One of my favorite childhood memories is pitching with my brother in the backyard of our old home in Cresskill, NJ. These were the years when we were in little league and baseball ruled our lives. We would frequently run out back and take turns simulating games 3 outs at a time. I’d pick up the catcher’s mit and let Paul throw warm up tosses and simulate 3 outs of pitching. We’d call balls and strikes, walks, strikeouts, the whole 9 yards. We’d lose baseballs in the bushes around us and sometimes hop the fence because of a wild pitch. Then we’d switch spots and he’d catch while I pitched.
Sometimes after our baseball games, we’d stick around on the field and throw these simulated games. One year while Paul and I were in different leagues because of an age cutoff, my coach saw me pitching to my brother. I only had one pitch – the “fast” ball. When you’re a kid, all that matters is that you throw strikes and I would throw them pretty consistently. My coach was stunned at how I would throw strike after strike after strike. So come next practice, the coach called me out of center field and told me to come pitch during one of our practices. I begin throwing warmup pitches and I’m throwing them right at the catchers mit, over and over and over, strike after strike after strike. The coach was excited that he now had another relief pitcher.
There was one problem. I had never pitched to a catcher while a batter was standing in the box there ready to hit. This changed everything. I walked 5 batters in a row because I was terrified of hitting them. Once batters were involved, I tanked.
This story in a lot of ways mirrors my life in ministry. When I think about concepts, ideas, plans, counsel and wisdom in and of themselves, I can flourish. If you tell me how I would handle a hypothetical situation, how I would form a particular ministry, how I would talk to a brother stuck in sin, I can throw strike after strike after strike. When scripture is in a vacuum without any intersection with real people, real plans and real circumstances, it’s easy to formulate sound insight.
Texts of scripture like “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” (Col 3:16) is not difficult to explain, dissect and teach. It’s another thing entirely to look someone in the eye and admonish them out of a deep fear of God and love for a brother, to live out the realities of the verse instead of explaining it.
This XPA role has opened my eyes to the amount of fear I have. I’m afraid to make a mistake, I’m afraid that a wrong decision will haunt me, I’m afraid to say hard things to people I care about even though they are necessary. I’m afraid because these things affect real people. I’m afraid I won’t throw a perfect strike but that I’ll hit them and knock them over in a painful, errant way.
This is where I see the beauty of Jesus and his gospel. 1 John says that “perfect love casts out fear.” I love this indicative statement. It’s a simple yet tremendous reality. This perfect love comes from God himself in the person of Jesus, his sacrificial death on the cross and his glorious resurrection. He is the perfect picture of this perfect love. It is not my courage that extinguishes this fear. It is not charisma or smooth talk that can cast out fear. It is not my ability to say things perfectly without error or my precise planning that casts out fear. It is only the perfect love displayed in Jesus that can cast it out. As the gospel roots itself deeper in my life, as I know and believe the perfect love of Jesus, fear of rejection, fear of hurting someone, fear of making mistakes, fear of saying or doing the wrong things are cast out.
My boldness doesn’t come from me, my plans or my words but from the boldness of Christ who courageously and humbly took on God’s wrath and in so doing loved perfectly.