Lowering the Bar

The bar used to be really high for the Dallas Cowboys. Before Jerry Wayne bought the Cowboys in 1989, the longest the team ever went between league or conference championship game appearances was six years. That six year drought came in the last six years of Tom Landry’s tenure, from 1983-88. And it was the main factor in the sale of the team.

Prior to that, the Cowboys made it to the championship game almost every year. A divisional playoff win was a gimmee.

It took them five years from that initial expansion season to playing Green Bay in the NFL Championship game. They went from absolutely nothing in 1960 — they missed the draft that first season! — to playing the Packers for the league title in 1966 and 1967. Until Jerry bought the team, that was the second longest championship game drought in team history, those first five years!

They experienced a two-year drought from 1968-70. A one-year drought in 1974, another one-year miss in 1976, and another divisional round loss in 1979. They appeared in the conference championship game four straight years from 1970-73 and five out of six seasons in 1977-1982. In total, in the 29-years before Jerry bought the team, the Cowboys appeared in twelve conference championship games, never going more than six years in between appearances. The Cowboys were not just relevant, they were at the top. They were a dynasty. They were in every conversation. For almost 30-years, the Cowboys dominated the NFL. The championship always went through Dallas. The legitimate expectations were Super Bowl or bust every single season. The bar was high.

Then they suffered that longest ever six-year drought. No divisional playoff wins in six years. And it caused a panic. Tom Landry didn’t know what he was doing. Gil Brandt couldn’t evaluate players. Tex Schramm couldn’t keep up with the times. The league had passed the Cowboys by. It was time for wholesale change. Little tweaks wouldn’t fix what was broken. Everything needed to be cleared out. The owner, the coach, the GM, the assistants, the trainers, the scouting department, even Tommy Loy the Texas Stadium trumpet player! Everybody had to go. The entire culture of the whole franchise had to be changed. The Cowboys hadn’t been to the conference championship game in six years! It was the worst playoff drought in franchise history!

And it worked. With Jimmy Johnson at the helm, they turned it around. With his players and the culture he created, Johnson’s Cowboys went to four straight conference championship games. They won three Super Bowls.

That was 23-years ago.

The Dallas Cowboys right now are mired in a playoff drought that is four times longer than any other drought in the team’s history. It has never been this bad, it’s never even been close to this bad before. But I don’t sense that anybody’s panicked. I don’t hear the outcry. Somehow, the Cowboys are still the most valuable sports franchise in the world, they sell more merchandise than any other team, and that oppressive stadium is still sold out every week. Just making it to the divisional round is lauded by the owner, the coach, and the players as a great success. The expectations have changed. The bar has been lowered. The Cowboys are the Browns and the Bengals.



After Delivery

My Aunt Alice finished her race yesterday. And she ran well. She ran very well. In honor of her, I’m posting the following short story my Uncle Gerald shared with me a couple of weeks ago. This story has come to mean so much to both of them in helping to articulate the hope and the reality of everlasting life after death in the presence of our heavenly Father. Uncle Gerald has asked me to read it at Aunt Alice’s funeral this Friday in Kilgore. I’m honored. And I share it with you today, praying it encourages you, too.

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Well, of course! There has to be life after delivery. I believe we’ve been placed here to prepare ourselves for what will be later.”

“Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than we have here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat with our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. Life after delivery is not logical.”

The second insisted, “Well, I think there is something else and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Hogwash! Plus, if there is life after delivery, why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life. After delivery, there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied, “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists, where is she?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of her. It is in her that we live. Without her, this world would not and could not exist. And neither could we.”

Said the first, “Well, I don’t see her, so it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive her presence and you can hear her loving voice calling down from above.”

God bless Aunt Alice. May he receive her into his faithful arms. And may God bless Uncle Gerald and our whole family with his merciful blessings of comfort and peace and joy.



The Sorry Seven

There are seven teams in the NFL that have gone more than two decades without winning a divisional playoff game. Twenty-four NFL franchises have played in a conference championship game in the past sixteen years, one win away from appearing in a Super Bowl; seven have not. These seven are in droughts that range from 23-years all the way to 30-years and counting. These seven are mired in more than two decades of mediocrity and irrelevance. These are the worst teams in the NFL.

They are incompetent in the front office. They have no real strategy or long-range plans. They act by whim and “gut.” They keep average-caliber players too long and sign over-hyped free agents too fast. They get out-picked in the draft and out-coached on the field. These seven teams are the only seven teams that haven’t won a divisional playoff game in more than two decades. They have not appeared in a conference championship game in more than 20-years. They don’t demonstrate that they have any idea how to get to a Super Bowl. These seven NFL teams are universally recognized as terrible messes. Laughingstocks. Pitiful. Sorry.

Cincinnati Bengals
Washington Redskins
Detroit Lions
Cleveland Browns
Miami Dolphins
Buffalo Bills
Dallas Cowboys

Three other teams are in 16-year droughts. You could add them to the list of sorry NFL franchises that have no clue how to win a championship — Tampa Bay, the Raiders, and the Titans — but does that make you feel any better? These are the sorry teams, the ones nobody takes seriously.

The Cowboys are not in the same class as the 49ers, Bears, Cardinals, or Eagles. They’re not in the same category as the Chargers, Ravens, or even the Jets! They’re with the Bengals, Browns, and Lions. They belong with the Redskins, Dolphins, and Bills.

Jerry Wayne has apparently written Jason Garrett into his family will; in a few days he’ll get a multi-year extension. Jerry will “Romo” Dak Prescott and start him at quarterback for eleven more years. The coaching staff is expected to remain fully intact; nobody’s getting fired or moved. They keep telling us it was a successful season. They keep telling us they see a lot of positives to build on. They keep telling us the team plays hard and never quits.

Well, if you’re in the same class as the Bengals and Browns, I guess that’s OK.



23 Years and Counting…

Rams 30, Dallas 22

Prepare the Way for the Lord

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near! Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with an unquenchable fire.” ~Matthew 3

I love John the Baptist. I think all preachers love John the Baptist. All preachers want to be as bold and courageous in proclaiming the Gospel. All preachers want to be popular like John the Baptist. We all want to baptize as many people as he did. I think we can all relate to John the Baptist. He didn’t always wear what the people expected him to wear. And when he preached something the people didn’t want to hear, he got his head chopped off.

Only once, though. It only happened to him once.

We’re supposed to talk about John the Baptist during the Christmas season. It’s part of Advent. John the Baptist is the one proclaiming that the Christ is coming. But we never include John the Baptist in our Christmas sermons because it just doesn’t fit with the Christmas season. Not the way we like it, anyway. John the Baptist is loud, unpredictable, and rude. He’s like the crazy Uncle John we’d rather not show up for Christmas dinner. He greets the religious leaders in Matthew 3 by calling them a “brood of vipers!” How would you like to get that on the front of a Christmas card?

We want the soft, romantic glow of twinkling Christmas candles and John the Baptist is talking about an unquenchable apocalyptic fire! We want the baby Jesus in a manger, cooing softly at the docile barn animals around him — the Jesus Ricky Bobby is praying to in Talladega Nights — and John the Baptist gives us Jesus as a judge with an ax in one hand a pitchfork in the other!

The prayer of the early church was “Marana tha,” Lord, come quickly. That is not a prayer for Jesus to come again as a helpless infant; it’s the longing cry of God’s people for him to return in the fullness of his power and glory when every knee will bow in heaven and earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father! The prayer is for Jesus to come again to finally put an end to all sin and wickedness forever. The hope is that Jesus will make right all the things that are wrong, that he will finally fix everything that’s broken.

That’s not so scary to the poor and oppressed of this world. But, for those of us with a lot to lose? Maybe it’s a little scary.

John the Baptist is proclaiming a reality that’s coming, a reality that’s going to expose what you and I sometimes think is reality. The coming eternal reality is going to show just how false our earthly conditions and our human endeavors really are. The Holy One of Israel is going to expose all our pretensions for what they really are. In him is life and that life is the light of all people. And that light is going to shine in the darkness.

“Wait til the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of people’s hearts.” ~1 Corinthians 4:5

Luke 8 quotes Jesus as saying there is nothing hidden that won’t be disclosed; everything that’s concealed is going to be known and brought out into the open.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!”

John the Baptist is so completely blown away by the reality of the coming Christ. He sees right through the charades of this world and the roles we play and the lines we say and how precious all this is to us. He sees right through all of it to the sheer power and holiness of the coming Lord. John is pointing us to the future, not the past. He’s orienting us away from our religious rituals and toward the person of Jesus Christ; away from our present-day systems and structures to an utterly brand new authority and dominion of our King and his Kingdom.

It’s happening. John the Baptist is standing out in the desert, hip-high in the waters of the Jordan River, where the world’s resistance to God is meeting the irresistible force of God’s coming. The ax is already at the root of the trees. It’s happening. Get ready. You’d better re-think your priorities, you’d better re-order your lives.

How do we get ready? How do we prepare? Where the do the roads need straightening out? What fires need to be lit to burn away the garbage in his path? What dead trees need to be cut down? What roughness in your heart needs to be smoothed?


It’s amusing to me how “research” and “data” comes out to prove what anybody who’s paying attention already knows. By simple observation — just by looking at the symptoms and the consequences — we all know that smart phones and mobile technology devices are killing us. Socially, mentally, emotionally, academically — it’s hard to find a serious person who believes smart phones make us better. But the research that proves the harmful effects of smart phone technology is just now beginning to come out.

Here’s a link to an article that contains links to some of the more recent studies. Science is telling us that 8-11-year-olds who spend more than two hours on their screens every day are demonstrating “lower cognitive function.” Our mobile devices and social media use share an “unfavorable relationship” with attention, memory, impulse control, and academic performance. Digital technology is proving to slow down the overall development of teenagers. And the smart phones are “stunningly addictive.”


As the “proof” pours in, elite schools in the U.S. are now beginning to reduce or eliminate the screens in their classrooms. Where once our society feared a technological divide — the rich kids would have access to technology and all the advantages that come with it and the poor kids would not — now scientists and education experts are fearing the opposite. The students in less affluent schools are using the technology and screens and getting dumb while the students in the rich schools are learning without the technology and screens and getting smart.


What emoji do I use to communicate sarcasm?



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