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Better Than the Super Bowl

More Important Than the Super Bowl

We are in the midst of a string of some interesting holidays. Certainly not as big as Christmas and Easter, but holidays nonetheless. Last Thursday was Groundhog Day. In nine days it will be Valentine’s Day. Today is Super Bowl Sunday.

Super Bowl Sunday is like a holiday. It certainly is a big day in our American culture. Fans of the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons are excited  for today’s game. Fans of teams the Patriots and Falcons beat to get to the Super Bowl might be hoping for a bit of revenge. Of course, there are many people who watch the Super Bowl, not for the game, but for the ads, or maybe the halftime show.

Today is Super Bowl Sunday 2017, which will feature some big, big stars, including Matt Ryan, Jonathan Babineaux, and Julio Jones for the Falcons, and Tom Brady, Danny Amendola, LeGarrette Blount, and former Nebraska Cornhusker Vincent Valentine for the Patriots. 

Super Bowl Sunday is a big day in our culture. But you know what? Reaching the top of the mountain in American professional football, as important as football is, is not the most important thing in life. Doing what is necessary to get to the Super Bowl, let alone win it, is not the end for which we are to strive. 

What is more important is what happens to us spiritually. So, while we will think a bit, from time to time in this message, about football - a few players will be mentioned - most of our attention will go to what is needed to succeed spiritually. What we need to do to win spiritually.

Of course, the main thing to do to win spiritually is to accept Jesus as Savior. That is the first and most critical decision of all. It is not the Falcons or the Patriots - or any other team - that have any effect on anyone’s spiritual state. It is Jesus, who died as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, who needs to be accepted. Please make sure you have accepted Jesus. I you have not, please do not let this day go by without making that decision.

I need to interrupt myself for just a moment with some baseball news. For those who are fans of the Kansas City Royals, there was bad news a couple weeks ago. Yordano Ventura, a 25-year-old pitcher for the Royals - a wonderful pitcher with a wonderful arm and a wonderful future ahead of him - was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic.

I know nothing about Ventura’s spiritual state. I cannot talk about that. But when I heard the news of Ventura’s death, it occurred to me that right before the accident, he was looking forward to a bright future. However, in an instant, his earthly future ended. 

The point? Do not wait to make the decision to accept Jesus as your Savior. If you are thinking of accepting, do it now because you might not have until tomorrow. 

That is said, not for the purpose of gloom and doom. Instead, it is intended to get across that if you have not yet accepted Jesus as Savior, right now is the time to accept. Please do not wait.

But once that first and most critical decision is made, the Lord, through the apostle Paul, teaches there are things that need to be done. Training we are to do so we can continue to grow and develop in our faith in Jesus. Not so we, too, might one day reach the Super Bowl, but so we can win spiritually, which includes blessings now and Heaven later.

There are two passages for this message, both from Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth. The first is I Corinthians 9, mainly some of the verses in 16 through 27. However, to set the stage, let’s also consider some of the verses earlier in the chapter.

In verse 2, Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians he was an apostle. That means he had met Jesus and was doing the work of ministry for Jesus. That gave him spiritual authority.

In verses 4 through 10, Paul stated that as a leader, he had the right to lots of things, including help with food and drink, along with some pleasures in his life. Good, wholesome pleasures. 

In verse 11, Paul claimed to have done many good, spiritual things for the Christians in Corinth and elsewhere. That was another reminder he deserved some support from those to whom he wrote.

But then, in verse 15, Paul proclaimed that he had not made, was not making, and would not make use of any of his rights.

Instead - now verse 16 - he would continue to do his ministry, not so he could boast. Not so he would be rewarded in any earthly way. But because he had to preach. He had to preach because he had been entrusted with a commission. The commission of doing the Lord’s will of telling others about the Lord. The Lord’s love and grace and mercy and salvation.

“Woe to me,” Paul wrote, “if I do not preach the Gospel of Jesus.” Preaching that he worked at making relevant to whoever his audience happened to be.

Verses 20 through 22. To the Jews, he became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law, he became as one under the law, that he might win those under the law. To those outside the law, he became as one outside the law, that he might win those outside the law. To the weak, he became weak, that he might win the weak.

Paul was not hypocritical. He never gave one message to one group and contradictory messages to others. That is not what Paul did. That is not what he meant in verses 20 through 22. What he meant was that he explained the Gospel to all people in ways they could understand.

Back to football for a moment, isn’t that what offensive and defensive coordinators do? They consider the players they have - the strengths and the weaknesses of the players - and develop plays and game plans to best utilize what they have to work with.

If you are a football fan, you remember Tim Tebow. Some people were upset that Tim Tebow spoke  - and still does speak - so boldly about his Christian faith. Some said such speaking has no place in a locker room or on a football field. That resulted in Tebow not getting a chance to play very many places.

But I remember he played for a while with the Denver Broncos. I also remember there were some concerns about his arm - the strength and accuracy of his passing. Guess what. Denver’s offensive coordinator altered the plays he called. He changed the offensive line ups. He worked to make everyone, including Tim Tebow, as successful as they could be.

The result was that Tebow led the Broncos to victories in many more games than expected.

In a spiritual sense, that is what the apostle Paul did. He did not change his devotion to the Lord. He did not compromise his faith. But he changed his methods as needed to fit to whom he ministered, his goal being to win more and more souls to the Lord. He added, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

We know Paul did more than save some. H led many people to faith in Christ. That happened because of his adaptability. It also happened because of his work ethic. An ethic described in verses 25 through 27.

Paul wrote, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.” Which again brings football to mind.

Thinking of the Super Bowl quarterbacks, I, who have never played anything but flag or touch football, and not much of either of those, cannot even imagine what it must be like to be Brady or Ryan, the quarterbacks of the two Super Bowl teams. What it must be like to have the ball, waiting to pass while having a bunch of 300-plus pound men running toward me, each one determined to drive me into the turf. I think my first reaction would be to say, “Stop. You want the ball? Here it is.” At the least, I think I would likely lose my concentration and forget I was supposed to pass the ball.

It can be easy to get distracted spiritually as well, with all the problems of life and how society seems to be approving of so many sinful acts. But we are not to be distracted. As Paul wrote, we are to exercise self-control. We are to have the self-control needed to follow the teachings of Jesus about how to live and how to minister to others. To follow Him, no matter what.

As Paul continued, the athletes of his day trained in the hope they would receive a perishable wreath, in those days made of flowers. Later today, the Falcons and the Patriots will be competing, hoping to win a trophy. A very nice trophy, but again, something that is perishable.

Those of us on a spiritual journey are to train, including training in self-control, so we can gain an imperishable reward. Two rewards. The rewards of God’s blessings now and Heaven later. Rewards that will never wilt, that will never tarnish, that can never be broken, that can never be sold or stolen.

Paul goes on. He wrote, “I do not run aimlessly.” Paul had a goal. So do we, which is to maintain our own spirituality and lead others to faith in Jesus.

Paul then changed metaphors for a moment. He wrote, “I do not box as one beating the air.” That relates to shadow boxing, standing by yourself, pretending to hit someone. 

Paul did not do that. Instead, he pommelled his body in order to subdue it. Paul worked hard for his own spiritual health. He worked hard at helping others to become believers in Jesus. He worked hard, lest” - this is verse 27 - after preaching to others, he himself should be disqualified.

Back to football again. One of my all-time favorite players is now-retired Jerry Rice. 

Rice had pretty humble beginnings, attending Mississippi Valley State College. However, he did well enough at the college level to be the 16th pick in the 1985 pro draft.

The team that picked Jerry Rice was the San Francisco 49ers, for which he played most of his career. A career that included three Super Bowl wins. One of those times he was the Super Bowl MVP. He played in 13 Pro Bowl selections. Six times he was the NFL receiving yards leader. Six times he was the NFL touchdowns leader.

Rice was a very successful football player. Why? No doubt there was a lot of natural talent involved, but Rice was known as an extremely hard worker. 

That included working hard at practices. I understand he rarely missed a practice. 

He also worked hard during games. He was known for running his routes every offensive play. He ran his routes full-speed from the snap until the whistle ending the play. 

He did that even when he knew the ball was not going to be thrown to him. His explanation was this. The harder he ran, the more tired his defenders were going to become, which would pay off late in games.

May we work hard at something a whole lot more important than football. May we work hard at growing spiritually, doing so to such an extent that we will represent our Lord so well that others will be more likely to join us in our faith. Again, as we do that, we look forward to a reward, which is summarized toward the end of chapter 15 of I Corinthians.

In this passage, Paul begins by telling of the wonder of salvation. The part of salvation that centers on Heaven.

First, we will all die sometime physically. Being a Christian does not exempt anyone from that.

But upon death, there is a reward for those who are Christians. It is, as it is worded in verses 53 and 54, immortality, which is eternal life. Life forever in Heaven. Verse 55. Death will not have victory. Those who are Christians will not die spiritually. Verse 56. Death will not have a sting. For those left behind, there is the sting of sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, but for a Christian, death does not hurt because the reward is Heaven.

Verse 57. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And then, in verse 58, a challenge. “Therefore, my beloved brethren…” This is what Paul encouraged his fellow believers to do, which is similar to what he challenged us to do in today’s first passage. Be “steadfast.” Persistently and consistently cling to the Lord.

Be steadfast and “immovable.” Even when being rushed by 300-plus pound problems, refuse to be moved from the goal of staying true to the Lord.

Be steadfast, immovable, “always abounding [be overflowing] in the work of the Lord.”

The promise? Knowing that “in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.”

One more football story. Another one about a former pro football player, this time, Deion Sanders, a two-time Super Bowl champion, an eight-time Pro Bowl player, the defensive player of the year in 1994.

For many years, Deion Sanders, as good a player as he was, was arrogant and  immoral. He bragged about both those characteristics as he flaunted his fame and his money and his affairs.

Then, one day, Sanders announced he was a Christian. That he had just become a Christian. As he explains it, he had been feeling that something was missing from his life. He felt empty inside, which kept him from feeling happy. Despite his fame, fortune, and lifestyle, he was sad.

I remember hearing Sanders say he was a Christian. I recall being a bit skeptical. That maybe he was trying to claim a Christian faith to help himself in some way. 

But then he added he was making his faith known, not to brag, but so the public would hold him accountable. Here is what Sanders says about his conversion. “Success almost ruined my life, but thank God, I came to Him just in time, and that made all the difference. When I found Christ, I found what had been missing all those years. Only then was I able to trust God's will for my life.”

In 2011, Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In his speech, he thanked the Lord. He also listed a number of pastors who had helped and were helping guide him in his walk with the Lord.

May we let our faith be known so we can hold one another accountable -

to be true to our acceptance of Jesus, 

to be steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord, 

running, not aimlessly, but ever closer to Jesus, 

constantly developing self-control so we will stay strong ourselves 

and help others to accept Jesus, too.

The reward will be the crown of blessings now and Heaven later.

Today’s closing song is a hymn that speaks of spiritual victory. It is Victory. We will sing verses 1 through 3.

Hallelujah, what a thought -

Jesus full salvation brought!

Victory, victory.

Let the powers of sin assail,

Heaven’s grace can never fail,

Victory, victory.

Victory, yes, victory;

Hallelujah! I am free,

Jesus gives me victory!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

He is all in all to me.

I am trusting in the Lord,

I am anchored on His word.

Victory, victory.

I have peace and joy within,

Since my heart is free from sin,

Victory, victory.

Victory, yes, victory;

Hallelujah! I am free,

Jesus gives me victory!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

He is all in all to me.

Shout your freedom everywhere,

His eternal peace declare,

Victory, victory.

Let us sing it here below,

In the face of every foe,

Victory, victory.

Victory, yes, victory;

Hallelujah! I am free,

Jesus gives me victory!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

He is all in all to me.

On this Super Bowl Sunday, some players have been mentioned for the New England Patriots, some for the Atlanta Falcons, plus Tim Tebow, Jerry Rice, and Deion Sanders, all of them heroes of the sport of professional football.

That reminds me of something I heard on My Bridge Christian radio a couple weeks ago. It was a devotional that gave the reminder that it is OK to admire sports heroes, but there is only one who is to be worshiped. Not a player of football or any other sport. Not anyone who excels at anything else. The only one to worship is Jesus.

Let’s do that, today and always. Not only with our words, but also by accepting Him, which is still the first and most critical step of faith, but then by also being steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord, by running, not aimlessly, but ever closer to Jesus, by constantly developing self-control so we will stay strong ourselves and help others to accept Jesus. 

The reward? Not a crown that will wilt. Not a trophy that might break or tarnish or be stolen, but blessings now and Heaven later. Amen.

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