Ryan Shazier joined his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates for practice yesterday as they prepared for Sunday's playoff game against Jacksonville. This would not have been news a few weeks ago, as Shazier is one of his team's most disciplined and valuable players. He was a first-team All-American in college and has been named to the Pro Bowl the last two years.
However, on December 4, Shazier suffered a severe injury after a tackle. He underwent spinal stabilization surgery three days later to secure his injured spine and help with neurological recovery.
He explained his presence at Wednesday's practice: "I want to thank the Lord for the first downs that he has been allowing me to achieve. The touchdown is going to come in his timing, but today was a first down. I was finally able to make it to practice with my teammates." He added, "The Lord has not finished his work yet."
Shazier suffers from alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. He was taunted and ridiculed as a child. His parents helped him develop an altruistic attitude he carries with him to this day.
His father, who is a pastor and a football coach, explains: "My message is always to act like a champion." His son has Philippians 4:13 written on his left arm: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
"There was no king in Israel"
Living by the biblical worldview can be discouraging these days.
Actor Alan Cumming will play the first openly gay lead character in a network TV drama when he stars in CBS's Instinct this March. Cumming's character is in a same-sex marriage, as is the actor himself. He told reporters, "I applaud everyone at CBS for having the courage to put that on."
Which is more courageous in today's culture–endorsing homosexuality or speaking biblical truth about it?
The Colson Center's John Stonestreet is reporting on the degeneration of free speech across our country. He quotes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, himself a committed liberal who openly identifies as gay: "What has happened to our discourse, and how do we make necessary progress–when hate is answered by hate, prejudice by prejudice, extremism begets extremism and ostensible liberalism practices illiberalism?"
For decades now, our culture has denied absolute truth and objective morality. Tolerance is our supreme value–unless, of course, we consider someone intolerant. Those who embrace biblical sexuality face more ridicule today than at any time in our nation's history.
The writer of Judges explained his culture: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6). Where we have no king, we are our own king.
"God has always had a people"
However, it is always too soon to give up on God. Discouragement is the enemy of hope. You might not know it from the evening news, but the church of Jesus Christ is alive and well today.
Ryan Shazier is just one of many outstanding athletes who love and serve Jesus. Tua Tagovailoa, the freshman quarterback whose heroics won the national title for Alabama last Monday night, chose the university in large part because of its vibrant Christian community.
Eric Metaxas recently profiled Jose Altuve, the American League's Most Valuable Player and leader of the World Series champion Houston Astros. Despite being the smallest player in Major League Baseball, Altuve is its best hitter and probably its best player. Yet Altuve says that "the best success is to live your life the way God wants you to."
Steph Curry has been ranked the second-best NBA player of all time, after Michael Jordan. And yet his priorities are clear: "Whether it is winning games, losing games, making shots, missing shots–it is all about giving glory to God."
I could go on. My point is that, as the Gaither Vocal Band testifies, "God has always had a people, men that could not be bought and women who were beyond purchase."
There are times when we feel like saying with Elijah, "I, even I only, am left" to serve God (1 Kings 19:10). But it wasn't true: the Lord had "seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal" (v. 18). And it's not true for us.
"A great cloud of witnesses"
The Bible declares that we are "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1). That "cloud" is present not just in heaven but on earth as well. Now it's our turn to join them.
When we trust God in hard places, others take note and Jesus is glorified. I did not know of Ryan Shazier's faith until I read about his courage. If we are ready to serve Jesus in every circumstance, like Tua Tagovailoa, our chance may come when we least expect it.
King David, no stranger to adversity, testified: "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God" (Psalm 20:7). Can you say the same?
First published at the Denison Forum.