Sunday, May 29, 2011

2011 KATY Ride

Brian and I are heading out after church for what has become our annual KATY trail bike ride and hobo trip across rural Missouri. This year we're adding 40 miles of road riding to make it a 300-mile bike ride. We're starting on the road at Harrisonville, picking up the KATY at Clinton, then riding past St. Charles to Machens (near St. Louis) by this Thursday evening. The wives will be waiting for us when we get to the end of the trail. Hopefully the weather cooperates and the river isn't flooding the trail.

It will be a special test for my recovering knee. I've been doing quite a bit of bike riding over the past few months in preparation and for general knee rehab.

I'll blog at you when I return, hopefully on Friday.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Get Crazy

Mark records the time when Jesus family came to take him from the pressure of the crowds that were pressing. They were worried about what had become of Jesus' life and ministry. Religious devotion was one thing, but the spectacle Jesus had become was too much for his family to bear. He was crazy, they thought. They were no doubt his craziness would get him killed.

What we observe with Jesus happens among the religious all the time. People don't mind their friends and loved ones being religious, so long as they don't get too crazy with it. So long as we are "Christian" it's OK, but "born again" or a "Jesus freak"? That's too far. When Jesus becomes your life, even those closest people to you might think you've lost it.

Mark 3:20-35 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

I suppose most of the people God used in big ways over the course of history were called crazy at one time or another. I like what Kent Hughes says in his commentary along these lines-

"Similar verdicts (being called crazy) have been rendered over Luther, Bunyan, Wesley and others. But let us note (and note well!) that given the truth of Christ and the truth of the gospel, such people are supremely sane! If the Apostle’s Creed is sensible and true, then those who believe it have aligned themselves with sanity. If Christ is who he says he is, then the sanest thing in the world is to follow him. If Christ calls us to commitment, anything else is crazy. Christianity needs more of Christ’s madness!"

Friday, May 27, 2011

Memorial Day thoughts

Having grown up the son of a military veteran, I was taught to be grateful for the country I live in and the sacrifice of so many. The efforts of thousands has allowed us to be free from the ravages of violent war and aggression on home soil that we see the world over. After my father’s death last week, I looked through an album of his old army pictures and was moved to think about the thousands of soldiers who have sacrificed for my freedom.

War is an ugly, horrible, hellish reality in this sin-torn world. Humanity has almost never enjoyed a period without war somewhere on earth. You cannot turn on a news program or website without seeing multiple wars and uprisings happening the world over. War means people- who are made in the image of God -dying. It’s an awful aberration, but necessary at times, this side of the Fall.

The last of the three chief war criminals of the Bosnian War was arrested this week. With the arrest of Ratko Mladic, it is hoped some closure can come for a group of nations that experienced a savage war that spanned 3 long years after the break up of Yugoslavia in 1991. I was in college during that awful conflict and knew several students from that war torn region of Europe. Of course, the Bosnian War came right after our own country fought in the Gulf War leading in to 1991. Since that time, we are all familiar with numerous conflicts involving our armed service men and women, at this very moment close to 200,000 American troops are on foreign soil somewhere defending out country.

At my father’s burial last week, the funeral director, himself a veteran, carefully removed the triangle folded flag from my father’s casket and turned to my mother. As he handed the flag to mom, he said- “On behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation, this flag is presented as a token of our appreciation for the honorable and faithful service rendered by your husband to his country.” My father served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. I appreciate how members of our military carry a certain honor for the whole of their life, even in death.

It has been said by many that wars are started by old men in suits but fought by young boys with guns. It’s true. Much of the politics surrounding decisions to go to war are maddening. Obviously we live in a time of great division and argument concerning our own country’s involvement in various conflicts. Nevertheless, on this Memorial Day weekend I will be thinking of the families- especially those in our church- who currently have loved one’s serving our military. I will also be thinking of the many who have been affected by family and friends who have served in such a capacity at one time or another. There’s a whole lot wrong with our country and it’s direction, that’s for sure, however there are still many things to be thankful for and appreciate. In my opinion, our military deserves a place of honor and consideration in our minds, hearts, and prayers.

Pray especially for the faithful bible-teaching, gospel-preaching, chaplains and soldiers who are being used of God to bring people to Christ. Pray for the many military families who must stay here and care for families while mom or dad are away. Whatever you do, when you get a day off on Memorial Day, think of the price paid (and still being paid) by so many who have served and sacrificed.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Facts rarely get in the way of the Gay agenda

Listening to the various voices that are fueling the homosexual agenda, you would think a large portion of society identified themselves as gay. Numbers upward of 10% are often given. The facts simply do not bare out such claims, but then again, the homosexual agenda has never been about facts. Even in this sexually sick culture, research shows less than 1.5% of the population identifies itself as gay.

Nevertheless, the homosexual agenda is powerful and politically connected. A few weeks ago Kobe Bryant got fined big money for using a term viewed as "gay bashing". Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls just got fined for a similar crime- $50,000 for calling someone an "anti-gay slur". The NBA seems to be particularly sensitive to the Homosexual agenda as some of it's stars are even recording pro-gay public announcements. There is a celebrity machine in this country that is powerful in driving opinion. Much of the awareness surrounding the gay marriage issue has come from celebrities speaking out on the matter. Celebrity advocacy of any kind of marriage is somewhat ironic, don't you think?

Things have gotten so ridiculous in our culture that even siting facts about numbers of people who identify themselves as gay or pointing out some of the illogic of the homosexual agenda gets you labeled "homophobic".

Michael Medved wrote an excellent piece for the USA Today that outlines much of what I am saying here. Check it out below.

Does it matter if only 1.4% of people are gay?

By Michael Medved

The nation's increasingly visible and influential gay community embraces the notion of sexual orientation as an innate, immutable characteristic, like left-handedness or eye color. But a major federal sex survey suggests a far more fluid, varied life experience for those who acknowledge same-sex attraction.

The results of this scientific research shouldn't undermine the hard-won respect recently achieved by gay Americans, but they do suggest that choice and change play larger roles in sexual identity than commonly assumed. The prestigious study in question (released in March by the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) discovered a much smaller number of "gays, lesbians and homosexuals" than generally reported by the news media. While pop- culture frequently cites the figure of one in 10 (based on 60-year-old, widely discredited conclusions from pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey) the new study finds only 1.4% of the population identifying with same-sex orientation.

Moreover, even among those who describe themselves as homosexual or bisexual (a grand total of 3.7% of the 18-44 age group), overwhelming majorities (81%) say they've experienced sex with partners of the opposite gender. Among those who call themselves heterosexual, on the other hand, only a tiny minority (6%) ever engaged in physical intimacy of any kind with a member of the same sex These figure indicate that 94% of those living heterosexual lives felt no physical attraction to members of the same sex, but the great bulk of self-identified homosexuals and bisexuals feel enough intimate interest in the opposite gender to engage in erotic contact at some stage in their development.

A one-way street

Gay pride advocates applaud the courage of those who "come out," discovering their true nature as homosexual after many years of heterosexual experience. But enlightened opinion denies a similar possibility of change in the other direction, deriding anyone who claims straight orientation after even the briefest interlude of homosexual behavior and insisting they are phony and self-deluding. By this logic, heterosexual orientation among those with past gay relationships is always the product of repression and denial, but homosexual commitment after a straight background is invariably natural and healthy. In fact, numbers show huge majorities of those who "ever had same sex sexual contact" do not identify long-term as gay. Among women 18-44, for instance, 12.5% report some form of same sex contact at some point in their lives, but among the older segment of that group (35-44), only 0.7% identify as homosexual and 1.1% as bisexual.

In other words, for the minority who may have experimented with gay relationships at some juncture in their lives, well over 80% explicitly renounced homosexual (or even bisexual) self-identification by age of 35. For the clear majority of males (as well as women) who report gay encounters, homosexual activity appears to represent a passing phase, or even a fleeting episode, rather than an unshakable, genetically pre-determined orientation.

The once popular phrase "sexual preference" has been indignantly replaced with the term "sexual orientation" because political correctness now insists there is no factor of willfulness or volition in the development of erotic identity. This may well be the case for the 94% of males and 87% of females (ages 18-44) who have never experienced same-sex contact of any kind and may never have questioned their unwavering straight outlook — an outlook deemed "normal" in an earlier age.

‘Let go’ of one in 10

For the less than 2% of men and women who see themselves as gay, however, the issue of sexual orientation remains vastly more complicated. Within a month of the release of the CDC/NCHS report, one of the world's most respected think tanks on gay life confirmed some of its most surprising findings, without specifically referencing the recent government study. UCLA's Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy offered a new estimate of homosexual identification: concluding that 1.7% of Americans say they're gay, and a slightly larger group (1.8%) identified as bisexual — by definition attracted to both genders and shaping their sexual behavior through some mixture of inclination and preference.

Brad Sears of the Williams Institute defended the accuracy of these numbers, suggesting gay leaders "let go" of previous, unrealistic estimates of homosexual orientation. He told the Associated Press that "with other populations of a similar size of 2% to 4%, we don't question whether there are too many or too few." For instance, no one suggests Jewish Americans should be treated with contempt or dismissed as irrelevant to the Christian majority because they number below 2% of the U.S. population. Nor would the news media shy away from reporting that in an age of religious conversion, choice plays a role in adding to and subtracting from the Jewish community.

Religious identity arises from birth, upbringing, instinct, even destiny, but the fact that it almost always includes some element of choice doesn't entitle the believer to less respect. By the same token, it's no sign of hostility or homophobia to point to recent data suggesting that life experience and personal decisions play roles alongside inborn inclination in the complex, sometimes inconclusive, emergence of the gay and lesbian identity.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I buried my Dad today

Together with my Mom, family, extended family, and beloved church family, I committed my father's earthly shell to the ground today. It was hard.

Here is the video tribute for my father.

I long for the resurrection. Come quickly Lord Jesus.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I lost my Dad today

My father hadn't felt well for the last 18 months struggling with heart related issues. Without getting in to much detail, he had several dizzy spells last Wednesday and so went to the hospital where things seemed to digress over a few days reaching it's worse point this morning when his heart stopped. He was just shy of his 80th birthday.

I know lots of people have had poor fathers, maybe even mean ones. Too many have had no fathers in their life. I talk to quite a few people who have lots of emotional baggage because of things their father did or didn't do. I think having a faithful, loving, father is rare. While I understand the laments of those who suffered under bad dads, I'm not such a victim. My dad was awesome. No, he wasn't even near perfect and did his share of boneheaded things, he would tell you the same. But I'm being straight up when I tell you he was a great dad to me. He was a model of hard work, loyalty, sticking up for what you believe, and not taking yourself too seriously. My dad was always joking around.

Dad and mom moved to KC to be closer to us about 5 years ago. It was a big step for my dad having lived in the Western New York area for most of his 74 years when they came here. He knew how much it meant to my mother to live near the grand kids. My dad was your classic Italian Roman Catholic. Up until about 15 years ago he never missed Mass. He would tell you he was a Christian, but couldn't articulate what that meant beyond saying he was Catholic. I went through an obnoxious stage of trying to "get him saved". I meant well, but looking back, I think he trusted Christ for his life and eternity, but as so many Roman Catholics are, he was biblically illiterate beyond some basic truths. My mother convinced him to start attending a bible-preaching church in Western New York and we all noticed a huge change in his spiritual sensitivity. He started expressing his faith in Christ and interest in learning what Scripture taught. When they moved to Kansas City, Mom and Dad jumped in to the life of Redeemer immediately. One of the most moving days of my life was hearing my father give his testimony of faith in Christ to the elders of Redeemer to join the church. Most evangelicals, with all due respect, don't think too much of church membership and changing churches. For a Roman Catholic of 75 years to leave the Pope and join one of Luther's schismatic sects...that's huge. He did so with complete confidence in Christ and God's call on his life. The last 5 years of my father's life were spent growing in Christ and serving the Church in all sorts of ways. The men of Redeemer, especially a few select ones, showed special respect and care for my dad and he was overwhelmed with their love. I love many things about Redeemer, but the way this congregation has loved my parents staggers me. Every Sunday we have dinner with my parents, my father would have many things to say about the wonderful people of Redeemer on a regular basis.

We are all grieved. I'm an emotional basket case making all sorts of decisions I usually just give advice to mourning families concerning. It's a strange maze to navigate. My mother is a strong lady, but she just lost her partner of 41 plus years. It's tough, I won't lie. He wasn't doing great leading in to this, but his drop off was pretty sudden and shocking. Your mind plays tricks with you regarding the "what if's".

I'm sure I'll blog more about my father and the great memories I have of him. For now I'll sign off by giving genuine praise to God for blessing me with such a wonderful dad. My children love him as "Pepa" and are heartbroken about his passing. My wife was one of his favorite people on earth. He affectionately called her "daughter in law" all the time. Dad was one of a kind, well loved by his wife, and fondly considered by many. Even his outspoken crazy ideas were expressed humorously and with self-deprecation. I'm just totally confident in his presence with Christ right now. He didn't trust any of his own righteousness to be right with God. Dad knew Christ and rested in Him. It's been a hard day, but a good day. I miss my dad.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Two ways of handling a challenging issue

The bible is very clear about sexual ethics. Sexual activity is reserved for marriage, which by definition, is one man and one woman. All other sexual activity falls outside of God's design and is forbidden, not to mention damaging.

Such a position draws the ire of a secular progressive society like ours, the current struggle about the definition of marriage is an example. Like it or not, little by little, the secularists, irreligious, and ignorant, are winning the movement toward redefining marriage to include two people of the same sex in a covenanted, marital, relationship. Along with this cultural shift toward the validating of so-called gay marriage is an increasing pressure on churches to pipe down about condemning homosexual practice. Soon to follow will be more and more legal pressure to put a gag order on pastors regarding public statements about homosexual practice being sinful. Clearly our culture is slouching toward Gomorrah more and more.

In the last week there have been two examples of how churches or Christian institutions are dealing with this touchy issue.

Example #1- The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) has officially removed any restriction for gay people to be ordained as ministers in their denomination. The PCUSA constitution will be altered to allow openly gay people in same-sex relationships to be ordained as ministers, elders and deacons. The prior constitutional requirement for clergy to live “in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness” is thus done away with.

So, the PCUSA has completed it's utter sell out to secular culture and is no longer any kind of salt whatsoever. The PCUSA is a dying denomination, and hopefully this decision will only hasten it's death. A friend of mine, a former PCUSA minister whom I greatly respect, has lamented for years about the denomination's loose leaf bible. He is exactly right. Back in the 60's the PCUSA stopped requiring ministers to believe and teach that Jesus was God (as Scripture says), so it was only a matter of time before this day would come. Oh, don't get me wrong, things could get more wicked in the PCUSA, but I do think any church that exists in the PCUSA with a twinge of appreciation for biblical authority (I do know a couple) will be forced to leave now. If they don't, they'll be assimilated.

On the very challenging issue of being faithful to the bible's teaching regarding sexual purity, specifically related to the issue of homosexual practice, the PCUSA has again failed miserably, and tragically.

Example #2- Wheaton College has boldly moved to address the issue by allowing the formation of an "advocacy" group (called OneWheaton) for students struggling with same sex attraction. It should be noted that Wheaton president Phil Ryken, a PCA minister, is a key player in this situation. The immediate response to Wheaton's move was rash by some (charging that Wheaton had compromised or might even be pro-homosexual rights). The press reports were a touch confusing. President Ryken acted carefully to explain the school's actions. See an email he sent to the student body April 29 (and others) below:

This morning, a group of Wheaton College alumni distributed a letter on campus to announce the formation of OneWheaton, an advocacy group of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) and questioning alumni and allies. According to the group’s website, its intent is to counter “prevailing ideas about homosexuality in the Wheaton community.”

Wheaton College agrees with OneWheaton’s stated desire to “affirm the full humanity and dignity of every human being, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Our Community Covenant upholds the commitment of every Christian to loving God, and to loving our neighbors as ourselves. We see each member of the human family as created in the image of God himself, and thus each of immeasurable value. This includes our neighbors and alumni who identify as LGBTQ.

We recognize that the needs of LGBTQ individuals present a particular challenge for institutions like Wheaton. Many have experienced insensitive or callous responses in this community, for which we repent and seek forgiveness. We repudiate and condemn violence and injustice directed toward LGBTQ people.

We also remain committed to following Christ as faithful disciples, which entails conforming our lives to God’s truth revealed in the Scriptures, and specifically to a biblically-based stance on sexual ethics. In this, we seek to prepare our students to maintain fidelity with the historic stance of the Church on these issues. Our Community Covenant again speaks for the College on this matter:

We understand that our calling includes . . .[t]he call to pursue holiness in every aspect of our thought and behavior (2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 4:7; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:15-16)... Scripture condemns… sexual immorality, such as the use of pornography (Matt. 5:27-28), pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and woman (Rom. 1:21-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31).

We stand with LGBTQ persons before God as persons created in God’s own image, and also as sinful persons in need of God’s forgiveness and love through Jesus Christ, God’s Son. We carry a burden for our students, faculty, staff and alumni who experience same-sex attraction because of the pain they so often experience, and pray that we can be a community that loves those who identify as LGBTQ. While we recognize that Wheaton’s stance may be unsatisfying to some of our alumni, we remain resolved to respond with truth and grace.

So, Wheaton seems to be attempting to address the challenge of people who struggle with same sex attraction. I know some will think Wheaton is compromising by not calling out such students and disciplining them, but honestly, from what I see, it seems like they are handling this very well. They are not condoning homosexual practice, in fact, by my reading, they are saying homosexual practice is a sin. Practically, they are trying to be real and address the matter instead of ignoring it like most churches, schools, and other Christian institutions do. Let's face it- it's a tough issue that makes said organizations uncomfortable. As a result, people who struggle with same sex attraction never really have the benefit of learning how to deal with their struggle and properly react to it. They are made to feel like pariahs and often gravitate to groups that claim homosexual practice is compatible with being a Christian (which eventually leads to full blown advocacy of homosexual practice as per the PCUSA). Now, I don't know all that Wheaton intends to do with this group and where it will end up, but at first blush, it seems like a wise, careful course of action.

Like I said, this is a challenging issue. Two responses of note- one horrible (but not surprising) and one bold (seeming to honor Scripture and care for struggling sinners). May God judge the one and help the other- for His glory.

As for me and my preaching/teaching. Please pray I always preach what the bible says, even if it gets me in trouble. Please pray I am pastorally compassionate and address the full range of sexual sins- of which homosexuality, quite frankly, is a small part of what faces us sexually today. Please pray for God's grace to all of us sinners and at the same time make His Church salty again.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A.B. Bruce on Jesus' Choosing of the Twelve

In preaching through Mark, I have come to the naming of the disciples, who would become Apostles. A.B. Bruce makes insightful comments about Jesus' choosing of the twelve-

“Such were the men whom Jesus chose to be with Him while He was on this earth, and to carry on His work after He left it. Such were the men whom the church celebrates as the ‘glorious company of the apostles.’ The praise is merited; but the glory of the twelve was not of this world. In a worldly point of view they were a very insignificant company indeed—a band of poor illiterate Galilean provincials, utterly devoid of social consequence, not likely to be chosen by one having supreme regard to prudential considerations. Why did Jesus choose such men? Was He guided by feelings of antagonism to those possessing social advantages, or of partiality for men of His own class? No; His choice was made in true wisdom. If He chose Galileans mainly, it was not from provincial prejudice against those of the south; if, as some think, He chose two or even four of his own kindred, it was not from nepotism; if He chose rude, unlearned, humble men, it was not because He was animated by any petty jealousy of knowledge, culture, or good birth. If any rabbi, rich man, or ruler had been willing to yield himself unreservedly to the service of the kingdom, no objection would have been taken to him on account of his acquirements, possessions, or titles. The case of Saul of Tarsus, the pupil of Gamaliel, proves the truth of this statement. Even Gamaliel himself would not have been objected to, could he have stooped to become a disciple of the unlearned Nazarene. But, alas! neither he nor any of his order would condescend so far, and therefore the despised One did not get an opportunity of showing His willingness to accept as disciples and choose for apostles such as they were.”

[A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve (1894), 34-3.]

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thoughts on the death of Bin Laden

Many wiser pundits will comment on how we should think of Bin Laden's death, so I won't say much.

Osama Bin Laden received the earthly justice he deserved for his murderous ways, just as Romans 13 describes. We can be sure he is receiving ultimate justice by God's judgment as well.

I am appreciative that Bin Laden received this justice and will be personally unable to continue perpetrating more atrocities. I am grateful, in this instance, for the government bearing the sword and carrying out God's wrath on the wrong doer. (See Romans 13:1-5)

I am very cautious to be happy or celebratory about this event. We do see celebrations when the enemies of God are killed in Scripture (Goliath, being one example), but the focus of celebration is on God's greatness more than personal vengeance.

To be honest, I am no different than Osama Bin Laden, except for the grace of God in Christ. The only thing that stops me from being a heinous murderer is God's grace. I am morally bankrupt apart from God's grace. There is no righteousness in me apart from Christ's imputed righteousness by faith. My heart is black if not for the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. I'm still a terrible sinner, even despite being a recipient of God's amazing grace in Christ.

Justice, good. Self-righteous gloating, bad.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bin Laden according to Bell

It has been reported a U.S. special forces operation has successfully resulted in the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan (not some obscure cave in Afghanistan).

Just think, according to Rob Bell, Osama will eventually end up in heaven.

Obama sticks it to Trump

Giving credit where it's due requires me to post this hilarious moment by our President as he sticks it to Donald Trump.

I do not wish to see President Obama have a second term, but a Donald Trump presidency is frightening too.

I like what Chris Rock said- "I'm not voting for Trump...he'll find a younger, prettier nation, and leave us for it."