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!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Competition- A Winning Edge More Needed Than Ever!

In 2018, we had an excellent chapel at BCS from Dr. Travis Coblentz who teaches in the UAB department of philosophy. His message was one that no one ever gives to teens.... why it is good that they embrace suffering. Suffering provides opportunities and direction to a life of meaning. When we spend our lives pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain, we end up with a rather uninspired existence. We do hard things and endure hard things for the cause of Christ and the pain is so worth the reward.

I'm not sure if it resonated.... we often waste the best literature and truths on the young- I hated these types of things as a 16 year old... if someone asked me "Why is there air?" my only answer was to "pump up footballs".

And speaking on suffering is dicey... there is so much HARD suffering around us and in the world that creates issues when we voice our 'problems' ... my suffering is nothing compared to the intense suffering around me.

So in God's good timing and providence, right after that chapel,  He sent me to the emergency room one night with a bout of diverticulitis that comes my way every decade or so. I have enough experience with it to notice the symptoms and if I get the diagnosis and antibiotics quickly, it is painful, but I can endure.

 A lot of pain in that ER... and my cold sweats and surges of pain (all of this 2 full years before the term Covid-19 even existed) did not give me much time to empathize or minister. I did however hear the voice of Christ... especially from the Book of Revelation...

[17] When I  (John) saw him (Jesus in His exalted state), I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, Fear not, I am the first and the last, [18] and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17–18 ESV)

Here is what is interesting to me about Jesus...he doesn't do relativistic comparisons.... He doesn't judge me that I am hurting but doesn't try to say, "But over there is real suffering"- at the same time , He is sovereignly in control of ALL issues- He has experienced them and He has a plan for them. I also need to be more aware of how I can minister to others in pain.... knowing that a student hurting because their parents are divorcing IS REAL PAIN.

At the same time, we waste a lot of energy trying to take all discomfort away from young people. I never want to inflict ANY hurt on anyone, but I also know a pain free life is a risk free life.

Pain WILL come though... and we all need to be trained to endure it.... even embrace it with a faith that says like Job "Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face". (Job 13:15 ESV)- don't leave out part B to that verse...God can handle it.

The best training ground I have ever seen to train snowflakes into warriors is sports. Any discipline (work, fine arts, academic) works as well. But sports, especially those with contact, help train the muster it takes to make it.

Here is how Paul said it:

 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. [26] So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. [27] But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:25–27 ESV)

As many of you know.... I do have a lengthy philosophy on competition....
Where and how competition fits in within the Biblical guidelines for people has always intrigued me.

A competitor is enhanced or held back by those he surrounds himself with.

And this may sound simple, but a competitor competes with others….

The natural instinct of any competitor is to get the energy drainers out of their way.

Often these ‘energy vampires’ are those who don’t want anything…. they aren’t hungry, they aren’t dreaming, they aren’t striving. It isn’t that they are content, it is simply they have become too complacent.

Competitors grow by surrounding themselves with passionate, confident, and motivated people….people who are unstoppable… and,to be honest, they are often illogical and unreasonable in the passionate power of their pursuits.
True competitors are the kind who dare to battle the demons of the status-quo and get a lot of detractors from doing so.

Competitors exude a passion to either conquer or die- they are ones who will push back against all conventional wisdom….. and enjoy going against the grain.

and, competitors often  achieve what was thought to be previously impossible.

When you read that kind of description- who could argue against that?… those are the winners of the world.

But the qualifying questions are: by what means and by what cost?

Ultimately, a Christ honoring life results in scars.... that is OK, Jesus kept His scars after the resurrection... think about that

I have always been intrigued by this statement from Paul:

" From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus". (Galatians 6:17ESV)

From the context, it is in part his reference, I believe, to his on going eye condition, being surrounded by detractors and imposters, and the nature of the glorious fight he was in.

He EMBRACED the aggravations and pain- and because of that, he lived in fear of no one.

As a head football coach in Nashville in 2006, David Cutcliffe- my high school head coach and now Duke Head Coach- visited us.

He looked at our football coaches and said, "I need men like you to push my son in ways that I can't do as a dad." We weren't coaching his son, he was speaking metaphorically, but the point was well made.

Coaches are part of God's strange ministers to push and prod... it is getting harder and harder to keep the parental protections out of the mix... I never hold that against a parent by the way- I know parents love their kids!

But if you are a parent, let the sports arena be tough- don't wish pain... but allow the process to shape a warrior. And please don't send an email to complain that your kid is going through hardship.... coach him on how to handle it like a man.

I firmly believe sports (especially football) is an important opportunity to develop a rugged disposition to fight. Putting on gear and experiencing fear, pain, exhaustion, victory, and defeat is an experience offered in few other places in society.
A coach pushes his players beyond where they think they can go and when they get there, they realize they could have even done more. These tough teachable moments can happen in the weight room, in the film room, on the practice field, and in games. It is not easy as a parent to allow that ‘push/pull’ type of coaching to take place…. But young men NEED that grind under caring mentors that our coaches are always intending to be.

That is why I call it a 'strange minister'.

I first penned these thoughts far removed from some of the struggles we are seeing today... but the need to compete is more needed... not less.

Competition is a rugged disposition to fight, even when the chips are down- ESPECIALLY when the chips are down. And we have to discipline ourselves to develop this ability to keep steady in the storms of crisis.

It will help us win in the 4th quarter of a tough game, BUT EVEN MORE SO WHEN THE TRIALS OF LIFE COME... be it a tough job, a struggling marriage, a divided culture....

The current strife we are in will melt snowflakes at an alarming rate... and it saddens me to see leaders who retreat when the heat gets hotter.

But I was inspired today to watch our athletes ache and strain through a really tough workout. One young man was a freshman who I have watched for two years now.... and he is so much tougher today that he was as a skinny 7th grader... he failed at times today... but he got back up and kept grinding, HE NEVER QUIT!

One of my daughters gave me a book for Father's Day called, The PUSH. It is the story of a rock climber named Tommy Caldwell.

He says this early in the book:

After all this time, I finally realize that these years of training, rehearsing, memorizing- they're as much, or maybe more about building belief as they are about getting stronger. (pg. 4)

As I close, competition without character and virtue can be misplaced and abusive....we always have to be careful about that.

But our cultural norm right now is to try and make life 'risk free' without any pain or disappointment.

And if we don't allow teachers, coaches, mentors to challenge this- the tragedy will be staggering and the misery will be overwhelming.

We need to open up, loosen up, and let these kids compete...... yes, we have to be smart, but raising a boy in a bubble is not preparing him for the reality of a world with hard issues that need bold, courageous leaders who are willing to stand on principle and face injustice without flinching!

I see a lot of fear right now:
fear of lawsuits
fear of the ire of the 'cancel culture'
fear of job security or finances
fear of the future

Hand wringing and anxiety are not going to get rid of these issues.... we need competitors for truth and righteousness right away and sadly, there isn't time to grow them up gently.... the time is now.


If you want to delve into more thoughts on competition... visit these posts:









Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Last Monument ( A Parable)

It was a rather odd piece to remain.

I had looked at it numerous times, but had never taken time to study it or consider it. It was simply on the horizon of my lunch breaks when the weather was good and work was slow.

But one day, the sandwich and crisps were stale and life was that subtle type of blues you drift in and out of from time to time. 

There was a green mildew on the base and pigeons had done their best to add their own graffiti and color.

My guess is there was a time that it rose from the earth in a clean glory and the artist was proud to have his or her work available to the critic and admirer alike. Were they pleased with the response? Was there a ceremony? Did it appear similar to their original vision or was it in the end a disappointment?

I looked around.... there were plenty of people in the park that day, but I was sure that I was the sole person taking note of it. It was always there, it just did so little to garner attention. It had no plaque, no lighting, likely was just a shield to the light, an obstruction of a view, a shadow from the heat, or a back rest for a runner who had just finished the concrete trail that encircled the lake adjacent to the park.

I never know why the mind connects curious thoughts and memories, but I suddenly remembered my spiritual reading from that morning. I was half asleep and barely thinking when I read it in the twilight of the dawn, but the words came alive and jarred me out my stupor.

It was from a fragment called "Joshua".

 “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’. And though I couldn't make out what it said after that, I pushed the phrase on this tall monument... "What do these stones mean?"

I looked harder at it and said it one more time in my stream of consciousness...

"What do these stones mean?"

It made me want to know more about this relic of the past.

I tried asking a few people in that park and at work over the next few weeks, but I never got a clear answer. 

When I brought up the question to strangers, they looked at me like I was a madman and my friends made fun of me.

The most common answer I got was, "No one knows" or some said with confidence, "there is no meaning".

I did get some dime store philosophers who explained it was "Whatever I wanted it to be", but I felt like they weren't talking to me as much as they were enjoying listening to themselves.

Whenever I googled it, there was no mention of it. It was even more curious that all pictures of the park never showed the monument. The Apple map satellite view did not have it either.

I would forget about it for times. I dared not ask about the Joshua passage because I never knew who I could trust to let on that I was reading the prohibited papers.

On the first Sunday of each month, they let the seasoned citizens out to be in the park if the temperatures were right. I put on my helmet, shield, and gloves and went there one morning. After all, Joshua said to 'ask the fathers".

But it was useless. None of the handlers allowed me to get close enough to speak with them. It would have been in vain to do so anyway; every head shield displayed a red light which meant the hearing enhancements were turned off.

I made an appointment at the adjacent media center, but there was no image or record or account of what the structure was supposed to be.

I sent an electronic communication to the Parks Enforcement Agency but there was no receipt that it had been opened or read.

I do think that communication did result in some action as a crew came out one Wednesday lunch and cleaned the monument and pressure washed the pigeon droppings.

It was on their break that I finally was able to glean some info.

"What are you guys doing?"

The younger guys kept hitting the vapes, but the older one finally replied.

"Just cleaning, the feces may be contaminated."

I just nodded and played it casual.

I tried my next move.

"I've been coming here for years now, and it's crazy, but I just started wondering..... what is this?"

He stooped down to buckle his suit. "It's the last monument."

"And is there some reason, it is the last one?"

He laughed and judged me a fool. He pointed to the top.

"You see the top?"

I squinted in the sun, and looked at it.

"Yeah?"

"It's flat. This was just a pedestal."

"Oh... right.... so there was something on top of it?"

He was just about through with me.

"Yes, there was something on it." His sarcasm was not hard to miss.

"Well.... what was it?"

He motioned to the others.... the break was over.

"No clue."

A few weeks passed and my madness subsided.

Maybe I will be old enough one day and come to the park once a month.

Maybe then, someone will tell me what these stones mean.