There are many sports writers who write about Faith when a top athlete is both a contender and a Christian. So I thought that I, a Faith writer, should return the favor and write about sports for the same reason. Especially since I’m an avid football fan and I’ll be watching the Super Bowl.
The outspoken Christian athlete that’s getting all of the sports writers attention is the Arizona Cardinal’s QB Kurt Warner who will be leading his team against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl 43. When the Cardinals won the NFC playoff game, pretty much the first thing Kurt said in his interview was, “I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Kurt Warner is quite vocal about his Faith. Once, when he appeared on Oprah, he was told that he had about three sentences. So he decided to use the second sentence to talk about Jesus, figuring that it would be harder for them to cut it out. They cut it out, anyway.
However, before talking about Mr. Warner any further, I would like to look at some other ways that we, the Body of Christ, have tried and are trying to use the Super Bowl (and other sporting events) to spread the Word. More specifically, I’d like to start a discussion about their effectiveness and what the Bible says about our efforts. Let me say in advance, I’m filing this post under ‘Rick’s rants’ so be ready for it, and if you disagree, jump on in, your comments are welcome. : )
First let me address something that frankly doesn’t make any sense to me at all, the John 3:16 signs. I’ve supplied a link to a video explaining how these signs became part of our pop culture. Briefly, a man named Rollen Stewart, aka ‘The Rainbow Man’ (because he wore a large multicolored wig) was the one who made the now famous sporting event sign famous. Rollen started out trying to make a name for himself by appearing on camera at sporting events dancing with his wig on. He preplanned his position and watch the game on a small portable TV so he’d know when to dance. He got a lot of press.
One night in a hotel room, he watched a televangelist and gave his life to Christ. Shortly after that, he started showing up with the John 3:16 sign with the same wig and strategy, but this time, his motivation was to promote the gospel with his few seconds of camera time. He appeared everywhere and again got a ton of exposure and the John 3:16 sign became an expected sight at sporting events.
Unfortunately, Rollen got banned from sporting events for his antics, and his gospel publicity stunt ideas started to get weird. His last one involved a gun and a kidnapping. He’s currently serving three life sentences behind bars. Something that seemed like a good thing did not end well.
Something is happening at this year’s Super Bowl that reminds me of Rollen’s sign. This year’s festivities are in Florida and one group of Christians have hired an aerial ad company to fly over the Super Bowl towing this message, ‘The Super Bowl champion is Jesus’.
The Bible says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” and, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14, 17)
There was a time in our culture when there was prayer and Bible reading in schools and tent meetings on every corner. Maybe then, a scripture reference or short sign, might have reminded people of what they already knew and caused them to respond. However, we now live in a society where very few of the people who need the Gospel, know this scripture reference. Those who do, have no idea what it means and more specifically, what it should mean to them.
The gospel isn’t a Bible verse or a slogan. It’s the most incredible story ever told, and the message of God’s grace and salvation. God meant for us to ‘go’ explain it and share it with our neighbors, not flash them a sign. I’m not saying that God can’t use these signs in some way. However, expecting someone who needs to hear the Gospel to get saved, by seeing one of these signs, is kind of like trusting that you can get your teenager to pass his grade ten math exam, just by showing him the cover of the text book.
If you must flash a sign, then how about one that communicates part of God’s message to everyone like ‘Jesus loves you.’ Also, what does ‘The Super Bowl champion is Jesus’ mean? If you must use a football metaphor in the message, how about ‘You are Jesus’ #1 draft choice’. Corny, but at least it communicates a small part of the Gospel message.
I probably have a few of you ready to comment already, but stick with me for a bit. Let’s talk about players who feel that ‘giving God the glory’, for a win or a great play, is their responsibility and somehow makes a difference. Players will either use their words or their index fingers to point to heaven in order to fulfill this obligation.
There are many Bible verses in the New Testament that talk about giving God the glory. I’ll list some of the key ones below so that you can do a study on your own. For now though, let me give you a brief summary of the concept. In John 9:24, the Pharisees confront a man who was born blind, yet healed by Jesus, and they tell him to ‘Give God the Glory’. According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, at the time this phrase was an idiom that meant ‘Confess your sins’. Or in other words, credit should be given to God for whatever is accomplished in you or through you because you’re nothing but a sinner.
Essentially that sums up the New Testaments position on giving God the glory. We are saved by faith in His grace and we cannot boast because nothing we do or have done puts us in God’s good books. It’s what Jesus did and is doing through the Holy Spirit in us. So as we trust God to not only initially save us, but also to work in us and change us into the image of Christ, we give God the glory (credit) for initiating and completing the work. When we bear fruit as Christians, God gets the glory because others see what kind of people we have become and marvel at the change, and we point towards heaven to assign credit. (John 15:8, 2 Corinthians 3:18, 4:15, Philippians 1:11, Hebrews 13:21) Also, when we go through trouble and let God help us and guide us through it, that also brings glory to God. When we trust him to use the gifts he’s given us to administer his grace, (which is ministering to others), then again he gets the credit for what is accomplished through us. (1 Peter 1:7, 4:10, 11) All of which, I’m sorry to say, have nothing to do with playing football.
Many years ago, I went to watch my younger brother play hockey. He was always good at sports. As he headed for the ice, I told him that I’d pray for him to do well. He turned on me and sternly said. “Don’t! I want to do it, I want to try hard, work hard and get good.” Wow! He set me on my heels. What he had understood was that if I prayed, God would do it for him, or through him. The Bible tells us “The glory of young men is their strength”. ( Prov 20:29 ) God allows us the dignity and reward that comes from working hard at something and doing well at it. What I wanted to pray was that God would help my brother do his best, give him wisdom to learn more about hockey, that sort of thing. Christian NFL players don’t make a great play because God did it. If that was the case, every play they executed would be great and only the Christian players would get the great plays. Also, God doing it for a player would be cheating, and God doesn’t cheat.
These players are good, and even great, at what they do because they’ve worked hard, practiced hard and studied hard. They deserve credit for that. Do we tell our kids when they use their manners well, get an ‘A’ on an exam, or do well at a recital, “Give the Glory to God Junior”? I wonder what message our kids are getting when they see and hear players do that; perhaps ‘You don’t need to work hard, just believe’, or ‘You’ll always be successful if you’re a Christian.’
Now I know when some players point to the sky, it could just be a brief call out to say that God is good, but that’s not what comes across to those who don’t believe. It’s alright to just say, “I had a good game, I’m on a good team and God is good!”
It seems to me that much of what we’ve already talked about doesn’t help promote the Gospel. Often it hurts us because outsiders get the idea that we’re religious nuts who don’t know how to just be normal and enjoy a football game.
Having said that, here are some things I think do help. When players get seriously injured and you see other players go to one knee and sincerely start to pray for their fellow player, that sends a message of God’s love. Have you noticed that the camera operators and production teams don’t avoid these shots like they do the signs? Why? Because even the unbelievers see it as an act of caring and compassion, and not as a sound bite or camera shot meant to steel attention and promote a cause.
How about events like this year’s 10th Annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration? I’ve never been to one, but I think it would be great. The event clearly states what it’s about and it’s not only a chance for the Christian players to fellowship together, but a chance for them to say (by attending) what they believe.
Finally, I want to talk about what I believe is the most Biblical and powerful way that the Gospel is spread at the Super Bowl, and for that I come back to Kurt Warner as promised. If Kurt was like so many other professional sports players who just point at the sky or thank God after a win, his Faith would not be getting so much press.
It’s who Kurt Warner is, and how he lives out his Faith, that is getting attention. Remember what the Bible says about God getting the glory. Here’s a Christian man who puts family first, loves his wife and kids, attends church faithfully, has his own charity that helps disabled children (see video), he gives back and volunteers, uses his money to further the gospel and help others. When he struggles, he looks to Jesus for strength and help, and credits him for that strength. He isn’t getting attention by what he says, he’s getting attention because he’s trusting God to make him into Christ’s image, and people are marveling at who he is. So when he says his life is about Jesus, glory really does go to God.
How you play on the field (or how you do in any profession) may get you a podium, but it’s how you behave and live your life in Christ that will give you the right to speak from that podium.
No matter what you think of the above methods, it seems to me that the most effective way to spread the Gospel in sports events such as the Super Bowl, is the same way it’s done in every other area of life: by having Christians get involved and let their light shine through their work ethic, character, humility and generosity.
Enjoy, the Super Bowl, I know I’m going to. Go Kurt! Win or lose, you’ve already won!
For help with teaching your children about their Faith, check out The Singing Bible.
(RICK OSBORNE / Christian Author, Speaker & Dad)