Saturday, March 8th 2014 may not be a date that stands our for you, but for Bulldog fans there was something significant that happened…after starting the first 3 years of his college career 18-0 Ross Mitchell took his first loss. Later that night I got a call from him and my first thought was that he may be disappointed about the loss and need some encouragement. His voice on the other end of the phone was anything but discouraged, instead it was full of excitement. You see one of his teammates, that he had been praying for, asked if they could meet that night and talk about the return of Christ. “Do you have 30 minutes to explain to me the book of Revelation and the return of Christ?” Ross asked me. “Well I’ve got 30 minutes but I’m not sure we can get it all in.” I replied. So we just talked about the high points, how crazy the end times will be, and that while there are many interpretations about when, where, and how, one thing everyone can agree on is that Christ will return and some will be ready and some will not. After getting off the phone with Ross and telling my wife, Crystal what was going on and praying for everything, Crystal said something so true…” Of all the days that God could have given Ross to have this time with his teammate how good of God to give it to him the day he got his first loss of the field.”
As we know God's timing is always perfect and this time last year God put it on my heart to share all that had been going on behind the scenes with our baseball team. The run to the National Championship game, coupled with social media’s ability to share my story to thousands, instantly connected myself and so many of the players to our fans that already knew something was different with many guys on our team. I honestly had no idea that my “Diamond Dawgs Discipleship” story would be read by so many people and that what I had quietly done behind the scenes for 4 years would become the center of so many conversations, interviews, and opportunities to go speak and share about God’s sovereignty in getting my family back to MSU, His provision along the way and His plan of discipleship that impacted my life and is impacting many others at MSU.
So with MSU set to make another run back to Omaha I figured I would give everyone another update on how the Lord has been working this year. First of all I think everyone knows that last year’s team, the stories that came from it, and what they did were special and while we never want to forget that magical June, what Paul says in Philippians 3 comes to mind, “One thing I do, forgetting what behind and pressing on toward what’s ahead…” We usually take this spiritual principle and apply it to bad things that happen or mistakes we make in our walk with Christ that can make us feel so unworthy to pray, read our Bible, and even call ourselves Christians. While that is applicable and we do need to be reminded the past is in the past and that God loves us - mistakes and all, in the context Paul is talking about the many good things about his life and background and how those things can also hinder him from pressing on and fulfilling his purpose and calling because they produce pride, laziness, entitlement and apathy. The same is true for anything in life and in one sense this year’s team has had to work through the success of last year’s team and the challenges and expectations it brought. Sure, there have been struggles along the way, but we all know how trials can make us stronger, and I believe this team will be at their best when they take the field this weekend with a goal to make it back to Omaha and to have a dogpile before they come back to Starkville this year.
I think that I was also guilty of putting expectations on this year’s team based on all that happened on last year’s team, not on the field, but all that happened off the field spiritually in the lives of so many guys. This has been a new year and a new group of guys, with new stories to be told. And what God really cares about is not wins or losses but what is going on in our hearts.
Paul also says in Philippians 3 the reason to forget what’s behind is so we can press on toward the goal and prize that is ahead. What is the prize he is focused on? Is he talking about winning championships? Actually I think Paul was focused on people: sharing God’s love and God’s Word with them and trying to win them to Jesus. As he says in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23, “…I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” Using our time, talents, treasures, and platforms to share with people and see them come to know Christ or grow in their relationship with Him is the ultimate prize, and while we all want a dogpile in Omaha, we can’t lose our perspective that the ultimate dogpile will be in heaven!
So that goal is what led Ross Mitchell to start the Outlet, a campus outreach event he puts on several times a semester, that brings students from all backgrounds and walks of life together for a night of worship and teaching centered on God’s Word. That’s why you’ve heard interviews on 107.9 WFCA each week from guys like Jonathan Holder, Ben Bracewell, Brett Pirtle, Trevor Fitts, and C.T. Bradford who have taken the opportunity to share about their relationship with the Lord. And several of the guys go out nearly each week to share to a school assembly, an FCA group, or church youth group about their faith. Not to mention there would be around 15 guys at a 6:30am Bible study each Thursday morning on “Authentic Manhood” led by FCA staff Tyson Lee and Jimmy Gilford. And while there has been no Chris Tomlin blaring on the loud speakers at Dudy Noble this year, you probably haven’t noticed a different Bible verse written on Demarcus Henderson’s taped wrist each game that gives him something to meditate on while he is in the outfield. Oh and five of these guys, including Coach Mingione left the country for a week to go to the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas where they spent their mornings mixing concrete by hand to build a floor in someone’s home and each afternoon led baseball camps and shared their testimonies to the kids who came. And yes, 1-on-1 discipleship is still happening each week as I meet with around 10 guys to dig into God’s Word together, talk about life, and how we can apply what we learn. So while they have been working hard on the field to get back to Omaha, many of them have also been working hard to grow in their faith and to share God’s love and God’s Word to people.
So while we all watch our Dawgs this weekend, lets not compare them to last year, but embrace them for who they are this year and remember that they aren’t just a name on the back of a jersey, but real people who live real lives, and are doing so much more that what we see on the field. I don’t know of any other 18-22 year olds who have the pressure of carrying the hopes and dreams of the largest most passionate fan base in college baseball on their shoulders. So let’s cheer them on just as much for who they are, not just for what we want them to do. Let’s follow Ross Mitchell’s lead and be more excited about what is happening off the field than what is happening on it...and lets hope our friend Wade from Eleuthera in the video above has the gift of prophecy!