The Greatest Prize
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We all get discouraged, but according to former NFL football player Derwin Gray, it is possible for you to really live “The Good Life.” Join us today with hosts Dave and Ann Wilson on FamilyLife Today.
The Greatest Prize
Bob: When Derwin Gray was drafted into the National Football League, all of a sudden, he started hearing from people/important people in his life, who wanted something from him.
Derwin: My dad was not involved in my life, and so I held that against him. I remember one time I saw him; and the first thing he said was, “I need a truck.” I was like, “Well, I need a dad.” That was incredibly painful. But without Christ, you don’t really know what to do with that pain. You think you can bury your pain; but in reality, your pain ends up burying you.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, February 8th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. It takes something remarkable/something supernatural for us to be able to respond rightly to people who have hurt us deeply. We’re going to talk more about that today with Derwin Gray. Stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I guess this is appropriate, that in the week after the big game we would have a couple of football players. I guess I should say, the couple of football players here; right?
Dave: Don’t say that, Bob; it’s been too long. [Laughter]
Bob: You were an NFL chaplain for 33 years; but you did play college ball, Ball State—in the Hall of Fame at Ball State—right?
Dave: Okay, Bob. Are we done with this part?
Ann: He is very famous, Bob. [Laughter]
Bob: We have here today a guy who was in the league for five years?
Derwin: Six years.
Bob: Six years?
Derwin: Don’t steal a year from me, Bob. [Laughter] That’s pension right there, baby. [Laughter]
Bob: Derwin Gray joining us today on FamilyLife Today. I guess, since the game was last night, we’re probably going to talk football a little bit today; don’t you think?
Dave: Let’s talk football! Why not?
Ann: How’s everybody feeling? You guys doing okay with this?
Dave: I ate too much. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s what the game’s all about; isn’t it? It’s about the wings and everything else you’ve got going on.
Dave: I made sure I didn’t flush the toilet at half-time, because that’s a plumbing problem. [Laughter] Did you know that?—it really is.
Derwin: Here’s the real important thing. Why are you in the Ball State Hall of Fame? What did you do to accomplish that?
Dave: Did you—you’re going back to that!
Derwin: Bro, I don’t know about for you; but the older I get, and the further away I get from my college and NFL career, the more impressed I am with it. [Laughter] Because when you’re in it, you don’t realize it. But when you’re out of it, you go, “Man, that was dope!”
Bob: Are you in the BYU Hall of Fame?
Derwin: I am not in the BYU Hall of Fame. There is a giant banner of me at the stadium, which is really sweet.
Did you throw for a lot of yards? I mean, were you a quarterback?
Ann: Okay; here we go. We’re going to get into the stats now.
Derwin: Like what did you do? Give me some numbers.
Dave: I don’t know; ask my wife.
Ann: I don’t know the stats, but I know they’re good.
Dave: Here’s my claim to fame.
Bob: Blow the whistle; time out. This is not what we’re here to talk about today. [Laughter]
Derwin: I mean, I’m just impressed. Not too many people can say, “I’m married to a Ball State Hall of Fame quarterback.” [Laughter]
Ann: That’s right. And I say it all the time. [Laughter] And he’s in the high school baseball hall of fame.
Derwin: Hey, I mean, you see the twinkle in her eye? [Laughter] She’s like, “I got the quarterback!”
Ann: That’s right; I did.
Dave: And she was the cheerleader, so there you go.
Bob: Listeners, let me explain. Derwin Gray, who is—
Dave: I thought we were interviewing Derwin. He came in and took over. [Laughter]
Bob: Derwin joining us on FamilyLife Today. He’s a pastor; he’s an author. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. He and his wife Vicki have been married for—
Derwin: —28 years.
Bob: —28 years. They meet at BYU. We’ll probably get into a little of that story here.
Ann: Yes, we need to get that story.
Bob: Derwin’s been with us on FamilyLife Today. Six years in the NFL—you were with the Panthers and the Colts—right?
Bob: There’s a whole team full of guys, who won the game last night, who are thinking, “I have reached the pinnacle. I have finally achieved what I grew up dreaming I would achieve. I’ve reached the summit.”
Part of what we want to talk about today is really the theme you’ve written about in a book you’ve written called The Good Life. You’re suggesting that, if you think this is the pinnacle and this is where life is found, you have climbed the wrong mountain; right?
Derwin: Yes; let me put it to you like this: “If winning the Super Bowl is awesome—I’ve been part of winning some incredible games—but if winning a ring is your greatest prize, there’s always going to be an echo in your soul, ringing that there’s more. All the good things in this world is but a 9 to the greatest good. And the greatest good has a name, and His name is Jesus. Let me explain with some context.
Back in 2014—so this was awhile ago—as I was pastoring, and mentoring, and discipling, reaching the lost—whether they were black, white, male, female, regardless of the age—people were not happy. I thought, “Okay; what does Jesus say about happiness?” Hiding in plain sight, in the greatest sermon ever preached by the greatest preacher who ever preached, Jesus literally tells humanity how to be happy; it’s called the Beatitudes.
Jesus is standing on a hill called—the Sermon on the Mount—that’s what he’s doing. He’s overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and His disciples are sitting at His feet. He opens up with these words; He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Then, He describes seven other characteristics of a blessed life. The Greek word for “blessed” is makarios, and it literally means “happy”; so “Happy are the poor in spirit,” “Happy are those who mourn,” “Happy are the humble.”
Jesus is literally laying out that the life of happiness you want is, actually, a life of holiness. Holiness is a theological term, and it simply means this: “When we say, ‘Yes,’ to Jesus, He brings us into His family. He separates us from darkness/moves us into the light. Now He says, “I’m going to show you how to be a child of the light.”
As a result of that, you’re going to take upon certain characteristics, and it’s going to give you a happiness that’s not contingent upon happenings. It’s not contingent upon circumstances. It’s contingent upon intimacy with Him: “Into-Me-you-see.” When we get to see Him, we start to become like Him. Now, our happiness isn’t rooted in: “Man, I lost my job,” or “COVID-19,” or “racial unrest.” Our happiness now is not about getting things; it’s about becoming the person we were meant to always be.
Bob: You start this book by taking us on your quest for happiness and how you thought you were going to find it in athletics; right?
Derwin: Yes; I didn’t grow up in the church. I grew up on the west side of San Antonio, Texas. We were po’; that means we couldn’t afford the “o” and the “r” in “poor.” [Laughter] When you grow up po’, you don’t even know you’re po’; that’s just the way it is.
Growing up in Texas, I can’t remember a moment when I did not love football. I came from a context and an environment that, at age 13, I said, “I don’t want to be like what I see.” I decided at that time that football was my way out of where I was at. So football has always been more than just a game—like I loved it—so in essence, it became a god; because the human heart is going to worship something; that’s just the way we’re made. Worship isn’t that complex; it’s simply means this: “I’m drawing affirmation, identity, and mission from something or someone.” Football gave me that.
When I was in eighth grade, my middle school football coach told my mom that: “If Dewey”—that’s my nickname—“If Dewey continues to work hard, he could get a scholarship.” My mom told me that; and I said, “What kind of ship is that?” [Laughter] She goes, “No, a scholarship—that means you can play football like the guys on TV—you can go to school; you can have a better life.” At the moment, that seed was planted in my heart.
In God’s common grace, that gave me purpose and aspirations. But like any false god, it lets you down. People will look and say, “Well, Derwin, you were successful. You became an all-state football player. You became an all-American in college. You married your dream girl.”
My wife and I got married in college. By the way, I met her second semester my freshman year. Vicki was from a small town in Montana called Darby. I’m from the ‘hood in San Antonio, Texas. Both of us, non-Mormons, meet at a Mormon school. The first time I saw her, she was in the weight room, lifting weights, because she was on the track team. She was doing triceps extensions. Now, this was before I was a Christian.
Dave: You remember triceps extensions.
Derwin: Oh, like it was yesterday.
Dave: Were you into the triceps or what?
Derwin: Yes; totally, because the next thought in my mind—now, y’all, don’t judge me; don’t get judgey—[Laughter]—I was like, “Look at those triceps! [Laughter] We could make superior athletes together.” [Laughter] The next thought was, “I hope she asks me for a spot.” She did; and after she did her exercise, she skedaddled off. Then I seen her a few weeks later, playing basketball; and we have been together, basically, ever since. We’ve been together over 30 years; been married 28 years.
We got married at college, which at BYU is kind of a normal thing to do; it wasn’t weird for us in college. I mean, our families thought it was odd, but both of us were kind of rebellious; so we were like, “We don’t care. We love each other, so this is what we’re going to do.”
Ended up having a great career, and then I get drafted to the NFL. That was my Heaven/my Nirvana; that was my Mecca; that was my all-in-all. My rookie year was absolutely miserable. Vicki and I were looking at each other, going, “Can we go back to college where we were loved?”
Ann: Why was it so hard?
Derwin: Well, it was hard because, one, I was now a little fish in a big pond; two, because my wife is white, and I have a much better tan—I’m black. [Laughter] Some of my teammates/the black teammates, actually, gave me a hard time and gave her a hard time. We just didn’t connect well. It was an older team; I mean, I was like 21, and dudes were 34/35. I wasn’t playing much.
Then, all of a sudden, there’s this pressure to provide financially for family and friends, who never went to see me play football in high school.
Bob: You’re getting calls from people saying, “Hey, Derwin!”
Derwin: I’m getting calls from people that I thought was dead. [Laughter] I’m like, “What? Did Jesus do a resurrection? Who are you? Where did you come from?” There was a time that my dad was not involved in my life, and so I held that against him. When you don’t know Christ, you don’t know how to process that pain. I remember one time I saw him; and the first thing he said was, “I need a truck.” I was like, “Well, I need a dad.” That was incredibly painful.
But without Christ, you don’t really know what to do with that pain. You think you can bury your pain; but in reality, your pain ends up burying you. It’s like your mom saying, “Clean up your room,” because your clothes are on the floor. You stuff them all under the bed; they get funky and stinky, and they overflow out. That’s what pain does; it turns into bitterness. Bitterness is drinking poison and hoping the person you’re mad at dies.
Externally, it looked great; but internally, it was like I had an existential crisis at 25. Now, I know it was the Holy Spirit. As I’m looking in the mirror in like early February or March, going, “So this is as good as it gets. There has to be more”; because I knew: “One, I can’t play football forever,”—NFL stands for “Not for Long,”—and my identity was based on being a football player: that opened doors; that gave me privileges. “Well, who am I, when I can’t do that anymore?”—so there is incredible fear.
Secondly, morally I knew there were things that were wrong. I didn’t know the word, “sin”; but I knew if I did something bad, I wanted to do something good to fix it.
Thirdly, I couldn’t love my wife the way she deserved to be loved. Now, as I look back, I couldn’t truly love her; because I didn’t truly love myself. I didn’t think I was worth it. Even now, there are times when I’ll pull up to Transformation Church, and the thoughts are going through my mind: “What Sunday are they going to figure out I’m not worth staying for?”
I grew up in a context, where my mom was 17 when she had me; my dad was 19. I love them both, but the reality is there were substance abuse issues. There were all types of issues, and they were in and out of my life. Early on, I’m going, “I’m not worth staying for. Football makes sense, because I’m going to show you I’m worth staying for. I’m going to play the best; I’m going to work the hardest”; because, in reality, what I’m saying is, “I’m worth staying for; will you love me?”
The problem is: “What happens when you can’t do that anymore?” That’s what every false god does/is it says: “Feed me,” “Feed me,” “Feed me”; and it’s never full, and it breaks your soul.
Bob: Is that about the time the Naked Preacher came into your life?
Derwin: The Naked Preacher showed up on the scene, actually, my rookie year.
Bob: We need to explain to everybody who the Naked Preacher is.
Derwin: Yes, we need to talk about the Naked Preacher.
Dave: Do we really, Bob? Or can we just let that go?
Bob: No, you need to hear the Naked Preacher story.
Derwin: Yes; God has an incredible sense of humor. I believe He smiles so much more than we recognize. In 1993, when I was drafted by the Colts, there was a linebacker on the team. Every day he would take a shower, dry off, wrap a towel around his waist; then, he’d get his Bible. He’d go to my teammates and he’d say, “Do you know Jesus?” And in my mind, I’d go, “Do you know you’re half naked?” [Laughter] It was the weirdest thing!
I wasn’t a church kid—“Do you know Jesus?”—I don’t know what that means. I asked the veterans on the team; I said, “What’s up with the half-naked black man, walking around, talking about: ‘Do you know Jesus?’” One of my teammates said, “Don’t pay any attention to him; that’s the Naked Preacher.” [Laughter] His real name is Steve Grant, but Naked Preacher was his nickname.
One day after practice, I’m sitting at my locker; and I see him walking towards me. I turned my back; because I didn’t want nothing to do with him, or his nakedness, or his Jesus. He touched me on the back; and he says, “Rookie D. Gray, do you know Jesus?” That began this five-year relationship. In the midst of the existential crisis/the moral crisis—the things I’m going through in my marriage—he’s embodying the gospel/he’s sharing the gospel. One of the most powerful things—and you guys know this—for this listener, one of the most powerful things is to embody what you are proclaiming.
One day after practice, the defensive backs—because we’re jokesters—were playing around. Someone threw some tape to hit another guy; and the one guy ducked, and it hit the Naked Preacher in the eye. His eye swelled up; he had tears running out of his eye. He went up to that guy; and he said, “If I didn’t love Jesus, I would hurt you.” I was like, “This man really believes this!” because that was grounds for a beat down. That even made the message stronger.
August 2, 1997—it’s my fifth year in the NFL—Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana; I’m with the Colts. Externally, the bank account’s nice; the investment portfolio’s nice; my career’s going nice. Things are going nice on the outside; but this good life that I want, I don’t have. I remember walking from lunch back to my dorm. The best way I can describe it is there was a Grand Canyon-size chasm in my soul.
I get to the dorm room. This was in the ‘90s, so there were no smartphones; the phone is actually connected to the wall. You guys remember those days?
Dave: Oh, yes!
Derwin: I call Vicki on the phone; and I say, “I want to be committed to you, and I want to be committed to Jesus.” What happened next is—I felt when I was born again; I felt the love of God in Christ just wash over me. It was like, for the first time in my life, that I knew that I knew that I knew that I was loved; and it wasn’t because of my performance. This is what I mean. My whole life was built on this: “How fast can you run?” “How good can you play?” “What plays can you make?” “How can you help the team win?” “You’re a team captain—but it’s not unconditional—it has conditions/it has strings attached.”
But for the first time, if you will, there was someone—who looked at my 40 time, my vertical leap, my bench press, my game film called life—and said, “You are not good enough, and I love you anyway; and I—am—your—good enough.” That’s when I was infected with grace—like this idea, as an athlete, everything’s performance, performance, performance, status—and for the first time, it was someone saying, “You are loved, not because of, but in spite of—and all because of Me.” That’s when I came to know Christ.
That began this journey of understanding that God’s greatest goal for me is not to make my dreams come true. God’s greatest goal for me is to form me into the image of His Son: to love like Jesus; to think like Jesus; to forgive like Jesus; to have compassion like Jesus; to love my wife the way He loves her; to be a conduit of His love, and His grace, and His mercy. What we found was this—the happiness we thought we were going to have in a bank account or status, was actually found in a person and in the ability to love and forgive each other.
Dave: One of the amazing things about that story—which I didn’t think this is what was going to hit me was Naked Preacher Man, Steve Grant—the boldness of Steve to walk over to you, even when you didn’t want to hear it, and tap you on the shoulder, and sort of share the gospel with you—the boldness of that.
I want to say to a listener, who’s afraid, “Don’t be afraid.” That tap on the shoulder literally changed your life and your legacy!—and everything that’s done—because he said, “I’m going to step into an uncomfortable space, and I’m going to share the gospel.”
Derwin: We have experienced a pandemic of unparalleled experiences, at least, in our lifetime. Can you imagine, if a vaccine would have been found earlier, and someone going, “Well, I’ll share the vaccine tomorrow”? No; we would run throughout the streets, going, “I have a vaccine!” Well, we have a vaccine that heals and cures something so much worse than COVID. We have a vaccine/we have the remedy that defeats sin, death, and evil. The medicine is Jesus Himself. If we just pray, we’ll know who the patients are; if we just pray, we’ll know who it is that we’re to share with.
Bob: Yes; and when we get to the point in life, where we’ve reached the pinnacle of whatever it is we were pursuing, and we go, “This is where I thought I would get to the top, and I would go, ‘Life is here!’” and you go, “But it’s not! It’s empty! I thought I would feel something different. I thought there would be more here than to recognize Jesus has said, ‘I can show you where the good life is.’”
Derwin: Yes; you know, Bob, just as you’re saying that—and as we’re coming off of the Super Bowl—and of course, football is the greatest illustration for Christianity, but I’m not biased. [Laughter] There are a lot of fans that were watching the game, and they wear the jerseys of their favorite player. But if they were actually go play the game in the jersey of their favorite player, they would get—let me use a biblical word—they would get “smoked”; [Laughter] right? What happens is—in life, we accomplish and get these things; and we get the jersey, but we don’t have the make-up to actually wear it and play the game right.
What Jesus is doing in the Beatitudes is—He’s saying, “I want to turn you into a player that can wear the jersey.” What is the characteristics of these players? One, they’re “poor in spirit”—what does that mean?—God-reliant. Two, “Happy are those who mourn,”—what does that mean?—what breaks God’s heart, breaks my heart; I care for the things that God cares for. “Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,”—what does that mean?—“God, I’m on Your agenda; align my will to Yours.” “Happy are those who are merciful,”—wow, can’t we use mercy?
Derwin: “Happy are those who are pure in heart,”—what does that mean?—it means that you’ve come to the place of understanding that the only thing good in you is Jesus.
Bob: This is what you walk us through in the book, The Good Life, which we are making available this week to FamilyLife Today listeners. If you’d like to make a donation to help support this ministry, we’d love to send you a copy of Derwin’s book, The Good Life: What Jesus Teaches About Finding True Happiness. It’s a look at the Beatitudes, and it’s our gift to you when you make a donation to support this ministry with a donation of any amount.
You can make that donation, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Let me just explain: your donations cover the cost of producing and distributing this radio program/this podcast—now available through so many channels—this local radio station carries it; you can hear it online; you can get it through the FamilyLife® mobile app; you can tell Alexa® to play FamilyLife Today.
All of this is possible because listeners, like you, believe in our mission, which is to effectively develop godly marriages and families who change the world one home at a time. Our goal here each day is to equip you with practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and your family. Thanks to those of you who make all of this possible with your donations.
If you’re a long-time listener, and you’ve never made a donation, why don’t you make today the day you join with us? Donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to donate: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. Again, we’d love to send you a copy of Derwin Gray’s book, The Good Life, as a way to say, “Thank you for your donation today.” Be sure you ask for it when you donate. Thanks, again, for partnering with us in the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We appreciate you.
Tomorrow, we’re going to talk more with Derwin Gray about what the good life really looks like. We’re also going to get his counsel/the counsel he gives to engaged couples about how to rightly understand what the good marriage is going to look like. Derwin joins us, again, tomorrow. We hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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