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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Dads, Be The Seatbelt

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Like any other six-year-old, Kayson Latham was a little anxious. The roller coaster was about to take off. You could see the fear in little Kayson’s eyes. As the ride began, Kayson’s body rocked back and forth in a mix of fear and bravery. Kayson had two things going for him. His dad was seated right next to him and he was strapped into the ride by a seatbelt.

But by the time the ride was over, one of those sources of security would let Kayson down in a frightening way.

As the coaster made its way down a steep hill, Kayson’s seatbelt came apart. That look of anxiety he had at the beginning of the ride was no match for the one on his face as his seatbelt released its grip and allowed the boy to slide down to the bottom of the car he was seated in.

Kayson’s dad, Delbert, did not come apart. He calmly grabbed his son and did the job that the seatbelt failed to do. For the remainder of the ride, Delbert was his son’s seatbelt. As he held him closely, he reassured his son.

“You’re fine.”

“I promise.”

“I got you.”

“There are no more big hills.”

When the ride was over, Delbert told the operators of the ride about the incident. Their response was something along the lines of, “Yeah, that’s happened before. Enjoy the rest of your day at the amusement park.”

Fathers, there are things that your kids depend on. They depend on their schools to give them knowledge. They depend on coaches to help them to develop character along with athletic ability. They depend on friends to be there for them.

But, like Kayson’s seatbelt, those things have a way of coming apart and letting them down. When that happens fathers, be the seatbelt. Be the one who was in their corner all along, holding them in your loving grip and giving them words of reassurance.

“You’re fine.”

“I promise.”

“I got you.”

“There are no more hills.”

Dads, we have a tough job. It’s hard to find the balance between the insanity of helicopter parenting and the negligence of what passes for fatherhood these days. We have to let our kids fall. But, at the right time and in the right way, we have to be there for them when they do. This requires special wisdom. Divine wisdom.

Dads, you will blow it. No matter how good of a father you are, there will be times when you come apart and fail to do the job you were designed to do. But don’t let this get you down. Use it for good. Apologize to your family when you fail them.

If you’re any kind of a dad, there’s a good chance that your kids think you’re the fourth member of the Trinity. Use your mistakes to remind them that you are not God. Use your mistakes as a reminder to them and to you that you need God just as much as they do.

Dads, even when we fail, we can teach our kids a valuable lesson. There will come a time when we will not be there for them. Our kids will one day become adults who will have to navigate their way through life with only the memory of us. What then? What will they do when they’re in their sixties and you are gone and their seatbelt fails them?

That depends on what you teach them when they’re six.

If you, “Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), they will know that they are held by a Father who will never fail, come apart, grow weary or abandon them.

Dads, your kids will be let down. Coaches, teachers and friends will come apart on them. When that happens, be the seatbelt. As imperfect as you are, your example will help the to be more aware of the presence and loving, eternal grip of their heavenly Father.

And when the day comes that their ride is over, they will hear his voice.

“You’re fine.”

“I promise.”

“I’ve had you all along.”

“There are no more hills.”

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. John 10:28-29 (ESV)

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We Need More Bad Guys

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If you allow your ten-year-old daughter to make the three block walk to school all by herself, some in society will question your judgment as a parent.

If you let your twelve-year-old son play with a couple of friends at the playground down the street without adult supervision, you might get reported to some government agency.

If you buy your eight-year-old daughter a cell phone and allow her to use it unmonitored throughout all hours of the day, people will make every effort to let you know what a naive parent you are.

But if you so much as question the assistant manager at Target for allowing a grown man in a dress to come into the bathroom with your eight-year-old daughter, you are a bigot.

Our society, which speaks so much of protecting children, will not think twice about sacrificing those very same children in the name of tolerance. That’s because no one wants to be accused of being a bigot. No one wants to be on the wrong side of history. It’s as if our culture thinks that making a man use the men’s restroom is on par with keeping black kids out of public schools that were once for whites only. Twenty years from now, when the HBO docudrama is made about the LGBT movement, everyone wants to be seen marching arm in arm with the man in the dress and rainbow colored feathered boa.

Without giving it a second thought, many in our culture have consumed the propaganda that sexual preference is somehow the same as race. Well, it isn’t. Race is neutral. Unless you belong to the Margaret Sanger eugenics crowd that, ahem, gave birth to Planned Parenthood, you know that being black or white doesn’t have an impact on one’s character or morality. Good people and jerks come in all colors. It’s best when people are judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. You may have heard that somewhere before.

But that isn’t enough for the LGBT community and the political correction officers who fuel them. You’re not allowed to make any judgment. And no questions either. You must submit. Tolerance before common sense. Tolerance before the safety of our children. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that such logic comes from the same crowd that has turned murdering babies into a booming, government-funded industry.

It appears as though society’s elite mean something different than we think they mean when they tell us how much they care for children. For most of us, caring for our children means providing for them, shaping them and, yes, protecting them. For a frighteningly large portion of our culture, caring for children is just something that’s done until the next opportunity for sexual expression comes up.

And it appears as though the elites mean something different than we think they mean when they call us bigots. Most people who have not developed the virus that makes them mindlessly rattle off whatever talking points they hear on morning talk shows know that a bigot is simply someone who will not even consider listening to someone who holds a different opinion. But in the culture of sexual expression at all costs, a bigot is anyone whose common sense, logic and principles prohibits him from falling in line with the rest of the progressive crowd.

So if we’re being honest with ourselves, the real bigots are the ones who force you to accept the absurd with no questions asked, no matter what the danger is to your wife or children.

Twenty years from now, when the HBO docudrama is made about birthday cakes and bathrooms, I’ll be the bad guy. And that’s okay because in a world where the meaning of good and evil has been completely reversed, we need more bad guys.

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Every Child Has Two Options

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Your kids will be known for something. Basically, they have two options. They can either be known for who they once were or who they are becoming.

If you put all of your parental efforts into making sure that you kid becomes a great student or athlete or musician, there is a chance that you’ll get what you worked for. But there will come a time when your kid will be known simply for who he used to be. The fourth grader who could hit a baseball harder than most high schoolers. The really good math student. The great piano player. While these accomplishments are certainly noteworthy, they aren’t enough.

Take Jake Lloyd for example.

You probably don’t recognize that name. A while back, Jake was arrested after leading police on a high speed chase. Earlier this week he was moved from prison to a psychiatric facility. He’s mother says that things are finally looking up.

Things weren’t always this way for Jake. In 1999 he played a young and innocent Darth Vader in the first of three new Star Wars movies. The movie made $2 billion. Some of that money went to Jake Lloyd. He had every young boys dream. A lot of money and a major role in a Star Wars movie.

But when we talk about Jake Lloyd today, we don’t say much about who he is becoming. We talk about who he used to be.

There is no accomplishment in this world that is worth the pain of simply being known for who you used to be.

In speaking to a group of suffering believers in the context of church leadership, the Apostle Peter helps to shift our attention away from the used to be and toward the becoming. The challenge he gives us in 1 Peter 5 is exactly the opposite of what many kids are told today, whether directly or indirectly, by parents, teachers and peers. If you want your kid to be known only for who she used to be, listen to the world’s advice. If you care more about the person she is becoming, follow the words of Peter.

The world tells your son to follow his heart. The Bible tells him to humble himself and follow God.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. 1 Peter 5:6 (ESV)

Teach your kid to follow his heart and he’ll grow up to be arrogant, in debt, sick, imprisoned, addicted and miserable. The heart is evil. It’s the last thing any of us should follow. If you care more about who your child is becoming, teach him to humble himself and submit to God in all things.

The world provides quick fixes for anxiety. The Bible invites us into a process of continually casting our concerns on the One who made us. 

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (ESV)

They make a pill that can help you daughter quit feeling so anxious. But that pill only addresses the feeling. It does nothing to address the source. When we cast our anxieties on Christ, we are giving him everything that we have. We are trusting that, even if our anxieties keep popping up, there is a Savior there to walk with us through them. And he doesn’t walk with us coldly or mechanically. He walks with us because he cares for us. If all you’re after is immediate success for your kids, teach them to mask their anxieties. But if it’s long term faithfulness that you’re after, teach them to make anxiety the check engine light of their soul that reminds them that they are cared for by a sovereign God who is big enough to handle what makes them worry.

The world teaches your kids to keep an open mind. The Bible tells them that there are some things worth closing their minds on. 

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 1 Peter 5:8-9 (ESV)

G.K. Chesterton said it best. “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” If your son walked around school all day with his mouth wide open, not wanting to miss whatever flavors were around him, you would seek medical help for him. But for some reason, it’s okay for him to do the same thing with his mind.

One of the primary ways that Satan will attack your children is through their belief system. Just as he did in the Garden of Eden, he’ll come at them with his usual tactic of, “Did God really say that?” And if all you’ve given your kids is an open mind, they’ll take the bait every time. It doesn’t have to be that way. They can resist. But their resistance doesn’t come through a crucifix or holy water. It comes through a faith that is firm and a mind that is fixed. If you have any concern at all about the faith your child will have when she becomes an adult, do everything you can to train her in what the Bible says and help her to make her faith her own. If all she has to stand against the devil’s schemes is the faith of her parents and grandparents, she will be devoured. Her faith must be her faith.

Finally, the world encourages kids to avoid hardship at all costs. The Bible teaches us that we’d all be dead without hardship. 

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10 (ESV)

The road of discipleship is a difficult one. There are sacrifices to be made and friends and loved ones who will abandon you. Discipleship can be painful. Success, while often requiring hard work, doesn’t work that way. Like water, it seeks the easiest way in or out, regardless of what damage may be done.

If you take the time to teach your kids what it means to follow Jesus and they follow your guidance, they will get hurt. There will be times of suffering. There will be pain. But this is momentary. The eternal glory of Christ awaits and it is much better than the fading glory of who they once were.

There are two options for your children.

They can either be known for who they once were or who they are becoming.

Which will it be?

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