Posts Tagged ‘Super Bowl’

Devotional Podcast #7: “When the Agony of Defeat Isn’t as Agonizing”

January 24, 2018

In this episode, I talk about the upcoming Super Bowl, and what we can learn about God from the Eagles’ inevitable defeat… Just kidding! Like nearly every American outside of New England, I’ll be rooting for the Eagles!

This podcast features the Beatles’ “I’m a Loser,” which I recorded from their December 1964 Capitol album, Beatles ’65. (Yes, I know it originates on the UK album Beatles for Sale.)

Devotional Text: Genesis 50:20

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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Wednesday, January 24, and this is Devotional Podcast number 7. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I will release a new episode on this podcast channel, in addition to the sermons that I also post here.

You’re listening to the Beatles and their song “I’m a Loser,” which I recorded from their December 1964 album on Capitol Records, Beatles ’65. British people or Americans who came of age after the CD era will know that the song originated on the Beatles’ UK album Beatles for Sale.

Well, Super Bowl season is upon us. The game is set. And once again, for better or worse, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have made it to the big game. This means that, come February 4, out of a population of 320 million Americans, about 315 million of them will be die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fans! Those of us living in Atlanta will be donning green and silver, that’s for sure!

Almost as inevitable as a Patriots victory is the likelihood that at some point—during the game, on the field, or after the game in interviews—a star player will do or say something to  acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the reason for his or his team’s success, and that Christ deserves all the thanks and praise.

Years ago, when I was going through a season of doubt in my life—long since past, I’m happy to report—this behavior used to annoy me: I thought, “Sure, It’s easy for this guy to thank Jesus… His team won! Would he be thanking Jesus if his team didn’t win?”

Now that I know better, I hope I can speak for Christian athletes everywhere when I say that, yes, by all means, win or lose, we always, always, always have reasons to thank Jesus!

If you look in your Bibles at Genesis chapters 37 through 50, you’ll read about a man named Joseph. Joseph was the favorite son of his father Jacob. Remember: Joseph was the one for whom his father made him the “coat of many colors”—and his older brothers were insanely jealous of their little brother. At first they wanted to kill him, but cooler heads prevailed. So they sold him into slavery in Egypt instead. But that’s just the beginning of Joseph’s troubles! Over the course of decades, Joseph suffers a lot. Until finally, he rises through the ranks and becomes, next to the Pharaoh himself, the most powerful man in Egypt. Thanks to his wise leadership during a famine, he helps save millions of people from starvation.

And finally, Joseph has a reunion with his brothers—the same ones who caused all his suffering in the first place! And, despite the brothers’ fears that Joseph would kill them, he forgives them instead. And he tells them something remarkable. In Genesis 50:20, he says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”

In other words, what Joseph’s brothers did to him was genuinely evil. The suffering he suffered was genuinely painful. The stuff that happened to him was genuinely bad. But that wasn’t the end of his story. God transformed that evil, that suffering, that pain—into something incredibly good. He used it ultimately to save the lives of millions.

We see this same dynamic at work in the apostle Paul’s life in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul describes what he calls a “thorn in his flesh.” We don’t know for sure what this “thorn” was—it could have been a physical affliction; or it could be related to the persecution he suffered. Whatever it was, it was a trial in Paul’s life that caused him pain, and it was evil. In fact, Paul says it came from the devil himself.

But once again, that wasn’t the end of the story… God transformed that evil thing from the devil into something very good for Paul. It was necessary, Paul said, to experience this thorn in order to keep him humble, to keep him depending on the Lord rather than trusting in himself.

The same principle applies: Satan intended to harm Paul, but God intended it all for good.”

What’s the worst thing that the devil or anyone else or anything else can throw at you? Whatever it is, if you only trust in Jesus Christ, he will transform it by his grace into something for your good.

Do you believe it?

I’ve talked in the last episode and in recent sermons about our need to “fall in love” with Jesus Christ again, or to “stay in love” with him. How can we do that if we don’t believe that he has a plan for the pain and suffering we’re experiencing—that no matter what—even when we’re experiencing something bad—God is somehow using it for our good?

And that’s why the hypothetical football star I mentioned earlier has the ability to thank Jesus—win or lose. Because God is doing something good for us in both victory and defeat.

So, see: we can pity New England Patriots players, coaches, and fans: They don’t often get to experience the genuine good that God can bring out of defeat!

But seriously, if you struggle to believe that God has the power to transform evil into something good, remember the cross: God used the greatest evil the world has ever seen—which was the death of his Son Jesus—to accomplish the greatest good the world has ever seen—which is the salvation of everyone who believes in Jesus.

Surely, surely, surely God can take every lesser form of evil, pain, and suffering and do the same!

Sermon 02-12-17: “What Reward Do You Have?”

February 16, 2017

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If last week’s sermon was about the sinfulness of anger, this week’s sermon is about its ultimate cause—which is implicit in Jesus’ question in verse 46: “What reward do you have?” Not counting “righteous anger,” which we don’t often feel, we usually get angry when someone messes with our “reward,” or our “treasure.” This sermon, therefore, explores that seldom mentioned motive for serving the Lord: that we will receive a reward. Is there something wrong in working for Christ’s reward?

Sermon Text: Matthew 5:38-48

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

If it’s true that there are five stages of grief, this past week I got hung up on the second stage—anger. I’m referring, of course, to the anger that arose within me around 10:15 or so last Sunday night, when the Patriots broke an NFL playoff record and overcame a 25-point deficit to tie up the Super Bowl at the last minute. The anger I felt wasn’t kick-the-couch kind of anger. I’ve shared with you before how, back in the mid-2000s, when my children were very young, I got so angry when the Georgia Bulldogs took a last-second lead in the annual rivalry game with my Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and I responded by kicking the couch in frustration. Deeply shameful incident, which I had hoped my kids were too young to remember… but they enjoy reminding me—it’s hysterical to them—of that time when they saw their father kick the couch in frustration. Because of a football game.

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No, the anger I felt last Sunday night wasn’t that kind of anger. It was an anger that expressed itself as disgust… Resentment… I felt an urge to disown this team, which, mere minutes earlier, I was cheering for. “Who are these losers?” I thought. I didn’t want to be associated with their city!

I know some of you felt the same way. The difference is, no one in this room besides me preached a sermon about anger a mere twelve hours earlier! Seriously, I was sharing my frustration about the game with one of you on Wednesday night, and you rightly pointed out—in a joking sort of way—what a hypocrite I was. And you’re right!

Anger! Where does it come from? Why is it so pervasive? Why is it so hard to overcome?

In today’s scripture, which has to do with not retaliating against enemies but loving them instead, our Lord has given me an opportunity to take a second bite at that apple concerning this emotion of anger. Because let’s face it, if someone insults us, or physically assaults us, or persecutes us, or takes advantage of us, or steals from us, or exploits us, or mistreats us in any way—as Jesus describes in this text—what is our natural emotional response? Anger! And we retaliate against them, and we fail to love them, because we’re acting out of this anger.

So what is it that makes us angry? Why did I get angry at the Falcons last Sunday night—instead of feeling great compassion and pity and sorrow for them. While it’s true that they lost that game through any one of about two-dozen different mistakes, it’s not like I haven’t made plenty of mistakes that have cost me victories in my life. And it’s not like the Patriots had nothing to do with it! They are a great team!  Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 02-05-17: “Are We Committing Spiritual Murder?”

February 15, 2017

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Jesus’ uncompromising words against anger in today’s scripture puts us on the defensive: “Yes, in most cases, anger is sinful and unjustified, but not in my case!” We often feel perfectly justified in our anger. What if we’re wrong? What makes anger sinful? What do we need to overcome anger in our lives?

Sermon Text: Matthew 5:21-26

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

Big game today. Passions are running high. Even churches are getting into the spirit. Some of you may have seen on “Fox 5” news report that the St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Carrollton posted the following message on their church sign: “Even Jesus rose up. Rise Up, Falcons.” I know the pastor there! Then, the church sign in front of First Baptist Church of Sandy Springs reads, “God has no favorites, but this sign guy does. Go Falcons!”

Remember those happy days before the Super Bowl?

Remember those happy days before the Super Bowl?

And I’m excited, too. In fact, this week I even let myself get into an online argument about the Super Bowl. It started innocently enough: A Facebook friend posted his prediction for a Falcons victory. He said he really thinks the Falcons are going to win. And I replied to his comment—voicing my agreement, and offering a few reasons why I thought it would happen. A lot of it has to do with our team’s offense. And then one of his friends—someone I don’t even know—replied to my comment: “It’s easy to have a great offense against teams that don’t have a defense.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ash Wednesday 2016 Sermon: “Neither Do I Condemn You”

February 11, 2016

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Sermon Text: John 7:53-8:11

I preached the following sermon at Hampton United Methodist on February 10, 2016.

If you were here on Sunday, you heard me speculate about how Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning would handle it if he lost yet another Super Bowl. Of course, if you watched or heard about the game, you know than Manning’s team won, so it didn’t matter. He finally got his second Super Bowl ring, so his legacy is secure. Meanwhile, a lot of sports writers and fans have been criticizing the way that the other Super Bowl quarterback, Cam Newton, has dealt with the defeat.

There’s a certain script that losing quarterbacks are supposed to follow in press conferences following losses like this one: you go out and you give credit to the other team for the victory; you accept for you role in the loss; you express great optimism about the future, that you’ll be back next year, etc. You’re supposed to project calm. You’re supposed to be even-keeled. You’re supposed to be a good sport.

More than anything, you’re supposed to lie and deceive… If not through the words you say, then through the words you don’t say—and the manner in which you say anything at all. The postgame press conference, in other words, is like being an actor on stage in which you’re awarded for hiding the fact that you’re angry, heartbroken, bitter—for hiding the fact that this loss is eating you up inside. For acting like you’re O.K. when you’re most assuredly not O.K. Read the rest of this entry »

God cares who wins the Super Bowl

January 31, 2014
God cares about this play that Manning is calling.

God cares about this play that Manning is calling.

While you’re watching the Super Bowl this Sunday, remind yourself of this deep theological truth:

God cares who wins the Super Bowl.

In fact, God cares deeply about every player on both teams. God cares about both teams’ coaches, trainers, equipment managers, doctors, owners, and cheerleaders. God cares about the referees. In short, God cares. He cares more passionately than anyone on the field, or on the sidelines, or watching at home or at the sports bar.

If something matters to the people on the field, or on the sidelines, or watching at home or at the sports bar, it matters to God.

Granted, many Christians resist this idea. Like Mark Sandlin, a blogger for Sojourners magazine. Just last week, in his list of 10 things Christians shouldn’t say, he complained about Christians who said that they “must be living right” when, for example, they find a desirable parking spot near the entrance of a store (although I’ve never heard someone say this in a sincere way).

These are the same folks who ask God to help them win sporting events. I hate to burst the bubble, but God doesn’t care which team wins…

Really? God doesn’t care? Then I would ask Sandlin if God cares about the job he’s doing at Sojourners, or if God cares whether or not Sojourners exists at all. Why would that matter to God? Sojourners magazine isn’t curing cancer, putting an end to malaria, or solving the crisis in South Sudan. Why should God care about something so trivial as a blog post? Or even someone who makes his living by writing things like blog posts?

So here are these NFL players, pouring their hearts, minds, energy, and skill into this job they do, which they will soon be doing on the most prominent stage on the planet—and literally risking their health and wellbeing while doing it. But God doesn’t care?

You see my point: It’s almost as if we’re saying, “God is too big to be concerned with things like Super Bowls as long as children are starving in North Korea.” But saying that God is “too big” is just another way of saying God is too small: as if every moment God spends helping Peyton Manning convert a third-and-long is one less moment that God has to devote to the non-trivial problems of the world.

As if God isn’t sustaining all of Creation into existence at this moment! As if God isn’t more intimately involved in the minutest details of Marshawn Lynch’s training regimen than Lynch could ever be himself!

The Deists were wrong, remember?

Our God isn’t the great watchmaker in the sky who set the universe in motion and then went to sleep. We Christians believe in a God who is both transcendent (above and beyond this world of time an space) and immanent (closer to us than we are to ourselves). That means that God isn’t one thing among other things in the universe: he is entirely other. Therefore, no one is competing for God’s attention. He can hear and respond to everyone’s prayers—no matter how big or small.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to William Lane Craig. He’s one of the smartest Christians I know, a world-class philosopher and one of the foremost Christian apologists. Just in time for Super Bowl Sunday, Christianity Today asked Craig about God and football. I recommend the whole interview but here are some interesting excerpts:

Recent polls have found at least a quarter of Americans pray for sports teams, and that number is even higher among evangelicals. As a theologian, what do these stats tell you?

I think it shows how deeply committed they are to their teams that they would feel compelled to pray about it! In fact, it’s almost irresistible for someone who is on a team to pray that God would help him to do a good job and to win and to prevail. I don’t think that there’s anything the matter with that type of prayer, so long as one adds the caveat, nevertheless “not my will, but thy will be done.”…

Peyton Manning is a Christian, but he says he doesn’t pray to win games. He said, “I pray to keep both teams injury free, and personally, that I use whatever talent I have to the best of my ability.” Is it wrong or should we feel bad for praying for a win?

No, I think it’s fine for Christian athletes to pray about those things so long as they understand, as I say, that the person on the other team is also praying, and that some of these prayers will go unanswered in the providence of God. Ultimately, one is submitting oneself to God’s providence, but I see nothing the matter with praying for the outcome of these things. They’re not a matter of indifference to God. God cares about these little things, so it’s appropriate…

As football fans prepare for the big game, what thought would you want to leave them with?

I think the overriding thing I want to say is God’s providence rules all of life, even down to the smallest details. Nothing happens without either God’s direct will or at least his permission of that event. That includes every fumble, every catch, every run. All of these things are in the providence of God, and therefore, we should not think that these things are a matter of indifference. These are of importance to God as well even though they seem trivial.