans are committed to equal things.)
God has not signed our contract for a good life, He remains deeply committed to our maturity. He is willing to use events that violate our contract to accomplish His purposes.
Divorce, unanswered prayer, the death of a child, illness and financial setback are all possible in our lives – not because God is malicious and unfaithful, but because God works through even sinful and brutal events to bring about our good. (Genesis 50:19-20)
My last trip up the mound to teach God a lesson – ludicrous, I know – involved a ministry opportunity that He did not give to me. It was an opportunity that I was expecting. I figured it was in my “I’ve kept my nose clean” contract with Him.
I have a very good friend who, like myself, is a pastor who speaks part- time for a nationwide ministry. It takes him all over the nation three or four weekends a year to speak to crowds of up to 900 people and pays about $500 a weekend. Travel. Money. Ministry impact. Recognition. One-upmanship on the other local pastors. Resumé enhancement. Where do I sign up?
And sign up I did. My friend, who was one of the superstars of this ministry, put in a good word for me. I filled out the 19-page application, sent in the speaking tapes, went through the phone interviews, got the references to say I was great, wrote the doctrinal statement, showed them the master’s degree and the doctorate – in a word, I jumped through all the hoops with flying colors and with good form. I am a shoe-in. Done deal. I can hardly wait.
Their letter was short, polite, and to the point. “We regret to inform you that we cannot use your services in our ministry at this time. I read it three times in stunned silence. It was a blind-siding event. I was in full-blown disbelief.
Then I was angry. Severe understatement. My disbelief metamorphasized into major anger, but not at the ministry or at the evaluators who had turned me down. After all, they are only human. “They made a mistake and as humans they are entitled to that,” I said in a fit of humility. “How could they know my giftedness and the incredible asset I would have been to their ministry? I am sad for them at their loss, but they cannot be held accountable for their humanness and short-sightedness.
I am angry at God. He knows better! How could He let this happen? How could He be so malicious? How could He violate our contract? I figured that God had thrown some “high heat” at my head and I was fully justified in charging the mound. My family went to bed that night but I stayed up to have it out with God. I made demands. I asked “why.” I argued. I fumed. I stormed. I reasoned. I circled back and did it all again. I charged the mound to retaliate against God and get what I demanded.
As I said earlier, on this most recent trip up the mound something profound happened to me. I was on my way to get even with God, charging up the mound and finding that it was higher and steeper than most of the pitcher’s mounds I had seen. Nevertheless, I charged on in my growing anger until I realized as I neared the top of the mound that, unlike other pitcher’s mounds, this one had an empty cross on top.
I was charging Calvary, the very mound where God had forever answered the question, “Does God love me?”
I had decided that God was a malicious, unfaithful, contract-breaker. Now I was face to face with the fact of His sacrifice. He had already demonstrated His towering and unshakable love for me in the gift of His Son. In the crushing of His Son. He had answered once and for all the questions, “Does God love me?”, “Has God forgotten me?”, “Is God a mean-spirited, compassionless Father?”, “Is this latest set-back in my best interests?” He had forever annihilated the possibility of throwing a brush-back pitch at me, of having an ounce of malice toward me, or of being unfaithful in any way or in any time. He had forever dispelled the possibility of not loving me well. He had completely and finally settled the question of His compassion for me.
I don’t believe that God is threatened by my anger and my mound-charging. He does not disown me for it. He is mostly grieved by the short sightedness in me that motivates my mound-charging rage. Romans 8:32 explains it like this: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” The gift of His Son means that all the rest is designed for my good.
My purpose here is not to ridicule mound-charging or even to say, “Don’t do it.” We all do it from time to time in the course of living our lives in a sinful, unfriendly world. My purpose is simply to say two things. First, God is a Father but not a contractor. Second, whenever you charge the mound, look for the empty cross at the top. It can have a profound impact on your perspective.