by David Sisler

John Rocker's mouth may have cost him $1 million, or so reports Carroll Lewis for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Rocker earned $290,000 saving 24 games for the Atlanta Braves last season and sought a new deal worth $2.98 million. The Braves offered less and an arbitration panel awarded $1.9 million. The Braves said he wasn't worth the three mil he hoped to divert into his pockets because of the distractions his mouth caused the team last year. The Braves evidentially said nothing about the fact that if Rocker does not save two dozen games, the team does not even get the chance to be blown away in the divisional play offs. Maybe "what have you done for me lately" is no longer in vogue.

On the other hand, Kevin Millwood's side argued that he deserved a raise from $420,000 to $3.9 million because "he had the equivalent of a 15-16 win season" (emphasis added). He actually won only ten games, starting 3-0 and finishing 7-13 the rest of the way, but it was equivalent of a lot more, and for that got a raise to $3.1 million. It is not Millwood's fault, his mediocre performance, his agent argued. If the Braves had scored more runs, he wouldn't have lost so many games. Well, you can see the logic there, but then if he had given up fewer runs, the opposition wouldn't have had the opportunity to beat him. Or so it seems to me.

I love baseball. Me and my big mouth save 24 games for you, but I've caused you a million dollars worth of embarrassment. I made you a few dozen more million bucks through wins, post season appearances, TV ads, sales of team memorabilia, etc., but, talk is not cheap.

I love baseball. I won ten games, but it was the equivalent of fifteen, if the rest of you had performed in better fashion.

The only folks who talk more about money than baseball are churches. As in, "Every time I go there, all they talk about is money!"

I surfed into the other day to pick up a book, and would you believe, they demanded my credit card information before they would ship the tome home?

My amazement continued as I clicked on to rent seats for an upcoming contest between the Braves, perennial division champs, and my Pittsburgh Pirates, perennial cellar dwellers, but possessors of a new stadium and the hope that PNC Park makes as much difference this season as Three Rivers Stadium did three decades ago. Four tickets, but first, send us the money!

I was the successful bidder on eBay for a silver pin for my wife for Valentine's Day. It is February 15 and the pin has yet to arrive, but it's on its way, and the former owner of the pin has my former money.

But at church, all they talk about is MONEY!

According to research by George Barna (conducted in 1999, the last year for which complete figures are available) if you do not attend church, are a political moderate, and make less than $30,000 a year, the odds are less than 3 out of 10 that you made any contributions. Conversely, if you are an evangelical Christian, a political conservative, and you earn over $60,000 a year, the odds are better than 9 out of 10 that you donated some money to non-profit organizations last year.

Before you hurt your arm and throw your shoulder out of joint patting yourself on the back, Barna's research will discourage you from thinking more highly of yourself than you ought to think. While wealthy evangelical political conservatives were the most likely to give, one out of every six born again Christians gave no money to their church. It gets worse. The proportion who tithed gave ten percent of their income to their churches was just eight percent.

With apologies to Christian Scientists and Name-It-And-Claim-It Charismatics, if one does not have the symptoms, does one have the condition?

The second church Bonnie and I served was in Erie, Pennsylvania. One day a leader in that congregation came to me and said, "Pastor, I am quitting. The financial pressure on me is too much. The bills of this church are crushing and I can't stand it any longer." After he quit, I checked the records. He consistently gave. He consistently gave twenty-five cents each week!

A wealthy man was approached to contribute to a major financial campaign. The urgent need and compelling case were stated, and an earnest plea was made for his support.

The man responded: "I understand why you think I can give $50,000. I am a man with my own business and, it is true, I have all the signs of affluence. But there are some things you don't know. Did you know that my mother is in an expensive nursing home?"

Well, no we didn't know.

"Did you know also that my brother died, and left a family of five and had almost no insurance?"

No, we didn't.

"Did you know my son is deeply religious, has gone into social work, and makes less than the national poverty level to meet the needs of his family?"

No, we hadn't realized.

"Well, then, if I don't give any of them a penny, why do you think I'll give it to you?"

The protestors are right. Churches talk a great deal about money. But did you know that here, as in other areas, they are following the example of their Leader, Jesus of Nazareth, God's beloved son? Check it out. Aside from the fantastic news about salvation, Jesus spoke more about money than he did any other subject.

Martin Luther reportedly said, "Men go through three conversions their head, their heart, and their pocketbook. Unfortunately, not all at the same time."

So, play ball! And pass the collection plate. And, please, put in more than a quarter!


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