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Friday, January 30, 2015

Formation Friday: Jackie Robinson

What can a baseball player teach us about spiritual formation?

In this case...A whole lot.

Many know Jackie Robinson as a baseball player, the first African-American baseball player to play in Major League Baseball. And Robinson didn't just have a good baseball career... he had an exceptional career. In his first year, he hit 12 home runs and helped the Dodgers win the National League pennant. That year, Robinson led the National League in stolen bases and was selected as the Rookie of the Year, the first time the award was offered to anyone. He continued to wow fans and critics alike with impressive feats, such as an outstanding .342 batting average during the 1949 season. He led in stolen bases that year and earned the National League's Most Valuable Player Award. Over 10 seasons, Robinson played in six World Series and contributed to the Dodgers' 1955 World Series championship. He was selected for six consecutive All-Star Games, from 1949 to 1954. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
"Life is not a spectator sport. If you're going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you're wasting your life."

Robinson played his absolute best, not for himself, but for the countless men that would come after him.

And that is something we all should learn from his example: We can make it easier or we make it harder for others to follow in our footsteps.

Jackie paved the way toward desegregation in the sports world and it began to bleed over into the real world.

But that is not all.

Like I said, many know Mr. Robinson as a great ball player, but what many do not know is what a great man he was.

What a great Christian man he was.

In fact, that at the very heart of his decision to accept Branch Rickey's offer to play for the all-white Brooklyn Dodgers was his unwavering allegiance to Jesus.

Jackie was born on January 31, 1919, into a family of sharecroppers in Cairo, Georgia. He was the youngest of five children born to Mallie (McGriff) and Jerry Robinson. After Robinson's father left the family in 1920, they moved to Pasadena, California. Growing up in relative poverty in an otherwise affluent community, Robinson's mother worked various odd jobs to support the family. She instilled her faith in her children, specifically Jackie, who had a knack for retaliating to racially charged attacks sent his way or towards his family. Mallie constantly had to discipline him and teach him what she believed with all her heart, that, Christians were supposed to bless those who persecuted them.

As Jackie grew up, his athletic ability was easily noticeable, he played multiple sports throughout High School and college.
But something else was happening inside Jackie that was less noticeable... He had begun to practice holding his anger in check.

On the other side of the country in a little office in Brooklyn, New York, the famous GM of the Dodgers, Branch Rickey began to concoct a plan: one that would change the MLB forever.

Rickey, a devout Christian himself, decided it has been well past time to integrate the league and squash racism in the sports world... and he decided he was the one to do it. So... he sent out scouts and it wasn't too long before Jackie's name started appearing on lists.

Rickey was looking for a man who had talent to win games, excel at the sport, and lead his team to a World Series... but he also was looking for a man who had the guts, the composer, the strength... to not fight back against the racist attacks, verbal and physical.

Robinson had it. And he was truly tested. Over and over again.

I do not know of a better example of humility and trust in the sovereignty of God in such a public sector as the MLB.

He had death threats. He would come home to his wife and kids with spit in his hair, bruises on his arms, cuts in his legs from being cleated by other hostile players.

How did he do it?

It is said by his family that Jackie spent more time on his knees in prayer during this time than on the field.
He meditated on the Sermon on the Mount, specifically when Jesus spoke about tolerating and loving your enemies.

What we can learn from Jackie is: Self control is possible, with the strength of God.
Our inclinations to retaliate in aggression, can be controlled, by the Spirit of God.
We get in tuned to the Spirit of God through, prayer, discipline, and dependence upon the scriptures for guidance. Jackie made those things a priority.

So what?

Why does this man matter to our spiritual formation today?

And I answer with a question...

How strong is your faith? Do you depend upon God's strength in the hardest of times? Really.
Do you depend upon His strength? Or are you prone to complain? Lose your cool? Get angry? Retaliate?

For a world who lashes out in anger over EVERYTHING. And where "manliness" is defined by how physically tough we are and "standing up for yourself" through physical aggression is held as our banner. This man stood up, was spit on, was attacked, was cleated, was mugged, was refused service, was refused aid, was told he didn't belong, etc... and instead of retaliating, he prayed for his enemies. He was a faithful husband, a loving father, a man of character.

And he silenced his critics through how well he trained and played his game. He glorified God with his abilities and gifts.

Jackie Robinson is not Jesus... and he made mistakes in his life... 


Jackie Robinson is a perfect example of Jesus' words lived out.

To keep this brief, I encourage you to watch some of the movies made about Jackie or read one the many biographies written over his life. But here is a quote to think about:

*I am again indebted to the work of Eric Metaxas in his book "7 Men" for much of my research for this post.

Nathan Bryant

is a pastor living in Phoenix, AZ. As a student at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri he majored in Biblical Leadership, New Testament Studies, and Missiology. Nathan has a combined passion for unity and discipleship in the global church.

Christ's Kingdom is bigger than our causes.
Christ's Kingdom is bigger than our boundaries.

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