Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Logan Xavier Plunkett is born!

No words are are some photos of my grandson, Logan Xavier Plunkett, on the day he was born.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pennies From Heaven

You always hear the usual stories of pennies on the sidewalk being good luck, gifts from angels, etc. This is the first time I've ever heard this twist on the story. Gives you something to think about. 

Several years ago, a friend of mine and her husband were invited to spend the weekend at the home of her husband's employer.
   My friend, Arlene, was nervous about the weekend. The boss was very wealthy, with a fine home on the waterway, and cars costing more than her house. 

The first day and evening went well, and Arlene was delighted to have this rare glimpse into how the very wealthy live. Her husband's employer was quite generous as a host, and took them to the finest restaurants. Arlene knew she would never have the opportunity to indulge in this kind of extravagance again, so was enjoying herself immensely.

As the three of them were about to enter an exclusive restaurant one evening, the boss was walking slightly ahead of Arlene and her husband.  He stopped suddenly, looking down on the pavement for a long, silent moment.  Arlene wondered if she was supposed to pass him. There was nothing on the ground except a single darkened penny that someone had dropped, and a few cigarette butts. Still silent, the man reached down and picked up the penny.  He held it up and smiled, then put it in his pocket as if he had found a great treasure.
 How absurd! What need did this man have for a single penny? Why would he even take the time to stop and pick it up? 

Throughout dinner, the entire scene nagged at her. Finally, she could stand it no longer. She casually mentioned that her daughter once had a coin collection, and asked if the penny he had found had been of some value.

A smile crept across the man's face as he reached into his pocket for the penny and held it out for her to see. She had seen many pennies before! What was the point of this?

"Look at it," he said. "Read what it says." 
She read the words, "United States of America ."

"No, not that. Read further."

"One cent?"
"No, keep reading."

"In God we Trust?"
"And?. . ."

"And if I trust in God, the name of God is holy, even on a coin. Whenever I find a coin, I see that inscription. It is written on every single United States coin, but we never seem to notice it! God drops a message right in front of me telling me to trust Him. Who am I to pass it by? When I see a coin, I pray. I stop to see if my trust IS in God at that moment. I pick the coin up as a response to God; that I do trust in Him. For a short time, at least, I cherish it as if it were gold. I think it is God's way of starting a conversation with me. Lucky for me, God is patient and pennies are plentiful!"

When I was out shopping today, I found a penny on the sidewalk. I stopped and picked it up, and realized that I had been worrying and fretting in my mind about things I cannot change. I read the words, "In God We Trust," and had to laugh. "Yes, God, I get the message!"

It seems that I have been finding an inordinate number of pennies in the last few months, but then, pennies are plentiful! And, God is patient.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Some Things To Say Before You Die, The Plunkett Version

You can click on this link and read the article for yourself.  It has some pretty good phrases that most of us should say often to ourselves and to others.

However, I would like to write my own personal list.  Enjoy it!

[This will be a work in progress for a while.]

"I was wrong!" - Let go of your pride, and admit it.  It's a pretty weak person who can't truly do this without making jokes or talking it to death.

"I love you." - Men don't say it enough?  Our society frowns on it too much?  NO!  Say it and mean it.  Others who hear you say it will remember it always.  Not a bad thing to be remembered for.

To my best friend in high school, Greg Gary: "You were the best friend I ever had."  I hated that time in my life.  I hated where I lived.  I hated my high school.  I hated what was going on in my house (which ended with my parents getting divorced at the end of my senior year.)  But you made me laugh like a fool.  You made life bearable.  You also put up with my moodiness and self-centeredness.  Greg: you were the best.

"Thank you!"  This one goes out to my boss, Ken Adams, at the University Co-Op in Austin, 1976-1980.  I worked for Ken for five years.  He worked us all hard, he demanded that we treat customers with respect, he modeled it with his own behavior, and he took care of all of us.  I miss him every single time I go into a store and I'm not treated properly.

"Somebody needed to stop you a long time ago."  This is what needed to be said to Coach Hocker, my junior high physical education teacher in Austin, Texas.  I never saw a crueler man.  He had no business being around any kids at all.  He was dangerous, demeaning, and extremely disrespectful.  As a teacher myself, I know I went over the line too often and was too strict with some students.  But Coach Hocker makes me look like Mr. Rogers.

"I will try."  Too often in my life I took the easy way out.  I didn't try, I didn't take a risk, I didn't put myself out there.  I just stepped back.  If I had it to do all over again, I would try more.

"I hope you are okay."  When I was 18, I was dating a girl named Jimmie-Lynn.  She was pretty, sweet, and really funny.  She also had a home life that was pretty stressful.  Her father was a scary, scary man - probably an abuser but I was never really sure.  I do know that everyone in that house was scared to death of him (including me!).  After a whole summer of dating, Jimmie-Lynn went to Alabama for two weeks to see her aunt and uncle.  She never came back.  After several weeks, I was finally able to reach her on the phone.  She told me she was getting married.  She met someone older, she "fell in love" and they were getting married the next day.  With her home life, I could not really blame her for wanting to get away from her father.  However, girls who are abused tend to marry into abusive situations.  I hope and pray that she found happiness.

"Leave me alone."  There is a minister in the town where I currently live who has made a habit of making my life more difficult for years and years.  When I was just beginning to explore going into ministry, this minister was on a powerful Presbytery committee.  I was blocked from doing pulpit supply preaching for two years because this minister insisted that all candidates finish both Hebrew and Greek before they can be approved to fill any pulpit in the Presbytery.  No one else on the committee wanted this rule...only this minister but no one voted it down.  As I went through the ordination process - the committees, the paperwork, the meetings, etc. - this minister had nothing good to say about me to anyone.  Nothing was ever said when I was around; all I ever got was a big smile and some friendly small-talk.  Yet I kept hearing of things going around.  So I say, "Leave me alone."  Now I am a minister of word and sacrament - a teaching elder - in the Presbyterian church, despite this minister's best efforts.  I pledge to either encourage all candidates or keep my mouth shut.

"Leave us alone."  The church I currently serve went through a terrible schism in 2008.  Over 400 people and the entire staff left over denominational differences (some of them accurate, some irrelevant).  Only 60 people remained and were granted status as a "viable remnant."  Well, that was back in 2008.  Since then, this church has truly struggled to recover from this terrible event.  What makes it even harder are the various comments we have heard in the community about us.  We are NOT denying the authority of Scripture.  We are NOT going to hell because we chose to remain in the PC(USA).  We are NOT the various things we are accused of.  What we ARE is a hurting community that is trying to recover.  We can still do good work and serve the Lord - just as the folks who left can do.  Much forgiveness has occurred, but if the cruel and careless comments from various "Christians" continue, my only response is to say, "Leave us alone."

"Wow!"  I admit that I have gotten better and better at saying this as I've gotten older.  I especially enjoy saying it when God's gift of creation overwhelms me.  When I rode the seminary bus for three miles and looked at the New Jersey version of fall, I said, "Wow!" as I marveled at the beautiful colors.  When I saw three feet of snow on the ground for the first time in my life, I said, "Wow!"  When I saw the devastation of the central Texas/Bastrop fires in 2011, I said, "Wow!" - but I also say it as I drive past now and see all the green.  "Wow!"...praise God, the Creator!

"I miss you."  Say this one before it's too late.  Don't worry about sounding weak or needy (okay...try not to say it continuously!).  But if someone you love is away from you and you get the chance, tell that someone, "I miss you."  It just might work wonders...

"I'm so sorry."  When a friend loses a loved one, what we should NOT say are those comments that mean well but do no good at all.  We all know them:
"God never gives you more than you can handle."
"Time heals all wounds."
"It's God's will."
"These's a reason...we just don't understand."
None of those statements do any good at all.  In fact, sometimes they make it even worse.  Instead, try saying "I'm so sorry."  It doesn't sound like much, but it truly is!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Communion on the Moon

Forty-two years ago two human beings changed history by walking on the surface of the moon. But what happened before Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong exited the Lunar Module is perhaps even more amazing, if only because so few people know about it. "I'm talking about the fact that Buzz Aldrin took communion on the surface of the moon. Some months after his return, he wrote about it in Guideposts magazine. And a few years ago I had the privilege of meeting him myself. I asked him about it and he confirmed the story to me, and I wrote about in my book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (But Were Afraid to Ask).

The background to the story is that Aldrin was an elder at his Presbyterian Church in Texas during this period in his life, and knowing that he would soon be doing something unprecedented in human history, he felt he should mark the occasion somehow, and he asked his minister to help him. And so the minister consecrated a communion wafer and a small vial of communion wine. And Buzz Aldrin took them with him out of the Earth's orbit and on to the surface of the moon.

He and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement: "This is the LM pilot. I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way." He then ended radio communication and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home, he read a verse from the Gospel of John, and he took communion. Here is his own account of what happened:

"In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the scripture, 'I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit.. Apart from me you can do nothing.’

“I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute [they] had requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madelyn Murray O'Hare, the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly.

“I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility . It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.”

And of course, it's interesting to think that some of the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the Earth and the moon - and Who, in the immortal words of Dante, is Himself the "Love that moves the Sun and other stars."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Servant Pastor?

In July 2011, I became the pastor for a small struggling Presbyterian church in northwest Houston.  I jumped into this job and tried to help as many situations as I could.  I found that it is a VERY different situation from the one I always pictured in my dreams during my years in seminary.  I always thought that if I practiced good preaching, good teaching, and good pastoral care, I could make a difference.  While I still think those three are my strongest skills, I have noticed that other skills take a large amount of my time - and get much less respect.

When I recently taught an evening lesson at my former "home" church, one of my friends there asked me what I had been up to at my church lately.  I remarked quite truthfully, "Well, today I fixed the Coke machine."  It got a huge laugh - and yet I had answered him honestly.  I guess that if they saw me struggling to repair the youth group's soda machine earlier in the day, they might not have expected so much from me during the lesson.  But that machine needed repairs - it provided an easy source of income and funding for our youth group.

Recently, an elder asked me how the window on the second story of the historic chapel had been fixed.  I explained that another elder and I had put the big extension ladder up there, I climbed up and repaired it using tools and materials from a bucket that I pulled up and lowered down as I worked.  I balanced myself in the small entrance roof while I fixed this window.  She was aghast at my actions and lovingly fussed at me for doing such a thing.  But that window was rotting away, and several people had seen it as they drove past our church.

When I buzz around the campus, hurriedly going from place to place as I work on various tasks, there is an elder who always stops me and tells me to "take it easy."  I love her and I know she is concerned about my well-being and probably my long-term health.  But I did the same thing for 29 years of teaching...sort of hard to break that habit.

And yet...I continue to do these jobs around our church.  I know that including others in various church jobs is a good thing to do, but I also want to help as much as I can.  I cannot and will not be the type of pastor who sits around "thinking thoughtful thoughts" while others do the physical labor that is often required in a church.  If boxes need to be moved, I'll move boxes.  If benches need shifting, let them see me on the other end of the bench.  If an event needs setting up or taking down - especially if everyone is tired or the weather is lousy - let them see their loving pastor as a totally willing part of the crew.

A very long time ago when I was still a classroom teacher, I once told my students that I would never ask them to do anything that I was unwilling to do myself.  They held me to that statement.

Same thing goes for this church that I serve willingly and lovingly.  I will never ask any of them to do anything I am unwilling to do myself. 

Notice the verb in the sentence above: SERVE
Jesus came to SERVE.
Good enough for me!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What Should They Call Me Now?

For thirty years of teaching, I endured my students trying to call me other "titles" besides the one that I wanted:  Mr. Plunkett.  Many of them tried to call me "Mr. P" but I pointed out that it sounded funny; because I mostly taught elementary school children, they quickly recognized what I meant and did not call me that.  Other times, I had a few who attempted to call me by my first name; I have always thought that was inappropriate because I believe it makes the teacher sound like their buddy, so I didn't allow that.  Many of my Hispanic students, especially the boys, would just stop at "Mister"...although this amused me, I still insisted on them calling me by my entire name - Mr. Plunkett.

Now, after eleven years of study, discernment, committees, and PAPERWORK, I am finally an ordained and installed pastor of a Presbyterian church.  Now there are several titles to choose from:
  • "Pastor" - I admit that I like this one, but I am not sure I can adequately describe why.  Whenever I hear it, I immediately hear trust in the voice of whoever says it.  It is a polite term, a friendly term, and it is a term that I heard many times directed at ministers I knew and admired.
  • "Reverend" - This may be what I am now, but I don't really like it.  It sounds too stuffy, too stiff, too formal.  I used to be called "Rev" by a few friends I knew way back when I was not even considering a move to ministry; it is a lot more informal and familiar than "Reverend" but it depends on who is saying it.
  • "Mr. Plunkett" - Now when I hear this title, I admit I am surprised.  I hear "teacher" when this one comes up.  I will answer to this one, but it never comes up in a church setting.
  • "Teaching Elder" - Okay...I get the reasoning and the theology behind the PCUSA denomination now calling their installed ministers by this title.  It says that we are no better than anyone else; we are on the same ordained level as "Ruling Elders" and "Deacons" - the two other ordained positions in our church.  I like the intention here, but this title has not caught on yet.  Perhaps it will over time, but somehow I doubt it.  I know PLENTY of ordained ministers who refuse to let these words come anywhere near them!
  • "Brother" (got this part from Brother Ken!) - To me that carries meaning on several levels:
    ** Brother in Christ
    ** An historical term of respect from days of monks and monasteries (but I think that living in solitude is not a good thing -- and we like your wife!)
    ** Recognition of more than a casual connection
    ** Implied kinship bestowed on someone special; nature provides biological brothers for whom we may have varied range of affection. Bestowing this on a friend includes both respect and affection.
  • "Mark" - It's my name.  I like it when the elders at our church call me that.  I like it when the little kids call me that.  I like it when the junior and senior high kids call me that.  I like it when the older members call me that.  There is no title, no authority, no expectations.  I am just plain Mark - and I am your friend.  So call me "Mark."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Two Friends







Monday, February 27, 2012

Giving Up Something For Lent?

Ever since I can remember, I have always heard of people giving up something for Lent.  This practice reflects a spiritual and physical discipline that is something lacking during the rest of the year.  It can be a great thing, especially if it is done with the right frame of mine - trying to improve oneself, denying something that is not good for you anyway, showing oneself that something difficult can be done, etc.  It can also become a contest if more than one person is involved, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Some of the things that I have seen people giving up for Lent include: watching television, smoking, chocolate, caffeine, sweets, eating between meals, drinking, swearing, and even riding in elevators!  Giving up any of these could be seen as something that might improve one's health, attitude, or discipline.

It has also been observed that once Lent is over, the person giving up something tends to RUN back to it quickly and have a great time!  What was once a little dessert becomes a second or even third helping.  Drinking an occasional alcoholic beverage becomes going out and getting drunk as soon as Lent is done.  So it can go too far the other way too.

But what about adding something to your life instead of denying something?  Suggestions might include a 30-minute walk after dinner instead of watching television, spending 30 more minutes reading, spending more time with your children or grandchildren, a weekly "night out" with your spouse, or even daily Bible study. 

Adding something to your life can also help with your spiritual discipline.  Be creative!  Give it a try!  And see if that Lenten discipline can become a habit that will continue long after Lent is over.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Not Your Father's Oldsmobile

Recently I have heard an interesting quote.  It is a mild put-down, but I confess that it really bothers me.  It compares traditional worship services with a car, and the quote says that in order for churches to succeed today, we must make our worship service different - "not like your father's Oldsmobile."

How does this annoy me?  Let me count the ways:

1.  Since when it is taken for granted that my father does not appreciate contemporary worship services?  My father was one of the first adults I knew that loved the new, cool "folk mass" that the Catholic church began to hold back in the 1960's.  My father enjoyed the somewhat casual air, with the guitar music and the new hymns.  He also enjoyed seeing LOTS of kids at these services.  But if the casual atmosphere had led to the sacraments not being celebrated properly, if the message was unclear or ill-prepared, if the congregation had not been respectful of what was going on, then my father would have rejected the whole thing.  Worship needs to be done properly - it is not about the style or the delivery or the music choices; it's about worshipping God.

2.  It implies that there is "good" worship and "bad" worship.  Or to put it more gently, there is "old-fashioned worship that no longer works" and there is "exciting, contemporary worship that attracts new people."  In the research that I have read, in the experiences I have had, and in the conversations that I have had with many Christians in many parts of the country, I have found that this is simply not true!  Good worship is just that - good!  The style does not matter, but it DOES need to be done properly.

3.  When did this debate become either/or?  Why can't it be a blended approach to music?  It is true that young families enjoy more contemporary music, but great traditional music can also move them.  It is also true that older church members love the classics that they sang as children, but they can also be caught tapping their feet and smiling to a good beat in a contemporary hymn.

4.  When did music become the defining point of worship?  I love music and I NEVER want to do without it in any worship service I attend or lead.  But music is a component of worship.  So is the reading of the Scriptures.  So is the preaching of the word.  So is the proper, respectful celebration of the Sacraments.  So is prayer.  But no one ever seems to talk about things like reading Scriptures in a certain way can make folks come to church.  I wonder why not!

5.  Why can't we accept each other?  God always calls us into community.  We are better with other believers, including those that we disagree with.  We argue over the DUMBEST things as the style of worship that works "best."  Why not work together to develop BETTER worship styles and practices at our churches?  Why not try some new ideas - and give them more than two weeks to see if they work?  Why not put old and young in charge of developing some new ideas for worship?  If they work together and talk together, great things just might be done - and God will be praised.

 By the way, a classic Oldsmobile would be great to drive!  If somebody has one and they need a driver, just let me know.

But I get to pick the radio station!!!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Show Me Da Money!

It is written in Scripture that "the love of money is the root of all evil."  I believe that sentence bears careful reading.

Note that it DOESN'T say "money is the root of all evil."  It says, "the LOVE of money is the root of all evil."

Money can sure come in handy.  It can pay for bills, medical insurance, or an overdue vacation in the Florida Keys.  It can finance cures for exotic diseases in foreign lands, a new church building, or the tuition for a college education.  It can do good; it can do evil; and it can be indifferent.

But whatever is done with money, Christians are called to do as much as possible to help others with it.  By choosing to do this, Christians say to the world that money is important - because it helps us help others.

The word I love to hear churches use whenever they speak of money is "stewardship."  This means those churches will be CAREFUL with how it is raised, how it is spent, and how it appears to work for God's Kingdom.

Failing to do those things removes the obligation for anyone to put a single nickel in the collection plate of those churches.

"...But I Don't Want to Ask St. Anthony To Help Me!"

"Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."  Psalm 1:15 "We do not adore, wo...