Christians in the NFL – Lessons Learned from Donald Driver Green Bay Packers

I live in Minnesota, and they take their football pretty seriously here.  One of the first questions that I was asked by the man who would become my father-in-law during our first ever conversation was about where my pro football allegiences rested.
 I learned quickly, that while my answer, (The New Orleans Saints) was not the best answer I could give, that it was better than being a Packers fan.  Over the years, I have gained acceptance (or at least tolerance) from my in-laws, with regards to favorite sports teams but one truth remains.  “The Packers are the enemy, and are never to be talked about in a positive light.” 

Well, at the risk of alienating my in-laws, and my entire home state, lets spend some time talking about one of the stars of the Packers in recent years.  Here is the story of Wide Receiver Donald Driver, and some truths his story brought to mind as I read it.

First of all, Check out this video from CBN.  It is from Super Bowl Media Day last Winter.  There are several interviews with players from both the Steelers and Packers who share what God means to them and how important a role their faith in God plays in their life and career.

The segment on Donald Driver, tells us he is the longest tenured member of the Packers team.  He is a star receiver with very impressive career numbers.  And reading his story, it is kind of amazing that we have even heard of him.  Amazing, because, with all he had been through and the bad choices he had made, his life could have gone a very different and more destructive path.

As you can read in this article (its actually a sermon), Driver was leading a troubled childhood.  drugs, felonies like stealing cars, homelessness, skipping school.  Lots of trouble, not much direction. On a path that had a much better chance of leading to prison or death then to the NFL.  An act of kindness after an accident went a long way to leading him to God.  He ran his stolen car into the car of an older woman.  She chose to show kindness and reach out to this troubles young man and from this event, Driver’s life began to turn around.

He focused on school work, earned a scholarship for college, and was drafted by the Packers in the 7th round of the 1999 draft.  That is also amazing – playing at the level He plays at, being one of the top receivers in the NFL for over a decade, and he began it all and the 213th person picked in the draft.

Now, normally, seventh rounders are long shots to make the roster, maybe practice squad players who work their way into role players.  Driver is now a 3 time pro bowler, and the Packers all time leader in receptions and receiving yards.  All told, it is a remarkable story for a 7th rounder, and an amazing story of a life doomed for trouble, redeemed for great things.

Some lessons that I take from the story.
1- From the woman that he literally ran into.  She showed true grace and (except the part where she lied to the police) Christlike character.  I attended a conference a month ago and a couple of the speakers talked about making sure that as Christians, our lives intersect with non-believers.  Because rubbing shoulders with non-believers is the only way that we can share God’s light with them.   That means, though, that we need to be careful with how we interact with them.  Would the lady in the story have been wrong to turn Driver in to the police when they arrived?  No! but had she done that she wouldn’t have had a chance to talk to him and start the process that turned his life around.  I am reminded stories in the Bible where a “sinner’s” life was changed by an encounter with Jesus.  He didn’t teach them a “lesson for their own good” or “make an example of them”.  Instead, he loved them, an offered them forgiveness and a second chance to change how they were living (Matthew, Zaccheus, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the thief on the cross that stood up for Jesus).  Instead of condemning people for their behaviors, we need to take opportunities to be a beacon, guiding them to God, where they can experience love and forgiveness.  There are consequences for our actions, and there is a need to allow our lives to be changed.  But conviction comes from God working in them, and not from us trying to impose our beliefs on people who don’t yet share them.

2- When given a second chance, a life that God redeems can do amazing things for Him.  Donald Driver  has chosen to give back to people who find themselves in the same situation that he did when he was younger.  The Donald Driver Foundation offers help to people who are having financial difficulty and need a hand getting back on their feet.  He also has written a couple of children’s books about trying hard and not giving up, even through set backs.

That sums up Driver.  Trying hard and not giving up.  It also sums up our God.  He never gives up on us.  He us always awaiting us to turn to Him and choose to let Him be Lord of our life.  Sometimes, when life throws hard things at us (either by our own doing, or not) He is there to walk through it with us.  And ultimately the plan that He has for us is the best option.  He teaches us through our life events to prepare us to share God with others who are going through hard times.

I never get tired of reading these stories of lives turned around by God.  And even though it risks a good relationship with my in-laws 😉 I will be glad whenever Donald Driver’s successes lead him to an opportunity to tell others about the difference God has made in his life. (I joke with them – I think they would appreciate his story, too)

Christians in the NFL – Lessons Learned from Calvin Johnson – Detroit Lions

Sea Turtles.  That is what came to mind as I looked into the story of Calvin Johnson, elite wide receiver for the Detroit Lions.  I would wager that it may be the first time the Pro Bowl wide receiver has ever brought up images of the aquatic amphibian.  How did i get from point A to point B you ask.  Let me tell you a story.

Calvin Johnson was the 2nd overall draft pick in the 2007 NFL draft after 3 years of outstanding play at Georgia Tech.  He is a top 5 receiver (despite what Cris Carter may say ;0). He makes catches that are hard to believe, and has quietly become a star on a team that has not been very good during his time with them.

In this blog post from Another Day Another Opportunity, Johnson tells his own story.  In it,  I read about Johnson’s quiet demeanor, allowing the skills that he has to speak for him.  I also read about his decision to live his life for Christ, as he joined teammates at chapel services and a retreat, where he was able to get away from practice, football, weight rooms, playbooks, drills, etc. and focus on who God is and what God was saying – Perspective!

The Lions has struggled for years, and continued to do so, even with Johnson on their team.  They became the first team in NFL history to go winless throughout an entire season.  What a discouraging thing.  Anyone who plays competitive sports hates to lose,  that’s why they call them competitive.
He wrote
 “Many times when a team is struggling, the last thing players want to hear is someone with an upbeat, positive message. But it was during those tough times that our faith and actions served as a powerful witness.”  
Now if anyone can speak about a team struggling, it is a member of a winless team.  What could someone on a winless team possibly be upbeat about?  Here is where we start to get into the sea turtles.

Let me tell you about a trying time in my life.  It was the summer of 2005.  I was a base director for a missions organization, leading church groups on mission trips in Freeport, Bahamas.  We were having some issues with staff, there was a crabby group that was complaining about lots of things from travel issues getting to our site, to plan changes, to issues with staff etc.  I was the base director, so all of the issues were mine to resolve and deal with.  It was weighing on me.
Every week, we took our groups to a reef for some snorkeling.  And on our snorkeling day, I took all the weight from these issues with me out in the ocean.  I broke the rules, and went off by myself.  I put my mask and snorkel on and went swimming, thinking about all of the things that were going on.  I was upset, praying for guidance but not really listening to any answer.  Soon, I found myself swimming around, stalking a green and yellow turtle that I had spotted, swimming through the beautiful, clear blue water, and it dawned on me.  All the issues that I was holding on to had blocked my perspective.  I was in a beautiful setting, surrounded by God’s amazing creation that I am blessed enough to experience on a weekly basis.  It is hard to stay in a bad mood when you are watching the life on the reef and seeing God’s creativity on display.  I repented for my bad attitude, rejoiced at the fact that part of my “job” was snorkeling in Bahamas, and getting to work with lots of amazing groups to share God’s truth to a world that needs it.  PERSPECTIVE!

Calvin Johnson played football on a team that didn’t win a game all year.  He got left off a list of top 5 receivers when he likely should have been on it.  Are these reasons to get upset and get down.  No!  And he doesn’t seem to have let it affect him.

I am reminded about Luke 10.20.
It says “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

The disciples were excited about what was going on in their lives.  Jesus reminded them to keep it in perspective, and to know the real reason for celebration and rejoicing.   I think this is true in good times and in bad.  When things are going great,  be happiest about your relationship with God.  When things are going bad, remember that you have hope in your relationship with God.  In all things, remember that the only reason we have to rejoice and celebrate is if we have a relationship with God.  

I needed perspective when things were going bad – God is in control, and he is bigger than the issues that try to weigh us down.  He cares most about the state of our hearts and that our hearts long and desire to worship Him and praise Him.  If you know God, boast only in that, and if you do not know God, may your heart’s ache lead you to encounter Him and know he is the cure.

Christians in the NFL – Lessons learned from Devin Hester – Chicago Bears.

Well, humble pie is a lot like stewed carrots.  It doesn’t taste very good, but it is good for you.  I have to write this post choking down a little humble pie of my own.  And it comes to me courtesy of a story I read about Devin Hester, one of the most exciting players currently in the NFL.

I have been a fan of Devin Hester since I first saw him return a kickoff for a touchdown.  I think kickoffs are exciting plays anyway, and then when someone takes the ball the distance, it is positively electrifying. And Hester just keeps doing it.  He is a punt/kick return star.
I learned that he shared his faith story at a Father’s Day event at a church in the Chicago suburbs and thought that it sounded like an event that I, as a dad, would have liked to attend.  You can read the details about it here (check it out if you are in the Chicago area next Father’s Day).

What he shared though, at this event struck a chord with me.  He spoke (as you can read in this article) about how he wants more than anything, for his kid(s) to say that he was a great dad. That is more important to him then success on the field or fame and fortune.  In fact being a good dad is so important to him, and something he sees as important to a child’s development, that he has begun writing a monthly column in Chicago Parent magazine.

This resonated with me as I was trying to get this post put together.  As I was reading the stories linked to above, and deciding what angle to write my post from, my 2 year old daughter came into the kitchen where I was working, to see what I was doing.  She and her sister had been in the living room watching a movie but she had become bored and wandered out to see me.  My reaction, I am ashamed to say, was to try and encourage her back to the movie, so I could post my blog.  She wasn’t interested in the movie anymore, she wanted some quality daddy time.  She asked to sit on my lap, and I let her.  I clicked back on the story, and as I read it, I was convicted that I was guilty of not taking this chance to love on her and receive her affection, too.  I quietly, closed the article, pushed the laptop away and turned my attention to her.  We interacted for a few minutes and then she contentedly went back to the movie. 

Point made.  Lessons learned.  Here are the thoughts that I have from this mornings experience.
1- Times like this when my precious daughter wants to snuggle with me and just be with me are many now, but will get fewer.  I need to take advantage of each one, because they are all a treasure beyond value.

2- Our heavenly father never treats us the way that I treated my daughter today, too busy to interact with us.  He is always there, listening, and knowing completely our situation.  He eagerly awaits quality time spent with each of us.  Sometimes, though, we are like the teenager who is too busy or too cool to engage with our Father in a meaningful way. We need to be excited to hang out with Jesus, find that quality time and let him love on us.

3- Work is never more important than family.  I believe that healthy priorities in this life go in this order.  1- Relationship with God, 2- Relationship with spouse, 3- Children/family 4- work, 5- everything else.  I had this confirmed at a conference I attended last week.  Pastor Mark Driscoll was talking about the importance of friendship with your spouse as you work through this life, whatever your vocation is. He spoke about many famous Christians in history who had terrible family lives because they sacrificed family for their work,  Yet, this morning, I chose my blog (a hobby of mine) over quality time with my cherished daughter.  The irony of the  situation was not lost on me.  I was not spending time with my daughter because I was eye deep in articles to read so I could post some thoughts on a football player who wants to encourage men to be a good dad.

4- The final thought that came to me about quality parent/child time was that I am posting this and having all these thoughts on September 13, 2011.  Today is my parents 43rd wedding anniversary.  I would have very much enjoyed being able to step out of what I am doing and spend some quality time with them on this day that celebrates their marriage and partnership in life over all these years. But they are 2000 miles away so I will have to use my blog instead to say:  Happy Anniversary mom and dad,  May you have many, many MANY more wonderful years together.  I love you both very much!

And as a thank you/tribute to Devin Hester’s skills and the part he played in this post, here is a compilation of all of his record 14 return TD’s  enjoy!


Christians in the NFL – Lessons learned from Matt Birk – Baltimore Ravens

This is the 4th installment in my series on Christian NFLers. Today’s topic is Matt Birk of the Baltimore Ravens.

As I began to look into Birk’s story, I noticed a couple similarities to my own story.  We are about the same age, (I am 9 days older) and our strong pro-life stances were strengthened when our first children were born.  Read a story about his pro-life stand here.  And you can read my earlier posted thoughts about being a dad here.

Another thing that captured my attention as I read the story is that Birk’s job as an Offensive Lineman is very important and often thankless.  Birk is a 6 time pro-bowler but still not a common household name outside of Baltimore (and Minnesota where he is from and where he began his pro career) He is very good at his role – one of the best in the league. But the very nature of his job is a thankless one – His nose gets bloodied almost every game it seems –  It is, however, an important role.  If he does his job, his quarterback and running back will have every opportunity to be stars.  He makes them look good by protecting quarterbacks from being hit and opening holes for the running backs to run.  

This spoke to me because sometimes serving others in ministry can be long, hard, thankless work. We may even get hurt.  But ultimately, we don’t need to get the attention on us, it isn’t about us at all. It is God who we want to draw attention to.  By working away for Him, and following his plan for us, we make Him look good. That is a definition that I have heard for glorifying God – making God look good.  He doesn’t need us to make Him look good, but He gives us the opportunity to point others to Him.

And the final thing that I learned from Birk’s story is how he is using his status and fame to spread the Gospel around the world.  He and several other members of the Baltimore Ravens were speakers and panel discussion members for a fund raising event “Football & Faith”.  The event was to raise funds for Kingdom Rain – an organization that trains and coaches Christians in the most unreached areas of the world to reach the people in their countries and share God’s love with them.  It is a very cool and extremely necessary organization and I am grateful for their work.  For more information about them, check out the Kingdom Rain website.

Birk’s story challenges me to serve, even when it seems thankless and hard, and to stand strong for my beliefs to reach those close to me and those around the world.  Acts 1.8 tells us to be witesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  We can participate his glorifying God everywhere.  Let’s go do it!

Christians in the NFL – Lessons Learned from Colt McCoy – Cleveland Browns

This is the third entry in my blog series on Christian Football Players.  Today’s subject – Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy.
Colt was a record setting NCAA quarterback, a star in the making, a Heisman Candidate, and according to most prognosticators,  a early draft pick in the NFL.  He lived up to much of the hype, delivering the Texas Longhorns into the Championship game.  I remember watching the game and hoping that the Longhorns would walk away victorious in the game.  Then I saw a hit on McCoy, and next thing I notice, he is being escorted out of the game, off the field and into the dressing room to be evaluated.  That  was all he would play in this game.  His team would lose the championship and McCoy didn’t even get to really play in the game.
Some questions may have begun to creep in. 

Is this really how the season, and his college career was supposed to end?   How serious is his injury?  Will it affect where he is drafted?  Will he be drafted at all?  Will he play at the level he expects to at all anymore? 

Read more of the account and what was going on in his mind at this article that McCoy wrote himself.  I found it at faithinthegame. You can also read about his life in the NFL in this article from Sharing the Victory Magazine

Well, that night didn’t work out like McCoy wished,  I am sure. But he did get drafted and began his career in the NFL.  He even took over the starting job as a rookie, which was not expected, and remains at the top of their depth chart. 

A couple things that came to my mind as I looked at his story in the articles above. 

1- Faith grows through trials – I know this isn’t a deep thought, but when partnered with the idea that life is going to be hard and that “in everything you do, do as unto the Lord” that I shared in my last post,  that means in how we deal with failure and struggle, too.  I was challenged by this paragraph from the STV story.

“In a personal rock-bottom moment, experiencing deep physical and emotional pain, Colt McCoy met God where He was at work—not where McCoy thought He should be. Instead of praising Christ while holding a trophy like he’d hoped, the battered quarterback stood in front of a national TV audience in a postgame interview and told the nation, “God’s in control of my life and, if nothing else, I’m standing on the Rock.”

It is so easy to play the blame game when things go bad.  We say that this isn’t right, or thin that this can’t possibly be God’s will.  But in that moment, there wasn’t a hint of this in what he said.  He understood that this situation wasn’t more than God could handle.  He also knew that God was with Him and would be all that he needed.

2- God faithfully carried McCoy through to an NFL career.  Colt stepped in and took over the starting QB job in his rookie year.  He said
 “It was tough jumping into a huddle with guys who were older—who had families and kids. It was a challenge in and of itself telling them what play we were running and how we were going to do it, but to get on them when we weren’t doing well and praise them when we were was another thing.”
We’ve seen it before –  a young player steps into a role of leadership.  It requires great care, humility, and awareness of others, while at the same time, exuding confidence enough that others will follow your lead and buy into what you are saying. 
Timothy may have felt the same thing.  He was a young apprentice to Paul while Paul was travelling all over (when he was not in prison).  It is an inspiring story to see young Timothy grow into his leadership role and lead the churches (filled no doubt with people who were older than he) on their spiritual journey. 
But maybe, Timothy, like McCoy, found it hard to be in a position of leadership over these older men in the church.  Paul gives him great advice which is there to both encourage and challenge Timothy in his role.  1 Timothy 4.12 says “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, life, love, faith and purity. 
What a call to action.  Paul is saying – God has put you in this place, and has equiped you to lead.  Stay true to what you know, remain humble, and lead confidently.  God is with you and will be glorified through your example. 

1 Timothy 4.12 is the theme verse for the 5th and 6th grade youth group I lead.  We desire to instill in these young people the confidence to be who God created them to be, and to live life for Him starting now.  Others will notice, and will be challenged to live their lives for Christ, too. 
Fifth and Sixth grade ministry is a passion of mine.  I will share more on working with this age in the future in this blog.  My hope and prayer for them is that they will grasp that living a life for Christ is a choice that they can make today, and live out for the rest of their lives.  God wants to use them to accomplish His goals.