Sunday, November 29, 2020

Spiritual Myopia

'The habit of living for the applause of our fellow men in religious things is deadly to the religious affections and life, which in their very nature are Godward and must look upwards only to Him.' B.B. Warfield

When one becomes detached from outside, objective truth…. 

A slow drift of decay begins and you find yourself in a small whirlpool of illegitimate concepts. 

Notions, self centered comparisons, judgements, and reflections pull your eyes to the center. 

The circle becomes tighter as others are collected in your spinning skepticism. 

 The rush of waters refreshes you as you spin faster. 

Your discourse with your company provides laughter and support. 

Your swirling whirlpool is in fast current but that is of no concern. 

Your companions make you laugh which drowns out the shouts coming from the shore. 

 A rope passes through the group. 

As it is tossed back and forth… it is unraveled and rejected as meaningless. 

No one casts an outward glance. 

 No challenges or questions changes the direction or slows the current….. 

Any possibility of reality is inside your rapidly spinning pool of deductions, words, agreements, disagreements. 

You lock arms in solid support of final judgement. 

There is unity within your mind and within the group. 

Cheering and singing ensues! 

 Yet despite pleading and shouting…. 

Despite numerous attempts to reach out hands, and limbs, and lifelines…. 

Your whirlpool of perception finally drops off in The Waterfall of Reality….


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Self-Cancellation: AKA (The Twit is No Longer Tweeting)

 

“In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it anymore.” 
Ernest Hemingway, In Another Country


It has been a mild fall, I'm barely in a sweatshirt here right before Thanksgiving. Normally, the time change inflicts physical and psychological discomfort-  not only of darkness, but in dampness and north winds as well. Alabama winters aren't very inspiring.

But the sun is out and the sky has a brilliant columbian hue which is energizing, especially through my prescription Costa's. The winter blues, more nuanced in my mid 50's, haven't overtaken me yet. So this is actually a healthy time to write and even a healthier time to make my decisions more solid.

I have SO MUCH to be thankful for. My knee feels great. Covid had jacked it up to the point that I was convinced that knee replacement surgery would come sooner rather than later... but the intense pain left me as quickly as it came on. And after reading a medical journal about it, though we don't know much about this virus-weapon, I can testify that it has a special affinity for arthritic joints!

Because my knee is good, and I see more clearly, and the weather is just right... I will get in a brisk walk today, just before the sun sets... and I will be of a better state of mind to count continuous blessings... which are innumerable. 

But I am compelled, before doing so, to attempt to articulate my reasons for leaving twitter on Dec. 31.

And in doing so, I hope to make clear that I am not judging the service, nor anyone who continues to enjoy/use it, nor do I think that my leaving the twitterverse will have any measurable impact on the continuation of the service.....

The most interesting part of this post, is that I was close to making this decision years ago, but twitter increased the number of characters from 140 to 280, and I felt like I could say more and stay in the stream of culture and do my best to express a world and life view that is increasingly fading from public discourse. I started a twitter account in March of 2011 and will end it permanently on Dec. 31, 2020.

SO why?

I have been fascinated by those who have contacted me since I pinned the tweet about the decision who are thinking about the same thing.

First, this isn't really that big of a deal. I will still be 'tweeting' through the school athletics account, but it will be strictly information... re-tweeting articles, schedules, etc.

I will still keep my facebook account, instagram, and I have a parler account... but I don't think I will be going there much at all.

Though I am completely aware that ALL social media accounts are run by algorithms that use me as a product for their profit, I became acutely aware that twitter has become bolder and colder about what content they choose to tip the balance for and I recognized that I was already listed as incompatible with their world view. According to their norms, media elite will label me "insane and full of hate".

In some ways, I have to admire their HONESTY in the process... I'm continuing on Facebook who  PRETENDS to be fair. I also have a chance on FB to at least have MORE room/space to accurately clarify and appeal....and my 'network' on facebook is more open to verification- I see real people.

The biggest loss to my twitter feed is the GREAT network of high school coaches I have come to follow... but alas, I was addicted to your likes and approval as well. And I truly enjoyed the weekly sarcasm of the #oakislandcursers... will miss you guys as well!

Current State of Affairs..... NOT the Primary Reason for Leaving

The latest amalgamation of social media engineering is brilliantly vile and sinister. We tend to think of Marxism as a war of governments... no, it is a war of ideas.  Marxists want a global revolution where the economic and social constructs are completely eradicated and a new world order arises. There are Marxists out there, who don't even know they are Marxists....

The latest attack has been very effective.... the cancel culture and wide dissemination of identity politics has created the best environment for a global reset more than ever before in history.

Once you can create a multi-verse of oppressors and the oppressed... then the fronts of cultural wars are too numerous to effectively fight. It takes unity of mind and courageous souls to fight for a cause- you have to be willing to sacrifice to win... and a single sacrifice usually signals a retreat. I'm concerned the church has gotten distracted in the confusion and have chosen the wrong battlefield.

It saddens me to think that we have lost a major battle in the arena of epistemology... the justification of knowledge.

Back in 2004, I was introduced to the writings of John Frame. It took quite a while for me to 'catch up' to him, but before long, I was ready to tackle his book, "The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God". Page by page, I was undone and re-formed by the fact that humans must DEMAND powerful tools and methods by which we set the 'rules' of the justification of knowledge. This is the battle field that God Himself has enshrined by which obstacles to faith a removed by the processes of scientific investigation and logical discourse.

In this area, the Bible flourishes.... because you can't have a better theory for the existence of logic, law, language, love and liberty except through the lens of the historical Judeo-Christian worldview. People of faith INVENTED the mechanisms of science and philosophy... "in the beginning was the LOGOS" !

But something wicked took place in the secular and liberal academies.... rule changes, definition changes, and thought police took real human pain and elevated experience over evidence, emotion over reason, and 'applauded' savage cancel culture attacks, declaring that they were more authentic than civil discourse. I also understand, that this has always been an excuse to try to live 'unhindered' before the God of conscience and moral law (1 Peter 4).

So for 15 years, I have been trying to flesh out a way BACK to reasoned responses..."being ready to give a defense to anyone who asks".... only now to be told that my insistence to the formal rules of debate are invalid because they are inherently built on systematic racism of which I cannot refute... this systematic change has left me weaponless in the face of an army of insults and assault.

Time to change tactics....

By the way, there are many who misunderstand this by saying that I BELIEVED I could 'debate the way to faith' and that was never true... nor my intent. Apologetics is merely an attempt to remove obstacles..... only the Holy Spirit can engender true faith... and God will bring those to Himself without any effort on my part. My contending for Him is because I love Him and know that others who come to love Him will regret any time they spent outside of knowing Him! I want others to experience the freedom and love He lavishly pours out in grace and mercy!

So I have getting throttled, 'censored', and pounded by the enemies of evangelical Christianity. They have been successful in making me seemingly irrelevant to the conversation and my 'SERIOUS' tweets are trivial at best. The dominion of darkness continues the victory lap in Babylon (and will so until judgement day).

But that is no reason to leave..... not at all... in the end...

I am leaving because twitter hooked me.... I became a tweeter thinking I could offer myself as a source of inspiration and entertainment to my (millions) of followers LOL... a very high and grotesque view of myself... but instead, I became the proverbial rat in the cocaine test... consistently refreshing my feed to see what people thought of me... what was the next cool thing to know...

My wife began the conviction process, the Lord soon followed up with 'The Social Dilemma", and then twitter 'woke me up' when it started lecturing me about what to believe and not believe about very flat statements made in 280 characters or less.

I was having more interaction with my feed than I was with real human beings. Twitter avatars are single issue bomb throwers... human beings are more beautiful and complex.

Again, I have no qualms with anyone who wants to stay... 

But twitter has advanced the erosion of truth,  judgement by identity, and justice by mob rule. I can't lend myself to that erosion.

I also can't continue to be held captive in a world of likes... where I care more about what people think... than what God says.

My objective in 2021 is to spend more time with REAL people and continue to share and live out the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My final statement on this subject....

Psalm 34:1–8

[1] I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
[2] My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
[3] Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
[4] I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
[5] Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
[6] This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
[7] The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
[8] Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (ESV)

Monday, November 16, 2020

One Great Football Season 2020

I don't know if I have the right words to express how proud I am of the 2020 Briarwood Lions football team! There were plenty of tears last Friday night... not because we lost, but because it was over. The emotions are in direct proportion to the amount of work and love that dominated this team.

I want to start with the leadership of head coach, Matthew Forester. In two seasons, Coach Forester has implemented one of the best systems I have ever had the privilege to know and work with. The integration of offensive and defensive terminology has elevated our football IQ and made everything from Hudl analysis to game communication easier and improved. It would be impossible to explain ALL of the improvements- but our practice schedule, strength and conditioning schedule, game planning, equipment inventory, young player development, college coach communication, player meetings, drill and skill development have all been greatly enhanced in his two years as the head coach. To top it off, our coaches and players love him and are willing to follow his lead.

This joy of this season is directly attributed to our seniors. This group is one of the great competitive classes in school history. They have done it in multiple sports as well. I was never concerned in any game this season about our ability to 'put the ball down and play' regardless of the opponent or circumstances. They practiced hard and cared for one another... especially the young guys. They had fun, but also were extremely physical on the field. They battled each other so hard in practice, that the games seemed easy.

I could not think of a better team to handle the challenges of a Covid season and moving up to 6A. They expressed a gratitude to play and they played each week like it would be their last.

The BCS community is also a joy to be a part of. It takes extreme effort and sacrifice for a football team to get through an entire season. The ARMY of volunteers and parents who worked with enthusiasm and projected a positive spirit worked wonders! I could write pages about all of the help we had.


It was our best performance ever in 6A competition... and a season I will never forget!

I do have a very brief comment about each game- things I never want to forget. 

BCS 28- Ft Payne 20

The opening night jitters- the fact that we were playing with Covid protocols was a blessing- the band in the end zone dodging the pre-game kicks- the sound of the Ft Payne kicker when he hit the ball! My favorite image is Luke Reebals signaling TD on the opening kick-off when their kicker kicked it through the goal post. That right there showed me that this team was going to be fun!

Spain Park 21- BCS 14 

Loved the opening half- we took it to them. Tyler Waugh had the first of many explosive plays that night. Really important game to teach us how different it was going to be playing up and how disciplined we were going to have to be.

BCS 20- Chelsea 3

Always good to beat your rival. Some big pass plays that night showed what a great job our receivers were doing in improving. We were also developing a physical prowess that would become a trademark all season. Brooks Donnely showed that he was back from his ACL injury the year before.

BCS 43- Woodlawn 0

The opening image before the game with players from both teams holding flags was very emotional for me. For some reason, the jet sweep by Sawyer Tindall for a long TD was a highlight for me.

BCS 28- Huffman 16

Was such a big time win- Huffman was loaded and was confident they could beat us! The hitting in that game was mortal combat! Coach Kerley calling Big O to the boundary and Luke Reebal's run on that play in the 4th quarter was a huge play. Also grinding out the clock in our heavy set was really nice.

James Clemmens 41- BCS 21.

Our never say die fight was impressive. We made big strides in our passing game that night. A big part of that was watching our guys rally around and encourage our soph QB as he worked through some mistakes early. We never fell apart as a team!

BCS 42- Shades Valley 19.

Great team effort that night! To get down early and then storm from behind was impressive. We never panicked and poured it on late. Luke Reebals has a great night behind a big effort by our offensive line. I especially noted that Eli Steadman showed great leadership that night and played really well!

Mountain Brook 17- BCS 0

My toughest week- being out with Covid. Our defense played outstanding... but we know we did not play our best. The score was not indicative of the game. 

BCS 28- Homewood 6.

Big time defense and big plays from Nic Dicen. Winning on their field is always special.

BCS 42- Corner 7

Dominating performance by every group. Of course I will never forget getting the lights on as Corner rolled into the parking lot.

BCS 31- Hartselle 17

Being down 14-3 at the half. These seniors were not going to be denied! Tyler Waugh put on one of the great single performances I have ever seen! Big Ride's pre-game speech was amazing! All the speeches were terrific.

Oxford 35- BCS 14

Tough way to go out. Watching Parker Hutson's pick 6 in the 3rd was symbolic of his never say die effort all season. Our guys battled valiantly.

Again- I am leaving so much out. Our JV and freshman team was a joy to coach!

I want to say thanks to my QB group... what a great group to coach every week. CV was impressive each week and he improved every week.

As a competitor, I am worn flat out... but soon will be ready to pick up and figure out how to get better soon!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Covid Caught Up To Me

After successfully dodging Covid-19 for many weeks and months, I finally got hit by it.

The purpose of my blog is to share my experiences for posterity sake, so I am sharing my experience knowing that many others have had more tragic and serious situations to which I offer my prayers and support.


On Monday, Oct. 5, I went to be tested for Covid-19 because a family member that I am close to had tested positive. I went in that morning and was given the rapid test. I was given the positive results about 15 minutes after the test.

At the time of my test, I had not experienced any noticeable symptoms. As I was driving home, I was somewhat suspicious of a false positive because I felt fine.

I called my bosses and let them know and entered into a quarantine at home.

About 3 hours after my positive test, I began to notice symptoms. At first, I was convinced that it was psychosomatic and was intrigued about how powerful the influence of that felt.

However, by mid-afternoon, there was no mistake that these were real symptoms and likely the impact of the virus on my body. The first symptom was a loss of smell. This was MOST apparent by my inability to smell Clorox which my wife was using to clean out house (she went into quarantine at the same time with me).

I also registered a borderline fever for the first time and began to notice body aches, especially in my joints. At the time, my neck was the most stiff area.

I made a gargle solution of apple cider vinegar and that is when I noticed that I had no taste as well. I actually drank a small portion of it, and all I could ascertain is that it was liquid.

Between early evening on Monday and Wednesday night, I had waves of fever spikes- the highest was 102.1 and the average was 100.5. But the fever would hit me, spike, and then go away. I also registered normal temps during that time. The longest above average sustained temperature was a period of about 6 hours from Tuesday night through Wednesday AM.

I woke up with a severe headache almost every morning for a period of 5 days.

During the first 3 or 4 days, I did stay on a steady regimen of Tylenol.

My worst symptom became very acute joint pain, especially in both knees. I have arthritis in those knees which does flare up at time. However, beginning on Wednesday morning, my left knee had become an increasingly painful area. I could not walk without a limp and it was throbbing like a toothache.

From Wednesday morning until the following Monday, my left knee tortured me as an unrelenting source of pain. It kept me awake at night and radiated from my left hip all the way to my left foot. The greatest throbbing was along the shin.

I tried a large number of therapies- riding an exercise bike, stretching, ice, isometric exercises, cremes, epsom salt baths, but even arthritis strength Tylenol did not alleviate the pain.

My Dr finally called in an NSAID (Diclofenac) on Monday Oct 13,  that has relieved my pain enough to sleep at night and to go on a few short walks without pain. When the medicine wears off though, the pain returns.

I did want to talk about the restlessness at night and wildly disturbing dreams I had for the first 3 nights of the virus. I felt 'under attack' and it felt like the virus was a weapon... there felt like an intense 'anxiety' accompanied the fever. Almost like an adrenaline was being pumped through my veins and I tossed and turned - never feeling like I was in a deep sleep.

I have had a consistent, unproductive cough for more than a week now. It is inconsistent and on occasion, produces a small amount of phlegm. My sinuses seemed to be more impacted than my lungs, but I don't even think it is a 'symptom' here on day 9.

My energy level seems to be back, but I never felt like it was severely depleted.

I do have an oxygen level measuring device at home and my levels have stayed in the love to mid-90's the entire episode.

The most consistent question I get is: Where do you think you got it from? And there is no way to know. Because the virus spread through my family along differing lines TO me, I think it had to come from an outside the school source- but this is purely anecdotal.

I finally felt well enough on Thursday, Oct. 15, to sit down and write... so my body feels like in full scale recovery. My knee pain will be an ongoing issue that I will continue to work in therapy and consult with my Dr when I am free to be examined.

I have friends who have tested positive without symptoms and some who have been hospitalized, including one who had to go on a ventilator. I have read of others who have lost their life... so this is a serious virus.

Because my experience is only anecdotal and I am not a physician, I don't think it is wise to speak of my general thoughts about prevention and mitigation. I do have concerns about the overall effectiveness of mask wearing, but this is part of the lessons we will all revisit.

I also have concerns that we do not get 100% honest information in a highly partisan environment... and that has been frustrating.

I want to thank everyone who faithfully prayed for us... and am thankful that we seem to be over the worst of it for the time being.

I still have some friends and colleagues who need your prayers!



Saturday, October 10, 2020

My Struggle to Submit

 


God has a serious sense of irony. He never uses it in a trivial way. As humans, our use of sarcasm is almost always tainted with the sin of selfishness with intents to tear down or, sadly, a pitiful stretch for entertainment. God uses His holy sarcasm as a Divine Surgeon cutting the cancer of our souls. I can't help to notice that familiar tone at times in Scripture. But we can never throw stones of accusation because we know His motives are pure and He acts within the confines of unadulterated truth.


God also uses the circumstances in life to flesh out real life instances of irony. It is a not so subtle way at times to put us in proper perspective and remind us that He is intimately with us at all times.


Often, in my life, he uses my 'teaching' as prime real estate to poke and prod the decay and deserts in my soul. He compels me to write, so I can step out and analyze the message... not for you.. for me. Not only for now, but again a few months or years later when I have completely forgotten these thoughts. I read things I have written in the past and, most of the time, wish the thoughts were more a part of my daily DNA.


So I'm back with Peter... now teaching it every Sunday to a virtual, zoom, Sunday School class. It is by far the most difficult teaching environment I have ever encountered. 


I knew the passage was coming.... the one I struggle with... the one that my soul pushes against.... and I am back wrestling with it, but with the added pressure of teaching it to a Brady Bunch screen of smiling faces and wondering if I am even coming through... or whether I am flickering in and out.


It dawned on me this week that Peter haunts my heart. When I read Paul, he engages my mind. The Holy Spirit lays it our like a legal argument... the reasons are so clear and applicable. But when I read Peter, he pulls at my heart. The two men are solid and unified... evidence that the true author is the Holy Spirit. The content is down the line, absolutely the same.


But Peter's words go beyond the argument and tug at my emotions and motives.


When I read Paul, I write nice, alliterate points of application.

When I read Peter, I see 'movie moments'... layers of his life that are intertwined with human struggle and the stories of his time with Jesus.


So I am preparing this morning to take on PART 2 of my lesson from 1 Perter 2... the call to submit.

1 Peter 2:13–15

[13] Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, [14] or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. [15] For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 

and then he lays it out... relationship by relationship

1 Peter 2:17–25

[17] Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.


[18] Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. [19] For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.

After showing Christ as the example, Peter keeps going....

1 Peter 3:1–9

[1] Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives

[7] Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

[8] Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. [9] Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (ESV)

So my pushback comes instantly...

I watch the news, why should I submit in a culture that is increasingly becoming hostile to people of faith?

What about times to disobey... civil disobedience?

Does a wife have to submit to spousal abuse?

Do servants have no right to seek freedom?

How did we ever get to the point of fighting the Revolutionary War if we submit to this attitude?

Won't the world just walk all over me?

I am a competitor... I can't just sit there and take it...

The world isn't just going to give stuff to you... you have to fight for it!

I have to fight for my family!

Of course I can find in Scripture times to fight evil and disobey- Paul and Silas were put in prison because they wouldn't obey the authorities when asked to stop speaking of Jesus. Daniel's friends were thrown in a furnace and Daniel was cast in the Lion's Den for their unwillingness to submit...... So am I over analyzing this?

No... not over analyzing.. just not realizing that this isn't a reasoned defense of when to practice Civil Disobedience... this is a call to shred the heart of pride.

With God... we willingly submit and therefore will escape the eternal subjugation.

Peter had already alluded to it... there is a Stone that you either give way to or It will crush you.

So here it is,... very clear... though it is complicated and messy... we are to humble ourselves and defer to others, because that is how God best sows seeds of reconciliation and salvation. God opposes rigidity. He wants us to stay compliant and malleable.

And not just here... this is all the way through Scripture:

Jer. 29:7- But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

And even in Peter's life....

remember that dark night in the Garden of Gethsemane?

John 18:10–11
[10] Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) [11] So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (ESV)
Matthew 26:52–54

[52] Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. [53] Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? [54] But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (ESV)

and later... after the denial... after Christ reappears and restores him....

John 21:18–19

[18] Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” [19] (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (ESV)

Follow Me.... He is asking for my submission... not when it is fun and easy... NO- He wants me to walk with Him in the darkness... not just the darkness of an evil world, but the darkness of my lack of understanding....

Pray for me in this area...

The Principles of Submission:

God wills it
It is for His sake and for His kingdom
It glorifies God
It silences the enemies
It is the fertile ground of love and reconciliation
It demonstrates complete confidence in the Sovereignty of God
It demonstrates who is the king on the throne of our hearts
It properly humbles us and directs us
It allows us to escape eternal subjugation
It is hard, messy, and complicated.. because at times, we have to choose and discern

The question is... not how little I can do this... but HOW MUCH can I do so.

Does anyone know the 2nd best selling novel of the 19th century? The best selling book was the Bible... but what was #2?

It was a novel that has been quite forgotten and cast down.... it is known now in a negative context which sadly hides the beautiful truth buried now in centuries of misunderstanding and attack.

The novel is 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' written by Harriet Beecher Stowe and published in 1852.This novel is credited as being a major influence in helping abolitionists in their quest to end slavery in America. 

The main character, Uncle Tom, may be the best personification of the principle of submission in all of literature. Here is how wikipedia describes the main character:

Uncle Tom, the title character, was initially seen as a noble, long-suffering Christian slave. In more recent years, however, his name has become an epithet directed towards African-Americans who are accused of selling out to whites. Stowe intended Tom to be a "noble hero" and praiseworthy person. Throughout the book, far from allowing himself to be exploited, Tom stands up for his beliefs and is grudgingly admired even by his enemies.

In one of the most riveting parts of the novel, Tom is sold at auction to a vicious plantation owner named Simon Legree and taken to rural Louisiana. Legree begins to hate Tom when Tom refuses Legree's order to whip his fellow slave. Legree beats Tom viciously and resolves to crush his new slave's faith in God. Despite Legree's cruelty, however, Tom refuses to stop reading his Bible and comforting the other slaves as best he can. Tom is not a weak sell out... He is a strong testimony to a man who loves the Lord and lives out I Peter 2.

It is the nobility of this fictional hero that so moved Americans who read the novel. There is a famous (though likely anecdotal) story that when Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, he said 'so you are the little woman who wrote the little book that started this great big war."

But today the novel is hated...And that is always a problem when seeking to live counter culture, for the sake of the Lord.

There are always critics.... remember Job's wife?

Then his wife said to him (Job), “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9 ESV)

But we are being commissioned to submit to the King.... even when it is hard or seemingly illogical.

And we may even seem inconsistent when we disobey a command because we understand it to be contrary to the kingdom of our allegiance.

May God's grace guide us in the journey.





Monday, September 07, 2020

Pop Pop the Grill Master- Labor Day Memory

 


Inspired by Tootsie's Texas Cookin' last night on Netfix, I dreamed I was sitting on the backyard picnic table talking to my Pop Pop while he basted the ribs, chicken, and pork chops like he did almost every Saturday while I was growing up.

Madison Leonard Almon was a very talented and charismatic man. Champion golfer, WW2 B-52 blister gunner who flew 32 missions in the Pacific theater, and could do almost anything better than anyone else... including backyard barbecue.

I was blessed in my childhood to live literally 1 street away from my grandparents. I could walk there in 4 minutes, run there in 2, and bicycle there in about a minute ....downhill! It was on my way to the Handi-pak on Rugby Ave. where I could get a comic book and Mountain Dew for about 45 cents.

As long as I could remember almost every Saturday morning, Pop Pop would start before the sun rose, to prepare food for friends and family. I would go there as soon as I woke up and he would always get on to me and asked what took me so long to get there.

He told me the story about building his backyard patio and barbecue pit with his brother, Fuzz. In my memory, it was a large level back yard adjacent to an unpaved alley that ran behind all the houses on that street. There were towering tomato stakes next to his large round compost pile. 

The patio had been built away from the house and was pieced together from flat gray river stones which supported a wooden picnic style table and a large round canopy umbrella that leaned slightly in a hole that had been cut in the table. It wasn't large enough to cover the entire table, but was plenty to protect Pop Pop, his radio, and cigarettes if a Saturday shower threatened the day.

The grill itself was a built from hand, modest yellow brick rectangle at the far end of the patio. it wasn't fancy at all by today's standards. Just a brick edifice that opened to a large metal grate on top and carried the bricks onward for a small 'chimney' or vent.

He and Fuzz originally built it as a wood burning pit, but the two 'engineered' an upgrade. Pop Pop was a longtime worker for Alagasco, so running the gas line was easy. Fuzz was a welder and furniture maker, and he fashioned this large heavy wire grating that could hold large cuts of meat without any concern.

It was a gas grill with two large burners under the lava rocks. But Pop Pop kept a metal plate over that to keep the heat consistent and for hickory chips that continuously soaked in water. The smoke from those chips and the drippings from years of previous mastery were just small parts of the unique flavor that made his grilling better than any other I have ever experienced.

I'm sure that it was the largest gas grill in all of East Lake and would hold its own to any gas grill by today's standards.

Before I move into his cooking procedure, I need to talk about the periphery events that made this such a magical experience. As I got a little older, Pop Pop decided to use the morning to teach me some skills.

One day I got there and he had an old rotary, reel push mover. He challenged me to see if I could cut the grass... thick zoysia. I pushed it for about 30 minutes and my brother finished up when he arrived. The mower became part of my Saturday routine, and it was a measuring stick for my growing up. Over the course of a few years, I got where I could cut his entire yard, front and back and he would pay me if he thought I did a good job.

Another important skill I acquired in Pop Pop's backyard was learning to shoot his pellet gun. He was the first to teach me how to sight a target and he placed a trash can lid on he back door to his basement with paper plates that were the targets.

It was his main arsenal to take out the squirrels who chose to trespass on his super large tomatoes. He didn't have the gun out every Saturday, but it was on of my favorites. We also threw horse shoes, chipped golf balls, and played dominoes when the weather was bad.

One final periphery accompanying the smell of hickory chips, grilled meat, and Jim Beam was either big band music or Leonard's Losers.... the pick 'em radio show where the host would finish a homespun analysis of each college game with the infamous- "Leonard's loser, in a close one.... Arkansas" or Ole Miss, or LSU, or anyone else who played Alabama that day. 

My mom, grandmother, and my aunts stayed at the house preparing for the large feast later on in the day. We had the best potato salad, baked beans, breads, and casseroles in America. Granny's pound cake was a dream as well. One special Saturdays, we took turns churning home made peach Ice Cream strapped in an old, rusty aluminum cooler decayed by the turning and rock salt.

But Pop Pop was the main course. 

He did his best to pass along the process to me. 

He took me to the special meat market where he tried to point out the best way to select the pork chops. This market also offered rabbit and quail which were non-Saturday specialties in his kitchen.

Just before dawn, the slow cooked mastery would begin. Pop Pop had a basting sauce for cooking and a home made barbecue sauce that would be added just before the finished meats were taken in for consumption.

I was there early enough on a few occasions to mix up the 'secret sauces' myself. 

The basting sauce was water, white vinegar, salt, and pepper. That's all. But he lavished it on the meats throughout the day using a small mop brush.

The barbecue sauce was a little more complicated: ketchup, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, spicy mustard, a little hot sauce, pepper, salt, that he would reduce on the stove until there was a good consistency. He never measured anything, just added stuff. Every now and then, he didn't like it and would pour in a few other store bought sauces to make it legit.

These 'recipes' are nothing new.... nothing special... the magic is in the temperature, time, and tender care.

Pop Pop cooked them all day- slow cookin'! He sat out by that pit for hours, telling stories, pouring drinks, while turning ribs, chops, and hotdogs. He would turn the meat, dab the basting sauce, and sit down. He was about as content during those times as any human can be.


There were special days. He beat a neighbor arm wrestling one day. And he caught the neighbor down the street cooking some of his grill in the oven!

There was a day I ate too many pork chops and he scolded me in front of everyone. Other than that, I usually got in trouble for not eating enough!

But it all seems to morph into one day. One beautiful time of nostalgia.

About eating time, the entire neighborhood seemed to show up. It was loud from lips full of liquor, it was chaotic and fragmented, it was an event like no other. After eating, we would watch football on TV or take a nap.

That night, we ate leftovers.

And the next Saturday, we would do it all again!

I'm sure this is a part of Americana and memories in the millions.... but Pop Pop was the king of it all!


Thursday, July 16, 2020

mit·i·ga·tion



mit·i·ga·tion
/ˌmidəˈɡāSH(ə)n/
noun
  1. the action of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something.

I was driving from Nashville to Birmingham in 2011 when I got a phone call from a student who wanted me to start a fishing team at our school.

Sounded simple, and I told him that I would do my best to make sure it happened.

Looking back 9 years later, it was one of the best things I ever did. There have been so many positive things about being an early participant of the growth of high school fishing in the state of Alabama.

There has been way more positive memories than negative.... it has been a joy!

Along the way, I discovered something I had never truly considered... and that is the importance of managing risk in the development of teenagers. As a long time football coach, I had grown accustomed to the idea that the activities  we do on a regular basis can result in injury and pain. I have had the terrible experiences of visiting football players in the hospital for various reasons in the past and I have had players get career ending injuries over the years.

And football can be deadly:

The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research publishes one of the most widely referenced annual studies on the subject of football deaths in the US. Its surveys use reports from coaches and other athletic department staff members across the country, as well as media reports and independent research.

According to its 2017 report, more than 4 million kids and young people played some form of organized football that year. Of them, 13 reportedly died as a direct or indirect result of play: four direct and nine indirect. The survey defines "direct" as traumatic results of on-field play: spinal cord injuries, organ lacerations, head injuries and the like. "Indirect" deaths are caused by systemic failures because of exertion: heatstroke and most incidences of cardiac arrest, for example.
That means, for 2017, the the rate of direct fatalities was 0.095 per 100,000 players, and the rate of indirect fatalities was 0.21 per 100,000 players.

It is hard to get a firm number, but the demographic characteristics of decedents reported through national COVID-19 case-based and supplemental surveillance, by data source — United States, February 12–May 18, 2020 for individuals UNDER 18 years of age is 19 people (< 0.1)


So statistically, the risk of serious injury from playing football is very close to serious complications from the virus (yes, I know it can be transferred to someone with worse odds)

Even with those numbers, the fishing team activities seemed riskier to me. Towing a 2500 lb. boat on the interstate and backroads has danger. Putting that boat on the water and blasting off to your first fishing spot at 70 mph in low light conditions can raise the blood pressure.

I also have had the misfortune of having two of my anglers get hooks in them. One in the head and another one in the eyes!.... that one ended up at the Callahan Eye Clinic in Birmingham and, thankfully, ended well.

Any search of the news will also confirm the ultimate tragedy in the sports of fishing.... there have been young anglers lose their lives in terrible accidents, some preventable and others not.

What do we make of this?

Life incurs risk..... every single day.

I have found great joy in teaching young people how to mitigate risks through responsibility, education, and practice. It is a part of maturity and it actually inspires them!

I have seniors who can back a boat up into a space with only inches of margin. I am proud to see them respect the danger enough to take precautions. And as they manage risk, they grow more courageous and confident.

Unfortunately, I am not seeing this spirit being acquiesced during this time of planning and decision making in the midst of the current pandemic. This is a general statement of course.... there are exceptions.

But this 'spirit of timidity' and sadly, "spirit of divisiveness' is a combination of things:
  • Fear of litigation has hampered decisions of mitigation.
  • REAL DANGER- this virus is not a hoax folks.
  • TOUGH CULTURE- every spoken opinion can turn toxic
SO how do we respond?

I will continue to coach football and fishing- as I do, I have to look each parent in the eye and commit to them to do all I can to keep their child safe.... but I cannot PROMISE to keep them from harm.

We can't risk proof life, nor can we make any school Covid-19 free.

And I do understand we are trying to help protect the vulnerable....

The honest question is this....are shutdowns and austere measures on the mass populace the answer?

Every day- if God allows.... we wake up to new opportunities and risk.

This world can be a mean and scary place.... terrorists still plan and wait for opportunities... as do thieves and sex traffickers.

There are cruel people who harass and bully; harmful people who would injure you to simply take care of themselves.

We think we are secure- but the supply chain of both food and water could be suddenly interrupted. We have sworn enemies of our way of life who have mass weapons of destruction pointed right at us.

There are unseen contaminants, carcinogens, deadly bacteria and viruses moving in and out of your body on a constant basis.

If you dwell on these things you will want to run and hide.... that is what fear does.

But no- that is not how we are supposed to live.

We walk with wisdom- we look both ways before we cross a street, we don't play with fire, and we wash our hands and brush our teeth.

We surround ourselves with a loving community of family and friends and we hope to lean on them during times of crisis.

We make plans and have action steps if our house catches on fire.

I teach kids how to tackle with their eyes up and not hit with their head first.

I ask them to wear sunglasses to protect their eyes when fishing and to be careful when casting... especially with treble hooks.

I teach my children how to be aware of their surroundings, where to park, and how to protect themselves.


Here is a strange statement for this post.... I even understand there may be a day where I have to act in 'civil disobedience'- but it is based on principle AND it means I am subject to the consequences of those actions.


But the truly bottom line? I NEED to trust in my heavenly Father... what does He tell me to do and how to live-


[25] “Therefore I (Jesus) tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? [26] Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? [27] And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? [28] And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, [29] yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [30] But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [31] Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ [32] For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. [33] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

[34] “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25–34 ESV)

Let us all be in prayer for our leaders and nation as we
mitigate... not subjugate
mitigate..... not risk proof life
mitigate.... not live in fear
mitigate.... not attack others
mitigate.... not forsake our duty to live by faith.


And then let's carry on in confidence, service, compassion, and hope!

Monday, July 06, 2020

Wage War on Your Sin, Not the Sin of Others

We live in times of great conflict. Understatement of 2020.

Is there more now than the past? Or are we simply reaping the rotting fruit of mass communication technology? The speed and shallowness of most information coming our way has interrupted and changed our pattern of life

As communication and informational technologies (CITs) explode; a big casualty is TIME.  David Lyon, in his book, Jesus in Disneyland, gives a remarkable summary of what sociologists are seeing in the compression of space and time for over three decades.

The speed of life has passed warp dimensions. Instant communication, insatiable consumer appetites, and the extended present of cyberspace has put us in a world more liquid than solid. A rolling stone may gather no moss, but our culture’s tread is fractured. There is no long lasting stability. No life long careers or marriages. And change comes so fast, we don't have time to evaluate truth through logic and discourse.

“To disrupt time is to generate uncertainties, to loosen anchors, to dissolve meanings.” 

In this soup, even life becomes more disposable. Is it any wonder that stress and exhaustion is at an all time high? 

We have squeezed minutes into seconds and, seemingly, pushed God out in the process. 

In late February, early March we had a GIANT stop sign thrown in our path and everything ground to a halt (the first US Corona virus case was Jan. 20 and 1st reported death was Feb. 29). It was a strange, 'separate peace' that made us anxious- but also shut down the activity wheel.

The shut down did not sit well for long, especially in an election year. The blame game started up quickly and gained momentum. The daily Covid press conferences held our attention for a while, but it soon became useless rock throwing.

In that sea of disruption and partisanship, the worst possible spark hit the gasoline of conflict. It was like a multi-stage stage missile.... on Feb. 23, Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while running in Georgia. It was just nuanced enough to create a divide and more questions than answers for people in the middle. (When the video surfaced on May 5, it really ramped up even more).

On April 15, demonstrators gathered in Michigan to protest that state's Covid lockdown measures.

And then on May 25, the video of George Floyd's death hit the exposed nerve and pandemonium erupted. Demonstrations, riots, looting, hit and run cases, autonomous zones, demands for immediate police reform, and shouting matches are now daily and continuous.

And I am beyond grieved.... I am discouraged enough to cry out to God almost daily... are we about to lose our republic and what kind of world are my children living in... and what will their children find?

As a believer in Jesus Christ and someone who trusts in the Bible as my authority.... that is where I run to. At times, I don't feel like it. I have spent some time daydreaming about life in Costa Rica or Bermuda.... but it is impractical and foolish. This is no time to sit quiet and hide.

This is the part where my wife would interrupt with a very practical observation.... "I know the problems. What are you going to do about it? What are the solutions?" And she is right to emphasize that.

This is why I write... and if given the opportunity to discuss with others. My desire in 2020 is to not give up or give in.... not matter what happens. The MINISTRY I am called to should not change, regardless of how long Covid stays with us and no matter what happens in an election in November. The mission or truth does not change, whether we live in times of plenty or in want. If I truly believe that Jesus is our only hope and answer, what do I do about that?

And as I read God's Word, I am helped and encouraged. I am also corrected.

In my quiet reading and prayerful considerations, I have been pressed into some questions and actions.

First Questions - Am I in tears about the right thing? Am I in grief over what God is in grief over? Am I in anger over the thing that angers me or am I angry over the thing that angers God?

What made apostle Paul grieve? What did he shed tears over?

It wasn't HARD TIMES or HARD CULTURE.

[2 Corinthians 7:5] For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within.

I hope you don't mind if I quote in length from John McArthur here- he says it MUCH better that I ever could:


At the time that Paul wrote this letter (2 CORINTHIANS), right up until the very time he took the pen and sat down to write, he had been nursing a broken heart. You might assume that that broken heart came because of the tremendous outside pressure of a hostile world. And I mean he had really had to endure a lot. And he chronicles that in this letter.
Let me remind you, back in chapter 1, verse 4, he talks about his affliction. Verse 5 of chapter 1, he talks about his sufferings. Verse 6, again his affliction. Down in verse 8, his affliction, “being burdened excessively beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life.” Verse 9, “We had the sentence of death within ourselves.” Verse 10, he was delivered from a great peril, a peril of death.” And you’re really not very far into this epistle until you get the picture that this man is in the midst of severe persecution from a hostile world.
We come down to chapter 4, in verse 8, and he continues to chronicle some of this, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus” – that is to say he was always on the brink of death for the same reason Jesus gave His life, and that is the preaching of the truth.
Verse 11, “We are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake.” Verse 12, “Death works in us.” Over in chapter 6, he goes back through the litany again, verse 4, “Endurance, afflictions, hardships, distresses” – verse 5 – “beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, sleeplessness, hunger.” And down in verse 9, he says, “As dying yet behold we live, as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.” I mean that was life for him. There was tremendous external persecution and difficulty.
Over in chapter 11, verse 23 – you know this section; he talks about his labors, imprisonments, his beatings – so many beatings he couldn’t even remember them, the danger of death. Five times receiving 39 lashes, 3 times being beaten with rods stoned, 3 times shipwrecked, a night and a day in the deep. And then he talks about the dangers from every quarter in verse 26 and 27.
And then over in chapter and verse 10, he says, “I have learned to be content with weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties. And that was basically his life. And that might have been, at least in some people’s mind, enough to make a pastor lose his joy and be discomforted. But that wasn’t really the difficulty that broke his heart; that wasn’t really the hard thing to deal with. What was really difficult - chapter 11, verse 28 – “Apart from such external things is the daily pressure upon me because I have such care for the church.” It wasn’t what the world did to him that crushed him; it was what the church did to him.
Back in chapter 2 and verse 4, he says, “Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears.” The world really never made him cry that I know of. None of his persecutors made him cry; it was his people that did that. This Corinthian group to which he had given over a year–and-a-half of his life where he had deposited the truth, and himself, and his heart, and they had kicked it around as if it was a football.
To be honest, when I read this- I was shot by the Holy Spirit right between the eyes.... we think we are tough and often criticize the so-called 'snow flakes' of our culture. But have I suffered even close to what Paul did? or the other apostles?

And at the brink of possibly giving up... God sent Paul help- in the person of Titus.


[6] But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, [7] and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.
Who was Titus? Titus was a gentile (greek) convert that Paul had led to the Lord, eventually becoming a valued partner and co-worker. The gospel message had made the two like brothers . Titus was an early model of a gentile who did not conform to the ritualistic action of outward circumcision. All biblical mentions of Titus showed that he was faithful and loyal, even staying close to Paul through Paul's imprisonment.

Titus brought Paul news that the Corinthians had received the sorrowful letter of rebuke and had embraced the stern admonishment for noticeable change.

Paul sent back his encouragement through Titus. It has a message for us today.


[8] For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. [9] As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
[10] For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. [11] For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. [12] So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. [13] Therefore we are comforted.
We have people in our culture struggling through important issues... a HUGE key is what is the grid of action by which we respond?

Personal godly sorrow leads to healing and freedom. But 'worldly grief' - a system built on shame and destruction perpetuates a vicious cycle of 'gotcha'.

Paul's letter to the Romans gives me a BIG key regarding the difference.


[12] So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. [13] For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. [14] For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 


[15] For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” [16] The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12–17 ESV)

Can you follow the logic here?

A Christian (a child of God) has God's Spirit living in them and that Spirit leads us to wage war on our sin. This battle is impossible, life is hard, and WE SUFFER- but this same Spirit gives us a HEART CRY to our DADDY.

And this hard life has a payoff, we become HEIRS- we become the OWNERS of all of God's beautiful creation and we will ENJOY that inheritance TOGETHER.

I point you to another hero of mine, John Piper who expounds on these thoughts here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=In9HQDwQc4U

SO what makes God angry? Sin and all that accompanies it, including decay and injustice. What makes God sad? To see his children walking away from Him and leaving our ONLY hope of salvation.

We are a watershed moment where we can actually live in one of two realities.

We can be overcome by worldly grief, live by our lust and greed according to the standards of the worldly system, and become a prisoner of fear and bitterness, inflicting pain and wrath to our brothers and sisters, cheapening life, and destroying people made in the image of God.

OR

We can be lead by the Spirit, motivated by godly sorrow, and cry out to our heavenly Father. Willing to wage war with our own sin, in humility, confessing to God that we have sinned against Him, and be willing to WAIT on His deliverance in His timing, and live NOW according to HIS standards.

And the key is that I am more willing to change the man in the mirror for good, than count the sin in other people around me.

Easy? NO

Do we fail in this most of the time? YES

But if we wait on Him, adore Him, and follow Him... even in very dark days... the payoff is eternal!

Revelation 7:9–12

A Great Multitude from Every Nation

[9] After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, [10] and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” [11] And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, [12] saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (ESV)

We need to see and hear from the Paul's and Titus' within our midst. We need God's Word to help us rightly navigate the difference in movements and organizations. We need to throw off the negativity of the blamers yet still embrace the call for change as the Lord would have us do.

Yes... standing for these things will invite wrath.... but suffering for righteousness is never a waste. In fact, it is a beautiful badge of honor to the ONE who has loved us and purchased life eternal.

Never forget what Peter said:

[8] But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. [9] The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. [10] But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

[11] Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, [12] waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! [13] But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:8–13 ESV)


There will be a day, when the Lord will say, NO MORE DELAY.















Friday, June 26, 2020

Tribute To My Dad


Cannon Gary Mathews, 81 (Oct. 22, 1938- June 16, 2020), also known at the fire hall as “Slick”, went to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ on June 16, 2020. Gary was a retired Birmingham Fireman and graduate of Woodlawn High School.

This is how the obituary starts....

And I am putting the final piece together in this post to somehow convey the nuances and intricacies of parenting and father/son dynamics.

My earliest memories of may dad are fun and good. Sure, there are times all fathers have- times he lost his temper with my mom or us, times he may have punished us in anger... but the good memories FAR outweigh the bad.

My dad was a fireman, a noble profession but not a glorious life. He worked 24 and was off 48. In his 'off' times, he worked various part time jobs over the years to make ends meet. My mom stayed home trying to hold down my brother and me (and another brother born when I turned 10)... and it was not easy for her. Over the years, we broke all of her china, knocked holes in the sheet rock walls and would have driven her insane if it wasn't for the fact that she had the love and patience of a saint.

I really feel bad..... my brother and I would be playing and then we would hear the car door shut... my dad was home and we just ran in the room and hid. He would walk in and my mom would point to the bedroom and say, "kill them" and then before he could even put his bag up, he would give us our well deserved spankings because we had just tortured our mom for the previous 24 hours.

At the memorial service, it was firemen who came up to me- men who had served with my dad and they didn't tell me their real names. "I'm 'Chubby'.... "I'm 'Fats' ".... and they called my dad, "Slick".- that is what firemen did back then...great nicknames... and maybe still do.

I would go to the firehall every now and then and spend the night there... we played ping pong and chess, I crawled up in the firetruck, I watched them constantly check equipment and fire hydrants... and yes, the alarm would sound and they were out the door in seconds.

These men were a team and their job was to rush in as others were rushing out. They played jokes on one another, they teased and harassed each other.... but there was a bond that few understand.

We got a call one night that a wall had fallen in on my dad, but he got out with just some smoke inhalation. My mom went to bed with tears that night and for the first time I understood that there was danger in what my dad did.

I knew dad more as 'coach' as he coached football and basketball for my teams from 2nd to 6th grade (Football) and up to 8th grade for basketball.  He trained me as well. He persuaded me at an early age to do push ups, sit ups, even wall pushups- upside down. He bought me a jump rope and said it was an important training aide.

We threw baseball in the backyard for hours. He taught me to chip golf balls in a plastic swimming pool, he taught me how to play poker, dominoes, and chess.

He was a master coach- especially in basketball. He was a quick study in football, but he didn't know it was well.

People don't really understand this- but he loved ALL his players. They were all his sons. And he was not ever going to be accused of playing favorites with his son... so I had to hustle twice as hard and play harder that everyone else to just get in the game!

My 5th grade year, I was a wingback and had about 10 carries the entire season and scored a touchdown about every two times I touched the ball. I had more touchdowns on defense than offense.

His longtime assistant, Coach Cockrell, said to him one day, "Slick, you need to give the ball to your boy more." My dad put his hand on my head and smiled, "Nah, he would just get the big head!"

My 7th grade year, he sat me down to tell me that he wasn't going to coach football that year. They had found a really good football coach named Bill Berry to coach us. I was ecstatic! On my first day in Coach Berry's practice I won every drill. Coach Berry stopped and yelled at the team... "Are you guys just going to sit back and let Mathews win everything today!" But I had a fire that had been building. He moved me to fullback and we won the Shug-Bear Bowl at Legion field. I scored a lot of touchdowns that year running just one play called 26 dive.

Basketball didn't go so well. Early on my dad looked at me and said, "Son, I love you... but you are NOT a basketball player." And that bothered me because it was my favorite! But he was right.

One quick basketball story- I have more of them than football stories with Dad. We played our games in the old Woodlawn high school gym and it was majestic! We had a really good basketball team... I started at forward, but was just a hustling rebounder...

We were set to host a team called "Our Lady of Sorrows" late in the season. We were undefeated and my dad knew we need to be humbled. He went to see them play and added them to the schedule.

Before the game, we were laughing at the name...'Our Lady of Sorrows" and by halftime... we weren't laughing. They were up by maybe 20 points! With our pride popped, dad did not even give a halftime speech. But he did call timeout in the 3rd quarter.

We walked over with our heads down and he told us to look up at him.

He said, "I could care less about whether you win or not, but your effort is a LOSING effort. You guys backed down when things got tough. That is what LOSERS do.".... then he said the one thing he probably should not have said... "I haven't even seen a hard foul."

Out of the timeout, their point guard crossed over and penetrated our zone... and I took him out.

It was such a hard foul that every parent in the gym... theirs and ours,  started booing me. The official threw me out of the game.

As I walked off the court to the opposite end of the bench from dad, he looked at me.

"That is NOT what I meant."

We recovered...learned another great lesson..We even played the Banks Jets freshman team that year under a very young David Cutcliffe. They both grew to love one another.

Coach Cutcliffe called me when he heard about my dad. I think he would be OK for me to share a piece of that conversation.

"Jay, your dad was one of the best quarterback dads I ever had in my whole career. In fact, I put him up there with Archie Manning. He was calm, supportive, positive....." as he kept on, the tears just poured out of me.

I have coached Qb's now for 30 years... and I immediately realized that my dad was as good or better than every Qb parent I have worked with. And I have worked with mostly great ones.

Can I mention one more thing about those teams? We were integrated... white and black... competing together. My dad never saw color in his players. And we were ALL a team.

Now that I know more about the times... that was a beautiful gift my dad gave us.

I also need to mention fishing: I still tie the same fishing knot my dad taught me. I still put the Texas Rig worm on just like he told me to. We have some amazing fishing memories- from banks, from inner tubes, a beat up John boat at Lake Mitchell for years!

A TURN

I guess I need to mention a struggle now... and I blame myself for this more than dad.

In the summer of my junior year, I became a born again Christian... and it created issues almost immediately.

I started reading my Bible, going to church, and even changed over to Christian music.

My dad was so worried that I had joined a cult!

And sadly, I quickly began to judge him. After all, he was a smoker... he drank beer, he used profanity at times and now I was holy and he was still a sinner! As I write this, tears are flowing... I was so stupid ....

We got into HUGE arguments about sin and salvation. He threw a chair at me one night as I proclaimed in my self righteousness that he was going to hell.

Then my senior year, we had an even bigger falling apart! I had been given some small college scholarship offers. My mom and I went to Northeast Mississippi Junior College and I had been impressed by it.

On the night we got the papers, I was going to sign them. My dad and I were not getting along at all. I judged him a sinner and he judged me a crazy fanatic. And I was much worse than him......

Dad took the scholarship and ripped it up right in front of me... "My boy ain't going to a JUNIOR COLLEGE".

And I walked out... left home for two weeks, and stayed with friends. My mom knew where I was and she was torn up!

She called me one night and said, "You need to come home tonight. Coach Donahue from Alabama is calling you."

I came home and Coach Donahue called. He offered me a preferred walk-on and said I could report at the same time as the scholarship guys.

I committed to him that night... thinking dad would be happy. I also had a deep desire to play for Coach Bryant.

Dad wasn't happy, but there was nothing to tear up.

He said, "I'm not giving you a penny. All you are going to be is a tacking dummy."

Mom took me to First Alabama Bank the next day and we signed a school loan. Later I found out that dad did support me, he was just still aggravated about my stupid behavior.

I did well enough at Alabama, that we actually patched things up and he enjoyed coming to our JV games that fall of 1982.

I was growing in my faith as well... And the Scriptures were doing what they are intended to do.. properly humbling me and replacing self righteousness with a better understanding of my sin and God's grace. In full disclosure... I was no saint. Starting the spring of my senior year and throughout my time in college, I was a mess when it came to lifestyle. I have written on this... but I was not consistent at all... but God's grace is real and I was maturing.

In the spring of 1987, I was set to graduate from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and Physical Education. But instead of going into teaching and coaching... I took a job as a youth pastor.

When I told Dad about it, he was concerned. "Why do you want to do that? I thought you wanted to coach?"

Fortunately, I was more patient and loving and I had been praying for my dad... when you pray for someone in love... it helps you even more than them! I also knew that I was a much worse sinner than my dad was... and God's grace was good enough to trust and God was faithful.

I got married in 1988 and my dad LOVED Lisa and her family, especially her dad! My dad also loved my boss, the Rev. Tom Caradine. He was getting pretty happy with where I was.

My dad gave me GREAT advice on the night of our rehearsal dinner.... "Son, when you spoke tonight, you said a lot of "I's"... you better start replacing "I" with "We'... and instead of fighting his coaching, I hugged him and said, "Thanks Dad, you are right."

In 1991, I called Dad with some exciting news, I was going to teach English and coach football at Briarwood Christian School.

His response was classic! "Why would you want to do that! Christians can't win football games!"

And for a while... he was right! He patiently came out for every varsity and JV game from 1991 on... and we struggled!

One JV game, I got so mad I threw my clipboard into the fence and it exploded.

After the game he said, 'If you ever do that again, I won't come back. That was embarrassing and not appropriate for a Christian coach." Boy, was he right!

But some amazing things started happening.... One is we started getting pretty good in football and two, my children were loving on their Papa... and his heart was melting.

After a Grandparent's Day at Briarwood, the girls were singing songs about the love of Jesus and my dad had tears in his eyes.

My dad grew in love for my 3 girls and he loved Briarwood. He loved Coach Yancey and all of our coaches.

Beginning in 1996 through 2003 we won 100 games, lost 12, and won three state championships. No one appreciated that run more than my dad! And I often wonder if God did it to make sure my dad knew that Christians can win football games....

But the entire purpose of this post is to tell you what happened on June 2 of 1998.

My dad called me and asked to play golf. He picked me up and we played 18 holes. I shot and 80 and he shot a 78! He birdied the last hole and I made a bogey.

When went to the clubhouse for lunch afterward. As we sat there, he got some tears in his eyes.

"Jay, I wanted to tell you something. Last week when we went to that prayer breakfast where Coach (Jeremiah) Castille spoke... well... I gave my heart to Christ."

And he turned the scorecard over and wrote on it, 'I believe in Christ. I told Jay on this date."

HERE IS THE CARD.... I went to find it the day he passed away.






We both sat there and cried for a little bit.... I had been praying for him for 15 years... and to be honest, had given up on it.

Now, you would think that right after a man committed to Jesus, God would immediately make his life better.. but that is rarely how it works.

Over the next few years, my dad had to live through some hard times; including my youngest brother's battle with addiction, the death of my mom, my leaving Birmingham for Nashville, my being fired in Nashville after 7 seasons, and eventually the death of my brother, Lee, by an overdose to heroin and fentanyl.

But dad never wavered in his faith... he wasn't perfect by any means... but I could see he was better and improving.

The next falling out was that dad re-married 'too soon' for most of our family after my mom died. And we had some tough years of transition. Holidays were not pretty as I was now juggling 4 families... my family, my mom's family, my wife's family, and my dad, step-mom and her family.

I don't think I handled any of it very well.

But over time, things got better.... some things were patched up. But I was the typical 'too busy for my dad' son who was caught up in his own kids and a very busy job.

But we all got better... and especially my dad.

From his late 70's until his passing at 81, I saw my dad become a man very happy and at peace. He could laugh at himself and he ADORED his grandkids. He loved my step-mom, Delores, and she adored him. Her family was so good to Dad.... actually they loved him better than I did.

He was going to Sunday School, was in a small group Bible study, loved his garden, and loved life. He had given up, started back, and given up smoking again. And he took a lot of teasing from the over 21 grandkids and spouses about his constant supply of Natty Lights in his fridge.

But my dad wouldn't budge... it was free to them so they shouldn't complain.

My last conversation with my dad was on Monday, June 8- he passed away without me talking to him again on June 16.... I sure wish I had called him one more time.

But we did have a longer than usual conversation. Usually it was the same 3 questions- same three short answers, then hang up.

But that Monday, we talked for almost 30 minutes. He was so proud of my girls and he was so good at telling me that he was proud of me. We talked about my blog, he was reading it a lot. We talked about Covid-19 and football. We talked about his garden. We talked about Delores' grand kids. We even laughed that he had recently zoomed with us on a family zoom meeting.

We also talked in depth about his Bible study... he was really enjoying it.

On Monday, June 15, my dad worked in his garden. After he finished, he sat on the back porch with his little dog, Bruno. My step-mom opened up the back door and said, "Gary, you want to come in and watch some TV?"

He said, "No, I want to watch my garden grow."

Then around 3AM on that next morning, he woke up and told Delores he was having a hard time breathing.

He walked to the living room and she and her son called 911.

My dad closed his eyes and went to sleep. It was not a struggle at all!

When the paramedics found out he was a retired fireman, they worked themselves to exhaustion trying to bring him back!

Another son called us early that morning and things were a blur for an entire week.

Here is what I know- there is regret.. there always is...

The day he died, I took pictures of his garden and decided to make a photoshop picture for my step-mom. Right after I made this photoshop picture, I wished I had done it while dad was still alive.... 



Then I made the slideshow we used at his service.... same regret.


My girls were amazing all week AND at the service- they especially took care of me on Father's Day.

Thank you for letting me post all the links for posterity sake... again, this blog is a documented account mainly for my children and one day, maybe grandchildren.

But here is what I know.... my dad went to heaven because he trusted in the promise of salvation through faith in Jesus. He did not go because of good deeds, he went trusting a payment for his failures and his sin.

My dad is in glory, with my mom, my brother, and many other loved ones.

And we are left to grieve... but not as those without hope.

And without Jesus... I don't know how people do it.....

We continue our sojourning here... without him, but blessed to know him!