A Post About A Christian Athlete

Today’s post is the first from my good friend Chandler. Chandler is a pastor-in-training who works with college students. Along with being a solid dude, he is also funny sometimes and also enjoys writing. Therefore, it just makes sense for him to start writing semi-regularly for The Greatest Blog Of All Time.

You can follow Chandler on Twitter, and you can read his semi-serious, rarely updated blog as well.

My goal for this year was to write more often, and to write more humorous stuff.  I’m thankful for the GBOAT and the opportunity to have a place to do that.  I wrote a post about the movie Space Jam for this blog that I really enjoyed writing and hopefully will be run soon.  But this whole thing came up, and it just felt way more important to me, so this one is, as we like to say, “real talk.”

So, stop me if you’ve heard this one before – hot shot baseball prospect. Gets drafted, then loses everything – his career, his family, almost his life – because of drugs and alcohol. He meets Jesus, cleans his life up, and becomes an All-Star and wins an MVP award. He lives happily ever after, because that’s what Jesus does, right? He gets you out of a jam and fulfills your wildest fantasies and everything is ok after that…right?

Well, that’s what happened in this story.

Sort of.

I’m talking about Josh Hamilton, the outfielder for the Texas Rangers. Josh’s story is pretty incredible. In 1999, he was drafted number one overall by the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2001, he started abusing drugs and alcohol, and by 2004 he was out of professional baseball completely. He was, at one point, living on the street despite having a wife and daughter. But by 2007, he was back in the bigs, playing for the Reds. Then he got traded to the Rangers in 2008, and the story became too good to be true. He became one of the best hitters in baseball, earning multiple trips to the All-Star game and winning the American League MVP in 2010. It’s one of those stories that’s too good to be true.

And…in a way…it was too good to be true.

In 2009, Josh was seen drinking at a nightclub in Arizona. Then, this week, Josh was seen drinking again.  And not just “oh, he had a beer” drinking.  Like…relapse drinking.  If you know anybody who has struggled with alcoholism, you know that for them, there’s not much of a difference in the two.

After both incidents, he took full responsibility for what happened.

So much has been written about Christian athletes recently. The Tim Tebow story headlined Sportscenter almost every week, and it was pretty rare that his story was mentioned without bringing up his faith. And it made sense – he’s a guy who apparently practices what he preaches. He’s the guy kids looked up to. Men wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him. And the whole time, he was giving glory to God, where all glory rightly belongs. Regardless of how you feel about his football prowess, you have to admire a guy who speaks his beliefs and seems to live them.

But Josh’s story is different. Here’s a guy who is also up front about his faith. He has given full credit to God for his turnaround, and also glorifies him as much as he can. Yet he still has had a couple of major slip-ups that have been majorly publicized. He’s definitely not Tim Tebow.

Yet I find that I identify with Josh Hamilton probably more so than any other Christian athlete that I’ve ever followed closely. And I think his screw-ups are a big part of why. He’s human. He reminds me that I, too, need grace as much today as I did the day I first believed. He reminds me that the Christian life is not about being perfect, it’s about being perfected (Romans 12:1-2). He reminds me that I, too, am never more than one step from a fall. And above all, he reminds me that my salvation is not based on my actions, it’s based on Christ’s actions, both in his perfect life and undeserving death. Josh Hamilton didn’t lose his salvation because he relapsed. And I have to remind myself of that in my own life almost daily.

I really don’t know how the media (Christian or otherwise) are going to handle this story. I do know that we tend to hold athletes to a higher standard in general, and we hold Christian athletes to a standard that is literally impossible to maintain. I’ve seen guys who are confessing Christians get written off because the TV camera picked up a curse word let out in an intense play in a game.

But if Tim Tebow is a guy we can get behind (and I think he is – the guy clearly has leadership abilities and is a great role model for all of us), Josh Hamilton is a guy we can – no, we must – stand beside. He is a brother in the faith, a brother who needs our encouragement, our prayer, and our support, just like each one of us needs it as well. Because aren’t we all recovering addicts? Drugs, alcohol, pornography, eating disorders, gossip, selfishness, thinking we’re better than others, etc.

I doubt Josh Hamilton ever reads this. But if I had a chance to speak to him, I’d want to tell him to keep fighting. Grace is, in part, about being picked back up after being knocked down. Grace is a God who is not surprised by our sin. Grace is, in fact, a God who continues to love us in spite of our sin. Grace is a God who knew we couldn’t do anything about that sin, so he solved the problem for us.

I’m reminded of the song “Be My Escape” by Relient K and the line “The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.” And I am thankful for that grace. And I am thankful for guys like Josh Hamilton, because his story reminds me that none of this is fair.

If it were “fair”, I’d have been cast out a loooooooong time ago.


16 thoughts on “A Post About A Christian Athlete

  1. Solid article! I’m sure Tim would be the first to tell you he has plenty of slip ups as well, even though we don’t see them. Kudos to Josh for admitting his slip ups too. I hope we continue to encourage both men. Josh also had to deal with that father who fell from the stands this past year when Josh tossed a ball up to him and his son. I can’t imagine how hard that must be.

    1. Josh is a really refreshing guy to have in a world that is so in love with appearances. He’s able to be real about his mistakes. I wonder what it would look like if we weren’t all people that were so focused on trying to appear perfect all the time.

    2. Agree totally. The thing about drug and alcohol addiction is that it tends to be so public, especially when you’re a famous person that the cameras are always drawn to.

  2. So much about this that I like.
    1) “life is not about being perfect, it’s about being perfected.” I’m going to steal that, start a book series based off it, called “being perfected”, and make a quick Christian million. If that’s okay. (But seriously, great line and well put.)
    2) “if Tim Tebow is a guy we can get behind, Josh Hamilton is a guy we must stand beside.” Awesome stuff. It’s so easy to follow/worship/idolize another believer, and then abandon them when they fall. And it’s totally unbiblical and wrong.
    3) “Because aren’t we all recovering addicts?” Though most of polished-up Christendom won’t admit it, there’s no doubt this is true of all of humanity. I’m with you on identifying with Hamilton in that way.

    1. Amen, amen, and amen. I couldn’t wait to put this up once Chandler let me read it.

      I think the line “Hamilton is a guy we must stand beside” is what hit me the hardest. Love that imagery: brothers in Christ being there for other brothers in Christ. Isn’t that what it’s all about, right there?

      1. I accidentally hit “reply” before I meant to. Be patient, guys, I’m still trying to figure this internet thing out.

        But so many people (myself included) are quick to rush to judgment when people struggle, especially publicly, but for some reason Josh’s story last week reminded me of me. I mean, I’ve never struggled with his specific issues, but it made me think about how many times I go straight back to the things God has redeemed me from.

        Kinda reminded me of Genesis 4, where it warns us that sin is crouching at the door.

  3. So I skipped the part about sports and read the part about grace.

    “He is a brother in the faith, a brother who needs our encouragement, our prayer, and our support, just like each one of us needs it as well. Because aren’t we all recovering addicts?”

    BOOM. Nicely done, Chandler.

  4. “Heartaches, broken pieces, ruined lives are why you died on Calvary. Your touch is what I long for–you have given life to me.”
    –Bill Gaither

    I joke [insert favorite cuisine here] is the gift that keeps on giving, but really it’s God. Good on Josh Hamilton for being so real, for owning his junk, for reaching our for grace.

  5. Amen, Chandler! I can relate to Josh Hamilton. Whenever I hear someone mention a story like his, I can’t help but recommend that they read Addiction & Grace by Gerald May. It gave me a whole new understanding and appreciation of both.

  6. “…if Tim Tebow is a guy we can get behind, Josh Hamilton is a guy we must stand beside.”

    This. Oh, holy crap, this. There’s a little of JH in all of us – imagine how much easier our journeys would be if more people stood beside us, in faith, in humanity.

    Great piece.

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