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FIRST-PERSON: Life is more than a game

DULUTH, Ga. (BP)–For many years football had been my first priority because I thought it could fill the hole in my heart and give me the fulfillment I longed to experience. I had always wanted to be an admired, successful football coach, but my game plan excluded God. I had run my life my way. That way seemed good and right, but it was the path of destruction, emptiness and frustration.

God had been on the sidelines of my life. I had put Him on the bench, but I learned that God won’t stay on the bench and He doesn’t remain on the sidelines forever. He demands to be the “Head Coach” of my life -– and yours.

Although I didn’t really understand what it meant to have a relationship with Christ, I walked down the aisle at First Baptist Church in Friendswood, Texas, to make a profession of faith at the age of 8. A few years later, I was the “All-American” teenager who could excel in athletics and be a fine, young Christian. The first part was true, but the second part was just an act.

Years later, in 1984, God led me to a genuine salvation experience when I went to hear evangelist James Robison preach. He spoke about people being in bondage and needing to be set free. He told us how, in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah said the Son of God would come “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1).

I knew I was a captive. I was in bondage because of self-centered choices, and I was a prisoner of my own desires. James Robison said God could set captives free from whatever was binding them. His message pierced my heart. When the invitation was given, I was finally ready to totally surrender my entire life to Christ. I went forward and knelt down on my knees at the altar and cried out to God for forgiveness.

Immediately, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my heart. I was free from the bondage of sin that had dominated my life for so long. The Holy Spirit used the sermon that night to penetrate the hardness of my heart. God’s love captured me and turned my life completely around.

That night, I found Jesus Christ as the permanent cure for my sin problem. Christ became the Savior of every fiber of my being. Previous worldly conviction had touched only my emotions. Now a godly sorrow led to a genuine repentance and conversion. Christ changed my emotions (feelings), my intellect (beliefs and thought patterns) and my will (desires and choices).

It was like the Apostle Paul’s Damascus Road experience. From the first moment of my salvation, I had a tremendous longing to know the One who died on the cross for me. I wanted to know the One who inspired the Bible and I fell in love with the Author who told me about His infinite grace and mercy toward me.
Rick Gage, once dubbed “the Small Town Billy Graham” by an Associated Press reporter because of his emphasis on holding crusades in small communities, is founder of Go Tell Ministries, on the Web at www.gotellministries.com. His life story is chronicled in a new book, “More Than a Game: How I Found Out That Life Is Much More Than Football.” The book’s foreword is written by Mark Richt, head football coach of the University of Georgia Bulldogs.

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  • Rick Gage