Collin McHugh – Jeremiah 29:12-15

Collin McHugh delivers a pitch during ALDS Game 1.

Collin McHugh of the Houston Astros – photo by Arturo Pardavila III

Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, New York, Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, Venezuela.

10 States.  2 Countries.  Packing and moving 19 different times.

Collin McHugh’s situation wasn’t exactly what you would call stable.

McHugh was drafted by the New York Mets in the 18th round of the 2008 amateur draft.  With that, the whirlwind began.  He spent the next five years moving up and down within the Met’s farm system.  He played in Kingsport, TN; Brooklyn, NY; Savannah, GA; Port St. Lucie, FL; Birmingham, NY; Buffalo, NY; Las Vegas, NV; not to mention Fall ball in Peoria, AZ and Winter League in Caracas, Venezuelez.  It was exhausting.  He almost quit.  McHugh said in an interview with Sports Spectrum; “I was just tired and lonely, and over it.  I was just sitting there on my front porch and was thinking to myself, ‘This is it, I’ve got my bags packed and I’m ready to go.’”  McHugh’s wife, family, and friends encouraged him otherwise.  “Stick it out through the rest of this year. “Re-evaluate once the season is over.”  McHugh took their advice, and eventually was rewarded with some playing time with the Mets.  Only, it didn’t last.

In 2013, he was traded to the Colorado Rockies, and the carousel of his life started all over again.  Over next 6 months, he’d hop back and forth between from Tulsa, OK, Colorado Springs, and the big league Rockies in Denver.

It was tough.  He missed his family and friends.  He missed birthdays and weddings; the birth of his niece.  But, most of all, he missed his wife, Ashley.  “Most of all, it’s guilt…  It just starts to wear on you after a while; and when things are going poorly on the field, that’s when everything starts to culminate.”

McHugh’s Christian Faith helped him get through the hard times.  One of the Bible passages he clung to most was Jeremiah 29:12-15; “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’”

I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you.  Places like Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, New York, Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, and Venezuela.

“For me, it always came back to the promise in Jeremiah, and a promise in my life that He has proved over and over again in every big decision I’ve had to make.  When God says, ‘Seek me with all of your heart,’ literally every big decision I’ve had to make—where I’m asking God for wisdom for just a clear head about things—it always comes back to, ‘Seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all of your heart, and I will be found by you.’ Just the idea that God is never far off—His answer is never far off, even if things look super weird, like nothing is ever going to work out, the reality is that we will always have that line of communication with Him. It’s never cloaked, and it’s not conditional; it’s just the best, and it’s better than anything you can ask for. For me, that’s something I’ve always been able to go back to.”

God’s answer wasn’t far off.  In the winter of 2013, God called Collin McHugh out of exile.  In December, McHugh was claimed off waivers by the Houston Astros, and his life changed forever.  After a quick AAA stint in Oklahoma City, he was called up to the big league club in Houston, where he would remain on the big league club for 2 years and counting!

Looking back now on the struggles he faced, McHugh sees how he grew in his faith, and learned to trust in God in good times and bad.  He puts it this way in a video interview on mlb.com;

“In baseball, you tend to get knocked down a lot.  There’s a lot of failure.  There’s a lot of struggle…  My wife, Ashley and I were married throughout much of my minor league career, so she saw it first hand, and there are plenty of times our marriage was just hanging by a thread.

Just always understand that whatever circumstances are happening in life, God uses them in certain ways to bring you back, not just to bring you back to high moral ground or to make you do the right things and say the right things.  But remind you that you are taken care of; that you are loved; that you are precious in His sight.  And, in the dark times – in the times where things are rough and you’re kind of sitting there in silence wondering ‘what is going on around me?’  ‘How is this ever gonna get any better?’  A lot of times in my life it’s the only time I really hear Him clearly.  And, unfortunetly, a lot of times it’s when things are the worst – but I would never change it.  I would never ask for anything different because there’s nothing better in my life than hearing God and understanding His love for me on every different level.”

We all have times in life in which we feel like we’re in exile; when we’re far away from where we want to be.  In those moments, remember what God did for His people, when He called them out of exile and brought them back to the Promised Land.  Remember what He did for Collin McHugh, calling him out of the whirlwind and into Houston.  Remember all the times that God has helped you through hard times already, and look forward to His promise to always help His people.  As God says in Jeremiah 29:11; For I know the plans I have you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and hope.  May we always cling to that promise!

Wade Gaynor – Genesis 1:26-27

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Former Detroit Tiger farmhand, Wade Gaynor.  Photo by Roger DeWitt

Who on earth is Wade Gaynor?

If you’re not a die-hard Detriot Tigers fan or haven’t been to many games involving Tiger’s minor league affiliates over the last several years; if you didn’t’ attend Western Kentucky University or you aren’t from Louisville, you probably have no idea.  Gaylor had a brief career in the minors from 2009-2015 and has since retired from the game of baseball.  So, if you never heard his name before today, you may never hear it again after today either.  But you know who knows a lot about Wade Gaynor?

Wade Gaynor!

That sounds like a no-brainer, but perhaps it really isn’t.  On his website, Gaynor talks about a crisis in the game of baseball.  Something he calls the “Ballplayer’s Identity Crisis.”  He points out the sad reality that, aside from being baseball players, many players aren’t really sure who they are.  He claims that athletes and parents of athletes often allow what they do to define who they are.  That may work for a while, but what happens when the stadium lights fade?  What happens when a player fails to make it to the next level?  What happens when an injury derails a career?  What happens when a successful player retires?  Gaynor has seen it first hand way too many times.  When a person allows what they do to define who they are – and then they stop doing the thing that they’ve always done – they suddenly don’t know who they are any more.  Former players often spiral into an identity crisis.  They often lose their way.  They often turn to alcohol and drugs.

The solution?  Know your true identity!  Genesis 1:26-27 says this; Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 

Gaynor explains; You see, what most of these men didn’t (don’t) care to know is their true identity. Who we are is laid out in the first pages of the Bible. Moses wrote these words THOUSANDS of years ago so we would understand that we are men and women created in God’s own image…  God has stamped us; He has told us how important we are, and that our identity is through the Living God. We turn to anything we can these days to find ourselves. We allow our gifts God has provided us with to become our identity. We are constantly worshiping the created and not the Creator! You hear people saying all the time, ‘I’m just trying to find myself.’ I want to tell them: ‘we don’t have to search because God already found and claimed us.’ What happens when we place our purpose and self-worth in something or someone, that can change or be taken from us? When that identity is gone, we are left confused and lost, not able to move forward. But we have an identity that cannot be taken away. If value is truly, ‘what someone is willing to pay for an item’ then you should know God sent His only son, Jesus, to die for you and me! This means we’re more valuable than we could possibly imagine.

Whether you’re a baseball player or just a fan; no matter who you are – don’t let what you do define who you are.  1 John 3:1 begins like this; see what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are!  That’s your identity!  You are beloved child of God!  May you find your identity, not in what you do, but in who you are; who God made you to be; how much God considers you to be worth!

Jason Motte – John 3:16

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Relief Pitcher Jason Motte.  Photo by Barbara Moore

No one is perfect.

On August 16, 2012, Jason Motte was far from it.

Motte – currently a relief pitcher for the Colorado Rockies, was then serving as the closer for the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Cardinals were playing the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks, and were leading 1-0 in the ninth.  Cardinals manager Mike Mattheny called on his trusty reliever to record the final three outs and bring the Cards to victory.  After recording the first out, Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt stepped up to the plate.  He homered to tie the game at 1.  The next batter was outfielder Chris Young.  He hit the go ahead homer, and the Diamondbacks won the game.

Later that evening, Motte found himself at a difficult place for an athlete to be after a tough night; Twitter.  The Twitterverse usually isn’t kind to a pitcher after a blown save.  But that night, one comment struck him.  Someone wrote to Motte these words; “No one is perfect.”  Motte responded; “One person was, and [because] of Him, I have peace.”  Motte spent some time that night on Twitter, talking baseball and faith among other things.  His final tweet of the evening read; “Not my first, probably won’t be my last.  Learn from the mistakes, correct them, and go get ’em next time.  #blessed.”

It’s often said that closers have to have selective short-term memory to be successful.  It can be a challenge to simply put the past behind you and try again.  Motte’s faith helps him do it.  He explained it this way in the book entitled “Intentional Walk: An Inside Look at the Faith that Drives the St. Louis Cardinals;” “Guys ask me, ‘How do you forget about it?’  Honestly, my faith helps a lot.  One of my favorite Bible verses is John 3:16, and it is one of those verses that lets you know that no matter what happens, He is there for you.  That’s how I feel after I pitch, no matter if it’s a good night or a bad night.  Just because a guy is religious doesn’t mean he can’t have a bad game.  But it can’t control your life.”

No one is perfect.  Not even the strongest Christians. But God loves us even in our struggles.  That’s why John 3:16 happened; For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believers in Him shall note perish but have eternal life.

Jesus, the one and only perfect one, came to save us who are imperfect.  1 Peter 1:22 says this of our Savior; He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.  When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats.  Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.  He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.”

In those moments in which you feel far from perfect, remember the perfect love that God has for you.  Remember that He died to forgive your sins.  You are a new creation and because of what Jesus did for you, you can follow Jason Motte’s wise advise; Learn from the mistakes, correct them, and go get ’em next time.

 

 

 

Andrew McCutchen – Romans 8:28

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Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Photo by Keith Allison

“Not as much as I should.”

It was August 1st, 2013.  The Pittsburgh Pirates were holding what would become their first annual Faith Night; providing players the opportunity to share their Christian Faith with their fans.  A little boy named Dylan stood before Andrew McCutchen and asked a profound question; “How many times have you read the Bible and how often do you read it?”

McCutchen answered; “Honestly, not as much as I should.”  In Joshua 1:8, the people of Israel were nearing the end of their 40 year trek though the wilderness.  God called Joshua to prepare to lead His people into the Promised Land, giving Him this command; “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.  How many of us can truly claim that those words describe us?  How often are we speaking God’s Words?  How often are we meditating on God’s Word?  Our answer to those questions is likely the same as McCutchen’s; “Honestly, not as much as I should!” 

On that warm summer night, McCutchen was not admitting defeat to a challenge too great for us to bear.  Instead, he showed the many ways that he does strive to keep God’s Word on His mouth and in his mind.  He explained how his mom sends him devotions every single day.  He spoke about how he was currently going through a study on the 23rd Psalm.  He explained that devotional time in God’s Word is something that he does every day.

As the evening progressed, another young boy named Ethan asked ‘Cutch’; “What is your favorite memory verse and why?”  His answer; Romans 8:28 – And we know that, in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  He explained to the young boy and to the crowd who listened in; “It just shows you that, no matter what you go through, there’s a reason for it, and it’s always gonna work for your good.  Regardless of how low you are.  Regardless of what you’re going through, He’s gonna see you through it and it’s gonna work together for your good and , you know, everything that we go through as people… that’s something that you always have to look at.  And  you have to think about the times that things weren’t going so good, but God see you through it.  And it always happens.  It always happens because God says so and, you know, God’s not a liar.  So,  that’s something that… that’s a verse that really sticks out to me.”

May we all strive to be in God’s Word daily and thus be reminded of His promises so that we never lose our way and never lose heart!

(If you would like to watch McCutchen answer all of the kid’s questions at the 2013 Faith Night Interview, check it out here)

 

 

Daniel Norris – 2 Peter 3:18

 

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Detroit Tiger’s Pitcher Daniel Norris.  Photo by Keith Allison

Detroit Tiger’s pitcher Daniel Norris is not exactly your typical baseball player.

He doesn’t play for the money but instead strives to keep his life simple.  He was described by ESPN in an article called Man in the Van as a quirky soul who lives by his own code and as a “hippie who has never tried drugs.”  After signing his first contract, and receiving a $2 million signing bonus, Norris prayed to God that the money didn’t change who he was, made donations to his church and to his parents, and set an $800 a month living allowance for himself.  His dream car is his 1978 VW van!

He doesn’t play for the glory but instead strives to to give all the glory to God.  In fact, he was baptized while wearing his baseball jersey!  He explained his reasoning in an interview with the Christian Chronicle; “God blessed me in my ability to play.  I saw it as kind of a way to show God, ‘hey, I see what You’re doing with baseball.  This is an opportunity to give You glory.”

Norris is definitely not your typical baseball player.  So, who exactly is Daniel Norris according to Daniel Norris?  He defined himself in an interview with New London Red like this; “Well, 1st and foremost I am a Christian who doubles as an athlete, not the other way around… I’m passionate about baseball, surfing, and my relationship with God.  I think that true passion consists of a real deep desire to always get better at something.  To always be in seach of opportunities to improve.  Yea, that’s passion.”  On his instagram page, he sets his goals in life as follows; “In search of 3 things: 1. Eternal life, 2. The Strike Zone, 3. Good waves.  2 Peter 3:18 – just keep livin’ *dirtbag*”

In 2 Peter 3:18, the Apostle Peter offers some final words to his dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  His parting words are “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.  Amen.”  Norris recognizes that his purpose in life is to give God glory in all that he does.  He explains; “2 Peter 3:18 is my life verse and basically it means to me that everything that comes my way is a gift from God and I always give thanks to Him by turning the glory over to Him.”

That should be the goal for each and every one of us; not to live for our own glory or gain, but to do all things for God.  That was Jesus’ goal in His life as well.  He could have lived for His own glory.  He could have fought to establish an earthly kingdom.  He could have allowed His Disciples to worship Him on the Mount of Transfiguration.  But instead, He gave up everything that God the Father might be glorified.  He showed us that this was His purpose during Holy Week.  As Jesus neared the cross, He prayed in Garden of Gethsemane just before being arrested; “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify Me in your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.”

With Jesus and with Daniel Norris, may we all strive to accomplish the work God gives us to do and humbly and graciously use the blessings He gives us to glorify Him!

Steve Cishek – Colossians 3:23

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Steve Cishek, Relief Pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays.  Photo by Laura Smith

When God first gave the Ten Commandments to His people, He also provided the following instructions; And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).  For Seattle Mariner’s pitchers, Steve Cishek, perhaps we should say it a bit differently; write them on a piece of paper, tuck them in your pocket, and carry them to the pitcher’s mound.

Every time Cishek takes the mound, he carries with him a small, square, laminated piece of paper, tattered and wrinkled on the corners.  On that piece of paper are the words of his favorite Bible verse, Colossians 3:23 – whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for a human master.”  Before facing his first batter, he reads these words.  

Cishek explained to mlb.com’s Jenifer Langosch;  “I could recite it in my head, but pulling it out of my back pocket makes me slow down and take my time a little bit when I just want to go, go, go.  I can sit back and read some scripture to really set my mind and get after it with hitters.”  He added in a JesusnSports interview; “It reminds me that when I am pitching, I can’t pitch to impress our coaches of staff or any team mates. I’m working for God’s glory. With good outings or bad outings He doesn’t care how I pitch. No matter what He loves me. So it takes an enormous amount of pressure off me to perform for a crowd or coaches. And good outing or terrible outing I always thank the Lord for what He has done in my life and for allowing for me to play baseball.”

Whatever we do in our lives, we do well to remember God’s Word from Colossians 3.  We should do nothing in life to bring glory to ourselves.  Instead, we should constantly remember that all that we do is for God and His glory.  That’s the model that Jesus set for us.  He came, not to be served, glorified, or honored, but instead He made Himself nothing that we might be saved. Everything that Jesus did, He worked at it with all His heart, as working for the Lord, not for a human master.