LUTZ, Fla. (BP)–Former Florida State University head coach Bobby Bowden unashamedly professed his faith in Jesus Christ to nearly 10,000 people attending morning services at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla., on Super Bowl Sunday.
Bowden, whose 377 Division I wins rank second all-time, gave the Tampa-area Idlewild congregation the same advice he gave his assistant coaches at FSU upon his retirement after the Gator Bowl in January: Never be afraid to speak out for Christ.
As a young boy, Bowden walked forward during an invitation and joined the church. But it wasn’t until he held his first assistant coaching position at his alma mater, Howard University (now Samford University), that he understood salvation is by God’s grace alone.
Bowden remembered a ministry student at the school explaining to him that heaven is a place for sinners who have been saved. Before then, Bowden mistakenly thought good people went to heaven and bad people went to hell.
With an intense but friendly look, Bowden said he finally understood all those years ago that individuals are saved by grace, through faith and trust in Christ alone. He said he realized what Jesus meant in Matthew 9:12 when He said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”
“Darn right, I’m a sinner! I haven’t shot anybody lately. I haven’t stolen anything lately. But you think things you shouldn’t think and you say things you shouldn’t say,” Bowden said.
Citing Psalm 8:5 and Hebrews 2:7, Bowden said God created everyone with a purpose, and their job on earth is to find that purpose and live it out.
“God says, ‘I made you a little lower than the angels.’ Evolution says, ‘You are a little higher than an ape.’ I’ll take the angel part,” Bowden chuckled.
Bowden believes influencing young men for Christ through coaching has been God’s purpose for his life, and he wants to be remembered most as a man who served that purpose well.
At the age of 13, Bowden suffered from rheumatic fever and was bedridden for nearly a year. Doctors told him his life as an athlete was over.
Bowden asked God to heal him and allow him to grow up to coach other athletes, promising he would share Jesus with others through his coaching opportunities.
Bowden said his career, which spanned six different coaching positions over 57 years, was orchestrated by God. Bowden himself did not plan out his career and he never applied for any of the coaching positions he held.
“I have to think it was God’s will. It was God leading me. All I have tried to do is to make myself available to God,” Bowden said.
Daily Bible study is an important part of Bowden’s life. He and Ann, his wife of 60 years, meet together each morning to study God’s Word.
Bowden enjoys reading the Bible through like a novel, from the front cover to the back, noting that it wouldn’t make much sense to pick up “War and Peace,” flip it open randomly and read a few paragraphs here and there.
Likewise, Bowden said it’s important to read the Bible from start to finish. Currently reading the Bible through for the third time, he said he learns new things each time he reads it.
Bowden recounted a story about Ronald Reagan a preacher friend once told him.
Reagan, then-governor of California and a presidential candidate, invited a group of ministers from all over the country to meet with him in Washington, D.C., in hopes of earning their support.
Bowden’s friend, the late D. James Kennedy, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, had the opportunity to ask Reagan how he would answer if he died that day and God asked him why he deserved to be in heaven.
Reagan reportedly answered that he did not deserve to go to heaven, but that he would be admitted entrance to heaven on the basis of John 3:16 and his own personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Bowden said a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the answer to the question of why anyone will get to heaven.
“That’s the answer to the exam. When we stand before the pearly gates, I done gave you the answer,” Bowden said.
Bowden, 81, said the idea of death does not intimidate him.
“One day I will die. I ain’t scared, by the way. When I die, I will live again,” Bowden said.
Kristen Kitchen is a correspondent for the Florida Baptist Witness (www.GoFBW.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention.