When Sunday is a workday

Note: This article originally ran in the October 22, 2002 issue of the Indiana Baptist, the official news journal of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana.

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works; Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much more, as ye see the day approaching. – Hebrews 10:23-25

Many a devout Christian upon arriving home from a Sunday morning of worship and fellowship at their church, will relax and turn on the television to watch football. They will put their feet up and settle in to root for the team of their choice and never once consider the fact that these men have already been at work since early in the morning. Preparing for a game in the National Football League is a full-time job and Sunday is a workday.

Players, coaches, and trainers all have a lot of preparation to do before kickoff. By the time the television is turned on teams have already put in hours of work. Which means, of course, they didn’t have opportunity to put on their Sunday best and attend church.

In Indianapolis, the home of the Colts, a lot of hype has surrounded the hiring of a new head coach. Fans have been made aware of Tony Dungy’s coaching background. As the former head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he is the winningest coach in that franchise’s history. He led Tampa Bay to the playoffs in four of his six years there. In 1999 he guided the Buccaneers to their first NFC central division title since 1981.

Nine players earned Pro Bowl honors in 1999 under his leadership. Between 1998 and 2000 the Buccaneers accumulated the second highest number of wins in the entire league. He was selected as the Professional Coach of the Year by the Maxwell Football Club in 1997.

What hasn’t received quite as much coverage is the fact that Dungy has a reputation around the league as a devout Christian. He is known as a man who lives his convictions without apology. It’s a lifestyle that had its beginning in his childhood.

“I was fortunate,” said Dungy. “I grew up with a lot of spiritual background around me. Two of my uncles were Baptist ministers and my mom taught Sunday School. So I accepted Christ early, as a young kid.”

While his salvation came early in life and he enjoyed a strong foundation in spiritual things as a result of a family that cared, it wasn’t until Dungy became a player in the NFL in 1977 that he really began to grow in his spiritual life.

“I went to Pittsburgh with the Steelers my rookie year when I was 21,” he said. “and it was there I got around some guys who were strong Christian athletes. That was the first time I really understood what it meant to be able to deliver in the professional end and still have your Christian attitude be the most important thing. So it was really at that time when I started growing in my faith.”

In fact, according to Dungy, it is precisely because he would no longer have opportunity to attend church on Sundays the way he had in the past that, with the help of his teammates, he became serious about his faith.

“I saw these guys were a little bit different from me,” he said. “They were heroes. They had been to Super Bowls and they were all at the top of their profession. But they took me under their wing and invited me to Bible studies and chapel services and different things. I could see these guys really put their relationship with Christ first. It wasn’t football first, it wasn’t school first, or career or anything. It was what you are doing for the Lord, how you are living your life.
“That was unique to me because I thought the only outspoken Christians were ministers or church leaders or older people. This was an eye opening experience for me. It changed my life.”

Perhaps it is because of the positive influence other players had on his life that Dungy has taken steps to make sure his teams have an atmosphere that fosters spiritual participation.

“I just try to make the atmosphere as conducive as I can to help people to grow in their faith,” he said. “We have a chaplain here and I try to give him as much access as he needs. We try to facilitate Bible studies, chapel services and make sure that it all is available.”

From the very beginning of his tenure as Colts head coach, Dungy has made his priorities known. In the earliest team meetings he made it plain how he was going to conduct his team. In fact, one of the very first things he did after begin hired was contact the team chaplain, Ken Johnson.

Johnson, who has been Colt’s chaplain for 12 seasons, is the director of Helping Hand Group, Inc., an Indianapolis based ministry that helps meet the needs of inner-city children. He is a former urban director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, has sung with the Gaithers, and had a national speaking ministry. Dungy heard Johnson speak a few years ago and, according to Johnson, became very excited when he found out the same Ken Johnson was the chaplain of the Colts.

“He gave me a call and said, ‘you may not remember me but we met a few years ago when you were speaking,’” said Johnson. “Now here’s an NFL head coach who remembers me very well and he’s wondering if I know who he is. Remarkable. But that’s the kind of man he is. Humble.”

The two men met to discuss the spiritual goals of the team for the coming year.
“What we’ve tried to do, in order to foster an environment of spirituality here, is to meet on Tuesday mornings with the coaches for Bible study,” said Johnson. “We meet with the team on Thursday nights in what we call ‘Family Night.’”

Chapel services are held four and one half hours before every game.

“Chapel used to be seen as kind of a good-luck charm,” said Johnson. “But now …
“We don’t have many lukewarm Christians who come to chapel. The Word beats them up. Chapel is uncompromising.”

According to Johnson there have been coaches on the staff who, while they attended chapel services regularly, did things to completely destroy their witness. Dungy, by contrast, is genuine in his faith and leads by example.

“When he came things really took off,” said Johnson. “Everything hinges on leadership and when you have a guy like him taking the lead it makes all the difference. If you are going to have men conduct themselves on the field with respect, in an ethical manner, and with character, you have to have men leading them who know where that comes from.

“Some of our past coaches had the perspective that, even though God and religion are important, football comes before your family and your religion. With a guy who emphasizes lordship you understand the Lord is first, then your family, and then football.

“If you have a wife who is having a baby, this man says, ‘You go take care of your family, your profession will be here when you get back.’ To have a man who understands that is major. Do you know how rare that is today? Not just in football, but in all professions.”

Hunter Smith, the Colts starting punter, is one player who follows Dungy’s spiritual leadership. Smith grew up in a Christian home in Sherman, Texas and is a member of a community church in Indianapolis. According to him, Dungy’s coming to Indianapolis has already made a big difference.

“It’s a huge change spiritually,” said Smith. “Everyone here knows where coach Dungy stands spiritually on this team.”

Like Dungy, Smith has found that working in the NFL does not necessarily mean one will struggle spiritually.

“I find it not to be a difficulty in the least,” he said. “We have Bible studies every week. We have worship. On Sundays before we go to the stadium we have chapel service. I find it not to be a struggle at all.”

On the contrary, rather than finding the NFL to be a negative, both Smith and Dungy have found it to be a remarkable positive in one respect. Their high-profile positions afford them ministry opportunities they otherwise would not have.
“My position as a football player may afford me opportunity to get into places, but it won’t bear lasting fruit.”

According to Smith, that lasting fruit only comes with his relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a message that he shares every week during a Bible study he started in Westfield to minister to high school kids. Kids may come because they think it would be cool to have a relationship with a NFL football player. But they come back because Smith lets them know the best relationship is the one they can have with the Lord of the Universe.

Dungy takes a similar approach.

“We get invited to go places and speak to people that the average citizen doesn’t get the chance to do,” he said. “We get invited to schools, we get invited to youth groups, prisons, a lot of places I go because I am the head coach of the Colts. So, I try to take advantage of that and introduce people to God’s Word.

“In a position like this you get asked about different things on TV or radio interviews that are seen nationally after games. You get a chance to witness to people you would never meet in the normal course of your life.”

Of course a lot of high-profile sports figures have reputations as spiritual people. But Dungy wants it known that he is not merely a “spiritual person” but a Christian.
“I think as a Christian that is something you have to make clear because there are so many thoughts about religion now, so many avenues people want to take.” He said. “Whenever I’m asked to talk about it I make sure people understand my affiliation as a Christian, that I follow Christ and Christ’s teachings according to the Bible.”

His is a lifestyle whose impact is not lost on those who work around him. Radio broadcaster Bob Lamey, the “Voice of the Colts,” said of Dungy, “He is a good man, a good coach, and a good role model for these players to be around.”

Johnson calls Dungy, “The real deal, all the time. It’s not a front, he is genuine all the time.”

Smith, one of those most directly influenced by Dungy, said, “He is an encouragement. A lot of people start strong in their faith and don’t finish that way. Coach Dungy started strong and he has been strong all these years in his faith. And he is going to finish strong, there is no question in my mind. I want to model, in a large degree, my life after his in that respect.”


Coach Tony Dungy

Note: Today it was learned that Tony Dungy’s oldest son died in his Tampa, Florida apartment. I had been working on an article for Thideology about Coach Dungy. I did not want to write about his success as a coach in the NFL but about his character. Now, in light of this terrible family tragedy, this article seems so much more appropriate.

I had already heard of Tony Dungy before he was hired as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. I had heard he was a man of integrity. One who had his priorities straight. One who knew that there are more important things in life than football. I had heard he was a man of uncompromising faith who, without apology, believed in Jesus Christ.

This is why I was so excited to learn, in 2002, that he was coming to Indianapolis. I had been living in Indy since 1998 and was already a die-hard Colts fan. I was excited to have such a man come to coach “my” team. But I also began to speculate about the possibility of interviewing him for the Indiana Baptist, the official news journal of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, of which I was editor. I wanted to write a story about the challenges a Christian faces when Sunday is a workday. How does a believer remain spiritually fed when 16 Sundays a year (sometimes more) access to the preaching, teaching, and fellowship of the local church is limited?

Of course, when a new coach comes to town he is inundated with interview requests. When I contacted the Colts office I was given instructions on how to make an official request for an interview. I had to submit, in writing, the publication for which I was making the request, the circulation, and the nature of my proposed story. I could expect to wait a week to two weeks for a response after they received my request. When I explained I was the editor of a relatively small religious publication I was told my chances of being granted an interview were slim. So I was extremely surprised when a couple of days later I received a telephone call informing me I’d been scheduled for an interview with Coach Dungy.

I was invited to attend a practice at the Colts complex so I could take pictures. Radio broadcaster Bob Lamey, “The Voice of the Colts,” was my personal guide through the facility.

“After practice,” he told me, “The members of the media gather at one corner of the field to meet with Coach Dungy. He gives them five to ten minutes and that’s about it.”

I made sure I was near that spot at the end of practice. I did not want to miss my chance. As Dungy approached I started to gather with the other reporters when Lamey stopped me with a tap to my arm. “Not you,” he said.

I watched Coach Dungy answer questions (pictured at left) about the strength of the Colts’ offense, the weakness of the defense, special teams play and so on. After about ten minutes Coach Dungy thanked everyone, excused himself, and walked in my direction.

“Is this him?” Dungy asked indicating me.

“Yes,” Lamey replied.

After we introduced ourselves to one another I followed Coach Dungy to his office where we visited for the better part of an hour. This amazed me. Here I was, sitting in his office chit-chatting while every other reporter had to hurry through their questions for fear of running out of time.

I wondered why he would spend so much time with me, the editor of a publication I’m sure he’d never heard of before, and so little with the others.

Because, it was explained to me, all they wanted to talk about was football. You came to ask him about Jesus.

In my next entry I’ll share the story I wrote as a result of that interview.

Note: I have enjoyed this NFL season more than any I can remember. “My” Colts have finally added one of the best defenses in the league to an already potent offense. They stand poised to make a run through the playoffs at the Super Bowl and are considered by many to be the favorite. Today’s news has changed that for me. If the Colts don’t win another game this season I won’t care. The loss of Dungy’s son has reminded me that football is just a game. It’s also reminded me of the main reason I root for the Colts…they are led by a man whose priorities never let him forget what’s important. I have no idea the pain Coach Dungy and his family must be enduring now. But there is One who does. My prayers are with him. May the God he openly professes as Lord grant him grace and peace.

As the Colts play out the rest of their season I will root for them harder than I ever have before. The ironic thing is this, after considering the character of the man who leads them and his current situation, I will probably care less than I ever have before about the outcome on the field.

Happy Bill of Rights Day

bill-of-rights0.jpgBill of Rights Day has come and gone. Did you miss it?

I did.

In 1941, barely a week after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt declared December 15, the anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights (pictured at right), as the official Bill of Rights Day in America. Yet, not one mention of the special nature of the day did I notice in any media outlet anywhere. And I read a lot of news from a lot of sources every day.

It’s probably just an oversight, but when considering the respect our government currently affords the document amounts to something barely more than contempt, it’s hardly surprising the day came and went with little or no notice. When I found out about the day (a day late) I began to reflect on the Bill of Rights. Did you know there was actually some debate as to whether or not it should be included in the Constitution at all?

It’s true. Thomas Jefferson really wanted a Bill of Rights in the Constitution but James Madison and Alexander Hamilton both argued such a bill was completely unnecessary. It was ridiculous, thought Madison and Hamilton, to articulate a limit on the government when the Constitution clearly and specifically enumerated the ONLY powers the federal government was authorized to use.

In fact, Alexander Hamilton expressed his concerns in the Federalist Papers (Federalist Number 84). “ (B)ills of rights … are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous.” Hamilton said. “For why declare that things shall not be done (by Congress) which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given (to Congress) by which restrictions may be imposed?”

He made a good point. The limited nature of the federal government was clearly understood. Of course it’s not so today. Today the federal government regularly exercises power not granted it by the Constitution. It collects money in ways the Constitution does not prescribe and expends money on things for which it clearly has no authorization. The specific, limited nature of the Constitution has been all but ignored by generations of politicians who have presumed to know what’s best and have grown drunk with their power.

In the end, Madison acquiesced to Jefferson’s desire for a Bill of Rights. He did so in order that the entire Constitution would not be rejected as a result. Besides, as the “Father of the Constitution” he almost certainly would have wanted to have an influence on any additions or changes (The notes he took while formulating the Bill of Rights can be seen at left).

At the time I would have been persuaded to agree with Madison and Hamilton about the Bill of Rights being unnecessary. With the benefit of hindsight I am grateful Jefferson won the argument. Even with those ten, specifically mentioned limitations on the government, our elected officials and courts continue to attempt to overstep their authority and take away the rights (clearly listed there) that they are sworn to protect.

I do hope you had a good “Bill of Rights Day,” even if it was largely forgotten. Here’s hoping the document, itself, does not soon follow.

For further reading go here, here, or here.

The Bookstore

During my recent research into the Emergent Church I kept running into a worldview that contained elements of post-modernism, relativism, universalism, and humanism, all of them contrary to a biblical worldview. Then it occurred to me, this is nothing new.

Liberal theologians have tried to incorporate these philosophies into Christianity for years. In fact, this very unbiblical worldview has infiltrated and taken control of a great many Christian denominations in recent years. It even made inroads into the Southern Baptist Convention (of which I am a part) until Bible-believing men and women stood up and said, “no more.”

All of this recycled liberal theology I found prevalent in the Emergent Church reminded me of a conversation I had with a women years ago in a bookstore in Indianapolis. I wrote about the experience and it ran in Baptist Press. I think it effectively illustrates the worldview of the Emergent Church.

Here it is:

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–“I’m a Christian,” she said, “but I’m not so arrogant or foolish to think we have the only way to God.”

During a conversation with a lady at an Indianapolis Barnes & Noble bookstore, this was only one of several statements made by someone professing to be a believer in Jesus Christ. I found it odd such a person would ignore the words of the very person she claimed as her Lord.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” — John 14:6.

“He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” — John 3:18.

“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” — Acts 4:12.

“I have a problem with my son-in-law right now over this very issue,” she said. “He and my daughter are getting ready to have a baby and he insists they teach the baby at a very early age about Jesus and the Bible. My daughter thinks they should allow the baby to grow up some and make his or her own determination about spirituality. It’s pretty shallow to try to force your own spirituality on another. Especially since there are so many ways to God out there.”

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” — Proverbs 22:6.

“He dragged me to his church once,” she said. “That preacher talked about how without God everyone is bad. I told my son-in-law I’d never go back to that church because I refused to be around people who ignored the good that is in all of us.”

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” — Jeremiah 17:9.

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” — Romans 3:10.

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” — Romans 3:23.

“For there is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” — Ecclesiastes 7:20.

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” — 1 John 1:8.

“My son-in-law said everyone was a sinner and without Christ would face a terrible judgment,” she said. “I told him that maybe his god was that way. But my god loves everyone and wouldn’t do that. I think I’m better off with my god.”

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” — Hebrews 10:31.

“He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” – 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9.

Every now and then I’m asked whether I think all the fighting over the inerrancy of the Bible in the Southern Baptist Convention was worth it. Always in the past I’ve invited the questioner to imagine a brand of Christianity where the authority of Scripture was ignored in favor of cultural whim and political correctness. The lady I met in Barnes & Noble was completely adrift. She had no anchor, no foundation of any sort.

By contrast, when Southern Baptists get together to discuss doctrine we now agree on the final authority. We can spend more time digging into actual doctrine because we recognize the ultimate authority of the inspired Word of God.

The discussion at Barnes & Noble gave me an actual example of the danger in seeking spiritual authority in places other than Scripture. It also taught me that we, as Southern Baptists, are now known for the stand we took.

Another lady involved in the conversation mentioned how “narrow Christian thinking” had caused her last two relationships to end.

“Were they intolerant?” the first lady asked of the second’s ex-boyfriends.

“Yes,” was the response.

“Were they narrow-minded?”

“Yes. They insisted the Bible was the only authoritative revelation from God.”

“They were probably Southern Baptists.”

They may not have been Southern Baptists, but I’m glad she thought so.

I remember thinking, at the time, how destructive this kind of thinking could be if it ever became the predominant mindset in the church. I’ve seen its terrible effects on several denominations where the authority of the Word of God is subordinate to the feelings of people “in tune” with contemporary culture. I’ve seen it attack the church from without via secular organizations and media. And I’ve seen its defeat at the hands of Christians who would not compromise the Scripture’s authority.

We should always remember this wholly unbiblical worldview is a tool of the enemy, and it is always most effective when it can do its damage from within the church. Praise God it has been thrown back time and time again. But we need to be vigilant. The enemy will not lay aside this weapon that has proven quite effective in the past. It will be repackaged and thrust upon us over and over again.

Always with a fresh, new, attractive name.

The “Emergent Church” (Part IV)

(Continued from Part I, Part II, and Part III)

While I have only recently started looking into the “Emergent Church” I have already seen enough to cause real concern. However, it is my intention to learn more. I plan to read D.A. Carson’s book, “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.” (You can read a review of it here.) In the meantime I would recommend reading Carson’s summary of the movement, “The Emerging Church,” in Modern Reformation magazine.

I will admit that I have already formed some opinions that, barring any new and contradictory evidence, will remain firm. The more I study the beliefs of the “Emergent Church” the more I am convinced it is, at best, inconsistent with biblical Christianity or, at worst, an emerging cult. Just because members of a religious group claim to be followers of Jesus does not mean they are Christians. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses both claim to be Christians but their belief systems are quite at odds with biblical Christianity.

In a similar way I see dangerous trends among the “Emergent Church.” Like cults they give Scripture a backseat to other means of enlightenment. They reject the inerrancy of Scripture and accuse Christians who disagree of “worshipping the Bible.” Apparently the Bible is a nice little “aid” to the Christian faith but it is not absolutely necessary because faith predates “the Book.” They seem unconcerned that this belief is contrary to the notion that “…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” as Paul put it in Romans 10:17.

Some Emergent Churches (not all) have embraced elements of paganism and have incorporated it into their worship. This has led to a wide variety of worship practices that are questionable. They have participated in “space” worship, “kiss” worship, “multi-sensory” worship and something they call the “Judas Ceremony.”

My personal opinion of the “Emergent Church” is that it contains some very good elements and some very bad elements. Among it’s good points are that it’s followers desire a more authentic faith. They want to be among a people who live what they believe. This is a lesson I hope the Christian church will embrace. There are too many people just content to warm a pew on Sunday morning and then forget they are Christians the rest of the week.

The emergers also teach the importance of connecting with the historical context of the church. Knowing the historical and cultural background of the Bible is critical in understanding it. It is also important for us to know when and why certain doctrines were articulated. All of this would help Christians better understand what we believe and why we believe it.

These are the two primary lessons the Church can learn from the emergers. Unfortunately in their desire for what Rob Bell has called “disorganizing the church” they have rejected the biblical, doctrinal foundations of Christianity (in ways I’ve outlined in this series). I will agree that Christianity is more than proper doctrine. However, proper doctrine is an ESSENTIAL foundation on which to build one’s faith. This is what Dr. David Alan Black referenced when he said, in his assessment of the Emergent Church on his website blog, that we need to have both orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

My hope is that Christians will be able to recognize the good things about this movement as lessons we should apply and the bad things as something we should reject outright as something other than biblical Christianity. My fear is that too many churches, when introduced to the Emergent Church, will go one of two ways. They will either see the good on the surface and embrace all of the emergent movement (including the bad) or they will recognize the bad and reject everything (even those things that would be beneficial).

May God grant us the discernment necessary to effectively defend biblical Christianity against the false teachings of the Emergent Church and yet recognize and learn the lessons we should embrace.

To learn more about the Emergent Church visit the following websites:

Slice of Laodicea
The Banner of Truth
The Baptist Press

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