It is Super Bowl Week. For most football fans, we are licking our wounds, realizing that our favorite team has again fallen short of the Championship game again this year. For a couple of markets, (this year it is Seattle and New England) hope remains that their will be the team being showered with confetti on Sunday evening. Here at Living up to My Name, I have decided that since they announce the Hall of Fame class as part of the Super Bowl Festivities, and as a tribute to the only quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to 4 consecutive Super Bowls (and unfortunately 4 consecutive Super Bowl Losses), I would look into the story of former Buffalo Bills quarterback – Hall of Famer – Jim Kelly.
His career numbers are amazing. Aside from the 4 Super Bowl appearances, his resume includes 5 Pro Bowls, All-Pro accolades and most of the Buffalo Bill passing records. The Bills have not won a playoff game since Kelly retired 20 years ago. His jersey number (12) is the only one retired by the Bills. Add to those feats the outstanding career he had at University of Miami and his brief but successful stint in the USFL and his spot in Canton is well deserved.
But his story off the field includes joys and heartaches that far exceed what he encountered on the playing field. Just a couple weeks after his retirement, his son Hunter was born to Jim and his wife Jill. But Hunter suffered from Krabbe Disease, which is generally fatal in infants before the age of 2. Hunter lived for 8 1/2 years, before passing away in 2005. It was during the early stages of Hunter’s life, as you can see in this video from CBN, that Jill turned to God for hope.
For Jim, it took a little longer. According to the video, it was after Hunter died and the Jim and Jill’s marriage was at its most strained, that Jim sought council from his pastor. That led to Jim Kelly turning his life over to God and agreeing that he needed to change how he had been living. They now speak about the miracle that has happened in their marriage. They had stayed together because of Hunter, but now they have Jesus as the foundation that their marriage is built on.
Life continues to lob challenges at the Kelly family. Jim Kelly has had a couple bouts with cancer which you can read about in this article from USAtoday. But with God as their strength and with the common faith they share, they are battling on and praising God as they do. They’ve seen miracles in the hard times, they’ve seen life in the face of death and they’ve learned about hope that comes from knowing that this world is not all that there is.
Here are my takeaways from Jim Kelly’s story.
1- Not Why? but How? – Jim and Jill together are a story of great faith and perseverance. In the USA today article, she says “that entire experience of losing a child and watching him suffer every day of his life, that was so traumatic. So this (cancer), although it was very, very, very difficult, we’ve been through so much already that it was just another thing to face. It’s not even a ‘Why, God?’ question, it’s a ‘How, God?’ How do we get through this?” We can get so caught up in wondering why hard things happen, why we have to face such trials that we can forget that God is there with us and that He has a plan to make something amazing come from the pain we are battling through. I think How? is a better question. How can I deal with this hard thing or that hard thing? The answer that has been made obvious through the pain they have endured is to have faith. Have faith that God is by your side and can turn the deepest heartache into a connection with Him. Matthew 5 tells us “Blessed are those who mourn,they will be comforted”
2- The Suffering of the One and Only Son - I really like Jill’s statement at the end of the video that the suffering of their one and only son, Hunter led them to the suffering of God’s one and only son, Jesus, who saved their life. They stayed together to take care of Hunter, even though as a couple they had started to drift apart, and God used Hunter to keep them together and introduce Himself to them. Now, even with the tragedy of losing their son and the battle against cancer for Jim, they have a strong, Christ centered marriage. That is a true demonstration of the power of God to change lives. They may have been on the brink of divorce at one point but God turned that around. And now both Jill and Jim have written books about God’s work in their stories. Through the books, football camps, hall of fame events and speaking engagements, their story – and the work God has done in their lives is being shared far and wide.
“… Two roads diverged into the wood, and I I took the one less traveled by And that has made all the difference” - Robert Frost
Alfred Morris uses these words to describe his journey to the NFL in this story that he wrote for Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In the article, he shares that even though there was interest from some of the more traditionally well known and established football programs, he settled on Florida Atlantic University. He goes on to say that his time at FAU helped him grow in his faith in God as he immediately joined the campus FCA Huddle. It was during these meetings that Morris realized that the Christian faith that he had been professing for much of his life was not being reflected in how he was living. During his junior year, he says “ A couple days before a game, I had so much going on and was feeling overwhelmed with it all. Things piled up, and I hit rock bottom. Broken down, I called out to the Lord and told Him I couldn’t do this life on my own anymore. I gave it all to Him that day and jumped in with both feet.” Here he is sharing his story with CBN.
The Redskins drafted Morris in the 6th round of the 2012 draft with a pick that the Minnesota Vikings traded to get Donovan McNabb. The Redskins were in the midst of rebuilding their running game, having 3 other running backs who were brought in the year before to compete for time in the backfield. Morris won the job as the starter in training camp. He would go on to break team rookie rushing records for yards and touchdowns. He was only the 4th rookie ever to rush for over 1600 yards finishing second in the league. He finished as a second team All-Pro. The next season, he would play in the Pro Bowl. This season, he again surpassed the 1000 yard mark, finishing 11th in the league in rushing yards.
On a team that is built around the running game, Morris is an important part of that attack. But as he continues to excel in the NFL, he remains humble, as you can read in this story from Sports Spectrum magazine. In the article from just over a year ago, you can read about how Morris, despite cashing in an NFL paycheck, he continues to drive his college car – a 1991 Mazda 626. He goes on to talk about life at home where he grew up as one of 7 children. They did not have a lot of money, but built life on morals, values and a foundation of Faith in God. He says “Christ died on the cross for my sins. That’s the greatest gift… I’m undeserving, but he’s still using me. I don’t focus on the temptations. I don’t focus on the lifestyles like some guys do. God is my focus.”
Here are my takeaways from Morris story:
1- God is my Focus – I love that Morris closes with this phrase. Hebrews 12. 1 talks about running the race before us. To do so effectively, it goes on to say in verse 2 that we must run the race with our eyes fixed on God. There are so many things that bind can trip us up, especially the sin that can easily entangle us. By focusing on God and casting aside all of the other stuff that can get in the way, we will be effectively used by God to share His love with others. But the only way this can work is if we focus on God and allow Him to change us awe and equip us. We are undeserving, as Morris said, but our worthiness is not important to God. We will never be worthy. We always fall short, but He is graceful and when we focus on Him, we will see all that truly matters.
2- My God, not my Parents’ God – This spoke to my heart because it is an important message to me. My heart breaks for kids who grow up in the church and learn how to go through the motions of Christianity without establishing their own relationsip with God. That is who I was as a kid. It was not until I was 19 that I actually embraced faith in God as my own. If I could, I would grab all kids by the shoulders, look them in the eye and ask them – How important is God going to be in your life. If they are like me, they know the “Sunday School answers” but God is not an active part of their life or their decision making process. Morris learned the importance of owning his faith himself. I pray that we all embrace our relationship with God as our own.
3- The road less traveled – to follow God means to live life differently than the world. He asks us to lay down our life, take up our cross and follow Him. To follow God is truly the road less traveled. The Bible also talks about the narrow road that leads to life that few find in Matthew 7. 13-14. Morris talks about going the small program route to the NFL and how relatively few players make it this way. This connected with me because as Christians, we make the choice to take the road less traveled. Few find it, and to find it often leads to ridicule and persecution. But it is the only way to true life. Choosing to the road less traveled, as the Frost poem says – will make “all the difference i in the world”. Which road are you on? The wide road that leads to destruction or the narrow road that leads to life?
I remember listening to a lot of Christian Children’s music as a young boy. I would sit on the couch listening to the same records (yep – I’m old enough to have enjoyed vinyl) over and over again. As I grew older, I was involved in my church puppet team, and so I continued to listen to kids music, even into my adult years. That is when I noticed that many songs were put to the same tune (ABCDEFG, Twinkle Twinkle, and Baa Baa Black Sheep are all the same tune!). One of the songs that I remember (maybe by Little Marcy – I’m not sure) was “Count your Blessings”. I could sing along with the words, but it was not until years later that I really connected what they were saying. “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your many blessings see what God has done.” This song came to mind today as I was reading the story of Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive end for the New York Giants.
In his second NFL season, 2011, Pierre-Paul had a great season. He finished with 16.5 sacks (7.5 more than anyone else on the team). He finished third on the team in tackles – remarkable for a defensive lineman. He also led the team (tie) in forced fumbles. He was an All-Pro and a key part of the Giants 2011 Super Bowl Championship season. His numbers dropped a little in 2012 and he battled injury in 2013, but this year, in the final year of his contract, he again put up some quality numbers. Now a free agent, it will be interesting to see where he will play next season.
It was this article from New York Post, that brought me back to the music of my childhood. It talks about Pierre-Paul’s ferocity on the field and his faith in God which helps balance him. Pierre-Paul shares his daily routine of thanking God for another day, for forgiveness and for the many ways that God has blessed him. He says “(Sunday)’s just a blessed day to ask God for forgiveness and thank Him for blessing you for so much He’s given you.” He continues, saying that he sees a purpose in the chance God has granted him to play football. “He may have put me on a football field to be a mentor to other kids.” And his heart for others and the challenges they are going through has been noted. Check out this story from Super Bowl Week 2012, when Pierre-Paul spoke of the land of his heritage – Haiti and the hardship that the people of Haiti have gone through from poverty, disease and hunger, and made even more serious by a massive earthquake that struck the island nation in 2010.
Here are my takeaways from Pierre-Paul’s story.
1- What is a Blessing? - Pierre-Paul shared his daily thankfulness to God for another day to live and serve Him. That challenges me because I am quick to take things for granted. I have never wondered where my next meal will come from. I have rarely felt like my life was in danger due to crime, disease or war. In Children’s ministry I often teach about how hard life can be – and it most definitely has many trying times and bumps in the road, but I also know that when I hear about the hardship and poverty that affects so many around the world, my problems seem insignificant. And I know that when it comes to a life of faith in God, I don’t have a point of reference when it comes to facing life-or-death persecution that many around the world face on a daily basis. And so it is easy for me to fall into a false sense of security that things will always be manageable. So is this what it means to be blessed? I look at Matthew chapter 5 and I read the list of people that Jesus says are blessed. Among them are those who recognize their helplessness, those who are mourning, those who are persecuted. They can be considered blessed maybe because they can learn to depend completely on God and know His comfort, provision and peace. When I fail to stop and reflect on what Jesus coming and dying on the cross really means, I forget that His grace is sufficient – He is all that I need and, more importantly, He is more than I deserve. So I challenge myself (and maybe you too) to count your blessings, really consider all that God has done in your life – like redeeming it. Then praise Him, thank Him and surrender to Him.
2- Remember Where you Came From - Pierre-Paul talks about the hardship in Haiti and how he wants to keep people aware so that help can continue to come. I think there is a lesson for us as believers, too. Not about the land or country where we are from, necessarily, but rather the condition that we were born into. We were all born sinners deserving death and separation from God. But God, by his mercy and grace, offered a way for us to be freed from the poverty we were in. He sent Jesus to die for our sins which separated us from God and allow those sins to be removed and our relationship with Him restored. We have been freed from a prison so nasty and a penalty so bad that our only response can be to thank, worship and adore our liberator, and pass along what He did for us to others, that they may know His freedom too. Check out this video as a reminder of what God has done for us.
The Hall of Fame class of 2015 for Cooperstown was announced yesterday. Four new inductees were confirmed for the ultimate baseball honor. It also happens that all of them are also committed Christians. Let’s take a look at their lives, their careers and their stories.
Randy Johnson – (pitcher) I grew up as a fan of the Montreal Expos. It was hard to watch players come to the big leagues and as they started to fulfill their potential, they were traded because of financial considerations. Randy Johnson was one of those guys. He appeared in 11 games with the Expos, who drafted him in the second round of the 1985 draft. He would go on to pitch in 22 major league seasons. He surpassed the magical 300 win mark in his final season, and some believe that he may be the last pitcher to reach that milestone. He was an imposing southpaw, standing 6’10″ and his list of career accomplishments is impressive. 5 Cy Young awards, 2nd all time in strike outs, a no-hitter and a perfect game, and 10 all-star game appearances including this great all-star game moment.
But off the field, Johnson was not untouchable. In fact it was a tragedy in his personal life that brought him to surrender his life to God. He says in this article from Sports Spectrum that “I didn’t dedicate my life to Him until I had a tragic experience in my life…When you make that commitment to the Lord, you’re gonna have lots of confrontations, and there’ll be lots of tugging. I feel that myself. But there’s only one way to be on this earth, and that’s to be a Christian!”
He was one of my favorites throughout his career. I believe that the Hall of Fame is a well deserved honor for the Big Unit and I know that God will continue to authentically share his faith boldly
John Smoltz – (pitcher). Part of the dominant Atlanta Braves starting rotation (with Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux) that led Atlanta to 14 consecutive division championships. Smoltz was an 8 time All-star and a Cy Young award winner. He is also the only pitcher in history to record 200 wins and 150 saves in his career. The seamless transition that he made from dominant starter to dependable closer has never been seen before or since. Smoltz was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first season of eligibility. Not bad for the 1985 draft’s 574th pick.
Smoltz is proud of all that he has accomplished but knows that it pales in comparison to knowing that he will spend eternity in heaven. He says “…all of this is incredible but it doesn’t compare to the riches and glory of knowing where I’m going to be the day I die” How did he choose to make God the priority in his life? As you can read in this article from CBN, Smoltz relishes the chance to share his story and let others know that God is real and He loves them.
Pedro Martinez – Pitcher. As a Red Sox fan, it was great to see the long-discussed “curse”come to an end in 2004. Pedro Martinez was not only a part of that team, but was also a member of my “other” favorite team – the Montreal Expos – for several years, too. He was another one that started to blossom as an Expo, only to be dealt away and become a superstar elsewhere. What I liked Randy Johnson because of his ability to intimidate others with his size. I appreciated that Pedro was successful despite not having the same size advantage. He was almost a foot shorter than Randy Johnson. But let’s look at his career accomplishments.
He was an 8 time All-Star, a World Series Champ, a 3 time Cy Young winner and has the second highest winning percentage and third highest strikeout to walk ratio for pitchers in the modern era of baseball.
As you can read in this article from from CBN, Martinez grew up in Dominican Republic in a large family living in a small house. He talks about many people along the way thinking he was too small to make it. When he would get discouraged by this, he would turn to God. And God answered his prayers by helping him improve and amaze the coaches that doubted him. Now, doubt is long gone, and Pedro Martinez in on his way to Cooperstown.
Craig Biggio – (outfielder, second base) The 7 time All-Star and 5 time Gold Glove winner is elected to the Hall of Fame on his third try. In his career, he played catcher, second base and outfield. Biggio was drafted in the second round of the 1987 draft and spent his entire 20 year career playing for the Astros. He amassed over 3000 hits and 600 doubles.
Biggio is also very active in the community outside of the baselines. He has worked with children who are battling cancer with the Sunshine Kids Foundation. In 2007, Biggio and 29 other major league personalities joined together to appear in the movie “Champions of Faith”. In the movie, they share how faith in God guides them in their career in baseball. You can read about the movie here, and get more information on Biggio on the Champions of Faith website,
Congratulations to these men on their election to the Hall of Fame yesterday. I watched them in the primes of their careers and I agree with the voters that they have earned their spot at Cooperstown. I pray that as Hall of Famers, they will have opportunities to continue sharing about how God has worked in their lives and that He will continue to use them to impact the world for His Kingdom!
Rolando McClain has been seen as a special talent on the football field since high school. But off the field McClain had many challenges to deal with. An father who was undependable at best, and a mother who worked hard to pay the bills but got herself into some trouble too, as you can read in this article from Bleacher Report. McClain started living on the couches of friends at age 15. He had a couple brushes with trouble in high school, but still went on to play Division one at Alabama. Again, he was a star leaving after his junior year and drafted by the Oakland Raiders with the 8th overall pick in the 2010 draft.
It was not a good fit. Oakland was a long way from his home in Alabama. The team underwent head coaching changes in each of McClain’s three seasons there. Losing was taking its toll on him, He lashed out and found himself cut from the team at the end of his third season. He said “I was on a bad path … I didn’t deserve to play football”.
The Ravens signed him a few days later, McCain admits now that losing so often in Oakland had drained the joy out of the game for him. He had also been arrested 3 times for various things during his pro career. He chose to retire and get some things straightened out in his life. Besides the arrests, he had also gotten married and then filed for divorce. At the age of 24, McClain retired from professional football. As you can read in this article from the Dallas News, he used that time to reconnect with God and build a relationship with Him. He returned to finish his college degree. He also spent some time fishing and taking time to step back and get away from football. He says “Do I play and be unhappy or do I not play and try to figure out how to be happy without football in my life? So I just got down on my knees and started praying and that let me figure it out.”
Over the summer, the Dallas Cowboys contacted Alabama Coach Nick Saban and asked about McClain. They learned that he wanted another crack at the NFL and Dallas traded to acquire his rights. He came to camp earned the starting job, finishing second on the team in tackles and setting a career high in interceptions despite missing 3 games. As you can read in this USA today article, he was a key part of an excellent Dallas defense and is earning some consideration for the Comeback Player of the Year award.
Here are my takeaways from McClain’s story.
1- The importance of getting away – Burnout threatens all of us. We can get so busy and stressed out with all we have to do that we could easily burn out if we were depending on our own strength. Lately I have been making a more intentional effort to have a quiet time for prayer and bible study. And I have noticed a difference. It is exciting to connect with God. It is something that I hunger to do. Reading this story about McClain and how when he stepped out of the business of his career and took time to work in his relationship with God, he found the joy that he had lost for football was restored. And given another chance to compete, he has done so at a very high level. We see it in Jesus life, too. Before walking out on the water to his disciples, he sent them in boats and went up the mountain to pray (Matthew 14) and again before his crucifixion, he went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (Matthew 26.39 and following). As we strive to follow the example Jesus set, let’s not miss out on how he took time to get away and connect with His Heavenly Father.
2- Joy Restored – When we place importance on the things of this earth that can fade, rust or disintegrate, we often find that our joy fades when those things in which we place our hope break down. McClain lost the joy of playing football when he was far from home and on a losing team. The truth is (as McClain found out) that joy is a product that comes when God is active in our lives. He is true joy, in fact apart from Him, we find ourselves mired in hopelessness. But the Joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8.10) When we take our eyes off of God, when we try to survive this life and the hard things that it brings on our own, we are weakened, drained and hopeless. But the Joy of the Lord IS our strength. Let’s plug in to Him and live by His strength.
The Carolina Panthers are in the playoffs for the second straight year. Few thought this would come to be, especially in the mid-season 7 game losing streak that the Panthers battled through. But they play tonight against the Arizona Cardinals – they are even favored to win, despite entering the playoff with a losing record. Regardless of how they got there, their game tonight allows me to draw attention to the story of Byron Bell. Bell played college football at University of New Mexico, but was largely ignored coming in to the draft. The Panthers were the only team that worked Bell out before the draft. He was not drafted but signed as a free agent and went to Panthers camp. He worked hard and his efforts were rewarded. He was the only undrafted free agent to make the Panthers in 2011. Read more about him making the team in this article. That was 4 seasons ago. This season, Bell started 15 games. He has started 56 of the 62 games he has played in his career. He has taken over as the blind side protector for Cam Newton after the retirement of veteran Jordan Gross. It has been a remarkable run thus far for a guy who was a long shot to make the roster out of training camp.
So where did his motivation to succeed come from? Unfortunately, it comes from tragedy. The night before New Mexico played in their bowl game, there was a fire at his mother’s house. That fire claimed the life of his 8 year old adopted brother. Byron learned about the fire the next night, after the bowl game. He battled anger, guilt, grief and sorrow but, leaning on his faith in God, and allowing the pain that he was going through to motivate his play. That faith in God and perspective on life has helped when he has faced criticism for his play. He will give it everything he has got but ultimately, giving God the place of greatest importance is what Bell wants more than anything. How has the tragedy motivated him? Check out this story from the Shelby Star. Bell says “When I step on the field the one thing I always say is that I am a burning house and I have to protect my brother, meaning that I have to be the house of my family and the quarterback is my brother. Whatever it takes to protect him, I will do it.”
Here are my takeaways from Bell’s story:
1- The only way to coast is downhill – In this article from Panthers.com, Bell says “I’m out here grinding every day just to hang around. My biggest fear is getting cut” In football, there is no time to let up, every day should be a load of work to improve and protect your spot from the many others that want to take it. I heard it said somewhere that the only way to coast is downhill. The point being that if you are not working hard, you will decline. There is truth to that in our Christian walk, too. We need to be grinding everyday to learn more about God and how to make him most important in our lives. There is no room for coasting in our faith walk. I am challenged by this story to seek God everyday, to work at my relationship with God by spending time reading the Bible and praying. I don’t want to coast, I want to be going all out for Him. I know that my efforts will fail, because I am human, but I am comforted to know that God will help me out along the way.
2- Whatever it takes – Bell talks about his role as an offensive lineman. He likens himself to a house, whose job is to protect the family (quarterback) at all costs. If he doesn’t do his job, the quarterback will be in danger. To do his job, it means working hard, it means knowing the plays and what his responsibilities are. And it also means putting everything he has into his play. There is no time for taking a play off. This is also the challenge for us in our faith walk. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9 about being all things to all people that some may be saved. I ask myself am I willing to put in the work to follow God’s plan. Am I going to study the playbook (bible) so I understand my responsibilities. Am I ready to put out the effort to reach all people, so that some may be saved? That is the challenge I am reminded of by Bell’s story.
It seems so counter-intuitive, a guy who stands 6’6″and weighs more than 300 pounds is speaking about being the victim of bullying in his youth. And sure, as a middle schooler Garrett Gilkey had not yet grown into the massive man who now plays as an offensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but as we learned last season with all that transpired with the Miami Dolphins, bullying is not an issue of size. It is all about someone trying to take control and intimidate through words or actions.
As you can read in this article from ESPN, Gilkey speaks openly about his experiences in middle school. As a transfer, he had a hard time fitting in at his new school. He also battled some medical issues that not only excused him from some of the rigorous activities that others had to endure both in physical education classes and on the football field. Instead, he was an office assistant, which kept him on the radar as an enemy to the bullies at his school.
Here is a video of Gilkey sharing his story on CBN.
Gilkey eventually grew into a NFL sized body and and NFL sized prospect. He was not recruited by a Division I school, but excelled at Chadron State – home to Chargers running back Danny Woodhead whom I blogged about a couple years ago) .
As you can read in this article from ESPN, things are different for him in and around Sandwich, Illinois now. A few years earlier, Gilkey was was tormented by others who didn’t know the new transfer to Sandwich High School. And after a short time of putting up with the bullying, they transferred him to Aurora Christian. There he faced less bullying, but football was a challenge to the growing Gilkey. He reached the point where he hated football but coach (and former NFLer) Don Beebe. That relationship would help him connect with Chadron State. He spent 4 years there and was drafted in the 7th round by the Cleveland Browns.
And now, because of his experiences with bullying and his faith in God that helped him deal with it, he takes opportunities to share his story with others, including the Bible verses that encouraged him.
Here are my takeaways from Gilkey’s story
1- Turn the Other Cheek – We hear it said, we quote it as an ideal that we want to live up to, but it is very difficult to do. We all have a sense of justice and when we experience things that are unjust, it rubs us wrong. And our nature is to seek to set it right. But that is not what Jesus teaches. He teaches to let it go, to go the extra mile, to give to anyone who asks and not to seek vengeance on our own. Gilkey was instructed by his mom to be gentle and so Gilkey tended to fight back with his words and not his fists. He goes on to say that when he began to understand the way God loves us, that has helped him learn how he is supposed to love others. Whatever others may do to us pales in comparison to the offense that our words and actions cause God. But God loved us so much that as we were living in our rebellion and rejection of Him, Jesus died for us. To understand God’s love for us, and His call for us to love others the same way will help us to show grace and turn the other cheek. But only with Him alive and at work in us does that happen. And the beauty of how God works is that when we learn to forgive those who hurt us, it speeds up our recovery from the hurt, too. If we carry the hurt and bitterness with us, we carry the weight and it slows and distracts. But if we can forgive and let go, we can refocus on how amazing God truly is.
2- Voice of Truth in a World of Lies – The enemy comes at us in many different forms. There are the voices in our heads that tell us that we don’t measure up and that we are unforgivable or not good enough. There are the voices of other people who tear us down to feel better about themselves, and to discourage us from following the path God has called us to. But God’s love, as displayed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus sends us a different message. Casting Crowns wrote a song called The Voice of Truth. Knowing that He is the voice of truth and values us very highly. Bullying is hard to deal with, but with a true understanding of God’s love for us, the words of others tearing down our value will become insignificant
It is a busy week in the Page house. Christmas, two birthdays, and a wedding anniversary make it busy every year, but this year, my wife Stephanie is preparing for a mission trip to Thailand, too. She will leave on the 31st of December for 10 days. That means that I will be a single dad for a week and a half. I am excited for her to go. Over the past couple of years, she has been doing a lot of speaking to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking. This trip to Thailand will give her an opportunity to see the issue with her own eyes as she travels to a place that is known as a hotbed of the sex-trade. But also, she will be seeing first hand so of the work that is being done to rescue and free people from this life with Thrive Rescue Homes – the organization that she and her group will work with during their time there.
Her main message as a speaker on this subject is to talk about how we are all slaves to sin and freedom only comes from Jesus Christ. So as we prepare this week for her journey to Thailand, I want to share this story that I came across about New Orleans Saints Offensive Lineman Ben Grubbs. Drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft by the Baltimore Ravens, Grubbs signed as a free agent with the Saints in 2012. He made his second trip to the Pro Bowl last year.
And before you jump to any conclusions, Grubbs is not going to be breaking people out of Angola – He is not into setting captives free from their prison sentence. But he does share that freedom in Christ is the best thing we can know in this life. Earlier this year, he went with the Saints team chaplain and Hall of Fame Linebacker Mike Singletary to visit Angola Prison in Louisiana. As you can read in this article from the Saints website , having never been to a prison before, Grubbs was a little scared. And with good reason, too. Angola developed a reputation as one of the most violent prisons in the country, but some amazing things have been happening there. There is a huge population that attend chapel services at one of the 3 or 4 chapels on the prison. And there is even a seminary there for inmates who want to earn their preacher’s certificate.
And Grubbs, who admits that he had never really shared his faith story before, it was a stretching experience. But after a short time, he felt comfortable and relaxed. He was able to have some genuine conversations with some of the inmates and see their humanity. For Grubbs, it was another step on the faith journey that he has been on for the past while. He says ““God has been really moving in my life here recently. Just going to the PAO and being baptized and embracing my walk quietly.”
Here are my takeaways from Grubbs story:
1- We are all Human – One thing that Grubbs shares in his story is that there is a minimal difference between the choices the Angola inmates made that landed them in prison and the choices that we make on a daily basis. We are all prone to terrible choices and giving in to the sinful nature to which we all were born with. Any basic awareness of right and wrong comes from God showing himself to us. The more we pay attention to Him and allow Him to work in our lives, the better our chances of making good decisions, but it needs to be a constant effort. It is not a one time thing. The only way to avoid falling in to bad choices is to let God be in charge.
2- Do Not Judge – What I appreciate about Grubbs’ story is that he shares that while initially afraid, he talked about the genuine connection that he made with the inmates at Angola. He spoke of attending a chapel service with them and worshiping God together. There are 2 points to make here. a: We can all judge people for the choices that they make, even though we are capable of making similar choices. We need to be careful to resist judging others for what they have done and instead chose to love them like Jesus does. b: We are all just a simple “yes” away from grace and forgiveness. We may have consequences to deal with here, but we are all offered an eternity in paradise with our creator, regardless of the poor choices that we have made in life.
3- Not Free Agents but Agents of Freedom – Football has free agents. When a contract expires, a player is free to sign with any team. When we choose to live for God, we are purchased for a price (1 Corinthians 6.20 & 1 Corinthians 7.23). We are on His team, we are not free agents. But He calls us to be His agents of freedom. We can share how He has freed us from sin and our deserved death sentence and invite others to seek Him and know the freedom He offers. It is a freedom that brings joy and peace regardless of the situation that we are in in life.