Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Gospel Continually Saves

How the Gospel saved me, 21 years AFTER I became a Christian

After reading an article about a pastor’s rediscovery of the Gospel through a tough and pivotal time, it led me to write a small testimony about my life in transition and how a better grasp of the gospel did the same for me. 

In the summer of 2010 I was becoming aware that my baseball career could be coming to an end.  For everyone that knows me, you know competing in baseball has been a focal point of my existence since I was five years old.  Even more, it had been a year-round event since I was 13 years old.  At the time, being 31 years old, you can see the time and effort I had put into my passion in the sport.  I had been through a similar situation after my senior year at Georgia Tech.  Not getting much playing time in my final season there, I started seeing the signs that opportunities in the future might not be there.  Major League Baseball teams usually don’t take a chance on a guy that isn’t on the field much in college.  After that final game, I did get to pitch a scoreless inning by the way; an overwhelming sadness came over me.  I just knew it was the last time I would compete in the sport, no way did I think getting drafted or signed to play pro ball was an option.  I remember leaving the field, a game we played at UGA and lost, and finding my family while trying to fight back the tears.  As hard as I tried I couldn’t keep those emotions inside of me.  Baseball was what I wanted to do.  It was my love, my passion, and I felt like I could still do it well enough to continue after college.  I just didn’t see an opportunity ever presenting itself. 

After a couple weeks of finishing school and cleaning out my locker at GT, the MLB draft came and went without any interest in Mitchell.  As expected, I started to think about my future without baseball being a part of it.  It ate at me; I resented not getting opportunities in the final season to prove myself for the next level.  This fueled me to get back outside and find a way to be seen.  While searching online for results of the 2001 MLB Draft I saw an advertisement for MLB sanctioned open tryout camps.  My interest immediately peaked and I found a schedule of some of these in my area.  The first one, and the only one that would matter, was at Lassiter High School in Marietta. 

The Baltimore Orioles were having an open tryout looking for players to fill any vacant spots they may have at the lower levels of the Minor Leagues.  I spent the next few weeks working out and long-tossing to prepare myself for a couple of these tryouts, my last shot to further my baseball career.
This was God’s plan.  He put that fire in me to continue with my passion.  I showed up at the tryout camp, threw the best I ever had, and got signed the following Monday.  Never did I, or anyone else, think it would last as long as it did.  I spent the next ten seasons, the last six being at the top of the farm system in AAA, battling in the Orioles system.  I had some great seasons, some good seasons, and a couple of OK seasons.  Throughout those years I was able to share my faith with many teammates.  I tried to be a great example of what a Christian should be.  God used me in impacting others’ lives and used some of my teammates to impact my walk with Him. 

That brings us back to the summer of 2010, while in Norfolk.  Not too different from my senior year at Tech, I wasn’t getting the opportunities.  You might say the writing was on the wall, that again, my baseball career was coming to an end.  This time, God knowing it really was the end, He showed the gospel and His grace to me in a new and fresh way.  A new friend, and brother in Christ, was brought into my life in Spring Training of that year.  He was on fire for the Lord.  You never saw him without his Bible.  His words were soaked with truths by staying in the Word consistently.  He had an influence on me by showing me my laziness in that area.  That was the first step to push me into a more dedicated growth in a deeper knowledge of God.  From there I ventured to online sermons and podcasts, mostly John Piper preaching and interviews to supplement my Bible reading.  I got a new sense of God’s ultimate sovereignty.  His “Passion for His Glory” became more apparent.  Through realizing these truths deeper, God gave me more trust in him, a stronger faith in His ultimate plan for His glory.

At some point after the 2010 season got started, one of my best friends mailed me a book written by an author/preacher I didn’t know much about.  The book is called Surprised by Grace.  The author, Tullian Tchividjian, gives a new perspective on the story of Jonah.  Far deeper than any version I heard in the past.  This book, along with many sermons from this pastor and other gospel-centered preachers, opened my eyes more to a radical grace God freely gives us.  This turns the focus from inside me and my selfishness to outside and fixes our gaze on the One who deserves praise. 

So that summer, in the midst of a career in baseball ending unfulfilled of a life long goal, the daily need for the gospel was shown to me.  It’s needed much more and deeper than just when you become a Christian.  This is what it rescued me from that summer:
Fear- If baseball is over, what is next? I could have the fear of the unknown.
Insecurity- Was I not good enough to keep playing?  Will family and friends back home think I failed?
Anger- I was cheated, used, unappreciated.  I could have become bitter.
Entitlement- I deserved a shot in the big leagues.  I was “good” and didn’t get the reward.
Insignificance- There would be no more, Andy the professional baseball player.

Apart from God’s grace, a bitter, angry man could have come home in the fall of that year or early in 2011 when it was certain I would be finished with baseball.  The truths of the gospel found me before Satan used these issues and questions to break me.  It eased the transition having a sure, rock solid faith in a God who is sovereign and pours undeserved common grace on sinners daily.  My focus was taken off of myself and fixed on the finished work of Jesus that gives Christians all the acceptance and forgiveness we need to have the worth we all seek. 

When the last game was over and it was time to drive back home for the offseason, waiting with open, unconditional-loving arms were Becky, Nolan, and Sophie and the rest of my family.  These blessings are much greater than a “cup of coffee” or even a career in Major League Baseball.  God showed me that He will glorify himself through me in other ways.  He showed me that my identity is secure in God’s approval through Christ. 

It was God using a great family, new friends, long time friends, pastors and their books, but most of all a fresh perspective of His Word that renewed my mind.  It’s the realization that Jesus is our righteousness, worth and approval, not worldly things.  This single-handily eased the biggest transitional period in my life.  It is truly Amazing Grace that saves us, but also, this grace daily keeps us going and growing.

1 comment: