Monday, November 24, 2014

Mark Richt's Got it Right

I slam down the remote.  I yell. I kick my heel against the couch. "What in the world!??!?!" I groan.

Yep.  It's a typical Saturday afternoon watching a little Georgia football in my living room.

As a season ticket holder, I enjoy home games from the friendly confines of Sanford Stadium.  And, for some reason, I am mild-mannered and keep my composure quite well when I am standing among 95,000 other Bulldog faithful.

But, in my own home, I am an ogre when we turn the ball over. Or hit the ball carrier late for a 15-yard penalty. Or miss a chip shot field goal. Or go three and out.  Or, heaven forbid, LOSE the game.

But, suddenly, the TV camera pans to the Georgia sideline.  We've just given up a first down on yet another third and long, and there's Head Coach Mark Richt.  Calm. Stoic. Seemingly care-free.

Now, I have seen Coach Richt get fired up.  When officials really screw up, he gets upset and lets them know about it.  But, that is not the norm.  

I know Dawg fans just get ticked off when they see Richt so calm and peaceful on the sidelines in the midst of chaos - both on the field and in the stands. They think to themselves, "He doesn't even care. He needs to have more fire out there.  I care more about the football game than HE does!"

Well, yes and no.

I doubt there's anyone who truly cares more about what happens on the football field than the head coach - especially a man like Mark Richt.  But, to obsess about something and to care about it are totally different.

I was listening to his call-in show a couple weeks ago after the Kentucky game. It was the week leading up to the Auburn game, and one particular caller said something like this: "Great job, Coach.  The team is really playing well, and with getting Gurley back this week, I think we're all going to be sitting here really happy next week after another big win."

Richt's response (paraphrasing): "Well, I'd hate to think that someone's happiness is based on that...but I guess it helps."

That kind of response infuriates people who eat, breathe, and sleep Georgia Bulldogs football. To suggest that a Dawg fan could possibly be happy even if we lost a game?!? That's crazy talk!

But, the truth is, that response is EXACTLY why I pray Mark Richt coaches at Georgia for another 15 years.  His perspective is not the perspective that maybe Nick Saban has.  Or Urban Meyer. Or Steve Spurrier. 

If you find that, not only is your entire Saturday ruined...but your entire weekend, or even the next week...because the team you root for lost a GAME, you really do need help.  If you allow the outcome on the field to dictate your mood or countenance beyond the 4th quarter (or overtime), there's a problem.

The answer to that problem can be found in the peace that Mark Richt has.  A peace that is available to all of us, if we seek the One who can grant it.

This Thanksgiving, I pray for peace in my own heart - but I pray for peace in yours, too.  And, I thank the Prince of Peace for loving me...even when I love Georgia Bulldogs football a little bit too much.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Joy in a Small Plastic Box

A few years ago, I received one of the best Christmas gifts ever.  It wasn't valuable.  It wasn't expensive. It wasn't an electronics device or designer name shirt. It was a small, clear plastic cube.

I remember opening the gift and immediately noticing that there was a $20 bill in the center. The cube itself is approximately 4" x 4" x 4" - not much larger than a Rubik's Cube. But, the solution to Rubik's Cube paled in comparison to the fight I had before me.

Between the outside of the cube and the center - where the $20 bill was located - is a complex maze, and a small silver metal ball.  The only way to open the cube and remove the $20 bill is to move the ball through this clear plastic maze and position it in one very specific spot to release the lock.

It seemed like child's play at first.  "How hard can this be?" I said to myself as I began to roll the little ball around. Click. Clack. Ding. Ping. Grrrrrrrrr. Dead end.

After about ten minutes, it was back around to me - we always go around the room and open gifts one at a time.  My turn had come up again.  But I was only focused on the puzzle. "You can skip me," I said.  I had some business to take care of.  

I studied the plastic demon intently. It was not going to get the best of me.  Three centimeters left. Two down.  Four right. Turn cube. Five millimeters forward. Flip cube. Beads of sweat on my forehead, I would not be deterred.

The problem with staring at a clear cube for 20 minutes is that you begin to hallucinate. You begin to see openings that don't really exist. And so it was that I continued to toil with what had become my arch enemy.

Ultimately, my mind was just too strong for this weak opponent.  I mastered the cunning plastic cube through will and determination. I could not be defeated. 

I still remember when I finally had the silver ball in the sweet spot, and the cube clicked open. Sure, I was appreciative of the $20 gift inside.  But, the true joy came from the challenge to acquire it.

John Ortberg once wrote, "Challenge produces joy."  While I don't always embrace the challenge like I did with the clear plastic cube, I can say that when I look back at the times in my life that I faced adversity - and overcame it - the joy I felt was exhilarating.

Sometimes, we take the easy way out.  The path of least resistance. We don't have the time,  we don't have the patience,  and we don't have the desire to battle.  But I think we cheat ourselves when we throw in the towel so easily.

If you don't believe can borrow my clear plastic cube and test yourself.  I still have it.

But, you'll have to get the 20 bucks somewhere else.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Learning the Hard Way

Yesterday, I wrote about something we all have in common: our humanity.  Another word for this is depravity: the notion that we are born with a proclivity towards sinful behavior.

As my son's baseball coaches try to beat into his team's brains - not IF, but WHEN you fail...and you WILL fail.

So, we're all gonna screw up.  

But, we do have the ability to limit the mistakes we make.  One of those ways is to learn from the mistakes of others.  Whether it's an issue of addiction, lying, cheating, stealing, negligence, ignorance, or greed, we can all heed wise counsel from those who have gone before us into those murky waters. 

But, do you want to know the sad truth?  We rarely look at what has happened to others as a result of their poor choices.  

I was listening to a sports talk show a couple years ago.  The host was debating with callers about one particular athlete's proclivity toward making bad decision after bad decision.  And, the host of the program made an interesting statement.  He said, "There are countless examples of other athletes who have made poor choices that he (this athlete) could have learned from.  But, the fact is that we only learn from our own mistakes."

Much has been said about Todd Gurley and Jameis Winston these past several days.  Every talking head on TV or radio has brought up Johnny Manziel, A.J. Green, Cam Newton, and others who have been in the spotlight, and have made unwise choices.  They say things like, "How could Gurley have done this - especially after what happened to Johnny Football last year?"

Simple - he didn't have guardrails in his life, and he drove off the cliff.  He decided to take things into his own hands instead of looking for wise counsel.  He rationalized, rather than using reason. Reason is the first thing to go out the window when temptation comes calling.

Could Todd Gurley have thought about others who have made the same mistake he was about to make? Sure he could have.  All of us have stories of our own failures and miscalculations that we could use to implore others to make better choices.  But, ultimately, they have to choose to apply this wisdom, not ignore it.

I find it interesting when I hear people making such harsh remarks about OTHER people who slip, fall, or fail.  It's really easy to be the judge when they are up on that high horse.  Normally, when I hear judgmental and ultra-critical remarks from someone, I can almost always tell you where it's rooted: pride and an over-abundant sense of self-worth.

Being puffed up with self-pride is in indicator of a lack of humility.  You know what kind of person has humility?  A broken person.  Those who have been broken - and who have admitted that they are broken - are the most joyful, appreciative people in the world.

If you are cynical, critical, and harsh, my bet is that you have never experienced that brokenness.  You do have the opportunity to change, and learn from others who may have pushed others away, lost friends and family, or created an attitude of bitterness that hovers over them. Or, you can disregard those examples, and learn the hard way. The choice is yours.  But, understand that the fallout of your choices reaches further than you may be able to see in the mirror.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

You, Gurley, and Chubb Have Something in Common

This article is not about Todd Gurley in any way.  It applies equally to all of us.  But, let me use last week's story about Todd Gurley allegedly accepting money for autographing memorabilia as the springboard.

One of the most ignorant statements I saw last week after the story came out, and Gurley was subsequently suspended, was made by one of the most die-hard Dawg fans in the land, and it said this: "In Chubb We Trust."

Now, it may have simply been a supportive remark to help rally the Bulldog Nation around the freshman tailback, who was named the starter for this past weekend's game.  But, it hit me a bit differently.  Todd Gurley, as far as we have known, has been a terrific example to many both on and off the field. Until last week, Todd Gurley was probably the Heisman front-runner. He is a hard worker. He serves the community.  He visits sick kids in the hospital. He is humble.  He is a great teammate.

But, here's the truth about Gurley: he is human.  He made a mistake.  He made them before he signed memorabilia for money.  He will make more mistakes.

And, here's another bit of truth: Nick Chubb is also human.  He has made mistakes, and he will make many in the future.  Hopefully, he won't make the mistake Gurley made (or another NCAA or team violation), but he will mess up some time in his life.  Maybe not at UGA - but somewhere down the road.  We all do.

So, to say, "In Chubb We Trust" just didn't seem right to me.  How can we place our trust in another human being, just hours after we discover what Gurley had done?  Why would we want to?

Matt Chandler, in his book The Explicit Gospel, talks about how we, as fallen creatures, always seem to look in the wrong places when we are trying to find pleasure and satisfaction in this life.

"The majority of human beings believe that people and circumstances exist to make them happy," he writes. "We believe the brokenness inside will be satisfied by things outside.  If we're not happy, who's to blame?  People and circumstances.  Do you see how this doesn't even make sense - broken people expecting broken people to fix them or expecting good things to do God things for them? It's a ridiculous notion, if we can think rightly about it."

We are all broken, sinful people.  You are. I am.  So, if we are all in this quandary together, why do we look to have faith or hope in one another? If the transmission in my car goes out, do I want to swap it for a vehicle that is missing an engine? Of course not. I want to find something more reliable, something safer that can get me where I need to go.

If you continue to put your hope (or happiness) in people, your life will look a lot like the Scream Machine roller coaster.  You'll subject yourself to high highs, low lows, dips, turns, and you will get jerked around.  

But, there is an alternative.  The true Life Giver is always there for us to guide, protect, and comfort us.  And, He alone can fill our hearts with the joy for which we so desperately search.

In God We Trust.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Behind the Wheel

There are just days when I lament over it.  It's an inconvenience at times. It eats up a good bit of time. It is money we don't need to spend.  It isn't even necessary.  

I am talking about taking my kids to school every day.  

We pay taxes to cover transportation for our kids getting to and from school.  The easy thing would be just to put them on the "big cheese wagon" every day and head in to work.

But, years ago, my wife and I made the decision to drive the kids to school. Every day.

It used to be less of an inconvenience - especially when they were attending the same school for two years.  But, these days, I am driving an additional 16 miles in the morning. And I am going AWAY from my place of employment by dropping my older son off at high school. When you figure we also are picking him up four times per week from football, we are driving in excess of 140 miles per week just to the high school and back.

So, why do it?

I have asked this question many times of late. Particularly on those days when traffic is jammed on 41, or when the car line is 20+ minutes long.

In the end, we made this decision years ago because we felt it was the right decision for our family.  But, there was one benefit that never occurred to me until recently.

Andy Stanley, the Senior Pastor at Northpoint Church, talks quite a bit about the cumulative effect of the choices we make.  Essentially, like interest on a bank account, consistent small amounts add up to something significant over time.

I have taken my older son to school since he was two years old.  He is now 14.  In those 12 years, I have had the opportunity to spend an extra 10-20 minutes per day with him that I would have missed out on.  If that time averages to 15 minutes per day, multiplied by 180 school days per year, over a 12-year stretch, that adds up to 540 hours of additional time I have spent with my older son. That figure is 360 hours for my 10-year old.

Discussions about school. About baseball. About the Braves, the 49ers, Bulldogs. About vacations. About what was for lunch that day. About the plans for the evening. About friends and family and church.  Precious time and precious words.

I am less than a year and a half away from my older son having a driver's license.  Sure, that may be convenient for me or for my wife when he can drive.  But, I will also miss out on that extra 15-20 minutes of "father-son" time I have been privileged to spend with him.  

Thank you, Lord, for allowing me this gift through the years!