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Souls are Saved on Tailgate Sunday:
Tommy Bowden is Guest Speaker at Brushy Creek Baptist Church Taylors
By Karen Brewer

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Coach Tommy Bowden shared about football and his Christian faith as the guest speaker for both morning services at Brushy Creek Baptist Church Taylors on February 4, 2018 for 'Tailgate Sunday.' He is pictured here with Pastor Jeremy Roberts and his wife, Charity, and their daughters, Autumn and Lily.

‘Tailgate Sunday’ was the theme at Brushy Creek Baptist Church Taylors on Sunday, February 4, 2018, as guest speaker Tommy Bowden shared about football and his Christian faith in both morning services. Pastor Jeremy Roberts and his wife, Charity, and their daughters, Autumn and Lily, were dressed in the colors of their favorite college team, the Tennessee Volunteers, and church members and visitors were dressed in jerseys representing their favorite professional or college teams. Local high school and college football players and coaches were in attendance, and the church’s gymnasium was the place for ‘tailgating’, as tents were set up for food and games before each service, to complete the ‘football’ atmosphere on the day of the Super Bowl. Icy weather did not keep the crowd away, as both services were packed, and, after each service, many of all ages stood in line to speak with Bowden and to shake his hand and to ask him to sign autographs. Most important, many decisions were made for the Lord Jesus Christ following both services.

“Our church wants to reach as many people as possible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Roberts told The Christian View magazine following the last morning service. “A big part of that is figuring out creative, unique ways to give people opportunities to what I call ‘be a bringer.’ One simple way to ‘be a bringer’ is to have a unique personality that is more of a draw. Here in the Upstate, there is an extreme fascination, nearly an obsession, with football, in particular, and so, in order to play off of that obsession, I thought, ‘Who would be a great, godly Christian football coach or player who would cause a lot of people in our community to want to come to church?’ And Tommy Bowden was the first name that came to mind. He is the immediate past Head Coach at Clemson, and he loves God, and so it just made a lot of sense. I reached out to him, and he said he would love to come back to the Upstate. And, as a result, ‘a ton’ of people received Christ today at ‘Tailgate Sunday’ here at Brushy Creek Baptist Church Taylors, in both services. It was awesome.” 

“Tommy Bowden, who is our special guest today, comes from a storied football family, the son of Bobby and Ann Bowden,” Roberts told his congregation, in introducing Bowden at the beginning of the second service. “Bobby Bowden, of course, is the second winningest coach in all of college football history. He coached at Florida State and won several national championships. And Coach Tommy Bowden became the Head Coach at Tulane, who went undefeated in 1998. He moved to Clemson. It was good to have Coach Bowden at Clemson for about a decade. He was winning several awards, as I said one undefeated season in ’98 at Tulane, three-time conference Coach of the Year, once with Conference USA, twice with the ACC, also two-time Bear Bryant Coach of the Year finalist. So, just a phenomenal sports background.

“Now, let’s talk about his Christian background. The Bowden family is a devout Christian family. They’re actually the same denomination as our church. They’re a Southern Baptist family. When Charity and I met Coach Bowden and his wife, we were in Destin, Florida at a retreat for Pastors and wives and got to hear them pour into us about what’s it’s like to have a healthy Biblical marriage in the midst of stress and working a lot of hours. They are a phenomenal family. Being a coach has so much stress and requires so many hours, but his devotion to Christ has remained steadfast.

“I want to encourage you, that as we do have a football theme around the church campus today, despite the fact that we have the fun atmosphere with Tailgate Sunday, let’s remember why we’re here. We are here to focus on Jesus Christ and how salvation only comes through Him. And so, Coach Bowden is going to come up here and tell us some fun stories, and he’s also going to talk to us about the Lord. So, let’s give a big, big welcome back to the Upstate to Coach Tommy Bowden.”

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Dr. Jeremy Roberts, Pastor of Brushy Creek Baptist Church Taylors, wearing Tennessee Volunteers colors.

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Dr. Jeremy Roberts, Pastor of Brushy Creek Baptist Church Taylors, speaking to his congregation.

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Tommy Bowden speaks at Brushy Creek Baptist Church Taylors for Tailgate Sunday on February 4, 2018.

Bowden shared stories from his 32 years in coaching, including about recruiting as the Head Coach at Clemson, and then shared how his Christian faith has influenced his life.

“I surely don’t mean to profess, by me standing up here and you being out there, that I’m any better than you,” he said. “I am not perfect. I don’t profess perfection. I’m just a lay person. I’m not a Biblical scholar. I don’t have my Master’s. I don’t have my PhD. I’m not a Biblical theologian. I have a Physical Education degree from West Virginia University. So, I’m just like y’all. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to say that I’m a Christian coach or a Christian father. Football was a huge, huge priority in my life. It was just not the priority. It wasn’t the most important thing to me. The most important thing to me was trying to be obedient to God, trying to be a godly player, and a godly father, and a godly husband, and a godly coach, and trying to be committed to God.

“If you’re a coach, you’re a leader, whether you like it or not. If you’re a player, you’re a leader, whether you like it or not. If you’re a father, if you’re a mother, if you profess Christianity, if you’re any kind of athlete, student, you’re a leader. Most everybody in here, to some extent, is a leader. Billy Graham said this about leadership: ‘The moral meltdown in the United States comes from a lack of leadership.’ He said, ‘It would be tragic to divorce character from leadership.’ You can’t separate the two. If you’re going to be a leader, you’d better have integrity, you’d better have morals, you’d better have character.

“I always felt like, to be successful in life, you just make good decisions. If you make more good decisions than bad decisions, you’ve got a good chance to be successful. As a coach, if I can sign good players, if I can call the right plays, if I can hire the right coaches, if I can make good decisions, I’ve got a chance to be successful. In marriage, in business, choosing friends, picking stocks, if you make more good decisions than bad decisions, you can be successful. I spent 19 years as an assistant coach. I said, ‘If I ever become a head coach, if I could just teach my players five things, I think I can be successful. Five things could help them make good decisions. If I could teach my players about commitment, if I could teach them about accountability, if I could teach them about responsibility, discipline, and sacrifice -- those five things: commitment, accountability, responsibility, discipline, and sacrifice. Decisions have consequences. If you make a bad decision, pay up. If those five characteristics help my players make good decisions, then I need as many good resources as possible, because, if you’re coaching, you’re in charge of them 24/7. I’ve got 85 teenaged guys running around there, and I’m held accountable for them 24/7. So, I needed as many resources as I could to help them make good decisions.”

Bowden said that, when he was a Head Coach, he would take his team to a local church once a year. “I wanted these guys to get involved in a local church,” he said. “Why? A church is a body of people that are trying to make good decisions. They’re not a group of perfect people, but they’re trying to make good decisions. So, get around people that are trying to make good decisions.

“I’ve always been active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. There are other good organizations. I just happen to be kind of ‘married’ to that one. Why would I want my players to go to Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings once a week? Because it was a group of athletes that were trying to make good decisions. Not perfect, they mess up. But they’re trying to make good decisions.”

While holding up his Bible, he added, “And I would try to encourage them to read this. It’s a book about making good decisions. The Bible.  The Bible actually means a book of books. It’s got 66 books. It’s got 40 authors who wrote those 66 books. It’s a book about making good decisions.
“This book was written by eyewitnesses. II Peter 1:16 says, ‘We did not come to chase cunningly-devised fables. We have seen his majesty.’ They saw it, and they wrote it down.

“This book has all of the answers. How do you know it’s got all of the answers? Colossians 2:3 says, ‘In whom are hid all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’ If you want to know it, it’s in this book. A lot of people will tell you, outside those doors, ‘Well, those 40 guys that wrote it, that’s just their opinion. That’s just the opinion of those 40 guys.’ Well, what’s the Bible say? In II Timothy 3:16 and II Peter 1:21, it says, As holy men wrote, they were moved, they were inspired, and they were breathed on by God Almighty himself. So, this is not the opinion of man. This is God’s written word. Over 4,000 times, it says, ‘God said’, ‘God spoke’, and ‘the word of the Lord came.’ So, this is God’s word.

“And then, there will be some people, especially when you get outside those doors and maybe some people inside, who say, ‘Hey, my lifestyle’s a certain way.’ Y’all see what they’re trying to do to the culture with traditional marriage and all that? ‘If you just take out this part of the Bible, just take out this part, just subtract it. Or add. ‘There’s certain things I like to do. You just add this little thing that I can do, add this thing to the Bible, then I’m in good shape. I can take the rest of it.’ Well, what’s the Bible say about adding and subtracting to this book? Revelations 22:18 and 19: If you take away from this book, God will take your name out of the Book of Life. If you add unto this book, God will add unto you the plagues of death. Don’t mess with it. Have you ever driven through the state of Texas and seen those little bumper stickers that say, ‘Don’t mess with Texas’? Don’t mess with this Book. This is God’s Word. As Christians, we need to defend this. I didn’t write this stuff. Those verses I quoted, I didn’t write that. I’m just the newspaper boy. I’m not the Editor. The Editor is God. So, if I repeat and defend God’s Word, don’t call me hypocritical or judgmental or intolerant. God wrote it. All I’m doing is defending it. I can’t judge. I’ve got my own problems. I can’t be judging somebody else. But we’ve got to defend it. We’ve got to have a little backbone. We’ve got to have a little character.

“When you walk outside those doors in culture today, to be politically correct, don’t offend anybody. Don’t offend any religion. They’re all the same. They’re all equal. None is better than the other. We don’t want to make ‘these people’ mad or ‘those people’ mad. Oprah Winfrey is a very influential person. A lot of people follow her. She has some videos about a new religion. It’s not new age, but it’s a different religion. If you Google ‘Oprah Winfrey’ and ‘ways to heaven’, her video will come up, where she says there are many roads to heaven, there are many ways to get there. If there are many roads to heaven, when you leave here today, go out and get in your car and just get on any road you want to, and see if you get home. Acts was written by Luke. Acts 4:12 says, ‘There is salvation in no one else. There is no other name under heaven given to men by which you can be saved.’ John 14:6 is in red; it’s Christ speaking. John 14:6: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.’ Now, you can believe Luke, you can believe Christ, or you can believe Oprah. I’ll choose Christ and Luke, myself. But they’re not all the same. And we need to defend that, as Christians.

“A lot of people say, ‘That book was written 2,000 years ago. Clemson’s not in there, South Carolina’s not in there, North Greenville’s not in there, the USA’s not in there. Computers, cell phones, I can’t find that anywhere in the Bible. How could a book written, some of it 3,000 years ago, 2,000 years ago, how does it apply to 2018? Well, if it’s got the answers, if the answer’s in here, where is it? One place is Hebrews 13:8: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’ Mark 13:31: ‘Heaven and earth will pass away. God’s word will not.’ It doesn’t change. So, defend it. If you’re a Christian, defend the word of God.

“Everybody has a platform to share their faith. A lot of people will say, ‘I’m not a good speaker.’ ‘I didn’t go to college. I’ve just got a high school degree.’ ‘I’m just a blue-collar worker.’ ‘I’m just a homemaker.’ ‘I’m just a third-team player’, ‘a second-team player’, ‘just an assistant coach.’ ‘I’m just an ordinary, blue collar guy. How can God use me?’ That’s His specialty. Have you ever looked at the 12 disciples? You talk about some ordinary jokers, those 12 disciples. There were 12 of them. They say five to seven of them were fishermen. One was a zealot, a political activist. The Roman government was in charge. The zealots tried to overthrow the Roman government. (One was) a tax collector. A tax collector worked for the Roman government. I bet they got along ‘really good’. The rest of them? Carpenters, farmers, tentmakers, a shepherd. That’s as average as you can be. And God took those average 12 guys, and they turned the world upside down. They’re still talking about it today. They’re still talking about today what those average guys 2,000 years ago did. Unbelievable.

“Jesus died when he was 33. He didn’t start his ministry until he was 30. He only had three years to make an impact. It took him about a year or so to go find 12 guys. And he trained them for about a year and a half, and that was it. You would have thought God would have said, ‘Okay, Jesus, I’m putting you down on the earth. Go about a year and find 12 people. I’m going to give you about two years, and I want you to impact the world for eternity with those 12 people. Go get me a king. I want that king that runs that country. I want that military leader. I want religious leaders. I want that great military general. I want that Governor of the state. Give me them 12 people.’ You know how many of those people he got? Zero.

“God does not want your ability. He wants your availability. Just make yourself available to God. He will use you. You might be sitting here, saying, ‘Does God know I’m here? Does God know I’m here, in Taylors, South Carolina? It’s cold. There’s ice on the trees out there. I’m sitting beside people I don’t know. Does God know I’m here?’ What does the Bible say? Hebrews 10:29-30: God knows the number of hairs on your head, God knows when a sparrow falls to the ground. And I noticed some of you don’t have any hair on your head. So, there’s another verse for you. Isaiah 49:16, this is for you: God’s got your name written on the palm of His hand. So, he knows you’re here.

“Everybody has a platform, and every opportunity you have, as a Christian, to reflect God, you’re going to be held accountable for the opportunity. Romans 14:12: ‘Everyone must give an account of himself to God. Christ died for your sins. But you are going to be held accountable for the opportunities. You’ve got to stand before God. My platform happens to be pretty big, because I was coaching, my father was coaching, I do a tv thing, and I go all over. I just came from Alabama and Tennessee. I’m flying home tonight. But I’ve recently been to Vancouver, Miami, Boca Raton, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, Indianapolis, Nashville, Atlanta, Greenville. Luke 12:48: ‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’ So that’s what he’s put out there for me. That’s what I do.

“When I die, I know I’m going to heaven. I’ve done the things that this Book requires to do. I believe what it says to believe. I know I’m going. I’m not homesick. I don’t want to go tomorrow. But I know I’m going. I know when I die, and I meet God, I stand before God, and say, ‘All right, God, I’m here to get in.’ God’s going to open the Book of Life and say, ‘Okay, Tommy Bowden. I let you become the Head Coach at Tulane December 6, 1996. I let you be a Head Coach for 12 years. He’s going to say, ‘Every year you were a Head Coach, you had 105 players right there in front of you.’ And God’s going to look down at me, and He’s going to say, ‘Did you mention my name?’ He’s going to say, ‘Did you tell them about me?’ God’s going to say, ‘Could they see me through you?’ I’m going to be held accountable for that, because that’s the opportunity I had. He might say to you, ‘Did you ever tell your wife? Did you ever tell your children? Could your children see me through you?’ Or the guy with the locker beside you? Could he tell that you’re a Christian? Or your neighbor down the street?’ We’re all going to be held accountable for those opportunities.”

Referring to a conference at which he had just spoken, with 2,000 men in attendance, he said, “I think 50 to 60 of them got up, ages 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, to accept, to make a decision. I’m sitting there watching it. I did it at 12. Imagine how hard it is to walk down that aisle.

“Your Pastor is going to come up in a minute and close the program. He’s going to come up here and challenge you. As you sit out there, you’ll get a little voice in your head, arguing back and forth, ‘Don’t go.’ ‘Go.’ ‘Do I need to do this?’ ‘Do I need to do that?’ That’s called conviction by the Holy Spirit. I heard this story one time about how an older guy makes decisions. A man says, ‘How do you make decisions? It’s seems like you’re always making good decisions. How do you do that?” And the old guy says, ‘Every time I struggle with making a decision, a voice talks back and forth. A little bad dog jumps up here on my shoulder, and he’s telling me to go this way. And then I have a little good dog who bounces up on this shoulder, and he’s telling me to go a certain way.’ The guy says, ‘Well, how do you know which one to listen to?’ He says, ‘The one I feed the most.’  You’re going to be challenged to make decisions, and it’s tough. It’s tough making the right decisions.

“I’ll close with this story. There was a little nine-year-old boy who was flying a kite, and his Dad was with him. Perfect day. The wind was blowing. The clouds up there. It was a perfect kite-flying day. He had a little spool of string with a stick through it. And the Dad was kind of helping him. He was letting the little nine year old hold the spool of string, and he was kind of helping him let it out. The boy had that, and he was letting out string, and a big burst of wind came and it took the kite up behind some clouds, some low-lying clouds. The little boy couldn’t see it. He said, ‘Dad, Dad, where’s my kite? I can’t see it.’ Dad said, ‘It’s just right up there in the clouds.’ And the boy said, ‘Well, how do I know?’ And the Dad said, ‘You can feel the tug. You can feel the tug.’ So, as you sit there, and you feel God tugging at your heart, to make certain decisions, the right decisions, some of them will be public, some of them won’t. I want to challenge you to make sure you listen to the right voice.”

“Thank you, Coach Bowden,” said Roberts, who then told the congregation, “I want to close out our time by sharing with you something that happened. I think it’s really going to relate to all of us. This past May, I was in Marietta, Georgia. Marietta is in suburban Atlanta. It’s right around the area where the Braves’ new stadium is. My brother gave me a call and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a business trip to Atlanta, and I’m making a big sales pitch to these investors, and we’re going to do the sales pitch at the Braves’ new stadium in a suite. Do you want to come?’ And I said, 'If it’s for free, it’s for me.’ So, I went, and it was a lot of fun. We had a great time. I left the stadium, went back to the hotel, had a good night. I woke up. About mid-morning, I decided to drive north on I-75 from Marietta back to Chattanooga. I was living in Chattanooga, Tennessee at the time. I was driving in the middle lane, going about the speed limit, doing everything you were supposed to do, wearing a seat belt, etc. A pretty good distance in front of me, there was an 18-wheeler. And you know those little metal poles that are stuck underneath 18-wheelers, and they use them to crank up the 18-wheelers to change the tires and stuff. Well, something bad happened.” A photograph of his vehicle was then shown on the large screen in front. “And you can see a picture of it right here,” he said. “That thing flew off of that truck in front of me and, like a javelin, went straight through the windshield. And, if we look at the next picture over, you can see it was only about one foot to my right, about 12 inches to my right. I was that close to dying. And it sounded like a freight train was coming through my head. It was so scary. And you can see, there are a couple of more pictures. That’s the pole. That’s me elated that I’m not dead. You look at that, and you think, ‘That close to death, what did that do in your life?’ Well, God really got a hold of me there. And it made me think through what I’m doing, how I’m living, and God really got a hold of my heart, on that mid-morning in Cartersville, Georgia.

“And the truth is, neither you nor I know how much longer we have left. My encouragement for you is to ponder, are you ready to face eternity today? I just want to share with you how you can have eternity with Christ, because you need to make that decision today. You don’t know when your last breath on this earth will come. As Coach Bowden said, he knows he’s going to heaven. He knows that his name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. I know my name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. I know I’m going to heaven. And I’ll explain to you how you can go to heaven, as well.

“So here’s the basic, very brief explanation of it. When God went through the creation process, He designed the world. God’s design was beautiful. It says in Genesis 1:31, God saw everything that he made, and behold it was very good. There was no sin when he created mankind.” Referring to a picture on the large screen in front of the sanctuary, he said, “So, this first circle that you see is the design of God. We messed it up, and we sinned. It says in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. God’s design was messed up via our sin, and it resulted in brokenness. The brokeness that you and I experience may come in different ways. These squiggly lines that you see in that brokenness circle, we have different squiggly lines. God’s design was so good. We all sinned. We were born into sin. We’ve all sinned. We’ve all fallen short of God’s perfect plan for us. And so, that results in us being broken people who struggle with different stuff. If it wasn’t for sin, we wouldn’t have struggles with different stuff. It says in Proverbs 14:12, there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. So, there needs to be some sort of a solution from that brokenness, and therein lies the third circle, which is the Gospel. Now, how do you get from brokenness to the Gospel? What arrow connects those two things? Well, that is the arrow that shows us the need to repent and believe. What does repent and believe mean? Here’s what it means. You repent of the sin you have in your life. You say, ‘God, I turn away from this sin, God I need forgiveness from sin, and God, I believe that you’re the one true God.’ So, you repent of the sin, you repent of the brokenness, you repent of all of your struggles and the sin you’ve had, and then you say, ‘God, I believe in you as the one true God.’ That is the way unto truth. As a matter of fact, with the Gospel, it straight up says in the Bible, I believe it’s in Psalm 103:12, as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. And so we know that what we need to do is we need to receive forgiveness of our sins. Now, this last arrow that you see that connects us back to God’s design is, once we come to the Gospel as we start to recover and pursue, and then we’re living God’s design again. So, you go from God’s design to all of a sudden us messing it up via sin and then there’s brokenness, and then we need to repent and believe. We need to believe in the Gospel, and then we will recover from a lifestyle of sin into which we were born, and, instead, we will pursue God for the rest of our lives.

“Here’s my question for you. Have you ever repented of your sin and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you ever confessed you’re a sinner and said, ‘God, I need forgiveness of my sins’? Have you ever really given your life to Christ? The only way to heaven, as Coach Bowden said, is to confess you’re a sinner and believe in the Lord Jesus. That’s the way that you are saved. Have you ever given your life to Christ? You need to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ today.”

Many responded when he asked whether anyone wanted to receive Christ or recommit their life to the Lord or to join the church.

In closing, he prayed, “God, we’re so grateful for a phenomenal Tailgate Sunday. Lord, thank you. Thank you that so many people came and visited our church. Lord, we thank you, most of all, that so many people received Christ as their Saviour today. We praise you, Lord, for that. Lord, we pray that, if all of the people in here who wanted to make a decision, but, for whatever reason, they didn’t walk forward or didn’t raise their hand, Lord, we pray that you would just prompt their hearts and have them make that decision before they leave. God, we pray for Coach Bowden, for your continued anointing on his ministry. We are so thankful, God. We pray for all this in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Photographs below by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine