A few years ago my son, Jeremy, woke me up in the middle of the night. He said, “Dad, I need to tell you something. Last school year I was vaping and, for a few months, I was going out drinking and getting drunk. There were also a few times I bought marijuana and got high. I haven’t done any of it for months, but I just had to come clean to you.”
Talk about a wake-up call! A wake-up call on so many levels.
I was shocked. My son had a solid Christian upbringing (not perfect, but solid.) He had been through countless Dare 2 Share events, the ministry I founded 30 years ago, from the time he was little. Jeremy had attended a good Christian school from the time he was in Kindergarten and, as far as I knew, he was seeking to honor God with his life.
But, during his Freshman year of high school, he had a whole array of secret sins that none of us knew about. And he was keeping those sins hidden away in the basement of our house, where his room was.
After he woke me up from a dead sleep and dropped the bomb on me, I asked him, “Jeremy, why are you telling me this now?” He just said, “Dad, I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired of hiding it. I’m tired of thinking about it. I can’t sleep at night and I keep thinking about it during the day. It is too much to take dad. I felt like I had to confess it to you.”
Jeremy came clean. I was glad for that. He hadn’t been caught. Nobody had turned him in. But, the Holy Spirit allowed him to be so convicted by his sins, he confessed them to me.
I said, “Well Jeremy, there will be consequences for your actions, big ones. And the consequence starts right now. We need to wake up your mom and tell her.“
At the time, my wife, Debbie, was a full-time public school teacher. Many nights during the school year, she would fall asleep while grading papers in front of the fireplace downstairs. This was one of those nights.
Jeremy and I went downstairs and nudged her awake. Once she yawned, stretched, she looked at us and asked, “What’s going on?”
He broke the news to her.
Suffice it to say that it was a long night. My wife couldn’t have imagined in 1,000 years her son would do something like this, right in our own house. And, to be honest, neither could I.
After all, I came from the streets. In my book Unlikely Fighter, I chronicle much of my rough, urban upbringing. Suffice it to say, I did not live a sheltered life. I knew the temptations that were out there and how crafty sin-intent teens (and adults) could be. I was surprised that my own church-going, suburban son could pull a fast one on me, right under my nose, for so many months.
You need to also understand that I’m a consequence guy. From the time our kids were little we always sought to give an immediate consequence to any act of disobedience. When I counted, “1…2…3…4″ as a parent it wasn’t an idle threat. It represented the number of spankings my son or daughter would receive when they got home.
Jeremy knew this. He knew the consequences for this caliber of disobedience would be huge.
Jeremy was really nervous that we were going to tell the administrators of the Christian school he attended and that, as a result, he would be expelled. And his fear was not unfounded. I was really leaning toward telling the Christian school…and Jeremy knew it.
Again and again, during his dark night of the soul, he begged his mother and I to tell him what the consequences were going to be. But I told him that we needed a few weeks to pray through and think about what to do.
We did. But, to be honest, I knew that waiting would be a consequence of sorts for him. I wanted to make him sweat it out a bit.
So, before finally getting to bed in those early morning hours, we set the date for two weeks later. We told him that he would have to wait to hear the consequences until then.
The wait unnerved and frustrated him. Every few days he would try to get a hint of what the consequences were going to be, but I just kept reminding him, “We’re still praying through it. You will have to wait.”
It was during this time period that I began to wonder where he got the money for alcohol, marijuana, and vaping from over those months of rampant sin. He didn’t have a job, nor did he have much of an allowance. But, whenever he needed money for food, he’d call me and ask me to transfer some. 10 bucks here, 20 bucks there, adds up over time.
After checking out my bank statements from the previous school year, I noticed a whole bunch of transfers from my account to his in these smaller amounts. So I asked him, “Jeremy, when I transferred money last school year were you buying food or alcohol, marijuanna, and vape stuff?” Bowing his head he told me the truth. Most of the money I had transferred into his account ($500 over a 5 month period) was for his fleshly appetites, not his hunger pangs.
This realization wasn’t helping Jeremy’s cause. His fear of the potential consequences was growing by the day. The one thing Jeremy had going for him was that he had come to us and confessed to us. He hadn’t been caught by someone else.
The big night of consequences finally came. All through that day, Jeremy was twitchy. We had scheduled our meeting for that night and, as the time was approaching, the twitchier he got.
Finally, we all sat down at the kitchen table. I handed him a piece of paper. On that piece of paper I had listed down all the sins he had committed:
- Underage vaping
- Underage drinking
- Getting drunk
- Buying marijuana illegally and using it
- Breaking the law
- Breaking the honor code at his school
- Breaking the honor code of our home
- Breaking the heart of God
- Lying to us for four months about what he was doing
- Stealing $500 from us under the pretense of buying food.
I also had listed the potential consequences that ranged from turning him into the Christian school to grounding him for the rest of the year to having him pay back every last dime to taking away his phone for good.
The list of infractions and potential consequences was long. The white piece of 8.5" x 11" paper was chock full of agreed-upon transgressions, infractions, and painful consequences.
After he scanned the paper briefly I asked him, “Jeremy, how do you respond to all of this?”
He just said, “Dad, mom, I’m guilty. I deserve whatever you give me. Please just tell me what the consequences are.”
I said, “Okay. Your mom and I have been praying about this and the Lord gave us an answer. Here is your consequence…”
Then I took out a giant marker and wrote one word in big letters across that piece of paper.
That word was “TETESTAI.”
“What does that word mean dad?” Jeremy asked.
“It’s the word Jesus said on the cross right before he died. It’s the Greek word for, ‘It is finished!’ It means ‘Paid in full.'”
He interrupted me and said, “Dad, I know Jesus forgives me, but what are my consequences from you and mom?”
I said, “Jeremy, you’re not getting what I’m saying. Your consequence is this: there is no consequence because Jesus took it for you on the cross. He paid the price. He forgave you. So, this time, we forgive you. We’re not going to turn you into the Christian school. We’re not going to ground you. We’re not even going to make you pay us back the $500. You are completely forgiven. Your debt has been fully paid.”
Jeremy was stunned. He couldn’t believe it.
Then I leaned in and said these words with a sly smile on my face, “But unlike Jesus, this is one-time deal”
Jeremy was in shock, the good kind of shock. He couldn’t believe that he was completely forgiven.
The next morning I got up and found a pile of ashes in a cup of water on the kitchen table.
I said, “Jeremy what’s this?”
He said, “Last night I went out in the middle of the night and burned that piece of paper.”
“Why in the world would you do that? Why didn’t you frame it or something?” I asked.
I’ll never forget his wise-beyond-his-years answer, “Why would I frame that piece of paper that represented my sins? My sins have been paid for by Jesus and they are gone, burnt to pieces.”
Then I asked him why he put those burnt pieces of paper in the cup of water, “Is it because in Micah 7:19 God says he will cast our sins into the deepest ocean?”
He said, “No, dad, I was afraid that I’d accidentally burn the house down.”
Since that time Jeremy has been on an upward trajectory in his walk with Christ. He has sought to live a life that pleases God. He is attending a Bible school right now, preparing to go into full-time ministry.
What is the answer to teen drug use? The Gospel. What’s the answer to vaping and alcohol abuse? The Gospel. What’s the answer to your struggles and mine? The Gospel. What’s the answer to engaging Generation Z with the true message of hope? The Gospel.
The Gospel changes everything. It did for my son. It does for me.
It will change everything for you, too, if you let it.
“He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:14
Originally published at Greg Stier.