Thursday, February 28, 2013

March Madness

I'm guessing either Scola or Turkson will be the next Roman Pontiff.  The chance of the conclave choosing me are 1 in 1,000,000,000,000 or thereabouts.  So yes, I'm saying there's a chance!

The Kingdom rolls forward...

Few things get under my skin like statements that practically relate American Christianity with Christianity.  It's like Christianity is relegated to this small nation of 350 million people.  I even heard one pastor label this era as "Post Christendom".  That's ridiculous.

Christendom is a term for the worldwide community of Christians.  I would definitely concede we are living in "Post Christian" America, but not a Post-Christendom world. No way.  More people identify with Christianity than any other religion- including Islam.  Now, I know not all of the 2 billion people claiming Christianity are born again (nor are the close to 2 billion Muslims faithful Islamists..thankfully), but nevertheless, Christendom is growing, not shrinking. Christendom still makes up over 1/3 the population on planet earth.  We are not in "Post Christendom".

Some observe the lack of effect the Church seems to be having on American culture and paint a broad stroke over the world regarding Christianity.  If Christianity isn't transforming culture then it must not exist, some would say.  While I wouldn't label myself an outright transformationalist, I do think a faithful, pious, church, will impact culture significantly. However, such impact might be that of a lone prophet chirping out in a vast sea of unbelieving, disobedient, people (picture Jeremiah).  Still though, the Church will be known and she will make an impact.  The Church's impact won't always be in the form of mass conversions or some kind of popular status. Conversions are God's business. Simply put, the Church must be faithful to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments.  Some epochs will see God give great fruit to the Church's efforts, other times we'll be called to endure lots of opposition and difficulty.  We are living in times that are sliding toward more difficulty and persecution for Christians, at least in the U.S.  To be sure, however, we are not living in any sort of Post Christendom epoch.

Even conservative statistics show the African and Asian churches growing by millions annually.  Yes, I said millions.  I just talked to a Ugandan pastor who has personally overseen the planting of 5 medium sized Reformed churches in his region of the country, over the past 15 years.  Reformed churches are in the minority for such church growth.  I know missionaries working in "closed" Asian countries who testify to nothing short of an epic revival and evangelistic explosion in that region of the world. Remember, it could mean your livelihood or life to claim Christ in many of these places.  There's every reason to believe the Asian evangelistic explosion is authentic. We're not talking Joel Osteen Christians here.  I think it is a mistake to think, based on American Christianity, that Christianity the world over is lagging.  It simply is not true.  The Kingdom rolls on.  Governments come and go.  The Church's outward exposure waxes and wanes.  Sometimes revival is evident and clearly shows itself in a given culture.  Other times there is a slow boil below the surface.  Yes, the church sometimes appears as a lone dessert rose.

When the Church is faithful to preach the gospel, sinners repent and more are added to the Kingdom.  Honestly, I think one of the reasons for such a dismal sense about American Christianity is the lack of faithfulness on the part of the Church to do the most essential task of faithfully preaching of the gospel. Many American churches have done well to exercise mercy to those around us by providing for people physically, but they have forgotten or forsaken the delivery of the Word of Life.  We should do both.  Too many American churches think people know the gospel message, therefore we need to be feeding and clothing everyone. How about bringing the message of Christ (in words) while also ministering the heart of Christ (deeds)? I believe the chief mistake of the American church is forsaking a clear and constant delivery of the gospel.

Thankfully, such unfaithfulness is not rampant in the Church the world over.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Flashback: Driveway Hockey in Grand Island,NY

Taking a few shots, for old time's sake, in my driveway this past Thursday. It wasn't the same without the likes of Graham Pagano and a big garage door to shoot on. 

We really don't get much snow in Kansas City.  In my sixteen years of living here, I can't remember a bigger single snowfall than the foot of white stuff we got this past Thursday.  We shoveled the driveway as a family.

As I stood in the newly cleared driveway, a combination of feeling a little sweaty, yet cold, coupled with the sight of our shoveled driveway lined with a short wall of snow, catapulted me to the 1980's growing up in Grand Island, NY. I experienced a vivid flashback.

I would play driveway hockey with several of my buddies during the winters in Grand Island. After school, several friends would meet over at my house and we'd play until dark in my long driveway. It's no exaggeration to say we played 4-5 days a week for close to two hours every time.  We used street hockey sticks which had a wooden shaft from an old ice hockey stick, with a replaceable Cooper or Mylec (brand) hard plastic blade.  Over time the blade would wear down super thin and we'd have to replace it (for about $3).  Sometimes we'd use one of those blades until it was about an inch thick. The  ball would constantly bounce right over the blade. When you took a shot with a thin blade, the ball would often sky over the net wildly. We usually used a dead tennis ball, sometimes an orange hockey ball. The ball would be rock hard in the freezing temperatures. It killed to get a Graham Pagano slap shot to the leg with those frozen balls.  On one end of my driveway, the side that faced the road, to make a goal we would usually put a couple milk crates with a hockey stick on top for the cross bar.  We had a portable metal goal for the other end, placed up against the garage door.  To protect the heavy garage door surface, my dad would make me line plywood boards so not as many shots would crush up against the actual door. Man did we pound the crud out of that door! Along one side of the driveway there was a line of hedge bushes that would usually keep the ball in play.  My dad would sometimes look out and see us hacking at a ball that got caught in a bush and yell- "A buck a bush"!  Pretty funny.  Dad was surprisingly tolerant of how much hockey we played out there and how many wicked slap shots we put on that garage door.  My mother said he would grumble when he heard the shots up against the door, but he never said too much to me about it.  I figure he was happy we were out there getting exercise and not off somewhere else getting in to trouble.

We would usually play two on two, three on two was also a popular set up, with the team defending the big goal against the garage door getting a goalie.  We really only needed three players. In such cases, one person would play goalie, the other two would play against each other and take it back past a certain line, sort of like one on one basketball is played.  We all took turns in goal.  I had a hodge podge of equipment.  For a blocker (stick hand) we'd use a regular hockey glove, but it dated from the 1960's, the palms were rotted out and it smelled like roadkill.  For the catching hand we'd use a regular baseball glove, until Bob Lourdel picked up an old, super heavy, goalie glove (we nicknamed "Cloutier") at a garage sale.  For pads we had an actual pair of hard plastic Mylec pads that wore out quickly sliding on the cement surface.  To keep a plastic coating on the pads, I cut up one of those red plastic sheet sleds.  The pads were constantly being repaired.  For the longest time we had a broken goalie stick that I garbage picked from a  Rochester American game. Eventually Mylec made a goalie stick blade, and we used that until it wore down to the size of a regular player stick.  For a mask we had a white Mylec goalie mask.  Every time I got hit in the face, I would take a sharpie and put a scar on it like the old Boston Bruin goalie, Gerry Cheevers, in the early 70's.  I painted it a few times also. We all wore it, so it was loaded with spit and sweat.  It never smelled very good, that's for sure.

While we played, one of us, usually me, would do the play by play using the voice of the local Buffalo Sabres radio man, Rick Jeanneret.  Jeanneret, who still does most of the Buffalo broadcasts, was famous for his overly dramatic calls and his use of creative sayings to describe play.  "He scooooooores",  "He can't get it out....", "Here they go...." (when describing the start of a fight).  I would use them all as we played.  Just great, great, times.  We didn't know how great those times were until they were gone.  Isn't that the case with all such fun things in our childhood?

So, this past Thursday, as I stood in the driveway and had my flashback, I asked my youngest son to run down stairs and grab my old hockey stick (one from the last time I played, over 15 years ago).  He brought it up, I plucked a plastic ball from our ball bin in the garage, and I started to stick handle a bit and rip a few shots. Those old memories flooded back. Do you ever wish you could go back in time, just for a day or a few hours, and relive some of those moments?

I posted the above picture on Facebook and several of the guys who used to play in my driveway commented and shared various funny memories about our games.  Those games in my driveway happened over 25 years ago, and standing in my shoveled driveway with my hockey stick this past Thursday made it feel like yesterday.

This post is dedicated to the friends who played games on the Felich driveway in the 1980's, and the equipment that supported their epic games.

Players: Tony Felich, Graham Pagano, Nathan Currey, Tom Kane, Scott Kane, Scott White, Robert Tranter, Cliff Hageman, Carl Pazimickas, Bob Lourdel, Erik Nowakowski, Jeff Haines, and many others known only to the hedge row that kept the ball in, most of the time. 


Vintage 1980's Mylec Goalie pads

OLD school Jim Craig Mylec goalie mask (the first we had for driveway hockey)

"New", improved Mylec goalie mask 
Plastic Cooper blade

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lindy Ruff- One of us (Buffalonians)

The firing of Lindy Ruff yesterday, after 16 years as the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, was necessary, but not relished by anyone (except a slacking player or two).  Lindy Ruff is a class individual who has earned the respect of every resident of Buffalo over the years.  I can hardly remember the Sabres without Ruff as a player or coach.

The reasons for his firing was the subject of a post I put up last year.  Much of what I said stayed true for a year before management finally acted yesterday.  Local Buffalo sports commentators, like my old buddy Mike Schopp at WGR 550, have been outlining the case for firing Ruff for some time (see his latest offering here). Again, no Buffalo fan is happy about what had to be done. I fully expect Ruff to land a coaching job somewhere before next season, and do quite well. He is a very effective coach who leaves Buffalo with a record of 571-432-162(ties).  500 wins for an NHL coach is a rare and incredible milestone.

A local radio personality in Buffalo captured my feelings about Ruff very well-

"Like many fans, I grew up with Lindy Ruff being a part of the Sabres. He fought Billy Smith of the Islanders who was the dirtiest goalie I ever saw. He yelled No Goal at a rally after the Sabres lost in the Stanley Cup Finals. He made Ken Hitchcock, then the coach of the Flyers, swear at him during a playoff series. He almost fought Ottawa coach Bryan Murray when Chris Neil of the Senators cheap shotted Chris Drury. He was one of us and that worked for us for a time as well." - The Bulldog (WGR550)

Many thanks to Lindy Ruff for the decades of devotion to Buffalo and the Sabres.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sick-Nasty Save by Ryan Miller

It pains me to say the Sabres must fire their General Manager and Coach if they will be able to win the cup in the next few years as new owner Terry Pegula declared, however, there are some bright spots on this year's team.

Check out this absolutely ridiculous, sick-nasty, stop by Ryan Miller.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Story of Rescue

Skip Ryan is a fellow PCA minister who was the pastor of one of our largest churches.  His story of sin, pain, rescue, marital reconciliation, and restoration draws me closer to Christ every time I think of it.

This video is well worth your time:

Monday, February 11, 2013

Perhaps it is my time?

Could it be my time?


Moody's Magic Elevator

The Crowell Hall elevator at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago

Well, not really magic, how about miracle elevator? That sounds over the top also. The elevator was definitely the place of a providential appointment.

The year was 1990. I was in my second semester at Moody Bible institute.  I was not a disciplined student in high school and struggled to learn how to learn in my first year at Moody.  Moody is a difficult school with high academic standards.  In fact, due to my lackluster high school peformance, I'm pretty sure I was on some kind of academic probation from the start at Moody. I did well the first semester, but was pretty scared most of my first year. I didn't want to fail.  

Moody's reasonable cost (students pay room,board, and some miscellaneous fees and tuition is paid by donors wishing to fund ministry training) was still hard for me to come up with.  For the entirety of my four years, I worked 20 hours per week or more during the school year, even while playing soccer.  My days were jam-packed and super busy.  That first year was the most stressful as I didn't know if I was college material. I was sure of my calling to ministry, but admittedly wondered if I could stay the academic course.  I am a person of average intelligence, most days.  

I was on a pay as you go plan that required monthly payments.  By the time I got to the Spring semester, I was barely making the payments.  I would get my paycheck and bring it directly to the financial office on the forth floor of Crowell Hall and hand it over.  It was just after Spring break in 1990 when I was right around $58.50 short of having enough for a payment due that day.  Moody was very patient, in fact, my prescribed payment plan demonstrated some lenience to begin with.  They had to be strict about enforcing on time payments.  If late, you were automatically disenrolled from class until payment was made.  Losing a week or two of class time would doom you for the semester.  For me, it probably would have meant leaving Moody all together. There I was, $58.50 short.  Some friends urged me to go to the financial office and do some begging, so I did.  I took the  elevator up to the fourth floor and tried to plead my case with a kind woman, who had no choice but to tow the line.  I left severely disappointed and discouraged about my calling.  "Why Lord, would you bring me here to drop out and fail?", I murmured aloud.  I got on the elevator and headed back down to the ground level- exactly where you see the picture taken.  

Before I could get off the elevator, the bell rang to indicate it was opening and changing directions to go up.  I was slow to leave and so a person got on blocking my way.  He had an envelope in his hand, the kind you get at the bank when a teller gives you cash.  I did not recognize the man.  He was standing in entrance of the elevator holding the door open with one of his legs.  He looked at me and asked if I needed any money for my school bill.  I responded, "Yes, I need some."  I didn't tell him how much.  He said, "Great, here, have this." As I said thank you, he turned around and left off the elevator the same way he  came on.  As the door closed, I looked in to the envelope and took out three crisp $20 bills.  I quick hit the button for the fourth floor and went back up to the financial desk, to the same lady who just told me I'd have to disenroll the next day and said "Here you go....keep the change!" 

Yes, it was only $60, and I'm not suggesting the dude was an angel (although, I never saw him again on campus, despite looking for him and asking people if they knew who he might be), but I am saying God encouraged my calling to ministry in a monumental way that day, on that Crowell Hall elevator.  

Yes, it's my favorite elevator at Moody, so I was happy to pay it a visit last week when visiting for Founder's Week.  I find the verse posted above the elevator most providential!

Study to show thyself approved unto God, 
a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of Truth. 
- 2 Timothy 2:15

Big news out of Rome today

Pope Benedict XVI issued the following statement today-

Dear Brothers, 
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is. Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer. From the Vatican, 10 February 2013 


Papal resignations are quite rare. It hasn't happened in 600 years. Benedict is 85 years old. The supreme authority of the Bishop of Rome took centuries to develop. In the early days of the Christian Church, after many churches had been planted by the Apostles and their fellow missionaries, five cities emerged as important centers of Christianity: Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople.  The Church in Rome was always noteworthy due to its cultural significance and the reports that both of the Apostle’s Paul and Peter had been martyred there. The Roman Bishop was not acknowledged as the primary Bishop of the church in any widespread sense until after Leo I convinced Attila the Hun not to attack Rome in the middle of the 5th Century.

One of chief contributing factors to the rise of the Papacy was the break-up of the Western empire in 476 AD. The confusion in Italy worked to give the Bishop of Rome more authority and influence as he was viewed as a stabilizing agent. People tended to look more to the Bishops than their regional princes or magistrates for protection. One historian characterizes this unusual epoch by saying the “Catholic Church is but the ghost of the dead Roman Empire sitting throned and crowned on the grave thereof.”

The relative political instability granted unofficial powers to the regional Bishops, particularly the Roman See. The Bishop of Rome began to exercise more and more priestly power in the 6th Century using censures to suppress perceived heresies, however this action was aimed more at exerting ecclesiastical power than to correct erroneous doctrine. Over the years the Roman Church has developed biblical justification (through their particular interpretation of Matthew 16:18) for the office of the Pope by linking the See to Peter.  Obviously, as a Reformed Christian, I find no biblical basis for the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome, but that's a different topic all together.

For now, the resignation of Benedict is a monumental occurrence in the Roman Church.  Evangelical Christians find themselves aligned with Roman Catholicism concerning certain moral causes, and so the person who serves as Pope is important to many of us.  Obviously I wish, by God's providence, someone would be chosen who would be friendly to Reformation. This would mean renouncing the office all I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Monday, February 4, 2013

From Lesbian Professor to follower of Christ

This is an incredible interview, well worth your time. Marvin Olasky interviews Dr. Rosaria Butterfield. Dr. Butterfield chronicles her leaving a lesbian lifestyle when she became a Christian.



Sunday, February 3, 2013

Great Commercial

What a great commercial by Dodge Ram-

Chris Kyle, American Sniper: Some thoughts upon news of his murder

Last year I read "American Sniper: The autobiography of the most lethal sniper in U.S. Military History", which is the account of Navy Seal, Chris Kyle.  It was a fascinating read with him recounting how he became a Seal and served in multiple tours of duty in Iraq.  He has over 160 confirmed sniper kills during his military career with an estimated 180 actual kills.

War is such a dicey ethical dilemma.  I believe there is such a thing as a just war.  Whether you think U.S. troops should have been in Iraq or not, the situations Kyle and our other soldiers were in aren't very difficult to judge.  They were clearing cities of armed, attacking, insurgents.  Kyle killed insurgents that were trying to kill our troops.  In my view, he was justified in carrying out his orders in the situation he was placed. He was exceptionally efficient at what he did.

Tonight word came out of Texas that Kyle was murdered along with another man while at a gun range 50 miles south of Ft. Worth.  The details are sketchy at the time of this post, but it appears a lone gunman shot and killed him and the other man at point blank range.  I am sure we'll hear more about the circumstances soon.

Hearing of Kyle's death made be go back to "American Sniper" and read what he said about Christianity. In my view, Kyle was an American war hero.  He gave testimony to simple faith in Christ.   I will post what he says at the end of his book.  It's not the most biblically accurate statement you'll hear, but the core, essential, element- belief in Christ- seems clear enough.  Check out what he wrote:

I don't spend a lot of time philosophizing about killing people (in the war).  I have a clear conscience about my role in the war.  

I am a strong Christian. Not a perfect one- not close.  But I strongly believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible.  When I die, God is going to hold me accountable for everything I've done on earth.  He may hold me back until last and let everybody else through the line, because it will take so long to go over all my sins.  "Mr. Kyle, let's go into the backroom..."

Honestly, I don't know what will really happen on Judgement Day. But what I lean toward is that you know all of your sins, and God knows them all, and shame comes over you at the reality that He knows.  I believe the fact that I have accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation.  

But in the backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them.  Everyone I shot was evil.  I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.  

My regrets are about the people I  couldn't save- Marines, soldiers, my buddies.  I still feel their loss. I still ache for my failure to protect them. 

(excerpted from "American Sniper",  p. 497-498)

Chris Kyle, 39,  leaves a wife and two children...and hundreds (if not more) thankful fellow soldiers who he kept watch over during wartime.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Can you comment on the style of worship you have chosen?

I really love to discuss worship.  On occasion folks from other churches, that incorporate a different worship style than us, vocalize their notion that we follow a "traditional" style.  In other words, we do what we do, because it's always been done this way or because it's old.

It is true, we sing lots of songs that were written a long time ago. The ministers wear robes. We are committed to expositional preaching. We have a choir that sings classical introits and such. We have pews and kneelers. We celebrate communion every Sunday. Our building looks very classical. The organ is our main accompaniment instrument on Sunday morning.  Yes, sure, we do it "old school", I guess.

Honestly, I don't care how people characterize our worship style commitment.  Further, I don't survey other current worship practices and think we're somehow superior and they are weak and superficial. We, the leaders of RPC, actually give this issue lots of thought and pay it careful attention.  We do not lead the congregation in anything just for the sake of tradition. We simply try to provide a biblical worship service that assists the people of God, as a whole and across the generations present, in the worship of God through our mediator, Christ Jesus.

Recently a life long ministry brother, currently a missionary in Central America, wrote and asked me the following excellent question:

Can you comment on the style of worship you have chosen? 

I'll cut and paste my quick email response to him, with a couple tweaks for presentation here:

Great question, and an important one. I could speak long on this, but let me try to be succinct. In our view, how we worship is dictated by why we worship. We worship for the glory of God. We worship as a response to His command, but also as a response to God's great, great, great, grace to us, in Christ.

The purpose of worship is the glory of God. One of the beauties of right worship is how it returns a magnificent blessing to the worshiper. Our edification is not the main point of worship, but it is absolutely one of the key results. So, our style is formulated with the question "How might God direct us to worship Him?.  Also, worship is for God's people. Worship is not on the first level an outreach activity or evangelistic primarily. Now, worship can and does function in these ways as many unbelievers will visit and hear the gospel. I'm just saying that our main point of evangelistic contact and effort isn't through our Sunday morning worship service. We have many other outlets and efforts for that.

Now, having said that, don't get me wrong about style. I don't think a particular style is clearly delineated in Scripture. There are many styles that fit the right purposes for worship. The churches in our presbytery are diverse in worship style. Furthermore, we (RPC) have very good relationships with other churches in the KC area who differ greatly in style, from us. Style is largely contextual. In our context (suburban Kansas City), styles range from "contemporary" to "mixed" or "blended" to "traditional" to "liturgical". There's now "missional", which is basically the same as "blended", but anyways...

For as particular as our worship service is structured, we're not snobs about our style and have even tried to introduce a more casual worship approach on Sunday nights with guitar, piano, and choruses, etc. Our outreach efforts may incorporate a different worship style than we practice at Redeemer Sunday mornings, it depends on exact context, but decisions in this realm will still be driven by the aforementioned purpose for worship- the glory of God.

As for our particular style here Sunday mornings, we are purposefully liturgical and confessional. I think, however, our services are very understandable and accessible to newcomers. Also, in our context, there's lots of catholics and mainline protestants used to a more formal style, like ours, so it actually serves as an outreach mechanism. Hispanics who worship with us or visit, often comment positively about our worship style as many come from catholic backgrounds. We're not "traditional" in our style, we're carefully liturgical. You'd have to see it and be part of it to fully appreciate. You'll get a kick out of this- last Sunday morning, an African American woman and her mother visited because they heard our preaching program on the radio. They came to the early service (which is a touch more sedate than the 11am service) and sat about 4 rows from the front. I was preaching on "The Power of the Cross" from 1 Corinthians 1 and letting it rip, so to speak. They were "Amen"ing up as storm with no concern for some of the more, shall we say, reserved folk around them. It was great. After, they introduced themselves and were very encouraging about the sermon, however they did say- "boy, it's so quiet in here"!! HA HA. Well, the second service is a bit more lively (sort of). Hey, God is growing us in this area, it's a never ending process. Whatever the case, may God alone receive the glory!

Again, this was my quick email response, not a careful treatise on worship. I hope it helps with some basic foundational principles.