The 1960s was a watershed decade for the Civil Rights movement, a decade in which landmark federal rulings technically made discrimination against blacks illegal. But for years more, resistance to federal laws mandating integration and equality for blacks remained fierce, especially in the Deep South.
Nowhere was that more true than in Birmingham, Ala., one of the key Southern cities where Martin Luther King Jr. protested blacks’ unequal treatment. And in 1973, 10 years after King’s famous Birmingham campaign, the compulsory integration of blacks and whites in schools remained explosively controversial.
Woodlawn High School, a white school of 2,500 students is forced to accept 500 black students bussed in from poorer parts of the city. The result is volatile: Black and white students and teachers eye one another warily; fights send kids to the hospital; and on the football team, racial animosity is practically palpable.
“Anger,” says Coach Tandy Geralds on the team’s first day of practice. “I see it in your faces. You’re angry because of what’s happened to this school. … None of us chose this. It was forced on us. We can choose together what we will do with it. So if it is anger that unites us, then let’s use that anger to win, boys. ‘Cause winning fixes just about everything, doesn’t it?”
Channeled rage coupled with gridiron glory, Coach Geralds suggests, might be the best the Woodlawn Colonels can hope for as they launch their fall 1973 gridiron campaign.
Then Hank shows up. Hank is a sports chaplain who came to Christ listening to Billy Graham preach, Hank’s got a radically different message for the members of Coach Geralds’ team. A message about Jesus that he begs the coach to let him share.
No, Geralds says. But when the determined evangelist shows up after a riot goes down at the school, Geralds relents. “Five minutes,” he says to Hank.
An hour later, the entire team has answered Hank’s challenge to surrender their lives to Christ, and to live differently on the field and off. It’s a ripple of redemption and racial reconciliation that starts slowly at first. But before long, the ripple expands into a wave that rolls off the Woodlawn gridiron and into the heart of racially fractured Birmingham, thanks in large measure to a courageous black running back named Tony Nathan. (Plot summary from Pluggedinonline.com)
God has sent me here today to talk to you about the power of decision. Before you leave today, if you haven’t already, I am going to challenge you to make the decision to live and the decision to love. Will you pray this prayer with me that is on the screen? Lord, help me make the decision to live and the decision to love.
The decision to live begins with a decision to surrender your life to Christ. Getting behind Christ means first getting in Christ. Listen, we don’t have time to play around and make excuses for why we are putting off a relationship with Jesus Christ. If we know the truth about His death, burial and resurrection and that He offers us forgiveness of sin and eternal life in Him, we are responsible to respond to that truth. Giving our lives to Jesus Christ is the most important decision we can ever make as it impacts not only here and now but eternity as well. It also becomes the foundation from which every other decision in our lives is made as Christ in us gives us the capacity to make supernatural decisions, right decisions, fruit-bearing decisions that impact us and multitudes of others around us as well as people around the world.
When you consider that we are a global nation through the uniting properties of technology and travel, how you live your life has the potential to impact people continents away as your influence and example sends out ripples from person to person to person to person to person who all have contacts and connections of their own which exceed our wildest expectations.
In the movie, Woodlawn, the impact of one football chaplain to worm his way into the audience of one football team became the catalyst for racial reconciliation and a city-wide revival in Birmingham, Alabama. That one football chaplain had been influenced by one preacher named Billy Graham. As a result of the chaplain’s surrendered life to Christ and concern that others find the same freedom in Christ that he had found, a player impacted a team, and a team impacted a school and the ripple impact went across town to rival football players and throughout the city of Birmingham.
Do you realize that every day you put off coming to Christ you are missing opportunities to be a world changer for eternity?
Hear the word of God from Deuteronomy 30:11-20: 11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
God is saying that the way to love and know God is easy. He has made it obvious. Jesus is the obvious plan of God for the salvation of the world. Will you put your life in His hands?
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. Skip to verse 19: 19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now CHOOSE LIFE, so that you and your children may live.20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life…
The power of the decision about what you will do with Jesus Christ is incredibly powerful as it defines where you will spend eternity here and what kind of impact your life will have here on earth. To where will the ripples of your life extend and what will be their impact?
Choose life. Surrender to Jesus. The second way we choose life is to choose to conquer your giants. Look at this clip:
As the people of God we need to develop, maintain and live with a conquering mentality. I love the story of David, the shepherd boy and Goliath, the giant. Doesn’t everyone love a story where the “underdog” wins? Listen, when we are in Christ, it may appear that we aren’t up to the task, it may feel like nothing will ever change, it may seem like we have to accept our circumstances and the forces that are coming against us, but for the child of God, we are always on the winning side, and we can experience victory in our daily life no matter what. All David had to work with in the natural was a slingshot and some stones, but look at the way he approached the giant he was facing:
1 Samuel 17:45-51 45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. 50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. 51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the scabbard. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.
David wasn’t going to live afraid. He wasn’t going to have the Israelite people living in fear. Someone once said that F-E-A-R stands for “False Evidence Appearing Real.” Whether it is real or imagined, we do not need to live as victims. We do not need to live in bondage to fear. We do not need to live in isolation or hiding. We do not need to shrink back and shut up and sit down. We need to realize that the Name of the Lord is on the line when it comes to our lives, our success, our victory, our ability to exercise authority and to conquer in this life. He won’t let His name go down in flames! He has said we will win. We must live as if we believe it.
Listen, when the giants of life come against you, do you understanding what they are really attacking? They are attacking the Lord in you. They are attacking God’s plans for your life. When God delivers you His name is glorified. He is not shy about wanting His name to be made known. He is interested in making a name for Himself here on earth through your victorious life.
Oh hear me this morning. I don’t know what your giant’s name is. It may be depression, it may be drug or alcohol, a gambling or sexual addiction, it may be a “no one loves me” mentality, it may be physical trauma, it may be flashbacks of a past that you can’t shake, it may be cutting on yourself, it might be sleeplessness, it might be feelings of helplessness, it could be a low opinion of yourself that you have adopted by believing lies of the enemy, maybe it is bulimia or anorexia, it might be the constant seeking of approval from someone from the opposite sex or the obsession with popularity, money, or fame, but whatever it is, it is time for the giant’s head to be cut off! On this day, (everybody say “on this day”) on this day the giant’s head can be cut off and you can be free to live in victory! And when you are free everyone in your life will KNOW that God is real, and He is the God who gives victory to His people!
Decide to live. Follow Christ. There is power in following Christ. Decide to live. Conquer your giants. There is power in living in victory!
Second, we need to decide to love.
Decide to love by living in harmony with all people. There is no room for racism in the Kingdom of God. Racism is simply another word for hatred. It is sin! The shootings this week in our country are stark reminders that we still have a huge problem in this country. You and I can’t profess to believe the Bible and be Christ-followers if we have disdain in our hearts for someone simply because of the color of their skin. The Bible tells us we are all descendants of Adam and Eve so the next time you see someone of a different race you might as well say, “What’s up CUZ” because we are all related! Racial slurs and stereotypes should never come out of the mouth of a Christian believer.
One of the major themes in the movie, “Woodlawn” is racism. There was tension and hostility on the team at Woodlawn High when talented black players who had been bussed to the school were given opportunities to play on the all-white team until Jesus got ahold of their hearts. You see when Jesus truly has control of you His love becomes your love. His passion for people becomes your passion for people. His compassion for people becomes your compassion for people.
Do you know why we have racial diversity? Because God has ordained it to be so! To hate or look down on someone because of the color of their skin is to snub your nose at what God has purposely done. We are to learn from each other. Our diversity is a gift from God intended to help us grow and appreciate the varied ways people see, experience and do life. Our oneness, our togetherness, our love for one another is supposed to be proof that we belong to Jesus.
Hear the word of God from Revelation 7:9-10 9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Do you know what these verses are describing? Heaven! God’s salvation is for every person of every race. God’s love is for every person of every race. God’s heaven is for every person of every race. We dare not pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” if our hearts hold the sin of racism and hatred for people. In fact, I’ll just throw this out there: Racism may be the biggest form of hypocrisy a Christian could practice.
1 John 4:20-21 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
We cannot dismiss the fear and pain the black community deals with. We must care. We must listen. This is still a country where white privilege is a real thing and continued steps to understand and embrace each other must be taken. Yes, all lives matter, but the reality is there is an underlying tension between whites and blacks that continues to run at a high pitch in our country. Let us listen to and engage with our black brothers and sisters and perhaps by showing the love of God to each other people who need Jesus will see Him in us.
The sweeping revival and racial reconciliation that came to Woodlawn High and the city of Birmingham was a result of a choice to love and respect one another. As God’s love changed individuals, individuals changed a football team, a high school, and had a huge impact on a city. One individual in particular, a man who had no time for belief or spiritual things, was the coach of the football team. As he saw love in action and its power to transform his team, he became a believer. Watch this clip as it demonstrates the power of God’s love.
When we decide to love one another we are creating a powerful atmosphere for those who need to see what God is like. He is love. When we love we are at our best as witnesses for God. We saw in this clip how powerful the choice to love one another was as it impacted the coach in such a profound way that he sought the source of the love for Himself.
Finally, we need to decide to love by forgiving those who hurt us.
When we choose to hold on to offenses bitterness sets in. When bitterness sets in the desire for revenge is fed. When we take revenge we have become the judge and have put ourselves in the place of God. Vengeance is the worst demonstration of humanity. We have seen it this week. Just as I equated racism with hatred that has power to destroy, I see that love=forgiveness and has the power to heal.
Reconciliation was possible at Woodlawn High School only because groups of people chose to forgive one another and move on from what had been in order to create something new. When you forgive, you are releasing the power to create something new in your future! You can move on from what has been to what could be!
Choose forgiveness. Choose love! Un-forgiveness sabotages life, and it sabotages love. Choose today to put the things behind you that sting in the moment. Don’t let them sting all of your life. Don’t let them define your destiny. Don’t let them destroy your current and future relationships by living angry and bitter.
The power of decision. It is the greatest gift next to salvation that God has given to us. We have the gift of free will in order to exercise power and authority in this life. When we choose to live by surrendering to Jesus and by living victoriously over sin and destructive behaviors we join forces with the power of God! Nothing can stop Him! When we choose to love by living in harmony with all people and by forgiving people who hurt us we are choosing the will and plan of God for our earthly lives.
Will you join me today in exercising the power to choose and make the decision to make the choices that please God as you do?