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Pitcher Josh Lindblom on spiritual growth: 'We are never refined in isolation'

Josh Lindblom is a 34-year-old pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, splitting time between Milwaukee and Triple-A Nashville. Drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second round of the 2008 MLB Draft, he made his MLB debut in 2011, then played for the Philadelphia, Texas, Oakland and Pittsburgh organizations, and also five seasons in Korea, before signing with Milwaukee in December 2019. He recently completed one master’s degree and is pursuing a second. As he balances baseball, school and family, he also pursues his relationship with Christ, and will periodically write about sports and faith for Sports Spectrum.

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The World Series is over and baseball’s offseason has begun. The last nine months we have been with teammates, coaches and support staff. For me, the first few weeks of the offseason feel like I am walking through a fog as I reacclimate back into my life at home, where my wife and I have four kids (8, 6, 5 and 4 months). Some players have a community to go back to and others do not. Let’s discuss spiritual growth and the important role of community in our development.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” — Proverbs 27:17

Most of us probably have a T-shirt, towel or coffee mug with Proverbs 27:17 on it. But, do any of us really know how to apply it to our growth? We all enter our offseasons with a vision of what we want to accomplish physically. Maybe we want to get stronger, lose weight, throw harder or hit the ball farther. But what about our spiritual growth? Or the person we want to become?

The purpose, identity and vision for our lives has been illustrated and embodied by God in and through His Word. The vision for the iron comes from outside itself, most likely from a metal worker or ironsmith. Iron is a natural occurring element and left to itself will not change its shape or purpose. The ironsmith has a vision for the iron, like God has a vision for what He intends our lives to look like.

That brings us to our intentions to change. It is not enough to just have a vision, there must be an intention to change. We can have a vision to get stronger, lose weight, throw harder or hit the ball farther, but if we never intend to change, our visions are wishes and dreams. Like the ironsmith, we must fully intend to put in the necessary work. This is where thought and imagination begin to move into action. We know that God has a vision for what it means to be human and He fully intends for that vision to come to fruition. God’s intention for a restored and redeemed humanity is made evident in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Lastly, there are means by which the vision and intention of the ironsmith will come to fruition. The ironsmith actively sets out to transform the iron. The same goes for our transformation through the ways God has provided for us to be transformed and conformed into the image of His Son. We are not passive spectators in our transformation but active participants.

No matter what step of the change process we are in, all of it takes place within community — God, us and others.

“We are never refined in isolation. We are transformed within a community of people who are caught up in God’s vision for their life, intend to be changed, are willing to walk through all of the valleys and peaks of life together, and become the type of person God has always envisioned them to be.”

Now the difficult part and unsettling truth about this verse is how iron is transformed. In order for iron to be sharpened and shaped, three things are necessary: a competent ironsmith, intense heat and another piece of iron. It is through the continual process of intense heat and force the ironsmith is able to shape the iron. But we are not iron. We have feelings, desires, wants and aspirations for ourselves, and pick and choose when we want to be transformed. Everything we go through in life has a shaping influence on who we have become. God has to break through years of poor formation, disordered desires, detrimental thoughts, destructive physical habits and misplaced faith in order to transform us.

Next time you open your Bible, notice Jesus never responds to those He encounters by telling them to go to the book store, listen to the newest podcast, follow someone on Twitter or Instagram, or do the newest Bible study plan. The consistent call of Jesus to those who are lacking is, “Come, follow Me.”

These are the three hardest words to follow in the Bible. They pierce to the core of who we are and everything we value. These three words should cause us to reevaluate all of our thoughts, desires, wants, goals and actions. This may seem difficult — maybe even impossible — and it will be if we undertake the task on our own. Proverbs 27:17, however, focuses on a key part of our transformation: community.

We live in a culture of self-help, but the problem with self-help is that we can never fully do anything on our own. Our world provides us with only dead-end roads because we rely on our own goodness and power to bring about our so-called best lives. A great truth of the Gospel, however, is that our goodness will never be good enough to earn God’s love and our badness never bad enough to lose God’s love. Jesus does not give us a routine, an account to follow or daily habits. Jesus gives us something far better — a companion on the difficult road we traverse called life.

The vision, intention and means are all God’s. He has a vision for humanity in relationship with Him and He intends to bring it to pass. We come to God as unrefined iron with a renewed vision of His plans and possibilities. He has placed other pieces of iron in the fire with us. We are never refined in isolation. We are transformed within a community of people who are caught up in God’s vision for their life, intend to be changed, are willing to walk through all of the valleys and peaks of life together, and become the type of person God has always envisioned them to be.

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