Christian in the NFL – Lessons learned from Jacques Cesaire – San Diego Chargers

This is the 12th installment in my blog series on Christian football players.  This time around, we will look into the story of Jacques Cesaire, defensive tackle for the San Diego Chargers.

One of the strongest arguments that I can find to support the existence of God is what I have seen and sensed Him doing in my life.  He is at work in such obvious and amazing ways – from providing for my family, answering prayers and leading me to the place where he has me now, working with tweens and young kids to little things that I always thought would be fun, but never imagined I would actually get a chance to do.  He is the God of the “big” things and the “small” details.
I also see my faith grow when I see, read stories of people whose lives were also changed through their relationship with God.  The Bible is full of these stories, and so is the life around us.  That is why I started this blog in the first place – to share these amazing stories that I come across in hopes that anyone else may be challenged and encouraged in their faith as I am each time I post one of these accounts of God at work.

So with all that in mind, check out the story of Jacques Cesaire

Some things that stand out about his story (and lessons that come to mind for me from his story) are:

1- God draws people to himself.  Cesaire tells the story himself.  After struggling with the temptations and influences that life brought along, he was in a place where something needed to change.  At his mother’s request, he began reading a Bible and attending the new chapel services that his college team was offering.  He was skeptical,  but he was there, sitting in the back row.  Skepticism doesn’t scare God.  When Cesaire was exposed to who God is, He chose to follow Christ.  Sometimes, we make it too complicated when we are trying to share God’s love with others.  We look to find a way to make a relationship with God attractive –   a hook to draw people to God. But God can do that on his own.  His word of truth and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit is what changes lives.  He chooses to use us, and gives us the opportunity to share in changing lives through our obedience, but God is enough on his own, to soften even the hardest heart.
2- God doesn’t make it easy, just because you follow Him.  – I know that this is basic, and yet, the perception still tends to be that life is hard until you choose to follow God, then miraculously it is smooth sailing after that.  There is an element of truth to that in that with God, there is a peace in the midst of trouble and hard times and without God in your life, there is no hope.  In Cesaire’s story, he decided to give his life to Christ, but he was not then miraculously transformed into a super star.  He had to work hard and be dedicated and disciplined in his football work to catch the attention of a team.  It is strange that the perception is one of an easy life, when the opposite is far more accurate.  When we are living life for God, that is when the hardest things come at us.  There will be more temptations to mess up, more distractions to keep our eyes from being fixed on Jesus, and more attacks on all fronts.  When things are hard, we tend to pay attention to the lessons and teaching that God is doing in our lives.
Cesaire’s is a story that encourages us to keep pointing others to God.  He is using his place as a pro football player to do that as you can read in this article from North County times.  It talks about Cesaire (and a handful of others) participating in an outreach put on by The Rock Church.  The pastor of the church is former Chargers player Miles MacPherson.  He has some really neat things going on at his church, and in the ministries he is involved in.  Check it out and pray for these men of God who are looking to impact San Diego and the world for Jesus Christ

Trade Deadline special from Christians in the NFL – Lessons Learned from Aaron Curry – Oakland Raiders

This is the 11th installment in my blog series on Christian NFLers. Today we look at the story of new Raiders linebacker Aaron Curry.

Aaron Curry was the #4 overall pick in the NFL draft in 2009, taken by the Seahawks.  He ran into some issues in Seattle.  He has been considered a draft bust.  And as the NFL trade deadline arrives, he was traded to Oakland.  He debuts in their starting lineup on Sunday.

In Seattle, his critics were loud and everywhere.  Twitter was blowing up with chatter about the wasted pick used to draft him, and the excitement that they had that he was traded.  It was pretty harsh.

This week though, as you can read in this ESPN article, was a week unlike most for Curry.  Monday, generally a day off,  the Seahawks as a team, were celebrating an win against the Giants, Tuesday it was back to work, and back to his reps as a backup linebacker.  Wednesday, rumors started swirling about a trade and Thursday he was dealt to Oakland.  Friday he was named the new starting weak side linebacker for Raiders, and tomorrow, he will play his first game for his new team.

Curry is looking forward to a new situation and a chance to start fresh in Oakland.  Coach Hue Jackson has offered him a clean slate and a new start, forgetting what has been said about Curry and his work ethic, and grasp of the game.  He knows that the critics are many and vocal.  As you can read in this Seattle Times article. He entered the season, looking to improve on.  Patience, playbook learning and discipline.

He credits his faith in God for helping him focus on these areas in an effort to improve his game.  There are a lot of lessons we can take from this story, too.

1- Patience. – Patience, Playbook learning, and Discipline.  These are things that we all need in our Christian walk, too.  Patience has many chances to develop in our walk with God.  Dealing with other people, waiting on God’s plan, being pruned to bear more fruit, dealing with the “flaming arrows of the enemy” – any trial that we have, we will have a chance to have patience grow in our lives.

2 – Playbook Learning – It is vital, as a football player, to know the playbook inside and out.  Without complete knowledge, he  will be hindered in his effectiveness.  It is an easy step to see how we need to know our playbook, the bible, in the same way. If we study, we will be more effective in how God can use us.  God is able to do anything, including working through our shortcomings, but if we do all we can to know God and seek his direction, we will see Him do incredible things in and through us.  Without study, we will be lost, confused and be ineffective.
Knowing the Bible completely will help us know and understand God’s plan, our role and the final outcome of the battle.  No NFL playbook can do that.  If you want God to use you effectively, it is important that you spend time studying the playbook.

3- Discipline –  This is important because it will help us put out the effort to grow in our Christian faith.  We need discipline to tithe, to make time with God a priority, to serve others, and to make God #1 in our lives.  This requires a plan, some intentionality to sacrifice the things we want for the things we need.  By nature we want to look out for ourselves and do what we want, not thinking of God or others.  Discipline means to set that aside and know that the work will be worth the effort.

4- A New Start – Coach Jackson offered Curry what he needed – another chance and willingness to forget the past.  Does that sound familiar?  God offers the same to all people who choose to follow Him.  One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Philippians 3.  It is a great picture of what God offers.  Paul tells us that he isn’t “there” yet in his walk with God.  “But this is what I do” he continues  “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward.”
Aaron Curry can leave the past behind and start anew, and we can as well.  God offers forgiveness to any who ask for it.  We can forget our past and strain to what lies ahead. It will be a struggle (strain) but God has a plan and we will be victorious in Him. 

I hope that Aaron Curry’s career gets righted in this Oakland.  I appreciate his openness with his faith.  He is always sharing verses and thoughts about God on his Twitter account.  Some people are turned off by this, but he doesn’t let it deter him.  Check out some of the feedback on his tweets here.  I’d like to link to his page, but with the trade, he has shut down his twitter account.  I expect he will open a new one soon with Raiders info.  Best of luck to him,  may he keep looking forward, straining ahead and keep sharing God’s word, in voice, on twitter, and everywhere God leads him.  If you want to follow his twitter feed, find him at @aaroncurry51.

Christians in the NFL – Lessons Learned from Tim Tebow – Denver Broncos

This is the 10th installment in my series on Christ-followers in the NFL.  Today we will look into the story of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.

I chose to write this article today in recognition of Tebow’s play yesterday – It wasn’t statistically among the greatest games ever played,  it wasn’t even statistically one of the best games in week 5 of the NFL, but it was good enough to make the last play matter in the Broncos/Chargers game, and it was likely good enough to bring this Broncos quarterback controversy back into the spotlight for some feisty discussion.

Yesterday, Tebow came in for the second half andby the end of the game,  the Broncos were a play away (albeit a miracle play away) from completing the comeback and stealing the win.  The fans are chanting for him, calling for him. He is a fan favorite in the Mile High city, just like he was in the Florida Swamp.  Fans love him, and critics sound off against him.  Again and  again, controversy stirs around the name Tim Tebow.

Controversy has been a part of Tebow’s NFL experience from before it actually began.  He was a star college player, known for some raw ability but more for passion, heart and work ethic.  He would carry these latter attributes to the NFL, but would they be able to cover up some of the shortfall of his skill set? Some pundits said, and still say no!

Here are some of the things that have come up.
There was a stir surrounding a pro-life Super Bowl commercial.  Sponsored by Focus on the Family, the commercial itself was not at all preachy, didn’t mention God, didn’t mention abortion, and still managed to stir controversy.  Pro Choice organizations were calling for the ad to be pulled.  See  the commercial itself below, as well as a link the story behind the troubled pregnancy that his mom, Pam, went through with him.

Others bring  up his faith.  Some writers have made some disturbing ideas about the way that Tebow’s faith works.  Questioning his faith, and relationship with God, questioning his abilities to play at the NFL level, criticism about his family and his association with the Pro Life movement – there is so much adversity that he has had to face, it is a remarkable load for a man who is only 24 years old.  If you google the name Tim Tebow, the search turns up story after story about his faith, yes, but also criticism about being so open about his faith.

Here are some lessons that I am taking from what I have read about this story.
1- Following God brings LOTS of adversity. When you take a stand for anything, you tie yourself to the stand you take, and those that do not share your views have lots of ammunition to attack the stand that you take.
In some parts of the world, taking a stand for your faith in God puts your life at risk.  Here, it isn’t quite that severe, but a lot can be said about you, your family, your beliefs and the stands that you take.  It can be very mean spirited, full of insults, conclusion jumping and outright misrepresentations of the truth.  It can make life very hard.
 It is also hard not to get defensive when these attacks are made.  We instantly want to defend our words that are taken out of context, or others words are put in our mouth that we didn’t say.  It is easier to simply keep quiet, keep our views to ourselves and let the critics find someone else to attack.  But if these attacks quiet us down, then our witness may be compromised.  We need to be bold in our faith, and not doubt that God will work through the hard things to accomplish His perfect plan. The enemy of God will do anything to keep us wishy-washy in our faith. 
Tebow, based on the story I read above (disturbing ideas)  did not say what he was reported as saying.  He does not believe that his faith in God entitles him to a starting job, based on what I read in the article.  It is quite a conclusion to jump to.  But Tebow didn’t return attack that I have seen.  He just continues to speak the truth about what he believes and let God remain the center of focus in his life.

2- God can work in mysterious ways – I really like that there is no doubt where Tebow stands in relation to belief in God.  He is always ready to proclaim it to whoever will give him a chance.  Again, this speaks to his boldness.  One of my favorite ways that God works is when He chooses to use even the little things to expand his kingdom.  Check out this statistic that I found in this Christian Post article

At college in Florida, Tebow frequently wore biblical verses on his eye black. In the 2009 Bowl Championship Series, he wore “John 3:16” on his eye paint, reportedly causing 92 million people to search the verse on Google. Later, Tebow switched to “Proverbs 3:5-6,” again causing 3.43 million searches of the verse together with “Tim Tebow.”

 I have an interesting story about how God uses little things to draw others to Him.  I collect sports jerseys.  One of the jerseys I have in my collection is a Texas Rangers #32 jersey – Josh Hamilton.  One day, I was wearing it on a walk around the neighborhood when I passed a man that was walking the other direction on the sidewalk.  I had never met this man before, and didn’t think much of it as we passed.  I stopped to tie my shoe, and when I stood back up, the man had turned around and came back to me to tell me that he liked my jersey.  I told him that I was a fan of Hamilton, and proceeded to talk to him about Hamilton’s book and how God is really working in him and through him.  This man was not aware that Hamilton had written a book about his life and struggles with, and eventual victory over addiction, and his walk with God.  The man was going to go to the library and borrow the book to read for himself.  I don’t know what this man thought about the book, or if he did actually get to read it, but I know that it is possible that God used my jersey to let this man read and know more about Him, through Hamilton’s jersey.  There have been countless times when I am wearing a random jersey and it leads to a conversation with a stranger, and more than once, our conversation has turned to God.  It is necessary to use our words to tell people about Jesus, but sometimes the avenues that lead to these conversations come from a common bond – like a team or player.  It is so amazing to see the different ways God works.

3- God is able to be glorified in all situations. – We don’t know yet if Tebow will ever become a star quarterback in the NFL.  It may happen, or he may be a perpetual second stringer throughout his career.  The one thing that seems fairly certain is that, regardless of Tebow’s status, He will be pointing others to know who Jesus is and how they can be in relationship with Him.  I am grateful that Tebow doesn’t get defensive to these attacks.  It would be very easy to do so, but by being careful, he is reducing the ammunition that they can get from his words.

We are all able to, and expected to let God be evident in our lives.  We are to be salt and light, serving others in God’s name so they can be drawn to Him.  We  can expect challenges, adversity, and all sorts of attacks from the enemy.  If we are not being effective witnesses for God, then Satan has no reason to attack us.  But at the end of the day,  I would like my life to echo the words I heard attributed to Coach John Wooden.  “If you were ever arrested for being a Christian,  is there enough evidence to convict you?”  Let that thought always challenge us to live a bold life alive in Christ

Christians in the NFL – Lessons Learned from Ryan Succop – Kansas City Chiefs

This is the 9th installment in my blog series on Christ-followers in professional football. My lessons for the day come from Ryan Succop, kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs. 

Last Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings (my hometown team) lost their 4th straight game to start the season.  The Vikings were supposed to beat the Chiefs, but couldn’t get it done.  A large reason for that was the work of Chiefs kicker, Ryan Succop.  He hit 5 field goals in the game, including 2 from over 50 yards.  Not bad for a guy that was once considered “Mr. Irrelevant“.
You see, each year, that is the name that is given to the last person taken in the college draft.  The reason is that the likelihood of the last person drafted having a significant impact on the team or in the league is minuscule.  Only a handful of people who share this distinction with him have had any success to speak of.

And Succop had been struggling this year, too,  hitting just 2 of his first 5 field goal attempts this year.
But he knows that football is not what gives him his significance.  It does however, give him his platform, and there is a certain irony in the fact that the “notoriety” that his “Mr. Irrelevant” status brought to him allows him opportunities to share his faith in God with people in many settings, including as an FCA event speaker.  FCA’s also has an article on Succop, punter Dustin Colquitt, and long snapper Thomas Gafford on their website right now.

Here are some thoughts that came to mind from Ryan Succop’s story.
1- Being Relevant
By definition, Relevant means

Having a bearing on or connection with the matter at hand.
How can we keep from being “Mr. Irrelevant” in the world we live in.  Sometimes, it is easier to keep away from people that don’t share our beliefs instead of intersecting our lives with theirs.  Paul wrote in

1 Corinthians 9.22b  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 

This is written in the context of helping others know who Jesus is.  We serve God be being relevant in the lives of other people.  That allows us to share in God’s work in the world around us.  We see an example of this is the Succop story.  He spoke at a Fields of Faith event, and in an effort to really connect his message with the people that were there, he even helped lead a small discussion group.  He saw the need of the people there, and sought how to meet the need however he could.

2- Remaining Humble 
“the Lowsman Trophy”
Humility is a hard thing to learn, and even harder to remain when you know success of any sort.  As soon as we see things going well, we start to think that we are pretty good at something.  I know that I love affirmation for what I am doing, whatever it happens to be, but when I receive affirmation, I need to be careful, because I then start to believe that I am able to do things on my own, without the help of God, who in reality is the only way that anything positive is accomplished through my life.  The title of “Mr. Irrelevant” and being the last person picked is a huge slice of humble pie to start with.  There is a lot of fun made of you.  Succop received a jersey with #256 on it, and Mr Irrelevant on the back.  He received the “Lowsman Trophy” (opposite of the Heisman Trophy), He is the brunt of jokes, and he takes it all in good fun.  It is important to remain humble, and not take ourselves too seriously.  When we are serious about our relationship with God and working for Him, we will constantly be reminded that:
“Apart from God, we can do nothing” we read in John 15.  But with God anything is possible. (Matthew 19.26)


Christians in the NFL – Lessons Learned from Jared Allen – Minnesota Vikings

This is the 8th post in my series of Chrisian professional football players.  This time around, we take a look at the Minneota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.

Jared Allen is what comes to mind when I hear the term “fierce competitor”.  He has an amazing skill set that terrorizes opposing quarterbacks.  He has a non-stop engine that keeps him going full speed against blockers, double teams, and whatever else the opponent may try to do to stop him.  When he successfully gets through to the quarterback, he rarely misses a chance for a sack.  He is normally among the league leaders in that category.  He has 87.5 sacks in his 7+ season career. Living here in Minnesota, I can attest to his immense popularity and his fan base continues to grow by the day.

Check out  this article about Jared Allen sharing his faith story at a Straight Talk Breakfast that Search Ministries was putting on.  The breakfast was hosted by Search Ministries Minnesota division director and former Minnesota Viking Jeff Siemon.

The story of Allen shows great honesty about a guy who has struggled to live out his faith against what the world offers but has come to realize that he needed Jesus as a savior and desires to build his relationship with God daily.

Here are some thoughts that came to mind from Allen’s story.

1- First it is confession time.  I had heard that Jared Allen was a Christ-follower, but for some reason I was skeptical.  It wasn’t until I was looking into some articles about Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell that I read these stories and decided that what I heard/read must be true.  Why do we do that?  Why do we accept grace given to us that pulls us from the sin and mess that we are in, then turn around and doubt that the same could happen to other people.  I am hoping that God and Jared both forgive me of this attitude and that I remember that forgiveness is a gift offered to all.

2- Jared gives some credit in turning his life around to follow God to the people that are in his life.  His parents, grandfather, and teammates.  We are influenced by others and we influence others, whether we want to or not.  It isn’t our choice whether we will influence people or not, it is our choice on how we will influence them.  Will we live our lives in a way that demonstrates the importance of God working in us, or will we hide our faith and keep it to ourselves?  God calls us to be a light shining so others are drawn to Him.  He calls us to be salt, effecting the world around us.  He calls us to go into all the world and make disciples.  Let’s intentionally be influencers for God in the world he has placed us in.

3- Jared Allen is a relentless pursuer.  He pursues opposing quarterbacks every week in the NFL season. He also is a hunter.  Relentless Pursuit is the name of his hunting show on FoxSportsNorth each Sunday morning. He also has a cookbook out. We can find an object lesson in this.  From the moment the ball is snapped, no matter how many people get in his way, Allen is 100% all in after the quarterback.  Are we pursuing God the same way.  If we were to truly put God first and passionately chase after the things of God, imagine the things we would see him do.
3b- God pursues us relentlessly too.  Even before we know God, he pursued us.  He loved us so much that Jesus died for us.  And he did this before we even knew who He was.  Hearing that God loved me so much to do that, I should be willing to put lots of effort to get to know God more and pursue Him whole heartedly.

The story of Jared Allen is another story that has helps me look at my own life and thoughts and realize that I am still a work in progress myself.  God made himself known to me, and I chose to follow Him, but the journey doesn’t end there.  He continues to refine me.  I am so very thankful for God’s relentless pursuit of me, and desire to pursue him with passion for the rest of my life.