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

2c257eb420edba4b3dfbf007d9d6819f

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.

hqdefault

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:

mike-minter-30

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.

012016-nfl-panthers-grant-and-minter-pi-ch-vadapt-664-high-67

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

andrew-whitworth-86t

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.

gyi0062794385-1

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.”

635501032339522441-bengals-9-2011_09_18

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.

andrewwhitworth4

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.

andrew_whitworth

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.

 

 

Throwback Thursday – From Backup to Kardiac Kid – Brian Sipe – QB – Cleveland Browns

brian-sipe-1976-topps-516-rookie-card-cleveland-browns

Former Cleveland Browns QB Brian Sipe

Sports rivalries are great. As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, and the Boston Bruins, I have enjoyed (and cursed) two of the biggest rivalries in North American Sports. The Red Sox vs the Yankees and the Bruins vs. the Montreal Canadiens. I’ve been on the losing end of those rivalries way more than the winning side but it is always with extra interest that follow these events. One of the rivalries that doesn’t get as much coverage now as when it first began is the rivalry between the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens. You see the Ravens moved to Baltimore from Cleveland where they were also known as the Browns. The owner, Art Modell arranged a quick move out of Cleveland. The move was not popular with Cleveland and left the city without a franchise for 3 years. The NFL returned to Cleveland but the former Browns franchise has gone on to win 2 Super Bowls in the meantime. Since the teams are in the same division, they play each other 2 times per season. I would imagine that there are still some hard feeling about how it all went down.

home_1

Sipe (#17) was the quarterback for the Kardiac Kids – the 1980 Cleveland Browns

However, let’s focus on happier times for the Browns, specifically the 1980 season when the team was known as the Kardiac Kids because of the number of close games they were in. 13 out of their 16 regular season games were decided in the final 2 minutes. The quarterback for the Kardiac Kids was Brian Sipe who would win the NFL MVP award for his season, where the Browns went 11-5 and won their division. They played a playoff game against the Raiders and were poised again to take the lead late in the 4th quarter but a Sipe interception ended the rally and sadly, their season.

e2d68cda9ea7f921b66e4aafbfdd13f5

Sipe was named the the Browns Hall of Fame in 2002. He is their all time leading passer.

For Sipe to win the MVP award that year was an outstanding feat. Sipe who had a had been drafted in the 13th round of the 1972 draft (pick #330 overall). He was on the practice squad for his first 2 seasons before becoming a spot starter in 1974.  In 1976, he took over as the regular starting QB for the Browns and played reasonably well that season and the next one too, although it was shortened by a shoulder injury. Sipe would go on to play 125 games for Cleveland and still holds many of their all time passing records. He was named to the Browns Hall of Fame in 2002. He left the Browns to join the USFL and play for the New Jersey Generals.

In 2011, a book was released by 1980 Browns place kicker Don Cockroft chronicling the season and the time that has passed since. Check out some chapter previews here. One thing that I noticed is the number of players on the team that express faith in God – 9 are quoted talking about their faith on that web-site – including Brian Sipe. This article from Connection Magazine shares the story of Sipe choosing to become a Christian. It was his wife who thought they should start attending church during the final season of Sipe’s pro-football career with the Generals. He says “I had been raised going to church, but bailed out on that deal when I was in high school.  Geri thought it would be good for us to start going to church as a family.” But while attending the church, the pastor challenged the depth of Sipe’s faith in God. Sipe admits “I lied to him in order to do the christening,

Sipe and his wife began attending a couples Bible Study together and over the course of the study Sipe came to see that “God really started to work on me. I came to the conclusion that the Bible was the truth, and I had to do something about it.” What he did was to trust Jesus as his Savior.”

Here are my takeaways from Sipe’s Story:

8e4d5758dd27d47746ea785a0299d14e

Sipe led the Kardiac Kids on the field. And after his playing days, He and his wife began attending church and have made living for God a priority.

1- Never Too Late – The Kardiac Kids made a habit of last minute comebacks in the 1980 season. They were involved in 13 games decided in the 4th quarter or overtime. They also lost their first 2 games and every season we hear how rare it is for a team to make the playoffs after losing their first 2 games. But they kept things close and more often than not, pulled out the win in the end.  They gave their fans a reason to never give up. I’ve had people that have thought the same about me, too. I was not following God during most of my teenage years but I know that there were people that were praying for me and pouring God’s love out for me to see and experience. They had not given up on me and God won me over. Who can you be in prayer about? Do you have anyone in your life that seems like a lost cause, closed off to God and not interested in following Him? Keep praying for them and let God use you to share His love with them. I am grateful for those who loved me even thought I kept messing up and acting selfish. God used those friends to change my life. God is persistent and will give countless opportunities for them to meet Him. And as long as they are living, it is never too late for them to meet Him.

2- Forgiveness is always the best route – I wrote earlier about the issues between Cleveland and Art Modell and moving the Browns to Baltimore. It has made for an interesting side note in their history but honestly, doesn’t really seem to be a big deal anymore. And that is probably a good thing. I mean as mentioned I enjoy a good rivalry as much as anyone but when someone does hurt us, it is always best to forgive them and not wish them ill anymore. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who make our lives hard. Is there anyone in your world that has caused you hurt or pain? Have you forgiven them? I promise that forgiveness is always  the best choice to make.

Willing to Change – Lorenzo Alexander – LB – Buffalo Bills

lorenzo-alexander-bills-today

Bills Linebacker and Sack Leader Lorenzo Alexander

When I graduated from high school, my dream was to be a sports broadcaster, traveling around the country or world talking about sports. Over the course of a number of years, God slowly changed my heart and my plan and led me to working with children and teaching them about the Bible. It was not how I thought my life would go, but it is better than I ever could have imagined. I was willing to change and God took that willingness and led me to where he wanted me to be. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

1006096239-49ers-at-bill45-1100x733

Alexander has played at least 8 different positions in his career. He is having a career season at age 33 with the Bills this year.

Lorenzo Alexander has been willing to change in career. Coming up to the draft, he was a 315 pound defensive tackle. Now, he is playing linebacker at 245 pounds. Over the 11 seasons that he has been in the NFL, He has been on roster with a half-dozen teams. Alexander has also earned the nickname “One-Man Gang” for his ability to play many positions. He has seen time on special teams, linebacker, defensive tackle, offensive guard, defensive end, fullback and tight end. The key to his longevity in the league was his willingness play many positions. But the unexpected development is that he is now excelling as a linebacker. As you can see in this Buffalo News article, as of last week, he was leading the NFL in sacks – and if he manages a half sack to night at least, he will continue to share the lead at the midway point of the season. It is a very impressive development for Alexander who the article lists as the “unsung hero of the defense so far has to be Lorenzo Alexander, who’s having a career year at age 33 … Alexander is the oldest player on the team. When the Bills signed him to the veteran minimum in April, he wasn’t even the first player they listed on the press release. He was thought to be a core special teamer who could give the starters a breather on defense. Instead, Alexander has become the NFL’s leader in sacks...”

arizonacardinalsvwashingtonredskinsrp7n3tbxozum

During his time with the Redskins, Alexander, with the help of some teammates, became a Christian.

But a willingness to change on the field is not the only change that has impacted Lorenzo’s life.  In 2007, some teammates helped Alexander make a change in his life off the field. In this article from bleacher report, Alexander was deeply impacted by the death of teammate Sean Taylor. He says “So looking at my life, I was probably in a similar type of transition—still trying to grow up a little bit. I wanted to give myself to something bigger—and that was Christ—and become more conservative instead of everything being about me. And I think it helped with my career because I no longer was playing for myself.” 

url

He played in the 2012 Pro Bowl, primarily as a Special Teams player. He is on track to make the Pro Bowl as a Linebacker this season

He talks about 3 teammates in particular that really lived out their beliefs and along with the team chaplain, answered any questions he had. From a CBN article, He says “I just saw the way they walked through the room, the way they dealt with their families, the way they dealt with their kids, how they approached work every day. Guys like Randle El, James Thrash, Bernardo Wynn. I mean, these guys, It was just pouring out of them. You can’t miss it. If you know El, Randle El, I mean, he bounces around every day. It could be rain, sleet, snow, or shine, he’s walking with God on his shoulder, in his ear, you know, has that Book (Bible) with him. He’s just happy.

It is great to see Lorenzo Alexander having this unexpected success with the Bills this season. I hope he continues to have success so he can continue to share his story of change and meeting God.

Here are my takeaways from Alexander’s story:

20903538-standard

From Position to Body to motivation for life, Alexander has changed a lot over the course of his NFL career on and off the field.

1- Be Willing to Change – Life rarely goes the way we dream it will. But when we choose to follow God’s plan for our life, things go better than our best dreams. I have experienced this for myself and while I occasionally wonder what life would have been like as a sportscaster, I wouldn’t change my life now for anything. But letting go of our plans and surrendering to God’s lead is always the best path we can take. Are you willing to let God change your life? I promise you it will be for the best!

2- Show your Colors – Alexander credits some teammates with being open about their faith. And when the pain and questioning of losing a teammate came face to face with Lorenzo, he knew where to turn to find answers for the questions that came up. About one teammate in particular, he talks about his bouncing around every day and being happy. If you are a Christian, is this how the world sees you? I find this challenging because I can get dragged down by life when it gets hard, but the truth is God is with me and He is able to handle everything I am going through and more. And the reality is that by believing in Him, I am freed from the ultimate penalty of being apart from him forever. That should bring joy to my life, regardless of my circumstances. I pray that it will be so with me.

TBT – Bumps in the Road – Steve Bartkowski – QB – Atlanta Falcons

d0qnqusvd

Steve Bartkowski played with the Falcons from 1975 through 1985

What does a perfect life look like to you?  It is something we all dream about yet if we were realists, we would know that it is not attainable. We may have moments when things seem to be going great and there is joy, contentment and satisfaction in many facets of life. But it is not sustainable. There are too many things that come along and turn things upside down. I know that this is nothing earth shattering, but this time, as I thought about it, I had a new take on it which I will get to in a little while.

But first, let’s get into the story Steve Bartkowski, former quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons. As you can read in this story from faith talk ministries, Bartkowski had a great life on the go. He was the first overall draft pick in 1975, picked just ahead of Hall of Famers Randy White and Walter Payton and showed that he was deserving of that pick winning the Rookie of the Year award. He would go on the play in 2 Pro Bowls, join the Falcons ring of honor and had his number retired by Atlanta. But life was definitely not perfect for “Bart”. In fact, just before his 4th season, Bartkowski lost his job. But in that loss, he found something greater.

f1bdd0df1d4e29ec94ae7a10e8491d22

Bartkowski was the number 1 overall pick in the 1975 draft

In this article from premierespeakers.com, we read more about the story from Bartkowski. He says” I played poorly, the fans were critical, the press was down on me, and I had to face the most critical year of my life. There was no where to turn. I was ashamed of being Steve Bartkowski. In hindsight, though, I clearly see how God was taking all the earthly props away and was getting ready to make an interception in my life. It was during the 5th pre-season game of my fourth year in the NFL, against Philadelphia that the crash came. The harder I tried, the worse things got. The fans were booing and the press was criticizing. The pressure hit me from all angles. That night following the game I knew I had to get alone. I told myself This is it- I have tried as hard as I can in every game and things still continue to get worse. There is nothing else I can do. There is no more ability left in me. Alone in my room, I recalled that a man once told me how to become a Christian*. I bowed my head and repeated a simple prayer. I asked God to put HIS plan to work in my life. I asked Christ to come into my life and take over as Number One. Although, I wasn’t sure at that moment what had happened, the one thing I was sure of was the terrific sense of peace that came over me as I prayed. A huge burden had been lifted. I knew I had an encounter with the living Lord, even though I was not sure how to explain it to anyone.

life_u_bartkowskis_400

When “Bart” retired, he was the all-time leader in almost all Falcons Passing stats. He has since been passed in many by Matt Ryan

Bartkowski got his starting job back, and would go on to set Falcons passing records until knee problems led to his retirement in 1987. His passing records stood until the past couple of years when many were surpassed by Matt Ryan. He is one of only a handful of QBs to throw 30 TDs or more in back to back seasons.

Nowadays, “Bart” remains active in the great outdoors. You can read this interview from Christian Sportsman Magazine where you will learn about his work with Christian Sportsman’s Fellowship. Check out what he says about his purpose in life.

“How do you personally know that God has a specific plan and purpose for your life and what is His purpose or mission for Steve Bartkowski?

I am confident of this one thing…every single day that I’m alive I need to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and He will take care of all the details. I have no idea what the future holds but I do know Who holds the future.  My sole desire is to live faithfully moment by moment and enjoy the ride. “

Here are my takeaways from Bartkowski’s story:

1- Bumps in the Road – I’ve talked many times on this site about the hard things that life brings our way. Sometimes they are speed bumps and potholes and sometimes the road seems washed out altogether. Now speed bumps in some parts of the world are referred to as “sleeping policeman”. Because what do you do when you see a police car when you are driving? If you are like me, you immediately take your foot off the gas pedal, check your speed and slow down if necessary to make sure you are not going to get a ticket.

Speed bumps make us slow down like that. And maybe there is a lesson in that for us. We go so fast and focus so much on whatever is going on in the moment in our lives, that often, God can be out of sight and out of mind. But when hard things hit, those bumps in the road can force us to slow down and cry out to God. Maybe that is the challenge that we can take from this. Take time in good times and in bad to slow down and notice how God is working in your situation. 

url

Bartkowski spends a lot of time in the outdoors. He even hosted a TV show for a while. He also sees his purpose to be a fisher of men

2- Seek Ye First -“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 has been an important verse in my life. A few verses earlier, Jesus is talking about worry, which I am prone to. I can get stressed about all kinds of things that are not even in my control. But Jesus invites us to focus on Him and His Righteousness – that is important because my righteousness is not worth anything. Isaiah 64.6 says  “all our deeds of righteousness are like filthy rags”. If I am depending on my righteousness, it will cause me to worry more because I know that it is not even close to good enough.

But Jesus lived righteously and died for our sins. He invites us to accept His righteousness as a cover for our sinfulness. Does that give us an excuse to keep on sinning? Certainly not. Instead we follow God’s design to carry out our primary purpose – to seek Him first and to ask for His forgiveness. Chose to live for Him and help others understand His love and the righteousness He offers them.