Throwback Thursday Thanksgiving Edition – Steelers vs. Colts – Donnie Shell (S) and Hunter Smith (P)

imgresHappy Thanksgiving everyone!

To celebrate the day, it is time for a Throwback Thursday post where I will focus on former players from both teams that face off in the final game of the day. Today, we look into the stories of Steelers safety Donnie Shell and Colts punter Hunter Smith.

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Steelers Safety Donnie Shell

Donnie Shell – S – Pittsburgh Steelers 1974-1985

Shell had an outstanding career on the football field.  He was selected to 5 Pro Bowls, 3 All-Pro teams and was a member of three Super Bowl Championship teams with the mighty “Steel Curtain” defense that dominated the era of football. He played 201 career NFL games, all with the Steelers. He was a ferocious hitter on defense and for that skill was given the nickname “Torpedo”. According to Wikipedia, he now serves as the Director of Spiritual Life at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC.

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Donnie “Torpedo” Shell was a fierce hitter who was a part of the Steel Curtain defense

But one of my favorite parts of Shell’s story is the hard hitting impact he made on a young teammate in 1977. Shell’s new roommate at training camp was an undrafted defensive back named Tony Dungy. As you can read in this article from billygraham.org, Shell played an important role in Dungy choosing to live his life for Christ. Dungy was a quarterback in college and was learning a new position in the NFL so he was with Shell a lot, learning how to be a defensive back. He calls Shell “probably the most on-fire Christian guy I had ever met at that point in time” Shell shares the story like this:

CANTON, OH - AUGUST 06:  Tony Dungy (R), former NFL player and head coach, poses next to his bronze bust with friend and former NFL player, presenter Donnie Shell (L), during the NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on August 6, 2016 in Canton, Ohio.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Shell (L) presented Tony Dungy (r) for induction into Hall of Fame. Shell also talked faith with Dungy and helped Dungy choose to live for God.

“He (Dungy) really thought he wasn’t going to make the team. I saw the concerned look on his face. And I said, ‘Well, you know, maybe in this instance you’re putting football before God and before the things He wants you to learn from what you’re going through.” Dungy responded “‘Man, I never thought about that. “His testimony about that is in the first book he wrote, about how that moment turned his life around spiritually and helped put his priorities in order.”

You can read more about Torpedo’s story here.

My takeaway from Shell’s story is this:

You Never Know the Role You’ll Play– The story on Tony Dungy talks about the many people that influenced Dungy in his Christian Walk. Donnie Shell was one of those people. Here was a guy he was just meeting, someone who was looking to make an NFL team. And Shell suggests that maybe football is not the most important thing that Dungy should be focussed on. Maybe God is trying to show him a lesson. We are great at making up excuses. I know that I am. It is easy to find reasons to back-burner our faith around others. But there are many examples of people who didn’t shy away from these conversations – people who put God first in everything and that means talking openly about Him and the role He plays in their lives. God has a path laid out for us and it is not simply a path to get us from point A to point B. It is also full of opportunities to share what God is doing with others around us. Are you ready to “give reason for the faith that is in you” (1 Peter 3.15). Dungy has become one of the most outspoken Christians in the sports world. He has mentored others (Michael Vick for example) on the field and in Spiritual Life. And God used Donnie Shell to help bring this to be. Who is God calling you to share your faith with? How could God use them to reach others? Let’s not shy away, let’s let the world know why Jesus is our Lord.

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Colts Punter Hunter Smith kicking in Super Bowl XLI.

Hunter Smith P Indianapolis Colts 1999-2008

Hunter Smith punted for the Indianapolis Colts for a decade. He finished his career with 2 seasons in Washington. He was named to the 1999 All-Rookie Team and won a Super Bowl with the Colts in 2006. He is the only Special Teams player in NFL history to score a rushing TD and a passing TD in the same season.

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Smith’s post football career is singing with Hunter Smith Band

And like Shell, Smith’s off the field life also deserves some mention. He is an author having released a book called “The Jersey Effect”. The goal of the book is to “provide a proper perspective on sports. God has more for us than just sports. Our culture says sports is everything, but God says He is everything. We are trying to direct people to a healthy relationship with God“.  He is a singer songwriter with Connorsvine and now with the Hunter Smith Band. Read about the story of his careers here. Check out his musical skills.

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Smith played with the Colts for a decade

A career in the NFL means lots of travel, living out of suitcases and so a transition to country/rock band may be easy enough to do, but as you can read in this interview with Beliefnet, Hunter Smith got to live out a band tour experience traveling with Christian Band Third Day. Smith says “It was not a musical thing. It was just a spiritual thing for them as a band. They asked me to come on and lead them in Bible studies and kind of be a tour pastor–sort of Bible study leader for them. I did that a few times with them.”

And while he enjoyed playing football and he enjoys playing music, that is not where he finds his identity. This is a lesson that was driven home after winning the Super Bowl in Feb 2007.  From an Indy Star article Smith realized quickly after winning the big game against the Chicago Bears in Miami that the glory was short-lived.“Can the Colts repeat in 2007?” reporters began asking the next day.“I thought, ‘Wait a minute. Can we repeat?’ ” Smith said. “We just won. Can’t we just stop and celebrate this one?”Smith had what he calls an epiphany on the flight back to Indianapolis.“This doesn’t last. There are things in life that last. And this is not one of them,” he said. “I learned about the temporal things of this earth a lot more and the eternal things. Family and God.”

My takeaway from Smith’s story

What Really Matters?- I think this is a great thing to remember and remind ourselves of daily. We get so caught up focussing on stuff that doesn’t really matter. We convince ourself that we will be so much better off if this or that happens but when it does, it is fleeting, unsatisfying and we start looking for the next thing. I think I am going to write it on signs in my car, on my desk at work, on my closet door at home – Three simple words – “What Really Matters?” This thing, whatever it may be, does it matter? Is it forever? If not, it is time to readjust the focus back to God.

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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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

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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.

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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...”

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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.” 

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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:

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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.