August 1 I loaded my 2001 Excursion with my wife, five daughters and granddaughter and headed to Texas for a month-long Sabbatical. My son and sons-in-law are maintaining the home fires until various members of our traveling party return intermittently over the next week or so. Being in Texas, and more particularly in Bryan-College Station, it is impossible to avoid the controversy swirling around Texas A&M’s Heisman quarterback, Johnny Manziel aka “Johnny Football.” Even though I am taking a break from social media, my family has alerted me to several comments directed toward me on Facebook and twitter. As a 1979 graduate of A&M and newcomer to the Southeastern Conference athletic culture, that is completely understandable and expected. Despite being playfully called out by friends, I have resisted commenting on this fiasco. Until now.
Yesterday I introduced my 10 month old granddaughter to the A&M campus. As we walked around Former Student Association, the fenced-off area where workers are preparing for the demolition of G. Rollie White and through the renovated Memorial Student Center a flood of memories swept over me. It was while a student here that I came to know my future wife. During my time here I contemplated going into social work in order to avoid pastoral ministry. God, however, overruled and, for reasons that are humanly inexplicable, led Rock Prairie Baptist Church in College Station to call me to be their pastor as I entered my senior year.
I remember when I was first introduced to the Aggie Code of Honor. Its straightforward simplicity—plainness—resonated with me. As a student I took it seriously, even when doing so proved costly. Though the world has certainly changed the last thirty years, the idea of honor still lives on at A&M. At least, I hope it does. Inscriptions commending integrity, sacrifice, duty and honesty are displayed prominently on campus monuments and passed on through carefully guarded traditions. The freshman who are on campus this week for fish camp will hear about E. King Gill and their induction into the 12th Man. Every time I look at my Aggie ring I am reminded of the values that generations of Aggies have claimed and promoted.
So, I was saddened when I heard about the increasing number of reports that Johnny Manziel had violated NCAA rules by selling his autograph to souvenir hawkers. Obviously, as a football fan, I would much rather A&M enter this season with an experienced, Heisman-trophy-winning quarterback than without one. But beyond that, as the anecdotal evidence continued to mount, I was disappointed in the poor reflection that the alleged offenses made on my alma mater. How could any high-profile Aggie do that? How could any athlete let down his teammates in this way and put his team in such a precarious position? Granted, whether or not Manziel is guilty, and if so, of exactly what, has yet to be determined. But the reports thus far certainly appear incriminating.
But as I walked around campus yesterday, reflecting on my own experiences and wondering about the future of my children and children’s children, I found myself thinking more about Johnny Manziel the young man rather than Johnny Football. He is twenty years old, only a couple of years younger than my own son. Evidently, Johnny has “Proverbs 3:5-6” tattooed on his shoulder. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Countless numbers of men and women throughout history can testify to the truthfulness and power of this wisdom. Our Lord is trustworthy and He does direct into straight paths all who depend on Him.
However, when biblical truth never rises above the level of slogans in our minds it is no different than inspirational quotes inscribed on stone monuments. Jesus once told some folks who believed in Him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). The truth sets us free when we abide in our Lord’s word. It is then that we will “know” the truth as something infinitely more consequential than a slogan.
Such knowledge comes through the work of the Spirit. When He reveals Christ to a person, granting him or her new life, He makes God’s Word more than a stone inscription or a tatoo. Rather, He “puts God’s laws into our minds and writes them on our hearts” (Hebrews 8:10). Only through this gracious work will the life, death and resurrection of Jesus become a transforming message in a believer’s life. Only then can a person truly trust in the Lord with all his heart and lean not on his own understanding and acknowledge the Lord in all his ways.
That’s true not only for Johnny Manziel, it is true for all of us. Remembering this has caused me to put the imbroglio into its proper perspective. Yes, I still hope my Aggies will play well this football season and I will cheer them on, especially on September 14 when they welcome Bama to Kyle Field. And yes, I hope that we make it to the SEC championship game and, perhaps to the BCS title game. Whether or not Johnny Manziel plays for the Aggies this year doesn’t really matter. I hope that whatever is right and just will be done. But more than that, I hope—and pray—that Johnny will think deeply about the Scripture that his tattoo references, and that the Spirit of God will put it in His mind and write it on his heart, so that Jesus Christ will become his greatest treasure.