"Training Ground"


     This is going to date a lot of us—and kids: if you're reading the Messenger today, you certainly should know about Johnny Unitas and I have two things to say about that: Johnny Unitas is worth knowing, and not everything valuable in life orbits around your generation. So...try to remember that. 

People still call Johnny "U" "the greatest quarterback that ever played." He played for seventeen years (1956-1973) and he set all kinds of records that professionals today are still trying to break. 

But what I didn't realize is how much hardship he endured, almost all his life, until he finally became such a legendary hero. 

When he was five, his father died. All through his childhood, his mother worked two jobs, just to make ends meet. Johnny entered high school as such a scrawny little kid that he barely made the football team—sat on the bench almost all that first year. 

When Johnny tried to play college ball, things didn't go much better. Notre Dame turned him down. (Ouch!) He was offered a scholarship to Pittsburgh University but failed the entrance exam. He finally wound up playing for Louisville. 

There was nothing spectacular about his college play. When the Pittsburgh Steelers finally picked him up, he was the 102nd pick in the ninth round of the draft. Still, that was a start for him...

...or so he thought. He never did, in fact, start; never even made it to the season that year. He was cut from the team before the summer ended. So Johnny went to work at construction jobs and, for years, he played semi-pro in his spare time. 

But then one year, a letter arrived at the office of the Baltimore Colts. Some nameless semi-pro fan was extolling this kid and how well he was throwing the ball. Well, the Colts sent a scout, and the scout was impressed, so they decided to give him a chance. He started that year with a $7,000 contract. (Don't you miss the old, sane days?)  $7,000 "if",  that is, he survived the entire season. 

But Johnny Unitas barely survived the first game! His very first pass was an interception, and in the next few minutes, he fumbled the ball twice. 

There was, however, one thing about Johnny "U", that everyone learned to admire. He knew how to persevere. He would never get discouraged and he certainly would not quit!

He went on to play for the Baltimore Colts for 17 years. He won three pre-Super Bowl championship games—'58, '59, and '68—and then Super Bowl V in 1970. The NFL has labeled his 1958 championship game the "greatest game in the history of the league". Twice he was voted the greatest quarterback in history; three-time NFL Most Valuable Player; NFL Man of the Year in 1970, five-time First-Team All-Pro quarterback; ten total Pro-Bowl games; records for passing yardage, records for passing touchdowns. There was one point in his earliest years when he went on a streak for four straight years throwing a touchdown pass in every single game! Johnny Unitas was just incredible! A few pros are beating his records now, but it has been a long, tough haul getting there! 

Here's the thing: Johnny Unitas would be the first to tell you that those years of heartache, hardship, and defeat were what "trained" him and made him the champion he is. 

You know? I believe every Christian needs to understand that. In fact, that is exactly what James was talking about when he wrote those words in his Epistle: 

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience, and let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."  

James 1: 2-4

Here are a couple of thoughts on this wonderful passage...

First of all, I love how he doesn't say "if you fall into various trials". No, no. It's "when"! The Bible never 'coddles', does it?

And I like how he calls it "a joy". He doesn't call it "a pleasure". There is nothing "pleasant" about heartaches and hardships. "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful..." writes the author to the Hebrews, remember? (Heb 12:11). But Christians somehow find "joy" even when things are "unpleasant". There is a  deep and abiding sense of well-being that comes with the knowledge that we are loved by the Father. 

Notice that it is a "test". That's important too.  "...the testing of your faith..." Believe it or not, that's one of the reasons for the "joy". Want to know why? Because you're going to pass the test! That's why! It's always a joy to pass a test. 

That test is proving your faith. It is proving that you persevere. It is proving that you are mature. And it is proving that you are like Christ! 

Listen dear faithful OT: I know we're in the midst of a great time of trials. But James is telling you here that your present situation is "training ground"! You're being "trained", dear Christian—did you know?—"toughened" and "perfected" for something great up ahead! Let it happen dear ones! God is making you a "champion", and what great reward that will bring! 

Oh, this wonderful Book of Acts! 


See you Sunday!                                 RAS 


"Counted Worthy"
The Miracle of 1864