A Moment That Changed Everything - My Message at @GameDayChurch on 9/11

We launched our second year of GameDay Church on September 11. This church service/event in the parking lot of EverBank Field prior to the Jaguars - Packers game drew a crowd and allowed us to engage in gospel-centric conversations with those walking by and hanging out at our tailgate event. Being that it was September 11, I felt that addressing the fifteenth anniversary of the tragic day of terror that hit our nation was appropriate. 

Here is a transcript of my message on 9/11 with reference to Matthew 9. Thanks to Jon Wood, our campus minister at IslandChurch for the story regarding the Eagles - Redskins football game.

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A few years ago there was an NFL game scheduled on a Sunday, but rather than a 1pm start, this one started at 2pm. That’s strange, but not the strangest thing about this game.

The game was being played between the Redskins and the Eagles. Philadelphia was out of the playoff hunt, but they were looking to play the role of spoiler. The Redskins were sitting at .500 and were in a position to squeak into the playoffs, but needed the win.

The game began with the Eagles taking an early lead.

The Redskins took advantage of a Philly turnover and scored in the second quarter, to tie it up at 7 apiece. Not really an offensive game so far.

 The game continued on and the fans who remained in the stands to watch what became a very sloppy game did so because, they’re well…fans.

The Eagles ended up turning the ball over more and the Redskins won. The game ended as most everyone thought.

And once the game was over, no one cared.

That game was over about 5pm and because of the way news spread at the time, the things happening globally that day became known by the fans and players by the end of the game. The announcer at the game, it’s is said, began asking some of the fans in the stands to report to certain areas immediately.

You see, on that day, December 7, 1941, everything changed. 

America was divided at the time. Can you imagine a divided America? It was severe. Many thought the war was dumb and we shouldn’t bother or get involved. Others thought we must. Then, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor happened and there was no longer a valid option of sitting on the sidelines. America was thrust into World War II.

Those men who were called out of the stadium were active-duty military personnel. They were now at war. More would join. The entire nation would engage, even on the home front.

Fifteen years ago, another day began, just like every other day. People got up, had their coffee, went to work and then planes hit towers, a plane hit the Pentagon and one even crashed in Pennsylvania. The news reports were horrendous and clear.

Things had changed.

We now live in a post 9/11 world now and are reminded of that even as we enter EverBank today for the game. The metal detectors and bag searches are now normal.

Going to the airport and flying is different than it used to be.

We have a "new normal" because of these horrendous acts.

Sometimes, a regular day, or at least our plans for a regular day, can end up life-changing.

In these cases, the changes were brought on by attacks and terrorism. But, there are moments in life that are also unexpected, that lead to more positive and encouraging life-change.

In the Bible, there was a man named Matthew. He was a Jewish man, but not liked by his people. He was considered a sell-out. He was working for the occupying nation in his homeland by collecting taxes from his peers.

And, in those days, tax collectors were known to, and even expected to, fleece the people to pad their own pockets. The Roman government (the occupying one) didn’t care how much the native collectors gathered in taxes, as long as they had the amount Rome wanted. So, any extra they could get was for themselves.

So, Matthew goes to work on that day – just another day – nothing special expected, but something special did happen. Something he never saw coming.

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”Matthew 9:9-13 (ESV)  [1]

Look at what happened. Jesus, the Son of God, intentionally went to a guy that the religious people, the neighbors, and others in the community did not like and would avoid if possible. Jesus went to him. He met him at his place of business, in his own comfort zone and offered him a chance at new life.

He said, “Follow me” which seems like the shortest invitation ever, and it was, but coming from Jesus, it was clearly strategic.

Matthew didn’t expect this, but was overwhelmed with the invite. “Me? Follow you? Seriously?” and he did.

Matthew became one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, one of his closest friends. He, like the others in Jesus group of close friends, would later be described as one of the men who was turning the world upside down, for good.

Just another day, right?

Nope.

Everything changed and on this day, it changed for the better.

We can all relate to the 9/11 change, especially if you’re old enough to remember it. Some of us may remember Pearl Harbor, but at a minimum, we’ve read about it or watched the videos about it. We understand how those moments can change everything. And some of us here have a Matthew story – we understand how Jesus surprises us and changes everything. When we least expected it.

And maybe some here today will experience this. It’s just another Sunday. It’s another football game. It’s the start of the season. There was a day much like this last season and the season before, etc. But, today, you’re here and maybe, just maybe, Jesus is still doing what he did 2000 years ago. He’s meeting you when you least expected it and saying “Follow me.” Now, you get to decide to follow him or not.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mt 9:9–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


Identity Is Who You Are, Not What You Do #Rio2016

It is the time when many around the world become fans of sports they never watch at other times, and sometimes didn't even know existed. The Rio Olympics are garnering large viewing audiences and even with all the controversies surrounding Zika, green diving pools, drugged up Russians, jailed Olympic athletes, and NBC's decision to air women's gymnastics after the event actually happened, there have been some really incredible stories. Here are just a few...

First - Michael Phelps

Seriously! I was talking to my mother a couple of weeks ago and she said "Michael Phelps is going back to the Olympics. I wonder if he will be able to compete at his age (the ripe old age of 31) as he did in the last Olympics?" Well, that question has been answered and once everyone figured out why he had circular bruises all over his back (I thought the Salt Vampire from Star Trek got to him) he, at this writing, has earned his 21st Olympic gold medal.

Let that sink in for a moment.

21.

Gold.

Medals.

I remember when Mark Spitz's feat was deemed unmatchable and when Carl Lewis' 9 gold medals seemed amazing! Well, those accomplishments still are, but seriously - 21 gold medals. At this point, Jason Momoa should retire and Phelps should play Aquaman in the new Justice League movie. 

Second - Oksana Chusovitina

Have you heard of this gymnast? She's 41 years old and competing in the Olympics! She is representing Uzbekistan.

41.

Years.

Old.

Yeah, she has competed in seven Olympic games. She has a 17-year-old son. She has a son who is older than US gymnast Laurie "Human Emoji" Hernandez.

I'm not cheering for Uzbekistan, but I can't help but cheer for Oksana.

Third - Katie Ledecky

Another US swimmer. Katie has won 3 medals at this point (2 gold and 1 silver.) This 6', 19-year-old has an infectious smile and is dominating in the pool. 

There will be more stories to hit the headlines and men and women who are basically unknown now who will become nationally and internationally known in just a short time. 

Fourth - Synchronized Diving

Like I said, there are many sports in the Olympics that I never really watch or follow, but every four years find myself becoming a fan. One such sport is men's synchronized diving. These guys are incredible athletes, but honestly, this has never been a sport I've followed. It's definitely not a "money-sport" for local colleges and universities. Yet, a few days ago, I was watching this as two American athletes competed for a medal.

The Chinese team won gold. They tend to dominate in the diving competitions. They are amazing.  They jump off the platform, spin in mid-air and then, go into the pool without even making a splash, it seems. I made bigger splashes throwing pieces of bread into ponds for ducks to eat when I was a kid.

Boudia
Reuters

The American duo of David Boudia and Steele Johnson (that may be the best name of any Olympic athlete) earned the silver medal. Their dives were incredible. It is obvious that hours and hours of practice go into perfecting these skills. Yet, it wasn't the diving or even the medal win that made these guys different. It was the post-dive interview. When asked by NBC reporter Kelli Stavast what it meant to medal in the synchronized event, David said...

There's been an enormous amount of pressure. I've felt it. It's just an identity crisis. When my mind is on this [diving], and I'm thinking I'm defined by this, then my mind goes crazy. But we both know that our identity is in Christ, and we're thankful for this opportunity to be able to dive in front of Brazil and in front of the United States. It's been an absolutely thrilling moment for us.

Steele agreed and added...

The way David just described it was flawless – the fact that I was going into this event knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not what the result of this competition is just gave me peace ... and it let me enjoy the contest. If something went great, I was happy. If something didn't go great, I could still find joy because I'm at the Olympics competing with the best person, the best mentor – just one of the best people to be around. God's given us a cool opportunity, and I'm glad I could come away with an Olympic silver medal in my first-ever event.

And that was aired live on NBC. Clear, concise, and not cheesy. Full article on Christian Examiner here.

Boudia has been speaking openly of his faith in Christ for years and even co-authored a book with Tim Ellsworth, Greater Than Gold.

In the midst of an event that places people on the international stage, David and Steele stated a clear reality that every person faces. Identity. When one's identity is founded on what one can do, there will come a day when that activity will end. Even the 41-year-old gymnast will eventually retire from competition (we think.) David and Steele may never compete in an Olympics together again, yet at this moment, David spoke truth that hopefully will resonate with all. 

As followers of Christ, our identity is rooted in him. It is for his glory that we do all we do. It is for his glory that we exist.

I was encouraged by these men's words. This was deeper than just quoting Philippians 4:13.

I am still not really a synchronized diving fan, though I will watch. I must say that I am a fan of these guys, though. Congrats!

 

 


Tebow's Sex Life Exposed

In the era of sound bites and Tweets, news comes and goes at light speed. Our cultural norm is to elevate athletes and celebrities to high status. If an individual has a large following on social media and in entertainment news, he/she is seemingly "always" in the news.

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15120111/582a2278-62f0-43e8-b25f-eaff1ef754f3.png
From the Official Tim Tebow Facebook page

Tim Tebow is one such individual.

He burst onto the scene as a high school senior quarterback at Nease High School. At least, for those of us who live in the northeast Florida area, that was when we began to hear his name on the local sports reports regularly. I remember the drama that came when he declared where he would be playing college football. His choice to attend the University of Florida was celebrated by many in this area. I distinctly remember him giving a faux apology to his then pastor, Dr. Jerry Vines, for not attending the University of Alabama (I believe I remember that correctly.)

From his first "jump pass" for a touchdown as a Gator, Tebow cemented himself into the American entertainment and sports culture. He has found much success in his journey - Heisman Trophy winner, NFL first-round pick, leading his team to playoff wins and most recently as one of the talking heads at the SEC Channel's version of "GameDay Live." 

Tim's celebrity status has transcended football.

He is a celebrity and he knows the world is watching.

I have found that as Jenny Rapson recently wrote in her open to letter to Tebow on her blog: I know that people love to love you or they love to hate you.

Amazingly, for many the love/hate issues have to do with Tebow's statements about faith and Christianity. He has spoken consistently since a microphone was first thrust into his face, he has been winsome and not condescending. Some take issue with his touchdown prayer stance (which either affectionately or derisively became known as "Tebowing") but by and large, Tebow's walk as a Christian has been personal, clear and consistent. He even seems to have fun in life, which apparently frustrates some who struggle with seeing a good-looking, popular, athletic Christian enjoying life. 

Some of the love/hate has more to do with the logo on his football helmet while in college than his faith.

But, I digress.

Yesterday, I was told he was in the news again, but this time it wasn't about a potential tryout for an NFL team or regarding some antics at the SEC Network. This time it was about his love life and his breakup with his girlfriend Olivia Culpo.

Tebow has been open and clear about his conviction to remain chaste and a virgin until he enters into a biblical marriage relationship. That statement from a teenager or college freshman is powerful. However, it seems that many who heard him make these claims years ago just politely shook their head and quietly thought "Yeah. . .we'll see how long that lasts."

Tweet: Apparently a man with personal convictions is a rare thing. @davidtark Apparently a man with personal convictions is a rare thing.

From all reports, Tim has kept his vow of celibacy and is waiting.

And, according to news reports that are flooding the internet, this decision has cost him his latest relationship with Olivia Culpo.

As with most entertainment news reports (which used to be touted as "celebrity gossip") stories come out quickly even if all the facts are not known.

I think it is unfair to Tim and whomever he is dating at the time that all relationship details are presented to the world. I know, the argument is that if a person desires to be in the public eye, he/she is willingly sacrificing privacy. I have heard that for years, but it seems a pretty shallow excuse for spreading personal details. As is the case often, the persons whose details are shared end up being hurt, or at a minimum judged unfairly.

So, Tebow is in the news again because he is a good looking guy who has decided to remain sexually pure.

This is newsworthy?

Some people seem to be collectively shaking their heads as if to say "What's wrong with this guy?"

At the same time, the cultural shift that now proudly wears open sexuality like a new pair of shoes and proclaims victory of the "free love" generation is celebrated as progressive and evolved.

Tweet: The church struggles to be heard as we seek to minister to the refugees of the sexual revolution. @davidtark
 The church struggles to be heard as we seek to minister to the refugees of the sexual revolution.

As for Tim and Olivia - we probably will never know the full details regarding their breakup. And, we shouldn't.

In fact, one buried article on Us Magazine's webpage, regarding the breakup, states this:

Indeed, the Culpo source reiterates to Us that Tebow liked Culpo a lot, but her heart just wasn't ready for a new romance. "He was very into her," the source tells Us. "But she just got out of a long-term relationship, and was not interested."

However, that statement is not the one being tweeted. It is not the headline making rounds. The big story is that they broke up because Tim wouldn't have sex before marriage. True or not, the story reeks of an invasion of privacy, trivializes the sexual relationship between a man and woman, and while attempting to show Tebow as an old-fashioned prude, actually paints a horrible picture of Miss Culpo.

But, that's entertaining, right?

When all the dust settles and another celebrity story pushes Tim and Olivia off the trending page of Twitter, they will still be living their lives, seeking next steps and prayerfully, following God's lead.

Nevertheless, in the midst of this public fallout, there is value. Regardless what the dirty little details of this story truly are, this much is declared as true - Tim Tebow, a sports and entertainment celebrity who is immensely popular and has sought to speak consistently and in a winsome way about life and his relationship with Jesus Christ has taken a counter-culture stance on human sexuality and relationship. That position has given parents with young, impressionable children a jumping off point to talk about faith, sex and relationships in a healthy way.

From Jenny Rapson's open letter to Tim on For Every Mom, she says as much. . .

And now, thanks to the New York Daily News and the world wide interwebz, I also know that you’re not getting any (sex.) BY CHOICE. It seems you got dumped by this hot little number (no big deal, just Miss USA and Miss Universe) because you wouldn’t put out.

And it is BIG FREAKING NEWS! It seems everyone cares that you’re a virgin. THAT’S gotta feel kinda weird.

But Tim, trust me when I say, it’s her loss. And believe me when I say, words cannot express how grateful I am to you for not being ashamed to take a stand on premarital sex. Because although I don’t give two craps about football (sorry) I DO give two craps about teaching my kids that sex before marriage is not what God wants for us. That it is—dare I say?—wrong.

And Tim, I’ve got two sons, one on the cusp of puberty. And he DOES give two craps about football (and Jesus. Score!). And he thinks you’re pretty great because you love football and you love Jesus and I am 100% sure that at school today among his peers, he also learned that you love following God’s commands more than you love following your sexual desires. Because I am quite sure everyone in the 6th grade was talking about you and Miss Universe today.

And thank God they were. Thank God my son has someone super-famous and successful in the limelight saying the same things about sex that his dad and I are. Thank God and thank you, Tim Tebow.

My daughter is a little young for this conversation, but thanks to you, there are a lot of young girls reading this story today and realizing that there ARE men out there who will wait. There ARE men who will put God above themselves, who will do what’s right when it comes to sex. Because of you they now know that what the world tells them, that “no one waits”, is wrong. So THANK YOU again.

Tim, I don’t know how your heart is feeling today. Getting dumped is surely never fun. But may I encourage you and say that standing up for what you believe in is something you’ll never regret? I truly believe that, as much as I believe that you will find the RIGHT girl who is willing to wait for you, and willing to be 2nd in your heart to Christ.

I think she about sums it up.

I'm sorry Tim and Olivia's relationship is even newsworthy. I'm sorry I even know about it. However, there is redeeming value here as Rapson states. As for Tim and Olivia, perhaps those who declare to worship Christ as Tim does, should spend a few moments praying for these two who have now had very personal details of their lives (thought likely not fully accurate) spread across the internet. 

Tim - you're not my idol. You're not my hero. You are my brother in Christ. As a brother with a common Father, I pray for you. 

Olivia - I don't know much about you, but reports are you are a follower of Christ as well. That being said, I choose to not base an understanding of who you are based on flimsy reporting. It is clear that you deserve my prayers as well.

(Oh, I fully realize that odds of Tim and Olivia actually reading this blog posting are slim to none, but for those of us who claim the name of Christ, would you join me in praying for these two?)

 

 


There Are No "Participation Trophies" in Life

James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers made headlines earlier this year when he took his children's "participation" trophies away and returned them. Some decried this as mean-spirited. Others celebrated the move as something that many parents should be doing.

Here's Harrison's Instagram explaining why the trophies would be returned (and were according to later reports.)

 

More recently, he posted this update about his boys and their trophies (earned this time.)

 Perhaps that is the genesis for this trending commercial for Kia. 

 

 

 

Since we now have a generation that has been rewarded with trophies that are unearned (and likely collecting dust in their rooms on top of shelves) we must address how this impacts faith development and the understanding of eternity. For Boomers or Gen Xers to blame Millennials for their apparent desire to be gifted a trophy for just showing up is short-sighted. I mean, who started giving out the trophies any way?

Haydn Shaw, in his book Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart, he shares this account:

A participant in a seminar I led told me about his experience with another parent whose child was on the same youth soccer team: "After our team was beaten soundly in a game, the other child's mother said we should make a 'parent bridge' for the players to run through as they come off the field to get their treats. Mostly joking, I said that as badly as the boys had played, we should just turn our backs and let them get their own treats. The mother was appalled. I asked her, when her son is thirty years old, still living at home, and unable to find a job, if she and her husband will make a bridge, cheer, and give him a juice box for trying his best? I don' think she thought I was funny."

When it comes to eternity, it is unfortunate that many (of all generations) will find themselves standing before Christ, expecting to be ushered into heaven, only to be told "I don't know you?"

That's not just some mythical fairy-tale story. For those of us who believe the Word of God to be true and take this Story seriously, there is a reality regarding the "end of life" trophies. Jesus speaks clearly about this here in Matthew's Gospel account:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’" Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

While eternity is a given for all, a home in heaven is only assured for children of God. Children of God are those who have been adopted into His forever family. That adoption comes through receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and surrendering to Him. Only children of the Father get a "trophy." And, it's not a participation trophy. It's a "crown of righteousness" for those who have overcome the world. The great thing about this trophy is that it has already been paid for and secured. You receive it as victors and you can only be a victor if you're "on the team."

 


GameDay Church and the Inevitable "Beer Question"

Since we announced the launch of GameDay Church at the site of Old St. Andrews Church prior to the Jaguars - Colts game on December 13, we have had many questions from various sources.

The Beer Question

Drink-beerWhether it has been from church members planning to help make it happen, other church leaders in the city, community friends or news agencies, it seems that a few questions regarding the church service rise to the forefront. They are. . .

  • Why are you doing this?
  • What will it look like?
  • What about beer?

Honestly, the beer question tends to be the first one we are asked. The other two tend to be logistical.

It seems that our response to the beer question has the potential of creating more controversy than a red cup at Starbucks.

Nevertheless, here's our answer to the "beer question."

"We are not providing it."

There. That's it. Simple, right? Well, I thought so, but apparently is not sufficient for some. 

Clarification

Let me be clear, just in case there is some misunderstanding. I do not partake of alcoholic beverages. I do not believe it is a good thing to do so. I do not recommend it at all. Likely, this is due to my upbringing and my years of working with teenagers from challenging homes where alcohol played a role, not to mention the under-age, binge drinking that I have observed and worked young people through. Therefore, the partaking of such is not encouraged by me.

Yet, it is clear that while getting drunk (Ephesians 5:18) is sinful and declared such in Scripture, the partaking of alcoholic beverages is not. I'm well versed in the "do not be a stumbling block" passage and affirm that, but I'm not going to break all that down in this posting, due to the fact it will result in the potential online, comment-driven, debates that do nothing to reach people for Christ and ultimately do the Kingdom no good, but if you'd like to read more regarding this question, from a biblical worldview, check out this link at GotQuestions. (GotQuestions is a solid, biblically-conservative Q & A resource.)

It appears that the only thing that could rival the questions of a Baptist church hosting a tailgating/worship service at an NFL game would be if we hosted a "Line Dancing" event. While the "Baptists don't dance" mantra still exists, I declare that it is more that most "Baptists can't dance." It's apparently a rhythm issue, at least in our church. This is made clear as many in our congregation attempt to clap in-time along with some of the worship songs. But. . .I digress.

No Beer Garden, but No "Beer Guards," Either

So, a simple answer of "We're not providing beer" leads to the follow-up question from some that sounds like this, "But, what if someone shows up with a beer in their hand?"

And, this is where my answer causes some raised eyebrows. Remember, we're meeting under an open-air tent. We will have a grill set up with some BBQ available and some bottled water as well. Yes, it is a family-friendly event, but then, so is the football game, right?

People will be walking by the tent on the way to the game. Most attendees will stop by for a few minutes, step under the tent, eat some BBQ, play some corn-hole and then move on to the stadium for the beginning of the game. Most, except for those serving and leading, are not thinking about going to a church service. They're thinking about going to an NFL football game.

And, some of those who stop by (not all, because not all who will partake of an officially NFL-licensed Bud Light that day, will be doing so at 11am) will have a beer in hand. And, we are NOT going to set "beer guards" by the entrance telling people to get rid of their beer before they can come in and worship and hear the Gospel. Why? Because we know at that point people will just walk away and think "That's not for me." 

A Simple Focus

1e85eb_ed431ec6c6b24d268fa5ece97ea14d84Simply put, our focus at GameDay Church (as it is at any of our campuses or events) is Jesus Christ. We focus on Him alone, and trust the Holy Spirit to do what He does best.

GameDay Church is an event. We acknowledge that. It is a front-door event for many. It is the church seeking to go where the crowd is, as opposed to simply creating another crowd.

Believing that God has led us to offer this worship and teaching experience at the cross-roads of cultural engagement, leads us to trust Him to draw those to Himself that day. Focus means we must not be side-tracked on issues that are not vital. This is not a watering-down of the Gospel. In fact, by being so solidly focused upon it, it leads us to be missionally engaged in ways that we often just read about and "amen" but never do.

Tweet: If Christianity is simply behavior-modification, then we have lost focus. @davidtark @gamedaychurch http://ctt.ec/B9h25+If Christianity is simply behavior-modification, then we have lost focus.

So, if you're a football fan and have friends who would never attend a traditional church service with you, why not get a few tickets here (use our GAMEDAY code) and come to GameDay Church on your way to the game? Let's trust God to do what His Word declares. He does more than modify behavior, he transforms hearts.

The question has been answered. Now, let's pray that God will draw many to Himself through His church.


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?"

 

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 11am 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)