Saturday, October 30, 2010

2010 MCAA League Champions: Heritage Chargers!

A big congrats to my varsity soccer team for winning the league playoffs in our first year. We finished second in regular season but then went on to defeat the first place (previously undefeated) team in the tournament playoffs this weekend making us the champions.

This is my first year as a varsity coach and I have to say it has been an exciting year with all sorts of new things learned. I am so impressed with the young men that made up this team and I hope this great season has served to bond them together in a way they will never forget.

We finished with 16 wins and 3 losses. Special thanks to my awesome assistant coaches Brian Hough and Simon Elliott (with special mention of Jon Meyers who helped out in several games when Brian was gone).

The surgery date is set, thanks for caring!

I don't want to overload my blog with my knee woes, but quite honestly, it's a big part of my existence right now. I just wrote an email to friends and family to update them on my situation. I have received a huge outpouring of concern from so many people. On one hand it's just a stupid knee, it's not something serious in the bigger scheme of life and compared to what so many of you have gone through or are going through. On the other hand, it's a real challenge for me. I hope sharing various posts about my knee saga will serve to encourage you in some way. Here's the email I just sent:

Friends and Family,

I just thought I'd send you a little explanation of my knee issue now that surgery has been set for Nov. 17. For those of you who know the story, I won't be offended if you just hit delete and read no farther. I've answered so many questions from loving, concerned people, that I have lost track of who to update, so I thought to send this if you are interested. So read only if you want.

Basically I dislocated my knee playing soccer two weeks ago. I went up for a header and got knocked in the air. I came down fully on my right leg. Needless to say it was the wrong angle. My knee dislocated and the lower part came forward and moved up my thigh bone. It was hideous. If you're a real sicko, I have actual pictures of my leg before they put it back in place, just let me know and I'll email them.

The pain was the worst thing I have ever experienced. It was very helpful to have my good brothers in Christ there literally holding my screwed up leg partially in the air until the EMT's got there. I hate to have traumatized my teammates, but it was a pretty freakish thing. I'm glad the game wasn't an hour early or all of our kids would have been there to enjoy the view. I've been on the field or coaching several times when nasty injuries occurred, it felt weird to be the one gawked at by the teams and spectators. Did I mention how much it hurt? The EMT's got there and gave me some morphine which helped less than I had hoped for, but it did take the "edge" of the acute pain, as they say. Once in the ER the doctor acted pretty fast to get me x-rayed and ready to "reduce" the joint, which simply means to pull the leg straight and back in to place. They gave me the "Michael Jackson" drug to put me out for a minute or less. When I awoke, my leg was reduced and in an immobilizing splint. I then went through a series of tests to be sure my vascular system was OK and that my nerve wasn't damaged. Apparently there is a high percentage of vascular injury with such trauma to the knee. I stayed over night at the hospital and was released late the next day with no apparent vascular or nerve damage- for which I am thankful to God.

The hardest thing that happened in the hospital after the initial trauma in the ER was hearing the orthopedic doctor tell me my soccer playing days were effectively over. Many would say (and some have said point blank) I was probably too old to be playing in a league with twenty-somethings at the level of intensity I was. In retrospect they are probably right, how could I really argue that it was at some level foolish jumping up and over guys to head a ball in to a net in a game that meant nothing in the grand scheme of things? 39 is too old to be playing like that, etc. etc. I think that's probably right, looking back. At the same time I would be at total liar to say-that if given the chance again to score a goal by way of a diving header, I would pass it up...heck, I'd do it again in a heart beat. In the words of Nacho Libre- "don't you want a taste of da glory Stephen?" I just love playing and competing that much. Am I a loser? Yes. A total loser. I came to terms with that a long time ago. Soccer has been fun to play and I love playing with the guys I play with, many of them are Redeemer brothers. So, when the doc told me I was done, it hurt. It still hurts and makes me sad. In reality, I have seriously injured my knee in a way that will never leave me no matter how good of a job the surgeon does reconstructing it. Right now I am praying I can return to running and biking and kicking a ball around with my sons. I love coaching, I guess scrimmaging with the guys is probably out going forward, but I hope I can still do a little to demonstrate this or that? I'm not sure. The recovery is 9-12 months on this injury. That's a long time. I'll be over 40 before I can jog with AJ again. So, I may have lost the ability to play soccer competitively, but the competition will now shift to rehabbing this knee and being able to do another triathlon some day? Only God knows and only by His grace...then again, that's always the way it really is, we just don't often acknowledge it. It's all by grace. Everything we do is by His grace.

So, after the swelling went down, I saw a sports medicine/orthopedic doc and worked through a plan to treat my knee. I got an MRI and it showed that I had damage across the board. I have a totally torn ACL and PCL. I have damage to my Postlateral Corner and meniscus. My MCL is sprained and I have a bone bruise on the top of my lower leg. Surgery includes reconstructing my ACL/PCL/PLC and fixing my torn cartilage. The severity of some of this isn't fully known until the doc gets in there, so hopefully some of it isn't as bad as it seems? For those interested, here's a web page that outlines the basics of a knee dislocation and how it's treated:

The surgery is a bit delayed because I have to do some pre-operation range of motion improvement to get my knee to bend a little better, so the surgery date is November 17. The recovery and rehab is quite long as stated above. I am grateful for an understanding and patient church and faithful, capable fellow pastors to help out- especially Nathan who preached two weeks in a row on relatively short notice. Thankfully, however, I don't anticipate this hindering ministry too much as I will preach with a nice, comfortable bar stool for 4-6 weeks after surgery, maybe longer. Otherwise I have found this injury to keep me in a chair longer so I have been catching up on emails and calls in addition to preaching/teaching prep. I am praying for God to guide me to make good use of my time so I actually improve as a pastor teacher through this trial. The most obvious question many of you- who know me- will ask is- "what about hunting"? It's true, my bow hunting season has been abruptly altered and inevitably shortened for 2010. Nevertheless the doctor told me to be walking on this leg often to get it loose and regain as much range of motion as possible before surgery. So, in compliance with doctors orders, I have already hobbled to two different hunting spots- saw a bunch of does, no big bucks yet, however. I'll get out several mornings before surgery...don't worry- I'll go to "safe" spots and will be realistic about my chances. I just love to be in the woods during November. I might call one of you to help me drag a deer...that would be cool.

Hey, this is nothing compared to what so many of you have gone through. I know that. For me it is a pretty big challenge and trial. I thank God for it, despite getting blue about it at times. He really is so very gracious to all of us. I have every anticipation that His grace will be sufficient, though I fully anticipate my sin to be seriously exposed through this recovery process. I do want to mature spiritually, but I really? Well, He wants me to grow in Christ and loves me enough to send this my way.

So, I very much appreciate your prayers. My wife and kids are the greatest. They already have humbled me with their cooperative and servant-like spirits. Mom and Dad are living close and a total blessing. It was great having Dad drive me to various appointments on Monday. I do pray for God's grace to be sufficient for them while I am a considerable burden to them these past weeks and months to come. I serve a great church with loving and patient elders, deacons and congregation. The Heritage school community has always been a wonderful encouragement to me. as well. I coach the HCA varsity soccer team, a great group of young men (and my two old assistant soccer coaches aren't bad to work with either). We're in the league championship game tomorrow. All this stuff makes me smile. All in all, things are very good, just wanted to share.

Finally, and providentially, I am close to finishing my exposition of Phillippians Sunday mornings. Check out the verse I will be preaching on the first Sunday back on 11/7-

Phillippians 4:10-13 10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mayhem in Mexico

Leading Redeemer's first mission team to Mexico in 2001 remains one of my favorite ministry highlights. From that point we established a great relationship with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico through our denominations mission organization. There were three local churches in the Juarez area we did multiple construction and outreach projects for. In 2009 we were unable to send a team to Juarez because of violence in that city. This year we sent a team to a different border city because certain quarters of Juarez have become a virtual war zone.

Have you watched what has happened in Mexico over these last four years? Various media outlets report over 29,000 drug war related deaths mostly in Mexican border cities since 2006! Juarez is the the most dangerous of all cities in Mexico. This violence has seriously burdened the churches on the border. We recently heard a report from a missionary who told of the great difficulty the church is undergoing in Mexico because of the drug wars. These wars effect the morale of the citizens with threats to personal safety and a massive loss of legitimate businesses and employment. Things seem to be spiraling out of control in Mexico.

I am praying for Mexico more fervently these days. They are our neighbor to the south with many Christians living in perilous circumstances. Let us all keep this country in our minds and prayers.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Something ain't right...

I'll post interesting knee re-hab developments from time to time.

I have purposely not posted pictures of my knee taken in the ER an hour after it was dislocated - they're nasty. Below, however, are two x-rays taken that night.

I am amazed with the technology the Lord has allowed man to discover and use.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

From thence He shall come...

As I go over my lesson for tonight's study on the 7th article of the Apostle's Creed I am struck by how little I contemplate the reality of Christ's sure coming. A full dose of dispensational premillennialism during college turned me off to studying the "end times" as a particular subject. The matter of fact way some preachers and teachers will lay out exactly how the end times are supposed to unfold is a total turn off to me, especially when their understanding of the Church seems so fundamentally flawed (dispensationalists draw a sharp distinction between "Israel" and the "Church" leading them down a very narrow path of interpretation about the end times). Despite my general disdain for popular end times teaching, a very sure fact of the Christian faith is the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ. There are virtually hundreds of references to Christ's return that prompts us to think of this event as our blessed hope.

The Apostle's Creed states in it's seventh article- "From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead".

"Thence" refers to the article that precedes stating that Christ is currently sitting at the right hand of God. From His seated place near the Father, Christ will come to judge. It will be His final judgment, so to speak. His final coming will not be like the first, it will be in exaltation and with judgment to be meted out. When He comes again, the faithful (those united to Christ) will be raised to eternal life and blessedness. The wicked (those without Christ) will be raised to punishment.

Eternal blessedness for those united to Christ by faith is a glorious, exhilarating reality that I spend far too little time contemplating. If I would focus on this sure future, I am convinced my present living would be shaped much differently. I am praying for such a perspective.

Packer wrote challenging words in his devotional on the Apostle's Creed-

We think less and less about the better things that Christ will bring us at his reappearance because our thoughts are increasingly absorbed by the good things we enjoy here.

He's probably right. Life is so good for me that I struggle with a sense of longing for eternity. Praise God for the good things of this life, but may they not become so good and seemingly satisfying that I lose a greater longing for my eternal home. For it is an eternal home loaded with greater things than the "good" things I now enjoy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Week One observations from a worthless blob...

The past week has been rough. I feel like a worthless blob around the house.

I'm still on crutches and it's painful to move the wrong way so I just can't get around the house to help Shari or the kids with much of anything. She's not complaining, in fact, being the servant she is, I think she likes helping and doing things for me. My kids have been great too. They bring me stuff, constantly ask me how I'm feeling, and even put my socks on for me each morning. How pathetic I am, I catch myself loathing.

I can't even really help with our foster baby. I can't get on the ground to play with her because getting back up is torture right now. Shari can't leave me alone with her because I have to be able to walk and carry her in case of an emergency. Basically I am of no value in the house other than to bark out orders of reinforcement for something Shari tells the kids to do.

I'd think of myself as a motionless slug right now except I can move, so I'm basically a slug that gets in the way. Tough trial for me, this bum leg thing.

My current situation doesn't effect my ministry at church too much as I'm able to study and interact with people on the phone and email. I've actually had a very productive week in those areas. I'm even working ahead on teaching preparation and have caught up on my back log of emails. I was able to lead chapel for school this week, I can stand alright for half an hour on crutches. My mouth is definitely not sprained. Coaching soccer is challenging, but again, I'm fully capable of barking out instructions. It's the home front that I feel my handicap so acutely.

This situation has been good for my pride problem. Why do I feel worthless sitting around the house (doing a blog post while my wife does the dishes)? It's partly because I derive too much worth and significance by what I do. Certainly it's fine to feel good about contributing to your household, work itself is a very good thing and being part of a family team effort is satisfying. Being honest however, based on what I am now learning, much of what I do around the house comes with the expectation of some kind of recognition. There's a sense in which I think my household contributions are what make me valued, needed, and respected. Now I'm laid up and more of a burden then a help, yet no one is complaining about it, in fact everyone seems happy to help me! What's up with that? They seem to love serving me even when I am totally unable to reciprocate. That bothers me. Why? Because I am so driven to think in terms of work equalling worth. If they love me by serving me, maybe they don't need me like I think they do? Shouldn't they be aware of their need for me? What's going on here?

God has given me a stellar wife and awesome children. Their unselfish, anxious service of their gimpy husband and father is a real show of God's grace to me. I want so badly to be recognized for what I do, yet, when I am unable to do anything, God is teaching me it is all of Him.

My current condition should be relatively short-lived but I hope I remember the attitude of service my family is exhibiting and emulate it. I hope my motivation for contributing to the household is done with a more gracious and thankful attitude going forward.

Trueman sums it up

I haven't been able to quantify how awkward the current political scene feels in a blog post. Watching clips of O'Reilly causing Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar to walk off the set of their show really captures how goofy everything has become. Infotainment and politics are so weirdly united these days-what strange, irrational times these are. Carl Trueman has a nice post on his blog that challenges ministers to steer clear of engaging in the silly banter and name calling seen on TV. Check out his thoughts here. His introduction captures part of what I've been trying to somehow quantify myself:

One of the most depressing things about the current season of political stumping in the USA is the mindless nature of so much of the discourse. The recent sight of the unbearably self-important and ill-informed Bill O'Reilly and the overwhelmingly self-righteous and equally ignorant Whoopi Goldberg squaring off in a TV spat about as realistic and spontaneous as a Hulk Hogan smackdown just about says it all.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Yea, and all things - come, not by chance

Two days after the injury, still very swollen

Last week was rough for me. On Thursday night I seriously injured my right knee playing in an indoor soccer game with my team, RPC United.

I jumped up and forward to get a head ball and came down in a bunch of guys with all my weight on one leg. I knew I was in trouble immediately as I felt my leg crumble from the knee down. When I hit the ground I could see the grotesque shape of my leg as my knee dislocated and my lower leg jammed up and over my upper leg. I have pictures from the ER, but their too nasty to post here. It was the most awful pain I have ever experienced or could imagine. I laid there with my team (and the other team) consoling me until the paramedics got there and mercifully administered morphine for my ride to the hospital. At the hospital the ER docs and nurses put me out long enough to set my leg right. I stayed overnight in the hospital so the medical team could monitor the blood flow in my lower leg. Ruptured or damaged blood vessels can go undetected and cause major problems, even death, so I was grateful for the caution.

My leg is still too swollen to do an MRI to determine the extent of the ligament/cartilage damage, so I don't know how bad it actually is. It's certain my ACL is completely torn and very likely my PCL is gone too. I'll need reconstructive surgery in a month or two. Right now I'm in a stiff brace and on crutches but should be able to walk in a week or 10 days. The hardest thing is the realization that I will not be able to play competitive soccer again. Heck, I'm just praying I can get back to jogging with my sons like I have been doing for the past year. The rehab time to be able to jog is 6-9 months minimum.

Before this happened on Thursday I was working on a sermon for Sunday night about God's providence. I needed to be reminded of the truth of God’s providence this week. Heidelberg question #27 captures the essence of biblical teaching on God’s providence-

What is meant by the providence of God? The Providence of God refers to the almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things - come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.

Am I to think this knee injury is God’s plan? Did God ordain this to happen?
Of course He did, and I am thankful for such knowledge.

A follow up question in Heidelberg states perfectly why such knowledge of God’s providence is an advantage to us:

What advantage is it to us to know that God providentially upholds all things?
Such knowledge helps us to be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.

This will be a tough road for me, but I know I am not alone and none of this is a mistake. Everything from the hand of God is good.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Not Optimistic

Observing various media outlets, especially notoriously conservative ones, might lead you to believe:

1. Republicans are going to take back both houses of Congress and win many governorships.

2. This fact will somehow make a big difference in the way things are.

I'm not so optimistic.

A change in the ruling majority seems to be merely about slightly slowing our race toward national bankruptcy, weakened international influence, and complete moral degradation...not about stopping the free fall and reversing course.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Classic W

No matter what you think of George W. Bush, he is a character unlike most modern politicians. He has avoided the limelight since leaving office two years ago making rare public appearances.

"I loved being your president. But frankly, I'm having the time of my life not being your president...I do not miss the limelight. I have zero desire to be in the press. I have zero desire to be on your TV screens. Eight years is enough of that."

RPC United wins it's sixth championship

RPC United- pound for pound the best close to 40 year old, men's Thursday division D team around- won our 6th league championship game last night. Now for the long recovery...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Governing Majority saying.....things

I have seen full clips of most of what is contained in this video, I don't think they're taken out of context in such a way as to mischaracterize statements.

Much is at stake in less than a months time. Too bad I'm not much more confident in Republican leadership.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Party in the PCA

Not to underestimate the cultural awareness of my readership, this is a parody of "Party in the USA" by Miley Cyrus. Members of the PCA will get a kick out of it, I think.

Ironically, some of the PCA features the two brothers reference aren't nearly as typical of PCA churches as they once were, which I think it too bad.

HT: Brian via Dunning

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sweet Pirlo Strike

Goals don't get much sweeter than this one by Andrea Pirlo, the Italian midfielder for AC Milan.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The years sure do fly...

These are pictures are from the interior of Wilson Presbyterian Church near Pittsburgh, PA. I took them yesterday before officiating a wedding. My phone camera doesn't do justice to the interior of this sanctuary. See their website for a better view. The building is over 100 years old with some of the most beautiful stained glass you have ever seen.

It was about 25 years ago when the Lord led me to the ministry of the Grand Island Bible Presbyterian Church in the Buffalo area and a particular youth pastor. I was a pretty squirrely teen who could really wear on a person's patience. For some reason Pastor Ben Robinson didn't kick me out of the youth group, though looking back, no one would have blamed him if he had. At the time he was one of the few adults who seemed to think God could and would use me in some way. I distinctly remember coming to love and trust Christ, but having no idea how that was supposed to translate in to action.

Pastor Ben had (and still has) a gift with people. He can find a way to connect with any kind of person, I have seen it dozens of times over the years. He has been used of God to bring many to faith in Christ, myriads of other people to a deeper relationship with Christ, and a small host of us former youth who entered vocational ministry in some capacity. Very simply, he helped me live out my profession of faith in Christ.

Shortly after a I graduated from high school and went off to Moody in Chicago, Pastor Ben accepted a call to be the pastor of Wilson Presbyterian Church, a relatively small congregation in the Bible Presbyterian denomination that came out of the liberal United Presbyterian Church in the 80's. The church is located in Wilson, which is a section of Clairton, PA in the Pittsburgh area. The area reminds me of Buffalo and other "rust belt" towns that have declined consistently since most of the steel plants began pulling out in the 70's. Still, there are dear saints who need faithful shepherds at the many churches in such towns, Pastor Ben has been such a one for 22 years now. Back in 1992, during my summer break from college, I served all summer with Pastor Ben at "Wilson Prez", gaining experience and exposure to all facets of pastoral ministry. I became friends with the various members of the church very quickly and have kept contact with many of the folk over the quickly passing years. The church was predominantly elderly, but there were a few younger families with children and I found quite a few more in the neighboring houses. We had some wonderful times of ministry and outreach back in that summer of '92.

This past weekend I had the honor of officiating the wedding of Pastor Ben's daughter, Carolyn, at Wilson Prez. To my surprise, many of the elderly folk I met during the summer of 92 were still alive and kicking. There are some strong people at that church and in that area. We're talking serious hard workers-most associated with the steel industry in some way. I stayed at Jim's house these last couple of days- he has been working as a welder in one of the manufacturing plants since his early 20's, for 34 years now. He puts in long hours. One of my favorite persons during my time at Wilson was an elder in the church named Pete. He was a spry 70 year old when I served there. I got to see he and his gracious wife Gloria at the wedding- he is now almost 90 and still giving praise to God. Pete is a true father in the faith.
Additionally I was able to see quite a few of the youth from 1992, most of whom were now married with children.

The wedding was beautiful and meaningful. I remember when the bride, Carolyn, was born to Pastor Ben and Liz. She was just a baby when I started attending church at Grand Island Bible Presbyterian Church.

The years sure do fly. It all goes by way faster than any of us realize.