Three Powerful Lessons From “American Underdog” (Kurt Warner)

[Warning: Spoilers Ahead]

American Underdog is based on the inspiring true story of Kurt Warner (Zachary Levi) — a small-town Iowan dreamer who went from jobless, past-ripened NFL prospect to Super Bowl MVP and Hall of Fame quarterback. This movie also recounts the unlikely love story of Kurt and Brenda Warner (Anna Paquin), and Kurt’s personal journey in humility, faithfulness, and rest in Christ.

While not marketed explicitly as a faith-based film, the movie contains several references to Kurt and Brenda’s Christian faith, and it boasts a number of valuable life lessons about God’s purposes in our hardships. Below are three of them.

1. God often displays his power more through our supermarket moments than our Super Bowl moments (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9).

One of the most powerful parts of Warner’s story — perhaps even more powerful than his Super Bowl victory itself — is when he hits “rock bottom” — when his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL comes to a crashing halt, and he takes a job bagging groceries at a supermarket. The significance of this moment transcends Warner’s financial challenges; it symbolizes the end of an era — the end of a lifelong dream. By most accounts, Warner’s biggest aspirations were dashed, and everything Warner had worked for up to this point seemed to be for naught.

In an interview with People Magazine, Warner confesses both the difficulty and the unoriginality of this moment:

Most people have their “supermarket moment,” where they find themselves in a place they don’t want to be. They don’t know how they got there [and] they gotta do what they gotta do while they’re waiting for the next step.

For Warner, faithfulness in this moment meant setting aside his football dreams and working the graveyard shift to put food on the table. So — humbling as it was — that’s what he did.

While Warner enjoyed many glamorous moments in the years ahead, it’s this moment that many people remember and cite — it’s this moment that makes his story unique. Warner’s faithfulness in the midst of seemingly shattered dreams makes his successes shine all the more brightly.

Oftentimes it’s how we respond after being cut from the team — not how we respond after winning the Super Bowl — that people remember. It’s in moments of suffering that we have an opportunity to put the hope of the gospel on display in a uniquely powerful way (see Psalm 119:74-75).

2. God often transforms our greatest challenges into our greatest missional tools.

Arguably the biggest hero of American Underdog is Zach — Brenda’s blind son who repeatedly defies all odds (and continues to defy all odds to this day). Zach suffered a traumatic head injury as a baby, and his diagnosis was grim. If he survived, it was likely he would never be able to walk or talk again. Yet — miraculously — Zach not only survived, but he went on to live a walking, talking, and contagiously happy life (although he was never able to regain his vision).

Brenda powerfully recounts the first moment Zach and Kurt “saw” each other: “In a weird way — [Zach] being blind — it was love at first sight.”

As any parent of a child with disabilities knows, parenthood is one of both incomparable challenges and incomparable joy. Yet the unrivaled challenges that Zach and his family have faced have borne unimaginable fruit. In addition to the millions of people who have been impacted by Zach’s story through American Underdog (and through Kurt and Brenda Warner’s book), Zach’s victorious life also inspired Kurt and Brenda to open up Treasure House in 2018 — a supportive living community that has helped dozens of young adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities. You can learn more about Treasure House here.

The Warner family offered one of their greatest challenges to God with open hands, and God used it to bring life-changing blessings to countless others. Is it possible that God wants to use your biggest challenge in life to serve others, too?

3. God intends for us to live from a place of being loved, not to earn his love.

In a memorable dialogue and watershed moment, Brenda’s father asks Kurt, “Do you love her (Brenda)?”

Kurt replies, “Yes sir. I do.”

“I knew you did. Do you mind me asking you what’s holding you up [from marrying her]?”

After a moment of reflection, Kurt says, “I guess I just felt like I needed to prove myself first. Show her I was capable of doing what I set out to do. Be worthy of her.”

In one sense, Kurt’s words epitomize the way many people feel about God’s love. We live as if the gospel is that God accepts us once we prove ourselves worthy of him. Of course, this is the exact opposite of the gospel. Brenda’s father provides a helpful corrective in response:

“Hell, Kurt. Accomplishing one thing or the other is not what’s going to make you worthy of her. Life is not about what you achieve; it’s about what you can become.”

God intends to refine you into the masterpiece that he created you to be (cf. Ephesians 2:10) — but he is not waiting until you’re perfect to start loving you. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Don’t miss the promise here: God loves you noweven while you are still a sinner. While other lovers say, “Earn my love by proving your worth,” Christ says, “I have proven my love by earning your worth.”

Applying These Lessons

Let’s strive for faithfulness in our supermarket moments. Let’s keep our eyes open for ways that God might want to transform our challenges into missional tools. And let’s rest from our tireless efforts to earn God’s love — living instead from a place of being eternally loved and accepted through Christ’s finished work on the cross.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and republished by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn), Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings), ChurchLeaders.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Read “Why Free Guy (Ryan Reynolds) Tugs at Our Heart Strings” here.

Read “Three Powerful Quotes from The Most Reluctant Convert (C.S. Lewis)” here.

Have a question or comment? I’d love to hear from you — drop a reply in the box below!

Why “Free Guy” Tugs at Our Heart Strings (Warning: Spoilers)

Free Guy with Ryan Reynolds was released on August 13th, 2021, and is now available on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Apple TV, YouTube, and many other platforms.

[Warning: Spoilers Ahead]

The Plot

“Free Guy” is a story of an NPC (“Non-Player Character”) in a video game called Free City. There are three main characters in the movie: Guy (the NPC), plus Keys and Millie (the coders who built the video game, who are also in love with each other).

Guy becomes the first NPC in history to be freed from his never-ending loop of programmed phrases and routines, and to become a real “living” AI. This happens because Keys programmed Guy to feel an unshakable emptiness in his heart until he enters into a relationship with a girl who has the exact attributes of Millie. Of course, Millie is living in the “real world”—while Guy is living in the video game—but Millie enters into the game as Motolov Girl, and she “lives” and “speaks” through this character. Through Motolov Girl, all of Millie’s attributes are put on full display—enabling Guy to see Millie through Motolov Girl, and to be enlivened through her.

Once Guy encounters Motolov Girl, everything changes. He is freed from his enslaving daily routines, he becomes a better person, and he experiences true “life” in ways he never imagined possible. He also begins pointing other NPCs to the life that can be found by looking at the world through the glasses of Motolov Girl. At the end of the movie, Free City is transformed into a new city and a new earth—one where peace, love, and freedom reign.

Guy: The (Lifeless) Slave Set Free

Guy was (literally) programmed to desire Millie, and his heart would remain restless until he found rest in her. Until Millie entered into Guy’s life through Motolov Girl, Guy was without hope and without a savior in his world (cf. Ephesians 2:12). He was a slave to his routines, and he had no eyes to see anything different (cf. Matthew 13:16). But when he met Millie’s character, his eyes were opened and he saw the entire world in a new way. “It wasn’t until I met you that I felt alive,” he testified (paraphrased, cf. Colossians 2:13). Through his relationship with Motolov Girl, Guy’s desires were righted, his shackles were broken, and his life was transformed forever.

Motolov Girl: The Christ Figure

Although Guy was programmed to find true life through Millie, he had no way of meeting her unless she “came down” into his world. Until that happened, no other NPC (or real life player using the video game) would have Millie’s exact attributes—so Guy’s longings would never be met, and he would never be set free. But when the fullness of time had come, Millie sent Motolov Girl into Guy’s world (cf. Galatians 4:4) and revealed herself to Guy (cf. Colossians 1:15). Because Motolov Girl is the exact imprint of Millie’s nature (cf. Hebrews 1:3), she possessed everything necessary to set Guy free (cf. John 8:36). Through seeing Motolov Girl, Guy saw Millie (cf. John 14:9)—and by seeing her, he was changed forever (cf. 1 John 3:2).

Keys: The God the Father Figure

Even before he created the world of Free City, Keys loved Millie deeply (cf. John 17:24). He wanted others to enjoy her as much as he enjoyed her—he wanted others to join them in their love—so he wrote Millie into the story as Motolov Girl. His plan was for the characters in his game to be transformed by her beauty (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18), so that Millie would be exalted (cf. Philippians 2:9). This plan succeeded—at the end of the movie, Millie felt noticeably loved and prized when she realized that Keys saved Guy and Free City through her. Millie was a gift to the world of Free City, and the world of Free City was a gift to Millie. All of this was accomplished because Keys loved Millie and the world he had created (cf. John 3:16).

Free City: The Broken World Redeemed

Free City is something of a postmodern Sodom and Gomorrah—ravaged by violence, oppression, and crime. What’s more, all of the NPCs in the city are enslaved and lifeless—trapped inescapably in their programmed phrases and routines, and seemingly unable to imagine life in a different way. Yet, as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that all of the NPCs have a deep desire to be set free and to live in a world of safety and love. By the end of the movie, Motolov Girl ushers in a new kingdom through a transformed people. There all of the freed NPCs live together in unending righteousness and happiness (cf. 2 Peter 3:13).

We are “Free City”

As is true with countless movies, “Free Guy” inspires us because it is based on a true story—on our story. Like Guy, our hearts are restless until they find rest in the Savior we were created to love. We are all naturally enslaved to our passions and dead in our sins, lifeless and unable to save ourselves. But God has written himself into our story by sending his Son, who died to set us free (cf. Revelation 1:5). By trusting Christ and his sacrifice on the Cross, we are given new life, new hope, and new freedom. And one day, our Savior will return to set up his kingdom, where we will dwell with him forever in a world of righteousness, peace, and love.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and republished by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn), Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings), ChurchLeaders.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Check out three powerful quotes from the latest C.S. Lewis movie here.