Modern Monday – a review of Rob Maaddi’s “Baseball Faith”

Baseball Faith by Rob Maaddi 

Baseball season is winding down and my goal of blogging ever Monday and Thursday has fallen a little short as well. That being said, I am only four teams away from blogging about someone on each of the 15 National League teams.

Earlier this year, I bought a copy of Rob Maaddi’s book Baseball faith. In this book, 52 players, past and present reflect on their faith in God. Maaddi gives each of them 4 pages, a photo, career highlights and stats, a favorite bible verse and a brief summary of faith in God as it is seen in their lives. I referenced the book earlier this summer with my post on Ender Inciarte. So to finish up the season and to give some credit to Maaddi for his book, I offer this four-pack of players stories from “Baseball Faith”

Marlins Catcher J.T. Realmuto

1- J.T. Realmuto – Florida Marlins (key verse – James 4.7)

Submit yourself then to God. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.

Realmuto talks about the struggle to remain humble, especially in baseball where fame and recognition from others are part of the deal. He says “...it’s extremely important to be humble and understand that all of this is just a small part of what we do…We need to stay humble, stay low-key and not buy into all the fame and the things of this world.” How does Realmuto accomplish this? “Reading the Bible every day and getting into the Word fulfills things throughout your body and your soul that you can’t get anywhere else”

Takeaway –

The devil is sneaky. He will hit us up with both ends of the spectrum. He will tell us we are the best and that other should bend over backwards for us because we are so cool. And then the next breath, he will tell us we are worthless and useless, unlovable and awful human beings. Staying in the Word is important because it will help us identify the lies of the devil and fill our hearts and minds with God’s truth. And one key truth is in the verse that Realmuto shared – With God’s power alive and active in us as believers, when we resist the devil, he will flee from us. Keep your eyes focussed on God and let His truth fill you.

Nationals minor league infielder Brandon Snyder

2-  Brandon Snyder – Washington Nationals (Key verse – Matthew 6.34) “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day  has enough trouble of its own

The son of a former Major League pitcher, Brian, and former first round draft pick (#13 overall 2005) Brandon Snyder. The 30 year old has 120 pro games on his resume mostly as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement. He discusses Matthew 6.34 saying that as a baseball player, you often think about tomorrow and what you have to do to keep your career going, to become a better player. He says “If you realize that you can give it to God, not worry about tomorrow and let Him lead you, that takes a lot of anxiety away and lets you be yourself. ”

Takeaway – Above I mentioned a couple ways that the devil tries to mess with us. Worry is another one. He will try to show us all the things that could possible go wrong and tries to paralyze us with fear so we are less effective in our witness. Jesus knew that would be a ploy of his enemy. And so during his time on Earth, to help us with this, he invited us not to worry. The verse before this one reminds us to seek God’s kingdom above all else and focus on the things He is doing. He promises to provide for our needs and work in our lives.  It is a challenge, but God is our provider. Take some time to see how He has been at work in your life, that He is always faithful, and accept this invitation not to worry about the things that are not in your control anyway. Instead, trust the one who IS in control to take care of you and meet your needs.

Mets lefty Steven Matz

3- Steven Matz – New York Mets (key verse 1 Thessalonians 4.11-12)

And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Matz, a lefty who the Mets chose in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft set a team record for most RBIs in a major league debut with 4. Not bad for a pitcher! Over his 3 year career, he has had some great games (taking a no-hitter into the 8th inning against the Padres) offset by some injury woes.  But he is still young and has shown a lot of promise. In regards to his key verse, he says  “…(at) this level, there is a lot of demand for your attention and sometimes you want to blow people off. But this verse tells me to mind my own business, work hard and be humble.

He continues “When I realized it wasn’t a matter of being a good person or a bad person, that’s when I became a better person because I realized I didn’t have to work my way or earn my way (to heaven). Once I recognized that (Jesus loves me)…my mindset has been completely different.”

takeaway – This is where baseball and life of faith differ. In baseball, there is a constant need to prove yourself. A baseball career can be over in the blink of an eye if the statistics are not good enough. If you are fortunate enough to make it to the majors, you have to work every day to keep you place because someone is looking to take your spot away from you as they strive to fulfill their own dream. I am so glad that God doesn’t work that way. Not only do we not have to earn our way to forgiveness and salvation, we CAN’T earn it. The bible tells us that the absolute best that we can do is nowhere near good enough. Isaiah 64.6 tells us that all of our righteousness (efforts to do right) are like filthy rags. We have the work of being obedient, but the only way we reach right standing with God is through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Phillies slugging third baseman Maikel Franco

4- Maikel Franco – Philadelphia Phillies (key verse – John 14.6)

Jesus answered “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”

Maikel Franco is a power hitting third baseman that the Phillies signed as an international free agent in 2010 when he was 17. He made his debut in September 2014 and like Matz, put his name in his team’s record book becoming the first Phillies player to record back to back 5 rbi games.  He took over as the regular third baseman for the Phillies in 2015 and has hit over 50 home runs in his 360 career games. He shared John 14.6 saying that he likes this verse because “God is everything to me. When you have a good relationship with God, it’s amazing because everything is going to be fine. Even if you have a tough moment in your life, you have to thank God for everything…God is the path to truth and life, If you believe Jesus died for your sins and give your life to Him, He is the way to heaven… In tough moments, you can’t do it alone. Pray to Jesus and give Him control. He is the Way”

Takeaway – What struck me from Franco’s words was the thankfulness. Thanking God for everything when you are having a tough time? That is not our instinct. We tend to blame him, question him and mistrust Him. But if we can choose instead to thank Him, knowing that He does have a plan for us and that it is for our ultimate best, we will see our trust in Him grow. He has given us so much. He has taken care of us in so many ways. He is with us in hard times, He is able to turn our hardest things into positives. He really is ALL we need. He is everything.

 

42 – A Movie Review

 

'42' - Now playing at a Theater near you

Jackie Robinson: You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?

Branch Rickey: No. I want a player who’s got the guts *not* to fight back.

Jackie Robinson: You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, I’ll give you the guts.

Last Night my wife and I went to see the new movie about the life of Jackie Robinson and breaking the baseball color barrier.  I first heard about this movie last summer when I wrote this post about C.J. Nitkowski, then a pitcher in the Mets organization, who played the role of Dutch Leonard, a Phillies pitcher that Robinson bats against in one of the key moments in the film.  Since hearing about it, I have been eager to see it.  Now that I have, let me share my thoughts about the movie and the story of Jackie Robinson.

I’ve  read on line that the movie is missing any mention of Robinson’s strong faith in God, which you can read about in this article from The Wall Street Journal .   Robinson biographer Arnold Rampersad wrote about Jackie’s faith  “Faith in God then began to register in him as both a mysterious force, beyond his comprehension, and a pragmatic way to negotiate the world.”  

Jackie Robinson faced abuse, mostly verbal but occasionally physical, from opposing players and even teammates.  He faced taunts and insults from fans, unfair rulings from umpires and differential treatment from restaurants, hotels, restaurants, etc.  And yet, he was largely resistant to what would be a natural instinct for all of us – to fight back, to get revenge.  Robinson credits his faith in God as the source for his patient courage to resist returning “evil for evil”.  And while the movie may not have had a montage of Robinson at church or kneeling in prayer at his bedside, the fact that he was able to endure so much and focus on doing and being his best can only be attributed to God working in him.  I opened this post with an oft quoted exchange from the movie.  That attitude is what is at the heart of Jesus life on earth,and his instruction to turn the other cheek.

Robinson and Rickey - together changed the face of baseball in America

I thought the movie was spectacular.  It was a sports movie that was about WAY more than sports.  It was a 2 hour movie that moved along swiftly and left you ready for more.  And mostly, it was a story of 2 men who changed the landscape of America’s National Pastime.  And it is the faith in God of both men that led to this amazing change.

That is what spoke to me, watching the movie last night – the risk that both men took to make this happen.  For Robinson the risks were obvious – physical danger, insults, danger to his family, friends, increasing tension between races.  But for Branch Rickey, there were also risks.  Upsetting the balance of baseball – being shunned by the other business owners, death threats and insults.  It was a risky move, but one he made knowing it would make his team, and ultimately the game better.

Rickey’s own faith in God moved him to action.  While his legacy in baseball is unquestioned and his contributions plentiful (farm teams, full time spring training facilities, as well as advancing batting helmets and even sabermetrics) his off the field contributions are also worth mentioning.  In 1954, a college basketball coach named Don McClenan founded an organization called Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  Rickey was one of the original charter members and underwriters for FCA, which today has grown into an organization that is active on campuses all around the nation, influencing and encouraging all in the sporting world to know and live for Christ.   According to this article about Rickey’s part in FCA history, FCA today has “become a Christian sports ministry with over 450 offices and more than 1,000 staff members across the nation, one that God uses to bring thousands of people into His Kingdom every year. In addition, FCA is moving beyond American borders, with camps held in 21 countries last summer alone.”

42 is an amazing story of a key time in American History.  What the movie did for me, as a believer, was remind me that God forgave me and calls me to forgive others, even if they are vicious to me.  The forgiveness he calls us to goes against our instinct to get revenge or fight, and teaches us as much or more as it will teach those we forgive.  Let’s be ready to listen and learn as we live for Him, even when it is hard.

 

Wherever I Wind Up – by R.A. Dickey – a Book Review

Are you ready for some baseball?  Opening Day is almost here and so to get myself ready for peanut-and-cracker-jack season, I decided to read Wherever I Wind Up by reigning Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.

I’ve been a fan of his since watching him pitch briefly with the Minnesota Twins.  Then I became an even bigger fan when I researched part of his story for the blog post I wrote about his faith in 2011.  But after seeing his career take off with the Mets, and then the excitement in Canada about Dickey joining the Toronto Blue Jays, I decided I wanted to check out the book he’s written about his story and his journeys of faith and baseball.

It is an absorbing book.  Dickey grew up dealing with abuse, alcoholism and divorce.  These would all have a deep impact on his childhood and carry over into his adult life.  It talks about the promise that his baseball career had coming out of college, and how it appeared to be over when it was discovered that he was missing a ligament in his elbow – it just wasn’t there.  Doctors were amazed that he could even turn a doorknob, let alone throw a 90+MPH fastball.  The Texas Rangers withdrew their contract offer and offered significantly less.  For the next 15 years, Dickey would battle his way around the minor leagues, trying to redefine himself by throwing a pitch that few can ever throw masterfully enough to make it to the Major Leagues – the Knuckleball.

Dickey spent time in India with Bombay Teen Challenge

You can hear him tell his story to ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap at this link.  There you can also read about a recent trip he took with his daughters to India.  The purpose of the trip?  To become more aware and deliberate in attempting to stop human trafficking.

Although Dickey’s story at times seems hopeless, there is no question that this is a book that is all about hope.  You see, through these trials and challenges that Dickey faced, he developed a relationship with God and through these fires, God is refining Dickey into a man who is living for His purposes.  He is influencing people through his game, through his story and through his efforts to change this world for the better. (thus the trip to India and last years fund raising trip to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro)

Here is a feature on Dickey that CBN did after the climb

Here are some things I wanted to share from his book:

1- God will get us to a place where we understand we need Him.

He talks about a life changing experience he had while trying to swim across the Missouri River.  He is seeking to gain validation for his career and demonstrate control of his life.  But it almost kills him.  He nearly drowns in the river.  The lesson that he shares is as he is sinking, surrendering control and allowing himself to be taken by the currents.  We are reminded that we are not in control.  God is working things out.  Even when we feel like taking control, He is ultimately the one that guides us.  He will not necessarily guide us out of the trouble our choices take us to, but He will give us a chance to learn from our mistakes.

2 – The Knuckleball.

Dickey's knuckleball now moves to Toronto

As he is working on mastering the fluttering pitch, he receives coaching from renowned knucklers Charlie Hough, Phil Neikro and Tim Wakefield.  He sums up their input like this:

“Thanks to Charlie, I have the proper grip …  Thanks to Tim Wakefield, I have the right arm path…, thanks to Phil, I’m firing my hips and exploding toward the plate, an action that is giving my ball a devastating finish before it gets to the plate.”

God puts so many people in our lives that influence us.  Our faith journey bears some pieces that we learn from mentors along the way.  I know that I have learned many lessons in my life from people that were there for a season and have moved on, and some that are there daily.  Our goal is to reflect Christ in our lives, and God has put lots of Christ-like examples around us that we can learn from.  We become a part of their legacy, and will have opportunities to influence others with what we have learned, too.  We simply need to stay tuned into the Holy Spirit and share what they need us to share.

There is so much more to share from this book – far beyond what I can cover in a blogpost.  I would advise any fan of baseball, sports, christian athletes and people figuring out how to live for Jesus read this book.  God is good and can use hard, challenging and downright awful experiences to shape us and draw us closer to Him.  And in the end, God is glorified in a life changed for the better by being lived for Him!

 

Unleash – By Perry Noble – a book review

Rev. Perry Noble - pastor of New Spring Church, author of Unleash

Perry Noble has released his first book Unleash.  It reached bookstore shelves earlier this week and releases to Amazon and other on-line booksellers today.  Andy Stanley, in the forward, brings us to the question that is at the center of Unleash:

“If God, the Creator of the universe, created us on purpose, with a purpose, and for a purpose, then why in the world would we be
willing to settle for anything less?”

It seems like a simple enough concept and a no-brainer question to answer – Who in their right mind would not want the absolute best for their life.  But the hard part comes when we start to understand that we don’t always have the inner track on what the best is for our life.  We can allow our goals, agendas and plans to cloud things up to the point where we either stop and coast settling for “good enough”, or fumble around looking for anything to grasp on to and follow.  And all along, the absolute best plan for our lives lies with the very One who gave us the life in the first place.  The eternal, unchanging God.

And while it seems like a simple question to answer, finding the answers forces us to go deep into where we are from,  that we are brought to by answering that question honestly are great.  We begin to peel back the layers of why we settle for less, and whether we even realize that we do settle. What we find is that we, in general, live a fairly leashed, tame life compared to what God has in store for us.  

Perry Noble digs into the life of David to bring out truths from God’s Word that are relevant and applicable to our situation.  There is a lot of pieces of David’s story that I’ve skimmed over with familiarity.  But Noble leads us to look at some of the details of the story talked about in ways that I had never thought of before.  I love, for example, the fact that David had this great, amazing life. The stories are well known, but we see at the start of the tale that going on this crazy adventure wasn’t something special David was pursuing.  He was just living life one day, a day that seemed like any other, until God showed up and gave David an opportunity to step into an amazing adventure.  David simply had to take the opportunity. And as David followed God, more and more opportunities to do amazing things to honor God presented themselves.

What does your life adventure look like?  Are you aware of the opportunities God has placed in front of you?  Are you ready to walk into the plan that He has for you (here’s a hint – it is the BEST plan!).  Are you ready to live a wild, unleashed life for Christ?

My prayer is that each day, we will be exactly that – unleashed, bold and ready to go wherever God leads.

For more information on Perry Noble, or Unleash!, check out the following links.

E-books are available & listed here:

Unleash website to find a chapter from the book

New Spring Church website

This book is both challenging and encouraging.  Go find a copy to read today!

Greater – by Steven Furtick – a book review

   I love trivia!  For years, I have been an avid sports fan, and love to dig into those little known  facts about certain players that a: sets them apart, and b: makes me seem super smart for knowing these little tidbits.   I have also been involved in children’s ministry for a number of years and so lately, I have also been plucking wonderful tidbits of Bible trivia to share with the kids I work with (i.e. Did you know there were 2 Noahs in the Bible?  1 man and 1 woman –  a boat builder and a daughter of Zelophehad).   I am also a story teller.  I love to reenact these stories from scripture that kids may not be totally familiar with and help them learn the story and see the cool things that God has done, so they can become more aware of the cool things God is doing.

Steven Furtick

One of my favorite sections of the bible – for story telling and trivial purposes, begins near the end of 1 Kings and stretches into 2 Kings.  This is the portion of scripture that talks about the prophetic lives of Elijah and Elisha.  Mostly, I’ve been drawn to these stories because of their cool factor  – Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal and the Raven food delivery system the man vs. horse foot race – and Elisha with the widow’s oil, Naaman’s leprosy and the floating ax head.

So as I began “Greater” the new book by Steven Furtick that hits bookstores tomorrow,  I was excited to learn that it would be about Elisha and the stories that I knew and loved.  But then Furtick blindsided me with life application  and a challenge to live a life in pursuit of more than “good enough” – rather going after the “greater” life that comes with going all out after the best that God has for us.

The book brings application and teaching to so many parts of Elisha’s story, from his unorthodox invitation to follow Elijah  to Elisha’s death and burial, from burning his plows – a sign of leaving the old life behind and moving on to the “greater” life in such a way that a return to the old way in impossible – to the miraculous things God accomplished through his life.   This book, and my prayer time, helped me identify some plows that I need to burn in my life if I am truly going to follow God with my whole heart.  It continues on to challenge us to do hard things, confidently knowing that God is with us and able to do whatever He wants, and what He wants is the best for us.

You can read Chapter 1 for yourself here.

I’d love to spend some time recounting to you what I read and how it is already and will continue to apply to my life and the place God is leading me – but I don’t yet know what it is all going to look like – and that is fine with me.  I would, however, strongly recommend that you get your hands on a copy of this book.  But that comes with a caveat.  Reader beware, this book holds between its covers truth that can expose a frightening, challenging road to walk.  It is not for the faint hearted – or maybe it is, because in our weakness, He is strong.

“I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.”