All Star Special – A.L. version – Three Fabulous Faith-filled First Timers and a Hometown Hero.


It is All-Star week in the Major League Baseball season, and as I looked over the rosters, I had a hard time picking whose story I should share – so, I decided to share 4 stories that piqued my interest. There are 3 first timers whose stories I’ll share, and a second time All-Star who plays in the city where I currently live.

 

We will start with my current home team.

Jose Berrios – Minnesota Twins – SP.

Minnesota Twins ace Jose Berrios, poses with with his friend, trainer and mentor, Josue Lionel Rivera. He will appear in his second All-Star game. 

 

At age 25, Berrios is the unquestioned ace of the Minnesota Twins rotation.  He is currently in his 4th season with the Twins – and his numbers have improved each season. He made the All-Star roster last season, and pitched a scoreless inning.

This season, he was the opening day starter for the Twins, winning the game and striking out 10. This season, he also embarked on a strikeout challenge  donating $50 per strikeout to help children as they battle cancer in his native Puerto Rico. And as you can read in this article from Pioneer Press, he works out with Josue Rivera, a trainer from Puerto Rico each offseason (at least up until 2016) to help him with the physical and mental sides of the game, as well as spiritual mentorship. The article shares “Conversations between Berrios and Rivera typically range far beyond baseball and conditioning. “Every morning before every training session, he talks to me about real life,” Berrios says. “He says you have to align your spirit and your mind with your God. He created us and you have to give the glory to him and ask, ‘What can I do?’ Then everything will be great.”

Berrios, a father of 3, became a Christian in January 2014.  He will pitch in his second All-Star game on Tuesday Night.

Whit Merrifield – Kansas City Royals – IF/OF.

Whit Merrifield is the two-time defending stolen base champ in the American League. He is a first time All-Star.

Up next, we have an experienced thief. He has led the American League in stolen bases in each of the past 2 seasons posting totals of 34 and 45. He led the American League in hits last season, and is doing so again this season. He even finished 17th in MVP voting last year – yet this year, he is a first time All-Star. It was not a meteoric rise to the majors for Merrifield. You can read in this article he wrote called “paying my dues” that there were some bumps in the road between delivering the walk-off hit to win the 2010 College World Series and finally getting called up to the Royals for real on May 18, 2016. In the midst of the waiting, Merrifield learned some lessons that he shares in the article, and in this interview. Here is some wisdom he shares:

God’s plan didn’t call for me to stay in that moment (winning the CWS) forever. If I was going to get to the big leagues, I needed to be humbled first.”

Advice for young players “So for all of you young players out there struggling to make it, just remember to keep pushing, because you just might like what God has on the other side.”

When asked about his faith, Whit said “I do things to glorify God and I feel like I need to. Just like you try to make your parents proud, I’m trying to make Him proud, and do things the right way.”

And when asked why he draws a “G” in the dirt before each at-bat “It stands for God. I started it in … my junior year of high school. Before that I had some big-time anger issues. It’s a long story, but it comes down to that was when I guess I got saved… I do it, and it reminds me that there are bigger things out there than this at-bat that I’m about to go through.

I particularly resonate with this last one – as a boy, I had plenty of issues with getting really mad when we didn’t win a game or when I would get out. Whatever we are going through seems like the biggest thing in the moment but often, with perspective, we see that it rarely carries the importance we give it in that moment.

Austin Meadows – Tampa Bay Rays – OF

. Despite missing 15 games to injury, Meadows was selected to his first All-Star game.

Another first timer, Austin Meadows was N.L. Rookie of the Month in May 2018 and played well for almost 50 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He joined the Tampa Bay Rays last season at the Trade Deadline in a package traded for Rays ace Chris Archer. And while Archer and the Pirates have struggled this season, Meadows has been a gem for the Rays. He has hit .289 with 30 extra base hits. He was named to the All-Star team last week – and with this being his first season of regular playing time, it is his first All-Star game trip as well.  As for his faith, he shares it’s importance in this Blessed to Play podcast episode. He shares about the importance of meeting with and encouraging other believers on the team during the season when being part of a regular church body is challenging. He shares the importance of the team chapel services. He also talks about the responsibility he has as a role model and wants parents to be confident that if they buy a jersey for their child that bears his name and number, that they will be happy with the person he is, not just the stats he puts together.

I’ve been a jersey collector for much of my life. Since starting this blog, I’ve decided that I will also only wear jerseys of players who I can proudly represent based more on their off the field values and beliefs than on their on-field success. So I appreciate what Meadows says about considering these things when he sees a kid wearing his jersey.

Daniel Vogelbach – Seattle Mariners – 1B

In his first full season in the Majors, Daniel Vogelbach has been RAKING! His 20 home runs is tied for 8th in the American League.

Another player that is playing his first full season in the majors, Daniel Vogelbach joins the other first time All-Stars in this post (there are 31 first time All-Stars in this year’s game). Vogelbach is 26 years old. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. He played in their minor league system until a 2016 trade sent him to the Seattle system. He made his debut as a September call-up that season. He played parts of the next 2 seasons with the Mariners but has already appeared in more games in the majors this year than he had in his career up before this season. But I don’t know that anyone expected what Vogelbach has provided this year for Seattle. 20 home runs, and 60 walks (tied for 6th in the majors). According to his Twitter account, “God, family and baseball in that order” are his listed priorities. One of his tweets in particular caught my attention. It serves as a great reminder that we are not in control. He wrote “Faith is not about everything turning out okay, Faith is being okay with how things turn out. Gods plan is greater than ours

Trust in God’s plan instead of desperately holding onto our own plan will make things much more manageable. This is a lesson that I learn and re-learn frequently. I appreciate the concise reminder of this truth in Vogelbach’s tweet.

Enjoy the game everyone – look for the NL version on Tuesday.

 

More than a Moment – Bill Buckner – Boston Red Sox


It is hard to believe, as the Boston Bruins aim for the third Boston team Championship in the past 7 months and 13th in the past 20 years, that there was a time when championship parades were scarce in Beantown. The Celtics once went 22 years without a title. The other teams endured prolonged streaks. The Patriots won their first title in their 42nd season. The Bruins had stretches of 29 years and 39 years between Stanley Cup wins and the Red Sox suffered the longest with a stretch of 86 years between World Series titles.

Buckner singles in game 7 of the 1986 World Series.

The Red Sox not only suffered the longest but also came the closest on several occasions – none more heart-wrenching than the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets. The Red Sox were up 3 games to 2 in game six. The game went into extra innings. In the 10th, the Red Sox scored twice to take a 5-3 lead.  The first 2 betters for the Mets got out. They were down to their final strike at least 2 times. But a couple of hits, a wild pitch and an infamous error allowed the Mets to pull out an improbable win to force game 7, which they would win 8-5.

The error of course was committed by first baseman Bill Buckner. He was hobbled by injury at the time and when the slow roller came his way, he missed it and it rolled through his legs, into the outfield allowing the game-winning run to score from second.

Mookie Wilson – who hit the slow grounder towards first and Buckner were often together to speak about their faith in God and about the 1986 World Series

Unfortunately, that moment became the most remembered and replayed play of that World Series and possibly all World Series history.  Buckner returned to the Red Sox the next season but was released in July. He would play for three more seasons, finishing his career back with the Red Sox in 1990.

All told, Buckner had a very impressive career. He played over 2,500 games over 22 years, finishing with over 2,700 hits.  He won a batting title in 1980 with the Cubs. He stole 183 bases in his career despite playing more than half his career on a surgically repaired ankle. Any player dreaming of a solid major league career would be ecstatic with those numbers, but sadly, the legacy of his career is that misplayed grounder. A moment like that can be hard to overcome but for Buckner, his faith in God helped give him perspective. He says “I’m a person of faith, so there’s a lot there. I’ve had a lot of people call me and thank me for giving them directions to make it through — and that’s a good thing.”

Last week, when Buckner sadly passed away, his family sharedBill fought with courage and grit as he did all things in life. Our hearts are broken but we are at peace knowing he is in the arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Here are my takeaways from Buckner’s story.

Buckner was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day of 2008 – after the Red Sox won their 2nd World Series in 3 years. He received a standing ovation. 

1- Perspective – Buckner made an error in a World Series game. It was game 6. There were also hits given up, a wild pitch that led to this loss and a whole game 7 in which the Red Sox were allowed to win and still claim the Championship. The result for him? Media ridicule, fan vitriol, death threats?  That is where we choose to show our passion? That is where we allow ourselves to get excited or angered? Now, I am a huge sports fan and this is a good reminder that life doesn’t begin and end with what my favorite teams do on their playing field. Just imagine, fellow Christians, if we were as passionate about our faith in God as we are about being faithful fans to our favorite team.  Feel challenged? Me too!

2- Nowhere to Hide – I’ve been asked on a few occasions what my most embarrassing moment is. I have some stories that were mortifying at the time but now they are fun memories. But other moments in my life that I am not proud of, if I am able to hide them, you bet I do. Imagine that us, at our worst moment, had our shortcomings and failures broadcast for all to see. How horrific would that be? Well, guess what. Our worst moments and biggest failures are known. Our deepest, darkest sinful behavior and thoughts are known by the God who created us. But the beauty is that even though He knows all of those things about us. He still loves us enough that He sent Jesus to make a way to deal with those things and for us to be restored to Him. Now I am not saying to revel in your mistakes, far from it. But when we realize the depth of our sinfulness and how far short from perfection we fall, we see how amazing our God is. He is able and willing to forgive all that we have done and see us as His perfect, cherished creation. Now that is a victory worth celebrating.

Perseverance – Stanley Cup Playoffs – Matt Duchene and Brian Larson – Columbus Blue Jackets


It is the opening night of the 2019 NHL playoffs. Over the next 2 months, the 16 teams that qualified for post season play will leave everything they’ve got out on the ice in the quest for the Stanley Cup. There will be overtime, there will be body checks, big saves, pretty goals, ugly goals, banged up bodies.  It is incredible to think that from this point on, only one team will win their final game of the season.  When the dust settles, the other 15 teams will join the ranks of “maybe next year” while one team lifts the much sought trophy.

Blue Jackets picked up forward Matt Duchene at the Trade Deadline

It will take team work, effort, selflessness and our key word for the night… Perseverance.

We will look at a couple members of the Columbus Blue Jackets in our look at perseverance – they are not the only ones that battled against the odds to find their place, but their story shows how, with reliance on God, strength to persevere shows up in the face of hardship.

First, let’s look at Matt Duchene.  Drafted third overall in 2009 by Colorado, Duchene quickly became a star for the Avalanche scoring 55 points in 81 games and leading the league’s rookies in goals and points that year. He played for Colorado for 8 seasons before being dealt to the Ottawa Senators. At this season’s trade deadline, he was on the move again, this time to Columbus.

 A leg injury in his third season reminded Duchene to keep the focus on God.

In his third season with the Avalanche, however, he sustained a serious knee injury. As you can read in this story from Christian Sports Journal, that the injury kept him on the shelf for 7 weeks, missing 20 games. During that time, the team Chaplain reminded Duchene of a Bible passage that helped him in his rehabilitation. James 1.2-4 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  Here is Duchene sharing the story of his injury with Hockey Ministries International.

So what has Duchene learned about adversity? He says “It’s something I’ve always kept in mind as I’ve completed that transformation and realizing that (adversity) is part of God’s plan. Adversity makes you so much better and there’s always a reason for it…I’m always able to come through it.”

Larsen has been an assistant coach with Columbus since 2014

And now to Blue Jackets Assistant Coach Brad Larsen.

Larsen was a left winger, drafted in the 3rd round of the 1995 draft by the Ottawa Senators. He played just under 300 games in the NHL and almost 400 in the American Hockey League.  As you can read in this article from the Columbus Dispatch. Larsen became a Christian during his final season of professional hockey. A teammate invited him to chapel and he was in a time of searching for purpose and “gave it a shot”. Larsen says “The one thing about what God does is he humbles you, and he teaches you about appreciation and help and love and patience.”

During his playing days, Larsen was twice diagnosed with different forms of cancer. The second diagnosis was around the same time he accepted an invitation to his team’s chapel program.

One of the reasons that Larsen may have been searching for purpose in life is that 2 times during his playing days, he was diagnosed with different types of cancer. First it was melanoma on his back when he was 29, and then testicular cancer showed up when he was 31. He defeated cancer on both occasions, but the second time lines up with the invitation to chapel from his teammate on the Portland Pirates. It has given him some perspective on what is important in life.  He says “It gives you perspective on life and not wasting days or moments. Sometimes you get caught up in the chaos of life and you forget that it could be a whole lot worse.”

Here are my takeaways from these stories.

1- Perseverance is a process – God is able to help us persevere through any circumstances. Philippians 4.13 says “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me” (emphasis mine). That verse frequently is used to recognize God’s work in our great achievements. However, it is important to consider the other side of this verse as well. Depending on God helps us through the darkest days and hardest circumstances as well.  When our faith is tested and we learn to lean on Him, our faith grows and produces perseverance. It is a long hard journey, but coming through it shows God’s power to us in amazing ways.

2- More to life than success –  In both of these stories, these men who by most measures are successful hockey players. And both of them learned that there must be more than on ice success and the fame and fortune that it brings. Duchene sustained a serious injury that did not but could have threatened his career. Larsen was diagnosed with 2 forms of cancer a couple years apart. These instances led them to seek God and focus/refocus on Him to help them persevere. They did so, but know that it was only through His work and faithfulness that they were sustained. That is a great lesson for all of us to learn.  Enjoy the playoffs everyone!

Fed


My two most recent “tangible truths from a radical Jesus” posts have been about 2 different storms that the disciples were in, and Jesus demonstrating miraculous power in each situation.  In the first story, the disciples were more terrified after Jesus calmed the storm than during the storm itself. In the second one, when He walked to them on the water, after all was settled, the Biblical account tells us that they worshipped Him. So what happened in the meantime to change their response to Him.

The answer is a lot of things. The disciples had spent time traveling the region. In the accounts from Luke 9 and Mark 6. The disciples are returning from their time, ready to report to Jesus all that they had seen and experienced. It promises to be a sweet time for them.

But the people knew about Jesus and His disciples. The people flocked to Him. He has compassion on them and begins teaching. The teaching continues late into the afternoon. Some of the disciples, who know the area pretty well, approach Jesus and suggest that He wrap things up so they can go to the farms and villages to get some food.

Then Jesus again catches them off guard with a seemingly crazy statement: You feed them! (Mark 6.37). The disciples scoff at this suggestion – It will cost too much (John 6.7) Phillip answered.

What do you have? Jesus asked. Andrew shares that there is a boy that brought a small lunch with him – 5 small loaves of bread and 2 small fish. They don’t think that won’t go very far (vs 9).

Jesus gives them instructions to have everyone group up and sit down. He thanks God for the food and begins to pass it out. And ALL ARE SATISFIED! (vs 11).

After all have eaten their fill, the leftovers are collected and there are 12 baskets full. He sends them ahead in their boats and goes to spend some time in prayer. It is here that the storm arises and He walks to them on the water.

This is a familiar story – the only miracle of Jesus other than His resurrection that appears in all 4 gospel accounts. And it is a story that I know well from my childhood in church. But when I read the story as an adult, there were a couple of things that really caught my attention. These are the points that I want to share with you now.

1- How quickly we turn from faith to doubt – The disciples has just had this incredible time of going around the region healing sick people, casting out demons and sharing the Kingdom of God with others. (Mark 6. 7-13). They had experienced His work through them. They were ready to report their stories to Him when the crowd came and changed the course of the afternoon. And yet there, surrounded by people that needed food, they no longer leaned on the authority God had given them, they stopped looking for miraculous and started looking at practical. How quickly we do the same. We have a great experience where God shows himself in seemingly impossible ways and a moment later, we are reminding God of all the things that cannot be done or that His plan doesn’t seem practical. Oh how I long for a faith that sees the possibility instead of the impossibility. God help me see Your way first!

2- Jesus’ math lesson – I love Jesus’ math lesson in this story. 12 baskets of leftovers and 12 disciples collecting those leftovers. Each one is given a chance to process their doubt and God’s miraculous provision. He again proves Himself to them – complete authority and miraculous abilities. As they kneel to pick up each leftover scrap, I imagine them contemplating Jesus’ power to meet the needs of the masses. With their experiences traveling the region, this miraculous meal for the crowds and the impending storm where He walks to them on water, they are starting to put the puzzle pieces together. It makes sense, in the moment where Jesus again deals with the storm and with the disciples, that they turn to worship. I pray that in my own shoddy, short-sighted concept of who Jesus is, that I will also turn to worship Him even when I don’t understand how He is working.

3- Learning from the boy –  John 6 shares that it was a young boy who brought the lunch that was shared among the 5,000 men (not counting women and children). I really appreciate this lesson too. The lunch he brought did not look like very much. The disciples doubted that it would be useful. But Jesus turns it into something miraculous. What can we learn from the boy? We can strive to be like him. We can say “Here is what I have – it may not look like much but it is yours! Take it and use it however you wish”.  Jesus wants us to echo those thoughts with our own life and all the things that He has given us. All of our resources, our talents and gifts. He desires to use each of them in miraculous ways, for His purposes if we will allow Him to. Like this boy, let’s hold nothing back and offer God all that we have. He CAN use us in miraculous ways!

Come


A week or so ago, I wrote a post in the “Tangible Truths from a Radical Jesus” series about Jesus calming to storm. Today, I’m going to write about another radical thing that Jesus said in the midst of another storm, and dig into the truth that we can take from it.

If you are counting at home, this makes 2 stormy boat trips for the disciples that are mentioned in the Bible. Let’s look at this second one.

Jesus had had a long day of teaching on the heels of news that John the Baptist had been killed. He sends out the disciples ahead of him. Evening comes and the disciples’ boat is “a long way from the land” (Matthew 14.24). A storm has risen. There are experienced fishermen on board so the storm was significant enough that again, they struggled.

Jesus goes to join them, walking on the water. Growing up as a regular church attendee, I admit that it has become easy to read those words, as plainly as they appear in the text and miss out on the shock that they should convey. Jesus was WALKING ON THE WATER! In the middle of the stormy night and blowing wind and crashing waves, there is this figure floating across the water toward the disciples. Verse 26 tells us that they thought it was a ghost. That is likely because the idea that it was Jesus out for a stroll on the stormy swells made less sense than a ghost walking towards them. Maybe I am overstating the point a little but I don’t want the shock of what they were witnessing to get lost. This man was walking on top of the waves that were sinking their boats. They already were in a state of panic, and this ghostly conclusion seemed the most plausible to them. You know why? Because human beings cannot walk on water! Yet there was Jesus -fully human and fully God, doing the impossible yet again.

Jesus senses their panic, and tells them “Don’t be afraid”.  That didn’t work. They were already terrified.  Now Peter, who has a reputation of speaking and acting before really thinking things through says “If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus answers “Come”. Now if I am Peter, I hear that and immediately think to myself, “Ummm, OK, just checking! I’ll wait until you get to the boat”.  But Peter does it. He steps out of the boat and “came to Jesus” (vs 29). Verse 30 tells us that he saw the wind and began to sink. He calls out to Jesus and Jesus saves him. And they get back in the boat. The storm stops and the disciples, recognizing Jesus as the Son of God,  worship Him.

There is a lot to unpack here. Here are my takeaways.

1- A Change of Heart – If you remember the last time when Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples were even more afraid than before. This time, when Jesus miraculously saves the day, they are not more afraid, they are instead moved to worship Him and recognize who Jesus is. So what changed? We will dig into that a little more next time, but for now, let’s rest on the truth that they have spent more time with Him and learned more about their purpose. The challenge for us is to do the same. As we spend more time with God and recognize the amazing things that He does over and over again, we will understand more that He is the Son of God and worthy of our worship and devotion.

2- With God, We can do impossible things – Jesus, Son of God, miracle worker, walked on the water and calmed the storm. That is amazing and miraculous on its own, but let’s not miss the other miracle in the story. Peter – fully human, and fully not-God also walked on the water – for a moment at least. He left the safer danger of the sinking boat to the extreme danger of walking on water – which people cannot physically do and experienced God doing the impossible in him. I am challenged with this part of the story to check my level of faith in God’s ability to do impossible things in my life. Peter got out of the boat. He left the safety and comfort of the known for a moment of connection with God in the unknown and impossible. And Jesus referred to Peter’s faith as small. What does that say about the others in the boat? What does it say about my faith? Would I have climbed over the gunwale and stepped out onto the rocky sea? As mentioned above, likely not. What do we miss when we play it safe? What can God do with us if we trust Him and step out in faith?

3- Impossible – Peter began to sink. He remembered that what he was doing was not possible, and he allowed doubt to creep in. We can be guilty of the same. In the midst of seeing God do amazing things in our life, working things out in His perfect timing we can still allow doubt to creep in. The enemy is there, telling us that God is not to be trusted and that we will fail. But like Peter, even if we start to fall, God’s hand is there to catch us. And He is faithful to grow our faith as we take these steps. He will show us incredible things when we believe in His power to do impossible and this power will silence the enemy. Let’s step out of the boat!