Monday, January 30, 2012

Schaeffer on the Gospel

Here's a video clip of Dr. Schaeffer pretty close to the end of his life, around 1983 I believe.

As much as I enjoy watching old video clips and listening to sermons and lectures, it's his books I cherish most. I plan to re-read "True Spirituality" this year.

Happy Birthday Francis Schaeffer

Obviously Francis Schaeffer isn't concerned with the year of his birth from where he is right now, but for those of us touched by his life and work, it's a special day.

100 years ago today, Francis A. Schaeffer was born. My life was influenced greatly by Schaeffer's ministry.

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.   - Hebrews 13:7

For a whole lot more on Francis Schaeffer, go to the Francis Schaeffer Studies site here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hug someone from Buffalo today...

If you have a heart, you will find someone who hails from the Buffalo/Western New York region and hug them.

Today is the anniversary of one of the darkest days in Buffalo history.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dempsey is America's best

Landon Donovan is often recognized as being the best American soccer player, possibly of all time.  For me, I cast my vote for Clint Dempsey who consistently contributes to his team in a more difficult league.

Get a load of what Dempsey did in his latest game yesterday-

<a href='^en-us_fblike&src=FLPl:embed::uuids' target='_new' title='Clint Dempsey is sensational' >Video: Clint Dempsey is sensational</a>

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lindy Ruff as Salvatore Tessio

I have been a Buffalo Sabres fan since the day I was born, literally.  The Sabres first season was 1970-71.  I have always loved my Sabres.  Buffalo is a beleaguered city as part of the "rust belt" that has failed to regain some of it's bygone luster like Cleveland and Pittsburgh have.  Countless companies have vacated Western New York over the years, but the greater Buffalo area remains proud and religiously supportive of their two professional teams- the Bills (NFL) and the Sabres (NHL).  Many cities are zealously supportive of their teams, for Buffalonians there's almost an "Avatar" (movie reference)  like connection between the fans and the teams. The teams are a way to rise above the economic difficulties of life in Buffalo.  

Buffalo is near Canada and thus a hockey town with a whole bunch of hockey players. Just like every kid in Mexico plays soccer, at least in their neighborhood, so also does every kid in Western New York play hockey.  Hockey is played in driveways, city streets, gyms, church basements, frozen ponds, and state of the art rinks.  Every kid plays hockey in some way when they grow up in Western New York.  Buffalo is a hockey town in love with it's team.  

The National Hockey League has a salary cap which makes for reasonable parity in the league, effectively allowing for small market clubs like the Sabres to have a shot at winning the most storied trophy in sports- the Stanley Cup.  At the same time, Buffalo has never had an owner willing to go right to the cap limit and pay what it takes to put a yearly contender on the ice.  The Sabres have been to the Cup finals twice in their 40 years (1975 & 1999), with both series ending as terrible disappointments (NO GOAL!).  Close calls are all Sabres' fans have for Cup memories.  When the NHL had a major labor dispute and lockout in 2004, the Sabres actually emerged quite well with their GM, Darcy Regier, and coach, Lindy Ruff, doing a great job building a team that could compete with the new league structure and dynamics.  Through and beyond the lockout, Regier and Ruff weathered ownership changes, financial scandals, horrible jerseys and a steady loss of players for several years.  Since 2004, the Sabres have put some excellent teams on the ice while staying well under the salary cap.  They became the league model for winning (regular season games) on the cheap.  Despite consistently sporting a competitive team, they were known for cheapness and fan frustration reached a fevered pitch after a truly special and stellar 2006-07 campaign ended in the Eastern Conference finals followed immediately by the painful loss of their two best players (Chris Drury and Danny Briere) because ownership wouldn't pay them.  After 2007 a feeling of futility started to sink in to the Sabres fan base.  Owner Tom Golisano was just not going to pay for the team the city of Buffalo so desperately wanted...probably even needed.  

Then, last year, like something from a fairy tale, a former Buffalo native who bled blue and gold, and also happened to be worth a few billion bucks, showed up on the radar.  It was like Gandalf coming with an army of horsemen to rescue battle-worn Rohan from the Orcs at Helm's Deep (another movie reference).  Terry Pegula seemed to come from no where to save the franchise.  He swooped down and bought the team promising to bring a Stanley Cup in three seasons!  Now, such a promise is impossible to fulfill, but Buffalo must be allowed to dream.   Terry Pegula, for a few months starting last Spring, re-ignited a flame that had all but burned out.  Sabres pride was reborn with a new vengeance and hope.  The team finished the season strong and Pegula went after just about every high level free agent he could get in the off season.  They were unable to sign the free agent off season prize (Richards), but landed several of the best available players.  In a totally un-Sabre like move, he also signed several young, promising Sabres to long term, expensive contracts.  Pegula clearly demonstrated that money would be no object.  Going forward, Buffalo would be on par with any other big spending club in the league.  Such a philosophy is utterly and completely foreign to Buffalo fans.  The city was absolutely lit up with excitement about the future, including me.

The new season started with a bang as the re-tooled Sabres looked pretty solid out of the gate in a tour of Germany.  Then, the wheels started to wobble, injuries occurred, inconsistent goal tending, and a punchless offense revealed a team no where near the right trajectory to win a Stanley Cup in ten years, let alone three.  As I write, the Sabres have lost 11 straight road games and sit four games under .500. They are three spots out of the playoffs in a league where most teams make it.  The wheels are off.  The team is just plain bad right now.

What's the problem?  Well, that's the subject being discussed in Buffalo 24/7.  The Sabres faithful are distraught and a dark cloud hangs over the city (of course, the Bills don't help).

I am afraid to suggest what I must say.  It feels almost sacrilegious. 

I fully realize that Lindy Ruff is an institution in Buffalo, and rightfully so.  He played many seasons with the Sabres and typified the kind of heart Buffalo folk love.  He was not a very talented hockey player, but hustled his butt off, played whatever position he was asked, and stood up to the biggest bullies in the league during the 80's.  I grew up watching him. No Sabres fan will forget Billy Smith spearing him in the eye and his return to the ice with a big old bandage on his peeper.  It's no wonder he became an excellent coach. He knew how to motivate his teammates, and he proved he could do the same with players as a coach.  He is the longest tenured coach in the NHL. Winning 300 games in the NHL is an incredible achievement, especially with one team.  Working closely with GM Darcy Regier, Ruff crafted some darn good teams, especially the 2006-07 Eastern Conference final squad.  Poor Lindy, like that year, had to watch player after player-that he developed- sign for more money with other clubs.  

You would think Pegula's arrival with fists full of money and a somewhat surprising stamp of approval on Darcy Regier could push the team over the top. Sure, no one expected huge things already this year, but improvement on last year's finish was a given in most people's minds.  Instead the team looks listless, passionless, and heartless-words that could never be used to describe Lindy Ruff- yet fit the team perfectly right now.  This is Lindy Ruff's team, there is no escaping that fact. 

It appears that Ruff has lost this team.  The team simply doesn't respect him enough to play with the passion that is necessary to win games in the NHL.  Shame on the players for sure. They are supposed to be professionals, but have quit, at least on a subconscious level.  Their lethargic efforts come from a lack of motivation.  It is the coach's job to motivate.  It doesn't seem Lindy Ruff can motivate this team any longer.

Why is this so?  It is rare for a coach in the professional ranks of any sport to have a long tenure.  In high school, college, and the minors coaches can use the same techniques over and over because of rapid player turn over.  In the pro ranks, unchanging techniques eventually grow stale. There are only a few exceptions to this coaching longevity "rule" which seems to have caught up to Lindy Ruff.  Ruff's approach isn't working with this team and he most likely won't be able to adapt.  It's very probable he can go to another team and have good success, good coaches do so regularly.  But as for his time with the Sabres, it seems to be over and we all know it.  This isn't an indictment on Lindy Ruff and his coaching ability, it's simply the way of all professional coaches eventually. 

Western New York sports talk radio, which I listen to somewhat regularly via the Web, is ablaze with speculation about Ruff's future. The airwaves are thick with the reality of what must soon happen.  I am reminded of the scene from The Godfather (still another movie reference) when Tessio is revealed to be the traitor and therefore must be eliminated.  He enters the Corleone compound and is immediately seized to be taken to his fate.  Everyone liked Tessio and he liked them, yet mob rules dictated the way it had to be. It was a sad event, but everyone knew it had to be that way.

Lindy Ruff is no traitor, he has earned his spot in the Sabres pantheon, but the reality of the immediate situation feels the same as the certainty of what had to happen to Tessio.  

How to become a foster family

I don't care if people know we're a foster family except that I've been told my position as a pastor might compel others to support foster care by writing about it. How's that for an introduction?

We became a foster family a tad over three years ago.  I prefer to think of a couple becoming "foster parents" as better described as a "foster family".  You are providing a family situation for a child who cannot have one for some reason.  It could be a long term placement, or just a few days or weeks.  In our three years we have had 8 different foster children in our home, with one of those children being the little girl we have had for almost two years.  In our case, we have our own children (three boys), so all the more reason to think of ourselves as a foster family.  Our boys are just as involved with the children as we are.  Further, my mother, who lives close to us, is also very involved in the life of our family, and with those foster children we may have.  We are a foster family.  It really has to be that way, in my opinion. Every family member has to be called to this ministry.

How do you become a foster family?  I don't know about every state, but in Kansas, here is how it works-

1.  MAPP Class. If you are a couple, both must take a class called MAPP.  MAPP stands for Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting (MAPP).  MAPP class is the state required training course to be certified as a foster or adoptive parent in Kansas.  I think this is true for most states.  The class is usually offered somewhere in the evening, one night a week for ten weeks.  Each class is 3 hours long.  It basically covers every aspect of foster parenting.  In Kansas there are several foster/adoption agencies that provide the class.  The agency we use is TFI. Another agency in the KC area is KVC.   Contact either place to find out when and where the next MAPP classes will be held.

2. Get Licensed. After completing MAPP class, you must contract with a foster/adoptive agency to become licensed.  These are different from private adoption agencies.  TFI and KVC mentioned above are  private foster/adoption agencies that contract with the state (SRS is the state agency) to train and provide foster and adoptive resources.  We contracted with TFI who helped us through the foster/adoption licensing process.  The licensing process includes a state approved "Home Study" conducted by an agency assigned social worker.  The Home Study is an extensive analysis and overview of your home situation (family dynamics and your actual physical house) that is used to determine if you are qualified to be a foster parent. Like us, you may have to make some physical modifications to your home in order to be licensed. There is quite a bit of paper work involved in licensing, the process can take 3-6 months.  Your agency will walk you through the whole process very helpfully.  TFI has been a great agency to work with.  In your licensing process, you will have the opportunity to choose what age span you want to be licensed for.  This depends partly on your Home Study results.  In our case, we opted for an age 0-5 license.  There are personal reasons for this which I'll address in an upcoming post.  If you are open and qualified, you can license in a way that steers unusual medical condition placements to you.

You can reasonably expect the whole process of becoming a licensed foster family to take a minimum of 9 months.  MAPP class is usually a three month commitment (unless you take an accelerated schedule) and Home Study/Licensing takes 3-6 months (more likely, 6 months).

3.  Start taking placements.  Once you are licensed, your agency will begin calling you as new children come in to the foster system.  You will get a phone call from a call center, which could come at any time, night or day, and be asked if you can take a placement.  The call center will give you all the immediate information they have so you can decide, but it's not usually too exhaustive.  We got a call saying they had a young toddler with "some burns".  We said "yes".  He turned out to have severe burns over 30% of his body and required quite a bit of medical attention.  We're very glad we said yes, but it was a pretty challenging situation we didn't know was coming. You never have to take a particular placement.  You decide on a call by call, situation by situation basis.  I will write my thoughts on how to decide on what placements you take in a future post.  It took us a while to get our first placement, but once we did, we had regular placements for over a year before we took in our current foster child, who was a newborn at the time.  There are different kinds of placement lengths, some are known to be long term, some are short "respite"care cases (where you relieve another foster family for a week or so), some might be a medium length stay.  In all cases, there will be challenging situations that have caused the child or children to come in to foster care.  Foster care is not for the faint of heart and people who are easily alarmed or freaked out are probably not best suited for this kind of ministry.  More on that in a future post.  

On one hand, becoming a foster family is straight forward.  On the other hand, it involves some time, quite a bit of tedium, and some privacy intrusion.  If you are one of those anti-government types, you won't like various state agents and social workers popping in and out regularly.  If you practice something like spanking (as we do with our own children), you have to be willing to agree not to use such discipline with a foster child.  Obviously such a thing will create an interesting dynamic in your home if you have children of your own.

In a post coming soon, I'll share some of our personal experiences and perspectives and give some humble advice to those who are contemplating becoming a foster family.  One thing is for sure, and a reason why you don't see me posting on our foster family experience too much- no one should be guilted in to doing this ministry.  Being a foster family makes you NO more spiritual than any other Christian.  Foster care is not for everyone in the church, but everyone in the church should be supportive.  Yes, I think more should consider it than probably are, but it's not something that should become a test of spirituality or a means to be proud.  It's a calling that will basically feel natural and not require constant attention and acknowledgement from others..

Posts on foster care coming soon:

The motivation for being a foster family
Determining which foster placements you should take
Foster care as a family calling and ministry
Foster care to adoption

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pliny to Trajan on the Christians

Pliny was a governor of a Roman province at the beginning of the Second Century.  He was monitoring those who identified themselves as Christians in order to make report to the Emperor Trajan.  He wrote the following to Trajan around 100 AD.

They also declared that the totality of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a certain day to chant verses antiphonally amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves with an oath, not in a criminal conspiracy, but to abstain from fraud, banditry, and adulteration, to commit no breach of trust, and not to renege on a deposit. After completing this foolishness, it was their custom to disperse and reassemble later to take food of an common and innocuous type; but they had in fact given up this practice since my edict, issued on your instructions, which banned all associations.

Interesting description, don't you think?  

Saturday, January 14, 2012

NY lesson in Etiquette

I will be the first to admit we New Yorkers aren't known for our being overly polite.  On the flip side, we tell it like it is.  None of that fake southern backhanded pseudo-polite "bless your heart" stuff from us New Yorkers (unless we're being sarcastic or want you to know we're insulting you).

With all of that said, I can't stand when I say "thank you" while paying someone for a service rendered or a product purchased and they respond "no problem".

So, it's no problem for you to take my money and give me what I payed for?  Well, I'm so happy for you!  I didn't mean to put you out giving you my money.

I see the response of "no problem" to "thank you" as a rude step back from "you're welcome".  How about "my pleasure"? I'm sure some witty sort (probably from Texas) might challenge me about expecting to hear a "you're welcome" after my saying "thank you".  Such a person might say I shouldn't expect politeness in return for politeness.  Well, sorry, but I do expect a polite response after I give you my money.  If you are going to tell me "no problem" for taking my money, then just say nothing at all, that would be better.  Saying "no problem" is fine if you're doing a person a favor for nothing, but not for rendering services or products that you charge money for.

I'm thinking I might start a regular post on Reepicheep under the heading of "Another Lesson in NY Etiquette".  What do you think?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Reepicheep gets an overhaul

Reepicheep is five years old this week, so it's time for a slight overhaul.  I hope you like the new format. If you don't like it, give it time, you will eventually.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Some thoughts on the "Missional Church Movement"

Every few years a new label is given to a movement in the church, usually some branch of the church that considers itself evangelical (a slippery term that used to mean belief in the bible as God's inerrant Word and Jesus as the only way of salvation). In the last twenty years alone we have seen movements labeled "spiritual warfare", "seeker sensitive", "church growth", "house church", "word of faith", "emerging church", and "new Calvinism". The most recent label I hear tossed around is "missional" or "incarnational". Of course, not everyone means the exact same thing by these terms, but a relatively common explanation from those who say they are "missional" is as follows- missional churches see their primary function as one of actively moving into a community to embody and enflesh the word, deed, and life of Jesus into every nook and cranny. To some degree, missional churches are a reaction to the kind of church that is all talk and no action. They are responding to "holy huddle" churches that seem to dichotomize what they do on Sunday morning with everything else in their life.

In each of these movements there are things to be commended. Each of these movements are in some way an reaction to a perceived or real deficiencies in the church at large. each of these movements there are inherent weaknesses. Each seem to eventually wane and morph in to something else. The modern "missional" movement provides a worthy challenge to those of us in more "traditional" evangelical (and Reformed) churches (I despise most of the labels I just used...but I'm not sure how else to describe "us"). Nevertheless, I have long believed the missional movement has a lack of intentional, biblically deep discipleship among it's members (I know, such a statement will get a rise out of some of my "missional friends"). The drumbeat of "community" and "incarnational living" is nice, but without a communal commitment to the Word and Sacraments, and an accompanying accountability between church leadership and church members, what are we left with? We need more communal living in our churches and should reach out to the larger community far more than we do. Furthermore, there shouldn't be a dichotomy between who we are at church and the rest of our life. At the same time, however, we ought not stop being the church God ordained- committing ourselves to biblical, Christ-centered, worship and holistic discipleship. What is true and what to do is our calling. Biblical exposition, doctrinal study, and theological training are necessary callings for a God-honoring church. Often times these features are viewed as too impractical and theoretical by missional church folk.

Michael Breen wrote an excellent post on the "Missional Church" that I hope you read in it's entirety here. Here's a blip to get you started-

It’s time we start being brutally honest about the missional movement that has emerged in the last 10-15 years: Chances are better than not it’s going to fail.

That may seem cynical, but I’m being realistic. There is a reason so many movements in the Western church have failed in the past century: They are a car without an engine. A missional church or a missional community or a missional small group is the new car that everyone is talking about right now, but no matter how beautiful or shiny the vehicle, without an engine, it won’t go anywhere.

So what is the engine of the church? Discipleship. I’ve said it many times: If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Great Hymns to start the New Year (with cool named authors)

We sang two of my favorite hymns this morning- Praise the Savior and Of the Father's Love Begotten.

Both have ancient words written by guys with really cool names.

Venantius Fortunatus (Praise the Savior written around the 6th Century )

Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (Of the Father's Love Begotten written around the 5th Century)

I have always been impressed with how thoroughly Trinitarian these hymns are. They give a very worthy pattern for writing good hymns.