Most of you know that one of my roles within AIA is to give vision and oversight to the Colorado Ultimate Training Camp.

The UTC is a unique environment where 180 college athletes come and learn what it means to compete from a Biblical Perspective and help them see their sport as an opportunity to worship the God who grants every good and perfect gift (James 1:17).

Thousands of athletes have been impacted by Jesus through this environment over the last three decades. This year we had athletes of all sorts; karate, cheerleading, football, rowing, volleyball and the #1 high school basketball recruit in the nation. We culminate the week with a 20-hour competition called “The SPECIAL”. We had 11 CSU athletes attend this camp and through the next few months, I will be including stories of how the UTC Impacted them personally.
Below is a graphic of what Jesus did through the camp this past year: 

 

Ultimate Training Camp

2017 - 2018 CSU ministry Launch

This year will be our 2nd year on the CSU campus facilitating ministry. Last year we were able to see the Lord grow our student leadership team from 4 people to 16. (Jesus QUADRUPLED the disciples on campus in one year!)

We have a very intentional and strong partnership with FCA within the athletic department at CSU. Our ministry is known as “Rams United” (United as ministries, united as athletes, united with Christ).

Pray for us as we start the new year. We are transitioning our ministry this year, instead of a weekly environment that the staff leads, we are going to do a 1x a month meeting to gather athletes from around CSU and then release our student leaders to lead small groups and disciple their teammates and other CSU athletes.

This summer we opened up our home on Tuesday nights to facilitate a weekly Bible Study as we walk our athletes through the New Testament book of Romans. We have looked at the story of the Apostle Paul, have talked about the core elements of the Gospel and what it means that Jesus died on The Cross for ALL people.
Our summer study is coming to an end as most of the athletes involved are

starting Fall Camp for their respective sports.

Over the next few weeks, our staff will be doing individual team meetings with our CSU Fall Sports. At this meeting, we offer watermelon to the athletes after practicing under the hot August sun and provide an opportunity for athletes to be involved by filling out a card. Our staff will spend the month of September following up with athletes that filled out cards. Recently my friend and mentor, Jeff Prior and our FCA director, Jason Smith did a team meeting with the CSU Football team on their new practice field. We had a number of athletes ask to be followed up with and the exciting part is that most of them are freshman who are new to CSU.

(Below is Reza speaking to the CSU football team) 

Reza speaking to CSU Football.jpg

What I wish I could say to every Ronda Rousey

(This Blog is originally posted at www.athletesinaction.org) 

Ronda Rousey’s admission to Ellen DeGeneres that she felt like killing herself after her loss to Holly Holm got everyone’s attention last week.

Her six-minute interview presents insights into the sport culture as it currently exists and offers some specific ways athletes tend to respond when confronted with an emotional loss. It also left me yearning for a different response that was difficult to find, even among several Christian channels that could have provided it.

 

We’ve Created a Sport Culture that Produces Despair

Isn’t her testimony exactly what we should expect against the backdrop of a sport culture that puts four-year-olds in competitive environments and teaches them not only that winning matters most, but also that identity and acceptance are tightly bound to performance?

 

She spoke for millions of athletes in America when she said, “What am I anymore if I’m not this…I’m nothing. What do I do anymore? No one gives a s— about me anymore without this.”

It’s a crass way of thinking about it, but she’s right. Without ever having to hear it from anyone directly, the athlete already knows it’s true: “We will love you and esteem you as long as you win and remain worthy in our eyes. When that changes, so does our attention toward you—so you better stay on top.”

Horribly pessimistic, yes, but it’s the sport culture we’ve created for her and other athletes to compete in. The surprise isn’t that a high-level athlete feels this way; rather, the surprise is that we have the audacity to be surprised.

We create sport perfectionists from an early age then self-righteously marvel at the results when the wheels start to come off after they fail. While her suicide talk may sound unstable, fanatical or disturbed, it actually represents the rational end-game for anyone steeped in high-level sport culture, longing to be loved and accepted through their performance.

 

Ways to Handle Losing that Never Work

With this culture implied as a backdrop, she offered a few sentences that reflect ways of dealing with the rejection of our identity that comes with losing, all of which fail to satisfy in the end.

 

We Can Play Mind Games to Ease the Pain “I really do believe I’m still undefeated, because being defeated is a choice.”

The power of positive thinking is a happy alternative, but still just an illusion, an avoidance of the truth.

You’re not undefeated. You lost, and you know it. And guess what? That’s okay, even if almost no one will tell you that. It doesn’t make you a loser. It doesn’t make you less of a person than you were before.

The loss just burst the bubble of perfectionism that you lived in, dissolved the illusion of invincibility that inevitably crumbles around EVERY champion—really, every athlete—throughout history.

It humbled the tough talk and swag that we celebrate and promote but it doesn’t make you a loser. You can embrace the loss and move on, and that’s really the best way forward.

But no matter what, the mind game ultimately won’t work to satisfy the real emptiness.

We Can Attach Our Identity to a Different Idol “To be honest, I looked up and saw that my man Travis was standing there and I looked up at him and was just like, ‘I need to have his babies. I need to stay alive.’”

Attaching to and seeking stability in human relationships is definitely more substantive than seeking the praise and applause of fans and media, but relationships are still an unstable idol.

Romantic relationships or maternal bonds are shaky places from which to derive identity, and when we try to make them our reason for living, they often spur co-dependent weirdness that is hard to shake.

What will we do if/when the relationship doesn’t work out or isn’t satisfying in the way you’d hoped?

What will happen when the kids refuse to be controlled or give back, when these relationships that promised to give life—and maybe even did a better job than sports for awhile—don’t fulfill in the end?

Turning to human relationships, while certainly helpful, ultimately won’t work to satisfy the identity problem.

We Can Sign Back Up for More of the Same “Of course I want to fight Holly. I want to beat her and make everything right again.”

Why not just return to what we know? Maybe if I can go back and beat her it will make up for what just happened, it will erase the media and public shame that came from the last beating.

Maybe it will, at least temporarily. Maybe you win, and people across the world cheer and it feels good again, but the hole in your soul remains, the inevitable emptiness that comes with reaching the goal and realizing it still won’t be enough.

Or maybe you get pounded again. Then what?

Harder training and re-setting of goals doesn’t fill the void or fix the identity problem.

 

The Scandalous but Best Answer: God’s Love and Grace

I don’t expect anyone in the mainstream media to suggest that a healing God may actually be what an athlete most needs in their moment of competitive suffering. But the truth of the gospel is exactly what any of us needs—perhaps especially an athlete—in this very moment.

 

Superficial alternatives fail to cover the hole created by loss. Anesthetizing the ache through mind games, grabbing onto a slightly different idol, re-commitment to the cause, or stimulants of various kinds will only deepen the despair later.

They may dissolve at different rates but all disappear eventually and leave the vacuum in our heart unfilled.

Isn’t it at least worth considering that superficial antidotes will never penetrate the depth of any loss, whether in competition or in life, whether temporary or permanent, and that the promises of finding identity in Christ might actually be the only substantive answer?

God’s love and grace provide an anchor that won’t disappoint because He offers identity and acceptance completely apart from performance, a completely scandalous idea in the sports world and one we cannot begin to embrace until we first recognize that it represents the exact opposite of everything we’ve ever been taught as athletes.

What a message! That God loves you and offers a more wonderful plan for your life trajectory than anything you’ve ever been offered before, and it’s not based on anything you do or don’t do. Our identity and acceptance become rooted in a declaration from God that cannot be shaken or altered on the basis of our ability to live up to it.

The answer doesn’t lie in being less identified with or committed to your sport, but in understanding enough of God’s love for you to receive it and to allow that love to put everything else in second place. Grace doesn’t replace hard work and personal drive in our life—it simply transcends them.

Can anyone deny that a genuine acceptance of God’s grace through Christ offers an identity anchor that transcends understanding after listening to Monty Williams speak at his wife’s funeral the same week of the interview? That God’s love becomes most substantive in the midst of crisis?

The competitive athlete needs what everybody needs, only perhaps even more deeply—a confidence that God’s love is sufficient. I hope someone offered that to Ronda Rousey last week, and to every athlete seeking to get beyond the smothering climate of our sport culture.


What watching Calvin Johnson Taught Me About God

The recent news of Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s potential retirement was understandably met with surprise, analysis, and much retrospection.

Personally, as a decades-long fan of the Lions, I find myself not only saddened by the reality of his exciting career coming to an end, but also contemplating his ability to redirect my attention beyond his work on the field to something much greater.

They Call Him Megatron

Statistically, Johnson’s career has been nothing short of brilliant, especially considering that in most games since early in his career he gets shadowed by two or three opponents on every possession. In spite of drawing this attention, “Megatron” was still a nightmare in the minds of individual defensive backs whose goals were maxed simply trying to contain him.

You could have two guys on him. You can have three guys on him. As you've seen, you can even have four guys on him, and he'll come down with the ball. (Washington Redskins cornerback Tracy Porter)

Unfortunately, Calvin Johnson’s dominant career did not produce proportional success for the rest of the team. The Lions never won a playoff game with Johnson and rarely seemed as relevant as their great receiver deserved.

But as a long-time viewer of the Lions, I followed him every week and have come to realize that he delivered—probably quite unintentionally—something that only truly special athletes can.

Calvin Johnson made me think about God.

Strange, I know, but don’t misunderstand me. I do not mean that I compare Johnson to God or think of him as a god.

Quite the opposite.

His unique ability became a vessel through which I could more fully appreciate the good gifts and attributes of God Himself. Philippians 4 exhorts us that “if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Think about these things. What does it look like to “think” about the excellence of an athlete in a way that draws us closer to God? Here are three ways I have been able to think about the excellence of Calvin Johnson and subsequently to ponder the God who created him as a result.

1) Stewardship

Genesis 1:27 says that we are all created in God's image. Everyone has unique attributes reflecting this image and no one’s imaging is more important than anyone else’s.

However, God gave Calvin Johnson a body to steward in the sub-culture of sports and within that context it is physically amazing.

Sports Science broke down the physical capabilities of Johnson a few years ago in this video:

Hall of Fame Cornerback Mike Haynes said, "In my whole career, I never faced a guy like that, who was that tall and that fast and that gifted, had that kind of leaping ability. I think he is a physical specimen and I have nothing to compare him to."

Calvin Johnson did not get to choose his genetics. God did. God determined how tall he was going to be, how fast he could run and how high he could jump. The body that God gifted Johnson with is a function of divine preplanning and certainly extraordinary among human frames.

But what if Johnson was lazy with it? What if he settled for just getting by and didn’t work to become better every day? Regarded as a certain Hall of Famer, Johnson took the body that God gifted him with and stewarded it to the best of his ability—he stewarded it with excellence.

Johnson taught me that regardless of what I have been given by God, it is my responsibility to steward it with excellence.

I am not 6’5”. I cannot run a 4.35 in the 40 yard dash. I cannot jump higher than 40”. That is not who God made me to be. His potential retirement causes me to think on what I have been gifted with and to consider how well I am stewarding it.

Am I an excellent steward of what God has given me?

2) Beauty

I love to watch great players play great. I cheered for Tiger Woods in his prime and Kobe Bryant in his. I am currently on the Golden State Warriors bandwagon. It is a beautiful thing to see someone who is uniquely gifted go out and maximize his gift set when it matters. More excellent than simply being genetically gifted, Johnson impressively executes with grace and skill.

Former teammate Taylor Bennett said, “He is like a bunch of Rembrandts. Every play, every game, he paints another picture.”

Johnson’s career is filled with highlight reel catches.

Over the years, I have noticed a subtle shift in how I experience those moments. I have moved from the more superficial and generic “Thank you God, the Lions could win!” to the more devotional and theological “Thank you God that I was able to see that moment of excellence.”

Psalm 19:1 tells us that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” The point is simple: seeing beauty should lead us to attribute it to someone.

The beauty of seeing Johnson do the things he does leads to an appreciation directed at God. It would be a shame to see the sun set over a mountain range and simply think “well that was cool.”

We have been created for more! The purpose of every good gift that God has given us—like watching the beauty of sport—should cause our minds to go beyond the gift and toward the Giver.

I learned from watching Calvin Johnson and other greats like him that God’s beauty can be seen beyond the mountains and the oceans. It can be seen and appreciated on the field of play in the human bodies He created.

3) Humility

Ironically, one thing Lions fans can take pride in is that Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson—arguably two of the best players at their respective positions ever—were equally two of the most humble athletes at their respective positions ever.

In 2012, after Johnson received the biggest contract in NFL history for a wide receiver, ESPN writer Kevin Seifert had this to say:

I learned long ago how to suppress resentment toward millionaire sports figures whose atmospheric salaries could, in some cases, feed a village of the world's citizens. It's pointless, it only leads to further angst and it's really nothing more than capitalism at work.

Yet as I watched Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson take the podium Wednesday to accept the biggest contract in NFL history, I found myself moving in the opposite direction. I was glad to see someone who, frankly, isn't an idiot—and doesn't act like one, either—get rewarded for performing and behaving at the highest levels of his profession.

I won't pretend to be close with Johnson or to have great insight into his life off the field. I'm sure he has an ego and that he has had some moments of weakness. But viewed in the context of professional sports, I think it's well-known that Johnson is a quiet, thoughtful and humble person who is so good at what he does that he never feels compelled to tell you about it.

That's why so many people were using the word ‘special’ Wednesday to describe Johnson.

Special indeed. He stands out from his peers because he journeys on the sparsely populated road of humility, a path rarely walked by exalted athletes, all the while stewarding what God gave him with grace and beauty.

Like Seifert, I don’t know Calvin Johnson personally. I don’t know where he stands with God. I don’t know if he would consider himself a Christian.

What I do know is that Calvin Johnson played the game with an excellence that over the years shifted my attention away from the game on the screen toward the God who created him, presenting that rare mash up of athleticism done so right that by watching him through proper lenses, a person might actually admire some of the excellencies of God.

 

The year 2076 pushes Allyson and I to share the Gospel with athletes

praying baseball player

What is going to matter in the lives of our athletes in 60 years? 

This question haunts, yet drives me when I think about getting involved in the lives of athletes. For 100% of the collegiate student-athletes we work with through Athletes in Action there will be life after their sport. Some will go on to compete on a professional or international level, but the majority of them will finish out their eligibility, graduate from college and become a contributing part of society. We believe that our role with Athletes in Action is an opportunity to help these athletes see their lives differently and come alongside of them as they learn to walk with Jesus for a lifetime. 

As I think of what “success” looks like for Team Zadeh in AIA, I have concluded that “success” is rooted in Psalm 78:4 "

"We will not hide (the truths of God)  from (the) children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done."

We have determined that “success” means that the athletes we work with for their 4-5 years in college will be compelled through the Holy Spirit to enjoy a lifelong relationship with Jesus where 60 years from now they are telling their Grandkids about the abundant life Jesus offered them and how they learned about walking with Jesus as a college athlete. 

They may share their “war” stories from the field, court, track or pool. They may show their grandkids their trophies or medals. But quite honestly I have not met anyone in their 80’s that wants to be known for their collegiate success. There is a longing within all of us to be defined by something more. 

There is nothing more in ministry than I want than to see lifelong followers of Jesus live the life God has set out before them. As I have said before, Allyson and I are incapable of doing this kind of Kingdom work without the love, support and investment of those of you who have agreed to come alongside of us. 

May you also think about the life that you are currently living. Are you living in the light of eternity, or are you basing your time, talent and treasure on worldly things that will one day rust away? I urge you to make a renewed commitment to living out Psalm 78:4 in your lives and may you have a Jesus filled story to share with your children and grandchildren.  

Till the whole world knows…..

How God is using Athletes in Action nationally in Athletic Departments

I wanted to share with you some information on Athletes in Action movements around the country. Jesus is on the move and he is using AIA staff and Ministry Partners (YOU) to reach athletes so they can be trained to disciple other athletes. 

These stats are pretty incredible: 

  • At Rutgers University,   each of the 20 varsity   sports teams have been introduced to a basic message of spiritualgrowth. 235 athletes recently came out for a pizza eating contest. 
  • At Virginia Tech, almost every sports team has a Bible study.
  • At UCLA, 60 student athletes came to the first meeting of the Fall semester on campus. 
  • At Cal Berkeley, there is a true follower of Jesus on 22 of the 28 varsity sports teams. 
  • At LSU, a partnership withFCA, the local church and Athletes in Action continues to flourish and reach hundreds of athletes. 
  • In Wisconsin, 40 student athletes from 8 different   campuses attended a weekend   retreat designedto train and equip them for ministry. 
  • At the University ofMinnesota, 187 student athletes are involved in 31 different weekly discipleship groups, and 13 of these are lead by athletes, not staff.   
  • The Ohio State University, has student led Bible studies on 24 of the 36 varsity sports teams.

Praise God for His work. 

34 Million reached for Jesus in 24 hour hours.

 If I told you that it was possible to reach 1.4 Million people an hour for a full day, would you believe me? Well, that’s what happened last March and it happened through the platform of sports. Over the past 6 months I have developed a great friendship with the team chaplain for the Kansas City Chiefs, Phillip Kelley. Recently he sent me an email with this incredible story.

There is an annual conference called the PAO (Pro Athletes Outreach) for NFL players, wives and team chaplains. The conference speaker stood up and challenged the athletes to leverage their on-line platform as athletes to make an impact for the Gospel. He wanted them to see just how influential they were. 

One of the players had just filmed a short testimony video about how Jesus had changed his family.  The conference attendees were challenged to spread that video with their social media contacts.  In only one day (24 hours later) over 34 million people were reached by that one video! That’s over 1.4 million people reached for Jesus per hour for a full day.   

I have said over and over that the reason we have chosen to join staff with Athletes in Action is because we are convinced that athletes have an influential platform in our culture and if we can reach the world of athletes with the Gospel, they can reach the world for Jesus. 

This is what we are inviting people to be a part of. We have many people that have said “YES!” to joining us in this venture, and we are thankful. If you ever doubt that Jesus is at work in this world, remember that in March of 2015, there were 34 Million people reached with the Good News in only 24 hours.

Becoming a L.I.F.E Partner

We are convinced that we cannot do this ministry alone.We are looking for people to be L.I.F.E partners with us in what God has called us to do. L.I.F.E partners use their:

• Labor

• Would you come help us with an event / study / meeting?

• Influence

• Many of you have significant spheres of influence in the community. Will you help connect us?

• Finances

• To minister to athletes Allyson and I need to raise our entire operating budget for athletic ministry.

• Expertise

• Our athletes need to be exposed to many different people and situations. Would you be willing to you use your expertise to influence our ministry? 

If you sense that God is prompting you to join us in any of these ways, please let us know. 

If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat...

  •  “Hey Peter! What are you doing?” 
  • “You cant step out of the boat!”
  • “You’ll drown!”

W hen I think of the account of Peter hearing Jesus beckon him out of the boat and walk towards him I can’t help but think that these are just some of the objectives the other disciples had when Peter stepped out of the boat.

But Peter was determined. He wasn’t determined to “walk on water”; but determined to obey the voice of Jesus. He was determined to exchange his ordinary existence with a vibrant obedience.

The story of Peter walking on water perfectly describes the journey that we have been on the last 15 months. Fifteen months ago we had no idea that we would be where we are today but with the guidance of friends, mentors and the Holy Spirit we are now full time missionaries with Athletes in Action.

The step of faith for us out of the boat has propelled us to a life of full dependence on Jesus and the provision that only He can provide. We have seen God provide for our family spiritually. The journey has been exhilarating.

Stepping out of the boat is never easy. Some would say that when Peter ended up falling into the water that he failed. However, falling in the water didn’t mean that Peter failed. It simply meant that he took his eyes off Jesus for a moment. When we take our eyes off of Jesus we are bound to fall down, however we have to remember that it wasn’t Peter who failed, it was the other 11 disciples who refused to get out of the boat; they failed.

How about you? Are you willing to step out of comfort and keep your eyes on Jesus? We did and our hope is that we can be an encouragement to you as you follow Jesus yourselves. We are not naive enough to think that we did this by ourselves.

We have a team of dedicated people that have responded to Jesus and have said “Yes” to being on our team. For our current financial supporters, THANK YOU! For those of you that cannot financially support us but are committing to pray for us, THANK YOU!

We know that this is a team effort and we believe that God is giving us the greatest team we could ask for in this season. 

Team Zadeh Thanks you!  

From a Wife's Perspective

When I agreed to marry Reza, I knew that our life together would not be boring. I knew that we loved Jesus and we loved each other, and love is all you need right? The whirlwind of 2014 took us out of familiarity and safety and deeper into God’s arms.... deeper than we would have gone if we would have stayed safe.

Many of David’s Psalms begin with prayers and tears but end in praise.This pattern represents well how our last 18 months have gone! Psalm 61:2 says “From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety.” (NLT) I can truthfully tell you there have been many times that my heart has been overwhelmed...but every time the Lord is faithful to pull me up higher to that rock of safety!

I am so looking forward to seeing how God will use my skills, education, training and heart in this next season not just at home but with Athletes in Action too. My first priority is making sure that our sweet babies are loved, safe and well but as they grow and need me less I will be venturing into the AIA world more.What a blessing it is to find a ministry that so matches what my heart’s desire is: to help women live authentically as who God created them to be.

Your prayers are coveted and appreciated.There is no way to express how humbled we are by your support and love.Thank you, so very much. May God bless you and yours this summer!

Blessings,

Allyson Zadeh

Hear from an athlete - Dom Kiefer

I want to introduce you to one of the athletes that I work with at CSU. His name is Dom Kiefer and he has been a joy to get to know and watching him grow spiritually is a lot of fun. Meet Dom: 

Hi my name is Dom Kieffer on the CSU men’s golf team and over the past school year I have been meeting with Reza as a part of his Athletes in Action ministry. It was evident that when I met Reza at an Athletes in Action meeting on a random Monday night during the semester over a year and a half ago that he was all in for the Lord. His message was strong and inviting and motivating. The Super Bowl Sunday Athletes in Action spotlight at Timberline Windsor was the first time I really got to meet Reza. When I heard he was going to take a spot on CSU’s Athletes in Action ministry, I was super excited. Since the start of the school year we have met almost every Wednesday. God has revealed a lot through the messages and issues that Reza and I have talked about. We recently went through the first few chapters of Acts and the whole

meaning behind it. Reza has also been very inviting to me coming over to hang out with his family. Every time I come over, I love seeing his kids and listening to what they have to say. Also my time with him has changed how I approach tournaments and hardships. The verse I take with me every where now is 2 Corinthians 12:10 and more specifically,“...for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.” It has given me the boldness and the courage to approach any hardship with an open mind and determination. As a golfer and more importantly as a man, I have grown so much while meeting with Reza. He’s a friend that I hope to never lose.

Sincerely,
Dom Kieffer
Jr. Mechanical Engineering + Golf Team

Starting a new journey

Life is full of seasons and as Winter has melted away into Spring and Summer is quickly approaching Allyson and I have been reflecting on our personal seasons of life. Sometimes we experience the carefree nature of Summer and sometimes life is gloomy, dark and cold, like Winter.What has allowed us.....