Saturday, December 3, 2016

Let's Get Off the "Coaching Carousel"



 "Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all."   Ecclesiastes 9:11


"You reap what you sow."  Galatians 6:7


Lately as I observe the college football season come to an end, I have noticed the unfairness of how coaches are hired and fired.  I think the NCAA's rules (or lack of them) in this process is shameful and needs to be changed.  Here's what I have observed and a possible solution for how it could be fixed:

1.  Coaches are fired and hired from one program to another BEFORE the season is actually completed.  When a coach is fired in the middle of the season, it is almost always covered by an assistant coach being elevated to "acting head coach" until the season is done.  This is the easiest method for this to be done; it is easiest on the players, the other coaches, and the short-term future of the program.

2.  HOWEVER, when coaches are fired and others hired before the National Championship game is done, this is wrong.  Currently, the coach for the University of Houston has moved to the University of Texas; I have no problem with this being done, but neither program was "officially" done with their seasons.  The UH coach also took most of his assistants with him to UT, but UH will still play in a bowl game before their season is officially over.  How will those players adequately prepare for that game?  And who will coach them?  Also, I just read this morning that UT might actually get a bowl invitation despite a 5-7 record; this is because of the high number of bowls that currently exists.  But the UT staff that coached that team is gone (fired!), and the new staff is not quite filled.  So those players lose the opportunity to add a little pride to an otherwise disappointing season.  This is also wrong!

3.  What about the fine assistant coaches who are currently working for really good teams that are going to major bowl games and/or playing for the National Championship?  Shouldn't those coaches be allowed the opportunity to become head coaches at another program?  And shouldn't they also have the opportunity to FOCUS on the team and the game(s) that are coming up without the distraction of trying to get another job?  Unfair to the assistant coaches and unfair to their current teams, if you ask me.

4.  And the NCAA knows all this...so what are they doing about it?  Not much, as far as any sane human can determine.  How about this:  NO ONE may contact, recruit, interview, or negotiate with any other coach until AFTER the National Championship game is completed?  Penalty: similar to when a football program breaks any other rule - sanctions, loss of scholarships, etc.  And this goes for alums, agents, athletic directors, and coaches themselves.

Yes, if this plan was implemented, it would affect recruiting.  So what?  How does failure to finish a season affect recruiting?  What are the parents of talented high school players thinking right now?  I don't hear too many people asking their opinions, but I think they are the most vital group right now.  After all, they represent the future of the various football programs.

Bottom line: Why should a pastor care about all this?  Is it because I am a graduate of both the University of Texas and the University of Houston?  Isn't it just money and power and all that?  I care because I am a fan, but I also care because I know when something is unfair.  And Christians are always ALWAYS called to take on anything that is unfair.

So change it, people.  Do it now and for the right reasons.  Or wait until the system becomes so rotten and unfair that changing it will be embarrassing and painful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Nicknames





“…and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  [Isaiah 9:6b]


Throughout my life, I always had nicknames - some goofy, some endearing, and some weird.
When I first learned to write my name, I reversed the “R” and the “A” as I wrote.  My grandfather thought this was funny and called me what I had written: “Mrak.”

My mother called me “Markie” until I was old enough to talk her out of it.  Curiously, my wife calls me “Markie Mark” now and it doesn’t really bother me at all.

When I was a teacher, my students would try to call me “Mr. P.”  I always took the time to point out how odd that sounded and how I wouldn’t answer to it.  Then a beloved teaching partner called me “Mr. P” - and it didn’t bother me at all (although it really freaked out my students for those years).  Again…curiously, my daughter-in-law, Evelin, calls me “Mr. P” and I love it.

My favorite nickname of all time is what my grandson Logan calls me: “Dah.”  None of us can figure out where he obtained that label for me, and everyone else in the family has the usual names of “Aunt” or “Grandma” or “Tia” (Spanish for ‘aunt’).  But when it calls me “Dah” he knows I will answer every single time.

Our Lord has nicknames too!

In the quote from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 9, verse 6, various names for the Lord are listed, and we have all heard them before.  During his lifetime, Jesus was called “Rabbi” which translates as “Teacher.”  He was often called “Master” and even “Son of David” when he encountered those in his ministry.  Paul referred to Jesus as “the Christ” and of course “Lord.”

But no matter what we call our Lord, He knows our names.  And no matter what names each of us are comfortable in calling ourselves, He knows them all.

And the most important of the Lord’s possible nicknames for each of us is “MINE.”

For we all want the Lord to someday say to each of us, “You are MINE.”


Amen!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Aunt Bettie's Vote


“Aunt Bettie’s Vote”

“Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” [1st Peter 3: 1-2]
Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.” [Ephesians 5:22]

In the 1980’s, my wife and I visited my great-great Aunt Bettie at the nursing home where she lived in rural Central Texas.  At the time, a presidential election was approaching, and my wife and disagreed on the candidates.  When we had spent some time with Aunt Bettie, we both asked her whom SHE liked in the presidential election.  She smiled and looked back and forth at us.  Then she told us a great story about voting…and obeying biblical authority.
In 1952 and again in 1956, Dwight Eisenhower ran for President against Senator Adlai Stevenson.  Aunt Bettie loved Stevenson, and her husband, my great-great Uncle Morris, loved Eisenhower.  As the election day drew closer, Uncle Morris was insistent that his wife honor his wishes and vote for Eisenhower – even though he knew that she liked Stevenson.  On the day of the election, Uncle Morris drove them both to the voting precinct, and they walked in together.  Just before Aunt Bettie entered her voting booth, Uncle Morris told her, “Now Bettie…I want you to vote for Eisenhower.”  Aunt Bettie replied, “Yes, Morris,” and then she went into the voting booth and voted for Stevenson.  As soon as she exited the voting booth, Uncle Morris was waiting for her.  He asked her pointedly, “Bettie…did you vote for Eisenhower?”  “Yes, Morris,” was her untruthful reply.  She admitted to us that she did the same thing in both elections and that she lied to Uncle Morris both times.  As she told us this story, she looked a little uncomfortable, but she also chuckled as she remembered those conversations.
Then she turned serious for a moment.  She said, “Those were the only times in our entire marriage that I lied to Morris.  I just couldn’t vote for Eisenhower…I didn’t like him.  And I just loved Senator Stevenson.  But if I had told Morris the truth, he would have been so upset.  So I lied.  Do you think I did a bad thing?”  Jeanne and I both insisted that she had done nothing wrong, that she was fully justified in her actions, and that we were certain that Uncle Morris loved her, no matter what.
Later, as Jeanne and I were going home, we talked about that odd conversation.  Aunt Bettie was a devout, righteous Christian and a Biblical scholar in her own right.  She lived her life guided by her faith in Christ and the words of the Bible.  But when it came to defying her husband, she recognized that the greater love existed in acting outside of what the Bible specifically said.
And, as far as I know, we were the only people she ever told.
When Aunt Bettie greets her Savior, I am absolutely convinced that He will not hold her accountable for these actions.  She acted with love and with gentleness.  She followed her Savior’s example, but she “strayed” from the letter of the Law.

Lessons from this story:
1.     Live with love and gentleness in all that you do.  That was Jesus’ example in all that He did.
2.     Be at peace whenever you face the “letter-of-the-Law vs. Spirit-of-the-Law” situations.  Jesus preached often against the letter of the Law when it ignored the love we should have for one another in all that we do.
3.     Vote your conscience, and don’t let ANYONE tell you how to think.
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Monday, October 24, 2016

The Lost Tribes...of Heritage?



Once upon a time, there was a wonderful Presbyterian church called Heritage.  It came into existence in 1980, and the people who created it were wonderful people.  Over the years, the church grew and grew.  New buildings were added to the original land that was purchased.  Various pastors came, led, and left - and at least two of them were Godly, righteous, beloved leaders.  The church had many programs, but none better than the children's nursery school that began as a mother's day out program.

The people who attended Heritage also invited their friends and family to their church.  By the time 25 years had passed, the church property consisted of a 100+ year old chapel, an education wing that housed the nursery school during the week, a fellowship hall, a big sanctuary that could seat over 500 people, and an administration building for the various church employees and the pastors to work.

All in all, Heritage was thriving, happy, healthy, and successful by anyone's definition.

Then, just like the thriving nation of Israel, something terrible happened.

The original members of the Heritage tribe often considered that what happened to their church came on very quickly.  However, a thorough search of the records of the church - many of them deleted from the church's computer server (which cannot ever be completely deleted) - revealed that the leaders of the church at that time were planning something much earlier than they let on.

Earlier that year, a report came from the denomination's General Assembly that, for the very first time, discussed the possibility of including gay people as fully-included members of the Presbyterian Church.  The pastor of the church recognized that if this happened, then gay people could also be elected as church officers; and if gay people could be elected as church officers, then they could also call gay pastors (or at least gay-friendly pastors).  To the pastor of that time, this was unacceptable.

Rather than do the honorable thing and resign as a matter of conscience, the pastor was determined to remove Heritage from the denomination.  He contacted outside groups and individuals and requested counsel and guidance to achieve this end.  One of these groups - the New Wineskins - advised him to "run up the bills."  If the church was heavily in debt, it would make it extremely difficult for the local presbytery to take control of the church; at that time, the country's economy was experiencing the worst conditions since the Great Depression of the 1930's.  So the "balloon payment" on the mortgage was not renegotiated, the contract with the copier company was set to an unbelievable amount each month, the phone system was rented by long-term contract, the entire staff was given generous raises, and "suddenly" several staff members attended expensive, out-of-town conferences.  All in the name of "running up the bills."  

Then the announcement of church meetings was given.

At those meetings, the leadership of the church voiced their concerns about the direction of the denomination.  As they did so, they also turned most of the membership against "those gay people."  What most of them failed to realize was that there were already gay members of their church sitting in the pews with them!  In fact, at least two members of the church had been raised in that same church, and they were not going to go quietly or without a fight.  So they got it.  Everyone listened to the hateful comments raised against "those people" - parents and friends of "those people" got to listen to the hate spewed against their loved ones.  It had little to do with the Kingdom of God...it had a lot more to do with conveniently forgetting that the tribe of Heritage was supposed to be one big tribe.

The next steps were pretty predictable...sort of.

The larger group renounced their membership and the jurisdiction of the denomination.  The vote was taken and the congregation overwhelmingly voted to leave and to take the church campus with them.  What they didn't count on was the stubborn faith of the local presbytery officials and supporters.  Only 60 members of the tribe were dubbed the "viable remnant," but they were legally awarded the property and all the assets.  The larger portion of the tribe  - about 200-250 - left the campus and set up somewhere else.  Two churches were formed.

But the numbers don't add up:
60 people in the viable remnant that remained as Heritage.
200-250 that left with the leadership.
What about the other 200?  Where did they go?  What did they do?  Did they begin attending other churches?

Or did they completely quit attending church at all?

This is the question that haunts me almost 9 years later.

I came to Heritage as their pastor after all this happened.  I found the documents on the server after it was repaired and all "old" documents were recovered (no one meant to find them, including me).  I have met and spoken with a few of those who left with the former leadership.  I have heard, with pain in my heart and tears in my eyes, the stories told by members of the viable remnant who lost their former church, their long-term friends, and maybe even a portion of their own faith when all this happened.  Time has passed, and most people won't speak about this terrible time without effort...which is why it needs to stay in the ancient past.

But the missing tribes of Heritage - the missing 200 - haunt me.  I hope they are still worshipping somewhere.  I hope they are still believers.  I hope that they hold onto the good memories of their good old church and not the disastrous ones.

More than anything else, I hope that the members of the lost tribes of Heritage are NOT lost at all.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Stained Glass Ceiling



Recently, I saw this article posted on social media (http://www.religionnews.com/2016/03/08/178533/) , and I did a slow burn.

I have known some FANTASTIC female ministers in my day.  Many of them are colleagues, buddies, and even mentors to me.  (I do not understate the importance of male ministers, but this posting is not about them.)

But this is blatantly unfair, and I cannot figure out why it even occurs.

I have heard and read expert after expert "explain" that there is "more to this that the statistics don't reveal."  I'm sure they are correct.

But nothing changes some of the nonsense I have heard over the years.

For example...

NO ONE ever commented on my shoes, my hair, my shirt, my suits, or my robes when I was preaching in the pulpit.  Yet my female colleagues have told me about comments such as, "Do you really think you need to do your hair like that?" and "You should choose a different dress for Sunday worship" and even "You're already so tall...why do you need to wear high heels?"  (I wonder if a short man asked that one...)

NO ONE ever told me "I just don't know if I can get used to a male minister."  Yet my female colleagues have reported that when they were called to a new location, they were often told they were a problem simply because they were female, especially if they followed a male minister.  Also, I have even been told that when female ministers interview for senior pastor jobs, they are told that they may have an interview but "don't expect to get the job...we are really looking for a man for the senior pastor role."

NO ONE ever told me that I have no business preaching the Word each Sunday because Paul told me and everybody who looked like me to "keep silent in the churches "(1st Corinthians 14: 34).

NO ONE ever told me that I can't teach the opposite sex anything about God either because Paul had something to say about that too (1st Timothy 2: 12-13).

It's all unfair if you ask me.

I know what the Bible says, and I also know what the Lord has revealed to me, what He has shown to me, and what I believe myself.

Whether you are good or bad has NOTHING to do with whether you are a male or a female.  The same holds true in ministry.

The "glass ceiling" is defined as the barrier that women must break through in industry before they are taken seriously.

I guess the "stained glass ceiling" is a similar thing for women to shatter in ministry.

They will find that this particular male is their friend, their colleague, and their staunchest supporter!


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

It's a Surprise...



One of my favorite memories from my children's childhood occurred when my wife and I surprised them with a trip to DisneyWorld in Florida.  

My wife was attending her annual convention, so the kids and I dropped her off at the airport.  The kids naturally assumed that they would not see her for a week or so; after all, this trip happened every year, and a week was usually how long Mom would be gone.

What they didn't know was that I had arranged to take a Friday off from school, and I had also arranged for the kids to do so too; this was not hard since I worked at their school.  But Jeanne and I decided to surprise them both.

So a few days passed with Dad being "Mr. Mom" and the kids doing just fine.  But all of us missed Mom.  So on Friday morning, I got up early, packed their suitcases, and woke them up.  I told them we were NOT going to school, but rather...we were going on a trip.  A long trip.

They didn't believe me!  It took every ounce of resistance I had not to tell them WHY we weren't going to school.  But finally they packed a few things in their backpacks and we all headed to the airport.

Once we got there, it didn't take them long to figure it out.  After all, as soon as we walked up to our gate and they read the destination as "Orlando" they both began screaming and dancing for joy.

We met my wife at the Orlando airport, and all four of us proceeded to have a wonderful three-day weekend.

The reason this story sticks with me is that I often compare it to some of the "surprises" that the Lord has had for me.  He often won't tell me where I'm going either, but when I get there and I look back at all that happened, I feel like shouting and dancing for joy - just like my kids did at the airport.

It also makes me feel bad sometimes as I consider some questions: Why can't we just trust the Lord and let go of our need for control?  Why can't we just "get ready" for each day and see where He will lead us?  Why must we know everything in advance so that we are totally prepared?

After all, He told us, "I am with you always, even unto the end of the age."  (Matthew 28: 20)  That means the Lord will not leave us completely to our own devices and our own cleverness...even if we insist upon it.

And I think that when we just cooperate and head out, and THEN we see the surprises He has in store for us - wonderful surprises worthy of screaming and dancing for joy - I also think it must be fun to see us at those moments.  

I'll bet it's sort of like the view I had of my two beloved children that day in the airport.

Oh be joyful!

The Gift of Jacinto's Coffee

When my daughter was a baby, she didn't sleep well at all!  Our other child, Dan, was a GREAT baby who slept through the night begi...