Saturday, June 28, 2014

And Grace Will Lead [You] Home: What We Can Learn from Leaders Like Tony Gwynn

This evening I watched the entire Tony Gwynn memorial as it was broadcast on network television here in San Diego. I’m not writing about it from a sports perspective, though as sports headlines go, this was arguably one of the most inspiring careers and post-career legacies to watch. I’m specifically writing tonight because of how God got the Glory once again.
                This memorial never made it 5 minutes without a testimony of some sort – whether outright praise, prayer or thanksgiving to God and to a Christian man for his example, or simply the “positive" influence of a guy who did his best to live his live for Christ with the gifts he’d been given.
                At New Venture, we’re going through a 2-year commitment of focusing even more on  living out what we believe “24/7,” and one of the four main areas is learning to more successfully #LoveLikeJesus. Even if you’re no sports fan and don’t know the difference between a decent fast pitch or these famous flops (, we can learn a lot about the #LoveLikeJesus principle from “Number 19.”
                Most know Gwynn as “Mr. Padre”or even “Mr. San Diego,” but those who knew him best might say it was more like “Mr. Jesus” because he made no secret of his faith. Instead, he made Christ known as the foundation for everything he did. Named one of the “top 100 Black Christian athletes of all time” Gwynn knew that no matter what his stats, in the end, “only what’s done for Christ will last” (Mttw 19-21 paraphrase).  Before the term “Jesus Freak” was turned around in the early 80s and “reclaimed” by Christians as a badge of honor, it was originally intended as an insult. A slur. Tony never saw being associated with the God of the Bible as something to hide or play down. He wore it more proudly than the Padres uniform he never traded in.  
                Now that final scores have all been tallied, we see what a legacy like this can leave behind. More than 23 thousand packed Petco Park to celebrate not just a Hall of Famer, but a personal inspiration. Not just “one of baseball’s most accomplished hitters” but a guy who hit it out of the park with nearly everyone he came into contact with. At the close of the service, every light in the park was turned out except for a glowing #19. The symbolism was intentional: here was a guy who had let his light “so shine” that you couldn’t miss it if you tried. And in the dark, with only voices, 23 thousand sang Amazing Grace and the story was complete. Career long over, impact ongoing serving the community every day, but most of all, it was the Amazing Grace at work in Tony Gwynn that made the only lasting difference. At the very end, saying a final goodbye, they repeated only one line: “And Grace will lead me home.” …It did indeed.
                May we all be a lasting light shining in the darkness, in whatever our own personal ballpark, and may God’s Amazing Grace lead you too, home to Him.

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