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.”

 

Christians in the NFL – Lessons learned from Drew Brees – Quarterback – New Orleans Saints

This is the 17th installment in my blog series on Christians in the NFL.  Today, we will look at Drew Brees, the quarterback for my favorite team, the New Orleans Saints.

I will admit that I am biased.  He is the quarterback for my favorite team, and led them to a Super Bowl championship 2 years ago.  He has become one of the most prolific passers in the history of the game and, well, let’s just say that he is a pretty likable guy.  Those were my thoughts about him before I read his book Coming Back Stronger.  


The book, which came out following the Super Bowl winning season, was a very good read.  As a Saints fan, it allowed me to relive some wonderful moments since the return to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, through the championship and the parade.  I have been a Saints fan for 25 years, but they and the whole city of New Orleans holds a special place in my heart now, as my wife and I spent 3 summers there with a mission’s organization, doing flood recovery work.  We have great memories of seeing God’s hands and feet hard at work rebuilding and restoring the city and surrounding areas.  To read about the progress being made in the city still to this day warms our hearts.  There will always be a certain element of “home” there for us.

So it was with great interest that I took in this book about a man who God brought to the Big Easy to  be a part of the rebuilding both of the team and the city.  

And his story is one of recovery as well.  Brees sustained a serious injury to his throwing shoulder during the 2005 season as a member of the San Diego Chargers.  With his replacement already on the roster, he found himself without a place to play in San Diego, and only 2 suitors from the rest of the league.  He landed in New Orleans, and the rest, as they say, is history.

One thing that I can say about his book is that Brees never shies away from the opportunity to speak openly and overtly about his faith in God.  Be it in the context of recovery from the injury, dealing with the death of his mother, or working through the challenges of a marriage, he talks about the importance God plays in his life and how seeing God carry him through adversity has helped develop him into who he is today as a community leader, team leader, father, husband and Christian.
Faith grows through adversity, because adversity has a way of removing our dependency on ourselves and refocusing on our need for God.  It is a wonderful book, and I recommend it to anyone who can use some encouragement.

The book was a great read – I think even non-Saints fans would like it, and he does give lots and lots of reasons to cheer for him, even if you don’t want to join me as part of the WhoDat nation.

Here are some things that I read in the book and the thoughts I take from them,

1- He asked his teammates to define faith, and came up with a definition of his own, in acronym form.  Here it is.

F.A.I.T.H
To show faith in other people takes:
F- Fortitude – it requires courage and toughness
A- Attitude – positivity, confidence in self and in team
I- Integrity –  do what you say you will do, being accountable and keeping others accountable
T- Trust – the cornerstone of every meaningful relationship,
H- Humility.  President Truman is quoted as saying “Its amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit”

Being a part of a team requires all of these things working in harmony.  Being faithful to the team, doing your part and sticking with the game plan.

There are lessons in this for us as well in our walk with God.  Following God requires courage, a positive attitude, accountability and integrity, trusting and earning trust and a boatload of humility.  If we are practicing these things every day, and putting God first, then we will truly grow in our faith. And as for President Truman’s quote…It is amazing what can be accomplished if you give all the credit to God!

2- Leadership – can’t ask anyone to do what they are not willing to do themselves, always willing to learn.  Coach and be coached.

Jesus showed this example in coming to earth and facing all the things that we face.  He didn’t give us a list of dos and don’ts, wish us luck, and let us figure it out on our own.  Jesus taught us how to live, lived it for us, served others, loved unlovable people, forgave people who hurt him, reached out to the poor and forgotten and then told us to go and do likewise.

3- Disappointment  – He shared the quote :”Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want”  It is a true statement.  Life is hard and will never go smoothly for any one in any walk of life.  There will be plenty of opportunity to gain experience and learn how to deal with and work through set backs, disappointment and failure.  Who we turn to for help, how we go about it and what we learn on the other side are the thing that we need to figure out.  God in the only source that will never let us down.  Our part is to make sure we are obedient and depending on Him for everything.

Drew and Brittany Brees

4- Marriage – As marriage is the most important relationship outside of our relationship with God,  it is therefore the one that will come under the greatest attack.  I remember the pastor who did the preBrees wrote about some of the struggles that marriage brings, and said that he and his wife had made the same commitment.  Marriage is important enough to fight for and fight hard.  There are some instances when a marriage will dissolve, but in as much as is possible, it is important to fight for the marriage and not give up.  Brees wrote that today, society tends to live as if our vows say “I promise to stay with you as long as we both shall love instead if as long as we both shall live

That is not fighting for the marriage, that is looking for an escape hatch.  Marriage involves sacrifice and unconditional love – loving even when you don’t like the person much at the moment.  I am a big fan of marriage and am blessed to have an amazing wife that loves me even though I am not perfect, and I love her even though she is not perfect.  It can be hard, it will have hard times, and it will also be the best human relationship that you will have.  It is truly a reflection of God’s love for us, and I have learned a lot about God’s love and character from my marriage.  I concur with Brees on this – Marriage can be hard, but it is worth the fight for what it will teach you about God and for the things it adds to life.