What Can We Do? – Trey Burton – TE – Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles TE Trey Burton celebrates a TD against the Broncos earlier this season.

When I was a young boy, I hated public speaking.  It terrified me. Every year, we would have to do a speech in English class and every year, I dreaded the thought of getting up in front of my class and speaking. When I briefly considered a career as a broadcaster, fear of public speaking seemed debilitating. And while God had different plans for me – I didn’t ever become a broadcaster, He did work on my fear by putting me in front of groups of people, often. In fact, after years of teaching Sunday School, speaking at Summer Camps and even leading staff meetings, I find that what used to make me uncomfortable now energizes me. When God challenges our comfort zones, He also shows up to help us.

Burton, QB Carson Wentz and the Eagles have the best record in the NFL through 10 weeks. They also share a bond of faith in God

Trey Burton doesn’t like public speaking either. But as a pro football player, he has a natural audience that are ready to listen to what he has to say. You can read about his public speaking thoughts in this article he wrote for the increase. But he knows that he has been given an opportunity to point to God’s work in his life.  He says “I’m not the best public speaker. In fact, I don’t like doing it at all, but I know I have to. With the platform God’s given me, I would be doing a disservice to the Kingdom if I did not proactively speak out about my faith.  I truly believe that I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in if it wasn’t for Jesus. I’m not the most talented football player, and I’m not the fastest or strongest. In fact, I can come up with a whole list of reasons why I shouldn’t be in my fourth year in the NFL but here I am. And I will not waste this opportunity.”

Burton was an undrafted free- agent signed after the 2014 draft after a college career at Florida that saw him play many positions. In his first season, he played mostly Special Teams, scoring a touchdown on a blocked punt.  His use on offense has grown each season since. He has 2 touchdown receptions already this season.

“Pastor” Burton baptizes teammate Marcus Johnson at a Hotel pool in Carolina while teammates pray and celebrate.

Off the field, he has shown leadership skills.  This article from ESPN calls Burton the team pastor.  He has baptized teammates in each of the past 2 seasons.  He also has been active in social justice issues.  Check out this Sports Spectrum story that talks about how the Eagles and Redskins used their opening week game to raise awareness and funds for International Justice Mission. He says “I have a heart for the victims of sex trafficking; I want to see justice become a reality for each and every one of them. I can’t fathom why or how individuals are being assaulted daily, forced to do things against their will. We need to continue creating awareness and coordinating events to make sure this is put to an end.”

Burton and wife Ysenia know that God’s plans for them go beyond the football field. They want to use their place to share His love with teammates and fans.

He knows that God has led his family to Philadelphia. He writes in this article for the increaseBefore this season (2016) began my wife Yesenia and I started talking and praying together about what God wanted from us this year. We prayed consistently, knowing that we have a much more important purpose in life than just football. Our faith in Christ means more to us than any type of success I may have on the field, so we wanted to commit my career and love for the game completely over to the Lord, to be used for His Kingdom…We knew that God had brought us to Philadelphia for a reason…we know God has a purpose for us here. So as we prayed this prayer, I remember God clearly telling me that every person on the Eagles would know Him this year—not that everyone would necessarily accept Him into their heart, but they would at least know who He is.

Here are my takeaways from Burton’s story:

1- What can I do? – Often, when faced with the reality of a global issue like human trafficking, we can feel helpless. We find ourselves asking “what can we do?” But that question can be another way too. Not throwing up our hands, defeated saying “What can I do – I’m just one person”. It can also be asked as a call to action – I know the problem exists, and I can’t go back to unknowing it, so what can I do? How can I be part of finding solutions and changing these heartbreaking stories? This issue and question ring close to home for me. My wife is the founder and director of a non-profit that is helping people answer that very question. “What can we do?” Check out Stories Foundation to see what she is doing and what you can do to help out.

Burton (center) with Tyler Ertz and Carson Wentz pray following a game earlier this season.

2- Get Uncomfortable –  I cannot be reminded about this enough.  I have learned that when following God, life will not be comfortable, it will not be easy, it will in fact be so hard that the only way to survive and make it through is to depend on God’s presence and guidance. But following God doesn’t set us up for comfort. Abram, Noah, Joseph, Moses, The Israelites, David, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Esther, The disciples, Mary and Joseph – each of them and countless more in the Bible turned down comfort and ease for challenge and hardship – not by choice, but as a result of the choice to put God first. The examples continue beyond the Bible too, In my own life, the easy, comfortable choice was not the way God was leading me. It is hard to give up that control and trust God’s plan – but it is the best plan to follow. Always!! Burton talked about it, and I agree. Burton says “I believe God calls us to get out of our comfort zone for a reason. It’s during these moments when God truly shows up to work powerfully and miraculously through us to expand His Kingdom. And in these circumstances we have the privilege of experiencing the powerful work of His Holy Spirit within us. Get out of your comfort zone today and experience the power of God at work in and through you.”

Disappointment – Giorgio Tavecchio – K – Oakland Raiders

Raiders kicker Giorgio Tavecchio

Today, I get to shine the Living Up to My Name spotlight on Giorgio Tavecchio. He has had a long, winding road to the NFL where he made his regular season debut this year with the Oakland Raiders.

Born in Milan, Italy in 1990, he moved at a young age to America. He recounts in this article from raiders.com, that his family moved around quite a bit when he was growing up.  He was the kicker for his high school football team and loved it so much that he turned down a scholarship at UC Davis to walk-on as kicker at UC Berkley. He played with the Golden Bears for 4 seasons, finishing 5th on their all-time scoring list.

Tavecchio looks in disbelief at the missed field goal that would make him the target of anger and even hatred from Cal fans.

During his junior year, he and the Bears had a chance to upset No.1 ranked Oregon. He lined up a 24- yard Field Goal in the fourth quarter to take the lead and hammered it through the uprights. But he had taken a short step before the snap and was penalized for a false start. The ball was moved back 5 yards – still a makable 29 yard attempt. But he missed it to the right. Oregon held on to win the game.  Giorgio was blamed. The disappointment of a miss like this could have been enormous. But for Tavecchio, as you can read in this article from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, Tevecchio turned it into a “chance to grow.”He got hateful messages on his Facebook page. He chose to pray for those who clicked “send.“” Disappointment didn’t get the best of him. 

After many seasons of not making the regular season roster, Tavecchio got his chance this season. He hit 4 FG in his debut against the Titans.

And that was probably a good thing as there was more opportunity for disappointment that would come. Tavecchio was not invited showcase his skills at the NFL combine. So it would fall to the Cal pro day to show off his skills. Scouts would come to see all the prospective NFL players at Cal. The Vegas Review Journal recounts the Cal pro day like this “As he warmed up to punctuate the afternoon, rain fell on Berkeley. Scouts flipped up their jacket hoods. They lowered their heads to keep their faces dry. Having seen the top prospects, they left the field and retired to the parking lot…”By the time I was done with my set, maybe 45 minutes later, I had kicked probably 30 field goals, a couple kickoffs,” Tavecchio said. “There was just my team chaplain (Kevin Knox) and a couple teammates.

He was not drafted in the NFL. He went to a tryout for the San Francisco 49ers and earned an invite to training camp. He was cut before the regular season started. He was signed by the Green Bay Packers the next year and the Detroit Lions the following year, and again cut before the season started. The Raiders claimed him a couple days later, but cut him 3 days later. They would sign him in the off-season and cut him before the regular season 3 more times including this season, before bringing him back to replace an injured Sabastian Janikowski. He would finally get his chance. And on opening day this year, he hit 4 Field Goals for the Raiders, 2 of them were over 50 yards – he became the first kicker in NFL history to hit 2 50-yard-or-longer kicks in his debut. Now 8 games into his career (He plays his ninth game this evening), he is 10 of 12 in FGs and 19 of 20 in PAT. It has been a process, but Giorgio has arrived as an NFL kicker.

“When we depend on God we will never be disappointed” Tevecchio said.

Tavecchio talked about praying for the haters that sent him messages when he was in college. Part of the reason that he has been able to go through all the steps in this journey is that he has a great mindset when it comes to facing disappointment. Check out his story from Beyond the Ultimate.  He says “One of the things I’ve really embraced is dependence on God. That takes the pressure off me. Whatever happens on the field is going to happen. But if I trust in God, I will never be disappointed. What I’ve learned has made me into a better person, and I have drawn closer to God. My purpose here is not just football. I have the confidence that He can get me through things as long as I don’t trust in my own capabilities.” 

Here are my takeaways from Tavecchio’s story:

1- Pray for the Haters – In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” We see that lived out in Tavecchio’s story. It is so easy to return anger for anger and hatred for hatred. But that is not the example Jesus lived for us. Instead, he loves and pleads for those who oppose him to turn to Him.  He is not condemning, He is loving. The time for condemnation will come but until it does, He pleads and yearns for all to come to Him and know Him. I’m challenged by this response that Giorgio showed. I know that I get defensive, even if I know that I messed up and it is my fault, I will battle anyone that tries to remind me of that fact. Defensiveness is never the solution. Prayer, humility, love and respect for those who oppose us is much more beneficial and it is what Jesus calls us to.

2- Dealing with Disappointment – Tavecchio has had lots of opportunity to deal with disappointment. Missing a clutch kick that could have led to an upset, no one watching him at his pro day, not getting drafted, getting signed and cut over and over again (6 times!) It would be easy to battle against disappointment. But if we are truly trusting God and His plan, then when things don’t go the best way WE can see, it invites us to trust in God and depend on Him to work it out for us. And when He does, we start to see the depth of his plan and can have confidence that He will lead us through. Let’s let trust trump disappointment.

Do Not Fear – Jared Abbrederis – Detroit Lions WR

Lions WR Jared Abbrederis

It is construction season here in Minnesota. Yes, construction begins as soon as the snow leaves and they can get to work, but this time of year, it seems like things amp up a bit as the crews try to scramble to get as much in as possible. The result is that the routes we take to get where we are going are often slower than we want to travel and occasionally lead us in a completely different direction then we want to go. It is the story of our commute, but it is also the story of our life. Things don’t often go the most direct route. There seems to be times of waiting, unexpected detours and even the occasional fender-bender. The difference between our life (if we know Christ) and our commute is that with Jesus, when we finally get to where we are going, we see that the route we took makes the most sense and turned out to be the perfect path and timing. I don’t ever feel that way about construction traffic.

Abbrederis played college football as a walk-on at Wisconsin

Jared Abbrederis has had a long journey in football. He had success in High School as you can read in this article from whatchristianswanttoknow.com, but it didn’t translate into recruiters beating down his door to play at the college level. At Wisconsin, he went from walk-on quarterback to a top wide receiver in the Big Ten. He owns a few receiving and return records for the Badgers. He was impressive enough in college that the Green Bay Packers chose him in the 5th round of the 2014 draft. He played in 15 regular season and 2 post season games with the Packers before an injury led to his release from the team. The Lions signed him in January and he has been active for 4 games with them so far, hauling in 3 catches.

For Abbrederis, setting out on the new adventure of college was where he truly made the decision to live his life for Christ. You can read his story in his own words in this article from Beyond the Ultimate.  And in this article from the Milwaukee Journey-Sentinel, his first semester at college is described like this.

His first semester in Madison — a campus with a sterling party reputation — Abbrederis said he made decisions he regrets. Nothing too vile. He didn’t spend any nights in jail. Still, Abbrederis admits he was heading in the wrong direction. He partied too much, hung “with the wrong crowds” and felt “empty.” A huge part of someone’s life is your freshman year of college,” he said. “You leave your parents. You leave your community that you had and grow up yourself. … If I didn’t go through that, I don’t think I’d be as strong as I am today.

Here are my takeaways from Abbrederis’ story

1- Do something about it! – Abbrederis shared that he knew he was making some bad choices and was not happy with how college was going so (from the first linked article) “The second semester Jared decided to reach out. He began to participate in college age ministries through Blackhawk Church in Middleton. He also got involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Athletes in Action (AIA), and Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU). He was going somewhere almost every night.  This participation was the beginning that brought new life to his walk with the Lord.”

He saw the issues that were arising and he took action. When we chose to follow God, he allows His Spirit to come and live in us. Part of what the Holy Spirit does is put that voice inside us that triggers when we are making bad decisions. What do we do when we hear that voice suggest that we make a different choice? I know that I can be pretty good at blocking out the voice and carrying on down the path I choose. And often that leads me to a place I don’t want to go. I’m challenged by this part of Jared’s story to take action and listen to the Holy Spirit guide me away from danger and bad choices.

Abbrederis believes God led him to Detroit.

2 – Context is important. I have been learning this over and over again as I study the Bible. I read a passage that contains verses that I have known for much of my life, but to read the whole story of what is happening sometimes magnifies the lessons even more. That is the case for the featured Bible verse in this post tonight. It is a verse that Abbrederis started writing on his arms in High School and continues to reference now as a pro. The verse is Joshua 1.9. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Moses has just been replaced as the leader of the Jews who left Egyptian slavery to go to the Promised Land. Along the way, there have been stumbles by the people, miracles showing God’s power and hard lessons to learn. Joshua takes over as leader, and is preparing to enter the Promised Land. There could be many things to be fearful of. “Will the people listen to Joshua and follow? Will they be ready to trust God? Will they be ready for the battles that may be ahead as they take the land from others? But God’s promise is amazing. “the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

God leads us all on a journey to His Promised life. There will be lots of things that could bring fear and discouragement – it is a constant battle to fight. But He is with us, He will not leave us. Wherever we go, He is there. We can trust in Him and in that promise that He will work things our for our best. Hard times lie ahead, but with God as our guide, we can face those hard times with confidence knowing that He is with us, and He has a promise that He is keeping to lead us to the place He has designed for us. Let’s Go!!

Undersized but Confident – Case Keenum -QB- Minnesota Vikings

Case Keenum – QB for the Minnesota Vikings

I am a New Orleans Saints fan living in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. The Vikings first game of the 2017 season was against my beloved Saints and I heard a lot of reasons why the Vikings would beat the Saints in the opener. And many of the things Vikings fans said came true. The Saints defense was not very good, the Vikings were a team on the rise. In that opening game, Sam Bradford (who I blogged about last season) led the Vikings offense to a comfortable victory over the Saints. So comfortable in fact, that hope began to rise that this could be a special season for the Vikings.

Keenum’s time at Houston was prolific. He is the all time NCAA leader in yards, TDs and completions.

Then it was announced that Sam Bradford would not play in week 2 against the Steelers. Instead, Case Keenum – an undrafted quarterback in his 5th season out of University of Houston where he was the most prolific passer in college football history. He also sustained a torn ACL which is likely why he went undrafted. You can read about that injury and how his faith in God grew through the injury and recovery process in this article from foxsports. Throughout his rehab, he would often pray for God’s help and end his prayer with “I’m going to trust in what Your plan is for me“.

And while the path he took was not the one he would have dreamed up, God did lead him, not just to make it to the NFL but to become a starting NFL quarterback. Over the course of his 5 seasons -he has started 27 games for 3 different franchises. He has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions and despite being smaller than the prototypical NFL quarterback, he keeps getting a crack at leading a team – often due to injury or ineffectiveness of those ahead of him on the depth chart.

Keenum’s accuracy and mobility lead him to a career day against Tampa earlier this season

And with Bradford ailing, the high hopes for the Vikings season landed on Case Keenum. As you can read in this article from Sports Spectrum, he has turned in a couple of solid performances (and a couple that were not as strong). He had the best game of his career 2 week ago against the Buccaneers and came in at half time to lead the Vikings to a come from behind win against the Bears on Monday night.

Over the course of his career, he was signed as a free agent, waived, signed to the practice squad and traded.  He has been a starter, backup and even third string quarterback. He knows that if he were to base the importance of his life on the game of football, he could feel pretty low. He says “You just realize that football is fickle; it’s not going to be there all the time. Just getting my priorities straight and knowing the true reason I play the game, and that’s to give glory to God. That’s something I take pride in. It’s why I do what I do.

His faith in God and its connection to sport comes from his father who, according to this article from lubbockonline is a regional Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) director.  He also has a couple of sisters and a wife that also work for FCA. His dad, who is also a football coach had plenty of Christian Athletes around Case when he was growing up and helped him understand the importance of good character.

Here are my takeaways from Keenum’s story:

Keenum lead a come from behind win over the Bears last Monday night.

1- Confidence –  I titled my post “Undersized but confident”. Confidence is an interesting thing. It is necessary for anyone looking to make it as a pro athlete or really, in any field. There will be plenty of others doubting your ability, you don’t need to be one of them. But there is a line that you don’t want to cross going past confidence to arrogance. It is important to maintain a level of humility.  Humility is often easily found. It comes from things not going according to our plan. For Keenum, it would have been easy to tell everyone “I am the all time NCAA leader is passing yards, completions and touchdowns! It would be really good for you to have me on your team” but instead of being able to rest on those credentials, get drafted early and have a starting job handed to you, Keenum injures his knee. He goes undrafted, he sits on a practice squad, gets cut, gets traded.  His confidence is not in his own ability or in the game of football. It is in God’s plan for his life. That is something that we can strive for too. Because so much of life is beyond our control. The only thing that we CAN have confidence in is Jesus the Savior and God’s perfect plan for our life.

2- Unlikely leader– At every stop in his NFL career, Keenum has come in as the back-up plan – in some cases the third or even fourth option. And yet, at each step along the way, he has become the starter – the man with the dreams of his team and their fan base in his hands. This season is no different, and with Sam Bradford’s knee issue proving to be unpredictable and Teddy Bridgewater not quite ready to return from his own knee injury, again it is Keenum who is guiding the Viking Longboat through the season, trying to improve on last year’s 8-8 record and with the ultimate dream of playing in a Super Bowl in their home stadium. And while there is a lot in the way of that ultimate dream, Keenum has shown the ability to take leadership when given the chance.  The Bible is also full of people who were not the first thought when it came to a leader rising up, and yet they did rise up and lead effectively. I think of Moses, Gideon, and even Paul. People who battled doubt, had rough edges and still God used them to lead. What leadership is He calling you to take? Trust in His plan and lead well!

Faith at Super Bowl LI

Well, the Big Game is almost upon us. The media days are done, the game plans in place and the half-time show rehearsed. The commercials are ready to entertain and amaze us and the spectacle of Super Bowl Sunday has arrived. 12 hours from now, we will likely know the winner, the MVP, the funniest commercial and the buzz around the half-time extravaganza. For many of the players involved, playing in the Super Bowl is a dream come true. Some have realized that dream over and over again – the Patriots are making their 7th appearance over the past 15 years.

I have written blog posts about some of the players who will appear in the game.  If you are interested in checkin those out, here is the list – simply click on their names.

From the Patriots…

Devin McCourty, Marcus Cannon, Matthew Slater, Duron Harmon and Nate Solder at Super Bowl XLIX and Slater again from Super Bowl XLVI

From the Falcons…

Jacob Tamme (injured this time around)

And CBN does a great job each season of sharing stories and quotes from several of the Christian players on both teams. Here is their feature for Super Bowl 51. This year’s video features: from the Falcons: rb Davonte Freeman; DT Grady Jarrett; LB Vic Beasley; WR Taylor Gabriel; G Ben Garland

from the Patriots: G Nate Solder; S Devin McCourty; DB Duron Harmon; DE Rob Ninkovich; WR Matthew Slater

I will be sharing a couple more stories about players involved in the Super Bowl tomorrow on my facebook page  so be sure to check those stories out, too.

As for the game itself – well, it is a tough one. I know a lot have people I have talked to are hoping for the upset and that the Falcons can pull it out.  For some reason, I am not with them though. I think the Patriots will raise the trophy at the end of the Night. let’s say 27-21 Patriots. Enjoy the game everyone!