Jesus Calling Podcast

Loving Our Neighbors Both Near & Far: Rick Steves and Thomas Morstead

Rick Steves: If you take the things we learn in the Bible and the things we learn at church and the things we embrace, and if you take it on the road with you, you realize, Yeah, we’re all in this together. We’re all brothers and sisters in Christ.

If Jesus says take care of the poor, if the golden rule is do unto others as you’d have others do unto you, or love your neighbor, all these beautiful ideals and we travel and we see that need out there, it makes it tough to come home and ignore it. 


Loving Our Neighbors Both Near & Far: Rick Steves and Thomas Morstead – Episode #236

Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Many of us ponder how we can contribute to our world and make it a better place. Jesus gives some pretty pointed answers as to how to live our lives with that notion in mind—and ultimately He highlights two important actions: to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds and to love our neighbors as much as we ourselves would want to be loved. Our guests this week have learned about what it means to love their neighbors, albeit from different perspectives: NFL player Thomas Morstead spreads love through his What You Give Will Grow foundation and travel expert Rick Steves explores the far corners of the globe to see God’s love in action, sharing glimpses of what faith and love look like in other cultures. 

Rick Steves has made his life and career about traveling and has created tools that have helped countless Americans to take overseas trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick teaches people how to travel well with travel guides, his popular public television program and a syndicated travel column. Beyond the fun and learning that happens with travel, Rick believes the best thing he takes away from his journeys is the opportunity to get a glimpse into the lives of our brothers and sisters in other countries and the reinforcement he receives around the core tenets of the Christian faith—which is to love our neighbor—even if that neighbor speaks a different language and lives 5,000 miles away.  

Rick: Hey, I’m Rick Steves and I’m a travel writer. 

I grew up with just sort of normal income for a suburban Seattle kid in the sixties. We would go camping, we would go boating up in the San Juan Islands. My dad was a piano tuner, and one day my dad came home and said, “Son, we’re gonna go to Germany and see the piano factories,” because he was going to be a piano importer and open up a little store here in suburban Seattle that would sell fine German pianos. 

And I thought, Boy, Dad, that’s that’s a pretty crazy idea. 

We went over there and had a wonderful trip visiting the piano factories in Germany, and the relatives in Norway. And it occurred to me, Boy, this is an interesting world. 

I traveled and I was learning from my mistakes. I was traveling just on a very tiny budget. And it was clear to me other people were making the same mistakes I had made. And I just thought, If I could just package the lessons from my mistakes into a talk or a book or something like that, other people could learn from my mistakes, rather their own, and travel better. And I would have a good excuse to go back to Europe every year and update my material. 

Slowly I went from being a piano teacher to being a travel teacher. I think if everybody had to travel before they could vote, we’d have a much stronger and wiser country. I think it carbonates your whole world when you get out there and you realize, Wow, different people find different truths to be self-evident and God-given. It makes you less fearful. It’s a beautiful thing.

“I think it carbonates your whole world when you get out there and you realize, Wow, different people find different truths to be self-evident and God-given. It makes you less fearful. It’s a beautiful thing. “ – Rick Steves

You know, a lot of people can get well into their adulthood before they actually have the occasion to travel, and they don’t know what they’re missing. And then they go over there and they realize, wow, This world’s more interesting than I thought. And it’s understandable that people would be afraid if they haven’t traveled, but those who have traveled are less fearful. Or you can have a global perspective and still stay at home if you’re not able to travel. You could still not be afraid of the world, but you can celebrate the world in all its diversity. 

You know, we’re a great country, but we’re four percent of this planet, and there’s ninety-six percent of humanity out there. And it really makes sense to get to know the rest of the world.

“We’re a great country, but we’re four percent of this planet, and there’s ninety-six percent of humanity out there. And it really makes sense to get to know the rest of the world.” – Rick Steves


Opening Your Eyes to Others’ Needs

I’ve just had such an interesting life, because I’ve been able to travel and I’ve traveled with my faith. Traveling to a place like Guatemala or some place that is really poor, that has an obscene gap between rich and poor, that’s dealing with a lot of structural poverty—Guatemala is a good classroom for finding out about why there is hunger in a in a world with such abundance, you know, half of humanity is trying to live on five dollars a day. And, you know, that’s okay. You can have dignity on your five dollars a day. And I hope you can get wealthier, but, you know, you can still have dignity and raise your kids and get educated and have health care. But if you are trying to live on two dollars a day, that’s desperation. And ten percent of humanity is living on two dollars a day. Ten percent of humanity works all day long to earn less than what we spend for our daily latte at the corner cafe. And it’s not a guilt trip for me. It’s an opportunity to be tuned in to the needs of our fellow brothers and sisters of God south of the border. And I want to know about that. I want to humanize these people.  

And that all combines to sort of power what’s behind my teaching in a secular world, but I teach with a Christian passion for the poor and for economic justice and for celebrating God’s creation.


The Global Pursuit of a Heavenly Father

I love to meet other people of faith. And I love to share my faith with people who have no faith. Very fundamentally, we are children trying to figure out our relationship with God and trying to get close to our Heavenly Father.

“I love to meet other people of faith. And I love to share my faith with people who have no faith. Very fundamentally, we are children trying to figure out our relationship with God and trying to get close to our Heavenly Father.” – Rick Steves

You know, every Sunday I worship with a bunch of Norwegians as a Lutheran. And it’s fine. It’s not a problem. I’m glad I do. We celebrate Christmas the same way. That’s cool. 

But once in a while, it’s good for me to get out there and worship with people who don’t have the same hymnal, who don’t have the same accent, who don’t have the same blonde hair. It’s exciting. And it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a celebration. I would imagine God likes to see that, too.

“But once in a while, it’s good for me to get out there and worship with people who don’t have the same hymnal, who don’t have the same accent, who don’t have the same blonde hair. It’s exciting. And it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a celebration. I would imagine God likes to see that, too.” – Rick Steves

Markermeer (Inland sea)

I remember when I was in Papua New Guinea, I was there working on a video for the Lutheran Church. And you know, we got to know the people in these different villages. And I remember one of the people we met said he can identify each of the children in his village by the footprints they leave in the sand when they run by. They would know the footprint of the children—talk about love. And then I learned they live in a community where there’s no word for orphan because it would be inconceivable that a child wouldn’t have love from the community if they didn’t have their biological parent. 

For me, the most beautiful souvenir is bringing home a broader perspective.

”For me, the most beautiful souvenir is bringing home a broader perspective.” – Rick Steves

I wouldn’t be able to see that the love of a mother and her child and in a very poor part of the world, the power of that. I wouldn’t be able to hang out with people in the developing world who have nowhere near the material wealth that we have, but have spiritual blessings way beyond what we’ve got. You know, breaking bread with people who are poor but live with a mindset of abundance rather than breaking bread with people who are wealthy and have a mindset of scarcity. All of this is very challenging to me. And I want to be honest about my faith, and I want to be honest about how privileged I am. And I want to be consistent about my embrace of Christian ideals as a citizen of this planet. 

Bern Inside clock tower Rick

Travel helps you appreciate how many people over how many centuries with how many styles of faith have praised God. We have a deep seated need to just to have quiet time to be with our creator, with our Heavenly Father.

“Travel helps you appreciate how many people over how many centuries with how many styles of faith have praised God. We have a deep seated need to just to have quiet time to be with our creator, with our Heavenly Father.” – Rick Steves

Here’s a passage from Jesus Calling dated July 13th.

I want you to experience the riches of your salvation: the Joy of being loved constantly and perfectly. You make a practice of judging yourself, based on how you look or behave or feel. If you like what you see in the mirror, you feel a bit more worthy of My Love. When things are going smoothly and your performance seems adequate, you find it easier to believe you are My beloved child. When you feel discouraged, you tend to look inward so you can correct whatever is wrong. 

Instead of trying to “fix” yourself, fix your gaze on Me, the Lover of your soul. Rather than using your energy to judge yourself, redirect it to praising Me. Remember that I see you clothed in My righteousness, radiant in My perfect Love.

When I read that, I think as a traveler, how thankful I am that I’m never alone in my travels. I can be surrounded by thousands of strangers, and I’m not alone. I’m with Jesus. I can be walking on a ridge high in the Alps and I’m not alone. I can be sitting in a massive church. I can be sitting in a humble church. I don’t get lonely when I’m traveling. And for that, I’m really thankful. 

One thing great about travel is that it strips me down to simple living and it lets me know what riches really are. It helps me to be honest with my relationship with the world, with my relationship with God. And time and time again, I find myself surrounded by and inspired by God’s love. 

Narrator: To learn more about Rick Steves’ travels and resources around travel, visit RickSteves.com.

Stay tuned to Thomas Morstead’s story after a brief message.


2020 has brought a lot of challenges to many of our lives—but none more than our country’s first responders. The team at Jesus Calling has chosen 100 Jesus Calling devotions that have been specially selected for those heroes in our midst. There are hardcover editions of these 100 devotions for Medical Professionals, Firefighters, Law Enforcement, and the Armed Forces. Find these Jesus Calling for First Responders editions exclusively at ChristianBook.com.


Narrator: Our next guest is NFL player Thomas Morstead, who is a punter for the New Orleans Saints and one of the most successful kickers in the league. Since being drafted eleven years ago, Morstead not only made it to a Super Bowl game in his second year as a pro, but had a hand in a historic play that led to the New Orleans Saints winning Super Bowl XLIV.

As a kid, it never occurred to Thomas he might be a pro football player one day. Small for his age, Thomas endured bullying from his classmates. But that didn’t stop him from pursuing the sports that he loved, and his mantra of “giving his best” to whatever he was doing would serve him well, eventually allowing him to walk on to the college football team at SMU and paving the way to his successful career in the NFL. Thomas retraces his steps through his early days of football, leading up to that pivotal play in Super Bowl XLIV that established his place in sports history, and how after eleven years of playing football, he is inspired to give back through his foundation, What You Give Will Grow.

Thomas: Hi, my name is Thomas Morstead. I am a professional football player for the New Orleans Saints, going into my twelfth season with the team. I am married to my wife, Lauren. We have four children, ages six, four, three, and one. I am the oldest of two kids, I have a brother named Patrick. My parents are married still, they’ve been together for close to forty years. And growing up, I would say I had a great childhood, lots of support and encouragement. 


Putting Your Best Foot Forward

I never would’ve thought I’d be in the NFL back in school. But the thing is I’ve always attacked things and tried to do the best I can at whatever I’m doing, and that’s just opened up other opportunities that you didn’t even know would be out there. And I think that’s a lot of my story.

“I’ve always attacked things and tried to do the best I can at whatever I’m doing, and that’s just opened up other opportunities that you didn’t even know would be out there.” – Thomas Morstead

I played football my senior year of high school, just went out for the team, I could kick a ball pretty well. And, you know, when I started high school, I was really tiny and I grew a lot. I grew about sixteen inches in high school, and doubled my weight in high school. I went from ninety pounds to 180 pounds. So, you know, I feel like I’ve always had pretty good self-awareness. And, you know, if you’re five foot, ninety pounds going into high school, you’re probably not playing football. And so, no, I did not think about being a pro athlete. 

I mean, the first time I really thought it was even a potential [opportunity] was probably when I was twenty years old at the end of my second year of college, and I hadn’t even played yet in college. I had a Bible study my junior year of college, and basically the message was God’s not going to put you in any position where you aren’t capable of being successful, or He’s not going to ask you to do anything that you’re not capable of handling. And ever since then, I’ve just taken the stance of, Okay, did I prepare every possible way, did I unearth every rock in preparation? If I’ve done that, then it’s almost not up to me.

All I can do is put my best foot forward in everything I do, and the results will be what they’ll be. And I’m not going to worry about them. So I think I probably dreamed it before anybody else would have dreamt it, but I think that’s how it has to be. You know, if you don’t think you can do it or if you haven’t had a vision of it, it’s probably going to be pretty hard for it to happen. 

I think one of the qualities that I’ve always had since I was young is I’ve been kind of incapable of lying to myself. You have to look at yourself, everybody has to look at themselves in the mirror, and some people just naturally do that. And some people will avoid that. And I think it’s just like compounding interest. The more you do it, essentially—accountability always, always rests on yourself and not on anybody else. And so I think when you start to live your life that way, it’s a very quick way to get to some arbitrary thing called happiness when your life isn’t dictated by others.

“Accountability always, always rests on yourself and not on anybody else. And so I think when you start to live your life that way, it’s a very quick way to get to some arbitrary thing called happiness when your life isn’t dictated by others.” – Thomas Morstead

And that doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen, but you just always look to yourself about how you can improve and how you can get better and how you can be better at being a dad or being a husband or being a friend or being an athlete. And so, you know, I think that’s kind of like I was saying, that’s a big part of my story of just no matter what you’re doing, whether you want to be doing it or not, if you have to be doing it, if you’re doing it, you might as well put your best foot forward. And I feel like I’ve done that for most of my life with everything that I do. And that’s opened up opportunities that I didn’t know even existed.


The Historic SuperBowl XLIV Onside Kick

Narrator: Thomas’s mantra to put his best foot forward came into play during Super Bowl XLIV` when he was called on by his coach to execute an important onside kick that resulted in the New Orleans Saints being able to recover the ball that led to a touchdown, ultimately turning the game around for them to win the championship that year. Thomas describes what happened leading up to that historic moment in his NFL career.

Thomas: So we had an onside kick planned. We came out of halftime, we were gonna do it to start the third quarter, and I never really believed we were gonna do it. No one had ever done it. It’s like an incredibly risky gamble. But the reward, obviously, is great. 

I think Coach Payton just had this idea in his head that, you know, we were gonna go for it. We weren’t going to lose because we didn’t put it all out there. 

So he told me at the beginning of halftime—and halftime of the Super Bowl is extraordinarily long because of the halftime show. And so I had to sit on it for about thirty minutes, which was not enjoyable. Definitely a tremendous amount—I’ve never had a panic attack or an anxiety attack, but I imagine this would be close to it. And it was very intense. I’m sure if you’d have taken my blood pressure, it was through the roof for the whole halftime. 

And you know, the worst thing about it is you can’t practice it. You can’t come out at half time and start warming up and start practicing it because it’s a surprise, right? 

I was just pacing in the locker room the whole time, just trying to avoid the negativity. And then at some point, I just said, You know what? To heck with it. I’m going to let every negative thought get flushed out right now. So I spent about ten minutes trying to think of every negative outcome, every negative thing about it. And so I just kind of got it all flushed it all out. 

I had a coach in college named Frank Gansz, Sr. My senior year I had him as my special teams coach, and he was kind of like a life mentor for me. And I kept a picture of him in my locker and my whole rookie year. He passed away the day after I got drafted. And so I was pacing around having all the negative thoughts and just flushing it out. 

At one point I just looked up and saw his photo. And one of his things he used to tell us was, “The more aggressive team normally wins.” And I thought, Well, this is about as aggressive as it gets here. And I finally relaxed, it was the first positive energy I had had. Then I thought every time coach called us up and practiced to hit it, we did it right every time. And then I said, “Okay, Coach wouldn’t be calling this if he didn’t know I was going to hit this right.” And then just all of a sudden had positive energy from there forward.

I went out at halftime and started warming up, obviously my adrenaline’s going through the roof, and our kicker at the time, John Carney, who was in his twenty-something year, he had always told me to kick at ten percent. And the last thing he told me before I went on the field was kick it one percent because he knew how juiced up I was. 

Anyways, I went out there and just prayed that I’d execute it properly and let the results fall how they should. And I did, and obviously we got the ball back and went down and scored, and it was a huge play for us to go win that game. 

It’s been an awesome thing to have for my career because kicking and punting is so mental. You don’t always feel great about yourself. You don’t always [have] 100 percent confidence. And so to be able to go back to times where it was the most on the line, and to reinforce that you were able to get it done in that moment gives you confidence that you’ll be able to do it in the future. And so it’s been a blessing for me for my entire career. 


What You Give Will Grow Foundation

I’ve been playing for eleven years. And so I just feel like I owe it to the group to give my time in service to try to make things better or to try to protect the group as a whole. Because I’ve been so fortunate myself and because other guys did that for me and for the group. And so I’m just trying to take my turn and do and help out how I can. 

Going back to my coach, Frank Gansz, Sr.,  one of his sayings he always used to say was, “What you have will grow and what you keep you lose.” And that always stuck with me. And so that’s how we named the foundation What You Give Will Grow. We’re not like the American Cancer Society or the American Heart Association, where there’s one thing that we’re fundraising for. We just try to fill needs as they come up in the community. And it’s cool to be able to be flexible.

We leverage cool Saints items or time with players, myself and other players that are kind enough to contribute with their time. We have a few programs that we do ourselves.

The most significant one is the prom that we put on every year on Good Friday for kids with cancer and blood disorders and chronic disorders. And [it is] just a really great thing to get all these kids out of the hospital. A lot of them miss events like this. And they’re able to go because we’re able to staff the prom with doctors and nurses that are able to kind of be ready if anything is an issue. And it also allows these kids to be resources to each other because they’re all kind of going through similar things. So that’s the big event we do every year, it’s been wonderful to be able to, you know, help out a bunch of people. There’s nothing better than doing that. 


Staying Grounded, Staying Positive

With everything going on in the world right now, it’s incredibly negative if you’re on any bit of social media or reading any news thing. It’s hard to balance staying informed and educated with the fact that it’s so hard to know if the information you’re reading is legitimate. And it’s so hard to know. I just think if you’re surrounded by negativity all the time, you’re going to be negative. And if you’re surrounded by positivity, you’re going to be positive. And so I think everyone should guard their heart. And it’s very difficult to learn the balance of how much to ingest.

“I just think if you’re surrounded by negativity all the time, you’re going to be negative. And if you’re surrounded by positivity, you’re going to be positive. And so I think everyone should guard their heart.” – Thomas Morstead

But, man, it’s really tough right now to do that. And so I’d just encourage everybody to keep the main thing, and go back to the foundation of what’s important. I think we’re called to share, care, and encourage. That’s one of my life mottos. So I think if everybody does that, we’ve got a chance to do okay. 

Narrator: Thomas reads from the June 26th entry of Jesus Calling to emphasize his feeling that God will help us cope with any challenge we face in our lives.

Stay calmly conscious of Me today, no matter what. Remember that I go before you as well as with you into the day. Nothing takes Me by surprise. I will not allow circumstances to overwhelm you so long as you look to Me. I will help you cope with whatever the moment presents. Collaborating with Me brings blessings that far outweigh all your troubles. Awareness of My Presence contains Joy that can endure all eventualities.

Thomas: Just be conscious of yourself, because at the end of the day, if everyone were a positive influence in their circle, in their realm, at the unit family level or your closest friends level—if everybody did that and just focused on the people they surround themselves with, I think we’d have a lot better shot of getting through this in a positive way. 

I think having a faith background really helps me stay in the present. I don’t do too much worrying about yesterday or tomorrow. And I think that is one of the reasons I’ve been able to be successful in my job is because of that lack of worry. I just try to handle what’s in front of me. That’s all I can do, and then the rest is up to God. 

Narrator: To learn more Thomas’ foundation What You Give Will Grow, please visit www.wygwg.org. You can find Thomas’ book, The Middle School Rules of Thomas Morstead anywhere you buy books.

If you’d like to hear more stories about how we can spread love far and wide, check out our interview with Mister Rogers’ wife Joanne Rogers, who went to be with the Lord at the age of 92 in January 2021. 


Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with Ben Higgins, star of ABC’s 20th season of The Bachelor. With the notoriety he achieved on the TV show, Ben suddenly found himself with a large platform to reach people, and was determined to use his influence for good. 

Ben Higgins: So every person listening to me right now has a gift on their life, the Bible says. And [it says in] 1 Peter 4:10, every believer has at least one gift. So that gift on your life is not for you. It’s for the people in your world of influence that God is sending you to. So if you don’t operate in your gift, then the people in your world of influence don’t get what God intended them to get. 

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