What Can We Do? – Trey Burton – TE – Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles TE Trey Burton celebrates a TD against the Broncos earlier this season.

When I was a young boy, I hated public speaking.  It terrified me. Every year, we would have to do a speech in English class and every year, I dreaded the thought of getting up in front of my class and speaking. When I briefly considered a career as a broadcaster, fear of public speaking seemed debilitating. And while God had different plans for me – I didn’t ever become a broadcaster, He did work on my fear by putting me in front of groups of people, often. In fact, after years of teaching Sunday School, speaking at Summer Camps and even leading staff meetings, I find that what used to make me uncomfortable now energizes me. When God challenges our comfort zones, He also shows up to help us.

Burton, QB Carson Wentz and the Eagles have the best record in the NFL through 10 weeks. They also share a bond of faith in God

Trey Burton doesn’t like public speaking either. But as a pro football player, he has a natural audience that are ready to listen to what he has to say. You can read about his public speaking thoughts in this article he wrote for the increase. But he knows that he has been given an opportunity to point to God’s work in his life.  He says “I’m not the best public speaker. In fact, I don’t like doing it at all, but I know I have to. With the platform God’s given me, I would be doing a disservice to the Kingdom if I did not proactively speak out about my faith.  I truly believe that I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in if it wasn’t for Jesus. I’m not the most talented football player, and I’m not the fastest or strongest. In fact, I can come up with a whole list of reasons why I shouldn’t be in my fourth year in the NFL but here I am. And I will not waste this opportunity.”

Burton was an undrafted free- agent signed after the 2014 draft after a college career at Florida that saw him play many positions. In his first season, he played mostly Special Teams, scoring a touchdown on a blocked punt.  His use on offense has grown each season since. He has 2 touchdown receptions already this season.

“Pastor” Burton baptizes teammate Marcus Johnson at a Hotel pool in Carolina while teammates pray and celebrate.

Off the field, he has shown leadership skills.  This article from ESPN calls Burton the team pastor.  He has baptized teammates in each of the past 2 seasons.  He also has been active in social justice issues.  Check out this Sports Spectrum story that talks about how the Eagles and Redskins used their opening week game to raise awareness and funds for International Justice Mission. He says “I have a heart for the victims of sex trafficking; I want to see justice become a reality for each and every one of them. I can’t fathom why or how individuals are being assaulted daily, forced to do things against their will. We need to continue creating awareness and coordinating events to make sure this is put to an end.”

Burton and wife Ysenia know that God’s plans for them go beyond the football field. They want to use their place to share His love with teammates and fans.

He knows that God has led his family to Philadelphia. He writes in this article for the increaseBefore this season (2016) began my wife Yesenia and I started talking and praying together about what God wanted from us this year. We prayed consistently, knowing that we have a much more important purpose in life than just football. Our faith in Christ means more to us than any type of success I may have on the field, so we wanted to commit my career and love for the game completely over to the Lord, to be used for His Kingdom…We knew that God had brought us to Philadelphia for a reason…we know God has a purpose for us here. So as we prayed this prayer, I remember God clearly telling me that every person on the Eagles would know Him this year—not that everyone would necessarily accept Him into their heart, but they would at least know who He is.

Here are my takeaways from Burton’s story:

1- What can I do? – Often, when faced with the reality of a global issue like human trafficking, we can feel helpless. We find ourselves asking “what can we do?” But that question can be another way too. Not throwing up our hands, defeated saying “What can I do – I’m just one person”. It can also be asked as a call to action – I know the problem exists, and I can’t go back to unknowing it, so what can I do? How can I be part of finding solutions and changing these heartbreaking stories? This issue and question ring close to home for me. My wife is the founder and director of a non-profit that is helping people answer that very question. “What can we do?” Check out Stories Foundation to see what she is doing and what you can do to help out.

Burton (center) with Tyler Ertz and Carson Wentz pray following a game earlier this season.

2- Get Uncomfortable –  I cannot be reminded about this enough.  I have learned that when following God, life will not be comfortable, it will not be easy, it will in fact be so hard that the only way to survive and make it through is to depend on God’s presence and guidance. But following God doesn’t set us up for comfort. Abram, Noah, Joseph, Moses, The Israelites, David, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Esther, The disciples, Mary and Joseph – each of them and countless more in the Bible turned down comfort and ease for challenge and hardship – not by choice, but as a result of the choice to put God first. The examples continue beyond the Bible too, In my own life, the easy, comfortable choice was not the way God was leading me. It is hard to give up that control and trust God’s plan – but it is the best plan to follow. Always!! Burton talked about it, and I agree. Burton says “I believe God calls us to get out of our comfort zone for a reason. It’s during these moments when God truly shows up to work powerfully and miraculously through us to expand His Kingdom. And in these circumstances we have the privilege of experiencing the powerful work of His Holy Spirit within us. Get out of your comfort zone today and experience the power of God at work in and through you.”

Enemy

In my most recent athlete post, I share the story of Giorgio Tavecchio. Part of his story included a missed field goal. The miss happened after he had made the field goal, but had committed a penalty so it didn’t count. Those missing points would have been enough for his team to win the game, and without them, they lost.

He shared that he received a lot of hateful messages on his Facebook page. His response? Pray for each of those who sent him the message. This was a great representation of todays “tangible truth”.  In Matthew 5, there is a wealth of teaching for us to wrap our heads around, and in verse 44, Jesus says “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” I looked up the definition of persecute and here is what I found. “to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; relentless subjection to annoyance or suffering”  That goes against our instincts and in many cases, our sense of justice. We were wronged, we were hurt, we should be able to hold their actions against them.

But one time, a few years ago, as I read this passage something shocking dawned on me. Sometimes, I am the enemy. Sometimes my words are injurious, my actions harassing, or at least relentlessly annoying. I am the youngest of 3 brothers, I am sure they would support me in this claim.

There is a well known verse later in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7.12). It says “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them”. So let’s put these 2 verses together. When I am mean, oppressive, hurtful to others- when I am their enemy, how would I want them to treat me?  Do I want them to hate me back, carry a grudge and wish mean, harmful things to happen to me? Or do I want them to love me, pray for me, go against what I deserve from them and be shown grace? Definitely option number 2. So with that in mind, how then should I treat those that are oppressing, hurting or insulting me? With love, grace, prayer and forgiveness.

And if we need an example of what that looks like, consider what Paul wrote in Romans 5.8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We were enemies of God. We were against Him, living in outright rebellion. That is when he went to the cross so we could be shown love and forgiveness.  In Psalm 103.12, we read that the Lord has taken our sins “farther than the East is from the West”.  Why East and West instead of North and South? well, there is a North and South Pole. There is a finite distance between those two points. There is a point that you can reach where you are as North as you can go.  No point like that exists when you look at East and West. If I were to get in an airplane and fly east until I reached the end, I would never get there. I can always go East. It is an immeasurable distance and God says our sins are taken away farther than that! He loved his enemies. He showed love, grace and forgiveness to the very ones that were sentencing him to death. (I’m not picking on the Jews in Israel at this moment, I’m talking about every sinner that has ever lived!) And He calls us to do the same, to show undeserved love and grace to those who oppress us. And when we see what that looks like modeled in our own forgiveness, we are challenged to do the same. God please help us to lean on your presence in our life to carry this out!

 

Disappointment – Giorgio Tavecchio – K – Oakland Raiders

Raiders kicker Giorgio Tavecchio

Today, I get to shine the Living Up to My Name spotlight on Giorgio Tavecchio. He has had a long, winding road to the NFL where he made his regular season debut this year with the Oakland Raiders.

Born in Milan, Italy in 1990, he moved at a young age to America. He recounts in this article from raiders.com, that his family moved around quite a bit when he was growing up.  He was the kicker for his high school football team and loved it so much that he turned down a scholarship at UC Davis to walk-on as kicker at UC Berkley. He played with the Golden Bears for 4 seasons, finishing 5th on their all-time scoring list.

Tavecchio looks in disbelief at the missed field goal that would make him the target of anger and even hatred from Cal fans.

During his junior year, he and the Bears had a chance to upset No.1 ranked Oregon. He lined up a 24- yard Field Goal in the fourth quarter to take the lead and hammered it through the uprights. But he had taken a short step before the snap and was penalized for a false start. The ball was moved back 5 yards – still a makable 29 yard attempt. But he missed it to the right. Oregon held on to win the game.  Giorgio was blamed. The disappointment of a miss like this could have been enormous. But for Tavecchio, as you can read in this article from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, Tevecchio turned it into a “chance to grow.”He got hateful messages on his Facebook page. He chose to pray for those who clicked “send.“” Disappointment didn’t get the best of him. 

After many seasons of not making the regular season roster, Tavecchio got his chance this season. He hit 4 FG in his debut against the Titans.

And that was probably a good thing as there was more opportunity for disappointment that would come. Tavecchio was not invited showcase his skills at the NFL combine. So it would fall to the Cal pro day to show off his skills. Scouts would come to see all the prospective NFL players at Cal. The Vegas Review Journal recounts the Cal pro day like this “As he warmed up to punctuate the afternoon, rain fell on Berkeley. Scouts flipped up their jacket hoods. They lowered their heads to keep their faces dry. Having seen the top prospects, they left the field and retired to the parking lot…”By the time I was done with my set, maybe 45 minutes later, I had kicked probably 30 field goals, a couple kickoffs,” Tavecchio said. “There was just my team chaplain (Kevin Knox) and a couple teammates.

He was not drafted in the NFL. He went to a tryout for the San Francisco 49ers and earned an invite to training camp. He was cut before the regular season started. He was signed by the Green Bay Packers the next year and the Detroit Lions the following year, and again cut before the season started. The Raiders claimed him a couple days later, but cut him 3 days later. They would sign him in the off-season and cut him before the regular season 3 more times including this season, before bringing him back to replace an injured Sabastian Janikowski. He would finally get his chance. And on opening day this year, he hit 4 Field Goals for the Raiders, 2 of them were over 50 yards – he became the first kicker in NFL history to hit 2 50-yard-or-longer kicks in his debut. Now 8 games into his career (He plays his ninth game this evening), he is 10 of 12 in FGs and 19 of 20 in PAT. It has been a process, but Giorgio has arrived as an NFL kicker.

“When we depend on God we will never be disappointed” Tevecchio said.

Tavecchio talked about praying for the haters that sent him messages when he was in college. Part of the reason that he has been able to go through all the steps in this journey is that he has a great mindset when it comes to facing disappointment. Check out his story from Beyond the Ultimate.  He says “One of the things I’ve really embraced is dependence on God. That takes the pressure off me. Whatever happens on the field is going to happen. But if I trust in God, I will never be disappointed. What I’ve learned has made me into a better person, and I have drawn closer to God. My purpose here is not just football. I have the confidence that He can get me through things as long as I don’t trust in my own capabilities.” 

Here are my takeaways from Tavecchio’s story:

1- Pray for the Haters – In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” We see that lived out in Tavecchio’s story. It is so easy to return anger for anger and hatred for hatred. But that is not the example Jesus lived for us. Instead, he loves and pleads for those who oppose him to turn to Him.  He is not condemning, He is loving. The time for condemnation will come but until it does, He pleads and yearns for all to come to Him and know Him. I’m challenged by this response that Giorgio showed. I know that I get defensive, even if I know that I messed up and it is my fault, I will battle anyone that tries to remind me of that fact. Defensiveness is never the solution. Prayer, humility, love and respect for those who oppose us is much more beneficial and it is what Jesus calls us to.

2- Dealing with Disappointment – Tavecchio has had lots of opportunity to deal with disappointment. Missing a clutch kick that could have led to an upset, no one watching him at his pro day, not getting drafted, getting signed and cut over and over again (6 times!) It would be easy to battle against disappointment. But if we are truly trusting God and His plan, then when things don’t go the best way WE can see, it invites us to trust in God and depend on Him to work it out for us. And when He does, we start to see the depth of his plan and can have confidence that He will lead us through. Let’s let trust trump disappointment.

Value

In the previous “Tangible Truths” post, I talked about going through the motions of Christianity versus true sacrifice. That led me to make this one my next “Tangible Truth”.

This series focusses on some of the radical things Jesus said and how, when inspected more closely, they are both very true and very challenging. Today’s passage is from Matthew 13.45-46. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Two little verses that pack a punch. Let’s imagine the scene like this.

Man: Wow! look at that pearl! I’ve never seen one like it in my life! It is beautiful!  I simply must have it.  How much?

Merchant: How much do you have?

Man: umm. well, let’s see, I have, uh… $1,000 cash on me.

Merchant: I’ll take everything you’ve got.

Man: Oof! Hefty price, but I’ve got more in the bank account, so I’ll take it! $1,000. It’s a deal.

Merchant: I said, I’ll take everything you’ve got- bank account too!

Man: Empty my account? Wow! ummm, but look at it- I’ve never seen its equal. OK, deal, I’ll drain the bank account. It’s so worth it.

Merchant: OK.

Man: What a deal! Now where did I park my car?

Merchant: Wait! You have a car?

Man: (drawn out) yessss.

Merchant: The deal was for everything you’ve got!

Man: You want my car, too? Sheesh! I mean its a few years old and needs some work, but I need it to get around!

Merchant: The deal was for EVERYTHING.

Man: wow! um… ok, let me think about it… It is a pretty steep price, but it is so perfect, so beautiful, so valuable. You know what, OK, you can have the car, too. Here are the keys, we can take care of the title and all that, I guess.  But, uh, can you drive me to my house?

Merchant: You have a house? Our deal was for everything you’ve got!

Man: You want my HOUSE??? Now wait a minute. Let me take another look at that pearl. (looks at it). It sure is flawless though. This is crazy! OK, you can have the house too. I can’t believe I just said that, but I HAVE to have this pearl. When you drive me to my house, can you explain to my family that we are homeless and carless?

Merchant: You have a family? The deal was for everything that you’ve got!

Man: YOU WANT ME TO GIVE YOU MY FAMILY? Are you crazy? I can’t give up my family! But I can’t give this pearl back to you either – Now that I’ve seen it and held it, I have to have it. um…OK, I guess they are yours.

Merchant: Great, now can you do something for me?

Man: What could I do for you?

Merchant: You know the family you just gave me? They are mine – don’t forget that. But I want you to take care of them for me. Treat them great. Tell them about me, share your pearl with them.  And the house you gave me. It is my house. But I want you to live in it, take care of it, and use it to show this pearl to others. Tell them about me – I have lots of perfect pearls – I’d love to strike up a deal with them too.

Man: OK.

Merchant: And the car you gave me – it is mine now. I own it – but  I would like you to use it – for my purposes. Help other people out with it, and the money you gave me. It is my money now, but I am going to entrust it back to you. Use it wisely, use it how I instruct you to. Use it to help others find a pearl of their own that they can enjoy like you will enjoy your pearl.

Man: I understand. Thanks! This is the best deal ever!

Merchant: Tell others about the deal you got.

Now, God is not a swindler or a tricky salesman. He is the source of all that we have in the first place. The cost of this pearl is great, but the value far outweighs that cost. Our challenge is surrendering ALL to Jesus and making him more important than EVERYTHING else in our life. I think that sometimes we lose sight of that, and feel that we have done this on our own. Everything we have is a gift from Him. And giving Him everything makes sense since it is all His to start with. So knowing that, let’s joyfully surrender ALL to Him and share the beauty of the treasure He offers for others to see.

Do Not Fear – Jared Abbrederis – Detroit Lions WR

Lions WR Jared Abbrederis

It is construction season here in Minnesota. Yes, construction begins as soon as the snow leaves and they can get to work, but this time of year, it seems like things amp up a bit as the crews try to scramble to get as much in as possible. The result is that the routes we take to get where we are going are often slower than we want to travel and occasionally lead us in a completely different direction then we want to go. It is the story of our commute, but it is also the story of our life. Things don’t often go the most direct route. There seems to be times of waiting, unexpected detours and even the occasional fender-bender. The difference between our life (if we know Christ) and our commute is that with Jesus, when we finally get to where we are going, we see that the route we took makes the most sense and turned out to be the perfect path and timing. I don’t ever feel that way about construction traffic.

Abbrederis played college football as a walk-on at Wisconsin

Jared Abbrederis has had a long journey in football. He had success in High School as you can read in this article from whatchristianswanttoknow.com, but it didn’t translate into recruiters beating down his door to play at the college level. At Wisconsin, he went from walk-on quarterback to a top wide receiver in the Big Ten. He owns a few receiving and return records for the Badgers. He was impressive enough in college that the Green Bay Packers chose him in the 5th round of the 2014 draft. He played in 15 regular season and 2 post season games with the Packers before an injury led to his release from the team. The Lions signed him in January and he has been active for 4 games with them so far, hauling in 3 catches.

For Abbrederis, setting out on the new adventure of college was where he truly made the decision to live his life for Christ. You can read his story in his own words in this article from Beyond the Ultimate.  And in this article from the Milwaukee Journey-Sentinel, his first semester at college is described like this.

His first semester in Madison — a campus with a sterling party reputation — Abbrederis said he made decisions he regrets. Nothing too vile. He didn’t spend any nights in jail. Still, Abbrederis admits he was heading in the wrong direction. He partied too much, hung “with the wrong crowds” and felt “empty.” A huge part of someone’s life is your freshman year of college,” he said. “You leave your parents. You leave your community that you had and grow up yourself. … If I didn’t go through that, I don’t think I’d be as strong as I am today.

Here are my takeaways from Abbrederis’ story

1- Do something about it! – Abbrederis shared that he knew he was making some bad choices and was not happy with how college was going so (from the first linked article) “The second semester Jared decided to reach out. He began to participate in college age ministries through Blackhawk Church in Middleton. He also got involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Athletes in Action (AIA), and Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU). He was going somewhere almost every night.  This participation was the beginning that brought new life to his walk with the Lord.”

He saw the issues that were arising and he took action. When we chose to follow God, he allows His Spirit to come and live in us. Part of what the Holy Spirit does is put that voice inside us that triggers when we are making bad decisions. What do we do when we hear that voice suggest that we make a different choice? I know that I can be pretty good at blocking out the voice and carrying on down the path I choose. And often that leads me to a place I don’t want to go. I’m challenged by this part of Jared’s story to take action and listen to the Holy Spirit guide me away from danger and bad choices.

Abbrederis believes God led him to Detroit.

2 – Context is important. I have been learning this over and over again as I study the Bible. I read a passage that contains verses that I have known for much of my life, but to read the whole story of what is happening sometimes magnifies the lessons even more. That is the case for the featured Bible verse in this post tonight. It is a verse that Abbrederis started writing on his arms in High School and continues to reference now as a pro. The verse is Joshua 1.9. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Moses has just been replaced as the leader of the Jews who left Egyptian slavery to go to the Promised Land. Along the way, there have been stumbles by the people, miracles showing God’s power and hard lessons to learn. Joshua takes over as leader, and is preparing to enter the Promised Land. There could be many things to be fearful of. “Will the people listen to Joshua and follow? Will they be ready to trust God? Will they be ready for the battles that may be ahead as they take the land from others? But God’s promise is amazing. “the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

God leads us all on a journey to His Promised life. There will be lots of things that could bring fear and discouragement – it is a constant battle to fight. But He is with us, He will not leave us. Wherever we go, He is there. We can trust in Him and in that promise that He will work things our for our best. Hard times lie ahead, but with God as our guide, we can face those hard times with confidence knowing that He is with us, and He has a promise that He is keeping to lead us to the place He has designed for us. Let’s Go!!