World Series Special – Part Two – New York Mets 1986

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“The Kid” is one of my favorites ever. His smile and passion for Baseball made it hard not to cheer him on.

I mentioned last time that I think the Royals Cardinals series is the first one I remember watching with interest.  The very next year, I was very engaged in the World Series.  I had become a fan of the Boston Red Sox and wanted to see them win.  It was looking good until a certain play that we won’t mention that led to an improbable game 6 win for the Mets.  They would win game 7 too and break the hearts of Red Sox fans again.  But I was conflicted.  I was a Gary Carter fan from his days with my other favorite team – the Expos.  So I was glad to see him come away a champion.

Let’s take a look at some of the members of the 1986 Mets and their stories of faith in God and the difference He has made in their lives.  There are some amazing stories here!

Catcher- Gary Carter

Carter struggled against the Houston Astros in the NLCS, but picked up his game in the World Series.  He hit .276 with 2 home runs.  You can read the post I wrote about him shortly after his death in 2012.  He was my first ever favorite player and I am glad to share the story of the great man of God that he was.

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Aguilera was the winning pitcher in the famous Game 6.

Relief Pitcher Rick Aguilera

Aguilera appeared in 2 games in the World series.  He was not great in the series, pitching 3 innings and posting a 12.o0 ERA, but he was the winning pitcher in the now classic game six win. He would go on to win another World Series with the 1991 Minnesota Twins.  He is a member of the Twins Hall of Fame. Check out thegoal.com to read what he has to say about following God.

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Doc Gooden dominated baseball for many years.

Starting Pitcher Dwight Gooden

One of the best in his era, Gooden burst on the scene as a 19 year old in 1984 winning the Rookie of the Year.  He not only avoided a sophomore slump, but his second year is one of the most dominating season by a pitcher in recent history. 24-4, 16 complete games, 1.53 ERA. And the next season, he was part of the 86 champs – his first of 3 World Series rings in his career.  Despite his dominance, he never won a post season game (0-4 in his career including 2 losses against the Red Sox in `86).  He had some well known off field issues with drugs and alcohol.  Gooden is now cleaned up and sober.  He has written a memoir that I will read soon.  But for now, here is a video of Gooden talking about his book and his recovery.  At about the 15 minute mark, Gooden talks about the important role God plays in his daily life.

 

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Mets Superstar Outfielder Darryl Strawberry

Outfielder Darryl Strawberry

Another story of fame and fortune taking its toll on a young player, Darryl Strawberry also has battled addiction and poor choices.  He was an 8 time All-Star, 4 time World Series Champ, He was rookie of the Year in 1983.  He struggled in the `86 World Series, hitting just a hair over .200.  He would go on to win 3 more rings with the Yankees mostly as a bench player.  But at his peak, he was one of the most feared hitters in baseball.  He led the National League in home runs once and hit more than 25 in a season nine times.  Since his retirement and through his struggles off the field, Strawberry has turned his life around.  He is now an ordained minister and along with his wife Tracy, has started  Strawberry Ministries, which exists “to restore lives and relationships”.  They have a rehabilitation center to help people battle addiction and share the change God has made in their lives. Here is Darryl sharing his story with CBN

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Mets backup catcher Ed Hearn

Catcher – Ed Hearn

Gary Carter was a super star, but being a catcher is hard on the body so every team needs a back up catcher.  That is the role that Ed Hearn played  as a rookie for the `86 Mets.  He was the only player on the roster that did not get an appearance in the World Series.  After the `86 season, Hearn would play only 13 more games in the Majors.  According to his Wikipedia page, he is the only player in baseball history “to win the championship in A ball, AA ball, AAA ball, and in the Major leagues in 4 consecutive years with the same franchise”.  His retirement from baseball came due to illness.  As you can read in this story from the Utica Observer Dispatch, Hearn’s time away from baseball has been filled with pain, pills and medical intervention helping him deal with 3 kidney transplants and other medical problems.  He talks about his his faith in God and reading the bible are vital to his battle with his health. Check out these videos of Hearn speaking at churches and conferences.

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Barry Lyons lost his job as Gary Carter’s backup to Ed Hearn early in the 1986 season. 20 years later he would lose almost everything as a victim of Hurricane Katrina. But from the loss Lyons found purpose in life.

Catcher- Barry Lyons

Ed Hearn was not the only “other” catcher on the Mets roster.  There was also Barry Lyons.  Lyons also made his Major League debut in 1986, playing in 6 games with the Mets.  He did not make the post season roster and in fact did not register a hit for the Mets all season, but was given a World Series Ring.  Lyons played on 253 games over 7 Major League seasons.  After his career ended in 1995, Lyons settled in Biloxi, MS – his hometown. However his World Series ring and much of his memorabilia would be destroyed along with his house in Hurricane Katrina. That event and its aftermath, including the suicide of his brother would lead Lyons into a very dark time in life.  He turned to drugs and alcohol, but they did not solve the pain he felt.  As you can read in this article from NY Daily News, he went to a faith based rehab center and it changed his life.  He now speaks about that changed life wherever he can.

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Howard Johnson (20) awaits Ray Knight and the winning run in the Classic Game 6

Third Baseman – Howard Johnson

HoJo came to the Mets in 1985, just one year removed from winning a World Series ring with the `84 Tigers.  But despite playing in 116 regular season games, he would record only one post season plate appearance – reaching on an error as a pinch hitter in the final game.  In `86, he saw more plate appearances (5 over 2 games) but remained hitless in his World Series career.  He would play in the majors for 13 seasons.  He was a 2 time All-Star and 3 time 30-30 man.  But off the field, Johnson’s career began with a choice to honor God through faith.  As you can read in this article from the  St.Petersburg Times from June 1980, Johnson made a focus of his life studying God’s word and leading the team chapel meetings.  He talks more about his journey in this story from the Chicago Tribune 

 

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Teuffel (11) and others watching the action from the bench

Second Baseman Tim Teufel

Here is some trivia for you.  What does the word Teufel mean in German?  Answer – Fiend, demon devil. Ironic that someone with that last name is mentioned in a post about Christian Athletes. He played in 2 games in the World Series, batting .444 and hitting 1 home run.  Check out his story from TheGoal.com.  In it we can read about how in 1991, Teufel understood the gift that Jesus was offereing.  He accepted Christ as his Savior.  He is back with the Mets this year as Third Base Coach, hoping for another World Series Ring.

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One of the most famous moments in World Series History. Mookie Wilson says he would have beaten it out even if Buckner fielded it cleanly.

Outfielder Mookie Wilson

The man who hit the famous Buckner Ball, Mookie Wilson came into the game as a pinch hitter.  He hit .269 in the series, with 3 stolen bases.  Check out this story from NY Times which Mookie talks about how even if Buckner caught the ball, Mookie would have beat him to the base.  He also talks about the struggles of Major Leaguers to make the right choices and about becoming a pastor.  You can also read this article about the relationship that Mookie and Buckner have now on the speakers circuit reliving their famous moment and also sharing about their common faith in God.

The Series is under way.  What magic will this year hold?  How will those involved be linked to each other and baseball history? Only time will tell.

 

 

World Series Special – Part One – Kansas City Royals – 1985

Numbers and trivia have always interested me.  And so I may be the only person on the planet that cares, but I find it enormously interesting that this season’s World Series will pit against each other 2 teams who last won the World Series in back to back years in the mid 80’s  (Royals in `85, Mets in `86) And so in tribute to their history, check out part one of my three part series on this years World Series as I look at the faith stories of some members of the 1985 Royals today.  Tune in next time for a look at the `86 Mets and then later this week as I point to the stories of the men on both teams that will play against each other this year.

First, to the `85 Royals.

Catcher – Jim Sundberg

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Sundberg slides in under Darrell Porter’s tag to send the 1985 World Series to game 7

Over his career, he would be named to 3 All-Star games.  He was a 6 time Gold Glove winner and is a member of the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.  He hit .250 in the `85 World Series, with his most notable moment being the winning run he scored in game six on a perfect slide to beat the throw from Cardinals outfielder Andy Van Slyke (whose son Scott I blogged about last season).  Sundberg’s run sent the series to game seven which Kansas City won 11-0.  In game 7, they took an 11-0 lead by the 5th inning.  They knew the victory was won, they simply had to wait until the final out for the true celebration.  Here is Sundberg talking about how that game is like our life as Christians.  We know the victory is won, we are simply anxiously waiting the final out so the real party can begin.

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Dan Quisenberry and his “Down Under” delivery.

Relief Pitcher Dan Quisenberry –

He was the winner of the above mentioned game 6.  He pitched in 4 of the 7 World Series games.  This was not his first trip to the World Series.  He pitched in all 6 games of the 1980 World Series with the Royals, winning 1 and losing 2 as the Royals were defeated by the Phillies in 6 games.  He was known for his unique pitching style – he was the first “submarine” pitcher that I remember seeing in my lifetime.  And he was quite successful with it.  He was the first player to record 40 saves in a season, he led the American League in Career saves from 1987 until 1992 when he was passed by Jeff Reardon.  He was a 3 time All-Star and a 5 time Relief pitcher of the Year and in 1998, he was elected to the Royals Hall of Fame. After baseball he became known for his poetry and his witty quotes.   And as you can read in this article from Miscbaseball.com, he was a man of strong faith in God which helped as he battled and ultimately lost the battle with Brain Cancer in 1998.  Teammate John Wathan recounts the story of the news of his diagnosis.  He said ““One of the things I will remember most is back when he was diagnosed, someone asked him if he ever thought to himself ‘Why me?’ And his response was ‘Why not me? I’ve got just as good a chance to get through this as anyone else because of my faith in God.’ Through this whole thing, Quiz never once felt sorry for himself.” And while he was not able to beat the cancer, he was outspoken about his faith in God until the end.

Here is a look at his famous delivery.

I remember watching a couple games from the 1984 World Series and the Tigers winning it all.  But the first Series that I really remember watching all the way through was the 1985 series.  It has been a great trip down memory lane for me as I looked into this series and discovered these stories.  Up next will be looking into the stories of several of the New York Mets and seeing how God has worked in their lives.

 

Filled with Joy – James Jones – Seattle Mariners

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Mariners Outfielder James Jones

There used to be a commercial that told us “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”.  Seattle Mariners outfielder James Jones may not be familiar with that old ad, but he did make a strong impression with the Mariners when he was first called up in April of 2014.  He got a hit in his first major league at bat – an infield single.  And despite a brief return to the minors, Jones would have his name in the Mariners history books before the end of May.  He became the only Mariner to record a hit in each of his first 13 major league starts.  Not bad for a guy who was undrafted and barely recruited out of high school.  He played college ball at Long Island University in Brooklyn – close enough to home, as you can read in this article from ESPN, that his family could watch his games and he could remain active in his church. Drafted in the 4th round of the 2009 draft as a pitcher with a mid 90’s fastball.  He converted to outfield after the draft and hasn’t looked back.  He played over 100 games last season and split this year between AAA and Seattle.

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A Pitcher at Long Island University, Jones converted

As you can read in this article from the Alabama Baptist, Jones sees baseball as a great way to show God to others.  He says “Your relationship with Christ should just ooze out of you naturally to where it becomes a catalyst with other people… I am a light where everything I do is a reflection of my relationship with Christ. … My goal is for people to see Christ in me.”  a  His teammates sense that passion for God.  One said “The way he walks around all the time and just the joy that he has. If I could describe him in one word it would be joy. He is always joyful, always smiling. As the Scripture says you will know them because of their joy.”

Here are my takeaway from Jones’s story

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Jones, on right with Teammate Logan Bawcom and a young camper. Jones loves sharing what God is doing in his life with teammates and people who look up to him.

1- The Best Gift – What is the best gift you have ever received?  I asked that question at the after school program I direct and the answers were fascinating.  Most said some kind of electronic device, but some, as this question was being asked during our daily Bible lesson time gave answers like “life”, “family” and “God”.   The lesson for the day was Romans 6.23 which says “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” It is a verse that I know I memorized at a young age, but only a careful consideration of each word in the verse really awakens the depth of what it means.  We deserved death – separation from God that is unending.  That is what we earn for our defiance of God, our rebellion and our inherited sinfulness.  It is a desperate situation that we are powerless to deal with on our own.  Which is why the second part of the verse is so jaw-droppingly amazing.  We deserve death, but God offers us LIFE!  He offers a life that is also unending.  It gives purpose for our life on this earth and promises a better life to come in a place more beautiful and amazing than we can imagine, and is without pain, suffering, sorrow, death.  It will last forever!

Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, left, and Seattle Mariners' James Jones both look for the call after Jones stole second base in the second inning of a baseball game Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Jones safely steals second against the Astros (with both teams wearing some awesome throwbacks) Speed has been a big part of Jones’ game.

Let that contrast settle for a minute.  That is what God accomplished for us when Jesus died on the cross.  He made a way to offer that gift of life to us.  Our role?  Like any gift, we are simply asked to accept it – to receive it.  When we admit that we need a Savior and believe that Jesus IS that savior and choose to life for Him we will be saved (Romans 10.9). We all like to receive gifts.  As a father of 3 amazing young girls – there is little in life more joyful than receiving a gift.  So as we consider the gift God has given to us – the only logical response is to be filled with joy.  Psalm 51 talks about the “joy of my salvation” Think about what Christ has done for you!  Deserving of death and separation from God, He made a way to offer the gift of life.  When we start to understand that our sin means we deserve death but Christ made it so we could know life instead.  Even on our most rotten days, that fact can bring us joy!

2- A Joy Known is a Joy Shared – We read from the articles that Jones is excited to be in relationship with Jesus.  He avidly reads his Bible and as you can see from this post on Mariners teammate Logan Bawcom’s facebook page, Jones is excited to share his testimony at a youth baseball camp.  When we realize the gift we have been given of life instead of our deserved death, it makes sense to tell others about it.  After a birthday or Christmas celebration, a commonly asked question is “what did you get?” And even if the question is not asked, we are often so excited, we are ready to share with anyone who will listen.  How much more should we be ready to share about this amazing gift of life that God offers us.  Not only can it make an eternal difference in the lives of those who hear us share our story, but it will also build our joy as again and again, we are reminded that God is really good and He really went to these great lengths to offer this amazing gift to us.  Who is He leading you to share your story of His goodness with?  Batter Up!

Leaning on Others – Kirk Nieuwenhuis – New York Mets

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Mets Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis

In April 1972, recording artist Bill Withers released the now classic song “Lean on Me” which made Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the top 500 songs of all time at #205.  You likely are familiar with the song, but in case you have never heard the Withers song, or any of the many remakes and cover versions, part of  the lyric goes as follows:

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

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Yankees and Mets met in 2000 World Series. Both teams are playoff bound again. Will they meet again?

As baseball season is winding down, there is nothing new about meaningful games being played in New York. The Yankees are always at or near the top of the heap.  But for the first time in almost a decade, relevant baseball is being played in both Major League parks in the city.  The Mets will make an appearance in the post-season for the first time since 2006 and just the second time since back to back trips in ’99 and 2000.  One of the role players on the Mets this year is Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis and the above song came to mind as I read this article from Asuza Pacific University.  In it we read about APU grad and New York Mets outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis talking about living a Christian  life in the Majors.

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Nieuwenhuis hits 3 home runs in a single game earlier this year.

Nieuwenhuis was drafted by the Mets in the third round of the 2008 draft.  He played well at each stop in the minors and was called up to the Mets on April 7, 2012 and would play in 91 games for them that season.  He would be up and down between majors and minors for the next couple of seasons before the Mets dealt him to the Angels.  17 days later, the Mets claimed him on waivers and returned him to their roster. He caught national attention earlier this season with a 3 home run game.  And while he remains a bat off the bench, his contribution to the team has been significant off the field.  As you can read in the APU article, he has emerged as a faith leader on the Mets. He has taken on a leadership role in team Bible Studies.  Mets team chaplain Tom O’Connor says “Kirk understands that a fruit-bearing Christian continually matures, and he’s committed to becoming stronger in his walk. He’s not afraid to let others know what he believes.”

Kirk says “There aren’t many Christians in this arena, so you learn to lean on one another. You learn to become a leader, especially when there aren’t many who are willing to step up to the plate. It’s a blessing being able to do that.”

Here are my stories from Nieuwenhuis’ story

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Nieuwenhuis discusses how as Christians we need to lean on each other and on God when challenges come along.

1- Lean on Me – Part of the joy and responsibility of living as a Christian is seeing the needs of those around us and helping see those needs met.  The song Lean on Me really points to what living in community is really about.  Sometimes we are the ones in need of help and sometimes we will be the ones who will be called on to help.  Sometimes we are the leaners and sometimes we are the support for others.  Galatians 6.2 implores us to bear one another’s burdens.  It is so easy to get caught up in our own thing and not see what others may be going through around us.  But God calls us to go through this life with open eyes.  Eyes that will see how He has been at work in our lives and eyes to see the needs around us –  Needs ranging from practical needs to the greatest need that we all have – understanding our need for a Savior and realizing that Jesus is the only one that can help us.  As we take Jesus with us everywhere we go in life, He can use us to show his love to others.

2- Whose side are you standing on – I like the idea of faith nights – the nights when the faith community is invited to hear players from the hometown team talk about how God has been working in their lives.  As you can read in this article from a Youth Ministry Bulletin Board, Nieuwenhuis is mentioned as one of the 3 members of the visiting Mets team that participated in the Pirates faith night.  What a demonstration that fellowship is stronger than competition.  To erase the lines of opposition and stand along side of fellow believers for this event is another reminder that God is bigger than baseball.  To have the connection with other players on other teams and share the common bond of faith shows us that there is a greater purpose to life than what the world sees and expects.  We can stand with other believers despite our differences and share a bond of faith.

3- Step Up – Nieuwenhuis talks about his role as a Bible Study leader and Chapel attendee.  As he talks about taking this leadership role, he says it is important to “learn to become a leader, especially when there aren’t many who are willing to step up to the plate. It’s a blessing being able to do that.   When we follow God, and he is the most important part of our life, He will often call us to step up and lead.  Where has God placed you?  How can you lead others to Him in the places where He has placed you?

Being a Blessing to Others – Adam Conley – Florida Marlins

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Marlins pitcher Adam Conley

I enjoy blogging. It is so fun for me to learn and share these stories of athletes and how God is at work in and through them.  I like to connect with the stories personally too.  To see how their stories are relevant to what is going on in my life is a tribute to God’s grand design.  And it is an extra treat when I can find a professional athletes with a blog or active twitter account.  It is a great way to connect with the human side of them and remember that there is more to them than a name and number on a jersey for our favorite team.  It offers a great insight into life outside of the spotlight.  I have written about Jeremy Affeldt and his great blog.  I’ve written about football player Benjamin Watson whose blog is also a great read.  And now I’ve found another one.  It is the blog of Kendall Conley, wife of Florida Marlins pitcher Adam Conley.  I stumbled across her blog from her twitter account and the first post I read was this one  about a house they are considering purchasing.   What caught my attention and connected with me was the way she talked about the decision they had.  She writes “(we) talked over the potential purchase of our very first home and what it would look like to glorify and honor to God through it”

This week, at my church’s Wednesday night kids program, I spoke of God’s blessing.  I came across a story I had never noticed before.  The story is from 2 Kings 7.  There is this group of 4 lepers who are living by the city gate.  It is during a time of serious famine.  These men essentially say “If we stay here, we die.  We could go into the city, but there is no food so we will die there too. Or we could go to the enemy camp and surrender.  If they spare us, we live, if they kill us, we are going to die here anyway so we have nothing to lose.” So they decide to go.  Imagine their surprise when they arrive at the enemy camp and find it abandoned.  The enemy army left and left in a hurry. They have left behind food, wine, gold, silver, horses and other livestock.  It is a jackpot for these lepers.  They decide to hide their bounty, but as they are doing sp, they decide that this is not right.  They know their city is in trouble and so they report back to the king.  And the people are saved.

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Conley with his wife and daughter. It was her blog that brought this story to my attention.

The lesson God showed me through this story (and that we see so many other places in Scripture) is that God blesses us so that we can bless others.  When we hold onto God’s blessing and don’t share it, we miss out.  These lepers found this stuff and consider keeping it all for themselves.  But in the end, they decide to share with others and many more are blessed by this miraculous provision.

I love that as the Conley’s are trying to decide on a home to buy that their consideration includes how they can serve God with their house. They know that God has blessed them and they are looking for ways to share that blessing.  And I believe that God will bless them for their desire to serve him through their house.

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An injury in college led Conley to become a Christian. He saw baseball as something temporary and wanted something more permanent to pin his hopes to.

Conley was drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft by the Florida Marlins.  He made his big league debut in June of this year and has pitched well for the Marlins thus far.  4-1 in 12 games with almost a strikeout per inning pitched.  As you can read in this article from The Daily Evergreen, Conley became a Christian a few years ago when he broke his pitching hand.  He says “Baseball was basically my idol in life and when it was taken away, I had a glimpse of what that feeling was going to be like when baseball goes away.  It scared me. I knew I needed to hold onto something more permanent.”    That permanence that he was looking for he found in God.  And quickly, he noticed how the off-field decision was impacting his entire life, even his on-field performances.

He closes the article saying “You fail so much in this game, that if you are afraid to fail it’s going to become a really tough game”. I think this is a great lesson for life, too.  This life will be filled with let downs, failures and disappointments.  But God loves us no matter what.  He may lead us to do some crazy things – things that seem like failure is probable, but if we go fearlessly into the plan God calls us to, we will see Him at work in both the successes we see and the failures.

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Conley has pitched well in his first season with the Marlins

Here are my takeaways from Conley’s story.

1- Failures happen -Conley talks about how being afraid of failure limits your effectiveness as a baseball player.  It can limit our willingness to follow God, too.  If we are scared of failure, then we are either doubting God or trying to do thing in our own ability.  When God calls us to do something, following him through this call is success – Even if it looks to the world like failure.  We may fail by the world’s standards but connecting with God and building a stronger dependence on Him is success.  And when we try to go on our own strength, and fail, we can learn from that and see God turn that into success too.

2- Looking to Bless Others –  The Conleys are so open about praying for wisdom – and desiring to be good stewards of  their resources and use their space for God’s purposes. God has given us so much – things, talents, strength, life.  How can we use what He has given us to us for His purposes?  A big part of the blessings we receive is sharing it with others.