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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Matt Birk: Faith Centered

By Ian Richardson
Jan. 26, 2014

Matt Birk has always been more of a doer than a talker.

Whether he was blocking a pass rush, volunteering in his community, or leading his family, the 37-year-old former Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman who retired last February recognizes the importance of living out his Christian faith.

But Matt Birk was not always so intentional with his commitment to Christ.

In fact, the National Football League brought him back to that relationship.

Birk grew up familiar with the gospel, but says he drew away as he became older.

“I just wasn’t very engaged about growing in my faith,” he says. “I drifted away from the church, from daily prayer, from meditation, and I regret that.”

Birk never considered professional football until his senior year studying economics at Harvard University. He had been invited to play in the Blue-Gray All-Star Classic and to participate in the NFL combine. After some contemplation, Birk decided he would give the NFL a shot.

“I thought, Odds are I’m not going to make it, so if nothing else it’ll be a unique experience,” Birk says.

But he did make it. The 6-foot-4 St. Paul, Minn., native was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round of the 1998 NFL Draft, pick 173 overall. Birk would spend the next 11 years playing center for the Vikings, making the Pro Bowl six times.

In 2009, he would begin his four-year tenure with Baltimore, which reached a climax last February when the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

“I never tried to predict how long it would go,” Birk says of his career. “I just focused on working hard and thought it would end every day. Being focused on now and today worked for me in football, and it serves me well in life.”

Despite his success, Birk realized football alone was not what he needed. After a few years with the Vikings, Birk became hungry to grow his faith. He began taking advantage of the Bible studies and chaplaincy services offered by the organization.

Birk also found encouragement through friendships with two Christian offensive linemen: Cory Withrow, who played with the Vikings from 1999 to 2005; and Jason Whittle, who was on the 2006 Vikings team.

“They were very strong Christian men and very intentional in their walk,” Birk says. “I decided I wanted to be like those guys.”

In 2002, Birk began the H.I.K.E. Foundation. H.I.K.E. — which stands for Hope, Inspiration, Knowledge and Education — works to provide children with resources and opportunities to help them achieve success in their academics and in life through positive interaction with role models.

For his volunteer work, Birk was named the Vikings Man of the Year six times from 2003 to 2008 and the Ravens Man of the Year in 2009 and 2011. In 2011, Birk was also named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.

Birk’s faith made national headlines last June when he refused to visit the White House to be recognized as a member of the 2013 Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens because of his disagreement with President Barack Obama’s support of Planned Parenthood, an organization that funds abortions.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision for me to do those things because I’d already decided before those instances what I was about,” Birk says. “Anyone can talk, but to do is harder. But that’s what God requires of us.”

Birk says he received thousands of messages after that event from people who appreciated his taking a stand.

“It was good affirmation that there are a lot of people out there who are thinking the same way and are willing to fight for what’s right,” Birk says. “Hopefully, my doing that inspired them to get more involved.”

His most important mission is the one Birk shares with his wife, Adrianna, whom he married in 2002. Together they are raising their six children, all under 12 years old.

“As a parent, it’s your job to be a shepherd to your children’s hearts,” Birk says. “That’s more important than winning the Super Bowl or anything else.”

As he contemplates next week’s big game — one year removed from playing in it himself — Birk says faith comes into play more than most might think.

“There’s a lot of praying going on in those locker rooms before the game,” Birk says. “Their faith is their anchor, and it is a very calming influence on Super Bowl Sunday for those players.”

Though Birk says most people don’t think of Christianity when they watch the NFL, he knows very well that it has a strong presence there.

His life is just one example of the difference it can make.


IAN RICHARDSON is a journalism student at Evangel University (Springfield, Mo.) and served as an intern for the Pentecostal Evangel in 2013.

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