James banks

The Mess and the Message

Darryl Strawberry was one of the best baseball players ever to play the game. 335 homeruns. Eight all-star games. Four World Series rings. But if you ask Strawberry about it, as the Washington Post did in an interview earlier this summer, he’ll tell you “I’m over Strawberry. I’m over Mets. I’m over Yankees. I don’t want to exist as Darryl Strawberry the baseball player… That person is dead.”

That person became addicted to alcohol, cocaine and eventually crack. It ruined his brilliant career, destroyed two marriages, devastated six children, and landed him $3 million in debt. He told the Washington Post, “I want to let go of that identity. It’s not who I am.” And then he told them…”I love the game, don’t get me wrong, but I love the Bible more. I want to help people save their lives, and have the responsibility of leading people into following Christ. It’s so hard to describe what that feels like, but I’ve never been happier in my life. It’s so much fun being a pastor.”

Strawberry has been a pastor for the past three years, part of an evangelical ministry leading people out of substance-abuse and helping them find Jesus. He sums it up this way: “Here I am, a baseball superstar, falling into the pits, having everybody write you off and then having God say, ‘I’m going to use your mess for a message.’ How beautiful is that?”

Gotta love that message. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:27 that “God chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” Human power prides itself. But God’s power humbles itself. Jesus came to us in absolute humility, out of love, and gave himself to die as a criminal for sins he never committed. He became the very lowest, so that he could lift us up at our absolute worst and save us from ourselves.

Dale Strawberry had what for us is the cultural ideal–the life of a professional athlete at the top of his game, with all the perks and accolades that come with it. And it destroyed him. But through Jesus he found every thing he needed, and he wouldn’t trade any of it. God turned his mess into a thing of beauty, using even his worst as a witness.

Our best message is found in our mess. One of the most powerful messages we have is to be up front about the mess we have been so we can show others what Jesus has done for us. People expect Christians to be judgmental, but when they meet someone who is truly humble about where he’s been (and where God is still working on us), they can’t help noticing. When we point to Jesus’ strength and where we would be without Him, people listen.

Listen to Strawberry again: “I’m over Strawberry. I’m over Mets. I’m over Yankees. I don’t want to exist as Darryl strawberry the baseball player… That person is dead.”

God give us all grace to die the same death. Paul’s words in Galatians 2:20 give us the goal: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Now to live for Jesus.

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