On Wings Of Eagles

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Monday, September 24, 2018

Derrick Moore Inspires Team to Landmark Victory with Pre-Game Speech and Prayer

Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV)
9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

Georgia Tech 33, Notre Dame 3 (September 1, 2007)

One of the great traditions of college football is the pre-game speech. It’s a tradition that the average fan doesn’t usually get to experience, however, as these intimate moments between the players and the head coach take place in the locker room before the team takes the field.

But when former NFL player Derrick Moore became the Georgia Tech chaplain, something different began taking place. Due to the close relationship he quickly developed with players (and his unique motivational skills), head coach Chan Gailey occasionally asked Moore to get the team ready ahead of some of the Yellow Jackets’ games.

Such was the case on September 1, 2007, when Georgia Tech traveled to South Bend, Indiana, for its season opener against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish had long dominated the series and entered the game with an overall 27-5-1 record. Just minutes before the Yellow Jackets were scheduled to take the field, Moore began to share a heartfelt message with the team.

“It is a privilege to serve you,” Moore said. “I thank God every day for the opportunity to get in my car and drive down to the Georgia Institute of Technology—not because of brick and mortar but because of flesh and blood.”

After giving a few last-minute words of wisdom from his middle school coach, Moore then began reciting a popular Bible passage that is better known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” One line into the prayer, Moore stepped away and let the players take over.

“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

With one last shout of encouragement, Moore ushered the team onto the field where they proceeded to overpower Notre Dame en route to a surprising 33-3 victory in front of 80,000 disbelieving fans. It was the first time Georgia Tech had defeated the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium in 48 years.

The rest of the season turned out to be an up-and-down affair, which assuredly gave Moore many opportunities to provide spiritual counseling and mentoring for a young team going through growing pains. But come game day, he would once again lead them in that biblical prayer and recapture their spirits with the words of his old coach.

“We gonna fight until we can’t fight no more! We gonna lie down and bleed awhile! Then, we gonna get up and fight some more!”

Dear Lord we thank You that we can come to You for our daily bread. Thanks for giving us the words that show us how to pray to You. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Rivera Finds Solace, True Purpose in Foundational New Testament Verse

Philippians 4:12-13 (ESV)
12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Game 7 (November 4, 2001): Arizona Diamondbacks 3, New York Yankees 2

Mariano Rivera had been there before—countless times. That year alone, more than 50 times, he had entered the ninth inning with a lead of three runs or less and shut down the opposition.

And when Rivera stared down home plate at Bank One Ballpark in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, no one, not even the most diehard of Arizona fans, expected anything different.

With a 2-1 lead, it seemed fitting that the Yankees were about to clinch yet another MLB title—especially considering the emotionally wrenching seven weeks New York City and the rest of the nation had endured. 9/11 was still on everyone’s mind and took center stage again when President George W. Bush famously threw out the first pitch back in Yankee Stadium for Game 3 of the series.

But then, things took an unexpected turn. Mark Grace led off with a single. Then Rivera inexplicably threw a bunted ball into centerfield while attempting to get the out at second base. Two batters later (with one out on the board), Tony Womack hit a game-tying double. Rivera had officially blown one of the biggest save opportunities.

As Luis Gonzalez walked to the plate with a pinch runner Jay Bell in scoring position, “Phil. 4:13,” a reference to a New Testament passage Rivera often recalled, could be found written on his glove and his cleats.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Rivera hurled his trademark cutter that had caused so many batters to swing and whiff. Only this time, Gonzalez connected on a broken bat single up the middle—just out of the reach of second baseman Derek Jeter’s glove.

It was a difficult flight back to New York. Not only was Rivera distraught following the loss, he was also notoriously afraid of flying. He later revealed that it was two things within arm’s reach that consoled him on that long trip home—his wife Clara and his Bible.

“I have to believe that every pitch I throw is the right pitch and is a great pitch, and the next one will do the job. Always, always.” Rivera once told ESPN.com, “When I talk about the Lord, I'm not talking about praying to him for Him to give you what you want. People always pray for something they want. He's going to give you what you need. That doesn't mean you're going to win the game. It really has nothing to do with baseball.”

Rivera went on to complete his career in 2013 as the all-time saves leader with an astounding 652. He will undoubtedly be gracing the Baseball Hall of Fame soon enough. But his ability to deal with triumph and trial, winning and losing, can be found in his understanding of the lesser known verse that precedes Philippians 4:13—a verse that was written by the Apostle Paul while under house arrest.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12)

While not always an easy verse to live out, Rivera certainly benefited throughout his career (and in particular during Game 7 of the 2001 World Series) thanks to Paul’s grounded words of wisdom.

Dear Lord, we thank You that we can lean on You in the good times and bad times. We thank You for the strength that You give us. Help us to never try to do it on our own. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Freese Finds Calm Under Pressure in Iconic Psalm

Psalm 23:1-3 (ESV)
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.

Game 6 (October 28, 2011): St. Louis Cardinals 10, Texas Rangers 9 (11 innings)

Considered one of the greatest World Series games of all time, the epic 11-inning battle between St. Louis and Texas was an emotional rollercoaster that included just about everything you might expect to see take place on a baseball field. With 12 walks and five errors, it wasn’t the prettiest game ever played, but the abundance of dramatic moments and unbelievable ending elevated the back-and-forth contest into elite status.

Down 3-2 in the series, the Cardinals needed a home victory at Busch Stadium to force a seventh and deciding game. It wasn’t looking good heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. St. Louis was trailing 7-5 and down to its last strike with two runners on base and third baseman David Freese at the plate.

Freese has said that he remains calm by turning to his favorite Bible passage—an iconic chapter from one of the Old Testament’s most quoted books:

“The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever.” (Psalm 23)

This moment in Freese’s career was certainly a time for calm. As Rangers fans prepared to celebrate, he sent the next pitch over Nelson Cruz’s head and off the right field wall for a two-RBI triple. Freese then stood stone-faced on third base, perhaps a little shocked at his own heroics.

The fact that he was even in that position served as a testament to a life-changing decision he had made nearly two years earlier. After nearly blowing his dream of playing in the big leagues due to some poor personal choices, Freese became a Christian and found help from spiritual mentors such as team manager Mike Matheny and teammate Matt Holliday.

“I look back at that now and realize that was a very big moment in my life,” Freese said. “This world is crazy. You don’t know what can happen. I can tell you right now I wouldn’t be in this position, personally or professionally.”

That’s when Psalm 23 became his favorite verse—something he would often read when he was having a bad day or about to approach a stressful situation. Such an opportunity came up again later in Game 6.

It was the bottom of the 11th inning. St. Louis and Texas had traded more shots an inning earlier to bring the score to 9-9. When Freese walked to the plate for the sixth time, he now faced Rangers reliever Mark Lowe with no outs and no runners on base. With a full count, Freese took a fastball down the middle and powered it over the centerfield wall. The Cardinals survived elimination in thrilling fashion and went on to win the World Series with a 6-2 victory the following night.

Freese fully understands that his life isn’t defined by what happened that night in St. Louis, but he also embraces the strength and peace that he received from the words of the psalmist—for big moments like the World Series and every other situation he might face.

Dear Lord, we thank You for the comforting words that You have given to us in Psalm 23. Thank You for the peace and strength You give. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Moore Finds Courage to Lead in an Apostolic Letter

2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Game 5 (November 1, 2015): Kansas City Royals 7, New York Mets 2 (12 innings)

It might have been Game 5, but the showdown between Kansas City and New York in the Big Apple had the feel of something much bigger.

Down three games to one, the New York Mets were fighting to keep alive their hope for a first World Series title in 29 years. For the Royals, the stakes were equally high as they were trying to clinch the club’s first championship in 30 years.

Throughout the first eight innings, it was the Mets that seemed poised to extend its life another game. Curtis Granderson hit a solo home run in the first inning and Lucas Duda drove in Granderson on a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning while starting pitcher Matt Harvey cooled off Kansas City’s hot bats.

But with two late comeback victories already during the World Series, the Royals proceeded to make history with a two-run ninth inning followed by a five-run 12th inning that led to a 7-2 win and the championship.

The result was particularly satisfying for Dayton Moore. Back in 2006, he was the assistant GM for the Atlanta Braves and loved the job he had held for 12 years. When the Royals called to offer him the General Manager position in Kansas City, he nearly turned down the opportunity. Moore had previously turned down two other teams, but this time thought long and hard about the chance to move closer to his hometown in western Kansas.

Ultimately, it was a phone call to his spiritual mentor that helped him accept the job. Tim Cash, the Braves team chaplain, had some simple, but powerful words for Moore.

“You were born an original,” Cash said. “You don’t want to die a copy.”

The clincher was when Cash quoted a passage from one of the Apostle Paul’s letters to his protégé Timothy:

“For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

There was a lot to fear taking the job in Kansas City. It was a small market that had not experienced much success since winning the World Series way back in 1985. When Moore took over, the Royals had finished above .500 just seven times during that time frame, and it didn’t get much easier. The club suffered through another seven losing seasons before breaking through in a big way during the 2014 season but fell short in a heartbreaking seven-game World Series against the San Francisco Giants.

But Kansas City bounced back and found its way to the Fall Classic despite some close calls and near misses that could have derailed Moore’s long-term plan. Regardless of the outcome, Moore has remained steadfast in his desire to impact players’ and coaches’ lives.

“Being in position like this is somewhere between a blessing and a burden,” Moore said. “I didn’t ask to be in this position. In a lot of ways, I have found working at the minor league level in player development to be more fulfilling. But it’s a blessing to do something that you love to do and that you’re passionate about.”

And because of his belief in the message found in 2 Timothy 1:7, Moore was able to transfer his passion into an inspirational if not unlikely success story.

Dear Lord, we thank You that You didn’t give us a spirit of fear. Thank You that we can face any situation knowing You are giving us strength. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Affeldt Finds Focus, Strength in Biblically Inspired Tattoo

John 14:6 (ESV)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Game 4 (October 28, 2012): San Francisco Giants 4, Detroit Tigers 3 (10 innings)

Middle relievers.

They are the most underappreciated yet often most important parts of a Major League Baseball team. While the starting pitchers and the closers get the most attention, it is those less heralded athletes that shore up the key innings that tend to make the biggest impact in tight games.

Jeremy Affeldt understands this dynamic all too well. As one of the San Francisco Giants’ most reliable middle relievers, he found himself in many intense situations throughout the 2012 postseason—perhaps none more so than his appearance in Game 4.

With the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth, Affeldt took the mound in front of a hostile crowd at Comerica Park. The most observant onlooker would have spotted a tattoo on the interior of his left forearm with the words Solus Christus. Affeldt acquired the ink, the first of many, a few months earlier during the previous offseason.

But what did it mean?

Very simply, Solus Christus is Latin for “Christ Alone.” In a subtle way, Affeldt was making a very powerful statement about his religious beliefs based on five key scriptures and their pointed claims about Jesus. First and foremost, Solus Christus is rooted in the words of Christ himself:

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)

Other New Testament verses that inspire this Latin phrase include Acts 4:12 (“there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved”), 1 Timothy 2:5 (“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus”), and John 3:36 (“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life”).

“Solus Christus sums up everything for me,” Affeldt once posted on his blog. “When I do something, I do it with the understanding that I do it in Christ. What drives me to be who I am? The answer is Christ. I don’t get to hang with the guy every day like his disciples got to do, but I have His Spirit inside of me. Solus Christus. It’s in Christ that I do the things I do.”

That was the mindset that Affeldt took with him as he entered the eighth inning of a tied ballgame. With those words in plain view as he looked down to adjust his grip on the baseball, he stared down three of Detroit’s most lethal hitters.

A leadoff walk to pinch hitter Avisail Garcia didn’t help matters as Miguel Cabrera approached home plate. Assuredly, Cabrera, one of the game’s biggest home run threats, was looking to give his team the lead with one swing. Instead, Affeldt struck him out with an off-speed pitch.

Next to the plate was the equally dangerous Prince Fielder, but again Affeldt tallied another clutch strikeout. Then finally, the lefty completed the difficult task with a strikeout of Delmon Young. Crisis averted.

But Affeldt wasn’t done. With the game still tied, he returned for the bottom of the ninth and opened with his fourth consecutive strikeout. After Jhonny Peralta hit a long fly ball out to centerfield, Affeldt gave way to yet another relief pitcher looking to keep the Giants in the game.

It took one more inning before San Francisco was able to secure the 4-3 victory and complete the sweep for its second World Series title in three seasons. Affeldt would win yet another championship with the Giants two years later before retiring from Major League Baseball.

“I can’t control what happens after I throw a baseball,” Affeldt said. “So I’ve got to believe that God’s given me a talent to be the best I can possibly be and when I go out there I have done everything that I can possibly do to prepare to pitch that day. Everything else is out of my hands. Ultimately as a believer in Jesus Christ, I believe God has my destiny in my hands.”

And on that fateful day in Detroit, Affeldt was determined that, win or lose, his tattoo (based on John 14:6) would be more than just a fashion statement, but a way of life.

Dear Lord, we thank You that its in You alone. Thank You that in life’s battles we can stand firm because of You. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pettitte Stands Firm on a New Testament Principle

1 Peter 4:11 (ESV)
Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Game 3 (October 31, 2009): New York Yankees 8, Philadelphia Phillies 5

As the New York Yankees entered the third game of the 2009 World Series, they were faced with the unenviable task of trying to wrestle back the home field advantage they had lost back in the Big Apple. Heavy favorites to win the crown, they had shockingly split the first two games against their National League opponent.

But when veteran left-handed pitcher Andy Pettitte took the mound, there was assuredly something else weighing on his mind: redemption.

Two years earlier, Pettitte admitted to twice using human growth hormone back in 2002 to help speed up the recovery of his injured elbow. Even though HGH wasn’t a banned substance at the time, Pettitte still found himself in the crosshairs of negative commentary from the media and opposing fans. Even before his actions were publicly revealed, he quickly knew he needed to reverse course.

“Though it was not against baseball rules, I was not comfortable with what I was doing, so I stopped,” Pettitte said in a statement released to The Associated Press. “I wasn’t looking for an edge. I was looking to heal…I have the utmost respect for baseball and have always tried to live my life in a way that would be honorable.”

Being labeled a cheater was especially difficult for someone who was known for being one of Major League Baseball’s most outspoken Christian athletes. One of Pettitte’s favorite scriptures at the time, in fact, was one that spoke to his desire to live above reproach and with the utmost integrity as a representative of Jesus:

“If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:11)

So as Pettitte warmed up in Philadelphia, home to one of the most unforgiving fan bases, it was no surprise to him or anyone else that the boos and chants began to reverberate throughout Citizens Bank Park. It was Pettitte’s first World Series appearance since the HGH scandal two years earlier, but he was no stranger to the Fall Classic. Pettitte had already won four previous championships with the Yankees and had played for his hometown Astros in the club’s first ever World Series.

This time was different. And Pettitte knew it.

In the bottom of the second inning, the Phillies got the early advantage thanks to Jayson Werth’s home run followed by a bases-loaded walk and a sacrifice fly. Pettitte settled down and the Yankees fought back with seven runs of their own to take a 7-4 lead. Even Pettitte got into the act with his first career postseason RBI.

The Yankees held onto the lead and took Game 3, 8-5. Pettitte won Game 6 as well and extended his record for most postseason wins with 18 en route to his fifth and final World Series ring. A few years later, the Yankees retired his #46 jersey.

While some contrarian opinions about Pettitte may never change, he takes solace in the fact that his mistake was largely forgiven within the Christian community and that his opportunities to share his story in churches and organizations actually increased after his contrite admission.

“It’s absolutely amazing what happens when you’re consistent in your walk and you’re consistent in the way you live your life,” Pettitte said. “It doesn’t matter what’s happened in your life. I’ve shown that with what happened with the HGH situation…I literally thought that when that happened I’d wasted my whole life…and that I’d messed it up with a bad decision that I made. But God knows my heart. God knows that I’m telling the truth in everything I said and I think that He’s totally honored me and blessed me in that and the way I handled it.”

Ultimately, his embrace of 1 Peter 4:11 and his faith provided the strength that carried him throughout that entire World Series and helped him find the redemption he craved.

Dear Lord, we pray that we would do the right thing no matter how difficult it may be. Give us the strength to carry Your good news to the world around us. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Sermon on the Mount Inspires Jackie Robinson to Greatness

Matthew 5:39 (ESV)
But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Game 2 (October 1, 1947): New York Yankees 10, Brooklyn Dodgers 3

The 1947 World Series featured a much-anticipated matchup between cross-town rivals. The powerhouse New York Yankees were making their 15th appearance in the Fall Classic while the Brooklyn Dodgers, a club that had dominated the early days of Major League Baseball, were enjoying a post-war resurgence.

Thanks to a groundbreaking athlete named Jackie Robinson, this Fall Classic was especially significant for reasons that would have long-lasting societal implications.

Earlier that year, Robinson had broken the baseball color line when the Dodgers started him at first base on April 15. After a phenomenal season, he was named National League Rookie of the Year.

But it wasn’t easy. Early in the season, Robinson faced opposition from his teammates, a barrage of racial epithets from opponents’ managers, players, and fans, and even violent targeting on the field.

Robinson overcame all of those incredible obstacles and by season’s end found himself on the game’s largest stage in the nation’s grandest city. In Game 1, he became the first black athlete to play in the World Series. Then, in Game 2, Robinson once again made history as the first black player with a base hit and an RBI in the MLB championship.

Those big moments, however, likely would not have happened without the foresight and spiritual guidance of Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey. Known for making decisions based on his knowledge of the Bible, Rickey believed that God had afforded him this influential position, in part, so that he could help desegregate professional baseball. He simply needed to find the perfect athlete to join him in the fight.

Ironically, fighting, at least in the physical sense, was the last thing Rickey wanted his newfound star to do. To make sure he picked the right man for the job, Rickey read Robinson a powerful verse from the iconic Sermon on the Mount:

“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39)

“I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back,” Rickey famously told Robinson.

And that’s what Robinson did throughout the 1947 season leading up to the World Series and those first two games where he further etched his name in history. The Dodgers ultimately lost Game 2 10-3 and the Yankees won the series in seven games. But the real winner was Major League Baseball and the entire nation.

Robinson went on to win the 1949 National League MVP award, appear in six All-Star Games, and win a World Series title with the Dodgers in 1956. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and his #42 jersey was eventually retired throughout the entire league. On the annually celebrated Jackie Robinson Day (April 15th), every Major League athlete, coach, and manager dons that number in honor of one of the game’s true legends.

“The thing about him was that he was doing something for someone else,” Robinson later said of Rickey. “I know, because he did so much for me.”

And thanks to his following the wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount, Robinson did even more for the game of baseball and the many athletes that would ultimately follow in his sizeable footsteps.

Dear Lord, we thank You for those who stand true and strong on Your word. Help us to study Your word and base our life on it. I the Name of Jesus, Amen.