This week’s Sports In Focus is written by Erik Raymond. He blogs at www.OrdinaryPastor.com. I have added some discussion questions to his article.
Christians have a responsibility to strike an admittedly difficult balance in this world. We are called to be faithful missionaries without being repulsive and obnoxious. This is a tough note to hit because the message itself is offensive, people (by in large) don’t want to hear it, and frankly– we are sinners.
This is why I take notice when I see a guy being faithful, compelling, and attractive.
Here in Nebraska, football is king. The state becomes red on Saturdays in the fall. People love their team and everything about their team.
This is why I was not surprised to read Dirk Chatelailn’s article in the Omaha World Herald on the intriguing relationship between Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown and Ameer Abdullah, a highly touted freshman running back.
However, the article was not concerned primarily with what goes on between the hashmarks as much as what goes on between an outspoken evangelical and a young Muslim.
THE TENSION TABLE IS SET
Ron Brown is widely known as a gospel fanatic. He talks about Jesus whenever he can. I have previously noted how the ACLU was outspoken in their opposition to his tendency to proclaim Christ in his various platforms around Nebraska. It’s this history of Brown’s identity that provides the tension for Chatelin’s article:
Brown is a Christian. He has a reputation, he says, for “suffocating kids and banging them over the head with a Bible.” He regularly references Scripture in casual conversation and in the locker room. Almost every day, just before they take the practice field, Brown reads to his players from the Bible.
So when Brown said that Ameer Abdullah practices Islam, one of the running backs posed a question:
“Coach, when Ameer comes, what do we do?”
The players themselves anticipated the tension. It was staring the players in the face like a well designed defensive game plan. What would coach do? How is he going to execute his game plan for preaching Christ without causing conflict that would be evident to the 2 million people in the State that are peering over the fence into the program?
SO, WHAT DO YOU DO?
It is not just the coach that has to deal with this tension. Truly all Christians who desire to live faithfully and not be personally repulsive have to deal with this. Sure Ron Brown’s workspace is a bit more public than most of us, but his tension is something we can surely relate to.
How do you relate to non-Christians in a charitable and faithful manner? This is where I think Coach Brown is such a great example.
Wednesday afternoon, at the conclusion of a running back meeting, Brown opened his Bible to Proverbs 23:12.
“Commit yourself to instruction,” he said. “Listen carefully to words of knowledge.”
Brown drew a parallel to the football field. If you think you know everything, you’re being foolish, he said. You’ll be held accountable for all the details you’re taught in practice. Greatness, he said, is made in empty stadiums. It’s revealed in full stadiums.
I love this. Ron Brown opens up the Bible at work and talks to his ‘co-workers’ about how it relates to life. That’s encouraging.
You know what else is encouraging? His careful, thoughtful faithfulness.
As Brown told the running backs six months ago, he won’t stop reading Bible passages at meetings. But he won’t try to force Christianity down any player’s throat.
“We’re not proselytizing,” Brown said. “We’re not trying to jack kids over the head with stuff. We’re just saying, ‘Hey, this is who we are.’
“They go to school here. They’re hearing from professors all kinds of philosophies. Those professors aren’t apologizing for who they are. They’re saying, ‘There’s no God,’ some of them. ‘There is no right from wrong.’
I’m saying, ‘Yes, there is God. There is Jesus Christ. And there is right from wrong.’
“You guys do what you want with it. You don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to. It ain’t gonna cost you a down of playing time. It ain’t costing Ameer any playing time.”
Brown has coached “tons of kids,” he said, who didn’t share his beliefs. No player has ever complained about his messages.
“I don’t need to change Ameer. I just need to love up on him and let God do what he wants with him.”
Even if your not a Nebraska fan or a football fan in general, you have got to love this guy. Right? He doesn’t flinch. Everybody knows what they are going to get with this guy. Even Ameer Abdullah knows and loves him.
“He reminds me so much of my father.”
When Brown opens his Bible, “I always tune in. I always want to enlighten myself on something new,” Ameer says. “I’ve always said I wanted to explore the world of Christianity just to better familiarize myself with it. I always take his stories and they always mean something.
Ron Brown has navigated well the choppy waters of faithfulness without being repulsive. Notice here you have a Muslim kid listening to his coach teach the Bible and saying that he reminds him of his father. And in case you’re wondering, Brown doesn’t sell soft-serve.
SOME PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS
Why and how does this happen?
Obviously God has been gracious to Brown. He gives him boldness, clarity and passion. Everything favorable in his life is a result of God’s grace. Therefore, we can make some helpful observations that translate to our lives as we aim to be faithful and attractive (that is, not repulsive or obnoxious).
1. He is consistently faithful. Coach Brown has been taking his lumps from religious watch dogs since he has been in the public eye. However, he continues to keep pressing on with faithfulness. The twin sisters of time and trial underline his faithfulness. There is a compounding impact.
2. He shows genuine love for people. Even people who don’t agree with him say that he cares about them. I have heard numerous current and former athletes speak of his fatherly affection towards them. This comes alongside the message.
3. He has integrity. When you are this loud people are watching. The fact that he is real (notice, not perfect) and practices what he preaches (faith in Christ) makes a huge difference. People see him and dissect him like game film. The guy is who he says he is. This is instructive and encouraging to us.
4. He listens. It’s obvious from this story that Brown listens to people. In another portion of the article it speaks to how Brown went to recruit Abdullah and spoke with his father. Can you imagine the trust and proven character for a head coach of a big time program to send the outspoken evangelical to go and recruit the Muslim kid? Coach Bo Pelini knew Ron Brown would listen. He knew he’d make an impact.
5. He views life as a stewardship. I have heard the coach say many times that he is where he is for a reason. He is going to use his platform as a gospel platform to make much of Christ. We could learn a thing or two here.
As believers we want to be faithful and attractive with the gospel. We don’t want to be repulsive and obnoxious. We don’t want to fumble the gospel. Coach Brown and his testimony of boldness, faithfulness, love and grace serve as an encouragement to us. Now go root for Nebraska to win the Big Ten.
1. What stood out to you in the article?
2. How do you relate to non-Christians in a charitable and faithful manner?
3. Discuss each of the practical observations that Erik lists:
1. He is consistently faithful.
2. He shows genuine love for people.
3. He has integrity.
4. He listens.
5. He views life as a stewardship.
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