Grace on the Field

13 02 2009

 

1223reilly1

Few people would expect to find grace at a high school football game in the middle of Texas on a Friday night.  Texas is known for its high school football being possibly the most competitive and tough in the country.  It’s take no prisoners reputation has spawned big screen movies and a television series.  So no one would have ever expected to see a life changing display of grace in Grapevine, Texas on a Friday night at a high school game, but that is just what they found.  

The game on that Friday night was between Grapevine Faith vs. Gainesville State.  It was the oddest game from the very beginning.  The spirit line was there with all of Faith’s students and fans lined up on the field for the players as they ran out to wild cheers, but it was Gainesville State’s players who ran through to the roar of the line and fans.  

The stadium was full of homemade spirit banners, like ones you might find any Friday at a High School game, but the signs held by Faith’s students said “Go Tornadoes!” and, well, Grapevine Faith’s mascot is a lion.

At least the fans were all there. Both the home team and guest team bleachers were filled, but they were all filled with Faith fans who, oddly enough, were cheering for Gainesville State’s players.

By now you’re probably thinking that this is one of those games where everyone comes together because the other team has lost a player or faced a tragedy beyond their control.  Not really, the grace at this game went a little deeper than that.   

When the game was over it wasn’t even close.  Faith destroyed Gainesville State 33-14.  However the strangeness continued.  The losing team received a standing ovation and the losing coach was showered with a traditional Gatorade victory bath.  

The 12 uniformed officers who had stood at Gainesville State’s sideline seemed to be out of place throughout the game but now moved into action as they began to escort the players off the field in pairs and load them onto the waiting bus.  The bus which would return them to their maximum-security prison.

Faith is a Christian High School and its head football coach, Kris Hogan, wanted to teach his players a life lesson about grace.  He did much more.  He taught an entire school and town.  However, perhaps most importunely, he taught some boys who had committed violent crimes that mercy can transcend justice.  In the world where most of these inmates had lived, that was something they had never encountered before a Friday night, on a football field, in Grapevine, Texas.

When he first had the idea he told his players, “Here’s the message I want you to send to the boys at Gainesville State:  You are just as valuable as any other person on Earth.”

One last thing happened right before those armed guards led the Gainesville boys back to their prison.  Everyone gathered in the center of the field to pray and, to the shock of almost everyone there, it was a Gainesville player that asked to pray.  “Lord,” he began, “I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank You, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”

The Faith fans and players watched as the prison bus pulled away.  The Gainesville boys had their hands pressed to the windows watching, as if they wanted one last look at these strange people who showed them grace when no one else would.  Then Coach Hogan and his players turned to walk back to the locker room.  

You’re not supposed to cry in locker rooms after you have won a Friday night game, but it was not an ordinary game that Friday night in Grapevine, Texas. These boys had learned there are some things much more important than winning and that maybe, sometimes, real men do cry.





“Will Franklin, Your father loves you!

28 09 2008

 

I was frantic!  It was my twin son’s ninth birthday and I had made a promise, tickets to a concert by Steven Curtis Chapman.  There was one problem, as a single father, I had neither the time nor the funds to keep the promise I had made.  Now, on their birthday AND the day of the concert I finally had the money and we headed off to Chattanooga for our tickets and to see Steven Curtis Chapman.  There was just one problem, I was now at the fourth ticket outlet and was being told, once again, that the concert was sold out.   I explained to the lady at the counter how I had made a promise to my sons and how disappointed they would be but she explained there was nothing which she could do.  So, we turned and started out the door and back to Georgia.  “Sir!  Sir!  Wait, I have three tickets here for store employees and, well, no one wants them.  Would you like them?”  So, God smiled on a Dad and his twin sons that day and we not only ended up with tickets but we ended up with center aisle seventh row tickets, backstage passes …. For FREE!

 

I often think of that day and smile.  In my memories I remember meeting Steven Curtis Chapman and how gracious he was.  I remember seeing HIS two sons playing and how close they were to my boy’s age.  I remember explaining to him what we had been through that day and him smiling and handing me a free t-shirt.  I still have that t-shirt.  It reminds me of a kind lady, a merciful God, and a famous musician who took time to show some grace to a stranger.  Scripture teaches that those who understand the grace they have been given by their Heavenly Father are the ones who most easily are able to be gracious themselves.

 

Recently, I turned on my television for one of those morning news programs and there was Steven but what caught my eye more was the young man behind him playing his guitar.  Caleb is the older of Chapman’s two sons and was one of those little boys I had first seen playing backstage alongside my own sons so many years ago.  He is no longer a boy but now a man, if not because of age certainly because of the tragic turn his life, and the lives of his family, had recently taken.

 

On May 21st of this last spring the Chapman family was celebrating, celebrating a birthday, a graduation, and an engagement.  However, as most know by now, tragedy struck on that day when Caleb’s younger brother, Will Franklin accidentally hit his younger sister, Maria, with one of the family cars.  Caleb ran and held his little sister in his arms as she took her last unassisted breath.  Soon, Steven and other family members began to apply first aid, medical assistance would arrive, and Maria was rushed to the hospital.  The family would explain latter that by the time Maria was flown by life flight to a nearby Nashville hospital, they held out little hope.  Steven and his wife Mary Beth quickly headed by car to the hospital.  Caleb, who had just held his sister before she died, was now holding his brother who had been driving the car when it hit Maria.  Somewhere in the trauma and madness of all that was occurring Steven Curtis Chapman glanced at the scene of his two boys and stopped the car to yell out the window, “Will Franklin,  your father loves you!” and then he was gone. 

 

 

Indeed, those who have encountered grace at the core of their being understand it at a level that those who have never known it can not imagine.  It does not come out in simplistic platitudes or through thoughtless “Sunday School” answers but rather as a natural flow from the center of who you are.  Like a simple, but kind, act to a father struggling to give his boys a meaningful birthday.  Like a Father, who in the midst of unspeakable tragedy, stops to remind his son that he is loved.    

 

 

 





Grace, Marriage, and Living

30 05 2008

Travis Harris asking Kelsey to marry him off the coast of Africa where they will serve Christ together.

There we were, sitting in the covered pavilion lit by candlelight and waiting on my nephew’s beautiful bride to arrive for their wedding.  At precisely two minutes before the wedding’s scheduled beginning, my cell phone rang.  “I cannot believe I am one of those people who forget to turn their cell off at occasions like this!  I am a pastor for crying out loud,” I thought to myself as I tried to inconspicuously answer.  “Darian,” my wife said on the other end, “I thought I would get your voice mail.  Mrs. Ginny just died.  I thought you would want to know.”

Only a few weeks before, we had celebrated Mrs. Ginny’s 95th birthday at a local restaurant with a number of our church family.  We laughed, smiled and even teared up a little as we listened to her stories of welcoming back the “Dough Boys” from World War I when she was a young girl, stories about teaching Sunday school to our community children, and of her life with her husband Howard (whom Ginny called Dan).  I had visited Ginny in the hospital shortly before leaving for my flight back home to Georgia and knew she probably would not make it until I returned.  We prayed and she told me she was ready to see Christ and be reunited with her beloved Dan.  She had missed him terribly since his death and we had prayed over her loneliness more than once.

Just as I closed the cell phone, an antique truck blasted its horn as it announced the arrival of Travis’ beautiful bride.  It was one of the most beautiful and Christ-centered weddings I had ever attended.  However, I could not help but think upon Ginny and Howard as I watched my nephew and Kelsey exchange their vows and make a covenant before God and His church to live their lives together in service to Him. 

I bowed my head as the wedding continued and prayed, “Lord, give them the grace they will need to keep the vows they are making.  They will never make it in their own strength.  Pour out your grace upon them and let their marriage reflect that grace to a world in such need of it.”  I looked up in time to hear Travis and Kelsey pronounced husband and wife, see their wedding kiss and watch them depart as the bells rang.

Later, I heard the story of Mrs. Ginny’s passing more fully and was amazed at how our Lord works.  Seconds before she entered the presence of her Lord, Ginny began to have a radiance in her face and a slight smile.  “I see the Lord,” she said.  “Dan is with Him.  They’re waiting on me.”

I thank God for the mercy He gave Ginny as she passed, for the grace of her salvation, for the living grace He gave her in life and marriage.  I thank God for the grace He has given Travis and Kelsey for their salvation and ministry together.  I pray they will lean upon Him as they journey through life.  As I pray these things and think upon them God’s Spirit speaks, “Go tell your wife you love her.  She needs to hear it from you more often than she does.  Go be an example of grace in your own marriage.”  Maybe He is telling you the same thing. 





Christ Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed!

23 03 2008

walesjbs24

 

He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:”  Luke 24:6

 

 

 





An Uncommon Grace

29 02 2008

I grew up hearing it sung, humming the tune and even singing along but I was around 27 before i truly began to get a glimpse of what the song meant.  I was in my thirties before I can say I fully embraced it for life.  And I am still learning, experiencing, living and embracing it.  Amazing Grace!

I experienced it before I knew what it was.  God in His goodness gave me His grace at a young age.  I believed and placed my faith in Christ.  However, I did not know how to live in it till much latter.  As I share about God’s goodness and how His grace has transformed, renewed, restored and rebuilt.  I hope we all will see and understand it more.

I call my blog An Uncommon Grace because although, just like the song, grace is not uncommon at all.  It is everywhere.  It is always offered.  Often experienced.  Grace is uncommon in that we rarely fully live it, even less often display it ourselves, and almost always stumble through it.  

I am excited to see where God takes us!