Devotional

As a Christian I continue to make an effort to live my faith. Some of these devotionals are from the FCA. Some are from the coaches and staff at Pelham High School (AL), and some are gathered from other sources. 

“…the joy of the Lord is our strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10 

As athletes, we workout to better ourselves for competition. We hit the weights to gain strength, speed and size. But have you ever had one of those days in which your strength wasn’t where you wanted it to be or you just didn’t feel strong? If you compete long enough, you’re bound to have those days occasionally.

Have you ever had one of those days in life where you were feeling the same way spiritually? Like you just weren’t strong in your faith at all? In those times, we have to remember that it is not about us, it’s about Jesus Christ. He is the One who gives us strength. It says in Psalm 33:16: “A king is not saved by a large army; a warrior will not be delivered by great strength.”

Knowing the Lord is the greatest strength we have. With His strength we can overcome anything. Problems at home or school; problems of heartache, physical pain and injury; situations in our families, with friends and people we know, etc. Important decisions and questions in our lives, on our teams and in our careers can easily be made by coming to God for His strength, wisdom and love. These are things that, no matter how hard you workout, how fast you run or how much you bench press, cannot be solved by your strength.

Look to the Lord in all things and do them in joy, no matter what the situation. He will bring you the strength, both spiritually and physically.

“I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or forsake you.”- Joshua 1:5b

Coaches work hard in preparing their players to do their best and avoid mistakes. One of the biggest mistakes in football is dropping the ball. Typically the team that fumbles the most in a game will lose.

Recently I experienced a back problem that caused me to be in bed for days. A little voice crept in and said, “Why, God? Where are You?” My brother has been diagnosed with cancer. A friend of mine recently lost his sister to cancer. That little voice crept in and said, “Why, God? Where are You?”

I find myself sinning again and that little voice of doubt creeps in, “God doesn’t like sin-you are separated from Him.”

God reminded Joshua that He is faithful and will never fail or abandon him. The word abandon also means to drop or let loose. God promised Joshua that He would never drop, fumble, or abandon him. That same promise applies to us. There are times we may feel alone and wonder “why?” We question if God has abandoned us. We may sin and feel God can’t forgive us. The truth is that God will not abandon us or drop us. God doesn’t fumble. God is with us, holding us tight against Him, not allowing us to be fumbled or dropped. He is our faithful God!

The diligent hand will rule, but laziness will lead to forced labor.-Proverbs 12:24

Ever hear, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying”? As an offensive lineman, I would justify holding by saying, “It’s only cheating once you get caught.” In football, holding by an offensive lineman is considered the same as driving a little over the speed limit. Yes, it is breaking a rule, but it is expected and everyone does it.

As a player, I held almost every play; and as a coach, I taught how to not get caught. Then a colleague informed me that allowing my players to hold is allowing them to be lazy. Holding can compensate for slow feet, lack of strength, and poor technique. Premeditated holding is ethically wrong, a form of cheating, and creates a slacker attitude. God wants, expects, and deserves our best.

Whether cheating on an exam, at work, or on the field, we are not just cheating ourselves out of being more educated, more trusted, or a better athlete; we are missing out on God’s blessing. Diligent preparation and practice reduces the temptation to cheat. The risk in cheating can range from a 10-yard penalty to the destruction of a 10-year marriage; but the reward of God’s inheritance is immeasurable. There aren’t many drivers obeying the speed limit and even fewer linemen playing a clean game, but that is why we walk a narrow road. Playing without holding requires hard work and discipline, but so does living a life that honors God.

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;” –1 Corinthians 1:26-27

Many of us struggle with the constant pressure to be perfect within athletics. We get caught up seeking unreliable affirmation through our performance, so when things don’t go our way many times we feel discouraged.

Tryouts are a great example. We work day in and day out to prove we ARE worthy of a spot. Summers we run sprints in the heat, nights we lift in the weight room and it feels like every second is spent honing our skills.

All that work leads to the moment tryouts finish and we run to the gym door to see if our name is one of the few listed on the final roster. Usually making the cut is a long process that requires hard work, focus and countless hours of training. To win a spot on the roster YOU have to earn it.

But, the challenges don’t just stop after making the team. That’s just the beginning. Next, we must constantly work to improve in order to get a chance at starting. The demands are never ending. If success within athletics was all we had to hope for in life then an injury could be devastating and each day overwhelming.

Fortunately for those of us that are Christ followers, we don’t have to constantly worry about being good enough. On God’s team the tryout’s already been conducted and only one person was worthy of eternal life in Heaven: Jesus Christ. Jesus performed flawlessly with a life of service and love. He then chose to give up HIS roster spot, so that we could be apart of the team too.

So even though the challenges within our sport aren’t ending anytime soon, we can be encouraged in the fact that despite our performance God loves us continually–and our spot on His team is secure.

“Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
Ephesians 6:11 (KJV) 

In ancient times, a soldier was only as good as the equipment he had. His only source of protection was his armor and his sword. In ancient warfare, there wasn’t the option to carry out attacks from miles away like we can today. It was always up-close, in a large crowd with hand-to-hand combat, and you needed armor that could protect you from every side.

When I read these verses in Ephesians, I immediately thought of two people: football players and baseball catchers. In both sports, helmets protect the athletes from blows to the head and limits the possibility of a concussion. Shoulder pads protect their chest and shoulders-a breastplate, so to speak. Then they have the hip, thigh and knee pads for leg protection, and finally, cleats to get traction and support their feet.

While this equipment provides players with physical protection, we, as Christian “warriors” need other protection as well. Ephesians tells us just as warriors (players) need protection, we Christians need armor to protect us from the outside forces that wish to harm us. During football games, my players get pounded constantly, and without the protective armor, their bodies wouldn’t be able to take the abuse.

The same can be said for our spiritual lives. Satan is constantly pounding us with temptations. Therefore, we need the armor of God to protect us and give us the strength to stand tall when the world around us in falling apart. On a recent Friday night at an important game, a player and I talked just before the third quarter. I told him that, as a senior and a player, he as an individual had to make something happen. And he did. He came up with a couple big stops and one or two sacks that truly made a difference. He stood tall and fought back in a situation where our season was falling apart. And he wasn’t the only one; it was a team effort.

Today, as Christians, let’s put on the armor of God so we can stand up for Him and be that Christ-like example for our teammates, and all the world, to see. 

Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. –Hebrews 12:2

When I was in high school, I ran the 110-meter hurdles. I remember it like it was yesterday-being in the starting blocks, looking down the track through the tunnel of hurdles toward the finish line. Hurdlers and sprinters have a major advantage over longer distance runners in that they can see the finish line from the starting blocks. I see that same dynamic in today’s Scripture.

In the letter to the Hebrews we read, “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.”

Like the hurdler, it appears that Jesus could see the finish line of His life right from the beginning. The vision of the destination and the rewards waiting at the finish line kept His life in perfect focus.

Every January, I watch the Super Bowl and am fully confident that all the players and coaches from both teams sneak peeks at the Lombardi Trophy sitting there just waiting for the championship to be won. They all have the trophy in clear view and compete strongly until the final gun.

Let’s emulate these champions and the Lord Jesus by keeping our goals clearly in focus and by putting away all the distractions that would keep them from being realized. If we all compete that way, we’ll be a championship team.

[Jesus] looked up and saw the rich dropping their offerings into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow dropping in two tiny coins. “I tell you the truth,” He said. “This poor widow has put in more than all of them. For all these people have put in gifts out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”-Luke 21:1-4

In sports, you hear a lot about two very different kinds of athlete. One is labeled an “underachiever”-an athlete who has a ton of talent but gets by putting out the minimal effort. The other is referred to as an “overachiever”- someone who makes up for a lack of physical giftedness and athletic prowess with an abundance of hard work, determination, and drive. In Luke 21:1-4, Jesus was identifying the people who gave “of their surplus” as the underachievers while representing the poor widow as a classic overachiever. As athletes and as Christians, we too face the same decision as the people described by Jesus. We can hold back aspects of our finances, our relationships, our possessions, and, in essence, pieces of our heart. In doing so, we will never truly live up to our God-given potential. But as Jesus said in John 10:10b, “I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance.” To receive that perfect completion of God’s will for each of us, we must be willing to lay everything we have and everything we are at the sacrificial altar as the ultimate gift of thanks for the sacrifice Jesus made for us at the cross.

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” –1 Peter 5:8-9 (NIV)

Watch any of the famous Rocky movies and you’ll find a prime example of someone who never gave up in battle. With every movie, Sylvester Stallone’s character, Rocky Balboa, faced an even bigger challenge. Yet through each 12-round beating, he always managed to get back up on his feet and find victory.

The first line of the FCA Competitor’s Creed states: “I am a Christian first and last.” As Christians we are faced with a battle that rages all around us. Our souls are up for grabs. God has them, but Satan wants them. And if he can’t take us with him, he’ll make our lives here on Earth the toughest war we’ll ever fight. We carry a large target on our backs as believers in Christ. For Satan, there’s a higher price on our lives because we work for the Kingdom. The more we grow in Christ and the more people come to know Christ through us, the more Satan loses.

The Competitor’s Creed states: “I give my all-all of the time. I do not give up. I do not give in. I do not give out. I am the Lord’s warrior-a competitor by conviction and a disciple of determination.” A lifetime of war isn’t going to be easy. But if we draw on God’s grace and God’s power, we too can keep getting up round after round.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7

When I’m recruiting players, one of the most important qualities I look for is fight. Fight is that one thing that serves as the axis for our team. If we do that, then we never have anything to be ashamed of. It’s the one thing we can control. There will be things that will come and go; shooting percentages, adhering to a defensive scout, whatever it may be. But you can control how much effort you give and how hard you fight. It gives you the chance to be the best ever if you are talented, and it gives you a chance to compete even when you aren’t as talented as your opponent.

Whether you’re facing an illness or any sort of struggle that may come your way, fight is a way of life. That is also very true when it comes to our existence as Christians. In athletics, we coach our players to fight for loose balls or to fight through adversity on the playing field. But in the spiritual realm, we coach those within our influence to fight the good fight. We help prepare them to fight through adversities on this journey to our eternal life in Heaven.

When you talk about gritting your teeth and standing your ground, maybe nowhere is it more important than in your daily Christian walk and the moment-by-moment decisions. That means doing things that aren’t always easy but what’s necessary. That requires fight. That requires perseverance. And eventually, we will finish the race and be able to say, as the Apostle Paul did, we have kept the faith.

“For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, just as a father, the son he delights in.” – Proverbs 3:12

When I first started working towards becoming a head coach, people wondered if I could do it. I wasn’t the type to yell at people. I wasn’t the type to get in people’s faces. They didn’t know if I could control the players. How would they respond to my coaching style? How would I handle being in charge of an entire team?

My style has always been one that relies on motivation, encouragement and teaching. I always want to help people get better. That’s the idea behind correction. It’s not about tearing people down. It’s about helping them improve. You have to let them know when they’ve done something wrong, but the goal is helping them became a better player and a better person.

There are certain things that are going to be done a certain way and they’re not negotiable. The punishment is already set and everyone knows it. But then if a rule is a broken and you have to correct, it’s best to avoid sharp criticisms but instead to discipline with love. That approach gives the person the best opportunity to change their behavior.

Jesus corrected by telling stories. He showed examples. He pointed things out. He didn’t just say, “This is wrong and this is right.” He corrected people by getting them to think. When He corrected His disciples, they walked away understanding that it was for their benefit.

As a society, we desperately need to develop young people that are correctable. The youth generation is sometimes difficult to correct because of the way they’ve gotten correction. They have rebelled against correction because they see it as criticism. When the time for discipline comes, sometimes it’s easier to demonstrate authority. It’s more difficult to build relationships because it takes time and patience.

But when we follow Jesus’ model of correction and avoid the temptation to criticize, we are better able to build long-lasting relationships and we increase our influence over those within our care.

“For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:11

The game is on the line; the next play can make or break the outcome. The quarterback drops back in the pocket and throws deep into the end zone. Many players jump for the ball, but the receiver comes down with it right by the line. Did he have his foot down in bounds? The line judge signals touchdown, but before the extra point is kicked, the referee waves his arms and says, “The previous play is under further review.” Off he goes to find out what the decision will be.

God’s Word gives us the plan, provision, pattern and purpose for growth in Christ, but many times we choose our own selfish desires over living for Christ. In 2 Peter 1, we read that we have an easy entrance in God’s Kingdom if we follow His plan for our life. If something is “richly provided” to us, that means it is handed over without question and graciously bestowed upon us. Why would we not want that?

When the referee comes back onto the field he states, “After further review, the play on the field stands. Touchdown!” The winning team rejoices in the glorious outcome.

When you die, you will stand before the throne. Will Jesus richly provide for you an entrance into Heaven, or will He state, “The following life is under further review.” Wow, what a moment that would be. Is your life being lived in such a way that would make Him take another look to see if you should make it into Heaven? God offers us eternal life through the acceptance of His one and only Son Jesus Christ. When we accept Him into our hearts, our lives should look radically different. Every day our lives should reflect the life of Christ. If you have accepted Christ, does your life reflect His? That is your choice. God’s desire is for you to richly receive the entrance into Heaven. You want the Lord to say, “After further review, this life stands. It’s a touchdown! Come spend eternity with Me.” Let us live our lives in such a way that the replay booth will never be used!

The Lord is my light and my salvation-whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me  to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling: he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred place and set me high upon a rock. – Psalm 27: 1-5

Determine your focus. In the urgency of the moment, it’s easy to center our attention on the need instead of on God. We may start out waiting for the Lord but end up waiting for the answer we want. Soon we’re more interested in what He can do for us than we are in Him. Sometimes God delays until we get our focus back on Him. He wants us to delight in Him, not just in what He gives us.

Release your expectations into His hands. The Lord is working on our behalf, but sometimes we cling so tightly to a desired outcome that He must wait until we open our hands and let go of our expectations. Holding onto your own assumptions about how the Lord should intervene is emotionally exhausting. But peace awaits those who trust that He will do what is in our best interests–in every situation we encounter.

We need to remember that while we are waiting, God is working. He sees the entire picture and is active behind the scenes, arranging everything according to His will. But perhaps His most important work is the deepening of our relationship with Him as we learn to love and trust Him in the wait.

Prayer

Father, you are in control of all things because you are the Creator of everything. Forgive me for forgetting that nothing happens in my life that does not first pass through your hands. Help me to daily give you every situation and problem and concern in my life and trust you to take control. Help us understand and make the kids you have put us in charge of understand that this week as well. You are with us every day in our lives. We only need to put our trust in you. In Jesus’Name, Amen.

For it is God’s will that you, by doing good, silence the ignorance of foolish people.- 1 Peter 2:15

Coaches cannot make everyone happy. We hear cruel and untrue remarks shouted at us from the stands every game day. “You’re not playing the right person-you don’t know what you’re doing-I could coach better than that in my sleep!” It is easy to dwell on these comments, respond to them with anger, or lash back at shouters in the stands. The difficult task is to respond as Jesus would respond, and we learn how to do that from his example in Scripture. Responding to ignorance is even more difficult when we are criticized for seeking to live godly lives. The Apostle Peter teaches us that actions speak louder than words when it comes to bearing witness before those who ridicule us.

We exhibit Christlike behavior in our coaching and in every area of life when we seek to demonstrate excellence in our leadership and a desire to do all for the glory of God. True leadership begins by example. Jesus led by example, and one example he set occurred on the cross when He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). Jesus was gracious and merciful even in death. Peter also described the blessings of responding to our critics in love. He wrote, “For it brings favor if, because of conscience toward God, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly” (1 Pt 2:19). As coaches who bear the name of Christ, let’s be sure our personal example is like His.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, because He cares about you.-1 Peter 5:6-7

What is the key to attaining a position of power and influence? How do leaders and other people of prestige and authority reach their positions? It is shown throughout the Bible that God puts people in places of prominence and power after they have taken a lower position to serve Him and others.

Peter calls us to maintain an attitude of humility, both before God and among our teammates. There seems to be no room for self-promotion or arrogance in God’s kingdom.

The promise that Peter offers in 1 Peter 5:6 is that as we maintain a spirit of humility, God Himself will lift us to prominence at just the right time. I’m sure God is smarter than I am, or any of us, for that matter. Let’s trust Him and His timing for our coming into positions of prominence.

Keep your ambitions in check. He’s working with your best interest in mind. Conduct yourself with humility and follow God’s plan for you. Trust Him to deliver you right on time.

1. In what ways is God preparing you for leadership?
2. Are you being receptive to His guidance?

Pour out your hearts before Him.God is our refuge.Psalm 62:8b

Hearing athletes and coaches pray before competition is always interesting. Many times pre-game prayers can be a “rah-rah” talk or desperate plea for a big win. As a true competitor, what is the correct way to pray before entering the heat of battle? The following prayer is fitting for a game, competition, workout, or even practice:

Lord, I compete for You alone. I have crossed the line, and there is no turning back. In every victory and every loss, I play for You. Every time I compete, I stand for the cross. My love for the game is evidence of my love for You. My drive comes from the Holy Spirit. Through the pain and the cheers, I will not give in or give up. My passion for competition comes from above. The champion inside of me is Jesus. My only goal is to glorify the name of Christ. To win is to honor Him. I feel Your delight when I compete. All of my abilities are from You. I am under Your authority. I will respect and honor my teammates, coaches, and opponents. I play by all of the rules. I submit to You as my Ultimate Coach. I am Your warrior in the heat of battle, humble in victory and gracious in defeat. I serve those on my team and those I compete against. My words inspire and motivate. My body is Your temple. You dwell within me. Nothing enters my body that is not honoring to You. I train to bring You glory.

1. What are your pre-game prayers like?
2. How do you define winning?
3. How can you develop your prayer life in the arena of competition?

The fear of man is a snare, but the one who trusts in the LORD is protected. – Proverbs 29:25

The above verse gives me comfort as I find confidence and peace in knowing that the only approval that matters is that of Jesus Christ. When I have given Him my life, I am always pleasing to Him-win or lose-and in successes or struggles. This is a constant truth, not because of what I do or how I perform, but because of who I am. I am His, and that never changes.

1. What do you spend more time reading-your press clippings or the Bible?
2. Right now, whom do you find yourself playing for? Whose approval do you seek for your performance?
3. Have you ever felt criticism from man, but approval from God? If so, give an example. If not, describe a time when you would have liked it.

Then I said, “But Lord God, I don’t know how to speak. I am only a boy. “But the Lord said to me, “Don’t say, ‘I am only a boy.’ You must go everywhere I send you, and you must say everything I tell you to say. Don’t be afraid of anyone, because I am with you to protect you,” says the Lord.  Jeremiah 1:6-8

In an age that is obsessed with leadership, it is hard to find someone willing to talk about leadership in an authentic, transparent way – especially in the world of sports. When is the last time you heard a coach or athlete say any of the following statements?

  • I don’t know.
  • I think I am going to need some help.
  • I have some weaknesses.

Any sign of weakness means you are not a leader who is large and in charge. We are taught to never admit that you don’t know something, because if you do, then you just might be called an inadequate leader. But if you are tagged with that moniker, then you might have discovered one of the greatest leadership secrets of all time.

I believe that secret to leadership is this: all great leaders have the awareness of their personal limitations and inadequacy. The inadequate leader realizes that he or she is not all-powerful and doesn’t have all the answers. The leader realizes that he or she has gaps, blind spots and problems. He or she doesn’t try to pretend to have it all together. 

Jeremiah gets it when he cries out to the Lord and says, “Lord, I am inadequate, and I can’t do what You are asking.” He realizes that he is not capable of completing the task without help. But God reminds Jeremiah that nothing is impossible with God; He does not need our strength. He simply needs our availability, faith and trust.

Here are three key characteristics of the Inadequate Leader:

  1. The Inadequate Leader has great self-awareness.

A survey of 75 members of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council rated self-awareness as the most important capability for leaders to develop. When a leader knows his or her natural skills, strengths and spiritual gifts, then the leader understands his or her leadership fingerprint as well as weaknesses. Athletes and coaches need to be surrounded by others who have different strengths and rely on God to fill in the gaps.

  1. The Inadequate Leader doesn’t hide weaknesses.

Having self-awareness helps you to be candid and upfront about your weaknesses. It’s not thinking negatively about yourself; rather it is having a realistic self-appraisal. Even though this is hard for most competitors, identifying weaknesses can become a powerful thing when you can embrace them and rely on others. Lead with your strengths and lean on your weaknesses. Your weakness will be somebody else’s strength, and when you try to do it on your own, you are preventing someone else to lead with his or her strength. Be open about your weaknesses, because it empowers others.

  1. The Inadequate Leader realizes failure is inevitable without God’s intervention.

Counting on others is one thing, but counting on God is a whole other thing. F.B. Meyer wrote, “You never test the resources of God until you attempt the impossible.” The Inadequate Leader knows that failure is at the doorstep every single day unless God steps in. Athletes and coaches should develop a deep sense of anticipation to see what God will do in the world of sports.

Yes, we are inadequate, but God is not. Trust Him. Competing is a trust walk that forces us to completely rely on God to provide every step of the way.

  • Have you ever considered inadequacy a key leadership trait? Why is that hard to embrace as an athlete or coach?
  • Because of your weaknesses, how have you relied on your teammates?
  • What does it look like for God to do the impossible in the world of sports?

 

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