The Crucial Crutch – Colby Rasmus – Houston Astros

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Astros OF Colby Rasmus

So many times on this blog, I have written about pro athletes who desire to make a difference in the lives of their teammates, living a Christian example and being open with the importance of their faith. Today, I get to share the story of a guy who was influenced by teammates and his wife to live for Christ. Houston Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus has played on teams where he has talked faith in God with some of the guys I have written posts about. In the video below from MLB.com, he mentions by name Albert Pujols (read my post about him here) and Matt Holliday (read my post about him here) from his days with the Cardinals and R.A. Dickey (I wrote a post and a book review on Dickey) who Rasmus played with in Toronto. Each of these guys as well as unnamed others and Rasmus’ wife helped Colby come to realize that Jesus was missing from him life and that following Him was the best decision that he could make.

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Rasmus has been a great playoff performer and his series winning celebrations have been turned into a bobblehead.

Rasmus was drafted out of high school by the Cardinals in the first round of the 2005 draft. He made his MLB debut in 2009, making the team out of spring training. After 2 seasons with the Cardinals, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays where he spent 3 full seasons before signing as a free agent with the Astros. He recently passed the 1000 game mark and is a career .243 hitter. He has been pretty successful in the playoffs. He is the first player in Major League Baseball history to have an extra base hit in each of his first 6 postseason games. He is batting .423 in 9 career playoff games.

However, it was some teammates of Rasmus’ that played a role in him coming to faith in God.  In this video prepared for Astros Faith Day, Rasmus shares his spiritual journey – growing up attending church but letting baseball and other things to be more important.

Here are my takeaways from Rasmus’ story:

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Lance Berkman (center) was a teammate of Rasmus’ (left) in St. Louis. Their relationship continues now as Rasmus plays for the Astros

1- Do You Know Christ – This was a question that Lance Berkman asked Rasmus.  They were teammates, co-workers and part of the same team. Berkman cared enough about Rasmus to ask this question and by the example that he was living, earned a place for this question to be heard and processed. We can strive to live our life as Christians the same was – being upfront about our faith in God and the importance that it plays in our lives and being willing to ask deep, tough questions that God could use to change the lives of those around us. You can read this article from The Crossing and read the great challenges it gives us for ways that we can positively impact the people around us so they can encounter the true God that is so important to our lives.

2- The Crucial Crutch –  A relationship with Jesus is often referred to by skeptics as a “crutch”, something that shows our weakness and our neediness.  Check out this video from “Stand To Reason

 

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After resisting the choice to follow Jesus for a while, Rasmus is now “all in” on serving God and living for Him.

I agree with this. A crutch is not a bad thing, especially for the hurting and crippled. In fact, it is needed to get around. It is a life support system. We will all come face to face with the realization that all the things that we do lean on and depend on to help us in life will fail and fall short unless they are God. Only He is faithful and dependable. Other people will fail us, money and possessions will disappear, break, run out, never satisfy. Work and status will not last in this 15-minutes-of-fame world. When we depend on those things, and they let us down, we will fall helplessly down. But God is eternal. His plan is for us to know a full and abundant life here, and an everlasting life with Him after that. Is following Jesus a sign of weakness? Maybe. But as one who is frequently weak and in need of support, that is reassuring, not devastating. Our strength will fail, but we can lean on Him at all times.

3- God is pursuing us – Rasmus’ teammates asked him if he knew Christ. He resisted them at first and tried to live on the fence. He was then traded to a new team. There he met new teammates that were also Christians and they discussed matters of faith with him too. Then his wife became a Christian. And eventually, Colby became a Christian too. It is encouraging to see that God does pursue us. We may turn away from him in one situation but he surfaces again and again to show himself to us and invite us to know Him. Rasmus said in the video that once he chooses to commit to something that he is all in. That is how God is. He is “all in” for each of us. He goes to great lengths so we can see him and when everything else in life lets us down, He is still there loving us and inviting us to the plan he has for us.

 

 

Be Decisive – Tim Bogar – Seattle Mariners

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Mariners Bench Coach – Tim Bogar

I enjoy reading and sharing the stories that you find here at Living Up to My Name. It is great to discover how God is working in the lives of these public figures and connect that to things he is teaching me in my own life. A few times, I have done some “throwback” stories too.  Those are fun for me as they often involve players that I grew up watching and cheering for.  Sometimes, they are doing some really neat things with their lives after sport, and sometimes, their career continues into the coaching realm. That is the case for the subject of today’s post – Tim Bogar who is a bench coach for the Seattle Mariners. He has served as a minor league manager – 3 times winning various league’s Manager of the Year award. He has also served as a base coach, interim Major League Manager and his current role as bench coach as well as several front office positions.  As a player, he appeared on 701 major league games playing all 4 infield positions as well as DH, left field and even 2 appearances as a pitcher.

Bogar played for the New York Mets, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers. But it is a line I read in this article from Sharing the Victory Magazine,  that caught my attention for this blog post. It says “A major league third-base coaching box is no place for the indecisive.” It continues “he draws on his faith in Christ and finds the strength to bravely face each day, each game and each play.

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Bogar as a player – 9 seasons 3 teams at 6 different positions.

In the subsequent interview with Bogar, we can read that his time as a utility player helped him greatly as a coach. He says “I was a utility player, so I spent a lot of time filling in where I was needed and doing whatever it took for my teammates to be ready to play. When I transitioned into coaching, that translated into a natural desire for me to see my players succeed and to do whatever I could to make that happen.”  When asked about the stress of his job, he answered “Being the third base coach and in a highly visible position hasn’t been an easy adjustment for me. I study the book of Romans to remind myself that I can’t allow the judgment of others to change the way I make decisions. My faith helps me deal with both the success and failure of those decisions.” 

Here are my takeaways from Bogar’s story:

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Bogar the infielder getting the put out of Cardinals current manager Mike Matheny

1- No Place to Be Indecisive – The article talks about how as a third base coach, there are times when a decision needs to be made and there is no time for indecision. You are either going to hold the runner at third or send him to try and score. The results of that decision can be strongly tied to the success or failure of the team on any given day. As I thought about it, it reminded me of the moment in Joshua where the time had come to make a decision. Joshua lays it all out as they have settled in the promised land. He calls the assembly together and reminds them of all that God had done to lead them to this place – settled in the land promised to Abraham generations earlier. Then in verses 14 and 15, he issues this challenge “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua made his choice. He was going to serve God. This is the most important decision that we will make in this life and it is not a place where we can be wishy-washy. When we come to understand who God is and that he wants us to serve Him above all else, it is time to pick a side. 

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Bogar the 3rd Base Coach congratulates Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a home run.

2- Running through the Stop Sign – And sometimes, we make our decisions and it is ignored by others. I know that I have seen it countless times when the third base coach puts up a stop sign and the runner ignores it and tries to score. Sometimes it works out, but often the runner is thrown out at the plate. As we live our lives for Him, we also serve to point others to him. Some will see what we are doing and will stop, others will pay no attention to us and keep on chugging. Those who don’t heed our warnings often meet with their doom. But we cannot allow the decisions of others to affect what we are called to do. We must continue to guide others to the ultimate goal – meeting the true Christ and choosing to live for Him.

3- Sometimes we are wrong –  Sometimes third base coaches say stop when their player would have had time to score and sometimes the coach says go and the runner gets thrown out. We make mistakes and our mistakes affect others. But God’s forgiveness is unending and so even when we make a wrong decision, His love and grace extend to that place.  God’s grace truly is amazing and it covers a multitude of bad choices and sins that we commit. Let’s learn from our mistakes, and ultimately the best lesson we can learn from any mistake is that God loves us and offers us forgiveness.

Influence People Positively – Mikie Mahtook – Tampa Bay Rays

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Rays OF Mikie Mahtook

Some stories that I share in these blog posts relate very closely to me and part of my story. It is a point of connection that I feel and the lessons that it drives home for me is the meat of what I write about here. But some stories it is hard for me to wrap my head around. Like the story of Mikie Mahtook, outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays drafted him in the first round of the 2011 draft. He made his MLB debut on April 10, 2015 and has played in 170 MLB games at the time of this writing. Mahtook has known some success in baseball – first team All-American at LSU where he was also a member of their College World Series championship team. But for Mahtook, life at LSU was bittersweet. You see LSU is where his father played college football in the early 1980’s. But as you can read in this article from The Alabama Baptist, tragedy struck in 1994 when Mikie’s dad Michael died of Cardiac Arrest at the age of 32. Mikie was 4 years old. The article continues, sharing how this hardship brought the rest of the Mahtook clan to a stronger relationship with Christ. He says “I wouldn’t be the person I am without [Jesus]. I’ve gone through a lot of heartache. If you don’t have [God] to help you out, it makes it that much harder to get through it.

The result has been a close knit family, a growing relationship with Christ and an opportunity to give back. He has started the Mahtook foundation which raises money for and spreads awareness of heart disease. Check out the website here.  He also plays the game of baseball passionately and with a purpose. He says “I think He put me here to influence other people positively by the way I play, by the person I am and the stage I am on.”

Here are my takeaways from Mahtook’s story

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 15: Mike Mahtook of the Tampa Bay Rays is congratulated by Logan Forsythe #11 after hitting a two-run home run in the sixth inning during an MLB game against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 15, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. All uniformed team members are wearing jersey number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Mahtook has started the Mahtook Foundation to raise money for heart disease which claimed his father when Mikie was 4.

1- A story redeemed free of bitterness. – I really like the story of Ruth in the Bible. It is a great love story that demonstrates the concept of “redeeming” Boaz goes to amazing lengths as the “Kinsman Redeemer” which is one that comes to the aid of a relative in need. He helps Ruth and Naomi who are in need after the deaths of Naomi’s husband and 2 sons leaves her alone and poor. Boaz agrees to marry Ruth and a bi-product of their marriage is their great grandson – King David. It is also an early example of what Christ does for us, coming to our rescue to save us from the trouble sin has brought to our life. But early on in the story, before the happy ending can be imagined, Naomi only sees the negative of her situation. In Ruth 1.20-21, we read “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”  She had allowed her bitterness to take over. This is easy to do. There are lots of things that can make us bitter. From hardships like losing someone to troubles at work to people being mean to us, it can be easy to let bitterness define you like Naomi did. She had lost sight of what God could do.  But God shows up anyway and redeems her story through Boaz and Ruth.  With Mahtook’s story, there is also lots of room for bitterness. But in the articles that I read, there was no sense of that. Instead, there has been a happy ending. He and his family are close to God and to each other. He is not allowing bitterness to define him, but rather sees the opportunities that he has been given to share his story and the importance God has played in his life. Great lesson for all of us to stop and take inventory of God’s work in and around us. There is no room for bitterness when we fill our hearts with gratitude for all God has done.

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Many photos of Mikie Mahtook on line show him with a big smile like this one. He desires to be a positive influence in the lives of those around him by playing hard and carrying a great attitude.

2- Influencing people positively – Mahtook says that he believes God has placed him to “influence other people positively.” As Christians, that is the best that we can hope for. We have so many opportunities to communicate with people that may not share our beliefs. Unfortunately, Christians have a reputation of being negative and looking down on others judgmentally. Don’t mis-read this, we cannot compromise the truth of God’s Word, but we can be cautious in how we present those truths to those who have never encountered our God. We need to remember, like the story of Ruth, that all stories can be redeemed. I like to compare us to a coupon. By ourselves, we are worthless, many coupons say “no cash value” or something like that on them. The only way that they gain value is when they are redeemed. That is our story, too. We are worthless on our own, searching in vain for purpose for our life and coming up empty. We try to fill ourselves up with all kinds of things and none of them, apart from Jesus, give us any satisfaction. But when God shows that He value our life by redeeming it and giving it purpose, we honor Him by sharing the value that He has given us and that he offers to others too. We can be positive influences to those around us when we share the story of our redemption.

 

All Star Special part 3 – Thankful for Many Blessings – Carlos Beltran – New York Yankees

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Yankees All-Star Outfielder Carlos Beltran

Mlb-asg-2016.svgTonight in San Diego, the All-Star game is the main attraction for baseball fans. It also gives me the opportunity to share the story of a guy that I have been considering writing about for many years. With the All-Star game in focus and Yankees Outfielder Carlos Beltran selected to appear in his ninth MidSummer Classic, the pieces have finally aligned.

Beltran came to professional baseball as a second round pick by the Kansas City Royals in 1995. His nine All-Star games show the consistency that he has played with as a pro. Since his debut in September 1998, Beltran has also won 3 Gold Gloves awards, 2 Silver Sluggers, a Rookie of the Year award, over 2000 career hits, and he is the first switch-hitter in baseball history to hit 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases in his career.

Off the field, he has looked for opportunities to encourage young players in their desire to improve baseball skills. He has started the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy.

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Beltran has been selected to appear in his 9th All- Star Game

His resume is very impressive. Unfortunately, sometimes that is where the players we watch in sports tend to stay – defined by their abilities and accomplishments on the field. But like all of us, they face the same questions that we all do about the purpose of life and how to deal with the hard things that come your way.  In fact, when he was with Kansas City, the search for purpose and how to fill the emptiness that he felt in his life led him and his wife to a friend’s Bible study.  As you can read in this article from CBN, Beltran accepted Christ as his savior at the Bible Study. He says “We’re all human beings, born with a little defect, and that little defect is the hole in your heart that can’t be filled by anything except Christ. I was in Kansas City, and everything was good with me and my wife. But something was missing; that was Christ.”

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Beltran, the A.L. Rookie of the Year in 1999. He is the first switch hitter in history to collect 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases.

He continues, saying “He changed me, and He continues to change me,” he says, “because He wants me to be an example for others. I pray every night to God to use me to reach people.”

And a couple years ago, that faith in God would prove vital as he and his family went through the challenge of coping with the loss of an unborn child. All the accolades and successes in baseball can’t prepare you for a loss like that.

You can read the story in this article from breathcast.com. He says “Life took away the blessing of having my first boy. I believe in God and I am thankful for all his many blessings, like my beautiful family, friends, fans and my career.”  This of course both broke my heart and drew me to him by the similarities of our stories which I wrote about my story a month or so ago in a post about Joba Chamberlain.  It is stories like this that remind me that as much as we are tempted to put hero status on these professional athletes, they are simply human beings struggling through life and living out their story just like we are.

Here are my takeaways from Beltran’s story:

Aug 11, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Carlos Beltran (36) celebrates his solo home run in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Beltran is quick to give credit and thanks to God for the blessings in his life – even in hard times.

1- Remember to be Thankful – I attended a leadership conference a few years ago and one of the speakers at the conference said in leadership, we (people in general) are never at risk of being over-thankful. This statement has altered my actions and thought processes as a leader. I hear those words echoing in my mind whenever I have a staff meeting or evaluation to do. Even when I do an assessment of the program I direct and what makes it work I am reminded of these words and I strive to be vocal with my gratitude so that those that I have been placed in leadership over will know that I appreciate them and that they are vital to the successful operation of the program. But I will confess that it is still a work in progress.  Sometimes, the things that need to get done or the changes that need to happen take over and gratitude slips a little. It is even more true when it comes to the gratitude that I owe God for saving my life and presenting me with so much. It is way too rare that I say thanks to God and take time to recognize and acknowledge the difference that his presence makes in my life. Beltran’s words in the face of the pain and grief that he felt with the loss of their baby amaze and challenge me. He took that time to thank God for the life he has and the blessings that he sees. May we all keep our eyes focused so strongly on God so that we can see the way that His presence in our life changes us for the better. May we, like Job, find praise for God on our lips even when facing our hardest challenges because one day with God is better than any number of days without Him.

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Beltran is one of the greatest post-season hitters in history. But there is so much more to his life and story than numbers. God is at work! He is in your life too. Let Him be what defines you!

2- What defines you? – This challenge goes along with the previous takeaway. It is easy to look at Carlos Beltran and all that he has accomplished and think that it must be great to be him. We can consider his Hall-of-Fame worthiness and the role that he has played on many successful teams. We can look at his amazing post-season career. Although he has never been on a Championship team, he is one of the best post-season baseball players in history statistically speaking (.332 batting average in 52 games 16 home runs, 40 RBI). But Beltran himself said it in the CBN article. He had a “pretty good” life, marriage, career, etc. but something was missing. Only Jesus could fill the void in his heart. The same is true for you and me, too. All that we try to turn to to give our lives meaning will fail us and fall short.  Only Christ truly satisfies.

 

All-Star Special – Planning and Flexibility – Matt Wieters – Baltimore Orioles

Mlb-asg-2016.svgAs the All-Star game in San Diego approaches, we are taking a look at the stories of a few players who will likely appear in the game whose faith in God play an important role in their career and life.  The second installment in this mini-series is focused on Orioles Catcher Matt Wieters.

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Orioles All-Star Catcher Matt Wieters

Wieters was drafted #5 overall in the 2007 entry draft. He made his major league debut on May 29, 2009. He was the Orioles primary catcher for his first 5 seasons, before a torn The switch-hitting catcher is a 4 time All-Star, 2 time Gold Glove winner and even has a web-site of “facts” about his amazing life (a la Chuck Norris jokes).  He has been selected to the All-Star team this year on the strength of a .270 batting average, a .761 OPS and near flawless fielding (.991).  A couple years ago, Wieters was voted to start the All-Star game but was unable to play because of an injury. He had only played in 26 games that season, but was playing some of the best baseball of his career. But it was an elbow injury that had taken him out, and would keep him out of baseball for almost a full year. Check out this video from TheIncrease.com where he talks about being a planner by nature and preparing well for what may come, but that sometimes things don’t go as we plan.

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Wieters (with arm in brace) was voted into the All-Star game in 2014. He attended the festivities with his wife and son

My Takeaways from Wieters Story:

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Wieters is the stuff of legends according a web site

1- Planning and Flexibility – These two words would seem to oppose each other a little. When you make a plan, you want to stick to the plan. Wieters says “This life was not meant for us to control it. You’ve got to be able to just say, ‘Whatever Your will is, God… I’ve done what I feel like I need to do to be prepared; would you walk with me the rest of the way?’”  My father-in-law is a youth pastor. He shares three rules that he has for groups he takes on mission trips 1 – be flexible, 2- be very flexible, 3 – be very VERY flexible. When we think we are in control or our plan is the only way, we  tend to learn pretty quickly that we are not correct in that thinking. The Wieters video at one point had these words appear across the screen. “We all live with the illusion that we have the power to control the results”.  This is so true.  It should be obvious to all of us that we are not in control, and maybe at some level it is, but we still try to wrestle whatever control we can from every part of life. We look for the checklist of things to do so that our plan works out and comes to be.  But if our “plan” is anything more than “follow God and trust His results” it will fail.  The best plan we can make is to follow God in everything, to put him first in our life and then trust Him to lead us on the path that He has designed for us to follow. Matthew 6.33 says “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Is your plan flexible enough to change when things don’t go the way you envision?  Do you trust God and His plan?

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Wieters has been part of a resurgent Orioles team that has back in the playoff picture in recent years

2- Undeserved -Wieters planned, he prepared, he worked hard and then baseball was out of the picture for a while. But in that, he saw God at work, connecting him to his wife and son in a way he hadn’t experienced before. He also talks about the humbling experience of being voted in as a starter to the All-Star game. I’ve written posts about how we notice God’s presence in new ways when something else we have been depending on is removed from our life, at least for a while.  Sometimes, we find ourselves asking what we’ve done to deserve this hardship.  The truth is that God does give us something undeserved. It is his unending love and limitless grace. We are sinful and rebellious against God but instead of getting the punishment we deserve, we are given a life of purpose now and a future in God’s presence that will be even more amazing than a baseball All-Star weekend (and it will last longer, too).

You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” —Psalm 16:11