Imagine if you will that you have played well enough as a college quarterback to work your way up several draft boards, and pundits have predicted that you will be a second or third round pick. Imagine the excitement as draft weekend arrives and you wait anxiously by your phone, considering all the teams that you have talked to and worked out for over the previous months. Now imagine that your phone finally rings, your dream has come true and you are drafted. Exciting times right? Ready to show everyone that you deserve this and are ready to compete.
Wait a minute. The team that drafted you has already drafted a quarterback – a high profile pick after making a splash to trade up in the first round to pick number 2. This is not a situation where you will go and bide your time, waiting for an old vet to retire and hand you the reigns. Now how do you feel? That is the draft day story of Kirk Cousins. Drafted by the Redskins with the 102nd pick (100 picks after Robert Griffin III) But over and over again, you can hear him say that while his path may not have gone as he would have planned, it is God’s plan that he wants to follow most of all. Check out this video that CBN did:
Cousins grew up as a pastor’s son in Michigan. He talks about taking ownership of his faith in high school and being proactive about surrounding himself with fellow believers when he went to college at Michigan State. He shares the journey of his life in a book that was released earlier this year called “Game Changer”. I have not yet read this book, but plan to in the near future.
Here is a video from Athletes in Action “Beyond the Ultimate” where Cousins discusses his time at Michigan State and some of his thoughts on football and his faith journey.
Here are some points to ponder from Cousins story:
1- God’s plan and our platform – Over and over again in the first video, Cousins and the reporter say some variation of “God has a plan”. It may not have been Cousins plan, but it turned out better each time. There is an old children’s song called “Count your Blessings” The chorus ends with the words “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings see what God has done” That is a great practice for all of us. If we really stop to consider the way God has worked in our lives – the hard things that have taught us to depend on Him; the amazing things that we have seen and experienced; the places we find ourselves and the roads that have brought us there. In all these things, we can see that God’s plan is best and that he puts us in places where we can share what He is doing in our lives. So friends, I invite you to stop, count your blessings and see what God has done and is doing in your life.
2- Share no matter what. - I like that Cousins says that no matter if he is the starting QB, the third stringer or even out of football all together, he desires to have an influence on the people around him. God has brought each of us to where we are and while it may not be where we think we should be – we may not be living our best dream as reality, but God is still worthy of our loyalty and trust. We can believe that he has us where He wants us to be and we are still called to share His love and message with all the world
3- Passing on the message – Cousins talked about a quarterback being a leader, leading others in the game – even others that may be older than him. He talks about how part of his role as QB is to take the coaches message – the next play – and sharing it with the others in the huddle so they have a greater chance at being successful. I thought about how, as Christians, we all play the role of the quarterback in that we have a message to share with the others around us. We have been given this message, and it is vital that we communicate it clearly so that others can follow the game plan and know the ultimate success. How clearly are you communicating the message of God’s love the the world around you? Let’s strive to speak clearly about who we know God is, so that others may come to know Him, too.
Last weekend, I wrote about Jaguars rookie Carson Tinker and his story. Today, I take a look at another rookie – first round draft pick DeAndre Hopkins of the Houston Texans. Like Tinker, there is a lot of pain and hardship in Hopkins story – and like Tinker, that hardship has only served to strengthen Hopkins dependence on God – something we can all be reminded of from time to time.
Hopkins was seen as one of the best wide outs in the 2013 draft, evidenced by the Texans taking him with the 27th overall pick. And while the season has been disappointing for the Texans so far, Hopkins won the starting job and has scored 2 touchdowns so far in his brief NFL career.
Hopkins journey to reach this point is a long and difficult one. You can read about it in this article from USA Today. He lost his father when he was 5 months old, his mom was severely injured when he was 10 years old. He had an uncle that was killed in an altercation with police, and a cousin who also played at Clemson who tried to kill himself. Hopkins himself was in a car accident that left him with a concussion when he was on his way to catch the team bus to the 2012 Orange Bowl.
When life is hard, it is easy to dwell on the negative, or become bitter about life in general. But Hopkins was seen by teammates as a positive influence on the team. Hopkins was overshadowed by another receiver on the team, but when that receiver was suspended for a few games for marijuana possession, Hopkins stepped in as a mentor, turning his teammates attitude from mostly negative to more positive. Hopkins credits his ability to be a positive influence to his faith in God. He let his whole team know of the importance God plays in his life too, by choosing to be baptized in front of teammates and coaches after practice one day in the summer of 2012.
Here are a few things I take from Hopkins story.
1- Baptism – described as an outward expression of one’s inward faith, Baptism can be thought of as symbolic of dying to our sin and to ourselves and being raised to a new life devoted to God. Baptisms usually happen in a church with family, friends and church family invited to celebrate. Hopkins decided to take this step in front of his peers, his teammates, letting them know that he was dedicating his life to following Jesus. This encourages and challenges me. It is easy to keep our faith in God internalized so as to not rock the boat or face the scorn or mockery of others who don’t share our faith. The challenge is to boldly stand for Him and leave no doubt about your belief in God at all times and for all to see.
2- Praise in the Storms of Life – Casting Crowns wrote the song “Praise You in The Storm” a few years back. In it, they sing about praising God even during the hardest times of life. This life is hard, there is no doubt. Things will come up that we don’t know how to handle. Our hope lies only that we can trust that God is with us and has a way to turn the worst scenarios into amazing results that draw us closer to Him. With God, there is hope and comfort, apart from Him, this life is impossible.
I’ve said a few times on this blog that I really enjoy digging in to the stories of professional athletes, learning more about who they are and how God has worked in their lives. It is for that reason that it brings me great joy to share the story of the Jacksonville Jaguars rookie long-snapper Carson Tinker. Tinker played college ball at University of Alabama where he was a member of 3 National Championship teams including back to back wins in the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Now while interest in the long-snapper of the last place team in the NFL may not be high, there is a story to tell. In fact, Tinker will share his story in an upcoming book called “A Season to Remember“. In the book, Tinker shares his journey from the spring of 2011, through the end of the 2011 championship season. Over the course of those ten months, Tinker experiences the thrill of victory as well as agony, not of defeat, but rather of heart-wrenching personal loss.
In April 2011 Tornados ravaged the landscape of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and many other parts of the South East U.S.A. There were massive amounts of damage and a death toll of almost 400. One of those that died in the tornados was Tinker’s fiancee, Ashley Harrison, who had taken shelter with Tinker in a closet at his house. The tornado struck the house, sending both of them airborne. Tinker would wind up with a concussion, a gash on his ankle and a broken wrist, but more crushing for him was the loss of Ashley. You can read more about the story in this article from Sports Illustrated. It is a story that is sad beyond imagination.
And next May, in his book, readers will be able to see and understand how God has worked through this tragedy to strengthen Tinker’s faith and see how God has helped him through this tragedy. As a post-script, Tinker was invited as an undrafted free agent to Jacksonville Jaguars training camp and made the team as their long-snapper. And so he has a continuing platform to share his story and God’s amazing work to bring hope from this awful event. Carson is quoted in this article from b metro (a Birmingham magazine) saying
“I also believe that God has used football to give me a platform and an opportunity to help people and inspire people. The reason I wanted to write a book was to be a blessing to people.” He goes on to say “I don’t want to be defined by the tornado. I want to be defined by how I responded to the challenges”.
Here are some lessons I take from Tinker’s story.
1- In the face of unspeakable tragedy, God is there
I don’t have much to add – the story speaks volumes, but to see how God has comforted Tinker and helped him through this loss with a refocussed faith is at the same time comforting and challenging. God is true and He is with us no matter what. And we need Him to be. We cannot bear these things without Him. And yet from this tragedy comes this story of God at work in the life of a young man, molding him and shaping him to impact lives with his story.
2- Leading and encouraging others
In an interview Tinker says ”I also tried to take a leadership role. The regular starters typically play 60 to 70 plays, but I only played 12 to 15 plays a game. So I saw my role to be an encourager to the other players as they were getting tired. I was passionate about it. And in the offseason, I worked just as hard as the other players. I think that lifted them up as well.” He goes on to share the story of Aaron and Hur holding up Moses arms as the Israelites are in a battle against the Amalekites in Exodus 17. Tinker talks about how these 2 helped Moses by lifting him up and likens it to encouraging others.
It is also worth pointing out that while the Israelites had been delivered from their slavery, there were still battles to fight. Following God does not mean life is easy. The Israelites learned over and over again that trusting God was the only option, but we also see over and over again that God is with His people and accomplishes great things through them bringing hope even in the hardest of times.
The NFL season is more than half over, and because I have been trying to get my book finished and promoted, I have not yet started my annual football blog series on Living up to My Name. So it is time to get started. But if you are interested in my book and the giveaways that I am doing, please check out this link for that information.
And now, to the football field.
Jerricho Cotchery is in his tenth season in the NFL. He was drafted by the Jets in the 4th round of the 2004 draft. After seven seasons with the Jets, Cotchery signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. And after 9 games this season, he has already matched his career high with 6 touchdowns. And while the Steelers struggled at the start of the season, Cotchery already has a 100 yard game this year as well as a 96 yard, 3 touchdown game against the Patriots.
Cotchery is very vocal about his faith in God. As you can read in this article from ESPN, Cotchery grew up in a family that attended church regularly. He preferred sports to church but a bad accident one night changed his life forever. That night, against the wishes of his mother, he had gone out with some friends. As they drove, a tire blew out and the car went off the road and rolled a few times. In the process, Cotchery’s friend, the driver, was killed and Jerricho was left with cuts on his head, hands and arms from glass shards caused by the many car flips. As he recovered from this accident, and reflected on all that had happened, he began to understand the importance of having a relationship with God and what that means for us.
Some things to think about from Cotchery’s story.
1- “I Will Pray” - Cotchery talks about wearing a bracelet that reminds him to pray and honor God for all that He has done. What has God done in your life? Are you grateful. I know that I am never in danger of being too grateful. Gratitude is something that can always be shared. Our God is a loving father who cares for his children.
2- Good Gifts – Cotchery’s story also talked about how his family lived paycheck to paycheck when he was growing up and often had to deal with having some utilities shut off. He goes on to say how he got the feeling that his parents were embarrassed or feel like they let their kids down with the upbringing they provided. As a dad, this resonated with me. I’ve been studying Matthew this fall in chapter 7 it says Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.
We love to give good things to our kids and the best thing we can give them, like Cotchery received from his parents, is the knowledge and understanding that a relationship with God is the most important thing we can have in our life.
3- Thorn in the Flesh
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes about a thorn in his flesh – something that harasses him and keeps him humbled and aware of his weaknesses. Cotchery has a thorn in his flesh too, that serves of a reminder for him. The article linked to earlier talks about the shards of glass that are still embedded in Cotchery’s arms (10 years later at the time of the article) that reminds him of the path he was on and how God used that car accident to draw Cotchery back to God. I am challenged by this lesson. It can be easy to lose sight of our weakness and our need for God. We can feel like we are in charge and try to do things on our own. But we are not. In our own strength, we are hopeless. Paul was given something to remind him of this, Cotchery has a reminder of the night that changed his life. What reminds you to depend on God?
Well, my beloved Red Sox are World Series Champs! I can’t think of a better way for the season to finish. I’ve always found it interesting that of the 10 teams that make the playoffs in Major League baseball each year – the 10 best teams – only one of them wins their final game of the season. This year, is was Beantown’s Bearded Brotherhood – the Red Sox, winning for the third time in the past 10 years.
I have been blogging about Christian Athletes for three and a half years now. Over that time, I have read and learned the stories of nearly 200 athletes and how they are using their stories and their platforms to share their faith in God with others. I have learned lessons from their stories that apply to my life, and, I believe, the lives of all Christ-followers.
I have decided to take some of those posts, expand them and put them together in a book. The result is my new book Living Beyond the Game. This book will feature the faith stories of 15 Major League baseball players, including Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Daniel Nava and Jake Peavy of the World Series Champs.
I will be offering hard copies of the book, which will be available the first week in December. If you pre-order your book in November, you can get it for the introductory price of $14.99. After December 1st, the price will be $17.99. Order your copy here. Thanks, and keep stopping by to find new stories about Christ-followers in sports.
With the first pitch of Game Six only moments away, I’ve been thinking about some of the great moments in World Series History. There have been many memorable post season home runs in baseball history. Kirk Gibson’s hobbled effort for the Dodgers in game 1 of the 1988 world series; Joe Carter’s World Series winning blast in game 6 of the 1993 world series. And for all you Red Sox fans, Carlton Fisk waving his 12th inning home run fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.
But there was another big home run for the Red Sox in that game. In the bottom of the eighth inning, pinch-hitter Bernie Carbo drilled a three run home run to tie the game. Check it out
For Carbo, it would be the biggest home run of his career. It would come out later that during this game, and most of the games in his major league career, he was under the influence of drugs, alcohol or both. You can read about it all in this ESPN article. And so after hitting a home run that most only dream of hitting, Carbo found that the moment had not satisfied, he felt sad, alone and empty. He did what he always did. Sought comfort and peace through drugs. These also would fail.
His baseball career would last 5 more years, with his addictions growing and his skills diminishing because of it. When his career ended, at age 33, the addictions continued. And as you can see in this video from CBN, it was an anxiety attack, a hospital stay, and his roommate in that place that God used to turn his life around.
Now, Carbo and his wife Tammy operate Diamond Club Ministries based in Theodore, Alabama. Diamond Club Ministries offers hitting classes, baseball skills,and a fantasy camp. And each event will also present the importance of knowing Jesus as Savior. Carbo is using the skills that he has, and the platform his career has given him to share about what God has done and can do in the lives of any who hear his story.
A relationship with God truly is the only thing that brings fulfillment to our lives. There are stories like Carbo’s of people who reach the pinnacle of what people tell us we should strive for – only to feel alone and empty in that place. And then, when given an opportunity to encounter the true God, a life is changed.
I am reminded of the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. He had sought money and wealth and to achieve this meant to steal and betray people. He heard that Jesus was coming to town and went to see Him. Why? Maybe curiosity, maybe because his riches were not satisfying as he thought they might be, we are not told. Anyway, he climbs a tree so he can see Jesus and his entourage strolling by. Jesus stops, calls Zacchaeus by name and invites Himself over to Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus agrees, and after spending time with Jesus, decides to repay four times over all that he has unfairly taken. The lesson in this? Meeting Jesus changes our lives. Carbo came to know Jesus and it changed his life and perspective. It changed his goals and purpose. Now that he has found his true purpose, and is seeing God work through him, he has found the fulfillment that he was lacking when he was “on top of the world”.
The first pitch is on. What memorable moments will tonight’s game hold?
ESPN also did a video feature on Carbo. You can check it out here
Last week, I wrote a post about Reggie Jackson and his 3 home runs in the deciding game 6 in the 1977 World Series. It was truly an amazing showcase of power. The record of three home runs in a World Series game was matched a couple years ago by Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals. He is the focus of this post (see Cardinals fans – even though I hope my Red Sox will win the championship – I can tip my hat to the Redbirds history and great moments, too) This showcase was just part of an amazing World Series for Pujols and the Cardinals.
In case you missed it, here are the bombs Pujols hit. All of them were no-doubters!
Now, I know that Pujols broke the hearts of the Cardinals by leaving as a free agent just a couple months later, but he also led them to two World Series titles in three years. Despite being draft pick number four hundred and something in 1999, he has put up amazing if not Hall of Fame worthy numbers. He also has a cool story about coming to faith in God, and starting the Pujols Family Foundation which serves children with Down’s Syndrome and their families as well as poverty in Dominican Republic. Check out this video from I am Second.
Some thoughts that the video brought to mind
1- Sacrifice of the Father -
Pujols talks about his family selling things at the pawn shop so they could buy rice to eat, and his father borrowing money to buy baseball equipment for Pujols to use. As a dad, I know that I love to do things for my kids. To give them a chance to have fun, or learn something new – it is worth a lot for me to provide that for them. God, our Heavenly Father sacrificed his Son so that our sins could be forgiven and we could be given the opportunity to spend eternity in heaven. Having kids of my own helps me understand that I didn’t truly appreciate the sacrifices my earthly father made for me – and challenges me to be more understanding and appreciative of the Sacrifice my Heavenly Father made so I could be with Him. Pujols honored his father’s sacrifice by excelling at baseball. I am challenged to honor my Heavenly Father’s sacrifice by living my life devoted to Him.
2- “What is the Most Important thing in your Life?
This is the question Albert Pujols greets base runners from other teams that stop at first base. He uses the opportunity to challenge others to remember that life is about more than just the game of baseball – For those of us who are not baseball players, we can ask ourselves the same question. What is the most important thing in our life? There is more to life then our job, our things, our status. This life is hard. The challenges that it brings can really tear us down. The victories that we have are oh so temporary. And if our life’s purpose is wrapped up in our job, our stuff, even our family, then we quickly find ourselves lacking a feeling of joy and fulfillment. That is only found in knowing Christ. Pujols goes on to say that he does not want to be remembered as a baseball player or for the things that he does on the field, special as they may be (watch the first video again). He wants to be a Godly father and Husband, someone who is passionate about God and wants to help others know Him, too.
I pray that these are the things that we all strive for, because in the end, growing closer to God and drawing others to know Him too is truly all that matters.