A Church for Football Fans? Could This Work?

There are some things that identify my community every fall. I live in Jacksonville, Florida (well, actually a suburb of Jacksonville.) When I meet people from out of state, I find that they have heard of Jacksonville, but aren't too sure where on the state map it is located. So, just in case you need a geography primer, Jacksonville is located at the "bend." We are located in the northeast corner where the panhandle meets the Atlantic Ocean and turns south.

Jacksonville is the kind of area where people who are transferred here due to work (CSX and US Navy, mostly) decide to stay after retirement. 

It's the "biggest little town" I've ever known with over 1 million residents.

I would say the largest religious preference in our community isn't Baptist, Catholic or another denominational tagline, but would have to be "Football."

Every fall, the weekend schedules for many center around high school, college and professional football.

Like many, I too am a fan and love to cheer on our local teams and sit back and watch the roller coaster of emotions of others in our community when their teams fail to perform to expectation.

Back when I first moved here, this city was as excited as I have ever seen it. The NFL had awarded Jacksonville with a franchise that would dramatically change this "little big town" (not the country band, BTW).

I did exactly what others did at the time. I jumped on the bandwagon of fans at the outset and put aside my other allegiances to become a Jacksonville Jaguars fan. I was at that first Monday Night Football game when the Jags beat the Steelers in the last seconds. Wow!!! What a night. The years of Brunell, Boselli, Thunder & Lightning and playoff runs were unbelievable. While the most recent years have tested the faith of those who love the teal and black, the Jags are still our home team, and I'll remain a fan.

So, as I think back to those first seasons, I remember when many local pastors would preach sermons that intended to guilt their church members regarding their Sunday activities. In other words, beyond the beach and time with the family at the lake, there now was a community-wide gathering just about every Sunday at 1pm in the fall. This gathering was at the now-named EverBank Field as fans gathered to watch the Jaguars play.

Over the years, I have heard less guilt-driven sermons intent on making Christians feel bad for watching football on Sunday. Well, it wasn't really that pastors were upset that their church members were watching football on Sunday. It was more that pastors were frustrated that church members tended to leave early on Sunday to get to the game or stayed all afternoon and in the days of "Evening Worship" would miss the church gatherings.

Let's just say that "guilt-driven" sermons based on football viewing did little to sway the attendance patterns of fans. Now, the play on the field did much to affect attendance, but that's a subject for another day.

Churches Aren't Too Good At Creating Crowds

For years, churches in the west have attempted to create crowds for events, services and programs. Sometimes, they (we) have found success, but mostly these are short-lived. Sometimes, the crowd-gathering efforts seem weak and are often viewed as an end and not a means to an end.

The truth of the matter is that most churches do not create crowds well. When the money and effort is finalized and the crowd hasn't arrived (or the intended crowd, at least) the church faces feelings of failure.

Go Where The Crowd Already Is

The missional movement among churches helped leaders view things differently in the community. Over the years, I have shared this concept with our leaders and with other pastors. Rather than try to create a crowd, why don't we go where the crowd is already gathered?

In many cases, whether at community events, concerts, high school games, or festivals, our church has sought creative ways to serve at these events. Serving at these gatherings is much different than "crashing the community party" and gives authentic, practical opportunities for connecting with those outside the church walls.

GameDay Church?

That brings us to our new endeavor as a church. I asked the questions to our Leadership Team, "What if we brought the church to where the crowd is already gathered on Sundays in the fall? What if we 'did church' at the Jaguars game?"

Gameday church 1

The Jaguars play in EverBank Field. Located on the same piece of property, next to our minor league baseball park and basically in the parking area for EverBank is an old church building. This church building - Old St. Andrew's Church - is owned by the City of Jacksonville and maintained by the Jacksonville Historical Society. We have contacted the leadership of this group and initially were told we could rent the facility on Sundays, other than home game dates for the Jaguars. Then, we explained what we desired to do. We wanted to have a church service specifically on those home game dates, for fans who already have tickets, are early arrivers (tailgaters) and who may desire or at least be curious about possibly attending a church service prior to kickoff.

After a few weeks of conversations and negotiations, we are attempting to move forward with GameDay Church. Since the church building is not available on the date we need, we will be unable to meet indoors, but have been given permission to erect a large tent on their lot for this gathering.

So, on Sunday morning at 10am on December 13, GameDay Church will launch on the grounds of Old St. Andrew's Church. We are still in the planning stages, but on this day, the church will gather for worship, teaching from the Word of God and perhaps some time of fellowship (i.e. tailgating) with BBQ and other grilled items and maybe some games prior to the big game!

Gameday church 4

While we acknowledge that the majority of people who will likely attend are already church members/attenders in our community, we are praying that some of them will bring a friend or two to this church gathering in the parking lot of the Jaguars stadium? 

Tweet: Trusting the Gospel to do what it has always done, we are moving forward to go where the crowd is already gathered. http://ctt.ec/0JYLK+ Trusting the Gospel to do what it has always done, we are moving forward with the concept of going where the crowd is already gathered.

Gameday church 5

Is this a Mars Hill moment? There may not be many philosophers gathered as Paul encountered, but there will be a crowd, nonetheless. There will likely be some interesting conversations as well. 

Many in our community do not think about going to church on Sunday mornings. What if the church went to them? Sounds biblical to me.

More to come on GameDay Church. In the meantime, check out the website here - gamedaychurch.org.

MOVIE REVIEW: "Woodlawn" - Will God Do It Again?

Sometimes you need to look back to understand where you are.

The new film Woodlawn, opening October 16 in over 1,500 theaters, appears to be another "based on a true story" football film reminiscent of others like Remember the Titans. However, it does not take long to discover that this story is about more than high school football in the age of bussing.

Woodlawn is a film by the Erwin Brothers (Mom's Night OutOctober Baby) based on the true story of "Touchdown Tony" Nathan, a high school football star in the early 1970s at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama. The film opens with images, some from old newscasts, others made just for the film, that highlight the intensity of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham.  News footage from the late 1960s and early 1970s showing Birmingham churches burning and bombed out, Alabama Governor Wallace's famed speech about never allowing desegregation at the University of Alabama and interviews of those living in a city being called "Bombingham" sets the stage for the depravity and division in our nation from just a few decades ago. Some would say we have come far as a nation. Others, referencing recent acts in Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston would say that perhaps we have not progressed as much as previously thought.

Old news footage then shifts to images of Explo '72, an event sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) in Dallas, Texas that was heralded as the most visible event of the "Jesus Movement."

The stage is set for the story of Tony Nathan.


The version of the film my wife, Tracy and I saw with other leaders in our city is a pre-edited, or more accurately, a mid-edited version. There are scenes where dialogue will be added, and special effects will replace visible green screens and empty stands during football games.

I imagine some other scene trimming will take place to get the film under the two-hour mark.

Nevertheless, this is a very watchable and engaging film. This is a film that is worthy of an incredible opening weekend. The acting is excellent, beginning with Oscar-winner Jon Voight as Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. 

Sean Astin plays a pivotal character in the film. Astin is Hank Erwin, the Woodlaw High School team chaplain, who also happens to be the father of Andrew and Jon Erwin - the "Erwin Brothers" who brought the film to life.

Of course as soon as Astin appears on the screen in a period-piece football movie, I wanted to yell "Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!" but my wife wisely discouraged that.

5300_Woodlawn-Temp_Graphic_lgLesser known actor, but wonderful in this breakout role, is Caleb Castille. He plays Tony Nathan, but didn't get the role until three days prior to shooting. It's clear the Erwins casted the right man. Castille not only carries his scenes with class and skill, even those shared with more seasoned actors like Voight and Astin, but he is a football player - not just an actor pretending to be one.

Castille was a walk-on at the University of Alabama where both of his brothers (Tim and Simeon) and his father (Jeremiah) played football. His father and brothers all played in the NFL as well. After three years of playing and winning two national championships at Alabama, he decided to walk away from football and pursue acting. He was given the go-ahead by his parents as long as he remained in school.

Originally cast as the understudy and body-double for football scenes for the actor originally scheduled to play Nathan, it became clear prior to shooting that Castille was the guy and he received the role. 

Other well-known actors and entertainers appear. C. Thomas Howell steals scenes as the Banks High School coach, Shorty White. Nathan's parents, played by Sherri Shepherd (who offers perhaps the funniest line in the film when she meets Tony's potential new girlfriend) and Lance Nichols are superb.

Also - this is set in the 1970s, so the sideburns on just about all male characters are great. This film may usher in a new retro-facial hair style to replace the ever-popular goatee.

The football scenes in this film are as engaging as any I have seen in movies. 

Sports movies, in my opinion, have often done a poor job of conveying the action on the field or court well. In some cases, the interaction between players, fans and referees is so unreal that any athlete (or former athlete) just cringes when watching the film (remember Teen Wolf?) In more recent years, it seems that directors and writers work to ensure the games on film are more realistic, recognizing that many in their potential audiences will notice flaws.

Woodlawn does a wonderful job at leading the audience to believe actual football games are being played out on screen. Castille and the other actors make this convincing. Of course, there was one moment during the film when my wife leans over and asks "Does anyone other than Nathan ever get the ball for Woodlawn?" I laughed and then, almost like the writers heard us, the next scene showed another Woodlawn Colonel running the ball. 

Making a period-piece sports movie, especially a football one, as an independent filmmaker must be tough. There will be numerous fixes in post-production. Legion Field in Birmingham is old, but the modern Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew advertisements on the scoreboard need to be replaced. This is not a big deal. . .but, I noticed it. Unless these soft drinks have paid for product placement, they will likely be replaced. When actual footage of the Woodlawn and Banks (the rivalry school) game is shown, I was reminded how different football helmets and uniforms looked in the 1970s. The shoulder pads were larger, the face masks and the logos on the helmets were different. This is not a knock on the film. I understand the creative license and the Woodlawn helmet used in the film looks much better than the one in archive footage. These make for cleaner, clearer images in color.

It's a Great Film, But Now What?

Faith-based, or "Christian" films are trendy now. The quality is much better and getting the church out of the church-house and into the local cinema has been effective. Most Christians understand the value of opening weekend and many churches, mine included, look to help quality independent films like this one do well when it counts. 

However, this time, I sense something different must be done. There was a Q&A time with those in the audience seeking info on creative and new ways to get the right people in the cinemas to see it. In other words, the discussion was focused not on how to get the church into the theater, but to get others into the theater to see the film and then into local churches.

This isn't a "grow your church" campaign disguised as a movie. This is a real effort to see what the next chapter in God's great awakenings will look like and in an age where entertainment and sports reign as the gods of our nation, the question remains "What can we do?"

I heard a number of people share ideas - though, to be honest, they weren't really ideas. One pastor said, "To make a long story short. . ." and I knew what that meant. He would share anything but a "short" story. 

Others echoed ideas that sounded like they had been birthed in the 1970s. 

I wondered if anyone in the room heard the host say "Let's pray and share some creative and out-of-the-box ideas regarding the message of this film."

Alas, the church often fails when it comes to creativity, much to the dismay of people like the Erwin brothers, who obviously live on the edge of creative arts.

Here's What We Will Do

I shared my idea and still believe that this is our best, first-step. Our church is located in a suburb of Jacksonville, FL. Jacksonville and our area have a long history of racial divide. Things are better than in the past, but I don't hear anyone saying that we have arrived and are where we desire to be. Every day on the news there is another story of a shooting. Sometimes it's gang related. Sometimes "black on black" crime." Other times, it's "white on white" and since we're diverse, there are still multi-racial crimes being committed. Our sin is equal opportunity.

There are some amazing God-sized stories happening in our community as well. These are powerful and God is birthing new churches and revitalizing legacy churches. More multi-racial work is being done by churches that in prior generations would not have happened. 

It seems that we are on the precipice of something big. 

The church is ready, but by and large. . .we're still holed up in our buildings.

I believe what we saw acted out in this film is more than just a story about what happened years ago, but a reminder that God does not sleep, is the same yesterday, today and forever. 

What if high school students in a city grabbed hold of the message of the Gospel? What if the Gospel grabbed ahold of these students? Our church will seek to purchase all tickets for a showing or two on opening weekend. This will likely be on Saturday evening, since high school football is king each Friday evening. The tickets will not be for church members but for members of our local high school football teams. Maybe even putting two schools in the same theater . . . rivals, even? Our teams are not segregated (at least not intentionally) as they were in the 1970s, but what is the same is the reality that the vast majority of our students do not know Jesus Christ. They are spiritually void and need to know there is a God who says "It doesn't have to be this way."

Will the players attend?

Many schools and coaches are more afraid than ever of being sued for the breach of the "church/state" issues. Here's what I know. If students decide to go to the movie, it is legal and there is no issue for the school. If the coaches attend, it is legal. This is a public theater and so far, other than guidelines regarding age and ratings, people can attend the movies of their choice.

What would happen if by viewing a true story of spiritual renewal through a high school football team, God decided to do it again?

What if He decided to do it in my neighborhood, in my community, in my schools. . .or in yours?

I'm still dreaming about how to get kids to see the film, but more than that, I'm dreaming about another great awakening.

Will God Do It Again?

Yes. The question is "Will we miss it or be a part of it?"

UNF Wins & a Pep Band Member Becomes a Sensation

My wife and I have been following the UNF Ospreys men's basketball team this year. I figure if our money goes to the school, we should become fans of these teams. (Our daughter will be graduating from UNF in May.) 

Once our responsibilities with our local high school boys' basketball team were complete, we made our way over to the UNF Arena to see a few games. These guys are exciting to watch. There's much that can be said about the Ospreys as they achieved the regular season Atlantic Sun Championship and then punched their dance card to the NCAA Tournament on Sunday by winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament. These guys are a joy to watch and to see the Arena packed on Sunday and students and fans rush the court at the sound of the final buzzer was incredible.

Yet, in the midst of the wins, in this age of social media and trends, there is one young man who is making a name for himself. At the first home game we attended this year, I said to my wife, "When UNF makes it to the championship game, that kid is going to be put on national television and become an instant hit."

I was right.

His name is Stephen Putnam and he plays baritone in the UNF Pep Band.

As in most college basketball arenas, there are songs that are played at certain times each game. For the Ospreys, one song is Lil Jon's "Turn Down for What." When the first beat is played, the crowd goes wild, the student section looks to the left and all attention is on Steven Putnam.

Yes, this happens every game.


And, his 15 minutes of fame will go on at least through the first round of the NCAA Tournament. UNF had better take their pep band to Dayton. I think they'll need this guy.

 And now, everyone knows where the University of North Florida is.

Silent Night - One of the Best Traditions Around

It's Christmas season and the carols are out, in abudance, being played EVERYWHERE! ALL. THE. TIME.

While "Silent Night" goes down as one of the most popular carols of all time, there is another "Silent Night" which is pretty incredible, in it's own right.

You probably already know about this tratition. It' takes place at Taylor University, a Christian school in Indiana (where the primary religion in the state is basketball.)

Every year, on the Friday before final exams, there is the annual "Silent Night Basketball Game." Students remain completely silent in the packed out gym (wearing some pretty elaborate pajamas and other costumes) until the 10th point is scored by the home team.

At the 10th point, the gym erupts.

So, here's this year's Silent Night. . .


How Does One of the Most Respected Coaches Become the Most Ridiculed?

Tony Dungy, former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, current NFL analyst for NBC Sports, founder of All Pro Dad and Family First, husband, father, and outspoken follower of Jesus Christ has been moved from many people's lists of "Most Respected" to "Most Hated" in just a little over a week.

Ai_120485It all began with a a question posed to Dungy by a Tampa Tribune reporter a number of weeks ago. The question was about gay linebacker Michael Sam of the St. Louis Rams. Sam, who went public with his sexual orientation after a stellar career for the University of Missouri and prior to the NFL draft, is the first openly gay football player drafted by an NFL team.

Sam was a great college player, but even before his public announcement, was not considered a "sure thing" as an NFL lineman. As many in the northeast Florida area where I live know, just because a person excels at the college level does not always mean he will excel at the professional level.

Nevertheless, Sam's announcement skyrocketed him to cultural stardom as news agencies rushed to interview him, Oprah Winfrey attempted to chronicle his journey into professional football for a television show, and pro-LGBT groups and magazines labeled him a courageous figure.

Then, Dungy said this. . .

"I wouldn't have taken him," Dungy told Ira Kaufman of The Tampa Tribune. "Not because I don't believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn't want to deal with all of it. It's not going to be totally smooth…things will happen."

Dungy's answer to a question by Kaufman has gone viral. 

Sportscasters, bloggers and many in the Twittersphere have labeled Dungy a "loser," "hater," "hypocrite," "bigot," and worse.

Arguments appear in op-ed pieces referencing Dungy's work with Michael Vick and his opinions regarding Tim Tebow as evidence that he is two-faced. Some have even sunk so low to create stories about Dungy's son who tragically committed suicide a while back, as ways to show Dungy's unloving nature. 

It's amazing and terribly sad.

It is wrong.

Read Dungy's original statement again - he said nothing that could be construed as "homophobic" or hateful. While it is public knowledge that Dungy has opposed measures to legalize gay marriage (as do many American citizens and the vast majority of evangelicals) his statements related to drafting Sam are purely his opinion. The problem is that his belief system is not politically correct and his Christianity places him (in good company, I might add) in a minority in our culture.

Nevertheless, though unecessary, Coach Dungy released this statement about his previous statement:

I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam and I answered that would not have drafted him. I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team. At the time of my interview, the Oprah Winfrey reality show that was going to chronicle Michael's first season had been announced.

I was not asked whether or not Michael Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL. He absolutely does.

I was not asked whether his sexual orientation should play a part in the evaluation process. It should not.

I was not asked whether I would have a problem having Michael Sam on my team. I would not. ...

... I do not believe Michael's sexual orientation will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization.

I do, however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will be a distraction. Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction.

A good, but unecessary statement. Dungy's explanation will do little to placate those who have already categorized him negatively. 

I respect Coach Dungy, not just for his ability to coach professional athletes, but for the leadership qualities he has shown, the love of Christ that comes forth when I hear him interviewed, the stances he has taken on biblical manhood, parenting and marriage.

As culture shifts at breakneck speed, many in our communities and churches struggle with how to live "in the world" but not "of the world." A child of God cannot simply ignore biblical truth and the transformational power of the Spirit of God. God's Word and His Truth is never celebrated by the world. It never has been. It never will be. Therefore, instances like Dungy's will happen, again and again, and more often.

I always wondered how long Dungy could remain in the public eye before being labeled this way. 

Regardless how many are taking Dungy's quotes, it seems to me that he is exactly the same man who was highly respected, regarded and loved by many.


Stand firm, Coach Dungy. You do not stand alone.

The world cannot hate you (regarding Jesus' brothers who did not follow Him), but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. John 7:7 (ESV) 


Selection Sunday & Eternity

Today is "Selection Sunday." For those who do not care about college basketball, this designation is meaningless. However, for the rest of us, who find this month to be the best time of the year for sports, this is a significant day. It is during March that grown men (and women) start talking about Cinderella. March Madness becomes an important focus as brackets are filled out (just for fun, of course.) Fan bases are developed for colleges and universities that have fewer students than many high schools in our area. 

Magic-birdNames and terms like. . .

  • Wooden
  • Bird
  • Magic
  • Valpo
  • Valvano
  • Villanova
  • Massimino
  • Ewing
  • Phi Slamma Jamma
  • Butler
  • Dunk City
  • Coach K
  • Rupp
  • Manning
  • Donovan
  • Pitino
  • Knight

. . . and many others enter back into the lexicon and people reminisce of games and tournaments from the past.

Today, there are already numerous teams who "have their tickets punched" due to winning their individual conference tournaments. Others are definitely in based on their record, RPI and conference.

Still others wait.

Players gather with teammates and coaches to see if the selection committee will deem them worthy of an at-large bid to the biggest tournament of the year. Uncertainty hovers over them like a cloud. It's a terrible place to be, especially when the last team name is placed on the board. . .and their name is left off. Oh, there's the NIT, and while there was a time years ago when the NIT was more highly esteemed than the NCAA, everyone knows that today there's only one tournament that really matters. Everything else is just a consolation.

I fear that many people see eternity like these players. People live their lives. . .trying to do more good than bad. They come to the end of their lives, hoping. They hope that somehow, in their understanding of heaven and fairness, that God will let them into heaven. Yet, they're unsure. They're unsure because. . .well, they're record wasn't very good. 

They are basing their entire hopes on eternity on a metric that doesn't work.

They have missed the reality that they can never be good enough.

Eternity isn't like Selection Sunday. God is not writing names down in his book based on how good we are or can be. Reservations aren't secured because we deserve to be there. In fact, none of us deserve heaven.

Yet, some of us have heaven as our eternal destination. We don't get heaven because we're good enough, or better than others, or deserve it. For those of us who do, we're not going to be sweating it out with our teammmates (or family, or even alone) at the end of our lives. Our hope is secure because of Jesus Christ alone.

I pray that you know this reality. I pray your name is in God's book. Settle this today by surrendering your life to Christ and receiving His free gift.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)

Wisdom from Coach Wooden

There are many celebrities in this world. Our culture loves creating them. Often, we like to create them just so we can enjoy picking them apart to watch them crumble. It is a sad state of being that we have created, or at least enabled.

Sometimes you come across a celebrity who does not put on airs. What you see on television, on the stage or in the magazines is actually an accurate depiction of the real person. Unfortunately, this is often true about those celebrities that are anything but role models and quality people. In other words, they are just as bad as their image portrays them.

Then, there are those who seem to be pretty nice people. People with integrity who are honest. These are the ones of whom you could say, "I'd like to spend some time with them." 

Coach John Wooden (1910 - 2010) was one such man. 

John Wooden largeI had the great privilege of meeting Coach in 1987 at a basketball coaches clinic in Arlington, Texas. My team, the Texas Wesleyan Rams, had been chosen to be the "conference team" for Coach as he talked to area coaches about life principles and then showed how he ran a practice back in the days of Walton, Alcinder and Wilkes at UCLA. So, I now get to tell people that I played basketball for Coach John Wooden (and I do tell them this!) even if just for a few hours long after his days at UCLA.

As I have read biographies and leadership books on Coach Wooden, it becomes clear that here was a man of integrity who was very successful as a player and a coach (Hall of Famer as both,) but moreso as a husband, father, and man of God. His "pyramid of success" hangs in my office as a reminder of much that he had learned and taught (and continues to teach even four years after his death) to many.

Here are some quotes and words of wisdom from Coach that sometimes make me smile and often make me go "Oh. . .yeah. Hmmm."

  • I wanted my players to know I truly cared about them. I loved them all. I didn't like them all. And some of them didn't like me all the time. But today I'm closer to many of my players than I was when they played for me.
  • You can lose when you outscore somebody in a game, and you can win when you are outscored.
  • Make your effort to do the very best you can. That's what I wanted from my teams more than anything else.
  • Leadership from a base of hypocrisy undermines respect, and if people don't respect you, they won't willingly follow you.
  • Be slow to correct and quick to commend.
  • I never yelled at my players much. That would have been articificial stimulation, which doesn't last very long. I think it's like love and passion. Passion won't last as long as love.
  • As a coach, there were a few rules I pretty much stuck to: Never be late. Be neat and clean. I was a stickler for that. At practice, we started on time and we closed on time. And not one word of profanity. If I see it in a game, you're coming out.
  • One time, Bill Walton showed up for practice, looking unkempt. "It's my right," he told me. "That's good, Bill," I replied. "I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them. We're going to miss you."
  • Once, one of my players was asked if I ever used profanity. "Absolutely, he replied, "Goodness, gracious, sakes alive" is profanity for Coach."
  • Ability may get you to the top, but you need character to keep you there.
  • What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player.
  • I don't want to be like the guy in church who coughs loudly just before putting money into the offering plate.
  • Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful. Conceit is self-given; be careful.
  • Truth will always stand the test of scrutiny.
  • There is no substitute for hard work. If you are looking for the easy way, the shortcut. . . you'll not be developing your talents.
  • Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all.
  • Discipline yourself and others won't need to.
  • Kindness makes for much better teamwork.
  • A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player.
  • Players today are better than ever; I don't think the teams are.
  • You have to be a friend to have a friendship. It isn't one-way.
  • The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.
  • Concentrate on what you do have, not on what you don't.
  • Time spent getting even would be better spent getting ahead.
  • My father gave me a two-dollar bill for my grade school graduation. He said, "Hold on to this, and you'll never go broke." I still have it. A lot of times, that's all I've had. But I've never been broke.
  • Don't let making a living prevent you from making a life.
  • If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict.
  • The most I made coaching was $32,500. Maybe I didn't have a multi-million-dollar contract like Shaquille O'Neal, but he'll never know what it was like to get a good meal for twenty-five cents.
  • Ability is a poor man's wealth.
  • There is nothing stronger than gentleness.
  • To achieve significance, it's a good idea to select an activity for which God has given us at least a measure of skill.
  • Don't call me Wizard [of Westwood]. I'm no wizard!
  • Be quick, but don't hurry.
  • Young people need role models, not critics.
  • Pick up your own orange peels.
  • Never mistake activity for achievement.
  • I don't believe in praying to win a game.
  • It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.
  • If you don't have time to do it right, when will you do it over?
  • Consider the rights of others before your own feelings and the feelings of others before your own rights.
  • We can give without loving, but we can't love without giving. In fact, love is nothing unless we give it to someone.
  • God can be trusted, even when life seems at its darkest. From the cross, God declares, "I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pains you feel, but I love you."

Thanks Coach!


Coach John Wooden Winning With Principle. N.p.: B & H, 2013. Print.

It's Really More Than "Just a Game"

Last night I was taken back in time. I might as well have hopped into Doc Brown's DeLorean, engaged the flux capacitor and sped up to 88 mph. However, this journey didn't take place in the movies. It took place in a gymnasium.

424_2014_SENIORS2_copyI was sitting in the stands watching my son and his teammates (Fleming Island High School Golden Eagles) play their last basketball game of the season. For the seniors, like my son, it would be the last time they would be wearing the high school uniform and suiting up as a team. I could evaluate the game, but there's no need. Our team is good, but they weren't on last night and subsequently, when the final buzzer sounded, not only had the game ended, but so had their season.

This "time machine" took me back to a gymnasium in South Grand Prairie, Texas. It was February 1986 and I remember it like it was yesterday. Our high school team had made it to the state playoffs and all we had to do was win this game to get to the next step, which would require renting a charter bus and traveling from Fort Worth to Midland. This was a BIG DEAL! No team from our high school had ever made it that far.

We had already rented the bus.

We were mentally playing that next game in Midland.

There was only one problem. We hadn't yet beat South Grand Prairie.

And. . .we didn't.

The final buzzer sounded. It was surreal. I remember sitting on the bench at the end of the game, looking across that court with this unbelievable sadness engulfing me.

This was it.

I mentally knew that eventually this would end, but it just always seemed so far out there. It seemed unreal.

I know, it's part of growing up, but as I look back today, I can see why this was so difficult. 

For years I had been a basketball player. It comes with being taller than my peers. I was always asked "Hey, do you play basketball?"

I would proudly answer "Yes" and tell them my team name.

I played a couple of more years in college and eventually that ended as well, and once again, the flood of emotions came.

When the final buzzer sounded I was confused, sad and maybe a little depressed? Why? Part of it was due to the fact that when one is on a team (whether it be sports related or otherwise) there is a comaradarie that develops. While teammates may not be best friends, they have shared much together. This common sharing of games, wins, losses, practices, preparation, pep rallies, etc. creates a sense of brotherhood (or sisterhood if it's a ladies' team) that is unmatched in other venues. It's hard to explain, but if you have ever been on such a team, you understand.

For me, every season had an end, but this was different. No more would I don the uniform of this team. No more would I work with these guys for this common goal. This chapter was over.

Worst of all, I had so embraced the title "basketball player" that it had become my identity. Hey, I was only a teenager and labels come flying at you from all directions. This was mine and I was proud of it. However, that part of who I was was over. 

As a follower of Christ, I know (and continue to learn) that my identity is not based on what I do, where I live or a title given to me by others. My identity is "in Christ" alone. It's just that maturing to a place of understanding and embracing this reality takes time. I really didn't get that at seventeen.

So, as I watched my son's team finish off their season, I was proud of all they had accomplished. I am proud of our coach, Ivan Gunder, whom I call friend, for the mentoring and work he has done for these boys. At the same time, I was hurt. I was hurt for the coaches and the players. I saw tears well up in many of the boys' eyes (especially the seniors) and I knew what they were feeling. I was back at South Grand Prairie High School all over again.

Yes, for those who play the game, it's often more than "just a game." It's the end of an important chapter. Sure, it really is just a game in a sense, but not for these players. 

That's why it's so hard for many athletes to retire.

May these young men discover their identity in Christ and I pray they will one day be able to look back on this chapter in their life with no regrets.

Rebooting Upward: The Challenge to Avoid Consumerism & Be Missional

There are very few ministries marketed to the local church that truly embrace the concept of living missionally. Those which do are often corrupted by the consumerist mindset that is so very difficult to escape in our culture.

For years we have hosted Upward Basketball and Cheerleading at First. Each year has been eventful and fun. Children have played basketball and cheered in our league who otherwise would never have had the opportunity. Some have excelled and gone on to play on our local junior high and high school teams. Families have come to church. Some for the very first time. Lives have been transformed as some have come to Jesus Christ as Savior.

Upward-Basketball6-1024x855Has Upward been successful at First? Well, sure. . .on some scorecards. How could anyone say that children coming to know Christ personally and families being engaged for the sake of the Gospel is bad? It is not. 

Last year, our Upward Basketball and Cheerleading sports ministry was shelved for a year. There were numerous reasons, primarily based upon the lack of registration and scholarship funds available. It frustrated some, angered others and disappointed many. As I look back, it is clear (remember, hindsight is 20/20) that cancelling Upward last year was the very best thing to do.

Why? This clearing of the calendar has allowed us to take an honest, focused look at the ministry. Evaluation of the "why" of Upward has been essential.

We are starting Upward up again this year. I'm pretty excited about this reboot.

We are not rebooting the ministry based on the desires of Christians who want a league for their church-attending children (though, we desire that many in our church participate.)

We are not starting again just to add something else on the calendar. That actually goes against our core beliefs. Remember, busy-ness is not God's business. Burned out believers are not our desire.

We are not beginning again just to get the next Upward shirt for our personal collections (though I actually like those coaching shirts.)

We are intentionally and strategically rebooting Upward Basketball and Cheerleading at First as a missional expression. How can this be? The term "missional" actually describes the church, being the church, outside the building in which it gathers. It would be missional for believers to volunteer to coach in a local sports league such as OPAA or FIAA (which we encourage.) But, to create a "Christian" version of a local sports league does not actually fit nicely in the missional box. . .in most cases.

So, why do Upward again? How can it be missional?

We are in a unique situation in our community when it comes to this league. While the majority of churches (based on discussions with leaders at Upward and other churches) tend to only gather church kids and friends in their leagues, our league, based on our connections with local schools, has actually been effective in bringing in children and families totally disconnected from church. 

Is that missional?

It can be, but it requires intentionality and strategic planning.

If Upward is seen only as a children's ministry for kids in the church. . .well, we need to shelve it again. That does little more than prop up Christian consumerism, which is the polar opposite of missional living. However, if we understand and remember that Upward is one of the greatest connecting ministries with our local community, we must move forward. Very few activities at the local church actually draw unchurched people from the community. Upward does. At least it does here.

As we move forward, pray for the leadership team guiding this endeavor. Pray for the children in our local schools and neighborhoods who need to know Christ as Savior.

The harvest is ripe. Workers are needed. Pray that God's people will respond and step into this opportunity to live missionally (and have fun in the process) by serving and volunteering in Upward this season.

Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. John 4:35 (ESV)

What Does Jason Collins "Coming Out" Mean?

On Monday, April 29, journeyman NBA center Jason Collins released a statement of his coming out as gay. My first reaction to hearing of this "landmark" announcement by an active player in one of our four major professional sports leagues was, "Who is Jason Collins?"

Suddenly a player who averaged 3.6 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game and 0.9 assists per game in an 11 year NBA career is the most talked about player in the nation. During the season of the NBA Playoffs featuring LeBron, Durant, Wade and a host of other superstars, this story moves to the front page. Jason Collins now makes on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Unfortunately, it's not because of his skill on the court. Nevertheless, the nation knows who Jason Collins is.

The story truly isn't about basketball. In fact, I expect our next headline will be an active NFL player or MLB player stepping out in this way. Based on the reaction publicized in the media, it's a given.

What does Collins' coming out mean for me? Not much, honestly. However, it does once more reveal that we are now in the season where to be LBGT is not only accepted, but celebrated.

In Albert Mohler's Tuesday Briefing, he shares of the "overwhelming celebration of homosexuality and the marginalization of all who disagree." He's right. According to media reports, the adulation placed on Collins is huge. Tweets and quotes from current and former players, coaches, Presidents, and others who have come out as LBGT is immense.

Statements of affirmation get top billing in reports:

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Tweet StrahanTweet MartinaTweet Rock

However, those, who dare to say anything somewhat critical or concerning about Collins's statement or the homosexual lifestyle are being, predictably, labeled as close-minded, hate-filled, and uninformed. We are living in the day that was predicted by Josh McDowell years ago in his book Right From Wrong, where tolerance is the norm, but only tolerance of things outside biblical mores and long-held Judeao-Christian ethics.

This is evidenced in the response to comments made by ESPN analyst Chris Broussard on Outside the Lines. I applaud Broussard's consistency in his statements and am not surprised that he is being demonized by many. His statement is as follows:

"I'm a Christian. I don't agree with homosexuality. I think it's a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is. [ESPN's] L.Z. [Granderson] knows that. He and I have played on basketball teams together for several years. We've gone out, had lunch together, we've had good conversations, good laughs together. He knows where I stand and I know where he stands. I don't criticize him, he doesn't criticize me, and call me a bigot, call me ignorant, call me intolerant.

"In talking to some people around the league, there's a lot Christians in the NBA and just because they disagree with that lifestyle, they don't want to be called bigoted and intolerant and things like that. That's what LZ was getting at. Just like I may tolerate someone whose lifestyle I disagree with, he can tolerate my beliefs. He disagrees with my beliefs and my lifestyle but true tolerance and acceptance is being able to handle that as mature adults and not criticize each other and call each other names.

"... Personally, I don't believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly premarital sex between heterosexuals, if you're openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits, it says that's a sin. If you're openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals, whatever it may be, I believe that's walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I do not think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian."

The above statement was actually a clarification of what was said earlier and it is apparent that he has thought through this and is not being swayed. While some have seen and will see it as hateful words, the reality is that a proper reading (if an unbiased one is even possible) shows nothing more than an individual stating what he believes based on his faith and personal mores.

I know there are many who see the LGBT lifestyle as wrong. For some, it's based on their faith. For others, it is based on personal feelings. Regardless of the reason, it is true that those who dare speak out against the lifestyle, especially in our current culture, will find themselves marginalized and considered uncaring, unloving and wrong, in addition to many other labels.

No, homosexuality is not the biggest sin out there. It's not the only sin. It's not the worst sin. But, it is sin.

I don't know Jason Collins, but from all that's been said about him from former teammates, coaches, friends and current players, he is a great guy. He is the kind of friend anyone would want. He is now more than a journeyman basketball player. He is the face of the gay athlete in America (sorry, Martina and Greg Louganis) and will be touted as an inspiration for high school, college and other pro athletes to declare their LGBT affinity publicly.

I don't think he should be demonized by those who disagree. That will happen and it's unfortunate.

What should be the response of Christ followers to Collins and others who struggle with same-sex attraction? (Yes, I used the term "struggle with same-sex attraction" rather than "who are LGBT" and that was intentional.) We should respond as Jesus stated when asked what the greatest commandment was. . .

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” - Luke 10:27 (ESV)

We must remember that love does not mean affirm. Jesus loved sinners (that would be all of us, by the way) but did not say "Just stay the way you are." Sin is a cancer that spreads quickly. We are all infected and all sin is equal (that's hard to fathom) and we all need a Savior.

Oh, I understand there's an agenda. I know there's a concerted movement at work. Still, in the midst of all of that are individuals in need of life, a life that is full and free and clean.

That's what Jesus offers.

That's why we're here.