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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Todd Blackledge Leans on Iconic New Testament Verse During Game-Winning Drive

Philippians 4:13 (ESV)
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Penn State 27, Nebraska 24 (September 24, 1982)

When Nebraska traveled to University Park, Pennsylvania for a non-conference game against host Penn State, the 85,304 fans in attendance most likely didn’t know what they were about to witness. Certainly, there was the spectacle of numerous future NFL athletes such as Curt Warner, Gregg Garrity, Bill Contz, Walker Lee Ashley (Nittany Lions), Irving Fryar, Mike Rozier, Roger Craig, and Dave Rimington (Cornhuskers). There was also the first-class battle between two legendary coaches—Joe Paterno and Tom Osborne.

But when the game was on the line, it all weighed down on the shoulders of Penn State’s senior quarterback Todd Blackledge. Trailing 24-21, the Nittany Lions offense took the field at its own 35-yard line with just 1:18 left in the game. Throughout the drive that followed, Blackledge calmed himself as he repetitiously recited one of his favorite Bible verses:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

For decades, that iconic New Testament passage has served as an inspiration to countless athletes and coaches. On this day, it was Blackledge whose play was bolstered by the apostle Paul’s words as he orchestrated an exhilarating 65-yard drive. With seconds remaining, he threw a long pass to tight end Mike McCloskey that resulted in a controversial completion call. Then, on the two-yard line, Blackledge faked the hand-off before tossing the game-winning touchdown to his other tight end Kirk Bowman.

Penn State’s come-from-behind victory spurred an 11-1 finish including a 27-23 Sugar Bowl upset over Herschel Walker and top-ranked Georgia, and garnered the Nittany Lions’ first national championship. Blackledge, who was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated following the Nebraska game, received much of the credit for his team’s success.

“People ask me what’s been the key to my improvement,” he told People Magazine that same season. “And I talk about how I never worked so hard before, how I worked out all summer to improve my drop-backs, my agility, my delivery. But deep in my heart I know that the real key was my spiritual preparation.”

For Blackledge, the result on the field might have been a big victory, but away from the game, the strength found in that biblical passage has been equally significant.

Dear Lord, we thank You that with You we can do all things. Help us to not try and do it on our own. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Tom Osborne Sets Tone For Title Game with New Testament Encouragement

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

Fiesta Bowl: Nebraska 62, Florida 24 (January 2, 1996)

The word legend is thrown around way too often in the realm of sports. But in the case of former Nebraska head football coach Tom Osborne, there’s little doubt that such praise is fitting and well deserved.

An abridged list of his mind-boggling accomplishments on the field include three national championships, 13 conference titles, his 255-49-3 overall record, and his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Surprisingly, it took Osborne 22 years to win that first national championship. There were a few close calls earlier in his career (most notably in 1982), but it wasn’t until 1994 when an undefeated season finally added that one missing piece of hardware to the trophy case.

Then in 1995, Osborne led what some have called the greatest college football team ever. With another undefeated season and national championship on the line, the stoic Midwestern gentleman stood before his team in the locker room at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. His speech, as usual, wasn’t very long and it wasn’t overly impassioned. But it was powerful nonetheless.

And just like he was often known to do, Osborne quoted these words from the New Testament:

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

From the opening kickoff until the sound of the final horn, there was no hint of fear in his confident and capable team. Considered one of the most dominant championship games in college football history, Nebraska finished strong with a 62-24 victory over the second-ranked Florida Gators in the Fiesta Bowl. Even after a tight first quarter in which the Cornhuskers trailed 10-6, the team’s discipline was evident amid a 29-point second quarter that all but secured the win.

When asked to reflect on his illustrious career, Osborne has shied away from highlighting the obvious moments like that inspired championship run. Instead, he has looked somewhere else for a more accurate barometer of his legacy.

“When coaches die or retire, usually the first thing people talk about is the win-loss record,” Osborne once said. “Somehow that defines you. I hope that isn’t the sole definition of what I did as a coach. Relationships are the most important thing and hopefully I was consistent in my spiritual walk and that players saw that…The fact that I cared about them not just as players but as people was important to them…All of those things are the most important things.”

In 2012, Coach Osborne was honored at Nebraska’s final home game ahead of his retirement as the university’s athletic director. His son Mike had two t-shirts made for the occasion. Both featured an iconic image of Coach Osborne on the front. One shirt was black and said “Nebraska’s Native Son” on the back while listing his major accomplishments. The other shirt was red and said “Legend, Coach, Congressman, Athletic Director and Mentor” on the back.

Mike also wanted to put his dad’s favorite verse on both shirts as well. When asked what the verse might be, Osborne’s former players would not have been surprised to hear their beloved coach once again quote 2 Timothy 1:7.

“My dad does not look to other people or prosperity for approval,” Mike told huskers.com. “His primary concern is living a life according to the values found in the New Testament.”

Dear Lord, help us to life our life to the values that we find as we read Your Word. Give us the strength each day to live for You. N the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Colt McCoy Finds Solace in Post-Game Devotion After Injury, Loss

Jeremiah 17:7 (ESV)
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.

BCS Championship Game: Alabama 37, Texas 21 (January 7, 2010)

It was supposed to be the greatest moment of Colt McCoy’s college football career. Instead, it turned out to be one of the worst.

Heading into the 2010 BCS Championship Game, head coach Nick Saban and top-ranked Alabama were the favorites to win the title over #2 Texas. McCoy would need to have the game of his life for the Longhorns to have a legitimate chance.

Unfortunately, after just five plays, any chances of him leading his team to victory were abruptly halted when Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus tackled McCoy on a designed running play. The hit caused the senior quarterback to suffer a pinched nerve in his throwing shoulder.

For the rest of the game, McCoy stood helplessly on the sideline as freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert did his best to keep Texas’ hopes alive. The Longhorns kept the game close early on, but Alabama exploded in the second quarter to take a 24-6 halftime lead. Texas fought back in the second half, but the Crimson Tide defense shut down the late comeback attempt en route to a 37-21 victory and national championship trophy.

After the game, Brad McCoy found his son sitting at his locker. Thinking he might need some old-fashioned parental consolation, the elder McCoy instead saw the dejected All-American reading a devotional book. It was an Old Testament passage that jumped off the pages and provided much-needed solace in the middle of a difficult moment:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.” (Jeremiah 17:7)

In its historical context, the verse was part of a larger passage whereas the prophet was communicating a message from God to the kingdom of Judah. It was a dark time in the people’s history. According to the Bible, they were fighting against Babylonian rule as a punishment for turning away from God.

Yet there was hope amid the despair, praise in the midst of the lament. Jeremiah was telling the Judahites that they could be saved if they resisted the temptation to rely on man and instead shifted their hearts back to the Lord.

For McCoy, ceasing to trust God was never an option. But that verse certainly helped reassure him that everything was going to be okay.

“There’s definitely some ups and downs,” McCoy told the Christian Sports Journal. “You have to lean on the relationships around you…I love playing football, but without those relationships and without those principles that my parents taught me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’ve faced some challenges, but that’s what I lean on—my family and my faith. That’s what gets me through tough times.”

And just like in many other moments in his life, the Bible brought McCoy comfort and peace amid one of the most disappointing circumstances of his young life.

Dear Lord, we thank You again for the words in the Bible that bring us peace and comfort.  Thank You that we can lean on them to get us through the tough times. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Eric LeGrand Relies on Psalm 23 After Suffering Paralyzing Injury During Football Game

Psalm 23 (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. 4 Even 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. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Rutgers 23, Army 20 (October 16, 2010)

For Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, it was a routine play that he had made countless times before. With 5:10 left in the fourth quarter, LeGrand dashed down the field at New Meadowlands Stadium (now MetLife Stadium) in pursuit of Army kick returner Malcom Brown. He then made the biggest mistake of his football career. He lowered his head just before making contact.

The hit was violent—so violent that it broke Brown’s collarbone. But the first thing everyone noticed was the way LeGrand’s body stiffened as he fell to the ground. He was paralyzed below the neck and was struggling to breathe.

LeGrand was rushed to Hackensack University Medical Center where he had emergency surgery and spent the night in the intensive care unit. He had fractured his C3 and C4 vertebrae. The doctors delivered the devastating news to LeGrand’s mother. He had broken his neck and would never walk again.

Over the course of the next several days, LeGrand had visitors that included his Aunt Cheryl and Uncle Ariel. On one occasion, Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano was also there and joined in as they gathered around his bed and prayed for a miracle. And then his aunt asked LeGrand if she could read Psalm 23 to him.

“I could barely move my head, so I was nearly immobilized,” he recalled. “I needed hope during a time of despair. She opened her Bible and read these centuries-old words, which soothed my troubled soul.”

The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, 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 overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

“Those sentences lifted my spirits, especially the part about walking through the darkest valley,” LeGrand wrote. “That’s where I was—the darkest valley. It didn’t get any darker, if you asked me. But the psalmist reminded me that the Lord was with me and his rod and his staff comforted me.”

The next several weeks were difficult, but eventually LeGrand was able to breathe without a ventilator and regain some motion in his shoulders. He has written a book about the experience and continues to inspire audiences with his courageous testimony of faith. On July 11, 2012, he received the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPYS.

And when his soul is troubled, he returns to that powerful Old Testament passage from David and is emboldened to hope for the impossible.

“I believe I will walk again. I do,” LeGrand boldly declared a year after his accident. “When that happens, I already know what I'm going to do. I'll go to Giants Stadium and find the exact spot in the field where I went down. I'll lie there for a second. And then I'll get up on my own power and walk away.”

Dear Lord, we thank You for the encouraging words in the Bible. We thank You for the comfort that they bring us when we are down. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Landry Jones Gives Teammates Bible Verse Wristbands to Inspire Accountability

Proverbs 27:17 (ESV)
Iron sharpens iron,
    and one man sharpens another.

Heading into the 2010 season, there was a great deal of uncertainty for the Oklahoma Sooners. A year earlier, an injury to vaunted quarterback Sam Bradford forced redshirt freshman Landry Jones onto the field much earlier than expected. Oklahoma struggled to manage a disappointing 8-5 record.

At the end of the season, Bradford decided to leave school early and was selected #1 overall in the 2010 NFL draft. It was official. The team would now be looking to Jones for leadership. So that summer, he had custom wristbands designed to inspire accountability amongst his teammates. The message was simple:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

“Growing up I knew what was right and wrong, but I hadn't accepted it into my heart,” Jones told News OK. “Now, when I read the Bible, the words are jumping off the page at me.”

The Sooners needed to lean on that principle early on. The team narrowly avoided a major upset against Utah State in the season opener and barely defeated non-conference opponents Air Force and Cincinnati in the third and fourth games. Then, after a 6-0 start, Oklahoma lost two of its next three in road contests against Missouri and Texas A&M.

But with that challenging Bible-based concept readily within arm’s length, the team continued to work through injuries and tough opponents in an effort to achieve its goals. Even though Jones was a third-year sophomore and second-year starter, he had already earned his teammates’ respect as a spiritual leader. The wristbands weren’t the first time he had used the Bible to inspire others. In fact, Jones held a Bible study on the book of Romans in the Oklahoma locker room during the previous summer.

“His ability to quote from the Bible and his ability to connect those scriptures to people is not an easy thing to do,” then teammate Adrian Taylor said. “You have to really study the Word, really be in it. I can see him being a preacher. That's Landry Jones.”

Oklahoma finished the season on a tear. The Sooners won its final five games (including the Big 12 Championship Game and the Fiesta Bowl) and finished the season 12-2 and ranked #6 in the national polls. Over the next two years, Jones led the program to an overall 20-5 record and finished his career as the third leading passer in NCAA history.

Now playing in the NFL for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jones eventually wants to share his love for the Bible in a more traditional setting.

“I don't know where it will lead me," Jones said. “Maybe I'll start my own church. Hopefully I'll get to do that sometime in the near future and see what God has planned for me.”

Dear Lord, we thank You for the tough times knowing that they work to make us better people. Helps us to continue to work hard to improve who we are. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Tim Tebow Sports Bible Reference on Eye Black en Route to National Title

John 3:16  (ESV)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

BCS National Championship Game: Florida 24, Oklahoma 14 (January 8, 2009)

For college football fans, the 2009 BCS National Championship Game was loaded with intrigue and fascinating matchups. There was the clash of two powerhouse programs–Florida and Oklahoma–and a faceoff between two of the sport’s most accomplished coaches–Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops.

On the field, it was the battle between quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford that had captured the national spotlight. Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, was noted for his unique ability to run and pass the ball effectively while Bradford, the newly crowned 2008 Heisman Trophy winner, preferred a more traditional passing style.

The game was expected to be a high-scoring affair, especially considering that the Sooners had already set an NCAA record for most points scored in a season. But sloppy play and defensive grit saw both teams struggle for consistency. Ultimately, Tebow and running back Percy Harvin gave the Gators just enough of an advantage to claim the 24-14 victory and the coveted BCS title.

Ironically, football wasn’t the only thing that captured the 26.8 million viewers’ attention. Many fans took notice of the eye blacks that Tebow donned during the game. Under his right eye was the word “John.” Under his left eye was the number “3:16.” Curiosity then fueled an incredible phenomenon that resulted in 94 million Internet searches.

What the mass inquisition revealed is arguably the most iconic Bible verse known to mankind:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

The following July at the Southeastern Conference media day, Tebow was asked about the buzz he had created.

“That just kind of showed me, wow, the impact,” he responded to reporters. “I could wear something under my eyes and millions of people were going to Google it. I really had a platform. I wanted to take advantage of that for one more year, be a good role model for the kids that look up to me.”

Since then, Tebow has remained one of the most popular sports figures in the United States. Although his NFL career was short-lived, he has continued to embrace his influential role as a speaker, author, broadcaster, and, most recently, as an aspiring professional baseball player.

“It all starts with you—working hard,” he once told Sharing the Victory Magazine, “And if everybody sees that—that you are the hardest working person out there—then they are going to respect you and what you say and you are going to have a lot more opportunity to influence them.”

A year following Florida’s championship victory, the NCAA banned messages on eye blacks. The new statute, which quickly became known as “the Tim Tebow rule,” may have put an end to biblical references on the field of play, but not before the iconic athlete was able to make an enormous impact on popular culture.

Dear Lord, thank You for those that stand up for You. We pray for strength for each one today. We pray that their testimony for You will continue to reach those in need. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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.