The Decision Maker

President Donald Trump is unlike any other president this country has ever had. Every day of the week, even the usually slow news days of the weekend, gives us a new earth-shattering story about him. The kind of stories that once broke only three or four times during a presidency now come at us with each new day. Depending on your source for information, the news can be favorable or condemning of the president.

How should we respond to this?

The answer is easier than you might imagine. And, in what has become all too rare for these days, it’s an answer that conservatives and progressives can come to an agreement on.

Here it is.

We need to stop thinking about the president so much.

For some on the right, President Trump lives in their hearts as their functional god. Nothing he says can be questioned. Every transgression he has committed is simply the result of media bias. For some on the left, President Trump lives in their heads, like an opponent who has masterfully used his trash-talking skills to gain control of their minds and keep them out of the game. So every tweet has to be examined by a team of psychologists and equated to something Hitler said.

Each day, the president has a countless amount of decisions before him. These are important decisions that will impact the lives of many and even the direction of our country. But the president is by no means the most important decision maker in your life. It’s not even close.

When a father tells his young daughter to clean her room and she fails to obey, he has a decision to make. He can respond in anger and crush her, he can respond with apathy and fail her, or he can respond in love and correct her. In the moments like that in your life, what President Trump tweets doesn’t matter nearly as much as how you respond.

Decisions have been made and will continue to be made about immigration in this country. But what happens when those immigrants move into your neighborhood? You have a choice to make. You can either respond by submitting to the talking points of your favorite political hack or you can obey Jesus’ Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor. In the economy of heaven, the decision you make in that moment will matter much more to you than whatever decision the president makes.

When someone disagrees with you, you have a choice to make. You can follow the trends of the day and resort to name-calling, shunning, and victimhood. Getting blocked by someone on social media can become one of your sacraments. Or you can learn how to love the other guy, even if you fail to come to an agreement and even if they don’t love you back. You won’t have to give an account for the words that the president spoke or tweeted. You have enough of your own words and tweets to worry about. Consider the words of Jesus.

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37 (ESV)

There are people on the right who are so busy defending the indefensible decisions of the president that they no longer have the time, energy, or credibility to make the really important decisions in their lives. And there are people on the left whose rambling on and on about “speaking truth to power” really boils down to their resentment that their person isn’t in power. So in response to the president’s careless words, bigotry, and corruption, they give Hillary Clinton an open mic at the Grammy’s as if she didn’t build her political career by referring to black youths as “super-predators” or shaming the victims of her husband’s unwanted sexual advances. An inordinate focus on presidential power will turn us into deadbeats and hypocrites.

None of this is to say that we should be unengaged and never speak out against or in favor of something a government official does. Rather, we are to keep things in their proper perspective. The office of the president is a very powerful decision but it’s not as powerful as you think. Just because Hannity or Madow aren’t talking about the way you did or did not interact with your kids over the weekend doesn’t mean that it’s insignificant.

We would all be much better off if we devoted less of our energy to the decision maker in Washington D.C. and more of our energy to the the decision-maker in the mirror. The one in D.C. changes every four to eight years. You have to live with the one in the mirror for the rest of your life.

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There’s A Big Problem Among High-Achieving Teens And Young Adults

It happened to Tyler Hilinski.

And Justin Cheng.

And Daniel Green.

And Kim Long.

And Miranda Williams.

And Lara Nosiru.

And Elsa Scaburri.

And Sam Symons.

And a host of others just this year.

These people have a lot in common. They share similar ages. They are all high achievers. And they all committed suicide.

As far as we know, none of these young adults demonstrated the typical patters that society once associated with suicide. They went to good schools to study things like neuroscience and law. Eight students at Bristol University and one from the University of West England have committed suicide in just the last 18 months. Tyler Hilinski was probably going to be the starting quarterback for Washington State this fall. He had just returned from a vacation with his family before killing himself. Whatever pain these students were experiencing was not bound by a nation’s borders.

There are no easy answers here. Christians do more harm than good when we resort to clichés about people “needing the gospel.” The same goes for those in the medical world who seem much more apt to administer drugs with questionable results than to address the actual problem.

I don’t know the parents of these young men and women. We must not assume that this is a result of some major flaw in their parenting. To do so would be reckless and self-righteous. But we can learn from these tragedies. The best thing that parents, educators, and others who have influence over teens and young adults can do is to take the time to listen. Pay attention to what they are saying. Get to know the songs and movies that resonate with them and find out why. But as important as listening is, there comes a time when we have to speak too.

We must be careful that the only words those under our care hear are not, “Do more,” “Work harder,” and “Not good enough.” Again, this is not to say that such was the case with the parents of the people listed above. Even those with the most idyllic family situations make the wrong decisions. But I have spent a lot of time on youth sports fields and I’ve come across quite a few parents who would rather give their kids the burden to perform than a word of encouragement.

The young men and women under our care need to be reminded that their true identity is not found in their athletic prowess or academic accomplishments. They are not the number at the bottom of a 20-page paper. They are not their 40 time. They are human beings created in the image of God. It is that, not their abilities, that gives them worth. And if they are Christians, they are sons and daughters of God. It is that, not their accomplishments that gives them hope.

Balance is required here. If we over-protect our students and children, we leave them ill-equipped for the challenges that lie ahead. But if we train them to be nothing more than performers putting on a show for us, we are setting the stage for crisis when the day inevitably comes that they just don’t measure up. We need to challenge them to take risks but we also need to love them when they fail. And in-between the starting line and the finish line, we need to be ready to listen to their fears and guide them through them. The young men and women under our care do not need us to be helicopters or drill sergeants but they could sure use some adults who care enough to listen and know enough to direct.

I don’t have all of the answers for this. There are not Six Easy Steps here. I’m sad for the families of these young adults. I can’t even begin to understand their pain. But perhaps we can begin to understand the pain of the teenagers and young adults in our lives. Yes, even the high achieving ones who show no signs of doing something as terrible as suicide. It starts with compassionate hearts, listening ears, and a few words of wisdom.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

 

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For The Crimson Tide, The Price Is Always Right

My first sports memory is running to my room and crying after Georgia lost a bowl game in the early 80s. Against my will, I’ve relived that moment pretty much every football season of my life since then.

On Saturday, December 1, 2012, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray stood eight yards away from victory. There were nine seconds left on the clock and Georgia had no timeouts. They were four points behind Alabama. A field goal wouldn’t do the trick. Georgia needed a touchdown and if they got it, they would play and likely defeat an overrated Notre Dame team for a national championship.

Murray threw the pass and it was deflected. Fortunately, Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley was able to grab the ball before it hit the ground. Unfortunately, Conley went down on the five yard line. The clock ran out and Alabama won the game along with yet another national championship a few weeks later. Georgia won the right to play some forgotten team in some forgotten bowl game.

As the defeated Bulldogs walked off the field, my son looked at me and cried. I wanted to do the same thing but I held it together, gave him a hug, told him that we’ll get ’em next year, and sent him to bed.

We didn’t get ’em next year.

On Sunday, February 5, 2017 the Atlanta Falcons were beating the New England Patriots 28 to 3 at halftime. My son was sitting next to me as we tried to come to grips with the fact that our team was actually going to win a championship. I saw two things on my phone while I waited for the third quarter to start. The first was a video of people at the Atlanta airport celebrating the soon to be official Atlanta victory. The second was the ESPN app on my phone that said the Falcons had a four million percent chance of winning. Eventually it would say that our beloved team had a 73 percent chance of winning. And then 40. And then zero.

The Falcons lost 34 to 28.

As the confetti fell, my sons looked at me and cried. I wanted to do the same thing but I held it together, gave them hugs, told them that we’ll get ’em next year, and sent them to bed.

On Monday, January 8, 2018, the Georgia Bulldogs were dominating the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Dogs were winning 13 to 0 at halftime and Alabama pulled their starting quarterback to begin the third quarter. Their new quarterback was a freshman who hadn’t played in a game for a few months. By all accounts, it looked like our next year had finally come. We were finally going to get ’em.

But it turns out that Alabama’s freshman quarterback who hadn’t played in a game in a few months was the second coming of Russell Wilson. He threw the game winning touchdown in overtime. As people in crimson and white stormed the field, I turned the TV off. I turned and looked at my son but this time he spoke before I could get out my old familiar saying. He was tired. Not physically, though the hour was late. He was emotionally tired. Tired of the same thing happening. Tired of falling just short. So was I. We both went to our respective beds where we tossed and turned and hoped that we would wake up to find that this had all been a terrible dream.

If they had a Price Is Right for sports fans, the Roll Tide contingent would be the guy who gets called down, nails the right price on the first try, gets to play Plinko where he wins $48 million, and then ends the day by guessing the price on the nose and going home with the new car from his showcase and the trip to Paris from the other guy’s.

My sons and I, on the other hand, are the guy who comes on down with tons of promise only to continually get snubbed by those evil souls who bid $1 or $301 just after our bid of $300. It’s like we’re forever destined to stay in the studio audience. No meeting Drew. No Plinko. No spinning the wheel. No Showcase Showdown.

But in a way, I’m thankful for this. Don’t get me wrong. I want our teams to win. I want to experience that joy with my sons. But they’re learning a lot from coming in second place. They’re learning how to deal with disappointment, they’re learning that their identity and hope are not found in a sports team, and they’re learning that the trophies worth having aren’t handed out. They’re earned.

I have a friend who went to a taping of the Price Is Right. She even got to come on down. But she never got to play Plinko. She didn’t win a new car. She didn’t make it to the Showcase Showdown.

But whenever I ask her about her gameshow experience, she lights up. For her, the experience was enough.

For my sons and I, watching good games and cheering for our underachieving teams is enough. For now, the experience will have to do.

Until next year.

Because next year, we’re going to get ’em.

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Three Degrees Of Ric Flair

When I was a kid I hated Ric Flair.

Saturday nights at my house were devoted to wrestling. It started at 6:05 on WTBS and ended at 2 in the morning on channel 36. I saw the Von Erich family of wrestlers from Texas, I heard a young Jim Ross from Oklahoma and I cheered on the Rock and Roll Express in Atlanta. I was there for all of it. I can even remember the lady in charge of the Christmas play at my church coming up to me at one Saturday night practice and saying, “Don’t worry Jay. You’ll be home in time for wrestling.”

And I was.

Most of my childhood was spent hating Ric Flair because he was the loudmouth who beat all of the guys that I liked. As I grew older I started to appreciate and even admire him. The fact that he made me hate him so badly meant that he did his job well. I guess it’s sort of like how we all hated Darth Vader when we were kids but started to like him as adults.

On Tuesday night, ESPN’s 30 for 30 series covered the life of Ric Flair. Watching it didn’t make me hate Ric Flair again nor did it reinforce my appreciation for him. It made me feel sorry for him.

Ric Flair is really Richard Fliehr, a college drop out who figured out a way to turn a fascination with alcohol and women into a moneymaking lifestyle. That lifestyle turned out to be as fake as the wrestling matches Fliehr participated in almost every night during the prime of his career. He had a jet but he wasn’t really jet setting. He wore nice clothes but isn’t as rich as we were all led to believe. He was around a lot of women but didn’t know how to be with just one woman.

Fliehr wasn’t wrestling. He was running. He was running from the shame of disappointing his parents. He was running away from any form of commitment. He was running to an acceptance and satisfaction that could never be found in the places where he was looking.

Many broken lives were left in the wake of the Nature Boy’s lifestyle. There were four broken marriages. There were four broken children, each suffering in their own way because of their father’s absence. Perhaps none of them suffered more than his son Reid. Ric Flair brags about binge drinking in hotels every night for most of his career. His son Reid followed in his father’s footsteps, not just in the wrestling ring but at the hotel bar as well. Only Reid went further. He added pills and heroin to his diet. On March 29, 2013, Reid Fliehr was found dead, in of all places, a hotel room.

In the 30 for 30 documentary, director Rory Karpf asked Ric Flair what he would say to his son if he were here today. A crying Fliehr said that he would apologize for being his son’s friend instead of his father. There was a lot of pain in those words. And wisdom too.

Honestly, I don’t think I ever really hated Ric Flair. I just wanted to be Ric Flair and I knew it wasn’t happening. I dreamed of putting the playground bully in a figure four leg lock or of walking to my desk in a robe while the Space Odyssey theme played. I think that Richard Fliehr wanted to be Ric Flair too. It wasn’t happening for him either.

Ric Flair always said, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” But rather than trying to be a man, Flair settled for some other version of manhood. And it ended up beating him.

Now, no one wants to be Richard Fliehr.

But if we’re not careful in discerning truth from reality and what’s really important from what feels really good at the time, we could all end up just like him.

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That Would Make It All Worthwhile For Me

A while back my son got one of his toys stuck in a tree. Being the resourceful type, I threw his favorite football into the tree to knock the toy down.

The football got stuck too.

I took this as a challenge. Not from my son. From the tree. My son had to see his dad show the tree who’s boss. So I grabbed another football.

That’s about the time my wife came outside with a BB gun. She was going to shoot the toy and the ball down with my son’s air rifle. I didn’t say anything but I didn’t want that to happen. I had to be the hero. The only rifle saving the day would be my left arm.

I won’t tell you how long it took me or how bad I was sweating or how tired I was or how bad my arm was hurting or how goofy I looked. It’s none of your business. But I eventually got the ball and the toy out of the tree. Score one for dad’s rifle arm.

I was the hero.

The end.

Or so I thought.

While I was taking my victory parade into the house, I heard crying. It was my son. And these weren’t tears of joy flowing from his proud eyes because he got to witness the greatness that was his dad’s throwing clinic.

These were tears of sorrow. Deep sorrow.

The ball that I rescued from the clutches of that tree had been hit by a BB. It was losing air. And fast. This was my son’s favorite ball. We never walked out into the backyard without him touching it. And now it seemed to be disappearing right in his hands.

It was time for dad, the resourceful hero, to step into action again.

I told him that I would get him a new ball but that we wouldn’t get rid of the old one. There was an Atlanta Falcons game that weekend – a divisional playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. I told him that when the Falcons won the game, we’d write the score on the ball, and do it again the next week, and again when they won the Super Bowl.

Just like that, I was the hero again. The now deflated ball had become a trophy. My son’s tears dried. But there was only one problem.

We were building our hopes on the Atlanta Falcons.

The Falcons are my team. With the exception of a few seasons during my middle school years spent admiring the work of Joe Montana, I’ve cheered for the Falcons my whole life. I’d seen enough Falcons games to know better than to pin the hopes of a small child on their ability to win the Super Bowl. I would have been better off promising him a hot air balloon ride to Narnia.

But the promise had been made. There was no going back and there was no saving the day. This one was completely out of dad’s hands. There was the very real possibility that my son’s kids would one day ask him why he has a deflated football that has Seattle 73, Atlanta 6 scribbled on it.

The Falcons went on to win the game against the Seahawks and I wrote the score on the ball. 36 to 20. The next week, even though the kind folks at ESPN didn’t think that they could, our team beat the Packers in the NFC Championship game. With joy, I wrote 44 to 21 on the ball. The Falcons were going to the Super Bowl. I felt like Hannibal from the A-Team. I love it when a plan comes together.

Later that day we learned that the Falcons would be playing the New England Patriots in the big game. The irony of writing their name on my son’s deflated football was not lost on me.

Sunday night, about midway through the second half, my plan started to unravel. The Falcons stopped doing everything that they were doing right for most of the game. They started looking more like the Falcons I grew up with. For some reason, the Patriot’s historical comeback didn’t really surprise me. My teams have been in games like that many times, usually always on the wrong end of the comeback. But I was worried about my son. He was right next to me. How would he take it if the Patriots actually came back and won?

Apparently, pretty well.

He was fast asleep.

As far as he knew, the Falcons were still destroying the Patriots. I was taking it harder than he was.

The next morning, I went into my son’s room to wake him up for school. His first words were exactly what I had expected.

“Who won the game, dad?”

“The Patriots.”

The word Patriots had never been spoken with so little enthusiasm.

He had a puzzled look on his face. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to. His face said it all. Right before breakfast, ESPN was on our television. Both of my sons watched in agony as the experts praised the Patriots for valiantly coming back to beat that other team.

My son asked me to change the channel.

My hand was already on the remote to do just that. The hero strikes again.

When my sons left for school I grabbed a marker and wrote the score on the deflated football.

ATL 28

NE 34

OVERTIME

I’m looking at that ball right now. When I pick it up and shake it, I can still hear the BB that started all of this. I don’t know what my son will end up doing with that football. I hope that he keeps it. And whenever he looks at it, I hope that he remembers that things don’t always end the way we want them to end. I really wanted him to be able to look at that ball a few decades from now and remember the time when he and his dad watched the Falcons win the first of their fifteen Super Bowls.

It didn’t work out that way.

I hated seeing the Falcons lose that Super Bowl. I hate that my plan didn’t come together. But maybe one day my son’s kids will ask him why he has the score of Super Bowl LI written on a deflated football and he’ll just smile and say, “Because my dad loves me.”

That would make it all worthwhile for me.

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When They Cry

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On Wednesday afternoon I had the privilege of picking up my sons from school. When they climbed into my truck, something wasn’t right. One son was his normal self. The other one was not. My parenting instincts kicked in. I asked if something was wrong. He said that there wasn’t. His answer did nothing to ease those nagging parenting instincts so I asked again. This time he said that he wanted to wait until we got home to tell me what was wrong. In private.

By this point, I really knew that something was wrong.

When we got home, I took him to the private place that he seemed to be longing for. When he sat in my lap, the tears poured out of him. And they came out loud.

He explained to me that another kid at school was mean to him earlier that morning. I could barely make out his words between the wailing. I thought about whoever the guy was who made up the saying about sticks and stones and words that never hurt. That guy  obviously never had anyone say anything mean to him. The words spoken to my son earlier that morning had broken his bones.

I let him cry and held him tight. When he got a little quieter, I told him to cry some more. “Get it all out, son. It’s okay,” I told him. And so he did.

When all of the tears were gone, we had a good talk. All of it, the mean words that morning, the tears that afternoon and our private conversation, were an answer to prayer.

Minutes before I picked up my kids that afternoon, I said a prayer. Sitting in my truck in the car line, I asked God to help me to be patient. I asked him to give me the right words to say to my sons. I asked for words of grace. God rarely answers our prayers the way that we expect him to.

Sitting there in that room with my sobbing son on my lap and my shirt wet from his tears, God gave me what I asked for. He gave me not only the words to say but the opportunity to tell my son what he needed to hear.

I told my son that looking like everyone else is a dead end game. I reminded him about his true identity in Christ. I let him know that part of being a man who leads and does significant things means that people will take shots at you for no good reason. I reminded him how much his family loves him and how much more Jesus loves him. It was good to see him smile at the end our our talk and cry session.

On his way out of the room, I thought about my own childhood.

I thought about wrestling magazines.

I used to get bullied a lot. Once, after a nasty encounter with one of the neighborhood bad guys, I ran into my room and looked at wrestling magazines while crying. I grew up in a single-parent family. My mom had to work. I had to spend a lot of time alone. As I looked at those magazines, I wished that Ric Flair could somehow jump out of the pages and give me a few pointers on how to put the figure four leg lock on that bully. It sounds crazy I know. But it’s not uncommon.

A lot of kids today are growing up without a father around. Or if their father is around, all he has to offer them is tough talk on getting over it and a plea to shut up with the crying. I do a lot of counseling for my job. There are a lot of young men who have sat across the table from me who had dads like that. Dads who gave them nothing when the world was giving them its worst.

Dads, there is a difference between whining and crying. Our kids need to know the difference. And so do we. Whining is what kids do when they don’t get their way. When kids whine, they need to be corrected in love and told to stop. Crying is what kids do when their world caves in on them. When they cry, they need to be held and told that it’s okay to cry. Keeping pain bottled up isn’t manly. It’s foolish and dangerous.

I’m glad that God answered my prayer the way he did that day. I hope that through his tears, my son could see what his father had looked for and not found in a wrestling magazine.

I hope that he learned that the world can be a mean place.

I hope that he remembers that sometimes it’s okay to cry, no matter how old or how manly you are.

And I hope that our conversation the other afternoon gave him a vivid reminder that when the tears do come, he is still being held by his Father.

For I, the LORD your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.” Isaiah 41:13 (ESV)

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Parenting Books And A Friend Like Keith

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Ten years ago, when I found out that I was becoming a father, I was a little scared. Growing up in a single-parent family, I wasn’t around a continual example of fatherhood. My mom was great but she couldn’t be a dad.

I taught myself how to throw a baseball and shoot a basketball. That didn’t end well for me. I didn’t even bother trying to teach myself how to change brake pads or replace a water heater. To this day, pretty much all I have to offer in that category is, “Lord, please keep my brake pads and water heater working properly.” So far, so good.

Fatherhood really worried me. I knew that I was supposed to be a godly father but I wondered if I really knew what that meant. Is it just a matter of going to church? Can I get away with just telling my kids, “If you can’t be good, be careful” when I drop them off at the skating rink? Do kids still get dropped off at skating rinks?

Keith Keller is the wisest man I know. He makes me think about things I otherwise wouldn’t. There’s no telling what kind of casual Christianity wasteland I’d be in if it were not for him. A lot of people can say that about Keith Keller.

When Keith found out I was going to be a dad, he gave me a call to congratulate me. And then he gave me some wisdom. It wasn’t that kind of, “Look here, boy, this is what you need to do” wisdom that a lot of people share without being asked. Keith was humble when he told me, in so many words, “Look, people are going to be telling you all kinds of stuff and recommending all of these books to you but here are two that I think you should read.”

The first book was called On Becoming Baby Wise. In some circles, saying that you followed what was written in that book is about like being caught with a copy of Mein Kampf. And in others, if you haven’t read Baby Wise, you need to be brought before some parenting court. People either hate that book or they belong to a cult where they worship it. It helped my kids learn how to sleep and, so far, they haven’t turned into serial killers so I’m thankful for it. Just not thankful enough to join a cult.

The other book was even more beneficial. It’s called Shepherding A Child’s Heart and it was written by Tedd Tripp. Once my kids learned how to get to sleep on their own, I quit thinking about Baby Wise. I’m ten years into parenting and I still haven’t quit thinking about Shepherding A Child’s Heart.

Most parents settle for some version of behavior modification whenever their kids start acting crazy. When little John Henry gets caught pouring paint all up and down aisle seven at Wal-Mart, John Henry’s mom goes nuclear in order to get him to stop. Once he does and she’s away from the scene of the crime, the problem is solved. Or so she thinks. Really, all she’s done is applied a bandage to a cancerous mole. It might look like the problem’s gone but it’s still there. And it’s deadly.

Shepherding A Child’s Heart, while certainly not neglecting the importance of discipline, encourages us to address the real root of the problem. Our kids do not simply have behavior problems. They have heart problems. They have a sin problem.

I’ll spare you the book report. If you are a new parent or you know someone who is, Tedd Tripp’s book is a must read.

I don’t remember most of the gifts that my wife and I got while we were expecting our first child. I’m sure that there were a lot of diapers involved. For that, I am thankful. Well, I was. Not so much now. Those days are gone. But I’ll always be thankful to my friend Keith Keller who gave me a couple of solid book recommendations. And I’ll always be thankful to God for giving me a friend like Keith Keller.

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The Best Day At UGA

George Strait sings a song called The Best Day about a father being with his son through all of these milestone events in the kid’s life. It starts with their first camping trip together and then remodeling an old car in the teen years and it ends with the boy, all grown up by now, getting married.

After each event, the boy tells his dad, “I’m the luckiest boy alive, this is the best day of my life.”

A few weeks ago, I got to have one of those days with my two sons when I took them to their first Georgia football game. Neither one of them ever looked at me and told me that they had just had the best day of their life. But I felt like I had.

And even the two drunk guys sitting behind us couldn’t change that.

It was a noon kickoff so we got on campus early. I made arrangements with my friend Merv Waldrop, a great American, to tailgate with him. Merv has turned tailgating into an art form. The food on his table and the songs on his radio are all carefully chosen to fit with the occasion. When my wife took out the food that she prepared for everyone, Merv’s mouth fell open. He told me that I had married the perfect tailgating wife. That’s sort of like getting a compliment from Moses.

Not long after we started eating, Merv took us on a tour of the campus. He showed my boys where Crawford Long discovered ether and where leaders of the Old South once laid their heads. My sons were amazed. And so was I.

It was the best day.

When my sons finally walked into the massive Sanford Stadium for the first time, they were speechless. I don’t think that they had ever seen so many people in one place. Or so many red shirts. We were halfway through the first quarter before they realized that the crowd was real and not some sort of special effect.

Seated around us, we had a good crew of strangers who weren’t really strangers because they were wearing red too. The couple in front of us were season ticket holders. Next to them there was a family that looked a bit like ours. Behind us there was a young couple.

It was hot but we were all in Athens watching the Bulldogs.

It was the best day. For all of us.

And then the two drunk guys showed up and sat right behind us.

Remember, this was a noon kickoff so either they had just taken a single shot of jet fuel or they had been drinking since they woke up. My money was on the second option.

One guy was sort of drunk. That is to say, he was wasted but he was sober enough to know that he was wasted. The other guy just didn’t care. He threw caution (and his liver) to the wind sometime around 9:30 that morning. Or the night before. I don’t know. He was leaning on the people next to him and slurring and cussing and generally reminding me why so many people don’t like the Georgia Bulldogs.

At one point, he went on a cussing binge. And his cussing had no purpose. He was being foul just to be foul. I’ll spare you his word of choice but pretend with me for a moment that the word apple is a vile, disgusting word that would make a sailor blush.

Really Drunk Guy: “Apple!”

Sort of Drunk Guy: “Shut up. We’re going to get thrown out. I’m sorry, ma’am.”

Really Drunk Guy: “Apple! Apple! Apple! I love apples! Apple McAppleby. Martin Van Apple! Apple!”

Sort of Drunk Guy: “Your wife is going to kill us.”

I asked my sons if they knew what that word meant. They said no. I was relieved. But I turned it into a teaching moment.

“This is what happens when you drink too much.”

Judging by the look in their eyes, they’ll probably never have so much as a tablespoon of NyQuill for as long as they live.

Finally, the GBI came by and had a talk with the two inebriated fellows. Not the campus police. Not a state trooper. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation. You’re a special kind of drunk if it takes the GBI to settle you down. Whatever the officers said to those men must have worked because they didn’t make it past the first half.

After all of that, I decided that the family needed a drink. Powerade. Not whatever intoxicant that two fellows behind us were having.

Things on the field weren’t much better. Georgia was playing a daycare from Louisiana that day. And for a good portion of the day, the daycare was winning. I started to question the wisdom of my game selection. Perhaps I should have picked an easier team, I don’t know, maybe Georgia Tech, so that my sons were guaranteed to see a win. But in the end, the boys in red pulled it out. And all of us in red went home happy.

But we would have went home happy anyway.

It really was the best day.

I’m the luckiest dad alive.

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Grace And The Disaster On The Front Pew

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I’m usually not good at predictions.

But I nailed this one.

My wife was helping out somewhere else in the sanctuary. I was preaching. And my kids were by themselves on the front row for the whole service. That’s usually not a problem. It’s happened before. But this particular Sunday morning was unique. Our church was taking the Lord’s Supper and, for my kids, there would be no parents around helping them to handle the elements.

I quietly predicted disaster.

Like I said, I nailed it.

The bread came by without incident. My two sons sat just one row in front of me as I led the service. I could see their tiny, probably not very clean fingers, navigating their way through the plate. My sincerest apologies to all of the folks who came after them. The boys both grabbed their bread and waited patiently. There was no throwing or choking. Just reverence. I was proud. But we were only halfway there.

When the juice came around there was a problem with the exchange between one kid and the other. I was sitting right there. I saw it happen as if it were in slow motion. But, just like when you realize a half a second too late that you’re about to get in a wreck, there was nothing I could do. The whole plate of little juice glasses did not spill but there were enough that did.

Two thoughts immediately came to mind.

First, after nearly 40 years spent in church, I finally realized why every Baptist church has dark red carpet. I always thought it was because of some hidden Bible code. It’s not. It’s for moments like this one. The dark red juice blended in quite nicely with the dark red carpet.

My second thought was that I was glad that we’re not Catholic. Catholics believe that the elements of the Lord’s Supper actually turn into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I don’t know much about pastors in Catholic churches but I’m sure that they get in a lot of trouble when their kids spill something that serious on the carpet. Wait. See, I told you that I don’t know a lot about Catholic pastors. Never mind.

While I was sitting there contemplating Baptist carpet and Catholic tradition, things were still falling apart on the front row. My kids were scrambling for tissues they could use to clean up their mess. When they found none, they took their search outside of the sanctuary. Both boys. And then one of them came back in. And then he left again. And then they returned to the scene of the crime.

By this time I had quit thinking about carpet and Catholics and started asking God to forgive me for my impure thoughts. And boy were they impure.

I was angry. But I wasn’t angry because my sons were rebelling. They weren’t. I was angry because I was afraid of what people might think about me. I wanted to correct my sons loudly and publicly so that everyone could say something like, “See, that preacher knows how to handle business!”

We don’t take the Lord’s Supper because of tradition. We take it because Jesus told us to do it in remembrance of him and the work he did on our behalf by dying on the cross and rising from the grave (Luke 22:19).

Thankfully, by God’s grace, I remembered all of that before I created an even bigger disaster.

Things finally settled down with the preacher’s kids on the front row and the service closed out without the roof falling in. On the way out to our car, my son was solemn. He told me that he was sorry for what had happened during the quiet of the Lord’s Supper.

By this time, the grace of God had already taken over the law that was in my heart.

I told my son that it was okay. There was an accident and he and his brother did the best they could to make it right. I told him that next time they needed to remember that there are other worshipers around and we need to do all we can not to distract them.

He understood.

Life moved on.

Our kids need our discipline. What they don’t need is our wrath. And they don’t need parents who care more about impressing a crowd than shaping their own children. Yes, our kids need to be corrected. And sometimes that correction needs to be firm. But there always needs to be grace.

We take the Lord’s Supper the first Sunday of every month at our church. The next time we take it I will remember. I’ll remember the cross where my Father gave his Son to rescue me from my sins. But I’ll also remember the pew where I was reminded that demonstrating grace to others didn’t stop at the cross. Recipients of grace should be the greatest distributors of it.

If you ever come to visit our church and you look hard enough around the front row, you’ll see a spot in the dark red carpet. The pastor’s kids put it there. Like their father, they’re not perfect. But, like their father, they carry with them a different spot.

That’s the spot of the blood of Jesus that has washed away our sins.

And it’s a spot that gives us all the grace we need for each new day.

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Questions To Consider Before Your Kid’s Next Game

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If you have a kid who plays sports, here are a few questions you should ask yourself before your cheer for him from the sidelines.

Are you encouraging him to do his best or are you pushing him to be better for you?

Are you, in any way, making her feel as though your love for her is based on her performance? That’s not so much a question just for you. We all know how you’ll answer that question. It’s probably best for you to ask your child that question. Her answer might be a little different than yours.

What lesson are you hoping to teach your son by terrorizing the referee of his game and ridiculing his team’s coach? Perhaps you have forgotten that sports exist for the primary purpose of teaching kids lessons. Not for scholarships. Not for your unmet expectations from your own childhood. Lessons. And, make not mistake, you are teaching lessons. Your silence teaches a lesson. Your private coaching teaches a lesson. Your obnoxious yelling teaches a lesson.

I was at several youth soccer games over the weekend and I was shocked by what I heard coming from the mouths of some parents. I shouldn’t have been. I’ve been doing this for the better part of a decade now with my own kids. Long before becoming a father, I lived in an apartment complex that was right next to a youth baseball field. My Saturday morning alarm clock was some dad cursing at his son. But still, this weekend, I was surprised.

An overwhelming majority of the parents I encountered and observed were fantastic. They cheered with class. They encouraged their sons and daughters with passion. They took losses with dignity. I’m thankful for these parents. We need more like them. And, believe it or not, their kids actually need to hear them cheering them on and encouraging them to give their best effort.

But what they don’t need is to hear their parents screaming like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. They don’t need to hear their parents ridiculing other players on the field who have not been blessed with supreme, godlike athleticism. They don’t need to hear every coaching decision questioned at full volume. And they don’t need to hear the coach ripped to shreds for not giving your supreme, godlike athlete enough playing time while you break the game down on the way home.

Side note. If your kid is good, he’ll play. I’ve been around a lot of coaches and I’ve seen some crazy philosophies and eccentric personalities. But I’ve never come across a coach who said, “You know, that Billy is a fantastic player with the uncanny ability to help our team win but I’m not going to play him because I hate winning and I hate little Billy.” If your kid really has professional athlete potential, he’ll play. Settle down. If, like the rest of us, he never makes it to the pros, it won’t be because his little league coach put him at short stop instead of third base.

Winning is fun. Winning is important. Kids should be encouraged to win. Not keeping score and giving everyone a trophy is foolish. But winning is not the most important thing. You can win an awful lot of trophies vicariously through your kid and still lose your kid.

Which leads me to one final question that you should ask yourself before cheering for your kid. I’m borrowing from Jesus on this one.

What will it profit a parent if he gains a professional athlete but loses his child?

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