Tangible Truths from a Radical Jesus – Zacchaeus

Tuesday night, I posted article number 400 in the life of Living Up to My Name. I really enjoy sharing stories from Christian Athletes, their stories have helped me find a point of interest in pretty much any sporting event that I watch. It is fun to share my passion for sports through these “Heroes in the Game, Heroes in Life”.

But now having reached the 400 post milestone, it is time to change things up a little bit. Not only will I be sharing stories of Christian Athletes, I also want to share some bible stories that I have enjoyed sharing with kids. The focus of these, initially, will be to look at the familiar words Jesus spoke during his time of ministry. Many of these stories, I had heard countless times, but recently I began to notice that what He said was earth-shatteringly radical. Why would he say such seemingly crazy things? Is what He said true? If so, what can we takeaway from these radical truths. So, my friends, consider this an invitation to look with new eyes at some of the familiar passages from the Gospels. Lets allow ourselves to really be WOW-ed by Jesus teaching. The goal will be to look at them with proper perspective and gain a new, deeper level of understanding who Jesus is and who He calls us to be. I present to you. “Tangible Truths from a Radical Jesus”

I will start with the familiar story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19.1-10.

What do we learn about Zacchaeus? First, we learn a little about what he was – a tax collector and a rich man. Next we learn what he was not – tall or popular. I imagine the gathering crowd not being willing to move aside and let little Zacchaeus through. They may have used this opportunity to take a swing at him, who knows. You see, he was a tax collector, but he was also a Jew. That means he was largely seen as a traitor. Someone who took money from his own people and paid it (at least “most” of it) to Rome to stay in good graces with this enemy regime that had taken over Israel. Tax collectors were also known to pad the numbers a little so they could keep some for themselves. That is likely how Zacchaeus became rich. So there was not a lot of love for him on that day when Jesus was reportedly coming to Jericho.

So Zacchaeus runs ahead of the crowd and he climbs a tree. He is motivated to see the Jesus that so many have been talking about. Motivated enough to put in the extra effort to see Jesus. And along comes Jesus and his entourage. We are not sure exactly what Zacchaeus hopes to achieve in seeing Jesus in person, we just know he climbed a tree. Jesus knew it too, and as he reached that spot, he said “Zacchaeus, come down! I must stay at your house today” (vs 5). You can almost hear the audible gasp from the crowd. The bible says “they grumbled”. They were upset because Jesus was going to visit this “sinner”. ‘Why him?’ I’m sure they asked each other.

But Jesus knew. He said “I came to seek the lost”

And Zacchaeus? He was a changed man. He vowed then and there to repay 4 times all he had collected dishonestly. He also vowed to give half of what he owned to the poor. And Jesus declared that Salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house today.

What “tangible truths” can we take from this passage?

1- Jesus knew Zacchaeus – We don’t know about their relationship – if this was the first time they had met or not, but we do know that Jesus calle Zacchaeus by name. Undoubtedly, He knew all about Zacchaeus’ shady dealings and dishonesty. But it didn’t scare Jesus off. Instead, it allowed him an opportunity to show grace and change Zacchaeus’ life – which brings me to #2.

2- Meeting Jesus changes lives – Zacchaeus was curious about Jesus. He had heard enough to motivate him to check it out. But when he met Jesus face to face, everything changed. That is the power of Jesus. He realized his sinfulness and was convicted to make things right again.

3- Jesus sees potential – Jesus forgave Zacchaeus’ life of sin. The crowd was not so forgiving. They saw the sin, the problems he had created. Jesus saw a sinful man realize his sinfulness and looked to change. I see a lot of my story in Zacchaeus’ story. I know the things that I have done wrong and I understand the penalty I deserve for those things. But Jesus sees the potential in me. He has a plan for me and that plan is for his purposes. So often, we act like the rest of the crowd. We pass our own judgements on others and write people off if they hurt us once or twice. I’m glad that God doesn’t write us off and I am challenged to see people as God sees them, not as I see them. He loves them, so should we.

Modern Monday – a review of Rob Maaddi’s “Baseball Faith”

Baseball Faith by Rob Maaddi 

Baseball season is winding down and my goal of blogging ever Monday and Thursday has fallen a little short as well. That being said, I am only four teams away from blogging about someone on each of the 15 National League teams.

Earlier this year, I bought a copy of Rob Maaddi’s book Baseball faith. In this book, 52 players, past and present reflect on their faith in God. Maaddi gives each of them 4 pages, a photo, career highlights and stats, a favorite bible verse and a brief summary of faith in God as it is seen in their lives. I referenced the book earlier this summer with my post on Ender Inciarte. So to finish up the season and to give some credit to Maaddi for his book, I offer this four-pack of players stories from “Baseball Faith”

Marlins Catcher J.T. Realmuto

1- J.T. Realmuto – Florida Marlins (key verse – James 4.7)

Submit yourself then to God. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.

Realmuto talks about the struggle to remain humble, especially in baseball where fame and recognition from others are part of the deal. He says “...it’s extremely important to be humble and understand that all of this is just a small part of what we do…We need to stay humble, stay low-key and not buy into all the fame and the things of this world.” How does Realmuto accomplish this? “Reading the Bible every day and getting into the Word fulfills things throughout your body and your soul that you can’t get anywhere else”

Takeaway –

The devil is sneaky. He will hit us up with both ends of the spectrum. He will tell us we are the best and that other should bend over backwards for us because we are so cool. And then the next breath, he will tell us we are worthless and useless, unlovable and awful human beings. Staying in the Word is important because it will help us identify the lies of the devil and fill our hearts and minds with God’s truth. And one key truth is in the verse that Realmuto shared – With God’s power alive and active in us as believers, when we resist the devil, he will flee from us. Keep your eyes focussed on God and let His truth fill you.

Nationals minor league infielder Brandon Snyder

2-  Brandon Snyder – Washington Nationals (Key verse – Matthew 6.34) “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day  has enough trouble of its own

The son of a former Major League pitcher, Brian, and former first round draft pick (#13 overall 2005) Brandon Snyder. The 30 year old has 120 pro games on his resume mostly as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement. He discusses Matthew 6.34 saying that as a baseball player, you often think about tomorrow and what you have to do to keep your career going, to become a better player. He says “If you realize that you can give it to God, not worry about tomorrow and let Him lead you, that takes a lot of anxiety away and lets you be yourself. ”

Takeaway – Above I mentioned a couple ways that the devil tries to mess with us. Worry is another one. He will try to show us all the things that could possible go wrong and tries to paralyze us with fear so we are less effective in our witness. Jesus knew that would be a ploy of his enemy. And so during his time on Earth, to help us with this, he invited us not to worry. The verse before this one reminds us to seek God’s kingdom above all else and focus on the things He is doing. He promises to provide for our needs and work in our lives.  It is a challenge, but God is our provider. Take some time to see how He has been at work in your life, that He is always faithful, and accept this invitation not to worry about the things that are not in your control anyway. Instead, trust the one who IS in control to take care of you and meet your needs.

Mets lefty Steven Matz

3- Steven Matz – New York Mets (key verse 1 Thessalonians 4.11-12)

And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Matz, a lefty who the Mets chose in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft set a team record for most RBIs in a major league debut with 4. Not bad for a pitcher! Over his 3 year career, he has had some great games (taking a no-hitter into the 8th inning against the Padres) offset by some injury woes.  But he is still young and has shown a lot of promise. In regards to his key verse, he says  “…(at) this level, there is a lot of demand for your attention and sometimes you want to blow people off. But this verse tells me to mind my own business, work hard and be humble.

He continues “When I realized it wasn’t a matter of being a good person or a bad person, that’s when I became a better person because I realized I didn’t have to work my way or earn my way (to heaven). Once I recognized that (Jesus loves me)…my mindset has been completely different.”

takeaway – This is where baseball and life of faith differ. In baseball, there is a constant need to prove yourself. A baseball career can be over in the blink of an eye if the statistics are not good enough. If you are fortunate enough to make it to the majors, you have to work every day to keep you place because someone is looking to take your spot away from you as they strive to fulfill their own dream. I am so glad that God doesn’t work that way. Not only do we not have to earn our way to forgiveness and salvation, we CAN’T earn it. The bible tells us that the absolute best that we can do is nowhere near good enough. Isaiah 64.6 tells us that all of our righteousness (efforts to do right) are like filthy rags. We have the work of being obedient, but the only way we reach right standing with God is through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Phillies slugging third baseman Maikel Franco

4- Maikel Franco – Philadelphia Phillies (key verse – John 14.6)

Jesus answered “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”

Maikel Franco is a power hitting third baseman that the Phillies signed as an international free agent in 2010 when he was 17. He made his debut in September 2014 and like Matz, put his name in his team’s record book becoming the first Phillies player to record back to back 5 rbi games.  He took over as the regular third baseman for the Phillies in 2015 and has hit over 50 home runs in his 360 career games. He shared John 14.6 saying that he likes this verse because “God is everything to me. When you have a good relationship with God, it’s amazing because everything is going to be fine. Even if you have a tough moment in your life, you have to thank God for everything…God is the path to truth and life, If you believe Jesus died for your sins and give your life to Him, He is the way to heaven… In tough moments, you can’t do it alone. Pray to Jesus and give Him control. He is the Way”

Takeaway – What struck me from Franco’s words was the thankfulness. Thanking God for everything when you are having a tough time? That is not our instinct. We tend to blame him, question him and mistrust Him. But if we can choose instead to thank Him, knowing that He does have a plan for us and that it is for our ultimate best, we will see our trust in Him grow. He has given us so much. He has taken care of us in so many ways. He is with us in hard times, He is able to turn our hardest things into positives. He really is ALL we need. He is everything.

 

Modern Monday – Brighten the Day of those around you – Ty Blach – San Francisco Giants

Giants Lefty Ty Blach

About a year and a half ago, I took on a second job, working at Trader Joe’s. I remember one of the interview questions was something to the effect of “what does a good day look like to you?” I thought about it for a moment and what came to mind when I thought about having a “good day” was that I would be able to make better the day of everyone I was in contact with. I don’t know that I achieved that many times in my 18 months of working there – I’d like to think that I did, but it is something that I know I wanted to strive for.  And I think that it is a valid goal to set for every day life, not just in the customer-centered world of retail.

Earlier this week, Ty Blach made life for his Giants teammates better by pitching 8 strong innings against the Oakland A’s striking out 6, and giving up only 2 runs, 1 less than he drove in with his first career home run, which you can watch in this video.

Black came to the Giants as a 5th round pick in the 2012 draft after 3 years as one of the “most dominating left-handed pitchers in Creighton History“. He made his Giants debut with them last September and made the team out of Spring Training this year, starting off in the bullpen before taking a spot in the rotation when Madison Bumgarner got hurt.

Blach has shown promising signs for the Giants who have struggled as a team this year.

As you can read in this interview with Unashamed Athletes, Blach places importance on following God and living to impact the world for Him. He says “I say a prayer before every inning that I pitch in order to help me keep my eyes on God and play for Him. I also like to read a few chapters of the Bible before each start that I make so that I have His word fresh in my mind while I’m on the field. Off the field I try to lead a life pleasing to God. I am always trying to be upbeat and positive and see if there is any way that I can brighten the day of the people around me.” When asked his favorite verse, he says “My favorite verse is Matthew 6:33. It says “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all of His righteousness and all of these things will be given to you” When I was a kid I got an autograph from Terry Shumpert who was a utility infielder for the Colorado Rockies. Under his signature he had this verse written. Ever since that day, that verse has never left me. It reminds me that in everything that I do, I should put God first and God will help take care of everything else. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Shumpert a year or so ago and I told him about the autograph and the Bible verse that he put with it and the impact it still has on me to this day. He made an impact on me with that Bible verse and I too hope to make an impact on someone’s life when I include Matt 6:33 on my autographs for fans.”

Blach hopes to be a positive influence to the world around him and honor God in his play and his life

By the end of the interview, he encourages all to be open about their faith, even if it is scary at times.  He says “It can be difficult and you may feel unaccepted by some people in society today, but you will come to find out that there are a lot of people in the world who are very accepting of God’s love. Someone may just be needing a ray of hope in a tough time or someone else might be just as afraid to show their faith just like you. No matter what the case, God has put you in this world to make an impact on the people around you so don’t be afraid to live for Him. ”

Here are my takeaways from Blach’s story:

1 – Positive Impact – Blach said he hopes that he can brighten the day of the people around him. I said something similar in my job interview. In reality, it should be a goal for each of us, and an easy enough goal to reach as a Christian. You see, we have hope, we have joy offered to us, we have Spirit of the Creator of the Universe living inside of us and the promise of heaven awaiting us. We have a lot of joy to share. Let’s take stock of all that God has done in our lives and let’s be open and grateful. Let’s ask Him to show us the needs of the people around us and how the path He has had us walk can help meet those needs. and Let’s let His love flow through us to those who still need to learn about it. We have the Joy of the Lord as our strength (Psalm 28.7). It is easy to get so caught up in the challenges of this life, but if we reset our focus and thoughts on Him, we will see that He is at work and has been faithful to all He promised us. Let those thoughts be what guides us to make a positive impact to the world around us.

2- Seek First – This ties nicely into the first point. Seeking God’s Kingdom, putting Him first will help us keep the proper perspective and allow us to demonstrate the joy He provides. That verse in Matthew is directly after a call not to worry about how our needs will be met, instead we can put our minds on the things of God and following His path for us. And He will take care of the rest of the details. They are not in our control anyway, so why try to pretend they are.  And Part 2 of this thought is how God’s word is powerful and will not return void (Isaiah 55.11). A reference written as part of an autograph a young boy got from a baseball hero. And it continued to encourage that boy as he, himself grew into a Major Leaguer. He now signs his autograph with the same verse. Something seemingly simple, yet God works through it. I know I don’t want to miss anything that He is doing. I pray that we will all be reminded daily to “seek first the kingdom of God…”

Modern Monday – Make me an Animal – Josh Fields – Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodgers relief pitcher Josh Fields

Trade Deadline has passed!

Did you favorite team buy or sell at the deadline?

I am fascinated by trade deadline day in any sport. It is something that is very much a sports-only phenomenon. I try to imagine something similar in other contexts.  For example:

Target: Hey WalMart! This is our year and so we really are interested in adding some important pieces. We are interested in your store manager. We’d like to bring him in to work for us.  What will it take to make that happen?

WalMart: Well, he is available, but its going to take 3 of your top 20 up and coming cashiers, 2 Seasonal workers and a pharmacist to be named later.

Sounds pretty far fetched to me, yet in sports, that’s what we have. Competing entities swapping their “staff” to each other. What a unique world the world of sports is.

Josh Fields (bible in hand) in the minors with the Red Sox. God used a demotion to the minors to help Josh gain perspective on what is important.

Today, I am going to share some of the story of a player who has been part of 2 trade deadline deals in his career, including the one that sent him from Houston to Los Angeles last season when Josh Fields was traded to the Dodgers for a minor league infielder.  Originally drafted in the first round by the Seattle Mariners, he also was dealt on Trade Deadline Day in 2011 when the Mariners shipped him to the Red Sox along with Eric Bedard. After joining the Dodgers last season, he pitched very well. He resigned with them in the off-season and he has been very solid for the best team in baseball this season. He is 5-0 holding batters to an average of under .200.

As you can read in this article from the Portland Press Herald, Fields says a prayer before throwing his first pitch. He says “‘I always take off my cap and say a little prayer before I take the mound, just try to remind myself why I’m here. I’m not here to gain glory for myself.’ Fields calls his mindset “an eternal perspective” as he talks to God before he throws a pitch.”

So does he pray for? wins? strikeouts? No, instead, he says “One thing I always pray for is ‘God, make me an animal out here.’ I want to dominate these guys. I want to go after them as hard as I can — 100 percent — and not back down.” and while this article from yard barker.com, talks about a demotion to the minors in 2014, that time was used to help Fields reset his perspective on what is important and also to learn a new pitch that has helped him remain largely  successful since.

As you can read in this LA times story, Fields made some changes to his delivery and

Fields has been a key part of the Dodgers bullpen this season. Postseason appearance seems likely

Here are my takeaways from Field’s story:

1- Make me an Animal – That is the prayer that Fields prays before appearances. He doesn’t pray for wins or strikeouts, he simply asks that God would make him an animal. That he would give everything he’s got and that he would not back down. I think that is a prayer that we could ask God for ourselves. That we would not back down from opportunities to honor Him. That we would give all we’ve got to our service to Him. Fields also said that he reminds himself why he is there – not for his own glory but for God. I am challenged to give God my all.

Fields has twice been traded at the trade deadline. His goal for baseball is to build solid relationships with others and be open about his faith in God.

2- Traded – I started this post talking about yesterday’s trade deadline. And how strange it is to be dealt from one team to a competitor. From one day being a star of one team to the day, trying to overtake that team and win with the new team. I was thinking about how to connect the concept of “trade” to our spiritual life. Immediately, my mind went to the late 90’s worship tune “Trading my Sorrows” by Darrell Evans. I can see so many mission trip participants singing this song and acting out motions as they led services on these trips. And while I did get tired of the song, the concept is biblically sound. Psalm 30.11-12 talks about mourning being turned into dancing. Ephesians 4.21-22 talks about trading in the old self and putting on the new. And Romans 12.2 talks about not conforming to the ways of the world but being transformed by the renewing of your mind. So there is a trade there. We trade in the uniform of sin, pride, rebellion and selfishness and put on the righteousness of Christ. He gives us the “new self”, he transforms our mind so we can resist worldly ways, He transforms us by changing the way we think when we set our minds to follow Him. And later in Romans 12, it tells us that “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purposes”. So even in the midst of our sorrow, he is working to bring good. It is on us to allow him to do that. Let’s not get caught up remembering the old, let’s trade it in for the new and better that comes from following Christ.

 

Throwback Thursday – Jekyll & Hyde – Aubrey Huff – Tampa Bay Rays

I visited the Jekyll & Hyde club in 1997. 

My first time in Manhattan, I had the fun experience of eating at the “Jekyll & Hyde club.  The food was quite good, but the experience was very cool. It is a spooky restaurant that is set up to reflect the well known story by Robert Louis Stevenseon “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”.  You are probably familiar with the name and characters of the story, but in case you are not, it is the story of Gabriel John Utterson a lawyer who is trying to solve a mystery where a murderous villain (Hyde) is a personality that comes out when Dr. Jekyll drinks a serum. It has been re-interpreted and performed countless times. And it has also become a familiar term for a person who seems to embody good or at least normalcy in one moment, and evil depravity the next. And while the Stevenson book is a work of fiction, if we are honest, we can relate to the story more than we would like to admit.

Huff’s 13 year career started in Tampa Bay where he spent 7 seasons and almost 800 games.

Aubrey Huff played 13 years in the Majors on 5 different teams.  He was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 5th round of the 1998 draft after a Hall of Fame career at University of Miami. He made his debut in August of 2000 and would play more than 1600 games in the majors. He was a Silver Slugger award winner in 2008 with the Orioles and a 2 time World Series champ (2010 and 2012) with the San Francisco Giants. It is a great story of persevering through some gigantic obstacles. When Huff was 6 years old, his father was killed trying to be a peacemaker in a domestic dispute while working as an electrician. Read about that story in this article from mlive.com. His mom raised him and his sister as a single parent. She had a batting cage installed at their house so Huff could work on his skills.

And while Huff put up some great numbers as a baseball player, he battled some things off the field that threatened to ruin his career, his marriage and even his life. During his career, he formed an addiction to Adderall. It helped his baseball career improve, but the effects of taking this drug, and then quitting it tool their toll. This is where he related to Jekyll and Hyde. Learn more about it in this video from CBN.

During Huff’s World Series days, he was battling addiction to Adderall – an addiction that almost cost him his marriage and his life.

In the video he talks about his introduction to Adderall and the positive effects it seemed to have for him. It also relates how addictive it was . He says “I had every intention to quit it during the off-season. And I found myself in the offseason taking it the very first day. When I didn’t take it in the morning, I felt depressed, bored, anxious, and irritable.  It made me a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It turned me into somebody I hated.” He also talks about the day when the cravings ended, thanks – he says to God’s help. He said “I remember getting on my knees and praying, crying to God, I got to get off this stuff, Lord, please Jesus, I need you. I cannot do this anymore. I take the pills I dump them down the toilet at 4:00 in the morning and flush them. And I woke up the next morning. I thought for sure I’d want a pill. I didn’t want one. The next day I didn’t want one. From that moment on, I never had a craving to take another Adderall in my life.”

Huff details his addiction and how God helped him find the path to recovery.

But that was not the end of his struggles.  His wife had filed for divorce, and while the craving for Adderall had ended, he began feeling anxiety and panic, culminating in him holding his gun to his head, on the verge of suicide. He continues “I realized my dad was murdered with this same caliber weapon. And I’m like wow — put it down! I started crying to God. You were supposed to be here with me. I thought you were in my life. And this thought came to me. He’s like ‘Aubrey, if you want my perfect peace, you have to give up control and have faith in me’. And it was that day where I realized I’ve got to start living for Him. Not just pretending!”

God restored Huff, reconciled his marriage to Baubi and even led him to co-write a book about his story, addiction and recovery.

Here are my takeaways from Huff’s story:

1- Jekyll and Hyde –  Huff shared about how Adderall changed him into “someone he hated”. He talked about how he had these 2 distinct versions of himself. – Brash, cocky, confident and focused while on Adderall, and bored, depressed, anxious off of Adderall – however, he was not in control of it. His addiction was in control. I see strong similarities in our spiritual life. We battle every day between glorifying God and glorifying ourselves. We have a natural inclination to worship something or someone, and battle everyday to keep that worship from being aimed at ourself. And while our addiction may not be to Adderall, our addiction to control over our own lives and putting ourselves first is equally as strong and as lethal. Huff saw God help him in his addiction and we need the same in our addiction to self. We need God’s intervention. We need to surrender control to Him.  Only He has the serum that takes away our evil depraved side.

Huff with his wife Baubi and their 2 sons celebrating a championship. God intervened and preserved their marriage.

2- Gain by Giving Up – Control is a funny thing. We think we have it, we hold onto it like it is actually in our hands in the first place, but in reality, we are not really in control of very much at all. We trick ourselves into thinking that we have say in how things are going to go and what life is going to bring our way. When Huff put down the gun he had aimed at himself, He called out to God. He recounts “ He’s like ‘Aubrey, if you want my perfect peace, you have to give up control and have faith in me”.  Since things are out of our control anyway, it makes the most sense to learn to trust the one that actually is in control. God has a plan for our lives and invites us to trust him AND give up control to Him. He can and will show up in amazing ways to guide us. He will also be with us in the hardest times. I know that I need to ask him daily to help me give up control to Him. I invite you to do the same.