I explained to Steve that I was one of the only men in my family who had not been to jail, who did not have a substance abuse problem, who had graduated from high school and college, and who did not have a child outside of marriage.
The Naked Preacher opened up his Bible and shared two verses with me: "And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone'" (Mark 10:18, ESV); and, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).
Steve explained that according to the Bible, only God is good; he is the standard of goodness and righteousness. Everyone else has sinned and falls short. This disturbed me.
I said, "Naked man, you are telling me that my moral comparison is to God and not to other people?" He said, "Yes."
"God is perfect! What can I do to be perfect?" He answered, "Nothing."
I said, "I'm in big trouble."
"Rookie D. Gray," he said, "now you are starting to get it. You can't do anything to reach a perfect God. But Jesus has done everything for the perfect God to come down and reach you."
I sat in silence. I needed time to think through what he was saying and what I was experiencing in my heart.
Left with Nothing
Over the next five years, I watched Steve live out the gospel. When my teammates needed advice, they were at the Naked Preacher's locker. Steve was involved in the greater Indianapolis community. He displayed Jesus in the way he loved his wife and children. He preached through his words and actions.
As the Naked Preacher preached, God's love crushed me. I had achieved the American dream, only to realize it could not empower me to love my wife or forgive my father. My fame and money could not erase my sin, shame, guilt, fear, and insecurity.
Then, between 1995 and 1997, I started getting injured on the field. When a professional athlete's body starts to fail, he knows his career is coming to an end. I was letting my god—football—down. I was unable to serve it.
My body was how I made my living. As it began to give out, I was stripped of everything I thought gave me meaning. I was left with nothing, even though I seemingly had everything.
On August 2, 1997, after lunch at training camp for my fifth season with the Indianapolis Colts, I walked to my dorm room at Anderson University in central Indiana. As I walked, I sensed an emptiness and brokenness like I had never experienced. When I got to my room, I immediately picked up the phone and called my wife. "I want to be more committed to you," I said. "And I want to be committed to Jesus."
At that moment I realized that God loved me. Not because I could run fast or jump high or because I was good, or even for what I could give him. I realized that as Jesus hung on the cross, I was forever loved and accepted by God. I realized my sin had been erased by Jesus' blood. It was as if I could see for the first time. That day I got infected with a virus called grace. The symptoms are now full-blown.
In the fall of 1999, I retired from the nfl after six seasons. I then began to travel to youth events and churches to speak about God's love. This itself was a miracle, not only because of my background but also because from an early age I had been a compulsive stutterer. All my wife and I knew was that Jesus loved us and that if he could transform my life, he could transform anyone's. So I took every invitation I received to share my testimony.