Divided Loyalties – Jackie Slater -OL- Rams Hall of Fame & Matthew Slater – WR – New England Patriots


The Big Game is just 4 days away.

Imagine the loyalty that you would feel if you were drafted by an NFL team, and played there for the entirety of your 20-year Hall of Fame career. The team has retired your jersey number (78) and you are widely considered one of the best players to ever put on their uniform. You played with the franchise as it moved…twice. You are a key part of the history of a franchise that has been around since 1936.  You were a member of the franchise’s trip to the Super Bowl in 1979 (a loss to the Steelers). The franchise has split 2 Super Bowl appearances since then, and is making their 4th trip to the Big Game. It makes sense that with your history and connection to the franchise, you would be excited to cheer them on to victory.

 Jackie Slater played 20 seasons with the Rams. He was added to the Hall of Fame in 2001

But for Jackie Slater, despite all the deep-rooted connections to the Rams, this Sunday at Super Bowl LIII, it isn’t a cinch that he’ll be cheering for the Rams to win. You see, Jackie’s son, Matthew is a special teams ace for the New England Patriots – the Rams opponent on Sunday. And for Jackie, blood lines run as strong if not stronger that his history with the Rams.  But he sees the positive in it. He says “I can’t lose”.

Their numbers are remarkably similar despite the opposite ends of the football spectrum that they play. Jackie was a big offensive lineman, playing every snap of every game.  Matthew is officially a receiver but has caught only 1 pass and been targeted only 8 times in his 11 year career.

 Matthew Slater (#18) is a spiritual leader for the Patriots

Both have been to 7 Pro Bowls. Both have spent their entire career with the team that drafted them. They both have much sought after rings – albeit for different purposes. Matthew has 2 Super Bowl rings, Jackie has a Hall of Fame ring.

There is another thing that they have in common, too – a deep-rooted faith in God.

For Matthew, his greatest stage to share his faith has been his Super Bowl appearances (3 in a row now and 6 overall).  Check out this video from Super Bowl LI Media Day.

As for Jackie, he shared the importance of God in his life during his enshrinement speech at the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He closed by talking about all the hard work, great teammates and great coaches that he played with.  “Well, you see, I know that God provided it all. The good health, the teammates, and even the driving desire to be the best, I’m thankful to my Lord and savior Jesus Christ.” 

But even more than to the fans of football at the Hall of Fame enshrinement in 2001, Jackie’s God first approach to life started on the field and at home. Matthew shares the reason he always calls heads at the coin toss to start an NFL game. “Well, I remember as a child watching my father play in LA and him going out and doing the coin toss for the Rams…He always called heads, so I asked him one time, ‘Hey, why do you do that? What’s the story behind that? I think anyone who knows my family knows faith is important to us, and for him, he was always like, ‘You know, God’s the head of my life, so I call heads’. That was something he came up with, and I’ve kind of just embraced it.”

Here are my takeaways from the Slaters’ story:

1- In the end, it’s just a game – As I get older, I see the passion that fans carry for their favorite team. I know that I can get caught up in allowing my mood to be affected by the success of my favorite teams. This can be a heart-breaking habit to form. Because generally in sports, in any year, there is only one champion – the rest of the league ultimately is disappointed with how the season ends. And the fans tend to carry the burdens of success and loyalty more strongly than the players do. If a team fails to win, change is called for. If a player should leave one team and go to another, especially if it is a rival team, hatred and boos greet the player the next time he/she is in town. We can’t allow our identity or our mood to get wrapped up in something as trivial as a sports event or else we wind up in despair more often than not.

 Jackie will cheer on his son on Sunday, but both will use the opportunity to share what God has done.

2- More Important Things – I have often written on these pages the way pro athletes use the platform of fame and success to share their faith with the world. I appreciate that so many take that opportunity. I know that the stories of Christian Athletes and their boldness to share their faith were significant in my faith journey. God used their boldness to as part of His plan to draw me back to Him. And we can take the same challenge on, too.  We may not have the media of the entire world putting a microphone in our faces and asking us about our faith, but we do have opportunities, every day, to shine the light of God’s love in the world around us. Join me in praying for those opportunities and for boldness to share our journey of faith. 

3-Like Father Like Son – I love stories like this. They challenge me to consider the legacy that I leave for my own kids. Will they see the importance of faith in my life? Will they feel comfortable to ask me why I strive to value God above all? Will they understand grace even more when they see me stumble? Will they choose the adventure that God has in store for them? I pray that the answer is “Yes”.

Storm


Recently, I wrote a two-post series on the woman who touched Jesus’ robe and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. This time around, it will be a three-post series on another set of amazing stories from the life of Jesus. In each one, there is a moment when Jesus says something radical and impossible, and yet, as we will see, what He spoke was truthful, and what we can learn from it is profound.

Mark 4. One evening, Jesus tells the disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee to the other side. A few boats set out, and Jesus, seemingly tired from a long day with the large crowd that had assembled, falls asleep on a cushion at the back of the boat.  As He sleeps, a storm comes – not uncommon on the Sea of Galilee, but this storm is fierce enough that the disciples, some of whom were experienced fishermen that have likely been through their share of storms, start to panic. Their boats are taking on water, they are afraid and in verse 38 they wake Jesus up (keep this tidbit in mind for later).  “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” they ask. Then Jesus does something quite unexpected. In verse 39: “And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

I live in Minnesota, and I don’t like to shovel snow. Around this time of year, it turns very cold and we have the snow starts falling – everything from flurries to snow-namis. I have Jesus’ approach many times myself, stepping out onto my step, casting my eyes towards the falling flakes and saying “STOP!” And it has NEVER WORKED! My neighbors look at me like I’ve lost it. But the snow keeps falling, undeterred. Imagine, if you will, that you are on the boat, in the midst of a storm unlike any that you have ever seen before. You wake Jesus because, well, you don’t know what else to do. He gets up off his cushion, rubs his eyes for a minute, takes in a deep breath, faces the winds and rain and says “Be still!” Your initial reaction is likely similar to my neighbors when I call for the snowflakes to reverse their course.  But here is the thing.  IT WORKED! When Jesus spoke to the storm – it listened. And in a “careful-what-you-wish-for” moment, the disciples consider what they have just seen and instead of being comforted by the end of the storm, the Bible tells us that they remain afraid. Verse 41 says “And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (emphasis mine)

This sets the stage for another boating adventure that would occur later. That will be the topic of my next post. But for now, here are my points to ponder about this story.

1- Human – Earlier I had you take note that the disciples had to wake Jesus up in the midst of this tremendous storm. That tells me that Jesus was really tired. Tired enough that the rocking of the boat, the down pouring rain, and the harsh wind were not enough to wake him. Why is this significant? Here, Jesus shows us that He was human. He was affected by fatigue, He grew tired and needed rest. Jesus truly “became flesh” as John 1 tells us. Jesus life was filled with the same hard things that we all feel – fatigue, weariness, heartache, sorrow, temptation and more. Yet He remained perfect, sinless, and therefore able to take our place and pay our debt. This is an important piece of the story. But so is the next.

2- Divine – He also had the ability to control the weather just by speaking. It would have been amazing to witness this, but it makes sense. He was present at the beginning when God’s spoken word created everything. With His voice, He created the Sea of Galilee, the mountains, the wind currents, all the systems that affect and create the weather patterns there. They were formed at His word, it makes sense that they still obey Him. And while that kind of power inspired awe and fear among His disciples, the reality that they experienced is that He was with them in the storm and made a way out. I think this is an important consideration as well. He is with us in our storms, literal and figurative. And He is bigger, and more powerful than all of them. He called them on their fear and invited them to have faith. I think those words are intended for us as well. He is faithful and trustworthy. He can overcome all that we face. Faith in Him is worth it!

Championship Weekend Special – 4 Teams, 4 Reasons to Cheer


Championship weekend is here. I have been delinquent with my NFL posts this season, but there is no time like the present, right! Anyway, in an effort to atone, I will share part of the story of a player from each team that remains.

And I have some more lined up for the two teams that move on to the big game in a couple weeks.  So let’s dig in.

Rams WR Cooper Kupp

Los Angeles Rams – Cooper Kupp WR.

Kupp has been part of their dynamic offense since the Rams drafted him in the third round in 2017. Injury has cut this year short. He is on IR after a knee injury in week 10 and will not play in the game this weekend. In the first half of the season, he averaged over 14 yards per catch and 6 touchdowns.

Kupp is a third generation NFL player. His dad was a QB in the Early 90s and Cooper’s grandfather, Jake played in the NFL from 1964-1975 and was an original Saint (selected in the 1967 expansion draft). He is in the Saints Hall of Fame.

Cooper and his wife Anna chose to return to Eastern Washington for Cooper’s senior year. The couple chose to return to be positive influences, guiding the younger players on the team to prepare for college and making good decisions. He says “That’s one reason we came back: to have an influence on young adults in a very important time in their lives…When you see the way God impacts lives, it makes it a lot easier.

For more on his story, check out this CBN video

My takeaway from Kupp’s story:

Influence: My wife and I recently started a podcast about influence. We are reminded that influence happens naturally. We will all influence the people we are around. The question is will that influence be positive or negative. I really appreciate Cooper and Anna’s decision to be positive influencers on campus, even forgoing the NFL for a year to influence younger students at their college. It would have made sense to head to the NFL after his junior year, but after prayer and fasting, they chose instead to play one more year of college ball and intentionally use their influence to set younger students up for success. I’m challenged to remember to seek God’s leading instead of what may make the most sense to my selfish nature.

Saints QB Teddy Bridgewater

New Orleans Saints – Teddy Bridgwater QB

I am a Saints fan, but I live in suburban Minneapolis and so when the Saints traded to secure Teddy Bridgewater as a backup quarterback, I was familiar with him. He was a first round pick by the Vikings in 2014, and took over as the starting quarterback early on in the 2014 season. In 2016, after a couple of decent seasons, great things were expected of him. Instead, a horrific knee injury at practice sidelined him for that season and much of the next one. There was some question about whether he would ever be able to play again.

So what do you do when it all comes crashing down, and the things you had counted on or planned on come to a halt. For Teddy, it was important to keep strong faith in God and keep trusting that it would all work out for the best in the end. What was his perspective? “I just knew that it was in God’s hands…  I don’t know what just happened, but I know there’s someone out there who’s going through something worse than I am, so I just have to keep my faith and believe that everything’s going to be all right.'”

He also said “I never asked God why this happened to me, I’ve only told him thank you. A year later, he’s showing me why this happened to me.”

My takeaway from Bridgewater’s story:

Why? – When bad things, or hard things happen in our life, it is always tempting to ask “Why?” and try to figure out if we are being punished for something we have done. But I love the story found in John 9 where the disciples ask Jesus who is responsible for a blind man’s blindness – him or his parents. Jesus replies in verse 3 “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Sometimes hard things happen so that when God shows up and works it out our minds are completely blown away. That is what Teddy hints at when he tweets a year exactly after the injury, he is feeling grateful for God showing him why this happened. Let’s look for how God shows up in our hard times to celebrate that the Creator of all things is active in our life! What a joy that is!

Patriots TE Dwayne Allen

New England Patriots – Dwayne Allen – TE

New England is playing in their 8th straight AFC championship game. They embody the very definition of the word “dynasty”. Dwayne Allen is in his second year with the Patriots. He has already been to one Super Bowl with them and is hoping to make it two in a row, this time with even better results. He also reached the playoffs twice in his time with the Colts who drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft.

Allen has caught only 13 passes in his 2 seasons in New England, after scoring 19 TDs on 126 passes during his tenure with the Colts. But as you can see in the video below, Allen has more than stats in mind. He grew up in a tough situation.His mother had a string of abusive relationships that brought many challenges to the house. That resulted in a lot of anger in his life which on one hand, led him to football, but on the other hand, still had to be dealt with. Dealing with is led him to Jesus, who changed his life. These days, Allen, motivated by his hard upbringing, works with youth and advocates against domestic abuse.

My takeaway from Allen’s story:

Trade – The video talks about trading anger for forgiveness and grace. A change in his life is what allowed him to work through the anger and on to something more productive. We can all learn this lesson too. We all have things that we are holding on to, things that can block us from letting the true light of God shine through us. I pray that we can identify those things and allow God to work them out in our lives.

Chiefs Punter Dustin Colquitt

Kansas City Chiefs – Dustin Colquitt P

A few years back, I wrote a post on Dustin’s brother Britton who played at the time with the Denver Broncos. I wrote that post before the Super Bowl 38, which they lost. Britton would be a member of the Broncos team that won Super Bowl 50, so he did get his ring. And the Colquitt’s dad Craig won 2 Super Bowls as a punter with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Will this be Dustin’s year?  Today will determine whether the Patriots or Chiefs move on to Super Bowl 53.

Dustin was drafted by the Chiefs in the third round of the 2005 draft. He is now in his 14th season with Kansas City and has been named to 2 Pro Bowls in his career. He is the Chiefs nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award this season. He is very active in the community representing Fuel Up to Play 60 and Team Smile as well as Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in Action. He and his brother and father have also started the First Family of Fourth Down Scholarship Fund at the University of Tennessee.

But beyond punting, Craig Colquitt has instilled a love of God and a desire to serve others in his sons. Dustin says “Even though my dad played professionally, he just wanted us to be happy,” says Colquitt. “He was always more concerned with us having a relationship with Jesus Christ and how we treated others.”

He goes on to say “In society, being a football player is probably the most important thing, but to God it isn’t. I only play football for seven minutes each season, but it’s an earthly platform that God is using to spread His Word. To me that’s cooler than any punt I’ll ever make.”

Here are my takeaways from Colquitt’s story:

Platform – A punter is not the most involved, active member of the team. As Dustin says, he only accounts for about 7 minutes of action each season. But he has used that role to gain a platform to make a difference in many different areas, from dental care and healthy eating to sharing his faith in God, Dustin shows the importance that God plays in his life but taking opportunities to share. What are the opportunities that we have to share God’s importance in our life? Are we making the most of those opportunities? Let’s step up!

Hope


Last time out, I shared some thought about one of my favorite bible stories. The woman who was healed by touching the edge of Jesus robe in the midst of a crowd. He gives her space to share her story and reveals that her faith has healed her.

All in all, it is an amazing story, however, not everyone in the crowd was happy for this to go down the way that it did. One man was likely preoccupied with a growing anxious tension in the midst of this miracle.  In Mark 5.22, we meet Jairus – one of the synagogue rulers. He comes to Jesus and asks that He come and help his ailing daughter. Jesus starts on his way when the woman touches his garment and things grind to a stop. Now as discussed last time, the story of the woman is compelling and miraculous, deserving of the time and attention it gets.

But put yourself in Jairus’ shoes. The clock is ticking. You daughter’s health is getting worse. It is taking a long time for Jesus to make his way through this large crowd, and then everything grinds to a halt for this woman’s story to be heard. There is a lot of excitement as the crowd has witnessed this miracle and “the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.” (vs. 33).

Then, while she is still speaking, Jairus’ worst fears are realized. Someone arrives from his house, saying that his daughter has died and he needn’t trouble Jesus with this anymore. (vs.35).  Imagine  the grief that comes in waves over Jairus in that first moment. Grief is a funny thing. It catches you off-guard, and you don’t quite know which emotion to give its place first – anger, blame (of self or others), questioning, emptiness, despair. They all battle for a spot and leave your mind swirling. Jairus was likely processing these words and starting to feel some of these different emotions when Jesus, having heard what was said to Jairus, says something unexpected.  In verse 36, Jesus tells Jairus “Do not fear, only believe”.

It is hard to tell, not being the one in the situation, if this would be comforting or confusing. You’ve just heard that your daughter is dead, and the hope you placed in Jesus is fading at the news. Then He tells you to hold on to that hope, that all is not lost. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I expect in the same situation, I would have been mostly grief-stricken, and maybe a little confused.

Jesus steps out of the crowd, allowing only Peter, James and John to come with him to Jairus’ house. When he arrived, there were people wailing and weeping (vs 38). Jesus utters another seemingly crazy statement – telling them that she is not dead, but simply asleep. They laugh at him, but he sent them out of the house, and with the three he brought with him, Jairus and the girl’s mother, He takes her by the hand and the daughter gets up. Mom and Dad were amazed and, no doubt, grateful.

Here are my takeaways from this story:

1- The limits of possible – Jairus was in a bad place throughout this story. His daughter is really sick. The text doesn’t let us know if she has been sick for a while or if it is a pretty new situation, but it is clear that Jairus is desperate for help – ready to do everything possible, everything in his power to make his daughter well again. And it appears that it doesn’t work – that it will fall short. The limits of the possible have been reached. But thankfully, our God is not restrained by our limits of possible. The Angel Gabriel tells Zechariah as much in Luke 1 when he reveals that Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth is going to be pregnant despite her advanced age. God is in the business of miracles and that allows us to…

2- Hold on to Hope –  Hope can feel fleeting. Maybe the diagnosis or the prognosis is not good. Maybe a prodigal child is running further away. Maybe something that you have been hoping for and moving towards doesn’t seem to be working out. Maybe the loss that you have suffered and the grief that accompanies it is stifling and becomes the only point of focus you can see.  “Just believe” – Those words can seem empty. But all hope is not lost. The only hope left is to draw closer to the Creator. He knows! He understands when we feel like giving up under the weight of the world. Jesus himself said in John 16.33 that this world “will bring trouble but take heart, I (Jesus) have overcome the world.”  How do we hold on to hope? We draw close to Him, we pray, read our Bible, and allow the Creator of the universe to show us His love, comfort and plan to turn whatever we are going through into something that can be used for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). There is not a magical way that removes the pain and hardship in this life, but there is a place where hope can be found, even in the smallest glimmers, in the midst of the challenges. Hold on to that and see Him show His love and faithfulness to help you see that He is there, inviting us to trust Him like He did with Jairus. Do not fear, only believe!

Touch


This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I’ll do 2 posts from this story.

In Mark 5 we read a story of a woman who has been suffering with an issue of blood. Verse 26 tells us that she “had suffered under many physicians and spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse”. Not a lot of detail, but that’s pretty grim. She had spent to the point of poverty, but still was sick. She would have been “unclean” and likely living among the other “unclean” on the edge of town. And, this was her life for MORE THAN A DECADE! 12 Years, she suffered with this issue, and the isolation and stigma that it brought. There is no mention of her relationship with her family, but it is fair to say that she was at least limited in her interactions with them and may have been estranged from them.  But she knew the stories of healing that were Jesus’ reputation. She decides to try to get close. This is not an easy decision, because as one of the unclean, she would not have been welcome to wander through the crowd. She’d be greeted by name-calling or worse. Going through the crowd would take some resolve.

But she had the resolve to make the attempt. One of my favorite Christian bands of all time – Everybody Duck – wrote their song “Close” about this story. The lyrics say “The crowd around her last hope so thick she could not get through… The largeness of the crowd prevented her from getting through, but she pressed on where most of us would have not.”  And that is the key. She pressed on and touched the edge of His cloak. Unexpectedly, Jesus then stops and asks “Who touched me”. His disciples scoff at his silly question. “You see this crowd pressing around you and yet you say `who touched me'” (vs 31).  The woman knows that He is talking about her and she falls at His feet and tells her story. He then tells her that her faith has healed her. But with this statement comes the second surprising thing Jesus says. After years of carrying the stigma of being unclean, alone and destitute, Jesus looks her in the eye and calls her “daughter”. That is powerful!

Here are my takeaways from this story:

1- Close – I will give credit again to Everybody Duck for this first point – it chokes me up every time I listen to the song. There were others that were pressed in against Jesus but not all of them had a life changing experience. Everybody Duck sums their song up by saying “the difference in touch simply that hers was made in faith“. Gut check time. I have attended church my whole life. In fact, I am on staff at a church right now. I am “close” to Jesus all the time, but do I take that closeness for granted? Do I still see that He is always making life-changing connections with those who desperately need it? Do I still recognize my own need? Or am I too quick to point out the unclean nature of others that are seeking Him? I pray that God will help us see the needs that surround us and see His miraculous work. May we never take God for granted.

2- Determined – On the other side of the story is the woman who is so beaten down by life – labelled, impoverished and out of options. Yet, somewhere, buried beneath the hard experiences, hurt and loneliness, there is a measure of faith and hope that propels her forward. Despite the names she may have been called along the way, the difficulty of the task, and the history of being let down before, she continues to press forward – all the way to Jesus. And her faith is rewarded with healing. But more than that. It is met with belonging. Jesus shows the love and value that she has to Him. “Daughter, go in peace”. In this touching moment, we are reminded again, that Jesus is able to heal us and meet our needs. But more than that, He offers relationship. He offers love, and a place for us.  We may think we know what we need from God, but when we seek Him with determination, He goes beyond what we think we need to meet our deeper needs.

3- Hope Amidst Hopelessness – In the talk-show world, this would be called a tease. You see, while Jesus heals this woman and gives her the place for her story to be shared, there is more going on. This episode occurs in the midst of another tense situation – that will be the topic of the next post at Living up to My Name. Stay tuned!