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.

NEW Summer DigiMag now available for viewing

Summer 2014 DigiMag #1 FINAL2What happens when Sports Spectrum rides bikes with Switchfoot? Or how about when a biker tries to attain his Motocross dreams despite only having one arm? Or how about when a golf coach locks his keys in his car before the biggest golf tournament of the season?

Our first DigiMag of the summer is now available for viewing. This issue has exclusive feature stories on alternative rock band Switchfoot and Motocross rider Jason Griffin, and a new column from staff writer Stephen Copeland. We also have several closeups and content from the K-LOVE Fan Awards in Nashville, Tennessee, including a Q&A with Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn.

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Brad Guzan’s Unexpected Journey

Our biggest breakthrough moments sometimes come when we least expect them.

In 2005, United States goalkeeper Brad Guzan had thought he played poorly in place of Chivas USA’s injured keeper. The squad finished with an abysmal 4-22 record in its first season, and Guzan believed much of it fell on him.

“I was young,” he says. “I wasn’t sure I was ready mentally, physically. And I wasn’t sure if I was good enough. We were not winning games…So that point was definitely a low for me. There were a lot of question marks going through my head.”

At the end of the season, however, Guzan received an email inviting him to the U.S. National team’s camp in January. It was an invitation to represent his country. The thing he least expected.

It was a huge confidence boost after a rookie year that seemed like it couldn’t have gone worse. And two years later, his stardom continued to rise, as he was named the 2007 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. This led to an opportunity to play for Aston Villa in one of the world’s best soccer leagues, the English Premier League in 2008, where he has remained ever since. Being in such a competitive league hasn’t been easy, but he has come a long way since Chivas USA’s 4-22 record in 2005.

“It was a trying four years for me, the first four years in England,” Guzan says. “It was difficult because you would play a game, do well and the next week you would find yourself on the bench. So it was inconsistent football that I was experiencing and I was looking for the consistency… (But) you have to be professional. You have to be persistent…You just have to keep fighting…I knew that if I kept going I would be given an opportunity at some point.”

One thing that has remained consistent, in a position as mentally trying as goalkeeping, is the thing keeps him steady in all circumstances—good or bad.

“When things are going well for you, you can’t get too high,” Guzan says. “When things aren’t going your way, you can’t get too low…I think as athletes, everyone gets caught in the heat of the moment, then maybe do things that they regret later on. For me, I am no different. I am not perfect…But God loves everyone. You have to be able to open yourself to Him and allow Him into your life. And if you do that, the forgiveness, the relief that comes off your shoulders, knowing that you have God’s love, you are able to follow Him through your life’s journey.”

In March of 2013, Guzan started in place of an injured Tim Howard for the men’s national team in two 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil qualifiers and did not give up a goal in either match.

“For me, how my personal life, my faith life and my sport life—they all come together,” Guzan says. “I think they have to. I think that is just natural. You don’t have one without the other and most importantly you have to have Jesus in your life…As I said, it hasn’t always been a rosy road to success. There are always going to be bumps along the way. And through those difficulties, Jesus is what helped me get through all of those struggles.”

By Stephen Copeland

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

Chronicling the Spiritual Journey of 1999 U.S. Open Champion Payne Stewart

To understand golfer Payne Stewart—the most public of sports figures, who died the most public of deaths last October—you have to look deeper to see what changed him over the last 18 months of his life. And the best way to do that is through the eyes of his friends and colleagues.

“The one thing I think about Payne was that he was genuine,” says fellow PGA pro David Ogrin.

Ogrin knew Stewart from his college days when David played for Texas A&M and Payne starred for the Southern Methodist University Mustangs. He observed him closely for nearly 20 years and is perhaps one of the best qualified to comment on Stewart’s decade-long journey from highly successful yet highly dissatisfied pro golfer to a confident and peaceful belief in Jesus Christ in the last year and a half of his life.

“I knew him when he was the perfect Frat Rat,” Ogrin says. “I played against him for three years and knew he was a genuine hard worker. At times he could be a genuine pain in the neck, but we all knew he was a genuine champion. When he talked to you, he was genuinely interested in what you had to say.”

But Ogrin, like Stewart’s many close friends, including golfer Paul Azinger, sports agent Robert Fraley, and baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser, came to see a genuine difference in the once egotistical and often sarcastic golfer.

“In the last couple of years, Payne became a genuine Christian. He had earned everything a man could earn on his own in the golf world and found that it wasn’t enough,” Ogrin adds. “To understand what finished out the man and the grasp that it held on him, you have to see what Jesus has to offer and the place He played in Payne’s life.”

The difference, according to PGA Tour chaplain Larry Moody, was that Stewart went from having a religion he could fall back on if needed, to a personal relationship with Jesus, which carried him through the highs and lows of his final months in this bunker we call “earth.”

Moody, who often leads the Wednesday night Tour Bible study, began making the rounds on the PGA Tour in 1981, Stewart’s rookie year. He too witnessed first-hand the changes in Stewart’s life.

“We had some good talks after his father passed away in the early 90s. Then his good friend Paul Azinger was stricken with cancer in 1993. He had talked to Payne about not being in the land of the living and going to the land of the dying, but actually being in the land of the dying and heading for the land of the living.

“Although Paul was sure where he was going, Payne did not share the same confidence,” Moody adds.

All the while, Stewart’s agent Fraley and his wife Dixie, along with good friend Van Ardan, were continually talking to him about a relationship with Jesus and how the peace and joy of a personal Savior could overwhelm any golf trophy Stewart would ever win.

The most constant reminder of his need to change inside and out came from his two young children, Chelsea and Aaron. They began attending a Christian sports camp each summer in Missouri, Stewart’s home state, and they made sure of their eternal destiny during one of the camps.

“We always said they were raising Payne just like he was raising them,” Stewart’s longtime golf teacher Chuck Cook says. “They brought home the Christian life and the Christian values to him on a daily basis.”

When it came time for Tracey and Payne to select a school for the two kids, the Stewarts sought out one of the top Christian schools near their Orlando, Florida, home, the First Academy at the First Baptist Church of Orlando.

While the denominational label was ultimately unimportant, the teaching Payne received at the church proved to be one of the final mileposts of his spiritual journey.

Stewart began attending a men’s Bible study led by major league pitcher Hershiser, who also stressed the need for a personal relationship with God. Orel emphasized that being accepted by God is not based on good works but on faith in Jesus—the One who had paid the penalty for his sins and could make him righteous before a holy God.

“God used a little bit of everybody in Payne’s life,” says First Baptist associate pastor J.B. Collingsworth. “Larry Moody and Paul Azinger were factors, his kids brought it home to him daily, and he came to First Baptist Orlando, where he joined the men’s Bible study and learned many things here.”

Stewart also became good friends with golf legend Byron Nelson, one of golf’s greatest winners, who told Payne of his own need to have Jesus in his life to help, guide, and comfort him.

“Payne was as solid as they come,” Nelson says. “He loved Tracey and the kids, but he had a real love and peace in his life from Christ.”

Despite all the shared knowledge and friendly persuasion, Stewart had to settle his spiritual relationship alone, which he did—asking Christ into his life as his personal Savior and Lord privately in 1998.

Shortly after that, Payne’s son Aaron helped Dad let the world in on his changed life.

Early in the 1999 golf season, Aaron gave his dad his WWJD bracelet, which stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” The 10-year-old proved wise beyond his years when he challenged Dad to come out of the closet and let others know about his private commitment to Christ.

Moody was one of the first to hear from Payne about his bold commitment when he encountered him on the practice range at the Shell Houston Hope in April. Seeing Stewart wearing the bracelet, Moody asked for some background information and listened as Stewart told him that God had truly changed his mind, body, and spirit.

“In the last year, I knew Payne was committed to God, but in Houston was when I found he was unashamed publicly of his commitment,” Moody says.

The rest of the sports world caught on a few months later when Stewart conquered the demanding Pinehurst No. 2 layout to win his second US Open title, capping the victory with a bracelet-encircled fist thrust into the air on the 18th green.

That photo and Stewart’s spoken, public commitment were played around the world the following day as his path from carnal, clutter-filled darkness to peaceful life became clear.

Collingsworth, who became a friend of Stewart’s over the last 18 months, spoke with Stewart at a post-US Open party thrown last July by his wife to help map out his future path.

“He told me he wasn’t going to be a ‘Bible thumper;’ that wasn’t his style. But he wanted everybody to know it was Jesus, Jesus, Jesus who had done this great thing in his life, and that was all-important.”

Moody said that in the past Stewart would mock players who attended the weekly Bible study for being less than perfect and even quite human at times.

“I told him only sinners came to the Bible study, and if he wasn’t one then he shouldn’t show up because he would make the rest of us look bad,” Moody says, recalling his tongue-in-check response.

Eventually, of course, Stewart became aware that although he was less than perfect as a player or a person, he was forgiven by the One he had accepted into his life.

For Darin Hoff, who grew up with Stewart in Springfield, Missouri, and who knew Payne since age 15, the change began to come into focus when his buddy lost the US Open title to Lee Janzen in 1998.

“I saw he was truly gracious in defeat and really cheered Lee Janzen when he won. I knew that was not like the old Payne. His faith was so much more important to him than it ever had been before,” Hoff says.

Hoff was working as an assistant golf pro in South Bend, Indiana, when he received the stunning news of the death of Stewart, Fraley, Ardan, and the others. Payne’s old friend grabbed a flight to Orlando for the memorial service. He spent much of the trip thinking about his friend and the difference he had seen in his life over the last year.

“At the memorial service, I realized that I didn’t have what Payne did. It was like God was standing right there calling me to come to Him. My life was changed forever on that day, and I know I will never be the same.”

Collingsworth says that in the months since Stewart’s death, he has heard from people all over the country who have been affected by it and desire to follow the golfer’s spiritual path.

Moody, who has dealt with professional golfers for nearly two decades, can only shake his head in amazement at the pathway Stewart traveled in his professional, private, and spiritual life.

“What a tremendous legacy he has left us. How thrilled we are to know him and to know that his story is attracting so many others to what Payne has found.”

It was a winding pathway, but an eternally fulfilling one for the most public of golfers, who made the most public of life-changing commitments. And now all the world is find out about the transformation that made Payne Stewart’s life—and death—a tribute to His Savior.

By Art Stricklin

This story was published in the March 2000 issue of Sports Spectrum.

‘All In One Rhythm’

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“For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” 1 John 5:7-8

The official slogan of the 2014 FIFA World Cup is “All in One Rhythm,” or, in Portuguese, “Juntos num so ritmo.” I love these four words. Not only is it a perfect description of the World Cup—how teams from around the world come together to participate in the sport of soccer, all in one rhythm—but it also makes me want to apply it to my own spirituality.

One of the most remarkable things in the Christian faith, to me, is the concept of the trinity. Just thinking about the triune God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—points my heart and mind toward something worth discovering.

One of my mentors describes this three-person deity and their relationship and union with one another as a dance. Somehow, someway, they are all in one rhythm, making up one being, serving different functions. What is even more remarkable to me is that this Triune God welcomes us into the dance, inviting us to join the rhythm, as He lives in us and through us.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer for 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.

Preacher In Cleats

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There is an hour-long video online titled “The Integrity of the Christian Faith Pt. 1,” featuring pastor Ebo Taylor and Cameroonian soccer midfielder Eyong Enoh.  The video is produced by an organization called “Sons of God Intercessory Ministries (ICWC) Europe,” and as of March 10, 2014, the video only had 64 views.

The video is nothing fancy. The animations, in fact, by American standards, seem rather corny. A ticker reading the same sentence slowly slides across the screen the duration of the hour, and the backdrop looks like they are sitting inside an animated space shuttle. Oddly, it looks like it could be Emperor Zurg’s lair on Pixar’s Toy Story.

And yet, it is one of the deepest, scriptural videos you’ll find on the Internet featuring any international superstar like Enoh, the vice-captain of the Cameroon national team who has played in some of the world’s top leagues in both England and the Netherlands.

“To be alive is our calling to purpose,” says Enoh at the start of the video. “To be alive is our calling to divine destiny. Otherwise…at the time you get saved you would be immediately taken to heaven. But it’s not like that. There is a reason God allows us to be here. Because we were sent on an assignment. We were sent with a divine destiny to fulfill.”

It’s quite refreshing, actually, to watch something without all of the emotional gadgets used on us to stir our hearts—the videography, editing, music, dramatic pauses, etc., that have become all too predictable and almost mundane in today’s society. Instead, it’s a raw conversation. The only emotional thing in the video is the people, pastor Ebo Taylor and Eyong Enoh. They dive into Isaiah, II Timothy, the Gospels, and yes, even Revelation. They read from the Bible on the edge of their seats (and you can tell because their chairs keep squeaking). Enoh seems much more like an evangelist than a soccer player, preaching at times with the word-frequency of an auctioneer, always quoting Scripture, continually speaking of the Holy Spirit.

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“I remember praying one day and hearing the Lord say, ‘When you come before me on the day of judgment, I am not going to ask you how many games you played or how many goals you scored,’” said Enoh in an earlier interview. “’I am not going to ask how many trophies you won or how many people supported you. I will simply ask: What did you do for My Kingdom? Did the world see Me living in you? And, did you share the Gospel message that I came to die for the world?’ The Lord’s words really dawned on me. It is important to discover the reason we are alive, to function in it, and to make a difference with it.

“In Acts 17, Paul displayed great boldness while visiting the city of Athens. His life had already been threatened and he had been chased out of several other cities for preaching the Gospel, yet that did not stop him. In Athens, a city full of idols, he bravely called for repentance and spoke about Jesus openly. Because of Paul’s faithfulness and bold spirit, men’s and women’s hearts were changed and the Good News continued to spread.”

Ironically, the video is all about returning to the integrity of the Christian faith, and there is an overarching feeling that—despite the lack of editing technology and camera angles, despite the uncontrollable squeaks from their chairs and beeps from one of their wristwatches—this is exactly the way the Christian faith is supposed to be. Based on the Word and His Spirit. As simple, yet complex, as that.

“Once I encountered the message of Jesus and gave my heart to Him, I knew I had found what I was looking for because I felt peace in my heart—peace that cannot be traded for anything,” Enoh said. “I clearly remember realizing two very special things: there is a reason I am alive and not just another body in the world, and I am unique with a specific purpose that God has already designed.

“Jesus said to the disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). I have learned that my relationship with God is never-ending, and I am constantly aware of His presence wherever I am—even when playing football. I worship Him everywhere and in everything I do, including my effort on the pitch.

“I have also realized the main purpose of life is to talk about Jesus. God had given me talents and the ability to play football—a great platform to share Jesus. Through football I can reach people who look up to me in my country and people I meet through my career. It has become the pathway through which the Lord can use me.”

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum. This story was published in Sports Spectrum’s special World Cup issue. Log in here to read the issue or past issues of Sports Spectrum.

Living conscious of God’s love

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“And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled and escaped the night.” 1 Samuel 19:12

I’ve dislocated my knee twice while playing basketball. What’s just as frustrating as the dislocation itself, however, is what happens to the quad muscle after the injury. It shuts down. In order to get back out on the basketball court, even after two surgeries fixed my knee cap, I had to hook an electric stimulator up to my quad multiple times a day, for several weeks straight, just to fire up the muscle again. It was as if my quad completely forgot how to function, even after the surgery. It was as if my quad muscle, which functioned perfectly ever since I learned to walk, suddenly forgot the way it worked before.

Sometimes, I think our hearts work the same way. Consider David. In 1 Samuel, we read about how “the Lord was with him” and protected him as Saul did everything he could to kill him. And yet, later in David’s life, he lusts upon Bathsheba, tries to cover it up, and suffers a monstrous fall. It’s as if he forgot how much God loved and protected him in his past. He forgot how to walk. He was spiritually unconscious.

As our series on 1 Samuel continues this issue and we read about Saul’s pursuit of David and God’s protection of David, think about the blessings God has bestowed upon you in your past. Are you living conscious of His love? Or have you forgotten the very thing at the core of your being—the fact you are loved?

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer for 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.

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.

 

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