This past Sunday, there was a key NFC West matchup between defending Champs (Seattle Seahawks) and the team with the best record in the NFL (Arizona Cardinals). One player in the game is connected to both franchises. O’Brien Schofield was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 4th round of the 2010 draft, but after 3 seasons and several coaching changes, he was released from the Cardinals just before preseason games started in 2013. Claimed on waivers by the Seattle Seahawks, he battled through the rest of pre-season. He wound up making the team and winning a Super Bowl ring with them last season. For Schofield, it was a dream come true and a highlight in a journey that had its share of heartbreak and bumps in the road.
This article tells of his time at Wisconsin where over the course of 5 seasons he went from relative unknown, fighting for playing time to All-conference defensive lineman. He also faced deep tragedy with the death of his brother, who drowned while attempting to rescue some friends at a beach. O’Brien struggled to focus on football and his playing time suffered. It was during this time that his faith in God grew stronger. He was given a chance to play more because of injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. He played well, and hope for the next season grew. One of his coaches worked on motivating Schofield. He asked him “Do you want to be held to a very high standard? Do you want to be great? … If the answer is yes, well then I’m going to hold that bar higher than it’s ever been held“. Schofield said yes, and began to work hard to hone his skills and his play blossomed.
It appeared that Schofield would be drafted in the first or second round. Then another bump. He tore his ACL at a practice session for the Senior Bowl. His draft stock took a hit, some draft predictions wondering if he would be drafted at all. Arizona picked him and 5 seasons later, he is a Super Bowl Champion.
As you can see in this video, he is well loved in Arizona.
(if you are interested in seeing him share his story at the church, here is the link to that - it is about 2 hours long and full of great stuff)
As a free agent this past off-season, it looked like he would sign a 2 year contract with the New York Giants, but a failed physical voided the deal and O’Brien signed again with the Seahawks on a one year deal. Another bump in the road and another door opened. So far this season, he has played in each of the Seahawks games and is excited for a chance at another ring. And he is grateful for any chance God gives him.
Here are my takeaways from Schofield’s story.
1- Held to a Higher Standard - O’Brien Schofield was asked by his college coach if he wanted to be held to a very high standard. As a Christian, I strive to live my life the way God has called me to. That means keeping a higher standard on the how I live my life. We can often get caught up in judging other people for their behavior, people who have not chosen to live for God. First of all, judging the actions of others is not our place. God is the judge and He is better at it than us anyway. Plus, the truth is that unless someone has chosen to live for God, they have no reason to live by the standards He requires. The other truth is that we will always fall short of the standard God requires. We are all sinners in need of grace and forgiveness. Falling short of God’s standard does not mean the end for us. Let’s focus on God’s goodness in loving and forgiving us and not get caught up in seeing how far others fall short of God’s standard.
2- Victory From Defeat – Schofield went from being cut in the pre-season to winning a Super Bowl ring. That is an amazing turn around for someone to go through in one season. Cut from the team and out of a job, Schofield was given another chance. And it worked out for him as he went on win it all with the Seahawks. He had another setback when he failed his physical this past off-season. And while the result was a financial setback, the Seahawks brought him back as they look to defend their title. What setbacks and closed doors are you facing. Are you willing to trust God to make something amazing out of it?
Let’s think back to the start of the football season. Here is what we knew about the Arizona Cardinals. They have a great defense – it even led them in a win in Seattle against the soon to be Super Bowl Champion Seahawks. But when it came to predictions, little thought was given to the Cardinals making the playoffs because they are in a division with the last 2 representatives in the Super Bowl – Seahawks and 49ers. Now add that they would lose their starting quarterback to injury, not once but twice – the second time was season-ending. The Cardinals were not given much chance of reaching the post season. Profootballtalk had only 1 of their 6 experts pick the Cardinals for the playoffs. And exactly none of them thought the Cardinals would finish with the best record in the NFL. Now there are still 6 weeks left in the season, but here they are, at the top of the heap, and their backup quarterback, Drew Stanton has performed admirably, despite seeing his first game action since 2010.
Stanton, for his part, is on his 3rd NFL team in his 8 season career. He was a backup in Indianapolis for one season but saw no action. He played in 12 games scattered over 4 seasons with the Detroit Lions, who drafted Stanton out of Michigan State in the second round of the 2007 draft.
So as a fan of great stories (and a fan of the Arizona Cardinals, too) I hope that Stanton continues to make the best of this chance that he is enjoying. And as you can read in this article from Unashamed athletes, Stanton is quick to give credit to God’s presence in his life to explain his motivation for playing and any success that he knows.
When asked what advice he would give to other Christians looking to be open about their faith. “Be authentic, be who you are don’t try to be anyone else. If you do that you will be completely fine no matter where you are at” He continues by crediting Lions chaplain Dave Wilson who challenged him with the question “Do you want God, or do you want God to make your life work?” He answers the question saying “When I was younger, I wanted God to make my life work and at that point in time, I said ‘you know what God, whatever we are going to do, I just want you. I don’t care what happens with me. That was a huge turning point for me when I realized that.”
He is using his football ability and his platform to make an impact in the lives of children with special needs through his High 5ive foundation.
Here are my takeaways from Stanton’s story:
1- Be Authentic – As humans, we like to present the front, false as it may be, that we have it all together and that we are doing OK. We are afraid to show need or weakness, when in reality, in our weakness, does our understanding of God’s strength grow. He is able to do more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3.20) In our weakness, he is strong, (2 Corinthians 12. 9-10). We are so quick to put on our masks and cover what is really going on in us. We cover it to others and we believe it is covered from God, too. But when we admit our weakness, we are reminded that we are lost and incapable on our own, but thankfully, we do not have to be on our own. God offers to be with us through all of our weaknesses and allow His strength to carry us through. Let’s admit how desperately we need a Savior and let’s embrace His offer of love, grace and forgiveness.
2- I want God – Following that thought further and looking at the question that the Detroit Lions chaplain asked, we can also see God as a problem solver, called on in our most desperate time to come to our rescue and save the day. And He does have the ability to do that. But more than that, he wants us to want Him and Him alone. We can so easily fill up on other things and leave God largely out of our lives until we get ourselves into a predicament that is bigger than we can handle. But I think of the story of Job, who upon losing everything he held dear in his life, worships God anyway. Are we in that same place. At the end of the day what is it that we want? Do we want God to fix our problems but miss out knowing Him, or do we want to know Him in such a way that we understand that He is with us on our best days and our worst? I want to know Him and let my life reflect His presence.
There is a belief that many Christians have that I believe needs to be re-framed a little bit. This common misconception that I am speaking of is that “God will not give us more than we can handle”. While it is a comforting thought, the truth is that many things that we have faced and will face are more than we can bear on our own.
Look at the stories in scripture. Jacob’s sons team up to sell their younger brother (Jacob’s favorite) to slave traders. Jacob believes that Joseph has been killed. David had an infant son die, and had an adult son try to overthrow his throne and take over rule of the kingdom. Noah has to deal with the death of all of humanity, except his immediate family. And Job loses his livestock, his flocks, his camels, his servants and finally his children and he learns about it all within a matter of minutes. That would be a lot to deal with. And there are plenty of hard things that happen in our lives, too. Financial strain, heartbreak, broken relationships, pain, loss of loved ones- These things all test our ability to cope on our own. But the truth is that I don’t have to deal with hard things in life on my own. Philippians 4.13 reminds us that we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (emphasis mine) That means with God alive and active in us, the things that would crush us on our own can turn into a reminder of God’s greatness and power as He stays by our side and carries us through these challenges.
Pernell McPhee’s faith in God was formed and grown through a difficult upbringing in the projects of Pahokee, Florida, on the shores of Lake Okeechobee. As you can read in this article from Baltimoreravens.com, McPhee’s upbringing included an alcoholic grandmother and abusive mother. He shares about his life in Pahokee, complete with regular marijuana use, fights and abuse. He left home and moved in with his great grandma. It was there that he began reading his bible and learning about God. He learned about love and his faith in God grew.
And while McPhee didn’t begin playing football until his senior year in High School, and after some time in junior college, he moved on to play at Mississippi State. He played well enough to be selected by the Ravens in the 5th round of the 2011 draft. He was a member of the Ravens Super Bowl winning team in 2013.
But arriving in the NFL has not brought an end to the hard times for McPhee. He battled through a few injuries and , as you can read in this article McPhee lost 3 people that were very close to him. In the midst of the heartbreak, McPhee knew that only by the strength of God was he able to deal with the heartache of the losses. He says “ I kept my faith in God. I knew I had to deal with it. Everything happens for a reason. The man above has a plan, he really does. We might not always understand it at first, but there’s a plan for all of us. What I’ve been through, it makes you appreciate life. It really humbles you, but I don’t dwell on anything. ”
Here are my takeaways from McPhee’s story
1- We don’t need to understand why things happen – Often we can get caught up asking why things happen. What really matters though is that we remember that God is with us through it all. Earlier, mentioned Job, David, Joseph, and Noah. In each of the stories, even in the midst of the hard things they are facing, they continue to serve God, to honor and worship Him. We see the same thing in McPhee’s story. That is the challenge for us. Are you willing to worship God even in the midst of unspeakable pain and hardship? Are you willing to trust and believe that God can bring something redeeming and amazing out of the pain and hardship?
2- We will have troubles – Jesus also dealt with pain, loss, fatigue and danger in his life. And in his teaching, He didn’t sugar coat it. He talks about how we will be blessed when we are persecuted because of Him, He tells his followers “In this world you will have trouble but take heart, for I have overcome the world” (John 16.33) So there should be no surprise that there will be things that seem to be more than we can handle. But God offers us His very presence and with Him by our side, we are able to deal with ANYTHING life brings our way.
I have three daughters, the oldest is almost 8, so I know my Disney Princesses. And as a sports fan, the princess I was most familiar with was likely Cinderella. She is the one that is often talked about in sporting circles. She is the one that went from off the radar of the prince to the happily-ever-after living, glass-slipper wearing, princess, overcoming long odds and all competition. As sports fans, we tend to like “Cinderella” stories. And there is a lot of “Cinderella” to Brandon Oliver’s story. He is small by running back standards (I’ve seen him listed as 5’6″ to 5’8″), He was a star, record setting running back at Buffalo, which is not really a football powerhouse. He suffered a pretty significant knee injury, yet he still set Buffalo’s record for rushing yards – passing Green Bay Packers RB James Starks.
Scouts came to his pro day, but mostly to see his teammate and roommate Kahlil Mack. He was listed as 38th on the NFL pre-draft running back rankings. But as you read this article about Oliver’s story, you see the journey he has been on. On draft day, 22 running backs were chosen – none of whom were Oliver. Then came the free agent signing frenzy, 30 more signed on with teams around the league. Oliver’s phone remained silent. As you can read in this article, Oliver credited this to God working out His plan. He says “I just feel like God blinded people to my abilities. … It made the journey sweeter. I woke up with a purpose and determination to work for the Lord.” It looked like Cinderella may miss the ball completely!
Four mini-camp invitations came. Oliver went to Indianapolis, and returned home after mini-camp. Then came the call from San Diego. There he would find himself buried deeply on the depth chart. Ryan Matthews, Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown were ahead of Oliver, They also drafted Marion Grice, a running back, in the 6th round. Oliver showed up and started impressing. He impressed so much that Grice was let go during roster cuts. Oliver made the final 53. And after being a healthy scratch the first 2 weeks, injuries to the other running backs brought Oliver to the game roster, and after a couple weeks (and a couple injuries) – feature back. Back to back 100 yard games and 3 touchdowns. He was turning heads, and causing a stir on fantasy football waiver wires. The prince had noticed Cinderella.
Since that 2 game breakout, his production has slowed, as it has for all of the Chargers who have lost 3 in a row. But Oliver continues to lead the team in rushing. And while his career has been challenge after challenge, if you ask him, being able to play at the highest level is something that he knows has only been possible because God worked it out. And God has been working out more than just a pro football career. Oliver battled a quick temper as a boy -one that would lead him to fights, and even saw him suspended from school on one occasion. In high school, this changed and he believes that it is because that is when he surrendered his life to God.
Here are my takeaways from Oliver’s story.
1- If God’s got a Plan, It Will Work Out – There were a lot of things that stood in the way of Brandon Oliver playing in the NFL. Things like his size, lukewarm recruiting in college, injuries, undrafted, unsigned, buried on a depth chart all stood in his way. And yet he has made it and has excelled (back to back rookie of the week awards earlier this season). And Oliver, knowing this, is quick to credit God for his amazing story. God has an uncanny ability to do incredible things so that He may be made known in our lives. There are many examples in the Bible to support this. Look at Joseph. He suffered and struggled through many things, but ultimately was used by God to save his people (Israel) during a famine (Genesis 37-50). What has God brought you through in your life? How has it shown you that His perfect plan will not fail.
2- We are all Cinderella - I compared Oliver’s story to Cinderella because he beat huge odds to get where he is. There is an element of truth in this for all Christians. We were living a poor, harsh existence with cruelty all around us and no hope in sight. But God has invited all to His “royal ball”. And He has a plan to get us there. Will you trust His plan? Will you dare to take Him up on the magical adventure He has prepared for you. The analogy breaks down if you carry it too far (and I’ve stretched it pretty thin already), but if we accept His offer, receive His gift and surrender our life to Him, we will know the happiest “ever after” of all – With Him for Eternity!
As we have reached (and passed) the mid-way point of the season, this season, like all others, has had it’s fair share of surprises. Among them, unfortunately, is the terrible start to the season for my beloved New Orleans Saints. Hope is not lost, but it is wavering. So as I belatedly reflect on the first half of the season, I will pick my big 3 talking points of the first 9 weeks.
1- Biggest Suprise – Arizona Cardinals have the best record in football, despite playing 3 games without their number 1 quarterback. Their defense has been great for a couple years, but in a division with Seattle and San Francisco, to see the Cardinals at the top of the heap is impressive.
2- Big Ben the TD Machine – Ben Roethlisberger (who I blogged about a couple seasons ago) has 12 passing TD’s in the past 2 games. It is a pace that has never been seen before. I can’t wait to see what this week holds.
3- Play of the year – St. Louis Rams punt return fakeout against the Seahawks. I love to see creative new plays. Sorry Seahawks fans, we saw a great one by Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin (West Virginia teammates in college) and the Rams in an upset win. Check it out.
I’ll admit to not knowing the name Stedman Bailey before this amazing play, but the highlight made me look into his story, and what I found was a man of faith, who desires to play and live in a way that honors God. This story tells about Bailey and his college QB Geno Smith (now with the Jets) and the leadership they provided for their West Virginia team. You can also read in this article from West Virginia 24/7 that Bailey leaned on his faith in God to make it where he has. His faith affects how he lives his life and he knows that is important for a person who others look up to. He says “with me getting all this exposure, I notice there are a lot of kids who look up to me. I just try to spread the word and help kids who look up to me go down the right path and do the right things in life.”.
Here are my takeaways from Bailey’s story.
1- Success is rooted in Humility – The pastor of the church where Bailey (and Geno Smith) grew up talks about the humble attitude of Stedman. He says “Stedman truly loves the Lord. That’s first and foremost. What I really respect about Stedman is that with all of his success his humility amazes me the most, It doesn’t matter how well he does in a game, how many yards he has, he’s so humble. He’s really rooted and grounded because the success hasn’t gone to his head” Humility is hard, because we are tempted to take credit for things we have no control over. It is humbling to realize that without God, we truly are nothing. We are doomed and we are lost. But He has chosen to not leave us there. Jesus showed the model of humility when he took on the humiliation of death on a cross to make a way for us to know his love, grace and forgiveness. As we grasp that, we learn that our only place is in a position of worship to the King of Creation!
2- Knowing God is important in leadership – This blog shares some quotes on leadership from Stedman Bailey and Geno Smith. They were teammates and leaders for the Mountaineers in college. My favorite of the quotes listed says “I can do all things through Christ. He strengthens me. That’s something I repeat to myself just about every day. There’s times I may be feeling down about something or may be facing something I may think I can’t get through, I lean on this. If God is with me, then nothing can come against me ” There is nothing our God cannot do. This is a refrain from a familiar kids song, and it is a true statement that must me remembered. God can work in us to bring amazing accomplishments and success, and He can also work to help us overcome unimaginable, otherwise unbearable hardships. He deserves credit and praise for both. That attitude will help us know Him better, and will lead others to know Him too.
The majority of football stories that you come across deal with players who have been playing in some way since their childhood. There are exceptions to this common storyline, and today’s featured player is one of those exceptions. Domata Peko grew up in Pago Pago, American Samoa. In the South Pacific, rugby rules. And while there are many similarities between rugby and football, it was not until his senior year in high school that Peko strapped on the pads and began playing american football. You can read about his story in this article from Bleacher Report.
Imagine the changes, as the article points out, that Peko faced. He went from a South Pacific Island of 64 000 people to playing in college stadiums that regularly house 100 000. He went from an Island paradise where 75 is a chilly day to Michigan, where snow and freezing temperatures often become part of the landscape in November. And of course, he was 8,000 miles from home, playing a game that was still relatively new to him. Now he had played a couple of seasons at a junior college in California, but that doesn’t prepare you much for winter in Michigan. Here is a video of Peko in action as a senior at Michigan State.
Peko has been a cornerstone for the solid Bengals defense since joining them in 2006. He is second in the league in tackles by an interior lineman over the past 3 seasons. He has been named a team captain this season. He even has a sandwich named after him at a local Cincinnati deli. - How was he able to make these transitions and excel at this new game? From the article: “The humble Samoan attributes his success to his family and faith. “My dad is the pastor, so that’s how I was brought up,” Peko said. “I have to be thankful to God because that’s how I got everything.”
And Peko is known for giving back to the community of Cincinnati, where he has called home for his entire career. He is frequently seen at team sponsored events, and he and his wife Anna started the Domata Peko foundation to give back to underprivileged kids. The foundation website talks about Faith, Family and football being the things the Pekos are passionate about.
Here are my takeaways from Peko’s story:
1- Great Cloud of Witnesses – Hebrews 12 talks about “Such a large crowd of witnesses is all around us! So we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially the sin that just won’t let go.” Peko’s story is noteworthy because he went from a small island that had fewer people than his college stadium could hold. He talks about how he was nervous at first, but once the game started, it was easy to get back into the flow. Sometimes, we can get caught up in our life of faith knowing that our actions are being watched. We are nervous to mess up and it may make us hesitant to do what we know we should do. But the lesson God has taught me over and over again is that His love is real, and those who genuinely love and wish to serve God will also often be there to share His love. Sometimes they do let us down or hurt us with their criticism, but at the end of the day, they are on our side, cheering us on. Knowing that, lets also encourage others as they strive to follow God. And God himself is our biggest cheerleader. He has the best game plan in place for our success.
2- We are all on a long journey – Hebrews 12 goes on to talk about running the race that is in front of us. And it is a long race. Peko has had a long, improbable journey to the NFL. But each step was important, and led to the next step. The same is true for our life. I may not be as far away from my home as Peko is, but I am far from where I thought I would be in life. I had my plans, but they were no match for God’s plans. Following Him has been an incredible adventure this far. If you are a Christ-follower, no doubt, you’ve seen your plans differ from God’s and hopefully, you’ve seen that His plan is the best. If you are not a Christ-follower, I can promise you that following God’s plan for life is the best adventure life can offer. And in the process, you will encounter the Creator of the world and learn how deeply He adores you. He truly knows no limits.
Each year during the World Series and the lead up to the Super Bowl, the Christian Broadcasting Network does a featured on participants in the game who claim a relationship with Jesus. It is a highlight for me, because it gives me a chance to share these players’ story and their passion for God in their own words. So as the World Series prepares for Game 4, check out the newest installment from CBN.
I have blogged on this site about several of the featured people. Check out the links below for those posts.
San Francisco Giants -
Kansas City Royals
Enjoy some great baseball and check out the stories of these men that are honoring God with their efforts
Sam Dansby has been a pastor for many years. His ministry has extended beyond pulpit and pews. In 1989, Sam Dansby began an outreach called Bibles and Balls. These sports camps focus on skills as well as bible teaching. One of the youths most greatly influenced by the combination of coaching and bible teaching is Rev. Dansby’s own son Karlos, currently a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns. Drafted in the second round by the Arizona Cardinals out of Auburn, Karlos Dansby has also spent time with the Miami Dolphins before returning to the Cardinals last season. He signed a 4 year deal with the Browns last off-season. As you can read in this story from AL.com, Dansby credits his dad for helping guide him to success in the NFL, and also in following God. Dansby is now offering help to his dad at the Bible and Balls camps that he does each summer – camps that Karlos attended as a youth. He says “It’s part of me. It gave me the opportunity to not only learn the game — basketball and football — it taught me how to put God first in everything I do.”
Dansby has seen God at work in his own life, and in the lives of others, too. A few years back, after Tim Tebow, led the Broncos on a string of miraculous comebacks and wins. One of those wins was against Dansby and the Miami Dolphins. This is what Dansby had to say on the Jim Rome radio show.
“Us losing to Tim Tebow the way we did, we seen it first hand…And for God to show Himself in that game the way He did, through the guy He did it through, it opened a lot of guys’ eyes on our team. And it brought a lot of guys closer to God… my hat goes off to Tim. And God working through him like that”
Here are my takeaways from Dansby’s story
1- God is Glorified in the actions of Those who Love Him – I’m sorry Dallas Cowboys fans, God does not have a favorite team. He doesn’t even have favorite players. But I do believe that He may allow a drive, game or season to happen in certain ways so that He is brought in to the spotlight. During that magical string of wins that the Broncos had, what was the talk? Just like Dansby said, there was something going on that brought God into the spotlight. It was not about what Tebow was doing, it was about an unlikely story developing and people talking about God. I believe that we all have opportunities every day to honor God and draw attention to Him and what He is doing, or to take the spotlight on ourselves, and hide God. How will you live your life? What amazing things is God doing though you? Other people will notice too, and will be forced to decide what they think about God by what they see Him doing in you.
2- Game Skills and Life Skills – Sam Dansby wanted to teach the kids in Birmingham Alabama about sports. But he did not want to stop there. He wanted to teach them about what they would need to succeed in life. He wanted to teach them about God and how a life of faith in the Creator is the most complete life you can lead. So he did both. He taught game skills and paired them with life skills. And God is using him to make a difference in the lives of the kids that come to his camp. God also used the example of a Godly father to influence the life of Karlos Dansby. Now Karlos is doing the same. He is helping with his father’s sports camp because he knows first hand the value of learning EVERYTHING that the camps had to offer. Who has influenced you in your life? Who has taught you about God and the importance of putting Him first? Are you ready to teach others, too, and pour into their lives like those who have put into yours?
3- Sports is the hook, Christ is the draw – Karlos’ father has played a role of coach and mentor to many youth who attend his camps. Sports is the initial draw, something of interest to bring in kids who don’t know much, if anything, about God. But once they are there, God takes over and presents Himself to these camp participants. The message of the Bible is all the truth that the kids need. And sports is the platform. Sports and faith hand in hand is what led to the creation of this blog. God is active in many media to reach his people. What are your interests and how can God use those things to share his message of grace, forgiveness and love to a world that needs to know about Him?