Yes, that’s right, I have now named my Monday posts, too. So I have Throwback Thursday posts on Thursdays and Modern Monday posts on Monday. Phew! It only took me half a season. So welcome to this week’s Modern Monday post.
Today’s post will look at the faith and story of Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Tackle Andrew Whitworth. Whitworth is in his 11th season of life in the NFL trenches after the Bengals made him a second round pick in the 2006 entry draft. The 6’7” giant has played his entire career with the Bengals, starting all but 4 of the games he has appeared in in his career. He has twice been an All-Pro and has been selected to 2 Pro Bowls as well. And he has even caught the only pass thrown to him in his career – for a touchdown no less – in a 2010 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Check out the highlight of the catch here.
And while his impact on the field has been significant, his impact off the field has been even more notable. Shortly after starting his NFL career, he also started the BigWhit77 foundation which strives “to help assist and provide mentorship for high school seniors that are seeking financial assistance in getting a higher education and how to be leaders in their classrooms and communities.” Through the foundation, Whitworth also offers “financial grants to families going through the adoption process”. There is also a program to provide after school care for at-risk youth and a Christmas program to help families in need. In this article from BayouLife.com “Whitworth said the foundation is his way of staying connected and having a positive impact on the community that gave him the foundations he’s needed to succeed both on and off the field.”
Off the field, he has also been a team representative on the player’s association that has helped guide decisions with regards to player safety. But looking out for others was not always the way that Whitworth played. As you can read in his faith story from beyondtheultimate, Whitworth spent his college and early NFL career playing for himself and seeing the poor choices he was making ruin his personal life. And having attended church most of his life, he knew that he was making bad choices and the guilt he felt only made things worse. He says “I carried with me the guilt of how I had failed my family and God. Ironically I blamed God and pulled away from Him. After my second season in the NFL I decided to move home. I went back to church and felt God working in my heart. I fell to my knees and told God I was tired of running. I was ready to live the way He called me to.”
Shortly after making that decision, Whitworth met Melissa. They would marry about a year later. The couple now have 4 children and are active members of the Bengals team Bible Study. You can read more from her about their marriage and life on and off the field in this interview from Pro Player Insiders. She shares that even in the challenges that life brings, God is guiding them and inviting them to surrender control. She says “I feel like God is trying to tell us again to trust in Him. It’s a daily struggle to try and not take control of a situation and do it the way I want it done. Instead, we are trying to “be still” and allow God to work through us in this process.”
Here are my takeaways from Whitworth’s story:
1- What does “no condemnation” mean? – I love the concept of God’s grace that is extended to a sinner like me. However, I don’t really understand it. I mean I read stories like the woman caught in adultery (John 8.1-11), or the parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15.11-31). Or even the promise in Romans 8.1 where we read that there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who belong to Jesus. (emphasis mine) But I know that I really resonate with Whitworth and what he said. I feel guilt for my sinfulness and in defensiveness, blame others or blame God for my guilt. But if I really read these stories, what I see is no condemnation, no judgement of sinfulness but only unconditional love. There is a call to change behavior but there is no shame or even harshness in the words that are said. Only Love! Can that please be my understanding of God and His love for me! Can it also be the love that I convey to others in His name. It comes from a realization that I am the one caught in my sin with no where to hide, I am the one that has wasted so much and lived so selfishly and God takes me back, welcomes me home, lifts me up out of the dirt and says “I do not condemn you – Go and sin no more”. That is the God that we serve. Let it also be the God that present to the others around us.
2- Widows and Orphans – Someone told me that the Bible talks specifically about caring for widows and/or orphans at least 20 different times. I have not researched the number, but I know that it is in there a lot. So why is it there? Why is this important to God? Well, I won’t pretend to know all his reasons, but I can take a guess at a couple. Because there isn’t anyone to fight for them. I think of the story of Naomi, a widow without heir and the trouble that she would have known in her life if it were not for Boaz’ kindness to her and Ruth, redeeming them and taking responsibility to care for them. I also had the experience of ministering in orphanages in Ukraine and in Bahamas when my wife and I were working as missionaries. Now those are 2 drastically different cultures that are time zones and thousands of miles apart. But what we saw in both places were children who absolutely beamed at the thought that someone was there to spend time with them. A little bit of effort can make heaping mounds of difference in how someone’s day or week is going by giving them some attention and time. The saddest part of the experience was when it was time to leave. We were there a lot, but there is no substitute for a parent/child relationship. I commend Andrew Whitworth’s foundation for seeing the value of having orphans find permanent homes and care. He is fighting for the underdogs. Let’s do the same. Let’s be aware of those around us. There is hurt everywhere and we are called to love the lonely and help those in need.