In the news this week there has been a continual stream of news about a young baseball player who six months ago had the world as his oyster.
This young man isn’t just a jock either. He speaks intelligently. He carries himself well. He has stunning good looks; beautiful eyes, light brown skin, and the perfect cheek bones. He has an incredible since of style on and off the field. He had a beautiful wife and a beautiful child.
Major league baseball had this to say about him:
· Graduated from Westminster Christian High School in Miami, FL (graduated ’93)…
· First team prep All-American
· Selected as the USA Baseball Junior Player of the Year
· Gatorade’s National Baseball Student Athlete of the Year
· First high school player to ever try out for Team USA in 1993 and also play with U.S. Junior National Squad
· Played basketball and football in high school…hobbies include basketball, golf and boating
· He has worked extensively with the Boys and Girls Club of Miami
· Raising over a half million dollars for the Boys and Girls Club
· He personally pledged a half million dollars to the Learning Center-an educational facility in that goes by his name for the advancement of literacy, computer study and math-being constructed at the Club
· Is one of three national spokespersons for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America
· In January of 2003, he donated $3.9 million dollars to the University of Miami
· In 2005, he donated $200,000 to the Children’s Aid Society, a New York City-based children’s advocacy and charity group
· In 2005, Alex donated $50,000 to the Dominican Republic branch of UNICEF…this donation fully funded five day-care centers outside of Santo Domingo
· Established a Family Foundation in 2006 with his wife Cynthia, dedicated to positively impacting families in distress by supporting programs focusing on improved quality of life, education and mental health
· Co-hosted Family Fun Day at the Miami Seaquarium with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Florida
· Authored a children’s picture book in February 2007, , with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the his Family Foundation.
Awesome Guy…So what’s the problem?
In the last few months his list of accomplishments goes like this:
· Caught having sexual affair with a popular rock star
· Denies it – evidence mounts and he loses his wife and children
· New leaks that he tested positive for illegal steroids in 2003 during testing done by the league.
· Denies it – evidence mounts and he admits to the issue
· Then tells a story that he got the drugs from his cousin in the Dominican Republic. The cousin allegedly bought them legally over the counter at a drug store.
· Problem: Officials in the Dominican says that drug wasn’t available legally or illegally over the counter in the Dominican when he says they got it from there.
Here is the kicker…
The New York Times online reported that during training camp Friday the player was quiet as he signed autographs for fans who still cling to him. He was quiet until on fan hollered, “Hey… just win and all of this stuff goes away”
The player stopped signing and asked the fan to repeat what he said. Then the player nodded as if to acknowledge the truth he wanted to be in the statement.
What happened to the time when the value of a man was what was inside of him? What happened to the dream of Dr. Martin Luther king that one day a man would be measured by the content of his character and nothing else? What happened to integrity? Did it ever exist in the hearts of men to judge people that way?
We think that the problem for this ball player, or that actress, or some politician is the fact that their reputation has been ruined. But if we are living an eternal life, then the problem ‘of what people think’ of us is really not the issue at all.The real problem here is at the core of what this young man is made of. When the lights go out and everyone goes home what will he do to protect his kingdom… to maintain what he has. That is integrity, not respect.
Reputation is about what others think of you.
Integrity is about what you think of you.
The Bible tells us the story of another young man who was part of an elite group.
The nation of Israel had been defeated by the Babylon. Now when we think of a country being defeated today we think of all of the best people of that nation being left defeated in their country or dying for that country. Well something odd happened back then; the best or most skilled of the people who were left alive were actually gathered up and taken back to the country of their conquers. These people are part of the valuables; property.
When Babylon conquers Israel we are told that the King does just this and that at one point he has a special group selected just for him.
3 Then the king ordered Ash-pen-naz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility- 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.
Among these young chosen was a man named Daniel.
Did you notice that these young men have not only been chosen to serve on a elite staff of men working for the King, but that they are going to be fed from the Kings table. You can imagine that they are going to be living in the King’s castle, sleeping on fine linens, wearing nice clothes, and meeting all of the best girls among the other in their rank.
But you see here is the thing. These young men are from a faith that strictly watches their diet. They cannot eat anything that is considered unclean according to the law. Want the list? Check Deuteronomy14
Yeah, but we’ve been captured. We don’t get to pick our food. Besides that stuff looks good. Who will know?
Daniel tells them, not only can he not eat this food, but that it will defile him. Three of his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah agree.
The man who has been put in charge of these young men pretty much tells them that he likes them and all, but if they do this it will get him in trouble. What if they start looking all gaunt and strung out?
Daniel asks him to allow them to eat only fruits and vegetables for ten days. If it doesn’t work out that they are as well off as the others then fine, “treat your servants in accordance with what you see”. (Daniel 1:13)
Just as the young men predicted all was well.
17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
18 …the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
And they all lived happily ever after because they were men of integrity, right?
No, you see that would be a fantasy. The scriptures are not fantasy. No, what the scriptures tell us follows for these men is trial.
In Daniel 3 We are told that King Nebuchadnezzar has had built a statue that is 90 feet high and 9 feet wide. The King is so proud of this statue that he decides that everyone must come and bow down before this statue. Anyone who did not would be thrown into a fiery furnace.
You know when you live with integrity the decision is not what will work the best. It isn’t what will cause the least amount of trouble. There are some things that simply cannot be done.
You see these young men have made a great name for themselves. The scriptures tell us that the king found these young men “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom”. They are administrator over Babylon. They were slaves. They already had more than they could have ever had back home. The simplest solution here would be to go to the party and bow to the big statue and laugh about it later.
But integrity says that if you are true believer in God, Yahweh, The Great I am, the God of your fathers who brought you out of Egypt; you cannot bow before any God.
But God isn’t here right now. We have had our behinds kicked. We have been dragged from our home and abandoned by God. What does God have to do with this? He let us get in this situation.
When the time came to bow before the statue the scriptures tell us that Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, now called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, say to the King:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Did you catch the moment of most character in that bold statement? It is real easy to be tough if you have a guaranteed escape plan. But what these fellas say is very important. At verse 18 they say, “But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods”.
What? You mean to tell me that we are expected to keep our side of the bargain even if we aren’t going to get a miracle? So you’re telling me that God isn’t going to swoop in and save my bacon every time I take a stand for Him? Well yes and no… Our job as follows of God, as men and women of integrity is to do the right thing and let God sort out the consequences. Let God be God!
What these young men said was not; “OH Goody, I get to burn for God.” No what they are saying is essentially what Joshua said hundreds of year earlier. “We will follow the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
As people of faith and integrity our job has been made simple. Follow the Lord.
In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the young men were thrown into the fire and were not consumed. Instead we are told about what many think is one of the earliest sightings of Jesus in the Bible.
The King and his men are amazed as they look into the fire.
“Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
But if they had not been saved by a miracle of God, they would have been saved by God. They were living free of fear because they were living eternal life on earth. Not waiting around.
As we look at our baseball playing friend we have to ask ourselves how many of us could have done anything different.
You’re a young man making millions of dollars and you just signed a new contract worth $250,000,000. People are standing in line to see you fail. You have always been the golden boy. Now you have climbed to the top of the mountain and you believe you did it all on your own power. Now you have a problem… You don’t believe in anything but you and you aren’t even sure you have faith in that anymore.
Without God you need something else. So you find a friend or he finds you.
“Hey buddy, Have I got a solution for you.”
“But that stuff is forbidden.”
“Neh, It won’t kill ya. Besides nobody’s look’n.”
Now we fast forward three years and now, they are look’n, so he quits. Then the performance isn’t quite the same. He’s good, but not like before. He never comes through in the clutch. People start noticing. He needs comfort. And his old buddy is back with a solution.
“Buddy, you know you need some love’n and I know someone else who needs some love’n. You need an escape.”
You know it isn’t even about getting caught or not. It comes back to whether you can be happy with you.
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “even if he does not”. It was not to impress the King or the politician who stood there. They were going to die. They were making a decision for God… They were making a decision for themselves.
Tonight when our ball player lays his head on his pillow there are only going to be one person present in his heart and in his head; himself. And that will be very close quarters.
Even if no one ever finds out that you took steroids, Even if no one ever finds out that you cheated on that expense report at work, Even if no one ever finds out that you spend hours talking intimately with someone outside your marriage, Even if no one ever finds out that you steal from the cash register at work… You know and God knows.
As the people of God it is our place to declare that we trust in God enough to do what is right.
Aren’t you glad that tonight when you lay your head down that will someone else in the room? One who “looks like a son of the gods”
He will be if you ask Him too… If you will start that walk.