Faith, Family, and Football

I Corinthians 9:24

I love football. I mean, I really really love football.  Some of my earliest memories of television were watching God’s team in Super Bowl V, with my father jumping up and down, hooping and hollering like a 10 year old when the obviously crooked referees missed the call on a tipped pass from Craig Morton. It was the only Super Bowl when the MVP, Chuck Howley, was named from the losing team. My dad was passionate about the Dallas Cowboys, and so was I. The Cowboys and I were born in the same year.  As a footnote, I would add that my dad was passionate about everything he did, not just football.  From the pulpit, he would bemoan the fact Christians would act like wild Indians at a football game but act like wooden Indians at church.

Landry

Last night I shared the couch with my oldest daughter, also an avid football fan, as we watched Peyton Manning beat the odds to win Super Bowl 50.  He was the oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl. It was his fourth Super Bowl game, his second Super Bowl win, and his 200th win overall. The old man didn’t play great, but he managed the game against the league MVP, Cam Newton. The “Sheriff” came out on top over the self-proclaimed “Superman.”  It was like Samson’s final victory over the Philistines.

Football, faith, and family are all intertwined for me, woven into the fabric of my life. I remember one dear saint, Miss Ellen, who always sat on the very back pew. She was one of the faithful stalwarts of the church. On my first Sunday as the new pastor, she warned me. “I sit at the back, so in case the sermon goes long, I can slip out and still catch the kickoff.” Miss Ellen was well over 90 years old, and she lived just across the street from the church. She made good on her promise.

The congregation I had just moved from had a matron saint of a different kind. She reprimanded me one day for over-mentioning football.  She wrote me an “anonymous” letter from “A Concerned Church Member.” (Everyone knew who sent it.) It read something to the effect, “We should be able to come to church and not hear anything about football or politics.” The next Sunday at the end of the service, I apologized to the congregation for being guilty of both, and I promised to “never use the F-word in church again.” That sparked some fun conversations.

I honestly had no qualms about using football or any other sport as sermon illustrations. If Paul could refer to “running the race” and “winning the prize” and “bodily exercise” to drive home a theological point, I saw no reason I couldn’t do the same.  Football is a part of who I am.  I wasn’t very good at it, but I was passionate about it.  I am sandwiched between my father, who played center, and my son, who achieved All-District honors playing center. I honestly don’t think God minds too much to share part of his day while fathers and families share quality time on the couch.

P.S. On the couch with my son was the only time I cried over football. He had just finished his final game, played in Cowboys Stadium.  His team had lost the regional playoff, but that’s not why I cried. He was undersized for a center (185 lbs.), but he played every down across from kids twice his size. Through sheer determination and smart play, he dominated 300 pound defensive linemen. Dads, make some time on Sundays after church to enjoy some time on the couch with your family.

Published in: on February 8, 2016 at 10:42 am  Comments (2)  

Ruby Ring

Luke 15:22

January is the month of my only son’s birthday. His childhood and teen years were nothing short of a joy to me and my wife, and he is now a very talented worship leader in a large and growing Dallas congregation.

I have previously mentioned that my father was a preacher, but he died when I was only 12 years old. My older sister was 16, and my younger brother had just turned 11. After a brief but fierce battle with lung cancer, he died four days past his 41st birthday. As a result, I vowed to heavily invest in my children for whatever time I had with them, and God has seen fit to let me see them grow up.

When my son was three years old, I wrote a song about the symbol of our male bonding and the connection I felt between him and my father.

When I was a little boy on my Daddy’s knee,he would bounce me up and down; he would tickle me. He would whistle tunes and he would sing; I could ask my daddy anything, and I loved to ask about his ruby ring.

He told me, “Son this was my daddy’s ring, it’s all he left to me. He was young when he died; I was just eighteen. One day you will wear this ring; it’s all I have to give. Then you’ll know that I loved you as long as I lived.”

ruby ring

The ring was a simple gold band with a single ruby stone that my grandfather wore daily. He was buried on my father’s 18th birthday, and the rest of the family said my dad should have it, since he was now a man. When I was growing up, my father always told me I would get the ring on my 18th birthday as a sign of manhood. After he died, my mother kept it safe until then. When I turned 18, I was given the ring. My plan was to continue the tradition of marking when the son becomes a man.

I remember one day, a couple of years after my father died, I was grieving particularly painfully. I clearly – not audibly, but clearly heard God say, “I am your father now.” It wasn’t eerie, like Darth Vader telling the ugly truth to Luke Skywalker. It was a relief and a comfort. God was personally stepping in where my father could not, not only teaching me to be a man, but teaching me to be a father. I had acted as a prodigal, but he loved me and accepted me.

At his birth, I gave my son my father’s name – my name. On his 18th birthday, I gave him my father’s ring. The thing I added to the tradition was a speech. The ring symbolized his heritage as a man of God and a minister of God. Though my son was far from prodigal, I wanted to instill a sense of unconditional love and the rights and responsibilities that accompany our relationship as fathers and sons.

Just as the father in Jesus’ parable affirmed total love for his son, he also bestowed full authority by placing a signet ring on his son’s finger. In spite of the times we have squandered our inheritance, the father loves and restores us, accepting us as his children and restoring to us full authority to act in his name.

Published in: on February 1, 2016 at 8:54 am  Comments (2)  

He Flies through the Air with the Greatest of Ease

Isaiah 40:31

“They shall mount up with wings…”

Many people report having dreams of flying. It’s not uncommon at all. I never dreamed of flying though, well…not exactly.  I have dreams of swimming in air. In my dreams, if I move my arms and legs in exactly the same motion as swimming, I can swim up, down, sideways, anywhere I want. Have fun with that one, Dr. Freud. I guess one of the reasons I never dreamed of being able to fly is, I can really fly, for a little while anyway.

In Balmorhea, Texas, the parsonage backyard opens up into the school front yard. Just beyond that is the football field. At five years old, I learned to follow my older sister to the football field, pull the foam rubber high jump mats out of their storage shed, and place them in back of the bleachers.  My siblings and I, along with the Methodist preacher’s kids, would spend hours jumping from the top of the bleachers onto the mats. We performed somersaults, flip-flops, and plain old belly-flops.

When I was nine, my father came home with an awesome surprise. He had obtained from his uncle or cousin or some other such relative two, two, fighter pilot helmets, one white with a lightening bolt, and one red with a white stripe.  It took no more than an hour for my brother and I to put them to use.  We dug to the bottom of the dirty clothes hamper, pulled out the dirty sheets, and hit the back door. There was an exterior plumbing vent pipe which allowed us to climb up onto the garage roof. From there, we instantly became parachuting Army Ranger heroes. It actually worked! Well, it worked until mom saw us with the sheets. Fortunately for us, there was a large cedar tree just on the side of the garage. Now we were sky-diving, sans parachute, into the shrub, even more fun. Flying taught me to be fearless.

Peterpanflying

“They shall run and not be weary…”

In Hartley High School (225 students, K-12), everyone played every sport. Basketball, track, and tennis were the sum total of the athletics program. I was a little stocky, so I was easily enough assigned the shot and discus. We were one competitor short for the mile run, though, so my coach decided he would toss me in there.  I was stunned. Everyone was stunned. The milers consisted of the tall lanky transfer student from Iowa, the bone-thin 100 pound Jim Bob, and me.  Our coach’s training method consisted of driving us several miles out of town, dropping us off, and saying, “See you at the end of practice.” Although my best time was barely under six minutes, I learned to pace myself and push myself, and I learned to work past “the wall” and get my second wind.

runner

“They shall walk and not faint.”

When I was in college, I was broke, flat broke, dead broke, poor-as-a-church-mouse broke. That’s because I was a church mouse. There was one source of joy, though. I met a redhead who seemed to show interest in me. I couldn’t afford to take her on dates or buy her flowers, but she would walk around campus with me, and she would walk to the park with me. Walking is a practice we got into that we continue today. For over 30 years we’ve been walking through scenery of mountains, beaches, deserts, and forests, wherever we happen to be.

When I read this well-known passage from Isaiah, I see in it the stages of life. As youngsters, we spread our wings and fly fearlessly anywhere and everywhere. As adults, we settle into the rat-race and run our children to football games, music concerts, graduations, and hopefully church. At some point, we hit the empty nest and slow down a bit.  That’s where my lovely redhead and I find ourselves these days, walking. Our son is flying, one daughter is running, and one is coming back to earth for a landing. I’m enjoying the slower pace. Things seem as they should be.

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Published in: on January 25, 2016 at 10:56 am  Comments (1)  

The Pastorium Defined

Joshua 13:33

Historically, it has been a common practice for a local congregation to provide living quarters for the pastor and his family. This practice is intended to meet the minister’s practical needs, and it allows smaller congregations to supplement a meager salary with lodging, which can enhance the attractiveness of a church to a prospective preacher. The term “pastorium” was coined around the beginning of the 20th century, since the purpose was to house the pastor. A “parsonage” is synonymous and more often used in the west.

My dad was never called “parson” and rarely called “pastor.” He was most often referred to as “preacher.” I never heard the house called a “preacherage,” although some remote schools provided houses for their teachers, and those were called a “teacherage.” I know we never lived in a “preacherium” either. It was always the parsonage. “Tales from the Pastorium” has a nice eerie quality about it, kind of like “Tales from the Crypt” but with the full endorsement of the Almighty.

Regardless the moniker, all I ever really knew was that was where we lived, and a dozen other people had a key to it. The Building and Grounds Committee chairman needed one, in case something needed repair. The Women’s Missionary Union president needed a key to insure the drapes and carpets were in good condition. The Deacon chairman needed one for general oversight purposes. Each of these provided a copy for his or her spouse, in case their own key was lost.

Recently, it has become more common for a pastor to own his own home. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to build equity toward retirement, since he will have to buy a house at that point anyway? I used to resent the fact that we never owned our own house and always had to remember to keep the walls clean.

In the Old Testament, God has commanded Moses and Joshua to divide up the land by tribes. Each tribe, save one, will receive a proper inheritance. The Levites, however, got no inheritance. They were provided a place to live, but that’s all. It reminds me of the famous scene from Willy Wonka, when Gene Wilder looks at the young innocent lad and sternly spits out, “You get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!” Thus, God blesses his chosen priests from the elect tribe from his prized nation. It makes no sense…unless we get something better. Instead of getting an inheritance from God, the priests were promised God himself.

wonka

At this writing, my wife and her sister are strategizing how to make the best use of land inherited from their parents. It’s not an easy conversation, and it’s not an easy topic. They would have much rather had unconditional love and affection from their parents. Yes, they were well-provided-for financially, but they lacked some emotionally. My father lavished his love radically on his children, but we had no inheritance, other than a legacy of honest, passionate ministry. Maybe that’s why, as an adult, I freely chose the pastorium for my home.

 

Published in: on January 19, 2016 at 10:36 am  Leave a Comment  

Where Have You Come From? Where are You Going?

Genesis 16:8

Several years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to not make any more New Year’s resolutions. Losing weight, exercising more, eating less junk food, watching less television, and giving up web surfing are all great ideas in theory, but it’s a road leading to disappointment. Make the resolution, break the resolution, feel the shame of realizing I have failed again.

In place of resolutions, I started evaluation. In the past year, what worthwhile things have I accomplished, and what do I hope to accomplish in the coming year? Where have I come from, and where am I going?

When Sarai was looking at her own life, she saw only one thing; she had no children. Abram said God had promised him a son, but she was barren. In that culture, a woman’s duty was to provide children, specifically sons, to carry on the husband’s lineage. Sarai had failed. Her response was to insist Abram take her servant, Hagar, as his wife to have children for him, to be her surrogate. Abram responded as any husband would, “Yes, dear.”

The outcome was predictable. Hagar soon had a son, and Sarai despised her for it. Again, she complained to Abram, and he replied, “Do whatever you want, dear.” Hagar’s reward for being an obedient servant was to be treated harshly. That possibly and probably meant emotional, verbal, and physical abuse at the hands of Sarai. Understandably, Hagar ran away.

That’s when the Angel of the Lord found her and asked her the question. “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?” He already knew the answer because he called her by name, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid…” She could only answer one of the questions; “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress, Sarai.” She had no answer for the second question; “Where are you going?” She wasn’t going anywhere. She had no destination. She wasn’t running to anything, only away from Sarai.

The angel answered the question for her. Your destiny is to be the mother of Ishmael. The rest of the prophecy about her son may sound bizarre to the Western mindset.

He shall be a wild man;
His hand shall be against every man,
And every man’s hand against him.
And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.

To Hagar, it was a promise. God heard her affliction. God saw her condition. God knew her and gave her a future.

“Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand…I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.”

This new year, are you running away from something undesirable, but not to any goal in particular? Are you like Sarai, seeing only her failure and an unfulfilled duty? Are you like Hagar, running from bad circumstances and thinking no one knows your predicament?

Strangely enough, sometimes the pain we are running away from is the very path to the plan God has for us. The most comforting thing may be a realization that God hears you, God sees you, God knows you, and God speaks to you. He didn’t leave Sarai childless, and he didn’t leave Hagar to die in the desert.

At this writing, my wife is slowly regaining her strength after a four-year battle with breast cancer. Surgeries and chemotherapy have left her body ravaged and her soul tired, but her spirit is undaunted. She is not yet cancer-free, but the cancer has not grown in the past year, and she is free of the constant pain that once wracked her days and nights. One particular song that has given her strength through this journey is “He Knows My Name.”

He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
And hears me when I call.

This past year, we suffered great physical and emotional pain, not to mention tremendous financial strain. This coming year, we are planning for her retirement after more than 20 years of teaching elementary school. We have a future, and we’re looking forward to it.

Published in: on January 15, 2016 at 11:46 am  Comments (1)