Freddie Freeman: Potter and Clay

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“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; per- severance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

Atlanta Braves 24-year-old star Freddie Freeman lost his mom to cancer more than 10 years ago when he was in his early teens. At first, he asked the question many ask when a loved one is lost: Why? Why did this happen? Why did she have to go so soon? Why? Why? Why?

Early on Freeman pushed God away, but a few years ago he came to the realization that God took his mom so she wouldn’t have to suffer any longer.

“My mom was in pain, and He took her to a nice place, and she’s not in pain anymore,” he told the Priority Magazine’s Robert Mitchell. “I finally truly believed that a couple of years later. Then I was just like, ‘I have to do this for Him because He did what’s best for my
mom.’ Faith plays into it a lot.”

Isaiah 45:9 also asks a great question in respect to asking God ‘Why?’: “Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?”

Trusting God that He knows what is best will get us through the difficult days. It won’t take away the pain, but it will, through His help, make the pain bearable and produce perseverance, character; and hope.

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Finding Strength in The Lord

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Clint Dempsey was in kindergarten when he discovered that he loved soccer. The exhilaration of scoring goals was exactly what he needed to deepen his love for a game that has taken him all over the world and allowed him to play at soccer’s highest level in Europe and in the United States.

“My parents had started me in the sport to help me learn good people skills,” Dempsey says. “Little did I know that the sport I loved and the skills I learned would later play a role in my relationship with God.”

Dempsey was 21 when he turned pro in 2004, the same year that he made his first U.S. national team and also earned Major League Soccer’s Rookie of the Year for his stellar play on the New England Revolution. Since then he has played in England for Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur, helped the U.S. win the CONCACAF Gold Cup, represented the U.S. in World Cup play, and been named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year multiple times. Dempsey currently plays for the Seattle Sounders.

Though soccer has been a huge part of shaping Dempsey’s life, a tragedy when he was 12 years old changed his life forever.

“I grew up in a Catholic family and would go to church with my grandmother every Sunday. Through her, I learned that faith was important,” Dempsey says. “When I was 12 years old, my life took a turn that would change me forever. My sister (Jennifer) died (from a brain aneurysm) and I was faced with questions about why things happen and what role God played in it all. For a number of years, I struggled and put distance between God and me. But He was faithful and patient and provided gradual healing and strength.”

Though he knew about God, he wasn’t actively pursuing God. However, a team Bible study in college at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., helped him learn about God more and understand what an active faith really meant.

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“In college, I joined a team Bible study. God’s Word brought me peace and a desire for a relationship with Him,” Dempsey says. “I found that questioning Him and searching for answers through Scripture helped me grow and gave me direction. Now my faith in Christ is what gives me confidence for the future. I know that through both good times and bad, He is faithful and will watch over me.”

He looks back on his college days and thanks God that he was a part of the Bible study, but he also looks back on that time and is thankful for something else—life.

One day, two of his teammates, Greg Griffin and Chefik Simo, asked him to go to a concert with them. Because he didn’t have much money, Dempsey told them he couldn’t go.

His lack of finances saved his life.

On the way to the concert, the car that Griffin and Simo were driving was in a wreck and had flipped over. An 18-wheeler hit the car and killed Griffin. Simo was injured to the point where he never played again.

Despite past tragedies in Dempsey’s life, it hasn’t made him pray for safety more often. It has deepened his perspective of life—that we don’t know when we’ll be gone and that we don’t have much time to make an impact in people’s lives—and also deepened his desire to please God.

“Today, I pray for strength to walk the road before me,” he says. “I play to the best of my abilities and am thankful for the many opportunities and amazing success He has given me. Through it all, I want to do right, not make mistakes, and live a life that is pleasing to Him.”

He does that by reading the Bible, which has given him insight and direction.

“God provides strength, even when circumstances seem impossible,” he says. “In Genesis, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many generations, but for years his wife, Sarah, was unable to bear children. Even as he approached one hundred years old, Abraham ‘did not waver in unbelief at God’s promise but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God’ (Romans 4:20). Abraham’s faith was rewarded when God honored His promise and Sarah, at age 90, gave birth to their son, Isaac.”

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine.

 

Chris Davis: ‘Daily Dying’

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“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” Luke 9:23

In the above passage, we see that Jesus tells us what’s needed to be His disciple. We must deny ourselves, take up our cross each day and then follow Him. What does all of that mean, though?

Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who led the majors in home runs (53) and RBIs (138) last season, delves into that: “Growing up, I was so young in my faith, I didn’t understand what it meant to walk with Christ every day. As I got older, I realized it wasn’t about going to church or managing your sin, but about daily dying to myself and surrendering my life to Christ.”

Dying to self means sacrificing your desires for Christ’s desires. What you want, may not be what He wants—meaning that if things don’t work out the way we would like, we have to trust that God has something different and better.

First, we trust in what Christ said. Then we trust Him with what happens, that He has the ability and can make it work for His good and ours—even when we are hurt and don’t understand.

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Airing It Out — Merciful messengers

Manhattan College vs University of Louisville, 2014 NCAA Midwest Regional Playoffs Round 2Manhattan College men’s basketball coach Steve Masiello had just led the program to the most wins in 10 years, and the Jaspers ended the season by nearly beating defending national champion Louisville in a much talked-about first round NCAA tournament game.

That success earned Masiello praise on the national level and also an interview and job offer from the University of South Florida to take over that program.

He took the job and everything seemed perfect.

He traded in the mid-major Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for the Big East and the cold winters for sunny Florida.

Then the roller-coaster ride that had been so much fun began taking the twists and turns that turn strong men’s stomachs inside out.

The difference was that Masiello, or anyone for that matter, couldn’t see the ups and downs that were coming—the type of ups and downs that would humble and embarrass anyone.

After accepting the job at South Florida, the university did a basic background check that showed Masiello had never earned a degree at the University of Kentucky. He had put his graduation date as 2000 on his resume ever since he left the school that year, but he never graduated.

He had enough credits to walk with his class during graduation ceremonies, however, he still lacked a few classes to graduate. His intent was to return that summer and finish his degree, but even though he enrolled he never finished the classes.

South Florida rescinded the offer and Masiello was not only out of a job—but his image and reputation were tarnished. The likelihood of him receiving a head coaching opportunity anytime soon, much less a job offer on any college coaching staff, seemed small.

Then, Manhattan did what no one could have predicted. They showed grace and mercy, the two words that resonate with Christians all over the world because they provide life, hope and second chances while doing away with the condemnation often associated with our sins.

It’s not a license to continue doing what we did, but it’s the hope that, after seeing our wrong, we can live as if there was never a wrong. Even though we remember it, God shows us so much mercy and grace that when we give or confess our wrongs to Him, He does away with them (Micah 7:19: “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”; Psalm 103:12: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us) and cleanses us (I John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”).

Manhattan’s statement by school president Brennan O’Donnell to the media and public dripped with grace.

“After an extensive review of the situation and extenuating circumstances, we determined that Mr. Masiello executed poor judgment but did not intentionally misrepresent himself in applying to the college. After participating in graduation ceremonies at the University of Kentucky, he enrolled in summer courses with the intention of completing his degree, but never followed through to make sure that the degree was awarded,” O’Donnell wrote.

“We appreciate the counsel of all involved in assessing this complex situation. Our policy was always that the coach must have at least a four-year undergraduate degree. We are confident that Mr. Masiello will be able to complete his degree this summer and return soon thereafter to resume his duties.”

Masiello, realizing the magnitude of such a  gesture, expressed his appreciation with a humble statement—the type of humility that you and I show to God when we confess our sins to Him and realize that He still forgives (when we think He wouldn’t) and He still loves us (like He said He always will).

“I am extremely grateful and humbled by the opportunity to continue as the head men’s basketball coach at Manhattan College,” said Masiello in the statement. “I made a mistake that could have cost me my job at an institution I love. Details matter.

“Manhattan College has shown me a great deal of compassion and trust during this process, and I will do everything in my power to uphold that trust. I understand that I am very fortunate to have the chance to remain here at Manhattan.”

Thinking about all of that is why Matthew 5:7 still resonates with me, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Remember that the next time you need mercy and also when you have the opportunity to extend mercy.

By Brett Honeycutt

This column was published in Sports Spectrum’s April 2014 DigiMag. Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. His column addresses topics from a biblical perspective. Follow him on Twitter-@Brett_Honeycutt

Closeup — Jacob Mulenga

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Soccer hasn’t always been at the top of Zambian national soccer team member Jacob Mulenga’s favorite sports list.

When he was young, he was addicted to motocross.

His weekdays were spent going to school, but his weekends were filled with motocross training and racing.

Soccer didn’t become a part of his life until high school. Even then, though, he said he “mainly just watched.”

Motocross was fulfilling his competitive desires. Soccer was for fun.

“I did not play for any youth teams or academies—just playing for fun at school,” he recalls. “I learned a lot basically from watching. I learned a lot from watching on TV.”

But after high school, he decided to get serious about soccer.

“After High School I thought, ‘OK, now before you decide what you want to do with your life, play football for a bit and see what happens.’…(former Zambian player and coach) Kalusha (Bwalya) saw me play…and said ‘You know you could be good at it.’ For me it was still a dream.  I would joke about it with my friends in high school, ‘One day I will play professional football.’”

Despite not playing soccer until late in his career, his rise to elite level was fast.

He made Zambia’s national team when he was 20, and he scored in his first game—a 1-0 victory against Togo in a World Cup qualifier in 2004. From there he went to the next two World Cup qualifying matches in Senegal and Mali and became a fixture on the national team.

But his rapid success didn’t turn into confidence.

“It was scary. I was nervous. It was a whole new world to me,” he says. “I had never been in front of the public eye that much before. I had no idea what playing for the national team was. You hear about it; you read about it. Now you put yourself in a position where you are ready to be criticized. Everything you do—good or bad—is going to be criticized and you are going to have someone say something about it.”

He gradually became comfortable, though, and in 2010 he scored two goals in two games at the Africa Cup. The following two Africa Cups, in 2012 and 2013, though, were met with disappointment. He didn’t play in either one, including in 2012 when Zambia won the title.

“For me it was really hard, you knew in 2010 you played a big role in the Africa Cup and now you could not be part of it,” he says. “That was a big blow for me…you are happy but every time someone talks about it, it reminds you of not being part of it.”

“I used to ask God so many times, ‘Why is this happening to me when I come to you, pray to you…and everyone else is okay? What did I do to deserve this? … For me it is always why? Why this? Why that? Stop with the why. First of all I learned…that you are not in control. No matter how much you try, you are not in control of things that happen…if I did not have Jesus…I would be so lost.

“I know that I am extremely blessed. I am someone who can do anything in football. I know my strength does not come from me. It comes from above….God won’t take you to the next level if you don’t know how to handle the pressure…the higher you go the worse (the pressure) becomes.

“Everything that is built without God is not worth building. I am not going to sit here and lie and say, ‘I live a perfect, God-fearing life.’ I have problems sometimes. My faith is tested…You have so many challenges. You have so many things that come to you. You want someone to talk to. I think when you bring someone to Christianity, you really have to help them understand, ‘Listen, God is going to be the center of your life.’…It is not saying you aren’t going to have challenges. You are going to have challenges as a Christian and you are going to have trouble as a Christian…But you know in all that, you are going to be victorious.”

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor at Sports Spectrum magazine. 

 

 

Closeup — Fabio

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Fans call Fabio “the blue wall” and consider him a hero.

But for Brazilian goalkeeper Fábio Deivson Lopes Maciel, who has won numerous titles and been on Brazil’s national team at every level, the road to the titles is what’s most important.

In 2007, his career was interrupted when he ruptured the ligaments in his left knee during a key game for his club, Cruzeiro, which was playing against its rival. Some thought he would never return.

“It was a difficult time but important for me to revise my way of living and it was essential so God could work in my life in a way that I had never allowed him,” he says. “God is the basis of my life.”

Adding to his troubles was the fact that people doubted that he was even injured because his right knee hit the goal post, but it was his left knee that was injured.

“People doubted my character, suspicious, said I was lying, that I was actually taken off the team,” he says. “The pain brought me closer to God. It was the pain of an injury, the recovery of the crowd, the loss of a title, to see the world commenting the atypical goal that I took from my back by doubting my character which has become the largest and best decision of my life: to accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I gave my whole life to him.”

Despite doctors telling Fabio he would return in six months, he was back on the field in half that time.

The following season, Cruzeiro made the finals once again, and this time his team won.

“Many would say I was not going to play football and not return to Cruzeiro,” Fabio says. “But God put me down to restore me giving me the opportunity to walk with Him and to put me where I am today. God is amazing. Exactly one year after the hard times I went through, He restored me. The pain I went through turned into a great victory. I played in 200 games for Cruzeiro, I was a champion and considered the best goalkeeper of that tournament.”

One more title followed in 2013 and Fabio was named best goalkeeper of the Brazilian Championship. The experiences led him to the understanding that God is real and directs all things.

“Everything that happened in my life was planned by God,” he says. “He determined everything…My basis is God in my life. He waited to put me in places and give me things I never imagined. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the life and blessed family I have today…He is a true God who makes it happen.”

By Brett Honeycutt

 Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine.

 

 

Closeup — Isaac Díaz

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From the time Isaac Diaz was a baby and had a soccer ball in his cradle, to playing as a professional athlete in packed stadiums, soccer has always been a part of his life.

And he succeeded despite being from such a small town of about 12,500 people.

“Our town, Fresia, is very small but did have a soccer academy for youth. In addition to playing locally, my father took me all over the country to gain experience in tournaments and regionals. I was fortunate to progress to the pro level, and to play in packed stadiums is a great thrill for me. “

Tragedy struck, though, and reality hit Diaz. The faith that meant so much to his parents and that they took so seriously wasn’t as important to Diaz. But after he had time to contemplate it, and after God revealed Himself to Diaz, he embraced it and committed his life to Christ.

“My family was always attending church, but honestly, I went primarily because my parents expected me to,” Diaz says. “I can still remember exactly where we sat in the pews. With my brother’s death, I finally realized how real God was to me—and all that He meant in my life. I believe 100 percent that no one can live without God!”

Even though Diaz’s faith carries him through each day, he understands that he isn’t immune to hardships. His faith doesn’t prevent bad things from happening, but it does help him get through tough times when they come.

“Sometimes life as a pro soccer player can be very difficult,” he says. “The environment of uncertainty that surrounds a club and the playing time decisions coaches make about players can often lead to self-doubt and anxiety. And then add to that the never-ending chants by crowds that are impossible to ignore. But I know that as long as my faith is in God, I can be at peace and follow the path He has laid out for me.

“I have learned that God will often do impossible things. I just need to trust in Him and His Word.

“King Solomon was incredibly wise. When he became king at a young age, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you’ (1 Kings 3:5). Of all the things Solomon could have desired, he asked for a ‘discerning heart.’ He knew that relying on God to lead him was the answer to a successful life. In Proverbs 3:5-6, Solomon wrote from personal experience, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.’ May you also come to trust in God and know Him with all your heart.”

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. 

 

Closeup — José Luis Vidigal

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The second of 12 children, including four who played soccer, José Luis Vidigal understands what it means to fight and jostle for attention.

During an 18-year professional career, Vidigal spent the majority of his career in Italy and Portugal before retiring in 2009. In between he represented Portugal in 28 games, including seven on the U-21 team, six during the 1996 Olympics where Portugal finished fourth, and 15 from 2000-02.

That last stint included four games in UEFA Euro 2000, including the semifinal loss to France.

But the most memorable and most exciting game was a 3-2 comeback victory against England. Down 2-0, Portugal scored three goals and went on to win their Group going 3-0 in the process.

In the knockout round, Portugal won its first game, 2-0, against Turkey before losing 2-1 to France in the semifinals.

“I’ll never forget this game (against England) because we were in a pretty unfortunate situation,” Vidigal says. Although we lost 2-1 (to France in the semifinals), I still believed that something good could come out of it. Without a doubt, it was Jesus Christ who made the unfortunate situation of a great result. Jesus changed my life. From the beginning I thought I could do it all myself, in relationships with my family, and in my professional and social worlds. I believed in my own abilities, but it did not help.

“When I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, then everything became brighter. I learned to forgive and help. My life changed. “

He played for nine more seasons after UEFA Euro 2000 and soccer was no more No. 1 in his life.

“I believe in Jesus because I know that my life does not end here in this world,” Vidigal says. “I do have a special place next to Jesus, and He accepts me. I want more people to have faith and realize that they should accept Him, because otherwise they will have a difficult time at the end of this earthly life.

“My motivation in everything comes from the Lord, because I live and work for Him. I want to be an example of God on Earth. If I did not do that, and if I was not motivated by God, it would be hard to tell people about Him.

“My favorite Bible verses are: ‘We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.’ (Romans 8:37)  and ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).

“The first verse is closely connected with my profession. I believe that I can spend my days in victory. I do not mean winning in soccer or any other sport, but in life. John 3:16 is the foundation of my faith. “

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. 

 

 

Devotional of the Week — Impact Through Defeat

05coolrunnings_ringsblog-blogSpan“When the centurion and those with him who we regarding Jesus saw the earth quake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’” Matthew 27:54

Different isn’t always easy.

Remember the Jamaican bobsled team in the 1988 Calgary Olympics? Seems like an oxymoron, right? Jamaican bobsled?

To cement their involvement in the Olympics, a movie, Cool Runnings, was made about their exploits. The foursome of Devon Harris, Dudley Stokes, Michael White and Nelson Stokes had little practice and they had to borrow sleds from other countries.

And despite the fact they crashed and didn’t finish, their positive attitude and goodwill toward others won the hearts of the fans.

Having an impact doesn’t always have to come through success. Sometimes having an impact comes through defeat or perceived defeat.

God can use our ups and downs to help people see Him, especially when we have a godly attitude. Just like the centurion saw Christ as the Son of God because of the way Jesus took the ridicule and mocking of the self-righteous people and leaders.

Keep that in mind the next time things don’t go the way you would like. God could be using your circumstance to show people who He is so that they have the opportunity to choose eternal life with Him.

Devotional of the Week — Do You Believe In Miracles?

miracle_on_ice-eruzione_goal_celebration“Jesus said to him,‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” Mark 9:23-24

Al Michaels’ phrase, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” will be forever remembered as the most famous call in Olympic or sports history. He uttered those words at the end of one of the most shocking upsets in sports history, a 4-3 U.S. victory against the Soviet Union in men’s ice hockey at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.

It wasn’t the gold-medal game (that would come a game later against Finland), but it was stunning and unbelievable because the Soviets had routed the U.S., 10-3, in an exhibition less than two weeks prior to the upset.

The victory was so unbelievable that a N.Y. Times writer wrote that unless the ice melted that no team stood a chance to beat the Soviet Union, which had trounced a NHL All-Star team, 6-0, in an exhibition before the Olympics.

The U.S. team went in believing they could win, but belief wasn’t enough. They also had to take action.

Is there something that God wants to do in your life, but the only thing in the way is for you to believe? If you’re struggling with a lack of faith, ask God to help your unbelief as Mark 9 shows us. He is willing to help. All we have to do is ask.

By Brett Honeycutt

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