There are so many famous sayings about home: “Home is where the heart is,” “There’s no place like home,” “Home is my happy place,” and my personal favorite, “Home is where the wi-fi connects automatically.” Home is relative. I was born and raised in Tennessee and that is home; but I have never felt more at home than I do here- Centralia is my home. Tennessee and Missouri hold spots in my heart that make them both home to me. In fact, I have adopted the phrase “Show Me State with a Tri-Star Heart.” And though I absolutely love my Centralia home, I do come home to Tennessee to see family and friends. It’s always good to be in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, seeing family, driving through Pigeon Forge & Gatlinburg; but by the end of the trip, I’m ready to be home in Centralia. Home holds a lot of meaning for me.
Not everyone is as fortunate as I am though. For some, home holds painful memories and rough experiences. It’s not a place of fond recollections of time with friends or happy holiday festivities. Home is not some place they ever want to return. To you, my friend, let me encourage you today to change your definition of home. Let me encourage you to not look at home as merely an address or a location, but the place where you feel loved, cared for, encouraged, and supported. That may very well be an address or it may be a group of people. Regardless of your situation, whether home holds fond memories or terrible nightmares, let me encourage you today to come home to a place where you are loved. Wherever or whoever that may be. Too often, our default is to tackle the world on our own and one of the hardest things for anyone to say is, “I need help.” I want to encourage as many of you as I can today, no matter where you are, to come home- no matter what level that is for you.
Church- those who call Jesus Lord, be that home. Luke 15:11-32 tells the story of the prodigal son. A story that most people are familiar with. It focuses on a son who squandered his inheritance and wound up living with pigs. He finally came home, expecting to be servant, but was treated like a king. This is EXACTLY what God did for us when Jesus died on a cross. He made us joint heirs with Jesus Christ, clothed us in righteousness, and called us sons and daughters. The forgotten son in the story is the older son who resented his brother being welcomed back. His argument was that his younger brother didn’t deserve to be welcomed back or treated like royalty. Jesus reminds us in this parable, that none of us were worthy, but the love of God surpasses all of that and we should rejoice every time one comes home. We must be home to those who struggle, those who have messed up, those who live without hope. We must be home to those who don’t agree with us, not compromising truth, but proclaiming it and trusting GOD to change hearts.
So, to the person struggling to get through the day, welcome home. You can find peace & rest in Jesus Christ. To the person who believes they have messed up beyond help, welcome home. We cannot out sin God’s grace. You can find forgiveness in the love that Jesus offers. To the person who has walked away from their faith and the church, welcome home. It is never too late to hand your life over to the Lord. You can find redemption in Jesus Christ. To the person who hasn’t made their faith a priority, welcome home. You can find grace through Jesus Christ who wants to know you and wants you to grow daily in that walk as you follow Him. To the person who has hardened their heart to outsiders and change, welcome home. You can find truth in the Word of God that will open up a vast world of opportunity to reach people who are lost, lonely, hurting, and in need of hope. To the person who doesn’t know Christ as their savior, welcome home. We aren’t perfect. Someone will say the wrong thing to hurt feelings and we won’t always live up to expectations; but I promise you this, Jesus ALWAYS does. He can transform your life in a way that you could not possibly imagine. You can find salvation in Jesus Christ and I would love to share with you just how He can do that.
It’s football season and I am looking forward to being in the stands tonight to cheer on Centralia. That is where I want to be fan. I do not, however, want to be caught on the sidelines of my faith. Several years ago, Kyle Idelman, now Senior Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, wrote a book called Not a Fan. It was a well written, thoughtful book about how Christians participate (or don’t participate) in their walk with Christ. The message of that book has stuck with me through the years since I read it and it caused me to view the Christian life, particularly mine, in a different light. One thing that it did, was it made me realize that, like the book said, there are far too many people sitting on the sideline, just a spectator, not really participating. However, as I continue to look through this lens (always at myself first), I came to the realization that there are so many different reasons that people stay on the sidelines. While I cannot address all of the individual reasons we choose to stay on the sidelines, I always feel the need to encourage you to get up and get in the game; and maybe, just maybe, I can encourage you today to do just that.
To my fellow believers- Get off the sidelines: The old cliche of 20% of the people do 80% of the work needs to exit our vocabularies. Get in the game. The Great Commission does not say “Church Staff” go and make disciples. It does not say “Sunday School Teachers” go and make disciples. It does not say “People who have their lives together” go and make disciples. It is an imperative from Christ Himself to ALL OF US to go and make disciples of all nations. In fact, the exact wording if you need the reference is:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Then in Acts 1:8, a coinciding promise and command is given, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” It is has been made pretty clear that we all have the responsibility to share the gospel, to see people baptized, and to walk with them as we all grow in our faith.
To the casual believer- Get off the sideline: God has placed you on my heart. I want you to be sure, without a shadow of a doubt that you belong to the Lord and not just think you might be. No one who truly has an encounter with Christ will ever walk away the same. I want you to have assurance that beyond a shadow of a doubt that your life has been handed over to the Lord. In his book, Kyle says this:
“The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.”
Kyle Idelman- Not a Fan
If you know that you belong to the Lord, but you’ve been on cruise control lately or for most of your walk, it’s never too late to get in the game. Don’t try to satisfy your conscience by checking boxes of “good, religious things to do.” Get in the game, do the work, and experience the amazing pain of growth. Jesus never asked for fans, He asked for followers; and following requires a response. We cannot hope to follow if we are firmly planted on the sideline.
To the non believer- Get off the sideline: There is a God who loves you. There is a God who wants to save you. I know it’s not always easy to believe that when people who claim to believe in Him don’t exactly reflect it. I get it, I really do. Let me say this though, being a follower of Christ doesn’t make anyone perfect. God never expected us to be perfect as believers, He does expect us to be authentic. If you have tried church before, let me encourage you to try it again. This time, look for one that is authentic and not perfect. The perfect church doesn’t exist, but there are authentic churches out there. You will always run into believers that will upset you, we do too. What I can promise you is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and real. It offers hope and salvation, and it provides a love that you could not imagine. It will change you- the way you think, the way you act, the way you perceive things. It will cost you and once you place your faith in Him, life doesn’t automatically become a bed of roses because we still live in a broken and fallen world. But, you will no longer be a slave to this broken world and this life will no longer be as good as it gets. You can’t know this peace and this love if you never respond to it. God is calling you to Him, the message is this repent, turn away from the broken life of sin you lead, and trust that Jesus is the Son of God and that He paid the penalty for those sins. That he lived the life we couldn’t live and died the death we should have died. But not even death could hold Him because He rose 3 days later to give us victory over death. Don’t look for faith based on what you read or see on social media, find a believer, an authentic believer, not perfect, and let them share with you what God can do.
No matter where you are in life or your walk with Christ. If you are sold out or if you aren’t even a believer, get off the sideline and into the game. Respond to the gospel, be baptized, actively grow in your faith, and while we are at it, let’s make more disciples one person at a time. It’s good to be back.
Two weeks ago, I wrote the first part of this segment showing how God is revealed in His word. That the bible to true, accurate, divinely inspired, and infallible. I think this is the harder one for Christians to present to unbelieving friends, because as I try to put myself in an unbelievers shoes, I think it is easy to dismiss the infallibility of the Bible as opinion. Culture has made it easy to do so too. Many libraries will put religious texts like the Bible in the fiction section. This only furthers the argument that a Christian’s view of the Bible is an opinion. That is a difficult thing to battle against when you are trying to show an unbeliever that God’s Word is indeed the truth. And there are plenty of people who would look at me and say, “what if you’re wrong?” When I get that question, my usual reply is this:
“If I’m wrong about the whole thing, then all I’ve done is spent my life trying to be the best person I can and make a difference in other’s lives. However, if you’re wrong and I’m right, the consequences are far greater AND eternal. Given those odds, isn’t it at least worth looking into?”
I know what you are thinking- easier said than done and you’re right; but remember, we aren’t responsible for the results of the gospel, we are responsible for the message.
I think the harder part to refute for unbelievers and the easier route (for the unbeliever) to begin our evangelistic efforts is by looking at God’s creation. My oldest son isn’t exactly what you would consider a social butterfly, but we have done our best to raise him how to speak up for his faith and what he believes. Granted, that comes out in the form of sarcasm a lot more than we would care to admit, but we know he IS having these conversations. I picked him up from school a couple of weeks ago and he asked me how to handle the statement, “I will believe in God when I can see Him.” This is a good one. How do we share the love of God and His awesome majesty if people cannot see Him? I asked my son how do you know there is wind? We can’t see it. What about oxygen? I told him to share God’s creation. We can’t use church speak and talk about prayer right off the bat, because that will easily be dismissed. God’s revelation of himself through the Bible, prayer, and Jesus Himself (like we discussed last time) is known as “Special Revelation.” This revelation is often best shared second simply because many unbelievers have not grown up in or around church and have not reached the point of grasping what they may think to be “supernatural things.” However, God revealing himself through His creation is known as “General Revelation.” This is a much easier starting point for the unbeliever because it deals with things they can see and touch. You need to understand, this is not the easier route for us. We often want to dive into the spiritual too early and if the person is not ready for that, they will quickly dismiss us. We usually don’t like to begin evangelizing with this because, quite frankly, we need to prepare more for this conversation. However, if we can get an unbeliever to understand that we can see God in everything around us, then we have (to put it in video game terms) unlocked a new level on which to take the person through.
Even if we look at the world through a scientific lens, it is difficult to refute the concept of design. There are people on both sides of the Religion vs. Science argument. I am not one of those people who believe they are incompatible. I firmly believe that God has given us the sciences to continually prove not only His existence, but concrete proof of His design. As we have seen over the years, the more science unlocks about DNA, about the inner workings of the human body, and the intricate details of animal and plant life, it consistently points to one conclusion- intelligent design. So, what do you do when your own discipline and devices prove the point you’re trying to disprove? You concede some, but still refuse to acknowledge God exists because that means you’d have to admit there was something you didn’t know or understand. Now, if an evolutionary biologist happens to be reading, I’m sure they would be ready to throw down a lot of facts they have learned over the course of their Ph.D.; and I have no doubts that they could make me sound less intelligent than they are- and they are right, they are smarter than me. The problem, however, lies not in being able to refute an insignificant pastor, because I’m not who they really need to prove wrong. They are up against a truth that is far greater than their intellectual capacity and the more they have tried to disprove His existence, the more Science has backed the idea that the universe was designed. Don’t take my word for it. Like I said, I’m nobody in this field. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t quote David Berlinski, noted philosopher, scientist, and self proclaimed agnostic. Here is what he said in his book The Devil’s Delusion:
“Has anyone provided proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close. Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close. Have our sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close. Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough. Has rationalism and moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not close enough. Has secularism in the terrible 20th century been a force for good? Not even close, to being close. Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy in the sciences? Close enough. Does anything in the sciences or their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Not even in the ball park. Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.”
David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion
No matter how we look at it, God’s fingerprints are all over His creation. I have a hard time believing that people can marvel at the intricacy and design put into every detail of every living thing only to think that it all came from some cosmic accident. So, the real question is, do people think that God isn’t real because they can’t see Him, or are they just choosing to ignore Him for one reason or the other? The science seems clear. The Bible is clear. We need to be diligent in delivering the message to people who need to know that He is real and He wants a relationship with Him. We should never assume that people’s rejection of God is a permanent thing. We need to faithfully share His love and then sit back and watch God do the work. I will leave you with the words of the great C.S. Lewis:
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
“And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”
Go and tell the world about Jesus. It’s a must, but it isn’t as easy as people make it out to be. You are essentially sharing the gospel about a savior that people don’t realize they need, yet. Thankfully, the results are not up to you, those are God’s. You job is to deliver the message. While the delivery of the message is all we are responsible for, we must be ready for the response. 1 Peter 3:15 reminds us,
but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
1 Peter 3:15
Are you ready to do that? Are you ready for the questions? Why do you believe in something you can’t see? Why do you think Jesus is my only option? Are you saying I’m not a good person? How is my life different from these other “christians” out here? The list really can go on and on. Are you prepared to answer more than just “the bible says so” that why. While that is an accurate answer, if I was the unbeliever, I’d say, “ok, show me.” Are we ready for that? Now, don’t get me wrong, you will NOT have all the answers, you will NOT be able to quote every verse and passage off the top of your head (even though the more you interact with God’s word, the more often you will be able to do it- just sayin’), and you will NOT understand all of the questions; but you DO have a responsibility to find out. You can say, “I don’t know”, but you need to follow up with, “but, I will find out.”
On top of that, are you ready for the misinformation and misunderstanding of the Bible? How do you respond when someone says, “but God loves everyone, a loving God won’t send His people to hell.” Then there is “The bible says that I should be like Jesus. I volunteer at the homeless shelter, I feed the poor, and donate to several charities which is more than other christians are doing.” How about this dangerous one, “I walked down the aisle at VBS or summer camp when I was 9, prayed a prayer, and asked Jesus into my heart, so I am good.” These are just a couple of common ones. Do we know God’s word well enough to show the problems in that thinking? While, asking Jesus into our hearts is an easy way to explain salvation to little kids, that and the sinners prayer are actually nowhere in the Bible. Do we know the Bible well enough to know when its being twisted, manipulated, or just misinterpreted? If we don’t, then someone who has read some of it and is more confident in what they are saying can convince us that the bible says that.
My son asked me the other day how you talk to someone about God when they won’t believe in Him unless they can see Him. That’s an excellent question that many believers don’t know how to respond to. The answer is we do see God everyday. God revealed Himself to us two ways: through His creation (which we will look at next week) and through His Word. The bible is the infallible work of God, divinely inspired through human hands, without fault or blemish. Look, there are people who are going to try to refute this. There are even people calling themselves Christians who will refute this and I say with all the genuine love in my heart, they are mistaken. Oh, people will come up with clever paradigms and apparent contradictions that they believe they have found in God’s Word. This is because they look at the Bible through the human lens and not the divine. Man has a desperate need to understand everything and man has trouble accepting the fact that there will be things that we will not understand this side of eternity. The Bible even tells us that we won’t understand it all. We see in Isaiah 55:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways. This is the Lord’s declaration.”
And they ask if I truly believe that…well, yes, I do. I don’t need empirical evidence. I don’t need a mathematical formula to prove the validity and accuracy of God’s Word. I’ve seen too much evidence in my life where every promise God made in there has been kept over and over. So, yes, we can believe in God without seeing Him- it’s called faith after all.
If we are going to be effective witnesses for God’s kingdom and if we are going to be fulfill the commission He left with us through Jesus, we are going to have to become intimately involved in God’s Word. Stop reading it like its a high school English assignment. Stop reading it like its 66 independent books; and start reading it like it’s one complete story that points us to the same place- the cross. Jesus revealed this to us in Luke on the Emmaus road:
” Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the scriptures.”
Do we know God’s Word well enough to show the world the powerful message of hope and salvation from their creator; not only so that we can give a defense of why we believe what we believe, but also so that we can identify when something is not right. God is revealed through His perfect Word.
I have been planning on writing this article for a very long time, but being as it has become such a hotly debated topic with many, shall we say, passionate opinions, I wanted to be very clear and look at this from all possible angles. I have had the privilege of being on both sides of this discussion and I can tell you from experience that there is the good, the bad, and the downright ugly in these conversations. I have been out of the high school coaching world for a while now, so I enlisted the help of one of my closest friends, Michael Forrester, who has over 20 years of high school coaching experience and several years of leading youth groups. How close of a friend is he? Close enough for me to name my first born after him. We talked last night about both sides of the debate and the truth of the matter is that these programs should find ways to work together instead of against each other because the two biggest influences on teenagers lives outside of their parents is typically their youth pastor and their coach. Let’s dive in and discuss the elephant in the room, shall we?
I had the honor of coaching baseball for 15 years. I spent 10 of those years coaching high school baseball and coached several successful competitive travel teams (one of those teams, I coached with Michael). I get it. I get the thrill of watching your players grow and your players get better. I understand the euphoria of winning and have a wildly successful run. The biggest part of that euphoria comes from knowing that you made a difference in the life of your player. Sports, however, has evolved into an all or nothing endeavor that literally engulfs the athletes adolescent life. No time for family, no time for vacation, no down time to be a kid, and certainly no time for church. I have also had the honor of being a student pastor for 13 years, and guess what; I still get the same euphoria. I love watching my students grow in their faith and becoming more solid believers. I love watching them bloom into leaders. And yes, I also love knowing that God used me to make a difference in my students’ lives. Are you starting to see a pattern? That’s right…we both want the same thing! If both coaches and youth leaders would take a step back, communicate, and join forces for a common cause, communities would be changed irrevocably for the better. Let’s talk about why.
Look, every single coach struggles. Every single youth pastor struggles. It’s a fact of life. I write this with the knowledge that I’m speaking on things that I have personally messed up on in the past. So much of this comes from my own personal failures. There are coaches & youth leaders who get this (likely after much trial and error) and there are coaches & youth leaders who struggle with this. The coaches and leaders who struggle have the same things in common in this debate. First, the motivation of their students is fueled by guilt. You want to attend church, the coach makes you feel guilty. You have a game and you are going to miss a youth event, the youth leader makes you feel guilty. You are not going to win over anyone when guilt is your motivation. We are currently walking through a series with my students titled Owning Your Faith. I want them to WANT to be at church and for church to be a priority- and yes I think it is a priority over everything. That doesn’t mean my students can’t be successful athletes…I have several of those. Youth pastors, we all know guilt is not an adequate evangelism tool, so let’s throw it out of the tool box all together and not use it with our athletes. Coaches, we all know guilt will only lead to disgruntled players who will eventually resent you as a coach.
The other thing that coaches & youth leaders struggle with is the idea of “it’s all up to me.” They have convinced themselves that the pressure is on them as the sole influence in the student’s life and if they don’t make a difference, then no one will. I don’t think its malicious (although I’m sure arrogance knows no bounds), but it’s just an incorrect mindset. Youth leaders, we all know the studies. Our students need to have 5 meaningful adult relationships in their lives. We are only ONE of those relationships and we live in a world where few students have both mom and dad in their lives. In fact, we are often struggling to fill all 5 spots for our students. If they play a sport, then we ABSOLUTELY need their coaches on board. If you don’t know them, then get to know them, do what you do best and make a connection. Even if they aren’t strong Christians or Christians at all, they can still be a positive influence on your student if you get on the same page; and who knows, you may get to lead them to Christ as well. Likewise, coaches- you have someone who wants to pour into your athletes, give them a sense of purpose and to believe in something bigger than themselves. They want to develop your athletes into people who will stand up for what they believe and what is true; while teaching them what it means to be a follower of Christ, be confident, and care for others, on top of teaching them to be leaders. Tell me what part of that is not appealing. Even if you are not a believer, what is your downside here? OK, Keith, wrap this up. What do we do? Glad you asked.
The greatest coaches I’ve been around allow their players to go to church on Wednesdays. They invest in their players as people, not just the season. For many players, being able to go to church is important, they just feel like they can’t. The things that these great coaches understand is that there is more to their players’ lives than the sport they play. They communicate with parents and youth leaders. Youth leaders- befriend these coaches. Communicate your needs and schedule and allow them to communicate theirs to you. Coaches, cut practice short on Wednesdays. Wednesdays are the primary day that most youth services occur and are usually focused on delivering God’s Word. You are not going to lose anything on the field by sacrificing an hour once a week to get in those last few snaps, the last swings, or last foul shots. What you will get are players who become better people because they get to grow through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and that will be more valuable than extra reps on the field. And, I mean stop practice for everyone, even if you have players who don’t go to church. That gives your players a chance to invite their teammates to church and it prevents the player who does go to church from the feeling guilty for leaving practice early. If that happens, we are back to where we started. Work with the youth leader on big events that are bible study driven like a disciple now. We are dealing with spiritual growth that will be impacting these players long after they play their last game.
Youth leaders, don’t underestimate the importance of having their coach in your students’ lives. We are always desperate for adults to pour into our students, don’t shut out one of the biggest influences they will have. Find out what your coaches and teams need. Provide snacks or drinks for practice. Host a pre-game meal for them. Find out what the coach needs personally. They sacrifice a lot of time and energy to pour into kids who aren’t theirs….you know, kinda like you do. Be understanding if your athletes aren’t at every single event you put on- especially if the event is not bible study driven. It’s ok if they miss your dodgeball night, your laser tag outing, or your movie night. Get the teams involved in your service projects. Partner with them. Work together. Coaches love that. Most of all communicate the BIG dates and events, particularly the ones with gospel and spiritual implications (like a D-Now or youth conference). And don’t host a dodgeball night, tack a 5 minute devotion on at the end, and pretend it’s bible driven. You are fooling no one, especially the Lord. Work together to make disciples of these students instead of pitting their two loves against each other.
This is the short version. I could write a book on this (and I might just do it). But, there is room for sports and for church- and I truly believe a room for church to be the priority (eternal implications you know) if we are willing to acknowledge the role that God has put us in the lives of our student athletes. This doesn’t even cover the parental role here either, but that’s for another time. I will leave you today with a summation in the words of my good friend, Michael Forrester, who I believe said it best when we were talking about this last night. He said:
“I like to think that a person can be 100% committed to the Lord, and still be very, very committed to their sport. I strongly believe that, as coaches, we have the opportunity to strengthen the faith of our players. I know for a fact that my players help my faith daily. There is no question in my mind that sports teams and youth groups can coexist and should be able to strengthen each other. I wish all coaches and youth leaders wanted that connection, but as you know there are too many of both that don’t want it.”
There are going to be those youth leaders and coaches alike who will not entertain any of the thoughts in here. To that, I can only recommend a re-evaluation & conversation about the health of your connection to those people. What we have here, like Michael pointed out, is a great opportunity to reclaim the relationship between sports and church. A great opportunity indeed.