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Twenty-seven Is the "Gloriest" Number

Wed, Dec. 02, 2015 Posted: 02:46 PM


If “one is the loneliest number” (from Three Dog Night’s point of view, anyway), perhaps "twenty-seven" is the gloriest, er, most glorious, one. At least in the world of sports in recent days. Now I can already hear pop culture and music aficionados indignantly responding, “No. No it’s not. Twenty-seven is most certainly NOT a glorious number.” They undoubtedly are thinking of the “27 Club,” specifically the original four members, whom I call the “J Club”: Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, all of whom died at the age of 27. Some of the younger aficionados will no doubt be thinking of grunge icon Kurt Cobain, who joined “the club” in 1994. It would indeed seem that 27 is not a glorious number, at least for those musicians who did not know the King of Glory.

Fortunately for us, several of today’s top athletes point to another reality, another type of “club,” one in which being a 27-year-old world-class athlete is a great excuse to point people to the King of Glory. The fab-four of my “27 Club” are Clayton Kershaw, Jeremy Lin, Russell Wilson (who turned 27 four days ago, so happy birthday to him), and Stephen Curry. (I know you thought I was going to include Tim Tebow, but he turned 28 back in August — and he’s a free agent again — so let’s just consider him an honorary member of the club.)

Clayton Kershaw is a professional baseball player, a starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Playing Major League Baseball since 2008, he’s compiled one of the lowest earned run averages (ERA) among starters in the modern era, is a three-time Cy Young Award winner and the 2014 National League Most Valuable Player. Just as importantly, he led the Dodgers to three consecutive Western Division Titles (2013 - 2015), narrowly missing the World Series this past October. Most importantly, however, is the leadership he provides on and off the field by virtue of his character and walk with Christ. Clayton and his wife, Ellen, are actively involved in humanitarian and mission work in Africa through their foundation, Kershaw’s Challenge, to which they donate $500 for every strike he throws — over 300 (strikes, not dollars) in 2015! Watch this video to learn more about their work and how you can help. If you are really interested, check out the book about their Christian faith and ministry that they co-authored, called Arise: Live Out Your Faith and Dreams on Whatever Field You Find Yourself. At the end of the day — or game — there’s really only one thing you need to know about Clayton Kershaw: he lives for God’s glory on and off the baseball diamond.

If Clayton’s athletic career has been nothing less than stellar since the beginning, Jeremy Lin has taken a different route. After walking on to the Harvard basketball team (no athletic scholarship) and entering the NBA in a similar way (undrafted), he basically had two less-than-stellar seasons. In 2012, however, he unexpectedly led the New York Knicks on a winning streak, in what the Wall Street Journal called a “quintessential underdog story,” one that generated a global following and expression known as “Linsanity.” As Chuck Colson pointed out, Lin’s story “has something for almost everyone: Lin’s off-the-bench heroics with the NBA’s New York Knicks, his Asian-American roots, Christian faith, and Ivy League background.” That’s right. His outspoken Christian faith is an essential element of his underdog story. It is what has kept him grounded on his roller-coaster journey to international fame. In fact, it is Jeremy’s habit to speak openly about not only his faith in Christ, but also his own short-comings and need for Christ’s continual redemptive work in him. In a recent e-mail to his digital prayer group, the first item on his list was “a praise to God for softening my prideful heart to have recently found supernatural peace and rest, regardless of my circumstances.” Lin went on to write “As I start my 6th year in the NBA, I'd say I've enjoyed the first couple months of this season more than any other season, mainly because God is showing me more and more the intricacies of understanding that my identity as a person isn't in my job or performance, but in Him.” It’s a rare 27-year-old, indeed — much less a rich and famous one — who is inclined to lean on God, humbly confess his weaknesses, and seek his identity in Christ. Lin has come to understand the deep reality that his identity is in Christ alone, and that he was created “for the praise of His glory.” (cf. Ephesians 1:3-14) (Read more here.)

It seems that God is well represented in baseball and basketball. But what about football? There are actually quite a few outspoken Christian NFL players, but the 27-year-old that I have in mind is Russell Wilson. During a post game press conference just a few days ago, on Nov. 29th, after his Seattle Seahawks defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 39-30, he shared that he had been suffering from flu-like symptoms and that he had received three IVs throughout the day. “I've been up since pretty early this morning… I woke up at 5:45 and it didn't look too good after that.” Wilson, whose Twitter profile reads “Jesus follower. Too Blessed to be Stressed. Too Anointed to be Disappointed”, chose to give God glory early that morning rather than become stressed and distressed. On that (birthday) morning, he tweeted his BVY (Bible Verse of the Year): “#BVY He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:30”.

He went on to play his best game of the season, with a career high five touchdowntosses, throwing for 345 yards on 21-of-30 passing. This type of game is not unusual for Wilson, who led the Seahawks to an unprecented two Super Bowls in a row. (They destroyed the Denver Broncos to wrap up the 2013 season, while barely losing to the New England Patriots a year later.) What is unusual, however, is for such highly visible public figures to declare their faith in Christ so openly. I’m left thinking that if Russell is so at ease reflecting God’s glory to the world through his words and deeds, what’s keeping me from doing the same? After all, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (Read more here.)

And speaking of short but potent Bible verses, let’s bounce back to basketball. While Jeremy Lin’s NBA journey has been rocky, Stephen Curry’s has not. Selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors, he has led them on a rapid upward trajectory, culminating in winning the NBA championship earlier this year (for the first time since 1975), and starting off this season with a 20-0 record (so far), which is the best start in NBA history (the previous best was “merely” 15-0). Curry was named the 2015 NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP), is a two-time NBA All-Star, and is already considered by some to be the greatest shooter in NBA history. (Gotta get some “props” in here for soccer, i.e. the rest of the world’s football. Some are calling Curry the Lionel Messi of basketball. He’s a magician on the court in the same way that FC Barcelona’s Messi is a magician on the field.)

But if you really want to know Stephen Curry, look at his shoes. Seriously. The outside of the tongue reads “4:13” and the inside reads “I can do all things.” These are references, of course, to Philippians 4:13, which says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” During college, Curry wrote the verse on his shoes with a permanent marker. But now, as any good superstar should, he has his own shoe model, and each pair comes with the verse stitched in. (Curry’s previous shoe sponsor opted to lose him rather than manufacture his shoe line with a Bible verse. Kudos to Under Armour for not caving to political correctness. Or maybe they just have more business acumen. Or maybe they decided to “just do it.” Either way, I’m an Under Armour fan.)

At the unveiling of the shoe, reporters asked what the verse meant, and Curry didn’t miss a beat. “That’s a good question. I’m glad you asked.” He explained that “It represents a Bible verse I wear on my shoe… It’s also my mantra, how I get up for games and why I play the way I do.” Curry has said “I’ve been put here for a specific purpose: to be a witness and to share my testimony.” And he does. He does it through his talking and his walking (and his dribbling, passing, shooting, driving, pivoting and jab stepping!): one of his teammates called Curry “probably one of the most humble superstars I’ve ever met,” and added “A lot of that is based on his faith. He’s a guy who not only talks it; he lives it.” He does it through his shoes: his latest collection, the SC30, features Proverbs 27:17 on the tongue — “Iron Sharpens Iron.” And he does it by pointing his right index finger upwards after making a shot, as if to say “God gets all the glory for my success.” (Read more here.)

Kershaw, Lin, Wilson and Curry are part of a new breed of “27 Club” members. Unlike the original club, they don’t worship drugs, sex and rock-n-roll, and they will not die tragic deaths at the hands of those false gods. Rather they live for the praise of the glory of the one true God and King, their Rock and their Salvation. They are passionate about their God and His glory. They are “livin' la vida DOXA.” May that be true for us all.

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I'm João, but you can call me John. Since meeting Christ at age 16, my driving passion has been to glorify Him! I’m a “Great Commission Entrepreneur.” I love to start and lead anything — mission agencies, churches, businesses — that helps fulfill the Great Commission. I also love to speak, teach, preach and write about God's glory in all areas of life and among all peoples of the world. You can contact me at joao.mordomo@gmail.com; find out more at www.johnmordomo.com; and follow me on:

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João Mordomo