Churches Must Love Their Cities As Much As the "Bold City Brigade" Loves Jacksonville & the Jaguars

In our city and region, sports teams are powerful influencers. While I am sure those sports fans from historic Title Towns like Green Bay, Chicago, New York, and Boston would claim that the energy here regarding sports pales in comparison to theirs, the fact remains that our city loves sports. 

A Sports Loving City

It has been a tough run for our one major professional sports team. Our minor league teams (Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp and Jacksonville Icemen) have fared well and have great fan-bases. However, with more games each year, smaller venues, and cheaper tickets it is not really fair to comparing the numbers for our minor league baseball and hockey teams to MLB and NHL cities is an apples to oranges comparison. Yet, to be clear, both of these minor league franchises have done exceptionally well in connecting with the city, advertisers, regional groups, and fans of all ages. The entertainment value is high.

Enter: The Jaguars

Twenty-five years ago Jacksonville made national and international news when the NFL awarded our city a new franchise. I have made this region my home since that time and like many others here have gone all in as a fan of the teal and black Jaguars. Initially, our team sold out the rebuilt Gator Bowl stadium (later named Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, EverBank Field, and now TIAA Bank Field.) During the era of Coach Tom Coughlin and players such as Mark Brunell, Tony Boselli, Jimmy Smith, Keenan McCardell, and Fred Taylor, our team saw early success and narrowly missed an early visit to the Super Bowl. Those were great days and the fans throughout our city donned the teal and proudly declared their love for the Jaguars.

Yet, we're a small market. Other than Green Bay, Wisconsin, I believe Jacksonville may be the smallest in the NFL. When the team began its far-too-long journey through a valley punctuated with losing seasons, poor draft picks, tarps over seats, and less than stellar play on the field, the rumors began to circulate that the NFL would love for the team to relocate to a larger market.

There were rumors of the Los Angeles Jaguars, the Las Vegas Jaguars, the St. Louis Jaguars, and more recently, the London Jaguars. The rumors died down some once the team began to show signs of a turnaround. The 2017 Jaguars season was exciting and the team made it once more to the AFC Championship only to lose to the New England Patriots because someone could not acknowledge that "Myles Jack wasn't down." I'm not bitter. I'm just speaking truth here.

The fan base increased. Ticket sales were up. It was a great season. Things were looking up for 2018. The dreaded word in sports - "potential" was being used much.

Then, the wheels fell off. The Jags had another struggling season in 2018. The 2019 season was not much better. There were trades, firings, and statements from team management to the fans. Yet, even in our small market, there remained great passion for our team.

Another London Game?

Earlier this week the Jaguars announced that in addition to the annual home game played in London, they would be playing two back-to-back home games at Wembley Stadium. This leaves only six regular season home games for Jaguars fans in Jacksonville. While I understand the reasoning given regarding revenue for the team, it is clear that the fan-base with access to social media and call-in radio shows were quick to voice their displeasure.

Sure enough, rumors began once more related to a potential relocation of our team.

The team owner and management have repeatedly stated that is not the goal, but fans are wary. They fear that what occurred in Baltimore, St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland will one day happen here.

As a fan of the team, I certainly hope this is not the case. As a pastor with ministry partners in London, I have been able to see games there as well. London is definitely a huge money-maker for the team and a packed out Wembley Stadium is impressive. Still, I do not want to see the team leave. For selfish reasons, it is because I enjoy watching and cheering for the Jaguars. In addition to that, and definitely a higher priority is what I see the team does for our city and northeast Florida region. 

Passion in the City

Jacksonville has always been a sports town. For decades it has been the strong college football fanbase that has driven the city. The number of Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, Florida State Seminoles, and other college fans is clear throughout the year. When our own universities (University of North Florida and Jacksonville University) in the city excelled in basketball, the city and nation took notice.

The Jaguars have been able in the past to bring the city together at times. Yeah, I know there are many transplants from elsewhere who will never been all in with the Jaguars, but remembering the story of how this city gained a team, how the fans filled the old Gator Bowl years prior to entice the NFL to arrive, and how the teal and black covered the city during the moments of victory reveal the uniting power of a winning team.

Passion for the City

When the Jaguars made their most recent London announcement, a number of fan groups united to share their displeasure. One group, the Bold City Brigade, has released a statement and continues to push fans to share their desire for team ownership to reconsider the London option. While the two-games-in-London scenario is likely not going to change for 2020, the passion for our city has been clearly shared.

Just look at the statement from the Bold City Brigade here - 

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CLICK FOR LARGER VIEW OR GO TO http://www.boldcitybrigade.com/

Whether you care about football or not, or even acknowledge the Jaguars as a team you would watch, this passionate statement reveals the love for a team and for a city by a large number of citizens.

My point is not about the Jaguars. It is not about Mr. Khan's desire to have his team play two games in London. It is not even about the NFL which tends to divide people about as much as a State of the Union address.

As a fan, I cheer for the team, but that is not the point.

As I have watched this scenario play out this week, I have thought about the makeup of our city. Our city is one of the most divided and regionalized around. While the land that makes up Jacksonville is large, the unique areas are still here. There are the west side, the south side, downtown, the beaches, the north side, San Marco, Avondale, and more. These do not even consider the non Duval County regions that are some of the fastest growing areas in the state that are also considered part of the "First Coast."

These names make sense to residents. If I meet a person in another part of the country I tell them I am from Jacksonville. If they say "Oh I used to live there," then I say "Well, I am actually from Orange Park." Why? Because one from here knows that there are many different communities that comprise our area and that each has a distinctive identity.

We Must Love Our City

When the Bold City Brigade made their statement, partnered with the many posts on blogs and social media, it was clear that a collective nerve had been hit. In the midst of the stated frustration, anger, confusion, and even worry was a uniting factor. These people (my people) love their football, but also their city.

It is home. 

This is a reminder that our churches and we, as individual believers, must love our people and our city as well. 

I pastor a church that is strategic and intentional when it comes to missions and church planting. We know that we must support and send pastors to the far reaches of the world. We understand and do not apologize for our work in cities as far away as Toronto and Portland. Yet, as we serve and go there, we understand that our church in Orange Park was placed there by God years ago for a reason. Our community needed a gospel witness. There was a need for a church like ours to be placed in a town that would grow and change tremendously over the decades. Throughout these changes, the gospel preached and taught in our church has remained constant.

Our neighborhood is older. The houses are decades old now. The income status of our community has changed. So, too has the racial and cultural diversity. And we love it! 

We love our community. 

We love our city.

We love our people. When I say "our people" I am not talking about members of our church only. I am talking about our neighbors, the children and teachers in our local schools, the first responders who serve, the ones who do not attend church, do not claim to be Christians, and perhaps have stated that they do not like us too much. 

This is not compromising on the gospel. It is not the ignoring of sin. It is loving others as Christ loved us. It is loving people without affirming sin. It is agape. It is needed and we must remember that love is a choice. So we love.

We must. 

We must love with the love God has given us. We must love enough to keep from hiding in our buildings. We must declare the gospel clearly. We must love enough to confront when needed, comfort when required, and clarify when asked.

The Bold City Brigade loves their city. They love their team. 

Do we love our city this much? We must. 

Apart from love, the message will not be shared. The message of the gospel is not a win or lose message. It is a live or die message.

 

By the way - I really don't want the Jaguars to relocate. Ever. DUUUVAL!!!!! 


Sports, Idolatry, and Created Heroes

I am a sports fan. I have been since I was a child. I come by it naturally as my father has always been a big sports fan.

I remember watching games on television as a kid. I also remember when I actually became more enamored with the game than the uniforms or the team logos (though, I still love uniforms and team logos. I guess I'm one who "gets it" according to Paul Lukas and Uni-Watch. I am also thankful for the work of Chris Creamer. I love his site.)

Over the years, like other fans, I have developed a liking for certain sports, teams, leagues, and athletes. Some are based on where I lived as a child and the fan-base that surrounded me. In some cases, these were the teams that we were able to get on television in our region or were those teams and sports followed by family members.

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Photo credit: Jim Larrison on Visualhunt / CC BY

Like many American sports fans, I have favorites in the big four leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, & NHL,) while I have begun to follow teams in some of the smaller leagues growing in popularity as well (mainly MLS.)

Not only did I grow up watching sports, I played as well. I played soccer (one season - we lost every game except the one I didn't make it to, so that ended my soccer career,) baseball, and basketball. Being one of the tallest kids in junior high and high school (topping out at 6'7") I leaned into basketball after some urging by the coach. While my skill level was a bit behind my peers for years, as the coach said "You're tall and I can't teach height. I can teach basketball, so you're on the team." I loved the sport, but mostly I loved being part of a team and representing my schools. Playing in high school was great, but the years I played in college truly helped me to grow in areas off the court. It was only two years of being on the team, so I learned the ups and downs of making a team, being let go, and working through adversity.

Sports as Idolatry

At some point, every kid playing basketball in the driveway or throwing a football in the front yard dreams of playing on the biggest stage in the world, for that team he cheered for growing up. Some do make it to the big leagues, but the vast majority do not. For these (of whom I am one) we go to games and buy tickets or watch our favorite teams or athletes on television and land into the category of fan.

Here in the South, sports has been called religion. It's often said "tongue-in-cheek" but we know there is truth to that, especially on Saturdays during college football season.

Can sports become an idol? Sure it can. Anything can. Barnabas Piper was featured on the Sports Spectrum podcast this week and was asked that question. He stated...

It can very easily be idolatry in that way where it is the thing people depend on to fill in the gaps in other areas of their lives. They fight with their spouse and turn to watching football. They had a miserable week at work and turn to, you know, playing softball. They...do whatever...and it becomes a crutch or an idol often. You see it in them.

I think that's where vitriol comes from.

When we depend too much on something that we don't have any control over or ... it's not an ultimate thing. Sports are not ultimate. They're a gift from God. They're tons of fun, but they're not an ultimate thing.

When we put too much dependence on that, we're just setting ourselves up for misery, for disappointment, and so...then, all that hope we put on it just gets crushed. It seems to be a pattern across sports. It doesn't matter what the sport is, what the level is. When you see the Little League dads throwing haymakers at their kid's game because a fourteen-year-old made a bad strike call...there's just a level of insanity.

I believe Piper is spot on. Most every sane, adult sports fan would agree. But, we often slide into this idolatrous mode where our fandom becomes more important than it ever should be. 

I asked a friend who serves as a chaplain and mentor to many athletes about some of the dynamics these athletes face. I began to see things that should be obvious to all of us as fans, but often get ignored. These are things as Christians we may even miss as we watch our favorite uniforms compete during weekend games. 

Creating and Destroying Sports "Heroes"

These are not points shared by the chaplain, but things that have come to mind that I believe should be remembered as we cheer on our teams and favorite athletes, in no particular order:

  • For the most part, these sports "heroes" are very young. This is especially true for rookies. While there are some exceptions, and some long-time veterans on these professional teams, most of the premiere athletes on our favorite teams are in their young twenties. I am now at an age where my young twenties are little more than history lessons. What I know is this - I am glad social media did not exist when I was in my late teens and early twenties. If it did, my statements about life would still be posted online somewhere from a twenty-year-old's perspective. I know there are some very wise and insightful young men and women out there, but just knowing who I was back then...I'm glad there's not much of a record. I was immature. I was young. I was growing up and learning. So too are many of these young athletes. 
  • "They're all millionaires. They're set for life." It may seem that way, but it's not true. Some are multi-millionaires. Some have shoe contracts and logos and have their images plastered everywhere, but there are many more professional athletes who may be a few rungs down on the bench, making the rookie minimum (which is substantial in some leagues, but is simply an annual contract.) Be careful to judge someone by the stuff they accumulate, especially in cases where their surrounding support do not bring wisdom to the table. 
  • "They're getting paid to play a game, so they should just be quiet and play!" Uh...I've heard this. You likely have as well. It may be a game, but do not forget, at the professional level it is a business. There is a union. There are team owners. There are many dollars being negotiated. Players have a shelf-life. Even Tom Brady will not play forever. While some athletes tend to say things that make us cringe, or become the opposite of fans of them, remember the previous bullet points and also remember that not every twenty or thirty-something has a microphone shoved into their face regularly with pointed questions designed to elicit controversial remarks. There are likely many who have said things only to go home where their spouse says "Honey...really? You shouldn't have said that." Okay, that's what happens in pastors' homes, but I imagine it happens in athletes' homes as well.
  • When it comes to professional and collegiate athletes, most have experienced a lifetime of playing sports where they were the best on the team. They were celebrated in high school and on their travel teams. They were placed on pedestals and told they were the best. In some cases, some people have used this idol-making process to create revenue streams for their respective teams, doing little more than using the athlete for the good of the brand. 
  • When the run is over...many are forgotten and struggle to find their way. I believe the severity of this reality increases at every level of play. I was excited to finally become a starter on my high school basketball team. I was pumped when the small college in my town offered me a scholarship to play for them. Two years later I was traumatized when my scholarship was removed, a better player was signed, and I was told I would no longer be on the team. I wasn't even playing at the NCAA D-I level, but even then, my identity which has been so wrapped up in my sport was shaken. I don't think I even watched basketball for four years after that. I cannot imagine the emotions and fear that comes when the professional athlete who has a good contract with his team, an agent who helps negotiate such, is then brought into the coach's office to be told that his/her services will no longer be needed. It cannot be easy. Some may make the transition easier than others, but what about those who do not? Identity wrapped up in what you do (playing a game in these cases) is gone when what you do becomes what you used to do. 
  • Fans forget that these people are not just imaginary players on a video game or just someone chosen for a fantasy league. These are men and women, made in the image of God, who for a short season of their lives, played a game for fun and the entertainment of of those who bought tickets and cheered for the logo on the uniform. 

The sports-saturated culture we live in creates sports "heroes." I use the quotes because I struggle with using that term to describe athletes, but it is used so often, it seems to resonate with most. Therefore, when our sports "heroes" are doing well, standing high upon the pedestal we create for them, we are at peace.

Until the next week, when the "hero" has a bad game. Worse yet, what if the "hero" is injured? What if he/she cannot ever play at the high level again? 

I'm guilty of just moving on and cheering for the next in line. Why? Because I've been a fan of certain teams for years and the players and personnel always change. I will likely always be that fan. In fact, that's pretty normal.

However, I am convicted that the players who entertained me for years while wearing the uniform I cheer for, are not two-dimensional men and women, but people just like me (well, okay not just like me. They're actual athletes. I'm a former athlete who never made it to their level, with a strong emphasis on "former.") They are like me in that they are image-bearers of God. They have things in life that bring them joy. They have fears, too. They wonder who they truly are and many have been seeking that for years. Some had a higher level of confidence in their identity as long as they wore the uniform, but now? Now, they wonder.

That's why it is so vital that these men and women hear the truth of the gospel. It's needed for all, not just them, so don't misread what I'm writing. Yet, in this case in a culture that creates these sports idols, the church needs to be proactive in seeking to help those who help them during the most difficult times of life. Maybe it's a chaplain? Maybe it's a coach?

What If Christian Fans...

Maybe it begins with prayer?

While some may not see the value, can you imagine what it would be like for a professional or collegiate athlete who was celebrated for years in his town, but due to recent reports or maybe some poorly advised choices, is now being raked over the coals daily in the blogs, articles, radio programs, and television media? What if they received a card or message from a fan who "gets it" saying something like "I don't know exactly what the pressure you feel is like, but I want you to know that God does. It must be hard to be in your situation right now. Please know that while I am a fan of the team, I have beliefs and a faith that is much bigger and more important than wins and losses. Therefore, know that I am praying for you and your family."  What if that fan actually did pray? More than once?

This would not be some sappy self-focused message intent on receiving an autograph or free tickets to the game, but a true prayer for these young men and women who play games for our entertainment. Prayer that they would know the God who bestows identity, not based on sports performance, but on submission to Him, repentance of sin, and surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord.

Maybe, just maybe, those we celebrate would begin to understand a game plan for life that goes beyond the playing field. And, we as fans, could be a catalyst for a God-sized story to occur.

BTW - I still like when my teams win. I still get upset when they do not. I'm still a fan of sports. However, I'm a follower and child of God. That changes everything.


The Church, Travel Ball, and Quality Sports Ministry

There is no doubt that our culture is sports-hungry. The money spent and made in the professional and college sports world is astounding. It was only a couple of generations that long ago that professional sports leagues were relegated to the northeast in the US and team travel was by bus. Of course, now our professional leagues are international and the number of teams and players continue to grow.

New leagues develop. Creative logos and team names are popping up, all while the attempt to remove and relegate to history the now understood offensive team names and logos. My prediction is that no teams in the future will be named after a group of human beings for fear of being politically incorrect and insensitive. As PETA and other "animal rights" groups influence the culture, we may see a decline of animal logos and mascots as well. You know what this means? It means that all future team names will be named after concepts and things that make little sense. You know, like Magic, Heat, Dynamo, Fire, and Ice. However, given time, someone will find offense in these names as well.

In the meantime, we will celebrate the creativity of Jumbo Shrimp and Baby Cakes as team names.

But I digress...

The growth of team sports on a professional and collegiate level is clear, but the added impact for those in high school and younger is immense.

Travel Ball

In a recent pastoral leadership gathering, the question of ministering to and with those families whose lives shift each year based on their children's AAU and travel ball schedule is no longer something relegated to just a few families in the community.

Since there are now weekend tournaments and travel games for sports that in the past weren't even considered sports, such as competitive dance, cheerleading, and even jump rope (thanks Kendrick brothers,) more and more families are traveling to exotic locales such as Lake City, Ormond Beach, and Gainesville over the weekends for the competitions. 

The dilemma for the church and families has been clear for years. As a pastor and parent who years ago made the AAU basketball travel circuit, I not only understand, but lived through the challenges. I'm not sure I always responded correctly, but nevertheless, I do not speak as one in the ivory tower proclaiming that every family should put away the athletic gear. 

Forsaking the gathering together as God's church is not up for debate either. God settled that need already.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. - Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

While the argument that "We will just do a devotion in the hotel on Sunday morning as a family" may suffice for some, it it truly not the same as the gathering as the local body of believers. Sure, we're not giving out "Perfect Attendance" pins any longer, but there is value in prioritizing the gathering as a church family. There will be exceptions, certainly, but it seems that for many, and not just travel ball families, the exceptions become the norm.

This conflict between church and family time as it relates to youth sports has been addressed by others over the years. Here are a few articles. I don't necessarily agree with every point presented, but this is a good indicator of the tension and desire for resolution among churches and Christian families.

The discussions regarding the redemption of travel ball and summer leagues with the church continue. I personally am not opposed to the leagues, but do see the church as needing a strategic plan for engaging those who participate. 

Quality Sports Ministry

Numerous churches and parachurch organizations have sought to engage the sub-culture of athletes with the Gospel with varying degrees of success. A group meeting at a high school for athletes may work well, but it is dependent on the leader, the openness of the school, and the commitment level of local churches and students. 

There are some really good sports ministries around. That being said, there are some pretty bad ones as well.

A former church member who now lives in another state, Coach Brian Ferguson and his wife Mary Beth have formed a good and focused sports ministry - Building Powerful Athletes. It is focused on reaching and engaging young athletes with the Gospel. Coach Ferguson has coached football at various levels from prep to professional and has seen first-hand how Christianity and sports need not be mutually exclusive. 

In one conversation with him as we were planning opportunities for future camps and clinics, he expressed how many of the clinics made available are less than effective. I have heard this from many others as well. 

It seems when churches seek to enter the arena of sports, a weak version of sports training is often paired with a watered-down version of the Gospel leaving attendees with little more than a T-shirt, "coaching" tips from dads and older teenagers in the church, with the "celebrity" athlete arriving just to give a 15 minute pep talk garnished with just enough Jesus to make it a "Christian" event (yeah, the quotes are intentional.)

This is basically Sports Light with a dose of Diet Gospel.

David Prince, pastor, professor, theologian, author, and sports fan, has written an excellent book titled In the Arena: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship. I highly recommend it for parents, pastors, coaches, and all believers who love sports, or just want insight into how God uses such for his glory.

Connecting To Athletes

If the young athlete is immersed in the game, he/she becomes part of a sub-culture. There is a language that develops and customs too. To seek to engage an unreached people group, missionaries pray and train and study to best determine how to enter the world of those being sought. Far too many Christians who love sports have ignored how God utilizes such things for his glory.

Last weekend, our church's sports ministry hosted former University of Tennessee Lady Vol and WNBA player, Sidney Spencer Marlborough for a one-day basketball clinic. The purpose was to engage those young ladies in our community who play basketball at their junior high or high school. We learned that hosting a clinic the week after AAU ends is not the best timing, but we did have a group of twelve attend. These girls came from various schools in our county and Sidney's history and expertise in basketball allowed her to speak the language with authority that these young ladies understood. Her husband Bryan, owner of Complete Strength Gym near Kansas City, shared details on exercise and strength training as well. These two were our resident experts who spoke with clarity and authority.

TEAM PHOTO

Yet, it was during lunch when the girls could ask questions and Sidney and Bryan had the opportunity to share more about their lives where the message of the Gospel became very clear. Sidney clarified that sports does not define us. Both she and Bryan affirmed that Christianity and athletics are not mutually exclusive. 

Following lunch, another three hours of basketball ensued.

It was a full day, but at the end, there was solid, quality basketball instruction. There was clear Gospel presentation. And, there were relationships birthed and young ladies in our community discovered a church that loves God enough to love them, even without knowing them first. May this be a catalyst for more quality sports ministry engagement opportunities.

 

First Family Sports - Sidney Spencer from First Family on Vimeo.

 

First Family Sports - Bryan Marlborough from First Family on Vimeo.

 


The Global Mission of the NFL and the Church

GameDay Church began in 2015 as an effort of our church’s network of campuses to engage and connect with fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars prior to home games. Live music, free BBQ and bottled water, and a brief, encouraging Gospel-centered message are the elements of a GameDay Church gathering. In Jacksonville, we meet under a tent in the parking area west of EverBank Field, near the Baseball Grounds and Old St Andrews Church (a city-owned building that houses the Jacksonville Historical Society.) GameDay Church is part of firstFAMILY and our main campus is First Baptist Church of Orange Park.

THE NFL'S GLOBAL MISSION

One of the unique things about the Jacksonville Jaguars is the annual “home game” at Wembley Stadium in London, England. The NFL has a strong, intentional global mission effort underway. The NFL desires to sell American football to the world. Following efforts of the World League and NFL Europe, it appears the NFL has succeeded in creating a fan-base.

This year, the Jaguars’ home game was set for 2:30pm (London time) on Sunday, October 2. However, the NFL was very present in London the entire weekend. On Saturday, October 1, the NFL took over Regent Street in London. This annual NFL-themed fan festival featured live music, appearances by players and coaches, and even the commissioner. Though it was misty and cool, the street was filled with fans wearing hats, shirts, and jerseys from just about every NFL team. We (Dr. Josh Dryer of the Jacksonville Baptist Association and I) attended the festival and had the opportunity to speak with our local media about GameDay Church.

PARTNERS IN ENGLAND

At first, the concept of taking GameDay Church to London seemed impossible, but the more we discussed it, the option became a realistic goal. Through pastoral and mission connections in the UK developed over the years, we reached out to a network of Baptist pastors in the nation, wondering if any would be interested in partnering for GameDay.

Andrew Jackson, Pastor of Harrow Baptist Church in London responded and dialog began. Pastor Jackson readily admitted that he knew very little about American football, but was intrigued with the idea of GameDay Church and would be interested in working together.

Wembley Stadium is just a fifteen-minute tube ride from Harrow. The setup at Wembley is much different that at EverBank. The most glaring difference is the lack of parking for automobiles. Most fans take the tube. Without being able to secure a spot near the stadium for an outdoor service, we opted to join the congregation of Harrow Baptist this year for worship. The partnership is new, so the membership of Harrow needed to not only meet us, but to understand the vision and goal of our gatherings.

I shared with the congregation the vision of GameDay and attempted to explain American football. While the football references did not always translate well, the sports illustrations did. A brief message from Galatians 1 focusing on the grace of God was shared. Pastor Jackson then brought the day’s sermon.

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A group from our church also attended services at Harrow that morning. They had traveled with our partner Exploring Europe with David McGuffin and toured the city and surrounding areas. David is a member of our church and leads groups to Europe throughout the year.

Following services, we traveled to Wembley and joined 83,000 others for the football game. By the end of the game, Pastor Jackson stated that he had been won over as a fan, but also added “Your Jaguars create stress.” Amen to that.

 

GameDay Church London - Post-Game from First Family on Vimeo.

 

FUTURE ENGAGEMENT

The NFL has a global mission. The church has a deeper mission. The intent of GameDay Church is to engage an unreached people group with the life-changing message of the Gospel. That people group gathers weekly in stadiums around our nation (and at times in other nations) to cheer on football teams. While we will never abandon gathering at our main campus for services, GameDay is our intentional outlet to take the Gospel to the crowd.

Winning over people to American football is not the goal of GameDay Church, but winning fans of football over to Christ is. Our vision is to have a GameDay Church gathering at every NFL stadium weekly. Our international goal is to increase our partnerships with churches in London for the sake of engaging fans. Ultimately, we would love to see fans become followers. That’s the power of the Gospel.

For more details, check out our website – gamedaychurch.org.


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!

 

 


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."

 


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.


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 artificial 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.