Love, Mortality, and Aggie Football

11230612_10156141018410160_4599014232661230164_oI didn’t grow up watching Aggie football. My parents both went to Oklahoma, and neither of them were ardent fans of college football anyway. I remember watching college football each year on Thanksgiving, when we visited my mom’s family in Oklahoma City. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were die-hard Sooners. At least once, my grandfather (whom we called Ghido) took us to a game in Norman. All I remember about the game is that Ghido, who was a prominent attorney and later a judge in Oklahoma City, seemed to know every person at the stadium. I came to realize over the years that he seemed to know everybody wherever he went. He was one of those rare individuals who could walk into a room of strangers and quickly turn them into friends.

Still, Ghido loved his family above all else. He especially loved his grandchildren. There were nine of us, and each of us believed we were his favorite.

In a sort of ironic twist, it was my love for my Sooner grandfather that eventually cemented my love of Aggie football.

I came to A&M in 1994, following in my older brother’s footsteps. We were the first Aggies in our family, so when A&M played Oklahoma that September, I made sure to be at the game. OU entered the game ranked 15th; A&M was 16th. Since A&M and OU were not in the same conference at the time, the matchup had only been recently revived. OU won the game in 1993. In 1994, A&M had their revenge and beat OU 36-14.

When I got home from the game, I decided to call Ghido and harass him a little bit. My grandmother answered the phone. When she told my grandfather to come to the phone, I heard him say, “Tell Matt I’m not here.” She told him that he’d better come to the phone right that minute and talk to her grandson, a demand with which he complied (he was really never able to tell her no). I gave him a hard time for a few minutes, and in his gracious way, Ghido said, “You guys have a good team and a good coach. But these things always go back and forth.”

A&M won the next three times they played Oklahoma, but as Ghido predicted, the series swung the other way in 1999. A&M and OU were both in the Big 12 by then, so we played each other every year. OU absolutely decimated A&M, 51-6, in Norman that year. Ghido called me to remind me that “these things go back and forth,” but then followed it up by saying things were sure to turn around for us.

Over the next ten years, A&M only won once, leading me to think that “back and forth” was no longer an accurate description of the rivalry. Ghido never forgot to call me when his team won. Not a single time. I think he even began to feel a little bit sheepish about the calls, since he was on the winning end of a very long streak. And yet he always called nonetheless.

Over time I realized that the phone calls weren’t about football. They were about him and me. They were about a young man from Generation X and a old man of the World War 2 generation, who stumbled upon a shared interest, an inside joke that cemented our love for one another. I grew to love his calls after the game every year, even when the Aggies lost. I’d wait by the phone and look forward to hearing his voice gently razz me about our team. And I know that on the few occasions I got to call him, he eagerly waited by the phone, although he’d always pretend that he was trying to sneak out of the house before the phone rang.

In 2006, my wife and I were living in College Station again, having moved back from Dallas in 2004. It occurred to me that I’d never actually attended an A&M-OU game with Ghido, even though we had watched one or two of them on the same television. So I called to invite him to the game that Fall. He was 85 years old at the time. My grandmother had passed away a few years earlier, and I had a feeling that our time with Ghido was running short as well. I didn’t know if we’d have another opportunity to see the game together in person.

My grandfather sat with me on the west side of Kyle Field, the old “former student” section. He was a bright red speck in a sea of maroon. Ordinarily, a fan of the opposing team sitting right in the midst of home team fans would face some ribbing, maybe even some hostility. But this was Kyle Field, home of the friendliest fans in college football. And, as I’ve mentioned before, my grandfather had a way of winning people over. By the end of the first quarter he was friends with everybody sitting within speaking distance. Since we ended up standing through most of the game, my fellow Aggies periodically checked on Ghido. “Are you doing okay?” they’d ask. “Need any more water? Can we get you anything from the concessions stand?” He stood for the entire game, with the exception of halftime, although I could tell it took a toll on his knees. He just didn’t want to miss a minute of the action.

The Aggies ran out of time that day, losing 17-16 to Oklahoma in a nailbiter that turned into a heartbreaker. As always, Ghido said something like, “You guys have a good coach. It will turn around again eventually.”

As I’d feared, that was the last time I would attend a game with my grandfather. He died in 2012, just after A&M entered the SEC. Oklahoma won their final matchup in the Big 12. Other family members tell me that he talked about attending that game in 2006 for years, how he and his Aggie grandson shared a rivalry that somehow turned into an alliance. To this day, it’s one of my favorite and most poignant memories.

Less than two months after Ghido died, A&M played OU in The Cotton Bowl, and this time the Aggies won 41-13. After the game, I reached for the phone, and then remembered he was gone. For seventeen years, we’d talked to each other after the game. This time, A&M’s victory was bittersweet.

Moses wrote in Psalm 90 that “the years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength, eighty” before we “fly away.” My grandfather had 91 good years before he flew away. 

These days, when I watch Aggie football, I often reflect on the bond it created between me and my grandfather, and on the fleeting nature of life on this side of eternity. I remember what my grandfather taught me through those yearly phone calls, that the people we love matter so much more than any game. I remember that our days pass quickly, so we’d best use them wisely.

Another great sage, King Solomon, says to “remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” Because time flies. Three or four hours and the game is over. Seventy or eighty years and so is your life. And then eternity beckons. As a pastor, of course, my calling is to point men and women to the reality that Jesus is risen, to the truth that eternal life is found in knowing Him.

I’m an avid Aggie football fan these days. But I’ve transformed in more important ways since that first game I watched in 1994.

I now understand from experience that time is short. I know in a deeper way how much people matter, how significant our time is with those we love. I remember that eternity awaits us all, so the wise among us prepare for it.

Lessons God drove home through Aggie football and phone calls from my grandfather. Unlikely teachers, but the greatest wisdom often comes from unlikely sources.

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Tossed by the Waves: Responding to Social Media Crises

moving-waves-1421508-mIt is no exaggeration to say that social media presents us with a new crisis every single day. We are constantly bombarded with information seemingly designed to provoke our outrage, fear, sympathy, or some other intense (and seemingly unmanageable) emotion.

I made a partial list (in no particular order) of the social media crises that I’ve seen trending in just the past six weeks:

  • The hosts of The View made some disparaging comments about nurses, resulting in a major backlash and an eventual apology from Joy Behar.
  • A dentist from Minnesota shot a lion named Cecil, causing Jimmy Kimmel to cry and Tweeters around the world to threaten the lion-hunter with torture or death.
  • A major Syrian refugee crisis became a prominent news story, as millions of people fled their homes to escape war and religious persecution.
  • A young Muslim boy named Ahmed brought a homemade clock to school. It was mistaken for a bomb and he was briefly arrested and detained before being cleared. He inspired a new hashtag and received an invitation to The White House.
  • The Center for Medical Progress released several more videos exposing the practices of Planned Parenthood’s abortion business.
  • Former tennis star James Blake was unexpectedly tackled by a police officer in a case of mistaken identity.
  • Donald Trump insulted Carly Fiorina’s face and then said she actually has a beautiful face, and she made an effort to put him in his place at the Republican primary debate.

Like I said, that’s only a partial list. I compiled it in about 15 seconds off the top of my head – if I’d spent any more time on it I’m sure I could have found more.

All of these events were passed around on social media like crazy. They spread like wildfire and sparked passionate debate. I’m guessing that people lost friends over these issues.

What’s troubling, of course, is that while all of them inspired similar levels of outrage, they are not all of equal significance. To use an easy example, surely the death of one lion is not really as important as the displacement and death of millions of Syrian people.

And therein lies the rub when it comes to digital outrage. How do we even discern in the heat of the moment what’s worth passing along and what’s worth letting go? How do we know if the articles we’re reading are even true? What’s more, is it healthy to go through life with the constant burden of a thousand disparate crises, most of which we cannot really fix?

I cannot help but think of Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians: “Let us no longer be like children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” The world is guided by all kinds of false doctrines, beliefs and values that often oppose the truth of God’s Word.

So how do we avoid being tossed back and forth by the waves? Let me offer a few thoughts:

1. Ground yourself in God’s Word.

We’re susceptible to being tossed by the wind when we fail to root ourselves in the values of God. And the values of God are best expressed in the Word of God. Do you read the Scripture? Do you know it well? When you wake up in the morning, do you open God’s Word before you open Facebook? If not, you will react to the events of the day with fear or hostility or falsehood rather than through the lens of God’s truth.

What’s more, taking time to know God’s Word will help us prioritize the issues of our day. As I said above, some matter more than others. They matter more to us and they matter more to God. The only way to know what matters more, from a Christian perspective, is to submit to the values of God’s Word.

2. Only share what is true. 

Before you pass along an article about a current event, take just a few moments to make sure it’s true. Ed Stetzer wrote an excellent article recently on the embarrassment of Christians sharing fake news on social media. Consider the source of the article you’re sharing. Use common sense and ask if the story passes the “smell test.” Check the date on the post – is this a recent article or a recycled one from years past? Look at websites dedicated to fact-checking and at least consider what they’re saying. God is truth, so make every effort to represent His character in this regard.

3. Avoid responding immediately to every crisis.

We don’t have to panic at the slightest hint of trouble. Before you write a post or share an article, take a few deep breaths. Spend a few moments in prayer. Ask yourself, “In the grand scheme of eternity, is this issue worth responding to? Is this an issue of gospel significance or a matter of life and death? And if it is, is a Facebook post an effective way to begin addressing the issue? Sometimes social media can be beneficial to raise awareness or to motivate action; sometimes social media posts merely spread fear. We need wisdom to know the difference. The good news is that God gives wisdom away for free to people who ask for it (James 1:5)!

4. Unplug regularly. 

Find certain times in your day and in your week to disconnect. The universe will be alright if you and I take a day off from reading and weighing in on everything. Our friends will still be there tomorrow or the next day. Periodically unplugging allows us to see the value of the people and places right in front of us. Digital disconnection often facilitates reconnection with the people in our lives we can look at face-to-face. And we begin to see the world in perspective. Sometimes what seems like a crisis online isn’t a real crisis at all, at least not one we need to worry about.

We want to be the aroma of Christ in a fallen and sinful world. We want to care about those who are hurting and share the good news of Jesus with those who need to hear. But we also need to recognize our limitations: we can’t fix the world. And we are called to be men and women of truth and stability. It’s hard to do that in this day and age when we feel pressured to respond immediately to everything that happens in the world.

So let’s ground ourselves in God’s Word and reflect His character, through the power of His Spirit in us. Let’s reflect Him in “real life,” and let’s reflect Him online.

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Let Down the Nets

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ReDiscovered Word

(Luke 5)

“At your word, I’ll let down the nets,” Peter said.

Having fished all night, having passed the optimal time of day for catching fish, having spent his entire life fishing, Peter knew that Jesus’ idea was a long shot.

On the other hand, he had just listened to the Teacher’s words. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The favorable day of the Lord is here.

What if His words were true? What if this man was God’s promised King? 

“Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing. But at your word, I will let down the nets.” Because it’s you, Jesus. Because you’re the one asking, I’ll take the chance.

Maybe you’ve been there.

“Master, I’ve worked on this marriage. For years. It’s changed nothing. But at your word, I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep praying.”

“Master, I’ve worked on this sin. For my whole life. I know this problem and I know it’s unsolvable. But at your word, I’ll keep fighting. I’ll pray again. I’ll try again.”

“Master, I’ve worked on my brother, my father, my friend, my co-worker. I’ve prayed for them. I’ve told them about You. It’s changed nothing. But at your word, I’ll try once more.”

Peter knew the odds were long. But maybe, just maybe, the odds were irrelevant here. He had heard the Teacher say it: the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

So he put the nets out one more time. The catch came in so quickly that he couldn’t haul it shore. The nets began to break, and so did Peter’s self-assurance.

The fisherman who was so certain that the fish weren’t biting was suddenly overwhelmed at how wrong he had been. Only God could usher in such a catch. And that was a terrifying realization.

A sinful man in the presence of God, Peter begged Jesus to go away. But Jesus came here for people like Peter. For people like you and me.

“Do not be afraid,” He said. “From now on, you will catch men.” From now on, you know that nothing defeats the King. You know that the kingdom is at hand. You know that He is Immanuel, God with us. And He will do things so much greater than catching a few fish. People will find eternal life. The Spirit of God will come and live with His people.

Peter thought Jesus’ expectations were too grand. Jesus knew that Peter’s were too small.

When Jesus says to let down the net one more time, let it down. Your experience and objections and fears are no match for the power of God. One more throw and you just might find that He wants to do something bigger than you imagined.

Maybe, just this once, the odds are irrelevant. Maybe, just maybe, He is who He says He is.

You think His promises are too big? Maybe your view of Him is just too small. 

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The Word Became Flesh

NativityReDiscovered Word 

(John 1)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

He was there when God spoke the universe into being, full of power and glory and light, full of everything we think about when we think about God.

The Word became flesh, a child born to an unwed mother, in a tiny town that was mostly known for being the childhood home of a great king from Israel’s past.

In heaven, the angels sang His praises. On earth, He was celebrated by a few shepherds, a rather undistinguished greeting team for the King of the Universe.

He became flesh and dwelt among us.

The perfect Son of God lowered Himself to live in the midst of angry, immoral, disobedient people like us. He became one of us, eating and drinking and sleeping. Like us and yet so deeply unlike us all at once.

The Light shone in the darkness, but the darkness could not comprehend it. He was like us and yet so unlike us that we simply could not understand who He was.

“He who has seen me has seen the Father,” He said. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus, the Word made flesh. He explained God and offered us the right to be God’s children.

The Incarnation of Christ is impossible to fully understand, and yet the Incarnation paves the way for us to understand enough about God to know Him.

As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God. To those who believed in His name. Here in the darkness, we cannot comprehend the blazing light of God’s glory.

But we can believe it.

Full of grace and truth, the Word of God, the eternal Son, came as a child, born to an unwed mother in a tiny town, all so we could know His Father. Truth to reveal who God is, and grace to forgive our sin and lack of understanding.

Grace upon grace.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We may not understand Him, but there is no Life without Him. 

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