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.

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.

Christians in the NFL- Lessons learned from David Akers – Kicker – San Francisco 49ers

This is the 16th entry in my blog series on Christians in the NFL.  Today, we will look into the faith story of David Akers, San Francisco 49ers place kicker.

Akers has been in the NFL for over a decade now, and even though it took some work and persistence to finally make a pro roster in the NFL, once he landed that spot, he has held it with some very solid play.  According to his Wikipedia page here are the NFL records that he has laid claim to.
Most points in a single decade (2000-2009)

Most points by 1 person in a career in ProBowl games  (he has been to 5 Pro Bowls)

Most consecutive successful playoff field goals (19 of them without a miss)

These are some remarkable numbers for a guy who was undrafted, and had to try out for 3 different teams before getting a chance to play in an actual game (and he was cut after that 1 game).

He was picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles and the sent him to play in Berlin, in NFL Europe – the now defunct developmental league that the NFL operated for several years.

His work in Berlin landed him a job with the Eagles and he would not give that job up for over a decade.  In this past off season, he took his ProBowl left leg to San Francisco to join the 49ers.  He has missed only 5 of his 31 attempts thus far this year and 3 of those have been blocked.  So he remains a very accurate kicker and reliable part of the surprising 49ers who are turning heads this year at 9-1.

Check out this video about Akers sharing how he came to be a follower of Christ, and some great thoughts on the Bible in general.

Here are some thoughts that I take from this video.

1- I think it is cool to hear how God draws people to Himself in different, amazing ways.  Sometimes he just needs to get us alone, away from the distractions that we can so easily find, and speak to us when we have nowhere else to go.
I love languages.  I think it is a cool thing that there are so many different cultures and languages around the world.  Languages fascinate me.  I have studied 5 of them with varying degrees of intensity, and really enjoy figuring out the differences and similarities.  That being said,  I, like Akers, have lived in a place where the primary language was not my mother-tongue.  My wife and I lived in Ukraine for a couple of years.  And I can totally relate to his story about not having a lot of books  in my own language to entertain and pass the time.  He had it even worse that I did in that he was stuck in a hospital with no other options.  Through the novels that he read, he was brought to an interest in the scriptures, and from that, he chose to begin a relationship with God.
2- He also talks how the Bible is full of answers to the great questions of life.  Often, the Bible is thought of as a great book of amazing stories, and it is definitely that, but it is so much more than that. It is such a resource to treasure and to keep digging into.  I, like Akers, am not a big reader.  I am very much a read it one time and back on the shelf it goes.  The Bible is not a book to do that with.  I find it amazing that the more I re-read the same stories and verses that I have grown up learning, the more truth I find in those same words, the more clearly I see God’s character poured out and the deeper my relationship with God gets because He continues to speak new understanding through what I read.  Never stop reading the Bible – there is so much there that a lifetime devoted to only reading Scriptures in all of your waking hours would still never pluck out all there is to know.

3- The Bible also is amazing in how it is written and constructed.  I chose to follow God with my life at a conference when I was 19 years old.  At this conference, the speaker spent all of his sessions talking about how the evidence was strong that the Bible was true and reliable.  He speaks some about the different authors over a long period of time writing in a way that makes the Bible seem like a cohesive single narrative.  In the 5th/6th grade group that my wife and I lead at our church, we are working our way through the Bible with the kids, hoping to help them see the Bible as 1 story and not a bunch of different, unrelated stories.  Check out our website here
Akers has a lot of good things to say in his video, and he also has a lot of opportunity to make an impact on the field, in the locker room and wherever God gives him a chance. One area that Akers feels called to reach out is to kids and families being cared for at the Philadelphia Children’s hospital and Ronald McDonald children’s charities.  Check out his foundation and the work they do by clicking  here.   He had to work hard to earn a spot in professional football.  Now he is using that platform to point others to God. 

Christians in the NFL – lessons learned from James Laurinaitis – St. Louis Rams

This is the 15th installment in my blog series on Christians in pro football.  Today, we’ll check out the story of St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis. 

The Rams are a team that has been struggling for a few years, but have a good core of up-and-coming players that are looking to change the direction of the Rams.  I have been watching Laurinaitis’ career with some added interest.  He is a local Minnesota product.  He played high school ball just a few miles from where I live.  He was well scouted for his hockey skills, but went undrafted because it was widely assumed that he would play football.  I didn’t live here during his high school years, but his name still comes up frequently around high school tournament time in the Twin Cities.
Laurinaitis was a super star in college and turned down the NFL draft after his junior year and returned to Ohio State for his senior year.  He would have been a top 10 pick by most estimations – which would mean a big contract, lots of guaranteed money and the prestige which comes with being a high draft pick (and the pressure cooker of attention that it would bring).  But after returning for his senior year – a good year statistically, he fell in the draft to the second round – 35th overall.  It is great to be drafted, but he was disappointed that he didn’t go earlier.  As you can read in this article from the, you can read about how he now sees the disappointment as an opportunity to allow God to teach him something. 

He and Malcolm Jenkins (currently of the New Orleans Saints) were invited back by their Alma Mater, Ohio State University, through Campus Crusade, to share their story and explain to the audience that football is not what their life is all about.  Check out Laurinaitis’ testimony from the event below. 

Here are some lessons that I have taken from his story and the articles that I read about Laurinaitis:

1- All of us have insecurities – we questions our abilities and can often fall victim to self-doubt.  Laurinaitis talks about worrying whether he had prepared well enough, and was he ready to do all that was expected of him?  The enemy loves to fill our mind with doubt and lies telling us that we are not good enough and that we will fail.  Here is the thin line that we need to walk.  We cannot buy into his lies, but yet, we also need to have a complete dependency on Him.  Because, truthfully, we cannot do it on our own.  He quotes Paul’s second letter to Corinthians where he talks about “in my weakness, I am made strong.”  The lies will always come at us, but if we are trusting in Jesus, we can be assured that we are good enough –  Good enough that Jesus came to die for us. 

2- In spite of that, though, despite our shortcomings and failures, we still think that we can accomplish things in our own strength. We have our ideas of what success looks like, we have our plans for the best case scenario, but if we rely on our own strength, what happens when we fail.  Who do we turn to when life gets hard.  What if our plan never works out? “My grace is enough” says the Lord.  That is such truth.  God is the complete promise that is given to us.  The grace that he offers that gives worth to our life and reconciles us to Him is all we need. The rest doesn’t really matter.  His amazing grace that he offers is all that really is important.

3- God’s ways are better than ours, even if the don’t make sense to us –
Laurinaitis fell to 35th in the draft – Top 10 to second round.  Initially, he talks about disappointment and discussing with God why it happened.  But after some reflection time, he decides that it is for the best and that there are some lessons in it for him.  We see how important it is to trust God.  God cares more about our hearts and tuning it to his plan then he is meeting success in the world’s eyes.  Not that 35th overall is unsuccessful, but it was farther than he expected.  But we can’t miss what he said about his decision to return to college for one more year.  He said  “I felt that God was telling me, ‘You have more to do at Ohio State,'”.  God loves us and pursues us relentlessly.  He will go to any lengths to reach the lost.  If we are dedicated to carrying out his mission and his purpose, he will guide us through some decisions that may not make sense to others.  I don’t know what God had for Laurinaitis to do at Ohio State, but I know that if God was leading him to return, it was the right choice to make.

Christians in the NFL – Lessons Learned from Sam Acho – Arizona Cardinals

This is the 14th installment in my series on Christ-followers playing in the NFL.  This installment takes us to the desert to look into the story of Arizona Cardinals rookie Linebacker, Sam Acho and his brother Emmanuel, who is still at Texas University.

As I look into these stories, I am always excited to learn what God is doing in the lives of these guys.  In this story, there is so much to take in, I hardly know where to start.  I guess I will start where it makes sense with this blog – with his name.  Samuel Onyedikachi Acho.

This blog is called “Living up to my Name” and I write about striving to be like my last name, a “page” – a servant of the King.

Sam Acho strives to live up to his name as well.  As you can read in this article from –  or in this blog post from Jesus N Sports, Acho’s middle name means “who is like unto God”.  He strives daily to be more and more like God.  He shares how much he likes the verse Colossians 3.23.  “In everything you do, do as if you are doing it for the Lord and not for men.”  This is his motto, his goal and his focus as he steps on the football field, but also as he goes about the rest of his life and wherever God allows him to use the sphere of his influence to impact the lives of others:
      – He was the 103rd pick in last springs draft, but even this scouting report has a huge section on his faith.
      – He serves on the board of directors at the church his dad founded in Dallas.
      – He goes on medical mission trips to Nigeria to bring medecine, water and other supplies and God;s love to those in need there.

      – He was a leader in the Texas Locker room during his time there, as you can hear in the following video from “I am Second – Austin”.  The video is almost 12 minutes long, and there are highlights from the National Championship Game that are heard but not sccn (a copyright thing?) but Sam Acho, and his brother Emanuel have some great things to say and lessons to learn.  It talks about the BCS Championship Game between Oklahoma and Texas, and dealing with the issues that surfaced in that game.

So what lessons do i take away from the story of Sam Acho?  Here are some thoughts that are now running through my mind.
1- It is so true what he says in this video about true leaders leading by example, and not by reputation.  A leader builds people up, and doesn’t tear others down.  If we want to be used to lead others to Christ, we cannot do so by tearing them apart.  God will break down whatever is standing in the way.  We need to love them and let everything we do be a reflection of his love.  So often, we think it is our job to convict them of their sinfulness – that’s not it.  God may use us to expose something to them, but He will bring it to their attention  and he will work in their heart to deal with it.  Our job is to show them love.

2- In college, he and his brother began a group called COAH (city on a hill).  For them, Division 1 football and now NFL are their “hills” God has placed them there and asked them to shine His light.  They cannot hide it, they need to represent Him where He has placed them.  They began this group to keep that in clear focus and to help remind them to boldly stand for Christ.  What is your “hill”?  Where has God placed you so you can be in sight to others, pointing the way to Him?  Are you trying to hide yourself from others?

3- The Acho brothers also speak my heart about missions.  They take these great trips to Nigeria to do amazing work and impact lives there.  What a great way to gain an audience to share Christ with.  But like they say,  “missions” happens at home in daily life, too.  It isn’t something we are called to on one week in the summer as we go with our church group to another town/country.  It is something we are called to do every day.  Acts 1.8 talks about being Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  Jerusalem (where the disciples everyday life was happening – they lived there) Judea (the country Jerusalem was in – a little less familiar, but still part of their regular life) Samaria (a place that was hard, full of people they didn’t really like) and the ends of the earth (everywhere else).  We are called to all 4 of these places, to go into “all the world” and make disciples of all nations…  It all starts at home.  What is God calling you to do today, where you are, to be a witness for Him?

4- As they were taking about the National Championship Game, one that they lost, and in which their star QB Colt McCoy was injured and unable to finish, they talk about disappointing people, not living up to the expectations that people had, and not representing the “burnt orange” well enough.  We are bound to have challenges in this life, and with that will come failure.  Are we representing the one we identify with well, even when things don’t go how we want them to?  The Acho brothers were also talking about Colt McCoy using the post game interviews to glorify God.  It is important to remember that God cares more about our heart and our willingness to let Him have all the glory then he does about how “successful” we are by the world’s standards.  Represent Him and   “In everything you do, do as if you are doing it for the Lord and not for men.”  As we live out this verse, we will adjust our definition of success and see God glorified through our lives in ways we never could have dreamed up.

I have been very challenged by the story of this rookie linebacker and his brother that still plays for Texas.  I hope you have been, too.  Let’s take our place as cities on the hill where God has placed us, and lets set ourselves to carry out his plan, so He can draw others to Himself, through His light shining in our lives.

Christians in the NFL – Lessons Learned from Justin Forsett – Seattle Seahawks

This is the 13th installment in my blog series on Christians in the NFL.  Today, we head to Seattle to check out the story of their Jack-of-all-trades running back, Justin Forsett.

Forsett may not be a household name, although I did have him save my team a few times when I had him on my fantasy team a couple years ago.  Now he is looking for touches in a full backfield with one of his best friends and former college teammate Marshawn Lynch and Leon Washington.  So with plenty of competition for touches and work, Forsett must keep sharing the load and waiting for his chance to shine.

This is not the first adversity that Forsett has him everywhere he goes.  In fact, it seems to
follow him everywhere he goes.  He now embraces the challenges he faces, as you can read here

Some thoughts and lessons that I take from his story.

1- Being a team player and playing your role – Forsett is not the feature back on his Seahawk team.  He is not the only punt/kick returner either.  But he is an important part of the team and plays a roll that helps his team be as successful as possible.  He does a little bit of a lot of things.  He returns some kicks/punts, he catches some passes, he rushes the ball some, he blocks some.  He has learned to be effective in many areas and can fill many needs, depending on what the situation calls for.  
    What is your role where you are? Are you willing to do the little things that will further the mission/ministry that God has placed you in.  Are you willing to do the small, thankless things that will help others spread God’s word?  We are not in competition with each other in the world of telling others about God.  We have lots of roles that we can play.  Some will look like they are of greater importance, but just like the 95 yard touchdown pass that makes the QB and receiver look spectacular won’t happen if the opposing players are not blocked properly, an effective and vibrant ministry needs people doing the behind the scenes work to help everything to run smoothly.  Take some time this week and encourage people that you know are working the thankless tasks and behind the scenes chores that help ministry (and life in general) flow more smoothly.

2a- If God is central, all challenges can be faced – Hearing, as Forsett did repeatedly, that you are too small and unable to do this or that can weigh you down.  The devil loves to play the doubt game in our minds.  He will constantly surround us with people (ourselves included) that tell us over and over that we are useless.  We hear about all of our shortcomings and about how we shouldn’t even bother trying to accomplish anything because we will fail! fail! fail!  But God sent Jesus to die for our sins to show one thing.  That He does not consider us worthless.  The opposite is true.   He sees us as valuable enough that He went to great lengths just to offer us a way that we could be with Him.

2b- There will be times that we will fail.  What will we do with that?  Will we listen to Satan and stop trying, give up and shut down?  Or will we learn from our failures, refocus of God’s leading, and grow more dependent on Him to help us.  I have a friend who teaches top level science at a High School.  His class is routinely filled with smart people who have never failed a test in all of their schooling.  On one of the first days, he gives them a quiz that most fail.  He then challenges them to a: know that they don’t yet have it all figured out and still have some things to learn, and b: decide how they are going to deal with failure – shut down or bear down.  Stop trying, or try harder.  There are great life lessons here.  How well do you deal with failure and rejection?  How can draw closer to God in times of failure and struggle?  How can you depend on Him to persevere?  Figuring out these answers will go a long way to making Satan’s attacks ineffective in your life.

One of the places where I saw people attacking Forsett is in the area of his marriage.  For his first anniversary, he wrote a song and made a video for his wife.  You can watch it below.  The website that I found it on, (and choose not to link to) though, had a lot of negative things to say, not about Forsett necessarily, but kind of.  It criticized the song and doubted that his marriage would last for 40 years.  I am not sure if it was a comment of Forsett or about marriage in general, but from the other article I linked to, I know that if people are telling Forsett that he can’t.  He will go to great lengths to prove that he CAN!