TBT – The Ultimate Reward – Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila – DE – Green Bay Packers

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Former Packers Defensive End Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila

This week, “Throwback Thursday” brings me to a sort of “necessary evil”. I am stationed in Vikings Country here in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and so as I aim to write about a player from each team (past or present) that means that at some point, I will need to share a positive, inspirational story about a member of the Green Bay Packers. That always seems to put a chill in the air with the die-hard fans of the “purple” that are all around. Maybe with the great season the Vikings are having, more grace will be granted as I write about a former member of the Vikings “cheesy” neighbors.  As I looked into the stories of some of the historical Packers, the faith journey of former Packers Defensive End Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila caught my attention. I am excited to share some of his story with you here.

His numbers are very impressive. He played in 1 Pro-Bowl and led the NFC in sacks in 2004. He was enshrined in the Packers Hall of Fame in 2013. But most impressive is the fact that he is the all-time Packers sack leader.

Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, known in his playing career as “KGB: was born in Los Angeles, California in 1977. His parents had moved from Nigeria and were both Muslim. His mother, however, converted to Christianity shortly after arriving from Nigeria. So Kabeer was brought up in the middle of a battle of religions. As you can learn in this video from “The Increase” much of KGB’s faith and beliefs echoed his dad’s beliefs that Christians, when pressed, would not be able to give answers about God or why they believed Jesus was the Savior.

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Gbaja-Biamila is the all time sack leader for the Packers

When he met with Gil Byrd, the director of player development for the Packers at the time, he posed his usual questions about Jesus to Byrd, but Byrd was able to answer them and started Gbaja-Biamila searching the Bible for more truth. You can read more about the exchange in this article from Samaritan Ministries. The truth that KGB learned was that he was a sinner and that all of a sudden, Jesus made sense. He realized that his sin made things seem hopeless at first, but the hope that Jesus brings is real. His willingness to take our place and pay the penalty is a life-changing.  Kabeer prayed, admittedly uncertain to which God he was praying, asking that he would be able to find these contradictions in the Bible. Instead, he found the truth of the Bible and decided that he would choose to accept Jesus and live life for Him.

Green Bay Packers Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila against Chicago Bears Brian Griese, John Tait at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill. on Dec. 31, 2006. The Packers won 26-7. MANDATORY CREDIT:(Jay Drowns/Sporting News) DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPH

KGB spent years trying to disprove Christianity, but ultimately found that he could not do it. Instead, he accepted Jesus as Savior

And KCB grew in his faith and God has guided him to be a strong witness to his team, to the community of Green Bay and to the world at large. Check out this story from jcsuperstars where we see more of Gbaja-Biamila’s heart for serving God. He says about playing in the NFL, “I pray for protection for me and my teammates, but ultimately I wrap it up by saying that, ‘God, I just pray you’re glorified through this whole thing, and ultimately, let Your will be done. If that means losing a game, so be it. If it means winning a game, so be it. If it means being hurt, so be it.

And he practiced what he preached, too. Read about when he was demoted from starter to Pass Rush specialist in this article from jsonline, he at first was upset but ultimately he said “But because of my faith, I said this is not (general manager) Ted Thompson’s decision. This is not (coach) Mike McCarthy’s decision. I said, ‘God is in control of everything. If this is your will for me, so be it. I will do it.”

That faith and trust in God’s plan has been important in the highs and lows that life has brought along. Later in the Samaritan’s Ministries article we learn about the day when his first child was born – a day filled with joy and excitement turned into a day of sorrow and sadness hours later when Kabeer’s mother was killed in a car accident. He said “I can’t fool myself. What happened on that single day, it’s going to affect me for a long time. But I know I’m going to be able to carry on because I know that’s what my mom would want of me, and I know God is going to give me strength.

Here are my takeaways from Gbaja-Biamila’s story

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For almost a decade, KGB tormented NFL quarterbacks for the Packers

1- The Search for Truth – Gbaja-Biamila sought out Christians to try and tear down their faith. He wanted to prove that their belief in God was misguided and that Christianity was not true. But when he started to read the Bible for himself, he realized that it was true and that Jesus was real and was really God. John 8.33 says that the truth will set you free. That is what happened for KGB. It can happen for each of us, too.  Give the Bible a read and ask God to show you what you can learn from it. God is enough. We don’t need special gimmicks to convince people to look to Him. He is enough. He is always relevant and his love and the truth of the gift of life that he offers is enough to win over even the coldest, hardest of hearts.

2- The Challenge is Issued –  Gbaja-Biamila says in the video and the articles that he had a “go-to” challenge where he would ask Christians where Jesus said He was God, and many could not provide that answer. It is a good challenge. Do you know enough about your faith in God and the words of the Bible to answer the questions that opponents of your faith may have for you. I am challenged to study the Bible daily and grow in my understanding of the Word so I can be ready to answer these types of questions. Interestingly enough, I am in a weekly Bible study that is studying the book of John, and just this week, a couple days before reading Gbaja-Biamila’s story, I was studying John 4, where Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. In John 4.25, the Samaritan woman says that she knows that the Messiah is coming and he will explain everything to the people. Jesus replies in verse 26 “I, the one speaking to you- I am he.”  Jesus was the Messiah, and He knew it and declared it. You can know it too, and be confident that if you ask Him to, He will reveal Himself to you.

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Gbaja-Biamila was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2013. Despite the success on the Field, KGB is more excited to talk about Jesus.

3- Ultimate Reward – Gbaja-Biamila had a great career with many accolades and successes. There would be lots of reasons that he would have to brag. But that is not what KGB is all about. He says “If I’m going to be doing any bragging, I’m going to be bragging about Your Son, and what Your Son did for me.’ I’m just blessed to be a part of anything that He’s got going on.” We can get so caught up in our status or achievements which will all rust, or fade away. But what Jesus did for us, that is never ending. It will not fade away. It is the ultimate reward, mostly because it is not something we did anything to win or deserve. His gift of love and life is worth celebrating and bragging about. Let’s tell everyone what an amazing God we serve and what a great Savior Jesus is.  He offers this gift to all who would believe in Him. Let’s spread the news.

 

Methodical Approach – Ryan Quigley – P – Arizona Cardinals

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Cardinals punter Ryan Quigley

Ryan Quigley knows punting. He excelled at it in High School and in college. Eight years of excelling on the football field but as you can read in this Sports Spectrum article, there he was, out of football for the first time in almost a decade. He had been invited as an undrafted free-agent to the Chicago Bears camp, and made the roster out of camp to start the 2012 season, but he was waived early in the season without appearing in a game.

Jul 26, 2012; Bourbonnais, IL, USA; Chicago Bears punter Ryan Quigley walks to the practice field during the opening day of training camp on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-US PRESSWIRE

Quigley was signed as a free agent by the Bears in 2012, but didn’t appear in a regular season game for them.

So what did Quigley do when life didn’t go as he hoped? He put all his effort into getting better. He had a strict workout regiment that he followed closely.  Along the way there was the ongoing debate – “‘Will I get that shot? Do I even deserve that shot?’ For me, it was all about being ready when that call comes, if it comes.”

He did work hard to keep himself ready and hoped for another chance – one that would not come for the entire season. In the midst of this year, Quigley also found a connection with God. He began attending a Bible Study with Josh McCown who had also been cut by the Bears around the same time. (and whose brother Luke, I blogged about a couple weeks ago).  So as he worked out to keep himself fit and ready, he also dived into reading his Bible and growing in his faith.  He says “I was finally able to sit back and be like, this is me right now. I’m going to try to improve my game, and try to figure out my faith…That was really where God kind of entered my life. Took away all the pressure, all the stress. Just gave me peace and security. Living in the moment, rather than thinking so far ahead into the future, knowing that He has a planI’m still trying to figure it out, and I don’t think I’ll ever figure it all out. But that’s how great God’s love and grace is, impossible to fully understand. It’s a good feeling.

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Quigley signed with the Jets and spent 3 seasons with them.

His chance at football would come. The Jets signed him, taking him away from his final weeks of school before finishing his degree. You can read here about his call to the Jets and finishing his degree. He would appear in 14 games for the Jets in 2013 and played 2 more seasons with them as well.  But they didn’t bring him back after last season. He signed with the Eagles in the off-season, but was cut a month later. He signed with the Jaguars and went through training camp with them before being cut at the end of camp.

And with Drew Butler on the shelf for a few weeks Quigley has a chance to play for the Cardinals. Quigley is hoping to make the most of his chance with the Cardinals and looking to either stretch this chance longer or catch on with another team. Either way, he is trusting God to lead and confident that God is with him.

Here are my takeaways from Quigley’s story:

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After off-season stints with the Jaguars and the Eagles, Quigley signed with the Cardinals at the end of September.

1- Methodical Training – Quigley was out of football for a year after the Bears cut him. He settled in Charlotte to work out and keep himself ready for another chance. But in this time, he also sought to grow in his faith in God. I love the picture of Quigley growing in his game and in his faith at the same time. I like it because faith is like a muscle.  The more you work in it, the stronger it gets. God gives us lots of chances to trust him when our plans don’t seem to be working out. As we trust him and our faith is put into action, we will see that He is faithful all the time. And our faith in Him will grow. Quigley was very methodical in his workouts and in his time spent with God. That is a challenge for each of us as well. Let’s make spending time with God a priority and allow Him to grow our faith as we see Him prove faithful

2- Impossible to Completely Understand – Quigley shared that as his faith grew, he knew that there were things about God that he didn’t understand, but that didn’t deter him. Instead, it gave him a desire to know more. We will never understand everything about God and that is comforting. If little old me could figure out God, then He would not be very impressive. But He is a mystery and works things out in His perfect way every time. And while we won’t completely understand God, it is great getting to know Him more and more and seeing the ways that He shows up in our circumstances will encourage us to keep seeking Him.

TBT – Bundle of Joy – LaDainian Tomlinson – RB- San Diego Chargers

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A photo of my 4 daughters from this past summer.

For today’s post, I am going to share a little more of my family’s story and how God has been gracious to us through pain and sorrow bringing us joy and peace along the way. To do so, allow me to introduce you to the newest love of my life. Her name is Isabella Virginia Page and she was born on the 3rd of May 2016. She is our 4th daughter and in her first 5 months of life, she has brought immeasurable joy to our family. I am a proud dad, that is to be sure, and all 4 of our daughters are so special. My heart is overflowing with love for them.

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Former Chargers star running back LaDainian Tomlinson

With Isabella (Ella) though, the experience of the pregnancy was different than it was with the other 3 girls. You see, in December of 2014, we learned that my wife was pregnant. We were excited for this new addition, but in March, at a routine ultrasound, we learned that the baby had died. My wife delivered our child, stillborn, the day after the ultrasound. We named the child Ilya. I had never experienced grief and heartache like that before. I shared a little about the story in this blog post this past summer. God was present and comforted us through the grief and pain. Just over a year later, He allowed us to have another baby. The experience was different this time as there were weekly ultrasounds to make sure that all OK. All of the landmark moments that a pregnancy brings (hearing the heartbeat, feeling the baby kick, seeing the baby at the ultrasound) were not moments of joy this time as much as they were moments of relief that things were OK.  Even after Ella was born, there have been panicked moments where my wife or I will feel like something has happened to her and rush to check on her, only to find out that she is sleeping peacefully and that everything is fine. We hug all our kids a little tighter, tell them we love them and are proud of them a little more frequently and enjoy time together as a family more after going through the loss of Ilya.

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LaTorsha and LaDainian Tomlinson and their son Daylen

Former NFL MVP and future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson and his wife LaTorsha also had the experience of losing a baby during pregnancy. You can read here about the heartbreak they went through, and the joy that they have in the birth of their son Daylen. It is a story that again reminds us that there is more to life for pro athletes than what happens on the field. There are events and circumstances that they go through that bring pain and sadness. Tomlinson’s story is more than what we could see on the field.

Although the things that he accomplished on the field were pretty special. He was drafted by the San Diego Chargers with in the first round on the 2001 draft with the number 5 overall pick. He had become a star at TCU as an All-American in 2000. He was also a 2 time WAC offensive player of the year in college. In the NFL, he was 2 time rushing leader, 5 time Pro Bowl selection, and a member of the “All-Decade team” for the 2000’s. He was a league MVP and his #21 has been retired by the Chargers. He owns or shares the NFL record for consecutive games with a TD (18); rushing TD’s in a season (28) and total offensive touchdowns in a season (31).  It was an impressive career for Tomlinson, and the expectation is that when the 2017 Hall of Fame class is announced, Tomlinson will be on the list of new inductees. Tomlinson is quick to share the important role that his relationship with Jesus plays in his life. You can read more about it in this article from CBN.

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Tomlinson and Drew Brees were taken by the Chargers in the same draft.

I have long appreciated LaDainian Tomlinson. He was easy to cheer for because of his skill and his humble attitude. As I learn about this part of his story, I am an even bigger fan. When I hear about how he leans on his faith in God, then I want to share that part of the story with others, too – so that the way God has been with him in good times and hardships can encourage all of us as we battle through our own lives. In an interview with Chad Bonham, Tomlinson says “My job is to let everybody know what I stand for and to let my light shine. I want to show others the way I live so that hopefully they follow. I can also tell about my experiences as a Christian so that I may help bring others to Christ.”

Here are my takeaways from Tomlinson’s story:

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Tomlinson was arguable the best running back in the league for much of his career. He holds the NFL record for touchdowns in a season.

1- Joy Exceeds Pain – The Tomlinsons’ story of heartbreak at the loss of their unborn baby is tragic and sad. It connected with me as my wife and went through that too. But as we struggled through the grief, God’s presence was strong and evident. And with the birth of Ella, the joy that we have felt from having her join our family, holding her, seeing her smile, hearing her laugh and all the other joyous moments of parenthood are so much sweeter than we could have imagined. God has given us this beautiful baby to love. The joy that she brings to us exceed the pain that we felt.The pain was real and deep-reaching, but so much more is the joy that God has granted through Ella. This is a small picture of the ultimate result of a life lived for Him.  There will be hardship, pain and heartache over and over in our time on this planet. But there is more to come – in fact the best is yet to come. We are invited to be with God in a place where there is no pain, agony, tears or sorrow. The joy that is to come far exceeds the pain that we feel here.

He is with us in the hardest of times and His presence and His love is all that we need to get us through the pains of this life. He does not answer each situation we face in the same way but He does answer in the perfect way. Trust Him and lean on Him in the midst of whatever hard things come your way.

 

A Reason to Rejoice – Clinton McDonald – Defensive Tackle – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers D Lineman Clinton McDonald

I enjoyed playing sports all throughout my youth. I played lots of baseball, and a little basketball on an organized, competitive level and a bunch of others for fun. Because I was not in a lot of competitive sports, I didn’t ever feel the pain of being cut until I was in 9th grade.  I tried out for my junior high school soccer team and sailed through the first tryouts which were for all grades at the school. But being a ninth grader, I was only qualified to play Varsity – I was too old for Junior Varsity. So even though I sailed through the first round of tryouts, when I got to the Varsity tryouts, I struggled. I was cut on the second day of tryouts and not invited back for the final day. I was crushed. I really wanted to make the team. That is the closest I’ve ever come in sports to understanding the feeling that a player must feel when he is cut from a professional team. It has to be even more crushing than my junior high school experience because it involves a career, a livelihood.

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McDonald (behind Broncos #27) forces a fumble in the Super Bowl as the Seahawks routed the Broncos.

Clinton McDonald was cut from the Seattle Seahawks at the end of the 2013 preseason. Arkansasleader.com shares how he thought he’d had a solid preseason and he was shocked to be cut. He was not worried about it being the end of his career, he was sure that he would catch on somewhere, but he was saddened by the thought of losing the relationships that he had built with the Seahawks. He kept working out, hoping to get a call from an NFL team that would allow him to continue his career. He was invited to work out for the New England Patriots. They seemed ready to sign him when his phone rang with an offer from another NFL team… The Seattle Seahawks. He returned to Seattle and joined the team and stuck through with them all the way to the Championship as they defeated the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. So what helped McDonald recover and make the most of this new chance? It would be easy to get down or carry bitterness and let that be the motivating factor – setting out to prove everyone wrong when they cut you. That is a natural reaction, but it is not the one that McDonald took. Instead, he took joy in the training and let the stress of trying to win a job back fall to the side.  He says “God got me to step back and take a look and say, what are you going to do with your new opportunity. When he showed me that, I felt relaxed. I wasn’t worried about it anymore. I just felt like I was blessed to have a name that was in the NFL, and what I could do to glorify God because of that.”

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McDonald, now a Buccaneers captain, can often be found reading his bible and praying.

Another chance did come calling and led McDonald to the top goal the NFL offers – a Super Bowl win. Here are some thoughts McDonald shared about that experience.  He says “it just amazes me that God has blessed me, and not with being in the NFL or playing in the Super Bowl. God has blessed me by writing my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. To be honest with you, the Super Bowl win feels good. But having that responsibility of being a child of God, that’s heavier to me than wearing that ring….We, as children of God, we have to go out there and fight the good fight. He gave us mercy and grace through his Son Jesus Christ who died on a cross because we have sinned. We don’t even see how unworthy we are. And for Him to give it freely, we’re being selfish if we’re not living for him and giving it all back to him. So I trust Jesus, and I try to stay grounded and lean back on the Lord

Here are my takeaways from McDonald’s story:

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Each off-season, McDonald offers a football camp in his native Arkansas. The Iron Sharpens Iron football camp

160429-f-xk483-001 1- Book of Life – McDonald, in this last quote brings to mind a great passage from Luke 10. Jesus has just sent out 72 followers into the communities to declare the arrival of the Kingdom of God and to heal their sick. They returned with amazing experiences and stories of how they saw God at work. They say “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” They have been given authority to accomplish God’s work in their region. But Jesus offers them some important words in verse 20. He says “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” What does this mean?  Don’t get caught up on keeping track of all that is going on in this life. The exciting part is in the life that is to come and that will last forever. McDonald reminded me of this passage with his words. Super Bowls, success, God’s blessings, these are all nice and make us feel good, but they pale in comparison to what is truly important and that is that God has prepared a place for us to be with Him forever. Have you accepted this invitation? Its easy to get caught up in all that life is bringing our way, good and bad, and letting that cloud the vision of what is truly important. God loves us and Jesus died for us so our sins could be forgiven and we could be with Him forever. That is truly worth celebrating.

2- Iron Sharpen Iron – This is taken from Proverbs and means that challenges and friction will make us stronger. This happens when God is a priority in our life and we allow Him to refine us through the trials of life. This is such an important verse for McDonald that he has named his annual football camp the “Iron Sharpen Iron Youth Cheer and Football Camp” McDonald is using his life in football to impact youth by helping them develop football skills, and also by pointing them to the importance of faith in God. Check out this video to learn more about the camp

Clinton McDonald Iron Sharpen Iron 2014 Football Camp from J Booker on Vimeo.

TBT – Actions Speak Louder than Words – Brent Jones – TE -San Francisco 49ers.

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49ers TE Brent Jones – a 3 time Super Bowl Champ.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, meaning that it is easier to explain or describe something with a picture than with words alone. They also say that actions speak louder than words. These are a couple of strange expressions to write about in a blog post, but they are seem fitting in sharing part of the faith story of Brent Jones, former Tight End for the San Francisco 49ers.

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Jones went from an injury to being  a key part of the 49er dynasty

Brent Jones was drafted in 1986 by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 5th round. but as you can read in this article from 1995 in the L.A. Times, Jones was involved in a car accident a couple blocks from his house just 5 days after the draft. He injured his neck and would be unable to practice or compete for a spot with the Steelers. They kept him on the roster through the off-season and into the start of the 1986 football season, but cut him a month in. The next off-season, he was offered a tryout with the 49ers, and despite being “eight string” at the time of his tryout. However, he impressed enough that he made the team and made his NFL debut that season.  He would appear in 11 games the season after that and took over the starting role for the 49ers in 1989. He would go on to a great career with 33 career touchdowns, 4 Pro Bowl selections, 3 Super Bowl Championship rings and a Bart Starr Man of the Year Award.

But of all the potential parts of Jones’ legacy, what comes to mind for me about him is his strong faith in God. In this article from LosAltosonline, You can read about Jones and how interested he was in learning about God as a youth. He talked about the youth meetings he would attend where there would be fun activities and the last 15 minutes would be teaching about Jesus. He became a christian but like all of us, there were times when he would put other things ahead of God. One of the most telling lines he shares is when he said “As great as it is, there’s devastation at the top of that (football) hill. You get there and realize, it’s just a ring. Is that all it is? … You’re shaken..” They had strived to reach the pinnacle that all most all of humanity will never know. They were Super Bowl Champs and what was the lingering feeling? emptiness.  The accolades of this world wind up disappointing. You can read more about his story from The Goal and check out this video from CBN.

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Jones (#84) was part of the first ever on-field post-game prayer circle.

But one of my favorite stories from Jones’ career is the story he shares in this article from findinggodinsiliconvalley.com. There he talks about a game in December 1990. It was a time when being a Christian was not very popular in the locker room. But the article says “Jones found a core of players on the 49ers who were also committed Christians.  Jones recalls, “We wanted to do something special to impact the world for Christ.”   In early December 1990, the opportunity came.  The 49ers were scheduled to play the Giants in New Jersey.  The Giants’ chaplain approached the 49ers chaplain and asked if Christians on the 49ers would be interested in meeting on the field after the game to pray.   Jones comments, ‘It was not cool at that time to come together with opponents after a game, except for a brief greeting.  But we did.  After the game we knelt and prayed with the Giants players’.”  This was the first time that this post game prayer circle happened in the NFL. The NFL threatened fines for all involved but when the prayer circles continued to appear around the league, the NFL chose not to carry out the fines.  Here is Guy McIntyre – a teammate of Jones and part of this circle, talking about it 25 years after it happened.

How cool it must have been to be a part of that and openly sharing with the world that you are living for God and are willing to join others, even the “enemies” (other team) to pray for each other and celebrate God.

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Jones finished his career with 33 TDs.

Here are my takeaways from Jones’ story:

1- Everything is Meaningless – King Solomon, the bible tells us was the wisest man around in his time. 1 Kings 4.30 tells us as much. Yet later in life, as he is writing some books of wisdom to share with the people, he begins the book of Ecclesiastes with those words. Everything is meaningless. The Apostle Paul wrote it this way in Philippians 3. I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him.  For Brent Jones, it was the emptiness of his life when he put sports ahead of God in his life. He reached the top level in the most popular sport in the world but it left him feeling unsatisfied. I can agree with this. I know that I feel like something is off when I put anything else ahead of God on my priority list. Apart from knowing Him, everything is meaningless. But knowing Him brings meaning and purpose to life and all the different parts thereof.

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Jones’s story challenges me to let my actions each day reflect my faith in God.

2- How Loud are Our Actions –  A quote commonly attributed to NCAA basketball coaching legend John Wooden is “If I were ever arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to get a conviction?” Jones and his fellow Christians were going to get together with believers from the hated Giants and pray together at the end of a highly watched Monday Night game. There would be a cost. Maybe some awkwardness among teammates who didn’t share this belief in God, fines and threats from the League. But despite it all, they chose to honor God anyway. And those actions sparked a movement that continues to this day. How do my actions reflect your belief in God? Are they loudly heard by people in my circles – Not for my own visibility or to impress people with how spiritual I am, but because God is the most important part of my life and I want to honor Him in all that I do? What a challenge to take into life tomorrow and each day for the rest of my life. May our actions speak loudly about God and what He has done/is doing in our life.