Trey Flowers – One of Eleven

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Sketch of Trey Flowers by Jack Kurzenknabe

One out of eleven.

Each individual on the football field is one out of eleven players representing his team.

New England Patriot’s defensive lineman, Trey Flowers, had a long time to get used to that ratio.  Growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, young Trey was one of eleven siblings.

In a family that large, you have to pitch in.  Trey’s father, Robert, owns Flowers Construction Company.  By the time he was 10-years old, Trey was already constructing walls, hanging shingles, and helping build houses.  Robert explained to Mark Daniels; “I’m a contractor. I worked hard. I wanted them to work, too.  Trey worked as hard as I did. When he was 12-years-old, he was worth $25 an hour to me. He could put on as much shingles or do as much construction work as any grown man.”

Trey learned as a young man the value of quiet, honest, hard work.  He has carried that blue-collar work ethic all the way to the NFL.  Flowers explains; “We grew up on a construction site.  It was just something about coming home, you’ve been gone from 6 in the morning to 8 at night coming home to a good meal, take a shower, go to sleep and do it all the next day. It was something that was instilled into us at a young age.”

Flowers worked hard; on the job site and on the football field.  His work was rewarded with a scholarship to the University of Arkansas.  The staff had discovered him through a YouTube highlight video and scouted him at a basketball game.  He was not, however, heavily recruited.  When he went to Arkansas, he found himself quickly buried on the bench.

That didn’t discourage Flowers.  Instead, he did what he did best; worked hard.  In time, his hard work payed off.  He became a starter and eventually got drafted by the New England Patriots in the 4th Round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Reaching the NFL hasn’t changed Trey Flowers.  He’s still known for being quiet, humble, and working hard.  Defensive Coordinator, Brian Flores, gave him a nickname; “The Quiet Storm.”

Patriot’s defensive back Jason McCourty told the Boston Globe that the nickname “makes a lot of sense. I remember when I first got here, Trey always had his headphones on and I’m like… ‘he doesn’t talk at all.’ And then when you kind of get to know him a little more, you see he does talk, and laughs and jokes a lot.  He represents what we want to be as a defense, a guy that does more with his play than with his mouth and a tough guy that whatever is asked of him — setting the edge against the run game or getting pressure on the quarterback — he’s able to be versatile.”

Flowers adds; “I didn’t know about the nickname, but I do feel as though it’s one of those things that it does fit my personality.  I don’t say much, just put my head down. Anytime I am saying something, it’s obviously something that needs to be said. I guess people appreciate the words a little bit more than saying, ‘Nah, he’s just talking.’ I think it’s just describes who I am.”

One of the reasons Flowers doesn’t brag or boast about his success is because he knows he didn’t make it here alone.  He knows that his success comes from God.  He explained to Rob Maadi on the Faith on the Field Show; “You go through life and you have different experiences and you just understand that nobody but God could have put you in that situation, So, you just know that and know that, no matter what you do, no matter how good you are, you’re not at this level without Him, so you’ve got to always stay humble and stay grounded and understand to give Him all the glory.”

A man who was one of eleven siblings, one of his favorite Bible Verses also has a one and an eleven; Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Flowers explains; “So, you know, that’s just the definition of faith which is you know the thing you’ve got to have just in life generally, and definitely out here on the football field; You gotta understand that a lot of things probably don’t look to good or your situation might not look to good but you’ve got to continue to keep the faith and continue to work hard, so that’s a big Scripture in my life.”

Brandin “the Archer” Cooks

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Brandin Cooks back in his New Orleans Saints days.   Photo by Keith Allison

The Archer.

It sounds the latest movie the ever-expanding universe of Super Hero movies.

But to football fans, the archer is someone else; Rams Wide Receiver Brandin Cooks.

Cooks was drafted in the 1st Round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints.  He played in 10 games his rookie season, starting in 7 of them, racking up 550 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns.  He’s been a staple in the league ever since, starring for the Saints, the New England Patriots, and now the Los Angeles Rams.

Cooks is a man of faith, known around the league for his character.  He’s never been in the spotlight for any controversial reasons.

That all changed in 2016.

After scoring touchdowns, Cooks has a go-to celebration.  With his left-arm push straight-forward, He pulls his right arm back, as if shooting a bow from an arrow.

During the 2016 season, Redskins Defensive Back Josh Norman celebrated in a similar fashion.  He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and fined $10,000 for performing what the league deemed to be, a symbol of violence.  The NFL then banned players from ‘shooting a bow from an arrow’ in future celebrations.

The ban wouldn’t stop him.

Cooks explained to NOLA.com; “Well, there are different forms of doing it. You just can’t shoot [the arrow].  I’m still going to pull it out. Whatever happens after that happens. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my team, but I’ll figure something out.”

For Cooks, the bow and arrow symbolism are not a symbol of violence.  If not a symbol of violence, then, what it is a symbol of?

One of Brandin Cooks favorite Bible passages is found in Genesis 15-21.  God had promised Abraham that he and his wife Sarah would have a baby boy – even though they were both quite old at this point.  Beginning to doubt God’s promise, Abraham and Sarah agreed that he should have a child by Sarah’s servant, a woman named Hagar.  After agreeing, Hagar soon gave birth to a son, whom they named Ishmael.  In time, God fulfilled His promise, and Sarah gave birth to a son named Isaac.  As you can imagine, there was great tension between Sarah and Hagar – as well as rivalry between Ishmael and Isaac.  After one specific blowup, Sarah asked Abraham to cast Hagar and Ishmael out of their house and out of the community.  Abraham obliged.  When all hope seemed lost for Hagar and her son, God appeared to her, promising that He would protect and provide for them both.  He also promised that, out of Ishmael, a great nation would arise.  Ishmael cared for his mother and became a great archer in the process.

That story stuck with Cooks.  So did another verse; Psalm 144:6; Send forth lightning and scatter your enemy, and shoot your arrows and rout them.

Cooks recalls. “I just remember it sticking with me for such a long time, I remember thinking, maybe I can do something with this.”  The symbolism matters so much to Cooks that he calls himself “The Archer” and had a gold pendant custom-made in the offseason to wear on a gold chain around his neck.  For Cooks, the bow and arrow is equivalent to pointing to the heavens or dropping to a knee after he crosses the goal line.

“It’s one of those things that keeps me honed in and keeps me humble through the success and the gifts that I’ve been given,” Cooks said. “I think it’s a pretty cool way to give God the glory in a different way, and for other people to see it and buy in.”

The next time you see Cooks score a touchdown or make a great play and you see him draw his arm back as if shooting an arrow, remember God’s promises.  He promises to protect us from our enemies, as he said in Psalm 144 and He promises to watch over us, as He did with Ishmael the archer.

Faith Brockers – the Woman Behind the Lineman

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Los Angeles Rams Defensive Tackle Michael Brockers.  Photo by Keith Allison

Though there are many variations of the phrase, you have often heard it said; “Behind every successful man is a strong woman.”  Whether it was a mother, a wife, or another caring, supportive woman, this phrase rings true to many.  Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman, Michael Brokers, is no exception.

Brockers is a 7-year NFL veteran, having spent each of them with the Rams (initially in St. Louis).  He’s a team leader on the defense and man whom many of the younger players look up to.  Rookie John Franklin Myers shared his thoughts regarding Brockers to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times; “Usually, after meetings, he has two pages of notes of what he needs to do better for that day.  That’s a guy you look up to – how can you be like him.”  Fellow rookie, Sebastian Joseph-Day added; “Every time I ask him for some advice, he’s always been open and always getting extra work with me.  They’ve got me playing multiple positions, and he’s helped me develop.”

Coach Sean McVey calls Brockers “one of the more underrated players” in the NFL, noting not only his strength but also his presence.  He says of Brockers; “Anybody that knows Michael knows he’s got a great personality where you can’t help but kind of be in a good mood when you’re around him.  He’s got that contagious enthusiasm in a positive way that rubs off on his teammates. … He knows the influence that he has.”

When asked about his dedication to helping young players succeed, Brockers responded with the humility that he demonstrates on so many occasions; “Just trying to help those guys get up to speed, because that’s what I feel it should be about – giving back and helping somebody else grow their game.”

Brockers is an exciting player, a leader in the locker room; a man of devoted faith and excellent character.  In so many ways, Michael Brockers is a successful man.

Behind him is a strong woman; his wife, Faith.

Faith is a devoted mother of two, a blogger, the host of a podcast on woman’s issues, and a dedicated woman of faith.  Her father was a Baptist minister, who taught her – and her brothers Isaiah and Jeremiah, about the Lord.  Her father, however, died when she was 13, leaving her struggling with her faith.  It wasn’t until her first year of marriage that she began to take her walk with the Lord seriously again.

Even after recommitting herself to the Lord, however, she still had her struggles.  She writes;

“I always knew I wanted to start a family, however upon attempting to do so my dreams were soon crushed. The day after my wedding, I soon started to prepare to be a mother. However, a year and a half in, my husband and I were shocked with the news that one fallopian tube was blocked and the other being partially blocked (meaning it would be extremely difficult to have children). Though I was devastated by the news we still needed answers so we sought out a fertility doctor whom recommended IVF. During this emotionally and physically draining process I prayed to God to bless my womb and pondered on the scripture about Sarah in 1 Samuel 1:27, also I was reading Psalms 113:9 daily. It gave me such peace and trust in my Lord that all my prayers would be answered. Sure enough, three months later we conceived our daughter through in vitro fertilization. My husband and I were so thankful to God for trusting us with this precious gift, August 2015 we welcomed our baby girl. Just seven months after the birth of our daughter we found out we had naturally conceived our second child. I have to admit at first I was extremely nervous because it was an unplanned pregnancy. I now realize that nothing is unplanned with God, & now I take pride in carrying my baby boy. When man said it was unlikely, God said other wise. Oh the blessings my God has given to me — I am so very thankful and am joyful that He is a merciful God who loves me so much.”

Faith calls Psalm 139:14 her favorite Bible verse; I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it very well.  She explains;

This scripture resonates deep, because though it took me my whole childhood I now know that I am made in His likeness and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am a black woman of a darker skin tone and my whole childhood I was mocked and teased for it to where I too believed I was not beautiful because I was “too dark.” Today I revert back to this scripture often when I need reassurance, peace or to thank God for bringing me so far in life through my many storms. His works are indeed wonderful and marvelous. I thank Him for not only healing all my emotional scars but also sending me a Godly man who loves me with all of my flaws. Additionally he lives by the Bible as a priest over our household and loves his family just as Christ loved the church. My God is truly an amazing God!” 

As we watch the Los Angeles Rams take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, we see a great deal of successful men on the field.  We give thanks to God for the many faithful women who helped them get there!

 

Jackie Slater – Los Angeles Legend

Super Bowl Series: Many of you will undoubtedly attend Super Bowl parties this year, watching the big game with friends and family members.  As February 3rd approaches, A Lamp unto My Cleats will feature players from the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots each day.  My hope is that you will read these stories and prepare to share them with others as you watch the game together.  Use this unique opportunity to share the story of the faith and the good news of Jesus Christ as you watch the game together.

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Each year, as the calendar turns from January to February, Football fans all across America anticipate the Super Bowl.  Fans across the country pick a side – a team to root for – and hope to cheer that team on toward victory.  As we prepare for Super Bowl LIII, fans choose between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams.

I wonder who Jackie Slater will root for.

On one hand, Slater is a Los Angeles Rams legend.

On the other hand, Jackie’s son, Matthew Slater, plays for the New England Patriots.  (More on him next week).

Jackie Ray Slater was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. He attended Jim Hill and Wingfield High Schools where he competed in football, track, and basketball. Jackie was the first in his family to attend a desegregated High School.  He recalls; “It was a different time in the South. A lot of young people back there now take it for granted that they’ll go to school here, or go to school there, do this or do that. It makes me feel real good to see the positive change that has taken place.”

Slater received a scholarship to play football at nearby Jackson State.  At that time, Jackson State’s running back was none other than Walter Payton! In a Paul Zimmerman article entitled Last Stand, featured in the July 10, 1995 edition of Sports Illustrated, Payton told the story;

“I was coming off my freshman year at Jackson State.  All they were talking about was this big tackle here in town, in Jackson, at Wingfield High–6’4-1/2″, 285 pounds, agile, great basketball player. They sent me to his house to pay a visit. He only lived five minutes away from the college.  Of course a lot of my interest was selfish. Nothing better than recruiting another good offensive lineman. He was not at all cocky, always seeking information, kind of amazed at everything that happened. And dedicated. You could tell that right away.”

After a successful collegiate career, Slater was selected in the 3rd Round of the 1976 draft by the Los Angeles Rams.  Slater says that, as a rookie, his overall objective was to “to become the best offensive tackle in the history of the game.” But his more immediate goal, he confessed, “was just to make the team.”

He achieved far more, however, than simply making the team.  He went on to play 20 seasons with the Rams, which, at the time of his retirement was NFL record for the most seasons with one team.  He also played 259 regular-season games for the Rams which was also the most ever by an offensive lineman. He blocked for 24 different quarterbacks and 37 different running backs – 7 of which rushed achieved 1,000 yards seasons behind him (Lawrence McCutcheon, Wendell Tyler, Eric Dickerson, Charles White, Greg Bell, Cleveland Gary, and Jerome Bettis).   He was elected to the Pro Bowl on 7 occasions and named the Lineman of the Year by USA today three times.  He played in 18 Playoff games, 5 NFC Championship games, and 1 Super Bowl – Super Bowl XIV in 1980 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  His success made him an easy choice as a 1st ballot Hall of Famer.  Walter Payton summed up his evaluation of Jackie Slater by saying, “Of all the people I played with or against, he’d be one of the first three I’d pick if I were starting a team.”

Jackie Slater enjoyed a long and successful career.  Playing until he was 41 years old made him the butt of many jokes.  Quarterback Jim Everett once said; “Jackie Slater is proof that they were playing football in the prehistoric days.  I’ve seen the calluses on his feet where he used to have to stop his car like Fred Flintstone.”

Playing for 20 years also put him in a leadership position in which many young players looked up to him.  Slater says; “I’ve been blessed with a mind and an attitude that I feel you just have to have to compete with guys who are ten years or twelve years your junior. I’ve also been blessed with an excellent support group in my family, and good coaching, and good guys on either side of me.”  Throughout his career, he was admired for being deeply religious, humble, and a hard-worker.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Slater didn’t sometimes struggle.  As a man who played with great passion, one of his greatest challenges was his temper.  In the Book “Men of Integrity,: A Daily Guide to the Bible and Prayer,” Slater provides a devotion based on Proverbs 14:29: A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.  He explains;

“Even though I had become a Christian while in college, I still had a terrible temper.  I was ready to fight anytime, anywhere.  Until the Lord let me seem myself as others saw me.  I was out on the practice field going through one-on-one drive-block drills with the rest of the Los Angeles Rams, when I noticed a problem developing between two players.  A young guard was blasting a long-time veteran so hard he was driving him right off the board.  After this happened several times, the veteran got mad and started throwing punches.  Before the young hard could fight back, however, it was broken up.  I watched the young guard storm off the field and stand along the sidelines, seething with rage.  ‘That’s you, Jackie,’ the Lord seemed to say to me.  ‘That’s just the way you look when you lose your temper.’  I knew it was true.  I decided I didn’t like what I was seeing.  Right then and there, I resolved to seek the Lord’s help each and every time I felt myself beginning to lose control to my anger.  As long as I have remembered to do that, He has never let me down.”

Many of us struggle with our tempers.  While our list of accomplishments isn’t as impressive as Slater’s, we often think highly of ourselves and become frustrated when people don’t see things our way, do things our way, or simply aren’t as impressed us as we think they ought to be.  We should all commit the words of James 1:19 to our hearts and minds; “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

Brandon Mebane – Walking by Faith

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A sketch of Brandon Mebane and Joe Pawelek sacking Brett Favre by Jack Kurzenknable

Prior to yesterday’s Division Round Playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Chargers, there was a moment of silence.  The football world paused for a moment to remember Makenna Mebane, daughter of Charger’s Defensive Tackle, Brandon Mebane.

While still in the womb, Brandon and his wife, Amena, were informed that Makenna had something called Trisomy 13, a rare chromosomal condition that can cause intellectual disabilities and physical abnormalities in addition to heart defects, brain or spinal abnormalities and weak muscle tone.  In Makenna’s case, she didn’t have a heart valve.  She was due in December, and would have heart surgery soon after.

Those plans quickly changed.

On November 12, Makenna was born early, thankfully without any complications.  However, just two weeks later, she was diagnosed with Necrotizing Entercolititis – an intestinal disease that often affects premature babies.  She had surgery to remove parts of her intestines and her heart surgery had to be put on hold.

Watching your child suffer is among the most painful challenges in the world.  At first, Mebane would fly back and forth between Los Angeles and Omaha, Nebraska, where Makenna was receiving care.  He called watching his daughter suffer “harder than anything I’d ever dealt with in my life.”  After Week 11 of the season, after prayerful consideration, and with the blessing of the Chargers, he missed 4 games this season to care for his family.

During this challenging time, Mebane and his family turned to God in prayer.  He explained at Chargers.com; “We’re just praying (a lot).  We thank everybody that’s been praying for us.  It make me pray even more, and up my relationship with God and talk to Him more throughout the day…  (This is) something that made me more aware of talking to God more, praying way more, praying not just as night with my kids, but before we drop them off at school…”  He added in an interview with USA Today Sports; “at this point, man, when you talk to God and pray, you can’t worry about the things that’s happening, you just got to have faith.”  During an interview with USA TODAY Sports, Mebane took out his phone, opened an app for Bible scripture and scrolled down until he found what he was looking for;  2 Corinthians 5:7; “For we live by faith, not by sight.”  Said Mebane: “That’s my all-time favorite.”

On January 3, Makenna was called to glory.

After losing his daughter, Mebane didn’t lose his faith.  He explained to ESPN; “I’m still thankful and I thank God every day.  I still pray.  We’re taking it one day at a time.”

Mebane was able to suit up and play for the Chargers in their playoff games against the Ravens and the Patriots, albeit with a heavy heart.

Mebane’s story reminds us of King David, who also lost a child in 2 Samuel 12.  After losing his child, David faithfully proclaimed that he believed that he would one day be reunited with his son.  He declared that now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”  Brandon and Amena Mebane can rest assured that they, too, will one day go to heaven where there daughter Makenna will be waiting for them.

How blessed we are knowing that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose again on Easter Sunday, winning eternal life for all who believe.  As Jesus famously declared in John 3:16, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”

That is God’s blessed promise to the Mebanes and to us all.  Through the tragedies, hardships, challenges, and struggles, we rest hang on to our faith and rest on God’s gracious promises, giving thanks that we, indeed, walk by faith and not by sight.

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On Sunday, January 13, Amena Mebane posted the following on Instagram, which was too beautiful not to share;

Missing my baby.  I would whisper to her every morning ‘every day with you is a blessing sweet Makenna.’  If you had told me I would only get to hold her for seven weeks, I would still have chosen to carry her to term, to move across the country for care, to move my family across the country, to enroll my kids in a new school, to be admitted to the hospital for weeks, to have a c-section, to pump every three hours even when she couldn’t eat, to sleep in a chair in the NICU night after night.  I would have still chosen to fight for her, because she was worth it.  Smelling her, seeing her face, holding her hand, tickling her feet, feeding her milk swabs, singing to her, listening to her cry, seeing her furrowed brow… was all worth it.  Her life mattered and despite her genetic difference, she was worth fighting for.  And although her time here was short, her impact on us was immeasurable.  her impact on us will last a lifetime.

 

 

 

Cody Parkey – a Champion in Defeat

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The name Cody Parkey is now a part of NFL history.

A week ago, Cody Parkey was anything but a household name.  Growing up fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, I remember him beginning his career in the Metallic Green and Black, and I fondly remember his Pro Bowl Season back in 2014.  After that season, though, Parkey faded into obscurity.  Prior to the 3rd game of the 2015 season, Parkey tore all 3 muscles in his groin, causing him to miss the entire season.  He was released the following fall.  From there, Parkey bounced around the league, going first to the Cleveland Browns, followed by headed to Miami to play for the Dolphins.  He finally found a new home prior to the 2018 season with the Chicago Bears, signing a 4-year contract.

The season didn’t go the way Parkey had planned.  The low point of the regular season came on November 11th in a game against the Detroit Lions.  Parkey famously – and know somehow fortuitously – hit the uprights on 4 separate kick attempts – two field goals and two extra points; none of them going through.  Following that game, however, Parkey seemed to return to form.  He connected on 10 of his 12 field goal attempts to close out the regular season.  He also opened the Post Season on January 6th against his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, by connecting on his first 3 field goal tries.

But then, in an instant, everything changed.  In the final seconds of the game, Parkey had the opportunity to win the game.  He lined up for a 43-yard field goal.  If he was successful, the Bears would win 18-16 and advance to the next round of the playoffs.  The snap was good.  The kick felt good.  Eagles defender Treyvon Hester got a finger on the ball, but it was so slight that no one seemed to notice.  The ball drifted to the left, hit the goal post, fluttered down to the cross bar, and bounced out.  The Bears lost.  Their season ended.  Parkey hung his head in shame while being consoled by teammates.

And then in happened.

Parkey lifted his eyes to sky, and pointed upward, giving glory to God.

Parkey had failed.  His team had lost.  He will go down in infamy in the annuls of Chicago Sports History.  He will be the most hated man in the city, joining the ranks of Steve Bartman.  His future, both with the Bear and in the NFL is, at least for now, in question.  But Parkey still gave glory to God.

After most of the cameras had left the downcast Bears sideline and the jubilant Eagles as they stormed the field, they found Parkey again.  He was kneeling in between Bears punter Pat O’Donnell, Eagles offensive lineman Stefan Wisniewski, with a group of players from both teams in prayer.

His response was everything it should have been; beautiful, inspiring, puzzling.

For some, Parkey served as an inspiration.  He reminds us of what it means to keep all things in their proper perspective, to give glory to God in all circumstances, to support fellow Christians – even if they play for the other team.  Dan Andros wrote an article the following morning entitled; “Why I’m Telling My Sons to Be Like Bears Kicker Cody Parkey.

To others, Parkey’s faith made no sense.  Barstool Sports went to Social Media to mock Parkey, writing “Look, I know some people put a whole lot into their faith and it’s their whole live and blah blah blah, but you gotta tell God he’s at least sleeping on the couch tonight.  I’m not saying forget everything and rebuke him and all that, but let him know you’re upset.”  The post continued with more foul language and disregard for the 2nd Commandment.

Our basic human response when things don’t go our way to is to get angry at God; to blame Him; to want nothing to do with Him.  But Parkey took a moment of weakness and showed the strength of his character and his faith.  He reminded us that God is good, even when life doesn’t go our way.

On Parkey’s Instagram page, he has one Christian Devotion posted.  The devotion asks “What mountain is in front of you this morning?  It suggests that perhaps one’s mountain is a sickness, a troubled relationship, or a floundering business (it never suggests a missed field goal).  As we consider our obstacles, a verse in mentioned – Joel 3:10, which reads beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” 

In his moment of weakness, Parkey acted like a warrior.  He kept his head up and found a way to give glory and honor to God at a moment when many of us would have felt like hiding in the shadows.  He may not have won the game, but Parkey reminded us what a champion truly looks like.

Matt Forte – The Workhouse Returns to His Stable

 

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Former Bears Running Back, Matt Forte.  Photo by John Martinez Pavliga

 

Change can be terrifying.

Running back, Matt Forte, is going through a major change in his life right now.  After 10 seasons in the NFL, Forte will be hanging up his cleats.  Forte played college football at Tulane, was drafted by the Bears in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft, and then finished his career with the Jets.  He retires with 9,796 rushing yards, 75 touchdowns, and two Pro Bowl appearances.

In addition to having had an impressive NFL career, Forte has an impressive faith.  He has been vocal about his faith throughout his career, even announcing his retirement through Sports Spectrum.  Here are a few of the gracious words he had to share (though I also recommend checking out his entire statement);

For the past 10 years, I’ve been blessed to play professionally a game that I’ve loved since I was 6 years old.  But, after much prayer and reflection, I’ve decided to retire from the NFL. Like so many others before me, this game has enhanced my life in numerous ways. My career in the League has been nothing short of a miracle granted by God and put on display for His glory. I will cherish the many memories made on the field and the lifelong friends I’ve made over the years in the locker room…  The past 25 years playing America’s game have left me with unparalleled joy. But, it’s time for the workhorse to finally rest in his stable. While my heart is a bit heavy as I close this chapter of my life, I am excited about what the future holds. God Bless and Bear Down!

In times of anxiety and change, Forte has learned to look to God for strength.  He explains to The Increase;It’s easy to become anxious, but the Bible warns against letting worry overtake our lives. In fact, anytime we allow worry to seep into our lives, it means we’re not trusting God. We may be trusting Him, but only to the point where we feel like we’re still in control. When we begin to realize we’re not in control, anxiety rears its ugly head. I know that is when I need to lean on God and trust Him the most.”

A verse that is near to Forte’s heart is James 1:2-4; Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Forte points out that the Bible “doesn’t say if you face trials, but when. We’re promised trials, and if you aren’t prepared for the trials that will come, you’ll find yourself overcome with anxiety. But since you know hardships are going to come, you can prepare your heart and mind to trust in the Lord’s sovereignty.  It’s one thing to say you’re not going to worry, it’s another thing to apply it to your life. For me, the more I stay conscious of my anxiety, the more I’m able to surrender it to God and trust in Him. When I feel myself getting overwhelmed, I tell myself to slow down, I go to a quiet place, and I pray. During these moments I need to realize there’s a bigger picture than what’s going on in my life this week or even this month. God calls us to take it one step at a time, without worrying about the future.

As we face changes in our own lives, we, too, can rest on God’s promises.  He promises to work all things for the good of those who love Him, to listen every time we call to Him, and to help us in every time of danger.  We never need to be afraid or feel alone.  As Psalm 46:1 reminds us; God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble!

Carson Wentz: Strength on the Sideline

 

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Eagles Quarterback, Carson Wentz.  Photo by Keith Allison

 

On February 4, 2018, millions of people had their eyes fixed on U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, as the Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII.  As we watched Nick Foles lead the Eagles on the field, however, something amazing was also happening on the sidelines.

Carson Wentz.

Wentz is the Eagles star quarterback.  The Eagles paid a king’s ransom to trade up to the 2nd selection of the 2016 draft to select him and have been building their team around him ever since.  Wentz has done nothing but prove that he was worth it.  He’s not only been a great quarterback, but he’s also demonstrated strong character, and a selfless, team-first attitude.  He’s been quite vocal about the reason behind his attitude; his faith.  Wentz started a charity called AO1 – Audience of One.  During Week 13 of the 2017 season, the NFL sponsored a “My Cause, My Cleats” program, in which players could wear custom cleats promoting their favorite charity.  Wentz and other Eagles wore AO1 cleats, complete with the Bible Verse, Romans 5:8, which reads; but God shows His love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Wentz spent the 2017 season, not only leading the Eagles to the playoffs, but by telling the world that he’s a Christian.  Wentz accomplished a great deal!

But he didn’t play in the Super Bowl.

In Week 14, in a game against the Rams in Los Angeles, Wentz tore his ACL.  After his injury, however, what Wentz did was perhaps more impressive than any of his on-field accomplishments thus far in his young career.  Instead of leaving his team to focus on his own rehab and recovery, Wentz stuck by his teammates on the sidelines.  He took on the role of encourager, mentor, and friend.  When the defense was on the field, he would sit by his replacement, Nick Foles’, side, helping him make in game adjustments.  He genuinely rooted for his team to succeed – even when that meant winning the Super Bowl without him.  Even in his weakness, Wentz showed the world what the heart of a Christian ought to look like.

Wentz, along with several other Eagles players, put together a devotional series for the YouVersion Bible App.  Here’s what Wentz had to say;

One of my favorite things about God is His creativity.  He’s blessed us all with different skills, different abilities, different passions, different things that we’re good at, and I think that’s so unique, and in 1 Peter 4:10 it says; “Each of you should use whatever gift you have receive to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”  And various forms is what really jumps out to me, ‘cause, you see, I’ve been gifted to play football, as a professional quarterback.  But there’s other people who have been gifted to be pastors, to be businessmen… to be teachers, dentists, nurses, you name it.  And we all have this different mission field.  We all have this different platform and potential reach with our influence, but, at the end of the day, we all have the same mission.  And what’s our mission?  In Acts 1:8, Jesus says; “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Samaria and Judea, and to all the ends of the earth.”   So, at the end of the day, no matter what your job is, not matter where you’re at, no matter who you’re surrounded by, God has put it on your heart, and your mission is to tell the world about Him. To spread the Gospel.  To do it with love.  And that is our ultimate mission.  And it’s ultimately to do it for the Lord and to further His kingdom

Wentz had hoped his job this season would be to lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl as their starting quarterback – and to bring God glory on the field.  It turns out, his job was to serve as a supportive voice on the sideline.  He embraced this unexpected, unwanted job with the same zeal he uses on the field, and has brought God glory in his humility and his love for his teammates.

 

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A photo of Carson Wentz, Zach Ertz, Nick Foles, and 3rd string quarterback Nate Sudfeld with Tony Dungy’s son, Justin, after the Super Bowl.  While Philadelphia celebrated, these 4 men of God found a quiet place to pray together.  Photo from Tony Dungy’s Twitter account

 

Trey Burton – James 1:22

 

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Trey Burton (#8) back in his University of Florida days.  Photo by SAM_5363

 

On a football team, you never know when the coach will call your number and need you to step up.

The Eagles have lived that reality this year.  It all started after week one, when kicker Jake Elliott was brought in for an injured Caleb Sturgis.  Than it was running back Lagarrette Blount (and, later, Jay Ajayi) stepping in for Darren Sproles.  The list kept growing.  Linebacker Joe Walker for Jordan Hicks – and then Dannell Ellerbe for Joe Walker.  Left Tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai or Jason Peters.  Nick Foles for Carson Wentz.     For a short time there was another need for a player to step up.  In a crucial Week 14 matchup in Los Angeles against the Rams, star Tight End, Zach Ertz, was out, leaving backups Brent Celek and Trey Burton to step up.  Burton was ready.  He explained to the Increase

The biggest thing I’ve learned this year, especially in the past few weeks, is that you never know what’s going to happen, so you have to be ready at any time to step in and lead. Whether on the field, in the locker room or in team Bible study, you have to prepare as if you are the starter. On the field you never know what might happen; you have to be prepared for the worst. One of your teammates might get injured and end up out for the season. You need to be ready to give it all you have on every play. As a Christ-follower, I want to be prepared in my knowledge and trust in Him so that if anyone asks me a question about my faith, I’m ready.

God has also been teaching me to appreciate my teammates more this year, not only as they compete for our team, but as many of them work hard to build up the Kingdom of Christ. As a team needs each player — gifted specifically to execute in their position on the field — so the Church has members who are all a critical part of God’s mission, able to benefit the Church with their gifts and talents. Not one teammate is greater than the others. Everyone is needed for this mission.

We, as Christians, always need to be ready to step it up.  Whether it means stepping it up to preach the Gospel, to help someone in need, to show compassion to someone who is hurting, or to defend someone who is vulnerable.  Christians are called to be people of action.  Burton explained the following in one of his portions of the Eagles You Version devotion series;

James 1:22 says. “Be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving yourself.”  I love this verse for many reasons.  Probably the #1 reason, though, I love this verse is because it’s counter-cultural to what we believe here in America.  A lot of times we go to church on Sunday and we listen to a great sermon or we hear our pastor preach on a topic, and that’s it.  We’re not doers, we just hear.  And so, when I started reading James, I truly fell in love with it and it kind of gave me a totally different mindset about church.  Not only should we go to church; Not only should we be listening to sermons on podcasts or YouTube or whatever it may be.  But that’s not the end of it, that’s really just the beginning.  And the same with reading the word, you know, when we’re in the Word and we’re studying Scripture – that’s not the end of it, that’s just the beginning and now it’s time to act on it.  And that’s something myself and my teammates have taken to heart this year; Not just sitting and listening and those types of things– which are great – but taking the next step and being doers of what we’ve been reading and what we’ve been studying.

We’re all called to step up as Christians.  We’re called to doers of the Word.  We’re called to rise to action and serve Him wherever and whenever we have the opportunity.

Marcus Johnson; Baptized Into Christ

 

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Marcus Johnson being baptized by Pastor Kyle Horner in the presence of some of his teammates.  Photo is from Marcus Johnson’s Instagram account.

 

The week of October 8, 2017, is one that Eagle’s receiver, Marcus Johnson, will never forget.

It was the week he went viral for a reason he never expected.

It was a week that nearly never happened.

Like many young men, Marcus Johnson grew up in the church, but gradually drifted away from it.  He explained in episode 36 of the Faith on the Field Show with Rob Maaddi;

“when I was younger, my family and I always went to church – every Sunday.  We did a little bit of Sunday School; my grandparents have always been strong in their faith; and it’s always been around me.  But as I got older and I got to high school – closer to the time that I was getting ready for College – we moved from where we originally were and We hadn’t really found a church… Then, once I got to College, I was on my own.  I wasn’t going like I should have.  And it wasn’t like we didn’t have outlets.  We had FCA at the time at the University of Texas; different churches that people were going to… I just never really took advantage of it for whatever reason…  I spent 4 years at Texas, you know, just on an up and down path, you know, my life was all over the place… I guess those 4 years I hadn’t really completely bought into all of it and I hadn’t pushed myself in my faith the way I should have.”

But even as Johnson’s life was going through a time of change and instability, God was supporting him and surrounding him with people to help him through.  He says; “I always had people in my corner the whole time.”  After college, Johnson went undrafted by the NFL.  On May 13, 2016, he signed a rookie contract to the play for the Eagles.  That’s when everything in his life began to change.

He tells Maaddi that being a part of the Eagles is

“everything you could ever ask for.  Going into the NFL, last year, my rookie year, you always hear people talk about the locker room; how dysfunctional they are; how players are selfish; how they only play for money and this and that.  And Immediately, when I got here, I had so many people who were just supportive.  [There] really wasn’t anything negative in that locker room.  From that point, I knew it was something special here…  It’s been encouraging for each and every person and, like I always say, we just hold each other accountable.  We’re not afraid to speak up about our faith.  We’re not afraid to hold each other accountable, to continue to make sure that we all stay on the right path.  And it’s such a blessing to have a group of guys you can come to about anything and just be like, ‘I want to grow in this area; I feel like I need work in this area.’  And, you know, they all have their own wisdom from their growing up and whatever course their life has taken and they can all give you good, honest advice.  They’re not going to tell you what you want to hear, they’re going to tell you what you need to hear… Since I’ve gotten to Philly, I’ve grown in my faith so much… If it wasn’t for the guys in this locker room, family, and friends really uplifting me and pushing me forward, there’s no telling where I’m at right now; if I’m moving, stagnant; if I’m growing in my faith; if I’m working in the community.”

This great moment in Marcus Johnson’s career however, ended before it really ever began.  On September 13, the Eagles cut Johnson from the team.  His faith, however, got him through it.  He explains; “It was just me never doubting what God had for me and, before I got cut and everything kind of happened the way it did, You know, I heard something powerful what somebody said, you know, what God has for you, no man can take.  And you just have to trust the process.  You have to be committed to it.  And you have to know it wholeheartedly… When I got cut, I didn’t look at it as anything but a business decision from the Philadelphia Eagles I didn’t take it personal, I just took it as motivation.  I went home, I worked out and stayed ready.”  It’s a good thing he did.  In December, the Eagles brought him back!

As he rejoined the team, he continued to grow in his faith.  Through the encouragement of players like Trey Burton, Carson Wentz, Torrey Smith, and others, as well as through local pastors and his friends and family, Johnson grew in his faith.  He began feeling called to be baptized.  He wanted a local Philadelphia Pastor, Kyle Horner, to baptize him.  As the desire to be baptized grew in his heart, the whirlwind week began.

It started on Sunday, October 8.  Johnson recorded his first NFL catch in a 34-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals.  The celebration would have to be short, as the Eagles would be flying to North Carolina to prepare for a Thursday night primetime showdown against the Panthers, in a battle of 4-1 teams.  Pastor Kyle would be travelling from Philadelphia to see the game, and Johnson wanted him to baptize him while they were all there.

Johnson says that “it’s been a true blessing.  You know, when something like that happens – not talking about the catch but being baptized, it’s something that you can’t do alone.  When you take a step like that, it’s a lot of people behind the scenes and not everybody gets to see and know that helps make something like that possible and, just leading up to it, I had been talking to Pastor Kyle about it for a while, and we were trying to get it all worked out and God had it meant to be right before the game. And Kyle flew out because he was going to watch the game, and he was like ‘Man, we can do it at the hotel if you want to, and I was like, it doesn’t matter where we have it or where we do it, I just want to go ahead and take the next step and be baptized.”  On Wednesday, October 11, 2017, Marcus Johnson was baptized into Christ, surrounded by his teammates.  The following evening, the Eagles defeated the Panthers, and began to receive a great deal of attention by the national media.

That’s when the unexpected happened.  Johnson posted a picture of the baptism on Twitter and on Instagram.  The picture went viral.  Even secular sports media outlets were covering the story.  Johnson’s baptism was featured on Fox News, CBS Sports, and 247 Sports.  That was something Johnson never expected when he posted the picture.  He tells Maaddi;

“As a football player, you kind of think something I do on the field – or something else might inspire or motivate people, and that’s how it’s been for a lot of my life. I didn’t think that me being baptized would blow up the way it did and it’s just amazing how God is using it… I’m just so thankful that something like a baptism could be so wide reaching.  I’ve had so many people reach out to me; from people who are believers who are just happy for me, from people who are like ‘you know, I’m not really a believer but I really like the growth that you’ve made and, you know, it’s inspired me and, you know, it’s really a beautiful thing when something like that happens.  It’s truly a blessing… I want to show the world and I’m glad that, like I said, the baptism went viral and a lot of people were able to see it.  And, I always pray for things like that – using my platform and influence for the better and for positivity; pointing every bit of success In His name… Just like you’ve seen in the power of this post going viral.  You know, anybody can post being baptized and it’s just another picture or another video.  But, it shows how powerful our platform is and our influence is… It’s amazing to see Him use me in that way, and I just want to continue to do that.”

Baptism isn’t the end of a Christian walk.  It’s the beginning.  Johnson’s plan now is to focus on “moving forward and just diving into the Word and learning more and being more committed in the Bible; Being more committed in community; Being more committed, in His Name…  I want to continue to uplift of the people around me.”

Update (March 9, 2018): Marcus Johnson experienced the joy of being part of the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl LII winning season.  After the season, he was traded, along with a 5th Round Pick, to the Seattle Seahawks for 3-time All Pro Defensive Lineman, Michael Bennett, and a 7th Round Pick.