As I have previously shared with you, Boulder is a pretty secular place, and certainly not an area that you would think would be ripe for spiritual revival. And yet God has already been at work here before, using an equally unlikely leader—a championship winning football coach. As a self-professed college football fanatic since oh about 1988, I remember watching the Colorado Buffaloes defeat Notre Dame 10-9 in the exciting 1991 Orange Bowl to secure a share of the national championship. The game hinged on a controversial clipping call which nullified a potential game-winning punt return by Notre Dame’s Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. I was overjoyed at the Buffs’ victory, because even at that early age I had already conceived of an irrationally strong dislike of the Fighting Irish (which continues to this day haha). Absorbed as I was in this gridiron drama, I gave little thought to Colorado’s coach, Bill McCartney. Who could have guessed that just a few years after his greatest triumph, in 1994, McCartney would walk away from what was essentially a lifetime contract at CU to devote his full attention to ministry? That’s right—this hard-nosed football coach, the winningest in school history, had found his true calling—and it wasn’t on the football field. Back in the spring of 1990, McCartney had received inspiration while at an FCA banquet. He dreamed of a day when CU’s Folsom Field would be filled to capacity, not for a football game, but with 50,000 men who wanted to learn about how to be more godly leaders in their homes, churches, and communities. In July of 1990, McCartney led 72 men to organize the first Promise Keepers rally, as the group came to be known. The ministry gained momentum, and by 1993 McCartney’s dream of filling Folsom Field for Biblical teaching was realized. But the spirit was at work, and the movement didn’t stop there even. On October 4, 1997, in reflection of the truly national scope of the ministry over 1 million men gathered in Washington DC for the Promise Keepers’ “Stand in the Gap” rally. CSPAN provided live television coverage of what was estimated to be the largest gathering of men in American history.
And who was the man who had started all this? Bill McCartney was indeed a successful football coach, but in pursuing gridiron achievements, he had humbly come to recognize that he had sacrificed in other areas of his life, most importantly with his own family. Part of his decision to retire from coaching in 1994 was in an effort to ensure that he spent more time with his loved ones. It is easy to criticize public figures who seemingly allow the demands of their position and the notoriety they receive to push their priorities out of order. Bill McCartney has had some very public foibles. He struggled with a drinking problem in the 1970s before he accepted Christ and changed his lifestyle. His own daughter became romantically involved with two different CU football players. His marriage went through some rocky patches. But Bill McCartney had the courage to face his demons and his critics, and use his struggles to try and help others find redemption through Christ. That’s what the Gospel is really all about. Movements like the upcoming Celebrate Recovery ministry at FBC Montgomery highlight the same truth as the growth of Promise Keepers under McCartney. God can use broken people (which is all of us) to accomplish His purposes. Thus are we reminded of Jesus’ words to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9—“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Even in a secular, liberal, town like Boulder, Colorado, God can take a flawed football coach, and start an unlikely revival that ends up having a national impact, and helping men of all classes, races, and backgrounds across America to become more accountable in their relationship with the Lord. So the next time you think of Boulder, don’t think about what everyone says can’t happen there—think about the unique, unexpected, and significant work God has already done here—a sure sign that there will be more to come!