North Naples UMC hosts open gym on Wednesday nights. We usually have 25-30 young men show up, most of whom are a completely different demographic than what you see at the church on a Sunday morning.
I try to round them up for a prayer before they start playing. On Ash Wednesday one of the guys said: "Yo, Uncle Dave. What’s with you all dressed up with that tie and all?"
"I'm just coming from doing Ash Wednesday service over in the church, where we offer ashes and serve communion," I explained. "Maybe you've seen people today with the sign of the cross on their foreheads."
"Oh, yeah," another player said. "I was at the Mercato today, and I saw all these people walking around with, like, dirt on their faces, and I have no idea what that means...but I think it's something religious. Is that right?"
“Yeah." I said. "Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent. It’s the 40 days between now and Easter, when we remember how Jesus left everything behind and went out into the desert with nothing at all, but to pray and to just focus on how he would go about telling people about God's plan of love and forgiveness. See, God has this plan to restore all creation to its original divine perfection by helping people stop hurting themselves and each other and to live in harmony with others and with nature.
"So, it starts off with Ash Wednesday when we draw a little cross on a believer’s forehead that reminds us that we belong to Jesus. We use ashes so we remember that we are created from the dust of the earth and, except for God’s grace and His gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, we would just die and return to dust as if nothing ever happened and our life didn't matter.
"During these six weeks of Lent, we are invited to follow in Jesus's footsteps and to lay aside the noise and clutter of our everyday lives so we can just focus on how God wants us to bear God’s message of love and forgiveness into this broken and hurting world.
"God has a purpose for each of us, and God created each of us different so we would be able to do the work He laid out for us. God has prepared us for this work even before we were born and before one day was even lived. That's what this is all about. It’s for us to understand what God wants us to do."
Then we prayed. When I turned around, one of the guys was holding his phone up high and he said: "I recorded that. I saw where you were going with that and I didn't want to miss it." Then he pulled me aside and said: “This is such a good thing that you have here. You don't know what these guys' week was like or if they even know who God is. But they come here for basketball, and you get out there for five minutes each week and speak God into their lives. It's so good."
Now here's the really cool part: The guy who said that and who emailed me a 15-second video was the four-time all pro running back for the Indianapolis Colts, Edgerrin James, who comes here to play occasionally and brings his son.
Now I have Edgerrin’s short video clip that I can show in worship sometime so our generous congregation might get a glimpse of what goes on at open gym ministry on Wednesday nights.
That’s how God used my tie to open a window of opportunity to share His whole story.