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The “Minnesota Miracle.”  Alabama’s overtime victory over Georgia. Georgia’s overtime win over Oklahoma. New England’s late drive to defeat Jacksonville. The Eagles defense holding off the Falcons on their final drive.   

These are just a few of the recent games that illustrate this idea – “It could have gone either way.”

In each of those games, there were great plays that led to those victories. A great catch here. An acrobatic defensive play there. Without those, the results probably would have been completely different.  

“It could have gone either way.” It is one of the things I love about sports.  

In that reality, we tend to focus on those great plays. Understandably. Those plays draw our attention and admiration for all that it takes to make them a possibility – like hard work, discipline, and teamwork.  

However, I want to shift the focus of our attention. Rather than just those great plays, I want you to consider for a moment the number of little things that led to the necessity of such great plays.  

For instance, If the Saints make their third down conversion in the previous series and score a touchdown, how would that have impacted the Vikings on the final play calling and the Saints on their defense? Would there still have been a “Minnesota Miracle”? If Alabama true freshman Tua Tagovailoa doesn’t take the 16 yard sack on the previous play, would the same play that resulted in the 41-yard score been called? Would Alabama have still won their fifth National Championship under Nick Saban? If certain penalties in a number of these games hadn’t been missed, would the dramatic events have even been a possibility?

What I am hoping to point out is that it is not just the great plays that make a difference. It is also a lot of little things, some seemingly insignificant at the time, that push the games toward such a conclusion.  

I bring this up because, in several of these games, players who made those great plays brought God into the equation.  

Here is Vikings receiver Tyler Diggs on the ‘Minnesota Miracle,’ “I give everything to God,” Stefon Diggs told Fox Sports. He thanked his coaches and teammates for giving him the opportunity, then pointed to God, “God did the rest, He put me here. And I’m just thankful.” Afterwards, Case Keenum, the quarterback who threw the pass, said, “God is so good.”

Here is Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on the overtime victory:

In this interview, Tua says, “You know, with God all things are possible! That’s what happened tonight.”

If you watched the Georgia/Oklahoma game, Georgia quarterback, Jake Fromm, said basically the same thing in his interview after the game. So did Eagles quarterback, Nick Foles, after their win over the Falcons.

Now consider these two ideas together: 

The game could have gone either way based on not just big plays but on many “little things,” God being credited for the victory – either implied or specifically stated.

When you listen to these players and consider the teeter-totter way that these games could have gone, how do you factor God’s involvement in the game? Do you see God orchestrating the events for the winners as some of these players imply or do you chalk it up to pure coincidence, just a random series of events?

I bring this up not so much to settle the question of “Does God care who wins?” but to ask you to consider the question more deeply. (The answer is more important than you think.)

As I have considered the question and asked others to do the same, I have found troubling implications to the “No” answer and to the “Yes” answer, ones that either trivialize sports or God.  

I also bring this up because I have found this to be a very personal issue, not just something theoretical to be argued about in bars or on sports talk shows. To illustrate this point, ask the question, “Does God care who wins?” at your next lunch or breakfast. If your experience is like mine, the conversation will quickly get very lively.  

If you are tracking with me and wrestle with this question, maybe even unsure of your answer to the question, “Does God care who wins?” or want to examine more carefully the troubling implications of either of the “No” or “Yes” answer, I would point you to a book I wrote last summer titled Does God Care Who Wins?

Here are a couple of reactions from readers:

“I received the book yesterday and read it cover to cover last night! Thank you so much, I loved it…Appreciated the blend of story-telling, scripture, deep theological truth, specific quotes and stories from athletes and practical implications. Really well done and a really helpful resource that I can see lots of uses for.”  

Collegiate Soccer Coach

“I finished “Does God Care Who Wins?” on the plane Sunday… could not put it down…..Seriously, you did an amazing job addressing a question asked by millions but not answered my many, and if so, not with the thought and care you did….Going to be passing this book along to family and friends for the rest of my life… so glad God had you write this.”

Businessman and Serious Golfer

“I have been an athlete and a NAIA collegiate volleyball coach who regularly and intentionally led a counter-cultural, positive, collegiate Christian sports team for 13 years. I have naively answered that question “Does God Care Who Wins?” with this answer: ‘God doesn’t care who wins. He cares about the athletes, coaches, referees and spectators at the game. He cares how we experience the game and the relationships we continue to build with those we play with, but he doesn’t impact the outcome of a game.’ 
I held that general view (with minor alterations over the years) until I read Bob’s book.  I must acknowledge that the insights Bob shared about our God, and how He cares about us, and he therefore cares about what we care about, dramatically changed my own answer to the question raised in his book title.  What a paradigm shift!”

College Professor – Health & Exercise Science

I ask you again to consider the questions, “If the game could have gone either way, what role does God play in the outcome?  Does he actually care who wins?” 

For more – Does God Care Who Wins? Is available on Amazon –


This is a question we often ask sports ministers in our coaching sessions with them. We usually frame it something like this – “If we are talking three years from now and we were to ask you, ‘How is it going?’ If you would then reply something like ‘God has done amazing things in our ministry in the last three years?’ We would then ask, “What has happened?’


At this point, we listen and furiously record the answers.   We have learned that, when we ask the question, what most often comes out are the things God has placed on these sports ministers’ hearts. In most cases, these ideas have lain dormant waiting for the opportunity to arise. When that is true, it doesn’t take much to dislodge them into the spoken word.


It is a beautiful experience to be a part of.


Recently, I had such a conversation with a sports minister at a church in the Midwest of the United States. Here is what I heard:


“God has taught us how to love one another – a rich deep real love for each other so that this place is a place where broken, disenfranchised, and tired people come and feel like they belong, where they are loved and cared for. Because of that, God has brought a steady stream of these broken people to our volleyball, futsal and basketball initiatives where they have felt embraced and experienced real life change. Because of this work of God, our gym has gained a reputation as a gym unlike any other in the care and concern we have for the people who come.”


“Also, God has made this a place where coaches, parents, and athletes have rejected a compartmentalized view of life and understood how their faith and sports/fitness integrate so that now they now live their whole life under the banner of the glory of God. These people are not only experiencing this themselves but they are also sharing this with others, imparting this perspective to others – disciples making disciples in our leagues and classes.”


“Lastly, this movement hasn’t stayed here but has spilled out into our community as we have seen God raise up coaches and players that have gone into schools and community recreation and lived out that love and integration, influencing the entire sports community here.”


It took us a little bit of time to get to this, but, as I read these three paragraphs back to him, it moved both of us as we actually started to envision this and think God might possibly do something like what was described there.


Have you ever thought of this question? Whether you are in ministry vocationally or not, if you haven’t, give it some mental energy. In fact, sit with someone you trust and ask them to listen to your answers and give feedback.


Who knows? This exercise just might be God’s way of prying loose what he has placed in your heart for you to pursue!


Today is one of those days.


I don’t know about you but for me there are some days when the brokenness of the world, the loss of goodness all around me, eclipses the redemption God is authoring through His Son. When that happens, I wrestle with discouragement and feel overwhelmed with the prospects of dealing with that loss.


On the eve of Thanksgiving in this country, on the day when I am reminded to be thankful, I awake struggling.  


As I wrestle through this, I remember the Apostle Paul and his experience with this wrestling. In his letter to the Corinthians, that we call 2 Corinthians, there are two themes Paul tries to drive home – Comfort in Struggle, Strength in Weakness. With the first theme, several times in this letter, he honestly and vulnerably tells the reader of those struggles.


One of those places is in chapter 6 where he says – As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger…through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (verses 3-10)


In the middle of these verses, Paul says he is “sorrowful but always rejoicing.” When I first ran across this passage, I was intrigued by the combination of these two ideas. Paul had sorrow but not only sorrow. He rejoiced. But he didn’t just rejoice. He rejoices in the midst of his sorrow.


Sorrow and joy. A strange combination but one Paul says co-existed in his life. This reminder encouraged me this morning.


It helped me move beyond the experience of the brokenness and my discouragement. It reminded me that my experience of brokenness is not all that defines my life. Alongside that brokenness I do see the redemption Jesus Christ is bringing.


As I thought about this, I was reminded of


  • The redemption I see taking place through the movement of God in and through local churches using sports, rec, and fitness.
  • The local church leaders who see sports, rec, and fitness not as irrelevant or as an end but as a key means to glorify God.
  • The local churches who strive to glorify God by using sports, rec, and fitness as a bridge to connect and a laboratory to transform – both people and the realm of sports, rec, and fitness.
  • The local churches who even this year for the first time have picked up the tool of sports, rec, or fitness toward these ends.
  • The sports, rec, and fitness ministers who embrace gospel centricity as critical for keeping their efforts focused on this movement and ministry and avoiding the tendency toward just doing activity and running programs.
  • Those involved in the REACHgathering and especially the Foundational Partners who have this movement on their hearts.
  • The International Sports Coalition (ISC) and all who are a part of it for all their efforts to fuel this movement around the world
  • Those I have the privilege of knowing and, in some cases, journeying with who stir me with their creativity, their courage, and their determination, who in many cases have made great sacrifices to be a part of this movement but think it nothing and “count everything as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus”


Jesus is making all things new. This list reminds me of that reality and enables me to be like Paul and be “sorrowful but always rejoicing.”


How about you? What about the movement causes you to rejoice amidst the sorrows of your life or the world around you?


“Of course, we pray for victory.”


This response came in answer to a series of questions from Christianity Today to the Houston Astros Spanish-speaking Chaplain, Juan Jesus Alaniz. The article ran during the 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers that the Astros eventually won in the 7th game.


After that particular comment, the interviewer asked Juan directly, “So you pray that they’ll win?” He responded, “Oh yeah. We’re more than conquerors in Christ Jesus.”


“Should we pray to win?” Just as with Juan, this is a common question asked of Sports Chaplains, athletes and coaches who declare themselves Christians, or anyone who is in Sports Ministry in general. I want to take a stab at this question and, in doing so, reflect on what can happen if we don’t pray and what can happen if we do.


What if we don’t pray for wins?

Any athlete or coach is competing because he or she wants to win. That person may or may not want to win at all costs, but the heart desire of competitors is to be honored for their skill. This reality is shown by our longing for trophies like the one that went to the Astros.


With this in mind, if we don’t pray for the win, I would question how well we are acknowledging the desires of our heart. I would wonder just how honest we are being with ourselves or with God about what we really want.


If we do acknowledge this desire to win but don’t pray, we may be closing the door on the possibility through this prayer for God’s transforming power to change our hearts. This is significant. The Story of Redemption tells us we were made for glory and honor but lost that glory when we turned from God. Since that day, our hearts have been searching for glory, apart from God, seen so clearly in the realm of sports and our thirst for championships. Even when a person turns to God in response to his offer to redeem and restore them to glory in Christ, we still struggle with establishing this glory on our own.


Our prayer for winning may be an expression of that struggle. We may find through our prayer just how badly we want to win. Our prayer may actually expose the self-centered nature of our desire to win and of our request. This realization could open us to our need for turning away from that self-centeredness to God and the pursuit of his will rather than our own.


If we don’t pray, we may miss the opportunity for this needed transformation.


This exposing nature of prayer is one of the reasons the Scriptures has verses like the following:


“Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication,

let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

Notice, the writer speaks about WHAT to pray. “In everything” includes the game that is about to be played.


He also speaks about HOW to pray. “By prayer and supplication” implies a worshipful asking. Worshipful would include coming to God believing he hears our prayers and cares about our prayers. Asking would, in that faith, offer what is on our hearts to him, including our desire to win.


If you don’t pray, let me ask you, “Why don’t you pray to win?”


I have asked others this question and their answers typically boil down to two:

  • “God doesn’t care who wins anyway so why pray.”
  • “It is too risky to open up that desire. God may deny, even squash it.”


If you resonate with the first answer, I would ask to think about how you know he doesn’t care and point you to a larger treatise of this subject in Chapter 2 of the book Does God Care Who Wins?


If you resonate with the second answer, I would ask you to consider your view of God in light of the above verse and the one immediately following it:


“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,

will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7


When the writer mentions the “peace of God” and guarding your “hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” he wants us to see the heart of God for prayer. Prayer is designed to bring us face to face with God, with the result being peace and deepened connection, not fear and distance. Not praying about winning removes us from that audience and the transformational nature of it.


What if we do pray for wins?

If we pray for the win and win, we ought to be free to embrace the win but careful not to let it establish something about our identity. God doesn’t answer the winners’ prayers because they are more deserving of the affirmative answer than the other team’s prayer. God answers these prayers because the wins and the losses are a part of his will, his kingdom coming to “earth as it is heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)


With this in mind, winners are free to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over all of creation, including the game, and accept His will with grace and humility embracing and enjoying the glory that comes from winning. At the same time, they should also acknowledge the win as undeserved and just a taste, an echo, of the real glory promised us in Christ, received at the consummation of all things. (Colossians 1:27 – Christ in you the hope of glory.)


This perspective is important because of the temptation for the winners to let the win establish something about their identity or the quality of their prayers. If we are honest, we can admit an awareness of that temptation and even our succumbing to it by thinking we prayed better or are better when we win. This reality lies deep in our hearts even though it is wrong and is a great distortion of the gospel of Jesus Christ (For a further exposition of this idea, see Chapter 3 of the book Does God Care Who Wins?)


The opposite side of this reality is just as prevalent. If we pray and lose, we can easily think God didn’t answer our prayer because there is something wrong with our prayer. Or worse, there is something wrong with us! Both of these ideas of deserved defeat are just as much a distortion of the gospel and God’s ways for his children as the distortion of deserved victory.  


If we pray and lose, we are instead called to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over all creation, including our game, and trust that God had a higher, better purpose in answering our prayer the way he did. We can accept God’s will with grace and humility, allowing the disappointment to be real and owned. We can acknowledge and allow that disappointment to move us toward longing for the undeserved glory that will one day be ours in Christ at the consummation.


Should we pray to win? Absolutely.


How we pray to win matters. We should pray with an open, humble heart, willing to submit to God’s work of transformation of our hearts and our prayers and God’s good, acceptable and perfect will for us whether we win or lose.  


I might say this to someone I think has too high an opinion of themselves or their abilities. “Get a grip” would be my reminder that they aren’t or can’t.  My exhortation would be a call to come back to reality.

Someone else might use it for someone who seems to be lost in fear or anxiety.  “Get a grip” would be an attempt to calm them down from their unrealistic emotions, to awaken them to look more carefully and truthfully at the situation.

“Get a grip!”  I would also use this phrase to paraphrase what I think the Apostle Paul says to his friends in Corinth as he closes out his first letter to them, what we call 1Corinthians.

“Brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you,

which you received and on which you have taken your stand.

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you.

Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

1Corinthians 15:1,2 NIV

Paul is writing to his fellow Christians in Corinth reminding them of the saving power of the gospel.  Here, Paul emphasizes the power of the gospel to save them not only from the penalty of sin past but also of the power of sin present.  He does so by using the present tense for the verb “saved” when he says “by this gospel you are saved.”  In the ESV, this phrase is translated “you are being saved.”

However, Paul wants these same Corinthians to understand this power for saving them from the power of sin is not automatically experienced. “By this gospel you are saved, if…”  This power is conditioned upon something from the Corinthians.  They must “hold fast” to the gospel to experience the power of the gospel to overcome the power of sin presently.

In other words, they have to keep a grip on the gospel.  The picture Paul is trying to draw here is that of having a grip on something and having someone trying to yank it out of that grasp.  The picture is of a tug of war.  In this case, what is being pulled back and forth is the gospel.

This is not some theoretical or inconsequential game.  What is at stake in this tugging is our ability to live in victory over the power of sin.  That victory depends on our keeping our grip on the gospel.

Paul understood this and exhorts his readers to “Get a grip!”  Be careful to not misunderstand what I am saying by using this exhortation.  I am not calling for greater human effort in our battle with sin.  Rather, this is a call to keep our grip on the gospel and the power of God found there, for “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (again present tense) Romans 1:16.

Paul understood the need for the power of God through the gospel.  He also understood something about getting this grip.  He knew it involved regular reminders about the gospel.  This is why he says to the Corinthians, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you.”

They tended to forget.  So do we.  Just like them, we need to remember the gospel.  In light of this reality, author Jerry Bridges says it this way – “Preach the gospel to yourself everyday.”  (For more ideas of how you might “get a grip,” listen to this audio from a Church at Charlotte Adult Fellowship Class I recently taught.)

Where are you struggling these days in your battle with sin?  The key to your battle, to my and all believers’ battle, is the gospel and the power of God found there.  Experiencing that power involves holding on to the great truths of this gospel.

This is why there is such an ongoing tug of war going on for the gospel in all our lives.  Having heard Paul’s words, can you recognize that battle in your heart for your grip of the gospel?  In the light of that reality, resist that tug.  Pull back.  Fight against the forces that would steal the gospel from you and “GET A GRIP!!”




I believe that propositional statement to be true.  You may believe it or not.  If you do, you can without that belief really connecting with you.

However, if I said “I had a motorcycle wreck on June 22, 2013. I was riding with two of my friends about 20 minutes from my house when I rounded a curve. It was an unfamiliar road and I didn’t quite make the curve, ending up on the shoulder. I thought I would just ride it out and just ease back on to the road. However, something caught my front wheel, flipped the bike, and sent me about 30 feet into the air, with me doing a somersault in the process. I landed on my left side in between the road and a metal fence.  In the process of flying off my bike, I broke my left ankle and right thumb. On the fall, I banged my left elbow, taking eleven stitches to heal up. I went back to the accident scene two weeks later and saw the fence and the road – each about 3-5 feet from where I ended up in this sort of ditch. As I looked at that grass “cradle” where I landed, I started to weep. I got a real glimpse of how close I came to hitting either the fence of the road – neither of which would have been good. I wept over what could have been and out of gratitude for God’s protection.”

Then you would understand why my belief connects with that truth that motorcycles are dangerous. My story connects me to it. If you cared about me, that story would connect you with it as well.

The power of story to connect is important to remember as we think about the Gospel.

As I have asked people over the years, “What is the Gospel?” I usually get a propositional statement or two like:

–       Jesus died for my sins.

–       Jesus died for my sins so I could go to heaven.

–       Jesus died for my sins so I could be in relationship with him now and then be with him forever.

All these statements are propositions. I believe they are true. But, when it comes to describing the Gospel, they are incomplete. They don’t tell the story.

In not telling the story, these statements don’t connect with us in a way that The Story of the Gospel can.

So let me ask you a couple of questions about the Gospel:

–       What do you tell people when you tell them the Gospel?

–       What do you train others to tell people when you train them to “share the Gospel”?

–       Does what you tell them describe the great Story of the Gospel that God has been telling since CREATION, through the FALL, and REDEMPTION, and ultimately ends up in the CONSUMMATION?

You may be telling people the truth, equipping others to tell them the truth, but you may not be telling them or equipping them to tell others the whole Gospel. The result – you may be telling them the truth, but you may not really be connecting with their hearts as you remove those truths from the STORY of the GOSPEL.

If you would like some resources to help you both understand and share the Story of the Gospel with others, check out the following:

–       The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler

–       The Story (Tract)

–       The Gospel Project

Remember – “If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away when needed.  Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.” Barry Lopez

How different would our evangelism be if we thought this way? God has given us the Story of the Gospel. We need to care for it and learn to give it away when needed because there are those in our spheres of contact who need the Story of the Gospel more than food to stay alive.


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