Devotional of the Week — Starting a New Chapter

84th MLB All-Star Game“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Daniel 12:3

At the end of the 2013 MLB season, the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, will hang up his Yankee uniform and retire at the age of 43. The Yankees closer for the last 17 years is still excelling at an age most players, and pitchers specifically, are long gone from the game, and he was just named the 2013 MLB All-Star Game MVP. It’s unlikely there will ever be another like him. And yet, while the watching world believes his purpose on this earth is coming to an end, Rivera believes it is only beginning. He may be closing a chapter, but the next chapter will be even better. His name may be tossed about along with other Yankee legends like Mickey Mantle, Lou Gherig and Joe DiMaggio, but his next phase of life will be even more legendary.

New York Magazine’s Lisa Miller wrote a beautiful story about Rivera that many of these devotionals will center around. The sub-headline of the story reads: “On the mound, God is always with Mariano Rivera, in victory and defeat. But baseball is a boys’ game, not a calling. And now, as he prepares to hang up his cleats, the greatest closer baseball has ever seen is embarking on his real mission.”

Even someone as prominent as Rivera can believe God has something bigger for him when he leaves the Yankees. Why? Because God is bigger than the Yankees. And His calling for believers is a mighty one. Know today that God’s calling on your life is mighty. If you are a true follower of Christ, your purpose on this earth will continue to expand, no matter how good the chapter was before.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Another Angle — Resurrect your reverence

I know a basketball agent who went to the NBA All-Star game last year in Orlando. He was networking with some guys, hanging around after the game, and took a look around at his surroundings.

He noticed a number of women hanging around after the game—a lot of women—and not just any women, women who wanted something. High heels. Short skirts. Tight shirts. Makeup-coated faces, like apples dipped in caramel. Women waiting for the players to come out so they could get their shot, whether it was a one-night stand or a life as a basketball wife.

I say all of this because I don’t know if I could take it. I’d never wish fame on anyone. I’d certainly rather be Landry Schmidt than Tim Tebow. And who’s Landry Schmidt? Well, you’ve never heard of him. And neither have I.

Standing in Willie Robertson’s office this February at the Duck Commander warehouse, I wondered what it would be like to have 8 million people, on average, watching Duck Dynasty—your show—every Wednesday on A&E, to be recognized everywhere you go because you’re on television and you’re hairy. So I asked them. I asked Phil and Willie Robertson if it was hard to be famous, if sin was more tempting, if fame was corrupting.

Willie said his fame actually keeps him more accountable. Because he’s influencing more people, he’s more guarded and more aware of his actions. That was fascinating. Then Phil spiritualized it: “The resurrection of the dead pretty well trumps the momentary pleasure of sin,” he said. “The long-legged chicks that show up, you say, ‘Is it more powerful than the resurrection of the dead?’” And that was fascinating, too.

Then came Easter, and I started thinking about this whole “resurrection of the dead” thing, since that’s what Easter is about, and that’s when everyone actually acts like Jesus rose from the dead, at least on Twitter and Facebook. Not that that’s bad. I just know that the resurrection didn’t cross my mind three days after Easter, which is kind of sad, considering that what Jesus did, conquering death and all, is really quite a remarkable thing.

I started thinking about what Phil said that day at the Duck Commander warehouse. As a Christian, I obviously like it conceptually: The momentary pleasure of sin doesn’t compare to something as life-changing and eternally significant as the resurrection. But how do I get there? It’s good in theory. But how do I believe that? How do I trample the temptation of sin with the glory of the empty tomb?

I have a buddy named Mike who meets me once a week to talk about topics that make my head explode a little. Mike works for College Golf Fellowship (CGF) and recently put together a devotional for college golfers across the country. Mike says that he, too, hardly thought about the resurrection three days after Easter. I think most people are like this, not just Mike and I, and, before I beat myself up too much, I think about guys like John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived according to Jesus, who doubted during Christ’s final hour; or those who saw the risen Christ and still doubted (Matthew 28:17); or Paul, who pretty much went to seminary with Jesus in the desert, yet still cries out in Philippians 3:10 that he wants to “know the power of his resurrection,” kind of indicating that it’s still a journey for him, even though he spent time with the risen Christ.

What Mike told me was just that—that knowing the resurrection is a journey of sorts. Intimacy, Mike says, plus reverence, equals wonder. You never really get to the end of the journey, at least, not until you are in heaven. You just kind of wonder about it more out of intimacy and reverence. It kind of makes sense we can’t fathom the resurrection, if you think about it.

But reverence, I’ve found, is difficult in a society where its people are constantly on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, email, and so forth—hardly slowing down, hardly thinking outside of our own little worlds.

Phil Robertson, on the other hand, has to be one of the simplest people I’ve ever met. He’s never owned a cell phone and can’t operate a computer. He’s a woodsman who spends time out in creation and a family man who is in love with Miss Kay. I sometimes wonder if Phil knows God in an entirely different way than the iPhone, multi-task generation knows God. Part of me thinks he has a better grasp on the resurrection than most. He has a simple, reverent lifestyle. I don’t know. Just a thought.

I’m trying to slow down a little—to look up at the sky a little more, to take pictures of the trees in bloom outside my apartment and write a poem about it, to brew coffee in the morning and listen to the birds in the woods outside my office window, or watch Passion of the Christ and really think about what it would have been like.

The other night, I was laying in bed listening to a debate between Sean McDowell and James Corbett. Don’t ask me why. It was a long, dark night of the soul, and I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to be a theology nerd, which is kind of a hobby of mine. Anyway, Sean McDowell is, like, 33, and Corbett is in his 60’s or something. I was blown away by McDowell’s wisdom, knowledge, and thoughtfulness toward some of the deepest issues of life at such a young age. I felt like he knew God.

If you came into my office today, you would see “Sean McDowell at 33” written on my white board. To me, it’s a challenge for meaning. I know nothing about the guy, honestly; I just listened to a debate, the one I’ve been speaking of. I’ll never be him, but I at least want to know God like he does. I want intimacy. I want reverence. I want wonder. I want to move in the right direction, toward Sean McDowell at 33.

Like Phil Robertson, like Paul, I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, to get lost in that mystery.

ColumnSigBy Stephen Copeland

This column appeared in the April 2013 DigiMag. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at stephen.copeland@sportsspectrum.com.

Another Angle — Scars and submission

“I have a strange question,” I said.

“Okay,” replied Carolina Panther wide receiver Steve Smith, leaning back into the cushions of his living room sofa.

Smith had just finished telling me about his visit to the Dominican Republic the week before, where he led a shoe distribution trip through Samaritan’s Feet, an organization that helps provide shoes to millions around the world who don’t have them. The unique thing about Samaritan’s Feet, I found, is that it takes a hands-on approach to their ministry, washing the feet of each person who receives a pair of shoes. Which led me to my question…

“What’s it like to wash the feet of a homeless man?” I asked.

Entering the interview, I knew Samaritan’s Feet was a passion of Smith’s. And I found his love for Samaritan’s Feet woven into the artistry of his house, where the Good Samaritan is painted on the ceiling of his office, and a foot-washing drawing is stenciled into the wooden frame of his office door.

But for whatever reason, the question that came out of my mouth had nothing to do with Samaritan’s Feet, the organization—but rather the feet we walk on, run on, jump on, where dirt builds beneath our nails and fungus festers between our toes (if you’re podophobic, sorry). And just as Smith wasn’t expecting the question, I wasn’t expecting his answer.

“For me,” Smith said, pausing for three or four seconds, “When I do a shoe distribution, it’s a great opportunity for me to spend time with God. And this is what I mean,” he said, sitting up and leaning in. “When I take their socks off, you can see everything. And when I see the dirt and the filth underneath those toenails, I look at it like this: Those people are just like me.

“When you have your clothes, you look like you have everything together. But just like when we take off our shoes and our socks and someone washes our feet, they get to see all the muck and the mire. All the imperfections. All the things your feet show.”

As I write this in my office just outside Charlotte, N.C., I have my bare feet propped on my desk. I see a total of eight scars and a gap big enough next to my big toes to rest a baseball bat. Stare at my feet long enough, and you’ll think I’m from another planet. Or perhaps reside in a pond.

That’s because my feet face inward too much, like a duck. It required two separate foot surgeries as a toddler. My mother would push me around the mall or grocery in a wheel chair, and people would come up and pet me like I was the runt of the litter. Cute, sure, but only because it’s pathetic.

As I got older, they continued to grow inward again. To this day, it looks like I could have six toes because of the gap next to my big toe. I look at my feet right now, crossed on my desk, hoping my editor doesn’t walk in, and I’m reminded that my heart is just as my feet: scarred and broken.

“But all it shows to me is the dirt and the sin that is underneath the toenails of a homeless person is the same thing as the sin and the dirt in our hearts,” Smith continued. “So when I see that, it’s a great reminder that I’m no different than them. Because I’m jacked up. Filthy. Toe-up. Deceiving. Untrustworthy, at times. No matter how many organizations I’m involved with, no matter how many showers I take, you can’t wash that away—only the blood of Jesus.”

The thing I love about what Smith said is that washing feet reminds him of one thing: his humble submission to the Father because of his own scars, dirt and fungus. While photographers snap photos and journalists write stories about Steve Smith’s involvement with Samaritan’s Feet, centered around his passion and generosity, his heart and mind are elsewhere—perhaps at the Last Supper, where Smith envisions Jesus washing Smith’s own battered feet that have journeyed places they shouldn’t, or perhaps in the shadow of the cross, where Jesus is dying to save a murky soul that has been trapped places it shouldn’t. Like all of us.

The other day, I found myself standing next to nine groomsmen on a porch in Louisville, Ky., for my best friend’s wedding. It was at a historical site, and there was once a Civil War battle there or something. It had rained for three days straight, but it stopped for two hours, and it felt like God was breathing life into everything around us.

At one point in the wedding there was a foot-washing ceremony for the bride and groom. The worship leader was playing “To The Very End” by Will Reagan on the acoustic. The bride was crying. Time seemed to move in slow motion, flawless like a living, breathing Nicholas Sparks film. Also, the flower girl was rolling around in the grass, and I found it unfair she got to roll around while I had to stand and focus on not locking my knees.

I noticed the groom’s shoes resting on the boards of the porch, and believed it to be a perfect snapshot of humility. Throughout their marriage, I knew they would mistreat one another. There would be scars, dirt and fungus. But their humility before God would allow them to wash one another’s feet for the rest of their lives. Time after time. To the very end.

I’m currently reading a book called “Humility” by Andrew Murray (an 1800’s South African theologian, not the 2013 Wimbledon champion). He says this: “And because Christ had thus humbled himself before God, and God was ever before Him, He found it possible to humble Himself before men too, and to be the Servant of all.”

So I picture myself in that room, a magnificent supper in progress, sitting in a chair, my Savior crouching down and removing my shoes, His hands holding my feet, His thumbs caressing my scars.

And telling me I should do the same.

ColumnSigBy Stephen Copeland

This column appeared in the July 2013 DigiMag. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at stephen.copeland@sportsspectrum.com.

Devotional of the Week — Prone to Doubt

“He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3 (ESV)

Sometimes I think about all the things Jesus did and why He did them. Not just the core stuff, like rising from the dead and all, but all the little stuff. Like appearing before 500 people, or chilling with the apostles for 40 days, or all the little miracles—which aren’t really little, but compared to conquering death and defeating sin, kind of are.

My ESV study Bible theorizes why Jesus did what he did: “Jesus appeared multiple times to his disciples and gave them many proofs to strengthen their faith. Solid evidence and knowledge of facts increase faith.” We’re prone to doubt, I think. A lot of athletes must replace their doubt with confidence before they can truly shine. The subconsious has proven to affect performance in the athletic sphere. A doubtful subconsious produces poor results. A confident subconsious produces better results. In our feature story on Kevin Streelman in our May 2013 DigiMag (click here to subscribe), Streelman says a quote I love:

“That’s the constant thing I’m battling and trying to get better with, to release that fear. I think that’s a beautiful place to be, to live without fear. And that’s the verse that’s written on my putter. It’s stamped into my putter, to vanish fear and doubt from your life because God is with you wherever you go. It doesn’t matter. True freedom is letting go of worldly fear.”

The bottom line is that Jesus did all these things, performed all these miracles, left His heavenly throne to be with mankind, partially, to strengthen our faith in Him, to vanish fear and doubt from our lives. And I want to reflect on the things he did, developing intimacy and reverence for Him, which produces mysterious wonder and a righteous fear that helps me love Him more.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table, a compilation of sports-related devotionals included in each print magazine. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table.

Another Angle — God and Corona

I recently had coffee with the long snapper for the Carolina Panthers, J.J. Jansen.

He was telling me about chapel and how more players attend during losing seasons because they think chapel, or God, will help them win. We started talking about God and prosperity, agreeing that they don’t relate.

I call it “Ray Lewis Theology.” You know, quoting Isaiah 54:17 (“No weapon formed against you shall prosper”) after winning the AFC Championship, implying the victory was something God willed, causing Sports Illustrated to slap Lewis on their cover with the headline reading, “Does God care who wins the Super Bowl?”

No wonder players treat God like a penny slot machine. If God were a genie, heck, I’d rub the lamp. And I’d ask God for a hat-wearing monkey, hovercraft rug, and a gorgeous, middle-eastern princess.

Genies are comforting. But the problem is that they fit in a lamp. They’re small. And the scary thing is that this self-help, temporal deity exists outside of sports and is woven into the fabrics of our consumer-based society.

For example, this spring I was watching the first episode of The Bible series on the History Channel like every good, hip Christian. As director Mark Burnett chronicled the story of Abraham, it made me reflect on God’s incomprehensible ways. I wondered: Why did Sarah have to suffer so much before she bore a child? Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? His ways are not our ways, and that’s okay, I concluded. As endless as His galaxies, so are His ways. What Burnett made me do was look at God in wonder, in awe, and even in fear, just as the Bible should and does.

Then a commercial came on.

Silhouettes of a man and woman appeared on the screen; their hands touched; Jars of Clay sang “I want to fall in love with you” in the background; and the words “Christian Mingle” faded across the screen along with that Christian fish logo, the one you see on the trunks of cars, just in case you had any doubts about the vehicle’s eternal destination. (Was it baptized as an infant or immersed? And, if immersed, how did the minister do it? Is Hulk Hogan ordained?)

“Find God’s Match For You,” Christian Mingle’s tagline, concluded the commercial, and I think I coughed up my spaghetti.

The thing is, I like Christian Mingle. I recently interviewed Christian Mingle community manager Ashley Reccord, and she was as nice as Mrs. Claus. I like how Christian Mingle connects believers with believers (which would make a great tagline, by the way), but I don’t like how they come across or how they make Christians look, just like athletes who attribute God’s will with victories.

The Bible series portrayed the vastness of God’s creation and knowledge, while the commercial reduced His almighty name to a cause, just like Ray Lewis in his interviews. The song they chose cheapens it more, since it’s titled “Love Song For a Savior,” yet is being used as two people kiss, kind of like Lewis’ misrepresentation of Scripture.

“There has certainly been conversation surrounding the song,” Reccord admits. “The original meaning of the song was about falling in love with God. But in finding God’s match for you, we also want our members to deepen their relationship with God. We believe the song is a great way to communicate this message, because of the double meaning that can be interpreted.”

To me, playing that song only confuses people about Christian Mingle. It’s like playing “Nothing But The Blood” in an MMA advertisement. And I feel the same way about their tagline. Behind it is a serious theological fallacy.

“Our tagline actually encompasses quite the opposite,” Reccord says. “One of our board members, who is also a Christian Mingle success story, says online dating is a display of God’s creativity, and I think that’s the best way to describe our tagline. God is so powerful, He can use anything to help you find love, even something like an online dating community.”

I completely agree. And Christian Mingle is obviously doing something right, because they recently surpassed the 10 million member mark. But I can’t help but wonder why. That’s what scares me.

Consider this: Corona commercials. They’re brilliant, aren’t they? In a world of deadlines, 60-hour workweeks, and taking your children to soccer practice, their tagline “Find Your Beach” hits a spot. Who doesn’t want to relax? Answer: Corona.

Christian Mingle hits you in a spot, too: love. And it seems to imply that God will help you find your match if you join. Use God to win a football game. Use God to find your match. Find your beach. Find God’s match for you.

Ping! Ping! Ping! Jackpot! Super Bowl! Spouse!

“Just like any other company, we have 15 to 30 seconds to really help people understand that we are a site for people who are looking to find other like-minded Christian singles,” Reccord says. “But once you get to know us, you understand that we really are about helping people find their fulfillment in God and be whole before they jump into a relationship.”

Reccord helped me understand Christian Mingle, and I hung up the phone appreciating and really liking what they stood for, but still not liking their tagline. And I use Christian Mingle and Ray Lewis, not to make examples of them, but rather prove a broader point. I’m not saying God never uses something like a football game or an online dating site to accomplish His ways, but watering down the maker of the heavens or the mystery of the Trinity to a game-winning field goal or a marketing ploy does make Him seem remarkably small, doesn’t it?

I sometimes wonder how God feels about us using His name in slogans or claiming He willed a championship. I’d imagine He may disapprove. Maybe we shouldn’t strap Him to a cause because He can’t be contained in a lamp.

My point is this: The Christian walk isn’t about using God to make the playoffs or using God to get hitched. The Christian walk is about finding God—getting in His presence and becoming more like Jesus Christ. And I’m learning that getting into the presence of God is a comforting, sustaining, powerful thing, even if nothing changes in my circumstances.

Even if you lose. Even if you can’t find your match. Just find God.

ColumnSigBy Stephen Copeland

This column appeared in the June 2013 DigiMag and Vol. 27, No. 3 print issue. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at stephen.copeland@sportsspectrum.com.

Devotional of the Week — Fall in love with saving grace

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” Titus 2:11-12 (ESV)

I remember the summer I fell in love with golf. I was in seventh grade and my two best friends and I all had junior memberships at a small, nine-hole golf course called Hendricks County Golf Course in Danville, Ind. We played golf every day. Some days, my dad would drop us off at the course at 6 a.m. and pick us up after work at 6 p.m. One day, the three of us walked 54 holes.  When I put my clubs in my dad’s trunk at the end of the day, I rode home talking nonstop, looking forward to the next day.

I dropped about 30 strokes that summer. I was shooting between 110 and 120 at the start and was carding scores in the 90’s by the end. I was so in love with golf I became a better golfer. Perhaps that’s what happens when you love something: You get better. The salvation that Paul talks about in Titus 2 is a powerful saving grace—something you fall in love with—that “trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” When you’re in love with Jesus, you become a better person; you become more like Him.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table, a compilation of sports-related devotionals included in each print magazine. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table.

Long, Lost Eden

The stars felt so close it’d be easy to think God Himself had come down from His throne.

He knelt below them, his heart heavy, his mind swallowed by sorrow and sin. He stared up at the sky, the heavens his only comfort to his understanding. His skin bore a drop of blood. It slowly fell from his wound and swam down his cheek.

He was dying, and he knew it.

Unnatural World

A Ugandan girl came up to Britt Gilbert at Palmetto Medical Initiative’s clinic in Masindi, Uganda. She was 12 years old, just like his daughter back at home in Charleston, S.C. She was the same height, too.

Gilbert looked down at the girl’s leg and noticed that she had a compound fracture of the tibia. The bone was protruding from her skin. The translator in the clinic told Gilbert it had been like that for the last 16 months.

Gilbert got angry. It wasn’t fair.

Back in Charleston, he owned a successful business, Commonwealth Financial Group, and he had a beautiful family. Yet here was a girl standing in front of him who was probably permanently disabled, not because it wasn’t treatable, but because there was no treatment.

The saddest thing was that the 12-year-old girl’s situation was normal. In Uganda, there is only one doctor per every 12,500 Ugandans. There may be a public health care system in place, but it doesn’t adequately serve people. The private system isn’t affordable since most Ugandans make less than $1 a day.

People show up at the clinic with illnesses and injuries you only see on movies and commercials—8-year-olds with bones sticking out of their arms; children with softball-like infections in their chests. It’s all so unnatural. It’s a completely different world—a world that is much more comfortable, frankly, to simply forget about.

“You get a glimpse of that and it changes your life,” Gilbert says. “I asked myself the question: ‘Why was I born in the States? Why wasn’t I born in Uganda?’ I came back with a different perspective, and I wondered, ‘How do I use my skill sets? How does a business guy make a difference?’ I’m not clergy. I’m not gifted with sports ability. I’m not gifted with music ability. So how does a business guy make a difference?”

Surfboards

Ideas are cool things. They have no restrictions. In a world of qualifications, resumés, and LinkedIn profiles, the refreshing thing about ideas is that they have no bounds.

The Palmetto Medical Initiative (PMI) was dreamt up by a couple of kids on surfboards. That’s right. Kids.

Matt Alexander, 26 at the time, and Ed O’Bryan, who had just finished up medical school, were surfing at Charleston’s Folly Beach one summer day three years ago, when their conversation shifted from the waves to across the ocean.

They dreamt up PMI. Its purpose: Provide quality, affordable health care to Ugandans.

“I think we were both just at a place where we were ready to do something,” Alexander says. “I know I was.”

Their passion for global missions was already there, rooted in O’Bryan’s career and Alexander’s veins. O’Bryan had done a number of medical missions on a global scale, and Alexander spent a lot of time in Africa because his parents adopted six children from the continent.

In PMI’s early stages, Commonwealth Financial Group, a local business owned by Gilbert, helped Alexander and O’Bryan connect them with accountants and attorneys and organize the non-profit.

That’s how Gilbert met the founders of PMI; how Commonwealth Cares Foundation, the charitable arm of Commonwealth Financial Group, got behind PMI; and ultimately how Gilbert wound up in Uganda in 2011, when he was moved by the 12-year-old girl’s condition, a moment that changed his life.

The organizations were made to marry.

Commonwealth Cares Foundation, which started in 2007, already had an annual golf tournament in Charleston to raise money for charitable causes. But once PMI came along, Gilbert made the tournament theirs.

“We just keep walking through open doors,” Alexander says.

They built a clinic in Masindi, Uganda; it started treating hundreds of Ugandans a month, never turning anyone away (unlike the government); and the goal was to staff the clinic with well-trained native doctors so they could build more clinics in other countries.

But it would take more than Commonwealth’s backing. They had a system. They had a vision. But they needed more support.

“We can take it anywhere,” Alexander says. “It’s just a matter of money.”



Explosions

The Outsiders.

There really couldn’t be a more fitting name for Needtobreathe’s third album, released in 2009.

The southern rock band is undoubtedly different, but in the most authentic of ways. The band consists of two brothers, Bear (named after legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant) and Bo Rinehart, and Seth Bolt.

They didn’t grow up in Nashville. They weren’t plugged into the music vessel. They grew up on a South Carolina farm in a town called Possum Kingdom. Maybe 100 people lived there, and the music scene was non-existent. Their rise to stardom has been far from conventional, and they developed an “us against the world” mindset, hints the name The Outsiders.

“We were writing songs in our bedroom and our garage at the start, and we’re still doing the same thing,” says Bear, the band’s lead singer. “That’s never changed.”

They burst onto the music scene with their first album, Daylight, in 2006 before setting the music scene ablaze with The Heat in 2007. They released The Outsiders in 2009, which peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard 200, and The Reckoning in 2011, which peaked at No. 6.

They shied away from the Christian label because they feel they are broader in scope than that. They sing about life. They sing about relationships. They sing about God. To have fun, they once dressed as women on Halloween night while performing “Girl Named Tennessee” on Conan—which isn’t exactly something Chris Tomlin would likely do.

“Each record, a certain percent of our faith is on there, but it comes out naturally,” Bear says. “We didn’t want to write records just for a group of people, especially Christians. They have enough records just for them,” he laughs.

Needtobreathe is real. They are true. And nothing, perhaps, shows their authenticity more than their involvement with PMI.

“I got to go to Uganda with PMI, and it kind of blew my mind, to be honest,” Bear says. “The first day I was there, I went into the government hospital, and all they have is about three months of medications for the year. Once you run out of that, you are done. If you can’t afford medicine for yourself, you are done.

“The same day, we went to the clinic that PMI has built there, and it’s clean and efficiently run and staffed by Ugandans, and I was blown away by the idea that it’s not about us giving away a bunch of money to temporarily solve a problem, but teaching them how to do it themselves. That was inspiring to me. So, coming home, it was like, ‘How can we help them do what they do?’ Because they got it figured out.”

Bo, who not only plays lead guitar but is also a talented graphic designer, designed posters to sell on their 2010 Tour to raise money for PMI. They also organized a high-ticket price concert at a tiny bar on James Island and raised $20,000. When they played in front of 2 million people touring with Taylor Swift in 2011, Bear talked about PMI in stadiums of 50,000; Bo designed t-shirts; they played “Secret Shows” in the cities they were touring; and they gave $5 to PMI per CD they sold.

PMI exploded as Needtobreathe exploded. PMI grew as the band’s popularity grew. The timing of everything is either lucky or divine.

“You have a lot of people in the music industry who have a cause they endorse,” Alexander says. “The difference with Needtobreathe is that they take an incredible hands-on approach to everything they do with us. It’s just a different level of involvement and support.”

In 2013, Needtobreathe attached their name to PMI and Commonwealth’s annual golf tournament for the first time. They got other musicians, athletes and celebrities behind the cause like members from Tenth Avenue North, Ed Roland from Collective Soul, Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby, Kansas City Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop, PGA Tour golfer Kevin Streelman and 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne.

The tournament raised $80,000 this year and will go toward PMI’s new plans of building a clinic in Nicaragua. Only three years into the company’s lifespan, the clinic in Uganda is fully sustainable, run by well-trained Ugandans, and treats more than 1,500 people a month.

“It’s so empowering to be able to help people, and it feels even more that way when you step outside of what your talents are,” Bear says. “You are a part of something that’s bigger than you are.”

The Garden

The sorrow He felt—there beneath the stars, the most desperate state He’d ever been, on the brink of death, covered in blood and tears—stretched far beyond the sadness inked in the Psalms and the sins of Sodom. It was a wound tattooed in the depths of eternity—beginning with the decisions of Eden and coming to fruition in Gethsemane—something complex, messy, incomprehensible and beautiful.

There in the garden, sweating drops of blood as He cried to the heavens, Christ uttered something that changed everything: “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”

He would soon be betrayed by a kiss. He would soon be on a road to death. He would soon feel the weight of the world’s sin on His shoulders and the pain of the Father, someone He had been in union with through all of eternity, turn His head from the Son.

From the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Yet not my will, but yours be done. 

People are dying in Africa because of Eden. The world is groaning because of Eden. Jesus had to die because of Eden. But Gethsemane gives hope, meaning and a mission.

The 13th song on Needtobreathe’s The Outsiders album is called “Garden,” and it’s all about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the chorus echoing the words of Christ:

Let the songs I sing bring joy to You,
Let the words I say profess my love,
Let the notes I choose be Your favorite tune,
Father let my heart be after You.

Those words are the direction, motive, and thread behind the triumvirate of entities—PMI, Commonwealth and Needtobreathe—uniting around Uganda and Nicaragua. And it’s a challenge to everyone.

Can your life and mission be summed up in the chorus of Gethsemane or are you tangled in the selfishness of Eden? Because when your heart is after the Father, as the lyrics proclaim, you end up doing things you never imagined, like telling 2 million people about PMI, or raising $80,000 at a golf tournament, or treating 1,500 patients a month in Uganda.

“When God gives you a strong vision and allows you to see something in an opportunity and constantly affirms that by surrounding you with other people who are passionate and excited, it only takes so long of doors opening and things coming together before you realize you are part of the process, but you’re not in control of it,” Alexander says. “God had a vision before we ever knew of it. We see it more clearly each day.”

Destruction may grow in Eden but Gethsemane restores—Uganda, Nicaragua and all.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine.

Devotional of the Week — Success won’t change Webb Simpson

“Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.” Proverbs 2:9-10 (ESV)

After winning the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Webb Simpson declined a request to appear on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno so he could fly back with his wife, Dowd, and spend a day with his 1-year-old son, James, before his next tournament commitment.

Weeks later, Simpson received criticism for backing out of the British Open because he didn’t want to be overseas if his wife went into labor. “The British Open will always be there,” Simpson said. “This may be the last child we have. It’s a decision I haven’t thought twice about.”

Simpson’s closest relationships take precedence over everything else, and, unfortunately, it’s somewhat radical in today’s age and society. When he won the U.S. Open, many would have rode their fame and relevance for as long as they could; everything else would have taken a backseat. Not with Simpson. At the end of the day, he may be a U.S. Open champion, but more importantly, he is a husband and a father. Fame, talk show appearances and even major championships take a backseat. Simpson is an encouragement to all that success cannot warp his priorities.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table, a compilation of sports-related devotionals included in each print magazine. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table.

Another Angle — Alcoholics and mannequins

I went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting the other day. And yes, I understand that is kind of an interesting way to start a column.

Basically, I have a friend who is getting her Master’s degree in Counseling, and she needed to observe a meeting for class, so I said I’d go with her.

Whenever I’m with her, something crazy usually ends up happening, like attending an AA meeting or crashing a high school prom (she was chaperoning, okay?). We usually end up talking about crazy things, too, like the book of Judges or Jesus or never retiring. Also, she has pretty, blond hair like Taylor Swift, which drives me a little crazy.

Anyway, sitting in AA is like being in the upper room at Pentecost. I’ve never experienced anything like the early church, not until I went to AA, at least; but I swear to you, sitting in that smoky trailer in a tiny town in Georgia, surrounded by hungry, thirsty, shattered souls that treated community and God like the alcohol they craved, had an eerie feeling that this was exactly the way Jesus intended it.

You need to know right off the bat the purpose of this column isn’t to bash the church. It’s easy to bash fallen things because everything is fallen. It’s really quite cliché. And, just like I would never tell my best friend that his wife is a whore, I would never do that to the bride of Christ.

But, as I sat in that room, as each person who stood up admitted he or she was an alcoholic, as those who gathered said “Hello, ____” to the alcoholic all welcoming and loving, and the speaker that evening talked teary-eyed about the warm, smooth burn of Smirnoff vodka that tore up his esophagus and family, I felt like a mannequin in a room overflowing with life. Yes, life.

The people in that room were so transparent, so broken, yet so alive because they had each other and hope in a higher being. Mannequins have hearts of polystyrene and just kind of sit in a window all day alone wearing Ralph Lauren or J.Crew to look good. They are really some of the loneliest people I’ve ever seen.

How miserable would it be to be a mannequin? As you look back on the day, all you did was wear a plaid button-up with chinos as people looked at you and said, “Whoa! I want that!” Every once in a while, someone undresses you, which is a little humiliating (depending on the person undressing you), and that’s as much interaction as you get.

There are a lot of mannequins in relationships. And a lot of mannequins in marriage. We’re all so afraid of vulnerability, we choose to sit in a department store, alone, gathering dust, exhausting ourselves trying to look good. And mannequins do look good, dressed in their Sunday best, but there’s really nothing to them, just thick plastic with detachable legs.

There are a lot of mannequins in the church, too. And it has nothing to do with the church, because it’s the people inside the AA meeting that made that smoky trailer such a lovely place.

I concluded that day that broken people are some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen. One guy we met went to AA meetings at different locations almost every night, to stay connected to the vine, so to speak. He understood that without community, without AA, he would surely fall. These people were not prideful people, too embarrassed to admit their shortcomings, too worried about looking good in a department store window. These people were broken, beautiful people that needed each other and needed God.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day looked good in a window display. But it was the prostitutes and adulterers and tax collectors who needed Jesus. The Pharisees had religion. But the sinners had relationships. Religion without relationship, both with God and each other, is nothing more than a plaid button-up. Religion is a headache of a thing. Relationship is quite messy and life-changing.

Every Labor Day weekend, I go to a church softball tournament in Roanoke, Va., to gather stories for a book project. The tournament has been going on for 30-some years, and all the money goes to missionaries in Paraguay, and people travel from all over the south and midwest because the community at the tournament means so much to them. Sometimes, the summer storm clouds make their way past the Blue Ridge Mountains, fall into the Roanoke Valley, and there’s a sense that God, in all of His splendor, is coming to meet you.

And that’s exactly the way I feel all the time in Roanoke, that God is coming to meet me. I usually end up crying in Roanoke because the stories I encounter are so beautiful—broken, but beautiful—like the drug addict who got saved at the tournament 20-some years ago and now has his own ministry in Nicaragua, or the umpire who worked the tournament for years before coming to the end of his brokenness and realizing he needed Christ, or the Paraguayan missionary who’s wife and son died in a car wreck on the way to finalize adoption papers for their daughter, who is still doing ministry because his love for Jesus trumps his understanding of his circumstances.

Broken stories are, really, the most beautiful ones. And so are broken people.

I watched Flight recently, starring Denzel Washington. It’s a little inappropriate at parts, but I promise you, it’s good. It’s about an alcoholic who is so desperately trying to look good he can’t admit he’s an alcoholic. He’s a mannequin, basically.

At the end, however, the character Washington plays admits his alcoholism, that he was drunk when piloting the aircraft that crashed at the start of the movie, and ends up going to prison. There, he says one of my favorite quotes to his fellow inmates:

“This is going to sound real stupid coming from a man in prison,” he says. “But for the first time in my life, I’m free.”

ColumnSigBy Stephen Copeland

This column appeared in the May 2013 DigiMag. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at stephen.copeland@sportsspectrum.com.

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