TBT – Persistance – Rayfield Wright – OL/TE – Dallas Cowboys

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Dr. Seuss’s persistence finally got his first book published

I have worked with kids for a number of years and I have 4 children of my own so I have developed a great appreciation of Dr. Seuss. I enjoy his writing myself and have even written some Seussian-Style poetry of my own. My girls each have favorite Seuss stories and often ask for them to be read at bed-time and any other time too. So just imagine that those great stories were never available for us to enjoy. That would be a sad day. And yet, one of the amazing stories of Dr. Seuss’ writing career is that his first book, “And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street” was according to Wikipedia rejected by “at least 20 publishers” before it was published by an old college classmate. At what point do you say “well, I guess that didn’t work out” and try a different career path. Especially with the first attempt. But Seuss kept on trying and I for one am glad that he did.

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Cowboys Tackle Rayfield Wright

The story of Rayfield Wright has some similarities. As you can read in this story from from cjonline, Wright went from a high school “walk-on” to a Hall of Fame NFL lineman. Along the way, he played in 13 NFL seasons, playing in over 200 games, 5 Super Bowls (winning 2). He was a 6 time All-Pro, 6 time Pro Bowler, 1972 Lineman of the year and NFL Hall of Fame inductee (2006). He tried out for football in each of his 4 years in high school. He didn’t make the team as a freshman, sophomore or junior. For some, the temptation may be to give up and try something different. But Wright tried out again as a senior, this time he made the team. Scouts came to check out some teammates, but Wright caught their eye, too. And the Dallas Cowboys would eventually choose Wright in the 7th round of the 1967 draft. He began his career as a Tight End, but was transitioned to Offensive Line in his third season. Read here about his first game at Tackle was against Hall of Fame D Lineman Deacon Jones.

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Rayfield Wright (70) became a fierce blocker. He was named the the 1970’s All-Decade team

“Before the Cowboys’ first snap that day, Wright recalled, Jones barked a question at him from the other side of the line of scrimmage in his deep voice, “Boy, does your mama know you’re out here?” Wright said he momentarily lost the concentration and focus he had been trained to maintain. Jones cleaned Wright’s clock on that first play. As he picked himself up from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum turf, Wright told Jones, “You don’t know my mama, so don’t talk about her.” Jones never reached Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach during the game, and Wright’s work blocking him didn’t go unnoticed. “I got the game ball,” Wright recalled, “and coach Landry never took me out of right tackle.””

Wright was raised by his mother and grandmother who instilled in him the need for relationship with God and “At age 10 he prayed, with his grandmother listening, that God would give him the opportunity to help his family and others in his life. “Grandma said, ‘Son, do you believe in what you prayed?’ ” Wright said. “I said, ‘Yes, ma’am, I believe.’ She said, ‘Well, you keep that in front of you and don’t ever let it go.’ “Wright stressed the importance of young people having adults who believe in them — and let them know it. He encouraged the audience to “reach out” and help young people and make a difference in their lives. “We’re all significant,” Wright said. “We’re all important. God has a plan for us. If you don’t know what that plan is, get on your knees and pray to God, because he created you and he called you.

Here are my takeaways from Wright’s Story

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Wright went from being cut from his high school team to a Hall of Fame NFL career.

1- Be Persistent –  Theodore Seuss was persistent with his first book finally getting it published after many rejections, Wright was persistent in sticking with football even though he didn’t make the team the first few times he tried.  We all have opportunities to show persistence. How willing are you to stick with it? I promise you that sticking with God’s plan and following it even in the face of resistance and opposition is worth it? But my favorite story of persistence in the Bible is found in a verse in Revelation 3.20. Jesus says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me” Jesus is persistent with us. The Bible is full of people turning away from God and God giving them another chance. That is our story too! We turn away from God and put other things ahead of Him. But He comes after us, He presents Himself to us. He stands at the door and knocks. He says “I am here, I want to be with you, to be known by you, please invite me in”. That persistence won my heart, hopefully you will open up to Him too, if you have not already.

2- We are all significant– God’s plan for us is the best. He sent his Son so that our lives could be saved from destruction. Living for Jesus gives our lives significance. Don’t lose sight of your significance. Take notice of what God thinks of you – He sacrificed His one and only Son for your life. He calls us to chose Him and asks us to share His love with others. Let that be your purpose, your motivation for life. Know you are significant and live your purpose.

 

 

Modern Monday – How Big is Your Audience – Carson Wentz – QB – Philadelphia Eagles

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As the #2 draft pick last spring, Eagles QB Carson Wentz has some high expectations on his shoulders

North Dakota State University Bisons football team play their home games at the Fargodome in Fargo ND. Its capacity for a football game is 18,700. It is often a packed house when the Bisons play – they have won 5 consecutive FCS National Championships and have 8 former players playing in the NFL. That is a pretty impressive record. Philadelphia Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz was on roster for 4 of those championships and was the starting quarterback for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. They drafted him with the number 2 overall pick last spring and over the course of the summer, named him their starting quarterback. That would be a big change in the number of people that would be watching Wentz play. Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia holds 69,176 for a football game.  But for Wentz, the number of spectators didn’t seem too troubling. The Eagles started off the season winning each of their first three games. And while their record didn’t remain perfect, Wentz has had a solid rookie season thus far. He has completed 63% of his passes and has an 11-7 TD to interception ration. He has an 84.2 QB rating. And while much is expected out of first round quarterbacks, He has silenced many critics about his readiness to play at the NFL level with his play this season.

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Wentz started for 2 championship teams and played on 5 in his time at NDSU. It was also during this time that Wentz really began growing in his faith.

 

Maybe it is because despite the vastly different numbers in attendance, Wentz’ plays for a very consistent audience. As you can read in this article, Wentz acknowledges that he plays for an audience of 1. From the article “On the underside of his right wrist, he has a tattoo that reads, “AO1,” which stands for “Audience of One.” This is Wentz’s reminder to play only for the Lord.  “It was kind of a motto I picked up early in my career, and I finally put it on my body just to live with the Lord as my audience,” Wentz says. “Whether it was playing football, going to school or whatever I’m doing in my life.

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Wentz’ NFL career got off to a great start with 3 straight wins. He has been winning over the fans and teammates in Philly.

This acknowledgement is evident to his teammates as well. Read what teammate Jordan Matthews said about Wentz earlier this season. “He doesn’t play for you, he doesn’t play for his parents, he doesn’t play for me. He plays for God straight up. So when you do that, there is no pressure…  So that is why anytime he says something he says, ‘AO1,’ and everybody wants to say, ‘Oh, is it this? Or is it this?’ No. He puts himself in a position where he doesn’t have to put pressure on himself. He plays for God, and that makes it that much easier on him.”

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Wentz has a few tattoos that reflect his Christian faith.

The sentiment is not his only tattoo of spiritual significance.  In this article about the many Christians on the Eagles roster, Wentz shares about the Isaiah 41.10 tattoo on his back. He says “For me, it’s just a reminder — do not fear, for I am with you — that whatever it is I’m doing, he’s got my back. God’s already gone before me. He’s got a plan. And in the end, it says he’ll uphold you with his righteous right hand. So just do everything for him, and it will all work out.”

And as Wentz career begins, and his platform for sharing his faith grows, I am excited to see how many people he will have a chance to share his faith in God with.

Here are my takeaways from Wentz’ story:

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Wentz has silenced many critics about his NFL readiness. But as his tattoos indicate, his main goal is to play for God.

1- Audience of One – It is hard to imagine that when playing in front of tens of thousands of fans on a weekly basis and into the millions when you consider television coverage that it can all boil down to playing for an “audience of one”. What does that even mean?  Well it means that Wentz knows that it is impossible to please everyone or live up to the expectations that those millions of people will have for him. Instead, he chooses to block that out, and concern himself only with honoring God and playing for Him. And that Audience of One goes beyond the lines of the football field, too. It means in every part of life, honoring God and making choices that reflect Him being the most important part of your life. So with that thought in mind, it is a challenge for all of us who call ourselves Christians. Are we living each day for God alone? Is He the most important part of our life? It is easy to get caught up in what others think of you and it is easy to drive yourself crazy trying to keep everyone satisfied with your performance. But God knows us, our faults and our shortcomings. He also knows the gifts and talents that we have and the opportunities we get to display them in a way that honors Him. He went to great lengths to show us what He thinks of us – We were worth dying for. And so not only is He our audience, He is anxious to cheer us on, encourage us, and help us play the game of life successfully which is to live for His purposes. In whatever your playing field looks like, will you join me in accepting this challenge to play for Him alone and let Him be the only one we concern ourselves with!

2- The Pressure is Off -Continuing the first point, when we do live for God, it is a relief of pressure. God promises to never leave us or forsake us. He promises his Spirit, his very presence to those who believe in Him. He values us, loves us and wants the best for us. That takes a lot of pressure off because we don’t have to prove our worthiness to Him. We couldn’t do that anyway because we are not worthy of his love, forgiveness or grace. But He gives these things to us willingly. In all other parts of life, people are out to tear us down, take our place or give us unrealistic expectations to live up to. That is not the way God works. He is for us and so if the God who created the universe and everything in it is for us, what can possible stand against us. He has already won, and invited us to the victory party. The pressure is off! Rest in Him and get ready to celebrate forever!

Throwback Thursday Thanksgiving Edition – Steelers vs. Colts – Donnie Shell (S) and Hunter Smith (P)

imgresHappy Thanksgiving everyone!

To celebrate the day, it is time for a Throwback Thursday post where I will focus on former players from both teams that face off in the final game of the day. Today, we look into the stories of Steelers safety Donnie Shell and Colts punter Hunter Smith.

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Steelers Safety Donnie Shell

Donnie Shell – S – Pittsburgh Steelers 1974-1985

Shell had an outstanding career on the football field.  He was selected to 5 Pro Bowls, 3 All-Pro teams and was a member of three Super Bowl Championship teams with the mighty “Steel Curtain” defense that dominated the era of football. He played 201 career NFL games, all with the Steelers. He was a ferocious hitter on defense and for that skill was given the nickname “Torpedo”. According to Wikipedia, he now serves as the Director of Spiritual Life at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC.

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Donnie “Torpedo” Shell was a fierce hitter who was a part of the Steel Curtain defense

But one of my favorite parts of Shell’s story is the hard hitting impact he made on a young teammate in 1977. Shell’s new roommate at training camp was an undrafted defensive back named Tony Dungy. As you can read in this article from billygraham.org, Shell played an important role in Dungy choosing to live his life for Christ. Dungy was a quarterback in college and was learning a new position in the NFL so he was with Shell a lot, learning how to be a defensive back. He calls Shell “probably the most on-fire Christian guy I had ever met at that point in time” Shell shares the story like this:

CANTON, OH - AUGUST 06:  Tony Dungy (R), former NFL player and head coach, poses next to his bronze bust with friend and former NFL player, presenter Donnie Shell (L), during the NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on August 6, 2016 in Canton, Ohio.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Shell (L) presented Tony Dungy (r) for induction into Hall of Fame. Shell also talked faith with Dungy and helped Dungy choose to live for God.

“He (Dungy) really thought he wasn’t going to make the team. I saw the concerned look on his face. And I said, ‘Well, you know, maybe in this instance you’re putting football before God and before the things He wants you to learn from what you’re going through.” Dungy responded “‘Man, I never thought about that. “His testimony about that is in the first book he wrote, about how that moment turned his life around spiritually and helped put his priorities in order.”

You can read more about Torpedo’s story here.

My takeaway from Shell’s story is this:

You Never Know the Role You’ll Play– The story on Tony Dungy talks about the many people that influenced Dungy in his Christian Walk. Donnie Shell was one of those people. Here was a guy he was just meeting, someone who was looking to make an NFL team. And Shell suggests that maybe football is not the most important thing that Dungy should be focussed on. Maybe God is trying to show him a lesson. We are great at making up excuses. I know that I am. It is easy to find reasons to back-burner our faith around others. But there are many examples of people who didn’t shy away from these conversations – people who put God first in everything and that means talking openly about Him and the role He plays in their lives. God has a path laid out for us and it is not simply a path to get us from point A to point B. It is also full of opportunities to share what God is doing with others around us. Are you ready to “give reason for the faith that is in you” (1 Peter 3.15). Dungy has become one of the most outspoken Christians in the sports world. He has mentored others (Michael Vick for example) on the field and in Spiritual Life. And God used Donnie Shell to help bring this to be. Who is God calling you to share your faith with? How could God use them to reach others? Let’s not shy away, let’s let the world know why Jesus is our Lord.

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Colts Punter Hunter Smith kicking in Super Bowl XLI.

Hunter Smith P Indianapolis Colts 1999-2008

Hunter Smith punted for the Indianapolis Colts for a decade. He finished his career with 2 seasons in Washington. He was named to the 1999 All-Rookie Team and won a Super Bowl with the Colts in 2006. He is the only Special Teams player in NFL history to score a rushing TD and a passing TD in the same season.

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Smith’s post football career is singing with Hunter Smith Band

And like Shell, Smith’s off the field life also deserves some mention. He is an author having released a book called “The Jersey Effect”. The goal of the book is to “provide a proper perspective on sports. God has more for us than just sports. Our culture says sports is everything, but God says He is everything. We are trying to direct people to a healthy relationship with God“.  He is a singer songwriter with Connorsvine and now with the Hunter Smith Band. Read about the story of his careers here. Check out his musical skills.

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Smith played with the Colts for a decade

A career in the NFL means lots of travel, living out of suitcases and so a transition to country/rock band may be easy enough to do, but as you can read in this interview with Beliefnet, Hunter Smith got to live out a band tour experience traveling with Christian Band Third Day. Smith says “It was not a musical thing. It was just a spiritual thing for them as a band. They asked me to come on and lead them in Bible studies and kind of be a tour pastor–sort of Bible study leader for them. I did that a few times with them.”

And while he enjoyed playing football and he enjoys playing music, that is not where he finds his identity. This is a lesson that was driven home after winning the Super Bowl in Feb 2007.  From an Indy Star article Smith realized quickly after winning the big game against the Chicago Bears in Miami that the glory was short-lived.“Can the Colts repeat in 2007?” reporters began asking the next day.“I thought, ‘Wait a minute. Can we repeat?’ ” Smith said. “We just won. Can’t we just stop and celebrate this one?”Smith had what he calls an epiphany on the flight back to Indianapolis.“This doesn’t last. There are things in life that last. And this is not one of them,” he said. “I learned about the temporal things of this earth a lot more and the eternal things. Family and God.”

My takeaway from Smith’s story

What Really Matters?- I think this is a great thing to remember and remind ourselves of daily. We get so caught up focussing on stuff that doesn’t really matter. We convince ourself that we will be so much better off if this or that happens but when it does, it is fleeting, unsatisfying and we start looking for the next thing. I think I am going to write it on signs in my car, on my desk at work, on my closet door at home – Three simple words – “What Really Matters?” This thing, whatever it may be, does it matter? Is it forever? If not, it is time to readjust the focus back to God.

Throwback Thursday – A Life in Balance – Mike Minter – S – Carolina Panthers

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Former Panthers S Mike Minter

Time for another Throwback Thursday post. This time our journey takes us to the Carolina where we will look into the story of former Panthers Safety Mike Minter. He was drafted by the Panthers in the second round of the 1997 draft. He played in 148 games with the Panthers, starting all but 7 of them. At his retirement, he was the leading tackler in Panthers history. He also led the franchise in defensive touchdowns with 4. He played with the Panthers in Super Bowl 38.   A chance to play for the top prize in football. And to think that just 2 seasons earlier, finished 1-15. They won their opener that season then lost the next 15. Minter suffered through that adversity with the rest of the 2001 Panthers. Adversity was not new to Minter. As you can read in this story from CBN, Minter had a rough childhood after the death of his father when Minter was a young boy. Raised with his 3 siblings by his single mom, Minter grew up in poverty. He took up football and it became the most important thing in his life. But when he was in High School, he suffered an injury that took football away from him for a period of time.  From the CBN article “As he laid on his back that night injured on the football field, Mike asked himself, “Is this what life is all about?  What can you put your trust in that can’t be taken away?” After that, Mike went on a quest to find out the meaning of life. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes had a strong presence on their school campus, and Mike started attending Bible study.Mike tried to make a deal with God, “I’ll go to the Bible study if you heal me and put me back on the football field,” he said. Mike says today that even though he went into the Bible study with the wrong motives, God still used that time to plant seeds in his heart.”

Check out this video of Minter sharing about his faith.

This is just one in a series of videos that Minter did for Pro Football Camp, an organization that puts on camps in Colorado Springs each year open for all that provides drills and skill development for players with Christian values and ethics.

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Now in retirement, Minter looks for any chance to tell people what God is doing in his life.

As you can read in this article, Minter is involved in a lot of things off the field. He preaches in churches, he is a spokesperson for a variety of charities, he serves in many charities, too. He has gone on mission trips, developed real estate properties, co-ownership of a salon and more.

Minter knew at the end of his playing career that he would be busy in retirement giving back to the community and sharing his faith. From the CBN article again: “Mike Minter said before he retired from football that he wanted to go into ministry and to work his way from the bottom to being a pastor. Minter said he wants to preach, so he can more fully share his faith in Christ. He also said he wants to coach. He added that he has been given a lot in life, so he wants to give back.” 

Here are my takeaways from Minter’s story:

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Minter retired as the leading tackler and defensive TD scorer in Panthers history.

1- Blame and Credit – Minter was a member of the Carolina Panthers team that won their season opener and then lost their next 15 games. In response to that Minter said “You deal with the failure the same way you deal with success,” says Mike. “You can’t let yourself get too low.” I have noticed the same is true in the rest of life, too. I have been involved in youth and children’s ministry for over 20 years. In that time I have known the joy of seeing people chose to make Jesus Lord of their life. I’ve also known the heartache of kids in my youth group who chose not to follow God’s path for their life. I know that we are called to help others know God and working or volunteering in ministry gives great opportunities to do that. However, as much as I wish I could make the decision for each and every person I talk to about Jesus to follow Him and give make Him the most important part of their lives, I don’t get to do that. It is a personal choice that each of us gets to make. My wife’s parents have served in youth ministry for a number of years and one thing that I have heard them say several times is that we can’t take too much credit for success stories or too much blame for failures. This is an important lesson for me. I will try to keep telling everyone I can about Him and let God do the work in their lives.

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Minter played for a 1-15 team and 2 years later, played in the Super Bowl. He has talked about the importance of Balance in football and in life.

2- Balance – Football is a game where balance is important. Balance keeps you on your feet and keeps you moving forward. Balance gives leverage to stand against opposition and win the battle on the line. It is important to have good balance if you are going to succeed as a football player. You need to understand your center of gravity and how to keep from stretching yourself too far. Stretching too far leads to you being taken down. The same is true in our Christian life. Minter talks about Jesus being like our center of gravity. Staying close to Him keeps us balanced. When we stray too far from Him, it becomes much easier to knock us down and stop our progress. But God is always close to us. We don’t need to go searching for Him. He is with us and the Bible tells us that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. Is your life feeling out of balance? Draw close to Him, Center your life on Him and let Him help you stay on path toward the goal!

Modern Monday – Fighting For the Underdogs – Andrew Whitworth – OL – Cincinnati Bengals

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Bengals Tackle Andrew Whitworth

Yes, that’s right, I have now named my Monday posts, too. So I have Throwback Thursday posts on Thursdays and Modern Monday posts on Monday. Phew! It only took me half a season.  So welcome to this week’s Modern Monday post.

Today’s post will look at the faith and story of Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Tackle Andrew Whitworth. Whitworth is in his 11th season of life in the NFL trenches after the Bengals made him a second round pick in the 2006 entry draft. The 6’7” giant has played his entire career with the Bengals, starting all but 4 of the games he has appeared in in his career. He has twice been an All-Pro and has been selected to 2 Pro Bowls as well. And he has even caught the only pass thrown to him in his career – for a touchdown no less – in a 2010 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Check out the highlight of the catch here.

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Andrew Whitworth’s one career reception was for a TD against the steelers in 2010

And while his impact on the field has been significant, his impact off the field has been even more notable. Shortly after starting his NFL career, he also started the BigWhit77 foundation which strives “to help assist and provide mentorship for high school seniors that are seeking financial assistance in getting a higher education and how to be leaders in their classrooms and communities.” Through the foundation, Whitworth also offers “financial grants to families going through the adoption process”.  There is also a program to provide after school care for at-risk youth and a Christmas program to help families in need. In this article from BayouLife.com  “Whitworth said the foundation is his way of staying connected and having a positive impact on the community that gave him the foundations he’s needed to succeed both on and off the field.”

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Whitworth, as a tackle, is tasked with protecting quarterback Andy Dalton (14).

Off the field, he has also been a team representative on the player’s association that has helped guide decisions with regards to player safety. But looking out for others was not always the way that Whitworth played. As you can read in his faith story from beyondtheultimate, Whitworth spent his college and early NFL career playing for himself and seeing the poor choices he was making ruin his personal life. And having attended church most of his life, he knew that he was making bad choices and the guilt he felt only made things worse. He says “I carried with me the guilt of how I had failed my family and God. Ironically I blamed God and pulled away from Him. After my second season in the NFL I decided to move home. I went back to church and felt God working in my heart. I fell to my knees and told God I was tired of running. I was ready to live the way He called me to.

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Whitworth is a 2 time Pro Bowl selection. He and his wife Melissa now have 4 kids.

Shortly after making that decision, Whitworth met Melissa. They would marry about a year later. The couple now have 4 children and are active members of the Bengals team Bible Study. You can read more from her about their marriage and life on and off the field in this interview from Pro Player Insiders. She shares that even in the challenges that life brings, God is guiding them and inviting them to surrender control. She says “I feel like God is trying to tell us again to trust in Him. It’s a daily struggle to try and not take control of a situation and do it the way I want it done. Instead, we are trying to “be still” and allow God to work through us in this process.”

Here are my takeaways from Whitworth’s story:

1- What does “no condemnation” mean? – I love the concept of God’s grace that is extended to a sinner like me.  However, I don’t really understand it. I mean I read stories like the woman caught in adultery (John 8.1-11), or the parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15.11-31). Or even the promise in Romans 8.1 where we read that there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who belong to Jesus. (emphasis mine) But I know that I really resonate with Whitworth and what he said. I feel guilt for my sinfulness and in defensiveness, blame others or blame God for my guilt. But if I really read these stories, what I see is no condemnation, no judgement of sinfulness but only unconditional love. There is a call to change behavior but there is no shame or even harshness in the words that are said. Only Love! Can that please be my understanding of God and His love for me! Can it also be the love that I convey to others in His name. It comes from a realization that I am the one caught in my sin with no where to hide, I am the one that has wasted so much and lived so selfishly and God takes me back, welcomes me home, lifts me up out of the dirt and says “I do not condemn you – Go and sin no more”. That is the God that we serve. Let it also be the God that present to the others around us.

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Whitworth, through his foundation Bigwhit77, is fighting for the underdogs in his communities.

2- Widows and Orphans – Someone told me that the Bible talks specifically about caring for widows and/or orphans at least 20 different times. I have not researched the number, but I know that it is in there a lot. So why is it there? Why is this important to God? Well, I won’t pretend to know all his reasons, but I can take a guess at a couple. Because there isn’t anyone to fight for them. I think of the story of Naomi, a widow without heir and the trouble that she would have known in her life if it were not for Boaz’ kindness to her and Ruth, redeeming them and taking responsibility to care for them. I also had the experience of ministering in orphanages in Ukraine and in Bahamas when my wife and I were working as missionaries.  Now those are 2 drastically different cultures that are time zones and thousands of miles apart. But what we saw in both places were children who absolutely beamed at the thought that someone was there to spend time with them. A little bit of effort can make heaping mounds of difference in how someone’s day or week is going by giving them some attention and time. The saddest part of the experience was when it was time to leave. We were there a lot, but there is no substitute for a parent/child relationship. I commend Andrew Whitworth’s foundation for seeing the value of having orphans find permanent homes and care. He is fighting for the underdogs. Let’s do the same. Let’s be aware of those around us. There is hurt everywhere and we are called to love the lonely and help those in need.