Monday, September 22, 2014

How well do drums assist the congregation in singing?

Church musicians should be playing to assist the congregation in being one voice of praise to God. Their task is to help the congregation worship, not perform for them or overpower them.

This guy gets the award for the worst possible example of helping a congregation my opinion, of course.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Coaching soccer is more than coaching soccer to me

This is my ninth year coaching soccer for our school team, the fifth as the varsity coach for Heritage. Coaching, for me, is a way to make a deep, long-lasting impression on young men, in a relatively short period of time. The unique way competition impacts people makes me stay in the game, so to speak. I absolutely relish the preparation process required to ready a team for competitive play- especially a team that no one thinks should be good. I like recruiting guys who lack experience, but have the athletic ability, with training, to become solid, contributing players. Like a nerd analyzing a game of Risk, I am constantly scrawling potential line ups and formations on pieces of paper throughout the day.

The value of the context of team sports and competition lies in what is required to congeal and be competitive. Players must develop fitness, skill, and tactics. Individual players are responsible and accountable to their teammates to grow in all areas. Perhaps the most important life lesson from team sports is learning, as a member of a team, to know your role and execute it with full vigor and faithfulness. Playing for a team bears a strong resemblance to being a member of a church.

To become competitive and ready, we have to work hard as a team for weeks. When the season starts, the grind gets increasingly challenging as things shift from the initial physical preparation to a more mental contest. The relentless rhythm of 2-3 games per week goes on for two months. Staying fit, nursing injuries, keeping school grades up, and battling general fatigue, contribute to the character-building exercise the whole team sport experience is about. Over a 12-week period, through the regular flow of game preparation and playing, guys grow close and develop a strong basis for ongoing friendships. I get the opportunity and privilege to spend many hours under intense circumstances with young men who are in the thick of their character development. In most cases, I develop substantive relationships with my players. Often enough I will think I didn’t connect well with a certain player, only to see our relationship grow after they graduate. The coach-player relationship is unique and can be life-shaping. I have had some wonderful, learned, and godly teachers in my years of formal schooling, but for the most part, the men I have leaned on most for counsel and guidance have been my former coaches. It is the task of a coach to assess a player’s ability, help them improve, develop, overcome obstacles, and fulfill their role so they contribute well and enjoy the team sport experience. Being a coach bears a strong resemblance to being a pastor of a church. 

I have always been thankful Redeemer allows me to coach the school team.  It serves as a way I can directly interact with the students of our school.  This year, eight of the players are also members of our church, one is my oldest son, which is pretty cool.  In our four years of official KSHSAA membership, we are 56-13-5.  Not bad for a small, 1A school!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gospel Ministry: To spend and to be spent...

Over my years of pastoral ministry I have gone through brief periods of depression.  In Scripture you find many people going through periods of despair, melancholy, and depression.  Abraham, Jonah, Job, Elijah, David, and the so-called "weeping" prophet Jeremiah are all examples of people who are on biblical record as having been depressed.

Thankfully, God has given me a sensitive wife who knows when I am in a funk.  She challenges me with God's Word and promises. She also nudges me toward some fellow elders, pastors, and godly counselors in our church to encourage, exhort, and sometimes rebuke me. These faithful friends help me get back my gospel bearings, so to speak.  Just today one such brother was encouraging me by asking questions and reminding me of God's faithfulness and provision.  He asked me a great question- "Tony, when did you know God was calling you to ministry."  As I started to answer his question and remembering a very distinct sense of call while in high school, I became enlivened about the reason I do what I do.  I want people to know the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I want people to know how they are made right with God- through faith in Christ and His work on their behalf.  I want to see people who have not previously believed, trust in Christ and be transformed.  I want people who have been believers for a long time to be encouraged afresh in the gospel. I want to minister in a church where I have the opportunity to remind the precious Sheep for whom Christ died, of their high privilege in Christ. Preaching, teaching, and promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ is the simplest way to describe my purpose and calling.  I fully affirm what is clear in Scripture- the gospel is veiled to those who are perishing.  Only God can remove the scales from someone's eyes so they can lay hold of Jesus.  Still, I am pained greatly when people reject the gospel.  I am grieved when believers seem to forget the gospel.

Over the years I have come to realize that Gospel ministry is a depressing calling at times.  It just is.  I think pastoral ministry is prone to epochs of melancholy and discouragement.  I know I am not the only pastor to experience this or think it.  Charles Spurgeon, the famed London preacher of the Nineteenth Century, in "Lectures to My Students" warns of the tendency to depression when laboring in gospel ministry:

Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? 

Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin — are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth? The kingdom comes not as we would,  the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep. How can we be otherwise than sorrowful, while men believe not our report, and the divine arm is not revealed? 

All mental work tends to weary and to depress,  for much study is a weariness of the flesh; but ours is more than mental work — it is heart work, the labor of our inmost soul.  

How often, on Lord’s-day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break. 

It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed; we are to spend and to be spent, not to lay ourselves up in lavender, and nurse our flesh. Such soul-travail as that of a faithful minister will bring on occasional seasons of exhaustion, when heart and flesh will fail.

So I have come to expect periods like this over the course of my life.  Such episodes are used by God to show His power through our weakness, for which I am extremely grateful.  Paul said it well- "Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart." (2 Corinthians 4:1)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The only anchor that holds

Today was a very difficult day. It started with news of a brother in Christ, who used to be a member of the church I pastor, but is still in close contact with many of us, being in the last stages of cancer.  Then, a young woman in our church was diagnosed with a similar stage 4 cancer.  When she was initially tested, it seemed to be caught early and there wasn't any real concern it would be this advanced. But the results of the more advanced tests showed it was much more involved and serious.  Honestly, even though I have seen this kind of thing before, I was shocked along with her family.  There were virtually no signs before three weeks ago.

How do you counsel a person who is confronted with this news?

In this case, I have been blessed and encouraged by her immediate reflection on biblical, eternal truth.  She goes right to her bible.  This is a person who is herself a highly competent medical professional, yet finding herself on the other side, so to speak, is taking the medical analysis and diagnosis in stride, and going to the Scripture for her guidance and comfort.  She knows she is in Christ.  This isn't to say she isn't in some way fearful and upset, but I can attest she is not angry with God and she is sure of her eternal destiny.

Of course, despite the seriousness of her diagnosis and incurable nature of her kind of cancer, there is chemotherapy that has shown itself to slow down the advance of the disease.  We are asking everyone to pray the chemo works and gives her many more years.  Knowing this woman, she will live life to the fullest as God gives her however many days he has allotted (remember, none of us live one day shorter or longer than God ordains).  Even the chemotherapy's effectiveness is by God's grace.

On days like today when I visit with a Christian who has just received very difficult news, and I witness them speak eternal truth in the midst of incredible adversity, I realize they have been prepared by the Word, for just this time. When I pick up their bible to read them comforting texts from Scripture, and all the texts I turn to are already underlined, I am overwhelmed by what God does to nourish His children. My job, every pastor's job, is to feed the whole counsel of God to the Sheep for whom Christ died. It is the only sure anchor that will hold them when (not if) the storm comes. I have seen this countless times. I know it is true.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Reclaim and Gain!

I recently helped plan and lead our annual presbytery middle school youth camp. It spans four days and includes a non-stop schedule of games, activities, large group gatherings, bible teaching, singing, devotions, food, fun, fellowship...and exhaustion for old dudes like me.

One of the highlights of our camp is tubing on the Lake of the Ozarks. We rented two boats and dragged kids around for hours each day. Hearing the kids tell of their wild rides on the tube is tremendous fun.  They tell of being dragged on "suicide runs" at 100 mph and getting 2, 4, 6, even 10 feet of air! They pit the craziness of each boat driver against the other.  The boat drivers pride themselves on providing a safe, but terrorizing ride for those who dare to mount the tubes. Each likes to be known as a touch more insane than the other. Insanity is a highly lauded trait by middle school students. Often times, if the mood of the driver is maniacal enough, a tube rider gets thrown off.  Keep in mind, the boat is going 40-50 mph (although the kids will swear it's going faster) with 100 feet of rope pulling the tube.  So when a person gets launched off the tube, they are out in the middle of the lake all alone for as long as it takes for the boat to circle around quite a ways and get to them.  I've been out there, having been thrown off myself.  Even though you have a life jacket on, there's a sense of helplessness treading water for the time it takes for the boat to come and get you.  What if they forget? What if they just leave you there? It can be a touch scary.  Imagine if you didn't have a life jacket?  You can only tread water for so long.  It's a long way to shore.  Way too far for most people to swim. I think you'd eventually drown as you fatigue and the water overcomes you.  Dark thought, for sure. Notice the look on this poor boy's face.  He's wondering if we'll come pull him out.

If a church is practicing biblical discipline, there are times, hopefully rare, when a person has to be removed from the church because they are mired in a sin they will not repent of.  People are not to be excommunicated because of sin, but rather for sin they won't stop and repent of.  Repentant sinners make up the membership of any truly Christian congregation.  Sinners who won't repent aren't actually Christians (repentance is a necessary part of trusting Christ).  Now, as it works, there are times when people fall in to terrible, habitual sin, and it becomes open and scandalous. They are confronted, but won't repent.  Such a thing happened in the Corinthian church, and Paul instructed the church  to remove the person (1 Corinthians 5:1-3).  In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul refers to the same case or perhaps a different one, where a person was previously removed for unrepentant sin.  However, after being removed for a time, the person repented! The discipline of the Church was used by God to provoke a godly sorrow for their sin.  If a person is truly a Christian, and gets trapped in a sinful pattern, eventually God will give them repentance.  Church discipline has as its' chief goal the restoration of the offender.

The problem in Corinth was the congregation apparently not accepting the now repentant sinner back in to the congregation.  Notice what Paul says to them-

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough,  so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. - Paul to the Corinthians (second letter, 2:5-8)

Paul begs them to forgive, comfort, and reaffirm their love for the man!  The man was becoming excessively sorrowful. Such repentance is a product of God's supernatural work and an awesome thing (yes, awesome may be used here). When a person repents like this, the church must do as Paul instructs here!  Forgive, comfort, and love them back in to fellowship!

The Westminster Confession, chapter 30, speaks about the several purposes of church discipline, but first sentence captures the chief one- "Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren..."  I love this expression of biblical teaching about church discipline.  It is for reclaiming and gaining!

Back to my description of getting thrown off a tube and treading water in the middle of a scary lake until the boat comes to get you.  When the boat comes along side a kid who can't climb back in to the boat on his or her own, an adult will reach over the side of the boat,  grab their life jacket, and pull them up, out and in to the boat. I have done this dozens of times, yanking helplessly floating kids out of the lake and in to the boat. I am reclaiming them from the sea!  I reclaim and regain them!

This is a picture of what we do for the repentant sinner floating in the sea of despair, about to be overwhelmed by the burden of their sin.  They are sorry for their sin, but paralyzed by all the pain and misery it has caused.  This is why Paul describes the man as nearly "overwhelmed by excessive sorrow." Interestingly, the greek word for "overwhelmed" is often used in conjunction with a sense of drowning.  When God gives us repentance for our sin, part of the effect is a real and heavy sorrow for the pain we have caused.

A person out in the lake floating needs to be yanked out and brought in to the boat, lest they become overwhelmed with the water and drown.  A person who repents of their sin will need immediate comfort and love, or they'll become overwhelmed, like the man described in Corinth.  Reclaim and gain them! 

You might need the same help some day.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Advice for Preachers from R.B. Kuiper

"A simple and conversational yet forceful sermon delivery commands both respect and response. Enthusiasm inspires. Logic is convincing, the illogical confusing. As preachers, let us have a heart. Let us stop wearying our audiences. Let us make our preaching so absorbingly interesting that even the children would rather listen to us than draw pictures and will thus put to shame their paper-and-pencil-supplying parents." -R.B. Kuiper

God's Ambassador Training is a bit different

Paul's second inspired letter to the Corinthians is quite different from the first.  In First Corinthians Paul addresses a splintered congregation issue by issue.  It is clear he intends to follow up the letter with a personal visit. The visit is delayed, at least from the perspective of the church, and nay-sayers start to drum up opposition to Paul's apostolic authority.  They basically accuse Paul of being big on talk but not so big on action or presence.  So Paul has to defend his ministry while at the same time continue to edify and build up the church.  Second Corinthians' pastoral intent is about cultivating ambassadors for Christ.

Ambassadorship is an interesting concept.  An ambassador is an official representative of a country's leader or leadership group.  Christians are ambassadors for Christ.  We are to be his representatives. After all, in chapter 5 of 2 Corinthians, Paul says-"We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us..."

I have met a national ambassador this past year. Dr. Tebelelo Mazile Seretse (pictured above) is the very striking ambassador to the United States from Botswana.  She is sharp, articulate, engaging, intelligent, and just very impressive.  When you meet her, there is no question why the leaders of Botswana would select her to represent their country.  She is highly educated and very experienced with business, diplomacy, and community development.  She has been well prepared over her lifetime to be a strong, able, and effective ambassador.  It makes sense, right?  You would want to have a person trained and proven over time, before you make him or her a representative of your country. Preparation, strengthening, and readying a person to be a solid, impacting representative.

Well, that's not God's approach to preparing us to be effective ambassadors for Christ.

According to Paul, instead of taking our credentials and improving them or choosing us on the basis of preparedness and strength- He breaks us down and weakens us.  Yes, God's model for ambassador training is to deplete us of any self-dependence.  In chapter 5 of 2 Corinthians, Paul declares us to be ambassadors, but in the chapters preceding, he explains how affliction and suffering serve to lay the smack down on us so we are humbled and usable by God.

Notice how Paul starts to address the Corinthians in the first chapter-

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer."

Clearly Paul expects the ambassadors of Christ to be experiencing serious challenges and problems.  Paul is no prosperity preacher.  He says the norm for the ambassadors of Christ will be struggle and affliction. David Garland, in his excellent commentary on 2 Corinthians, says it well-

“Suffering comes for anyone who preaches the gospel in a world twisted by sin and roused by hostility to God. If God’s apostle (Paul) experienced so much distress in carrying out his commission, then we can see that God does not promise prosperity or instant gratification even to the most devoted of Christ’s followers.”

So the pattern of ambassador training and preparation becomes clear in 2 Corinthians: Affliction->Weakness-> God's gracious comfort->Resurrection.  You might put it this way: Affliction->Comfort->Glory. 

Paul certainly isn't saying that every believer will suffer the same level of affliction, indeed, he chronicles his incredible experience of many hardships to show it could always be worse.  Paul is saying, however, that effective ambassadorship for Christ happens as our weakness is brought to the forefront, so that God can comfort us with His grace and manifest his power through and over our frailty.  I think this is the essence of what Paul says related to God's refusing to remove his "thorn".  There was a purpose in keeping Paul weak.  Paul recounts God's explanation-

"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Yes, we are ambassadors for Christ.  Just know how this glorious ambassadorship works.  God's comfort will be with us.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tony's Fresh-Picked Homemade Mulberry Pie

So I was mowing the soccer field today at church when I spotted a mulberry tree on our property line loaded with dark purple mulberries.  I made a mental note to return and pick a some, so when I got the mower stuck and had to wait for Nathan to come tow me out, I had the perfect chance to pick a bunch. A college friend was coming over to the Currey's later in the evening, so I told Nathan I would bring some Mulberry Pie.  He was clearly skeptical (keep in mind, he's a food snob). I noticed Janey made some dessert, because evidently she doubted my baking prowess also.  I showed them.

I have only made one other pie in my life, it was strawberry.  I figured, how hard is making a fruit based pie?  Just make the fruit sweeter, but retain it's natural flavor, put it in a good tasting crust, and slap on some kind of whipped topping.

I looked up a basic Mulberry Pie recipe online and found what I was looking for.  I wanted to make a pie for after dinner, and another for when my family would be back home from the mission trip tomorrow.

Here's how I did it:

After soaking the mulberries to clean them of any insects, dirt, etc., I picked all the stems off, washing again as I went.  Here they are in the main bowl before I cleaned them the last time.

Then I measured 6 cups of mulberries and put them in to a stainless steel mixing bowl. It has to be stainless, because these suckers stain something awful.

 I added 2 1/2 cups of sugar, about a cup and a half of flour, and turned on the mixer for few minutes.

I poured the sweet mulberry goo in to two pre-made pastry pie crusts.  I put them in the fridge for 30 minutes while the oven pre-heated to 400.

I put them in the oven at 400 for 15 minutes. Then I dropped the temperature to 350 for 30 more minutes (as per a recipe I got from "").

I took out of the oven and let cool. I didn't have much time to let the first one cool as it was due to be eaten within an hour an a half.  It was a little soupy when I brought it over to the Currey's.  The second one set up perfectly and is awaiting consumption for tomorrow.

 I put a thick layer of cool whip on the top. This was my adaptation to the recipe I got on the internet. The recipe suggested a lattice style pastry crust on top. I don't know how to make crust, so I opted for no top, but rather a topping instead.  Whipped cream made sense because, after all, anything is good with cheese, bacon, chocolate, or whipped cream, right?

We cut it up and ate it.  It was delicious.  I can't wait to eat the other one tomorrow.

Perhaps, during fruit season, I will go around to places and find stuff to make pies with.  Did you know mulberries are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

All of us dads are in some way flailing and failing...

Well, I know some pretty great dads, and I'm not one. I'm just not. I'm learning. I have improved in some areas, but keep finding weak spots as my children grow and challenge me with new behaviors or issues.

I love my children massively. But I screw up with them plenty. I regularly pray my children won't be too messed up because of my many foibles. My wife helps me and covers for me a ton. I wish I knew what I know now, back when we had our first child. I think I could do better with the knowledge I have fifteen years in, Right? Maybe I'm dreaming.

So what hope is there for fathers like me? Well, honestly, I need other fathers. I need other brothers hacking away at fatherhood along side me, and I need my children to see it. Hopefully my children will understand how hard parenting is when they see a bunch of us doing it the best we can..which isn't very good a lot of the time. Hopefully we're all honest about our sin and shortcomings with our children. Hopefully we're quick to repent and run to Jesus. Hopefully, when my children's view of a professing Christian man is messed up because of me…they look elsewhere in the church and see more consistent models. Maybe, once and a while, I can provide that for someone else's kid.

I'm not making excuses for not doing better. I am just saying that I don't know too many guys who could be faithful, effective fathers in a vacuum. Fatherhood in community with others is a big part of my hope for my own sons as they become fathers some day. My Dad was a good father, but he's not the only model of fatherhood I had, thank God. All of us dads are in some way flailing and failing, but as a team, maybe we can cobble together a picture of fatherhood that nurtures our children. Maybe, such a transparent collective effort will be used by God to make the only perfect, loving, faithful, gracious Father there is, be all the more attractive.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My 2014 World Cup Thoughts

Today begins the greatest team sports tournament on earth- the World Cup.  Like the Olympics, this epic contest occurs only once every four years.  Futbol (soccer) is the global game.  Almost every country plays.  For four years teams have been working to qualify for this moment.

There are eight pools of 4 teams to begin the tournament.  Only two teams per pool advance to the knockout stage, which is your classic bracket style, single elimination tournament.

I think the strongest teams, in order, are:

1. Brazil
2. Argentina
3. Spain
4. Germany
5. Columbia

Who will win? Argentina has the weakest pool, and should advance easily, and well tuned.  They have crafted their team and style around the greatest player of this generation (maybe of all time), Lionel Messi.  If they hit on all cylinders and Messi produces, not even Brazil can defeat them.  Germany is always a threat to win, being the most consistent national team over the decades.  Brazil is powerful, talented...and young.  If the tournament was to be decided by sheer talent, Brazil would win.  Pressure to win will be intense in their homeland.  Brazil has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to have the World Cup in their country.  While soccer is adored there, paying so much money for World Cup preparation and support has angered many citizens of the relatively poor country.  Failing to win the Cup would be considered a HUGE disappointment for Brazil at any World Cup- but losing in their homeland would be unbearable.  I cannot rule out Spain, despite an aging line up.  Some of the greatest players on earth are Spanish- Villa, Xavi, Picque, Puyol, etc. Columbia is a strong team, but minus their superstar, Falcao (knee injury), it will be tough for them to knock off a team like Germany.  They are still dangerous and could contend for Cup glory.

How will the U.S. do?  This is their strongest team ever.  Klinsman's choice to leave Donovan off the roster was a mistake, in my opinion. It was a gutsy move by the German manager and we'll see if it pays off.  For this World Cup to be a success for America, the team must advance to the knock out round of 16.  I can't see this happening.  They are in a brutal pool.  Germany-Ghana-Portugal!!!  They play Ghana first, and MUST win.  Then, they need at least a tie with Portugal, which is no small task with Cristiano Ronaldo and several other talented players on their roster.  If they get a win and a tie in the first two games AND Germany comes in to the third game (against U.S.) with two wins, maybe the Germans will put out their "B" team having already secured a place in the round of 16.  If that happens, we have a chance.  On personal and local note- I really want to see KC native, Matt Besler do well in this Cup.  Likewise, Sporting KC player, Graham Zusi is playing a key role and carrying the pride of our city on his shoulders.

Who is the player to watch? I know most would say Messi or Ronaldo.  High scoring, attacking players get all the focus and lots of the glory.  There would be no goals scored, however, if it wasn't for the midfield.  In particular, those central players who stays in back of the charge and guide the mids and forwards in the attack.  We're talking the Iniesta-type players.  The box to box midfielders who are the engines of the team.  NOTHING happens without these kinds of players. My favorite of all time, in this role, is Andrea Pirlo (pictured above).  I just don't think there have been too many better- and certainly for not as long.  He's been dominating the "regista" position for fifteen years.  This is his last World Cup-his fourth overall.  He was a key reason Italia won the Cup in 2006.  Pirlo has received high praise over the years, but something Boniek said not too long ago sums him up- "To pass the ball to Andrea Pirlo is like to hide it in a safe."

Concentration will be difficult for the next month because the World Cup has begun.  May the best team win, and may every player compete in each game like it's the last one of their life.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What do you think of this Roman Catholic prayer from 1959?

My son A.J. uses his grandfather's old wallet.  There are a few of my father's things still in the wallet.

One of the items is a small prayer card from a funeral Mass my father attended for a couple who died in 1959.  The front of the card is pictured above, complete with an anglo-Swiss/Irish Jesus, looking heavenward, remarkably pristine (save a drop of blood on his brow), and with rays coming forth from his head.

Here's the prayer on the card-

Gentlest Heart of Jesus, ever present in the Blessed Sacrament, ever consumed with burning love for the poor captive souls in purgatory, have mercy on the soul of Thy departed servant. 

Be not severe in Thy judgment but let some drops of Thy Precious Blood fall upon the devouring flames, an do Thou O merciful Savior send Thy angels to conduct a place of refreshment, light, and peace. Amen. 

Other than the picture being inaccurate (an inherent problem with pictures of Christ), the erroneous proposition about Jesus' presence in the "Blessed Sacrament", what is meant by "Blessed Sacrament", the invention of purgatory, the notion that Jesus seems powerless to pluck the "poor captive souls" from "purgatory"(can the Lord of the universe not do more than love the souls in purgatory? If he loves them, why not pluck them out?), the idea that Jesus' blood is still liquified and able to douse flames in purgatory or hell (OK, even if this is a metaphor, Jesus death was perfectly effective to save the elect, it is finished. NONE of Jesus' blood was wasted, nor was any stored to redeem sinners already in hell), and asking angels to presumably take the departed to paradise city- it's a great prayer.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Redeemer Story in Pictures

I am a very nostalgic person. I love "Throwback Thursday".

This week marks my 17th year of ministry at Redeemer.  I am so blessed.  I don't know how long the Lord has us here, but I'd be fine with forever.

This day marks the date 16 years ago when Redeemer bought the second ten acres of the current site which allowed for the current Church/School campus we now are blessed with.  Here's a brief pictorial overview of our building history.

The pictures show the various stages of building progress the Lord has guided, keeping in mind buildings are not the Church. The wonderful brethren of RPC are God's house- a royal priesthood in fact! The pictures help jar memories about all things related to God's care and growing of us.  Landmark buildings tell a deep, multi-layered story.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fast track to Sainthood: John Paul II

Having grown up Roman Catholic and spending much time studying the church then and more recently, the history of the papacy is thoroughly intriguing to me. For part of my doctoral studies, I researched the history of several popes.

I think what causes me such interest in the papacy is the way authority works in the Roman Church. Ultimately, Romanists think the Pope is the chief Apostle on earth, acting as the vicar of Christ.  For Roman Catholics, authority rests with the Pope, unlike Reformed Christians, who believe the Bible is the chief authority.  Part of my research revealed a growing recognition of papal authority over the course of centuries.  The idea of papal infallibility and authority developed over time with each new pope.

So, any news about papal happenings interests me.

I recently learned Pope John Paul II was beatified a few years ago in a ceremony that cost the Vatican more than $1.65 million! He will be the fastest tracked "saint" in the history of Catholic saint-making, beating out Mother Theresa.

I cannot help but wonder how the victims of the vast sex abuse scandals over his 27 year papacy feel about his rather quick canonization?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Stormy time lapse of Redeemer Sanctuary

A talented videographer in our church came out to take a few pictures of the Redeemer sanctuary, when a storm started to roll in.  He got some very cool footage.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Ministry of Mercy must still go on

World Vision is a Christian para church ministry that provides ministry to poor and needy people, especially children, all over the world.  They take in a billion dollars each year for the operation of their ministry.  Christianity Today reported yesterday World Vision previously required its some 1,100 employees at the American branch to abide by a policy that required fidelity within marriage and abstinence outside of marriage, and only recognized heterosexual marriages. However, now World Vision is allowing gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be hired as well as gay Christians who follow their policy of abstinence outside of marriage.

World Vision's capitulation on the latest American cultural popular movement shouldn't really be a surprise given their para-church design and function. Churches slide away from biblical and historical moorings too, but not as quickly as para church entities. At any rate, I have supported Compassion International for years, which does similar work as World Vision. Hopefully your church or denomination has ministry like this in various places to which you can contribute.

Don't buy the guilt trip about stopping your donations to World Vision.

Mark Tooley of The American Spectator made a poignant observation-
"No doubt World Vision, which receives tens of millions from the federal government totaling about 18 percent of its budget ($174 million in 2011), has accurately calculated that it’s so large that it can absorb any significant drop-off in donations from traditional Evangelicals. It will chug along for decades to come, moving further and further away from traditional Christianity, becoming just another generic charitable machine in pursuit of government contracts and foundation grants. Who needs the Gospel when there’re so many good works to achieve?"

The gospel is fundamentally about estranged sinners being made right with God through faith in Christ (as His merit is credited to us). Compassion, love, and mercy are the definite fruits of one who believes the gospel. Compassion/love/mercy toward others is not an option for Christians, it's God's command, and frankly, it's the evidence we have actually been transformed by God's grace. The gospel is not fundamentally about meeting people's areas of poverty, such mercy ministry is a fruit of the gospel or reaction to the gospel by those who believe.

The institution responsible for ministering to the poor and needy is the Church. Every gospel-believing church must be about serving the poor. This can be done in many ways, but it must be done. So the first place to donate is our local gospel-believing church. Because the need has been so great over the years and churches have been largely negligent in meeting the needs (sometimes because governments have made it difficult to perform this mercy function- but that's a different subject) independent "Christian" organizations have cropped up to meet these mercy needs. Para-Church entities have done wonderful work, like World Vision, Compassion, and many, many, others.

I think people should give most of their charitable donations to their local church.  Hopefully your church is doing or supporting mercy ministry. If your church is not pipe lined in such a way, I'd seriously challenge your church's thinking or even find a new church (how can a gospel-believing church NOT be doing mercy ministry?). But, if you wish to give elsewhere, faithful para church organizations are an option. There are LOTS of really good para ministries doing very effective, Christ-honoring mercy ministry. People should choose an organization that most aligns with their convictions. That's all I'm suggesting here. For me, World Vision doesn't align with my core convictions, so I'll look for ones that do. Since there are many solid churches and organizations doing this work, we have lots to choose from.

Again, don't buy the guilt trip about stopping your donations to World Vision, unless you stop donating to the same cause all together. 

I trust there will be no less mercy ministry done as a result of World Vision's shift in position. It will simply be done by other organizations.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Oscars (Neo-Paganism) interrupted by Neo-Evangelicalism-Lite

The Oscars are one of the most telling displays of neo-paganism one can observe, for that, I am always intrigued and pay attention. The best actor winner- Mattthew McConaughey- was totally deserving. His performance was masterful. 

His speech stood out, because he gave some credit to "God" at the beginning. I put "God" in quotes because what he said next rather defined God in his personal view (not based on God's revelation of Himself in Scripture or nature, for that matter). He spoke of His father in some kind of heaven, looking down with satisfaction. He noted the usual humanistic "respect yourself so you can respect others" doctrine, and then went on to say his life motivation is about chasing himself as his own hero. 

Honestly, his speech didn't make logical, coherent sense. As you might expect, many Christians are lauding his speech because in the midst of such a hedonistic, humanistic, neo-paganistic crowd, it sounded like he was Joel Osteen. 

But therein lies the problem- Joel Osteen is emblematic of the weakness of "Christian" thought in America today. So it was Neo-Paganism interrupted by Neo-Evangelicalism-lite as represented by a Joel Osteen-esque Matthew McConaughey. 

Yes, America in 2014.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Religious Liberties related to Wedding Ceremonies need protection

I hope there can be some kind of legislation crafted to protect religious liberties related to wedding ceremonies.

The recent legalization of same sex marriage in several states has prompted efforts by various state governments to pass laws allowing for business owners, on the basis of their religious beliefs, to deny service to homosexuals. The framers of these legislative efforts have insisted the focus is narrow, intending to protect wedding ceremony related activities and businesses. Nevertheless, sufficient concern was raised that such laws would be used by all sorts of businesses, not just wedding related ones, to deny service to homosexuals. Some opposing such proposed laws painted pictures of restaurant owners standing at the entrance of their establishment forbidding homosexual couples to enter. The Washington Post described the veto of such legislation as- “The Arizona Governor vetoes Controversial Anti-Gay Bill”.  The Wall Street Journal described the same event by writing- “Arizona Governor vetoes Religious Freedom Bill.”  The issue is as polarizing as you might expect.  

I am not a legislator or a legal expert. I do know a very fine legislator who contributed to the crafting of such a religious liberties bill in Kansas.  I am 100% certain his intention was to protect religious liberty in very specific situations, not create a way for any business to discriminate against homosexuals. So far, no bills concerning this matter have passed in to law anywhere in the U.S., that I am aware of. 

I hope there can be some kind of legislation crafted to protect religious liberties related to wedding ceremonies. Traditional wedding ceremonies between a man and a woman have been around a lot longer than same sex ones. Even in modern times, legalized same sex marriage is in the overwhelming minority globally.  There should be an appreciation for the antiquity and earth-wide majority practice of traditional, heterosexual marriage and the attending ceremony, that allows for such religious liberty protection. It is certainly not unreasonable to expect religious people in favor of traditional marriage to be alarmed and reactive by how quickly the legal situation has changed. 

I am not sure of the best way to craft a bill that will please everyone.  I do think, at this point, Christians should focus on being specific about wedding ceremony related activities and businesses in proposed legislation.  Here’s my reasoning today (I am open to biblical correction):

As a pastor committed to the Bible as the Word of God and ordained by a denomination that upholds the authority of the Bible, I would not perform the marriage ceremony of a same sex couple. As a church, we would not rent our sanctuary for a same sex wedding. If I was in a wedding ceremony-related business (photographer, florist, cake maker, limo driver, etc), I would not offer my services to a same sex couple.  The basis for my choosing not to do business with a same sex couple related to their wedding ceremony is based on my religious belief about marriage and wedding ceremonies, not because I am afraid of or hate homosexuals.    

If I owned a non-wedding ceremony related business, I would not deny service to anyone on the basis of their sexual practice or marital situation (even assuming I would be able to know either of these). There are probably businesses I would not choose to run because of how complex the current cultural climate is (like a health club or hotel), but I can’t imagine discriminating against anyone.  I oppose same sex marriage as an institution, not gay people personally. No, I don’t agree with homosexual practice, but I don’t agree with sex outside of marriage, lying, stealing, and all the other sins people commit.  Why would I discriminate against one sinner and not another? If I know a guy is a serial player, bedding every woman he can, should I deny him service?  What about a glutton who keeps coming to my buffet restaurant?  The alcoholic who buys beer at my supermarket? How would you even be sure who is gay?  What about other sins and sinners?  

Frankly, if I wasn’t a pastor, I think I would like to own or work for an Italian restaurant.  I would welcome anyone and everyone.  I would try to meet everyone personally. I would love to dress in a pin striped suit with my hair greased back and walk people to their tables. I would tell them what the specials were, a bit of Sicilian lore, and try to make relationships with frequent customers.  Eventually, if the situation was right, I would tell them about my love for Christ.  Maybe over time I would have a chance to share Christ and His gospel with them. I think I would approach any business enterprise similarly, or at least I hope I would.  Honestly, I don’t think most Christians would discriminate against any sinner in their business practice, even if there was a law that said you could.

It seems to me that Christians should stick to advocating for the passage of legislation that is wedding ceremony specific.  If a Christian so opposes homosexual people, I would challenge them to reconsider such a stance, in light of Christ’s example of love and care.  Jesus didn’t compromise concerning God’s standard, but he was kind to everyone no matter who they were and what they had done. If you just can’t get over homosexual sin, don’t be a non-wedding ceremony related business owner, because at very least, you risk representing Christ and Christianity poorly.  

For those who scoff at the notion of not providing wedding ceremony related services to same sex couples, will you please do your best to appreciate our deep-seated religious beliefs and convictions in this area?  

In the Christian Faith, marriage is a divine institution and the associated covenant-ratifying ceremony is sacredly connected. It has been recognized by millions, for centuries, that marriage has been explicitly ordered by God as a male-female union. This union forms the foundation of society and serves as a picture of Christ and His Church.  For eons, marriage and wedding ceremonies have religious significance for a great many people, and so these folks should have protections if providing a directly related service- that’s all I am advocating for.  

Disclaimer: I fully realize there are probably a thousand “what if’s” related to businesses and situations that could cause a sense of compromise for a Christian.  I am not suggesting I have covered every angle here, but I think a dose of reality is needed on the part of Christians in Post-Christian U.S.A.  The thing to be guarded is the Christian view and practice of marriage and wedding ceremonies.  The horse is out of the barn related to the movement to nationwide legalized same sex marriage. The best thing Christians can do now is to keep their religious liberties intact related to wedding ceremonies and then to exhibit faithful, Christian marriages.  The tide can only be turned back when Christians model godly marriages before a watching world and people come to Christ. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lord, Give us Passion for Worship

I would like to share the prayer I offered at the conclusion of this past Sunday's sermon. The sermon was on 1 Corinthians 14:20-33 where Paul encourages precision and care when ordering a public worship gathering. My prayer was offered in hopes that God would give our church a genuine passion for our times of corporate worship. I don’t always fully write my closing prayers, but rather have a basic outline for guidance. This is an attempt to recreate the prayer best I can remember. It is informally written the way I said it, so therefore not exactly ready for entrance in to the Book of Common Prayer.

Heavenly Father, It is our desire to worship you in spirit and in truth. It is our desire to worship you the way you call us to. Make our hearts passionate for your worship every hour, but especially in those hours of gathering with all the Saints, like this hour. When we are called to worship, jar us to life- make us know we are in the presence of King Jesus- the One who is Worthy to take up and open the Scroll and thus WORTHY of all our worship and praise. Make us to not just read prayers each week with no feeling. Cause us to be invested in the Prayer of Confession and truly relieved by the Words of Assurance of forgiveness through Christ. Make us not to mumble through the great hymns of praise and adoration. Cause us not to murmur against the speed of the music, the distraction of the baby crying, the person playing with the kneeler, or the service going a bit long. Help us as we join in responsive readings to RESPOND to your Word. Help us preachers not to be boring and help the people not to be snoring. Lord, make us prepare for our times of public worship the same way we would for anything important- that we don’t go to bed too late and get up late also. Lord, give us hungry anticipation for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper every week. Renew us and grow our faith in you by your means of grace experienced each Lord’s Day corporately. When there are unbelievers in our midst- remove the scales from their eyes as they hear and see the gospel. What glorious grace, that you would transfer someone from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, right here in a sanctuary built for your honor! Lord, we get pumped for a party, a fine dinner, a great concert, or an exciting sporting event...but please, more than these events, make us say with the psalmist- “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” Amen. 

We sang a closing hymn that really captures our desire for God to move when we gather for worship- Revive thy work, O Lord, give pentecostal showers; the glory shall be all Thine own, the blessing, Lord, be ours.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Make the Word Plain!!!

In his sermon on 1 Corinthians 14, H.A. Ironside, pastor of the historic Moody Church from 1930-48, spoke about the importance of making the message of Scripture understandable to the congregation:

The Apostle rebukes the vanity of ministers who delight to use the pulpit as a place to display their education and culture, but also the use of language that is far above the heads of the people to whom they are ministering.  Charles H. Spurgeon said: "I am afraid that many of my ministerial brethren must imagine that when Scripture tells them to 'Feed my sheep,' it means 'Feed my giraffes,' for they put the food so high that people would have to be giraffes to reach it."  

Always put the food down where the sheep can get it.  It should be the ambition of the preacher of the Word to use language so simple and so plain that everybody can understand.  A few months ago a lady brought to me a little boy about ten years of age, and she said, "I want my little grandson to meet you.  I hope you won't be offended about what he said.  I had been telling him about you and he wanted to hear you.  He said to me, 'Why grandma, he is not a great preacher; I could understand every word he said.'"  I replied, "Well, my dear madam, I consider that a great compliment."  

I hope you will always pray that when I stand up to minster the Word, I may do it in such a way that the youngest child, as well as the oldest saint, may understand every word; because if we do not, we are just speaking in to the air.  

Likewise, I ask my congregation to pray for me similarly. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cloudy Backdrop for RPC Sanctuary

Nathan consistently captures some nice pictures of the Redeemer sanctuary.  Beautiful backdrop today.

Friday, January 3, 2014

TOCA FC models a refreshing approach to youth sports

I will share a few unsolicited thoughts prompted by the soccer club my sons play for.

Sports have always been a big part of my life.  I played lots of soccer and hockey from a young age. Soccer was the sport I was most devoted to in to my teen years, on in to college, and these many years later. I badly injured my knee a little over three years ago (dislocated/tore 3 of the 4 ligaments) and probably should have quit playing, but after a year of reconstruction and rehab, I'm still playing regularly at age 42.  Along with hunting, coaching and playing soccer are my favorite stress relievers.

It wasn't until the end of my high school soccer career that a godly leader challenged me about my motives and reasons for playing.  I was a pretty physical player and didn't always play clean. Honestly, I just wanted to win. I was extremely one dimensional and short-sighted about sports and competition, it boiled down to winning.  This godly man told me that God wanted more for me than winning a game. I couldn't really grasp what he meant. I regularly heard that playing a sport should be for fun.  Well, in my mind, winning was fun.

As I transitioned to college soccer, I was completely transformed in my thinking by my coach, Joe Harding.  Coach Harding is one of the most competitive individuals I have ever met.  He taught me about working harder than I could ever imagine possible, not with the goal of winning, but for the purpose of bringing glory to God by doing something as well as it could possibly be done.  Added to this was his emphasis on team unity and sacrifice for one another.  The whole experience wasn't just about me, but it was about the mission of a whole team to do their very best for God's glory. Almost suddenly for me, I went from training and playing to win, to training and playing for God's praise.  Please understand- you play a game to win the game- but how you train and actually play the game brings a quality to the whole experience that transcends the winning part.  That is a hard concept to grasp if a "W" is all you care about.  But after a certain amount of "W's", it's pretty empty if that's the true end goal.  I was part of the Moody program that Joe Harding founded and has since won 5 national titles in the NCCAA.  If you train and play with the highest of ideals in mind- to glorify the Creator- you'll probably win more games than you lose, but really, that's not the point.  What does it look like to glorify the Creator with/in soccer?  I think it has to do with perfecting the individual and team skills to play the game in the most beautiful way you can. 100% all the time.  Playing with all your heart.  Really, team sports are a microcosm of life. Even the adult team I play on now consists of guys who want to play the game right, win or lose, because it's fun that way.

I have three boys who are all very competitive.  Before you blame me for this, I married a woman who was also a competitive college athlete who, to this day, would think nothing of giving me an elbow to the thorax in a one on one basketball duel. It's her fault too!  All three boys are involved with youth sports, mainly soccer and basketball.  Soccer, as you might guess, is starting to emerge as their main sport.  From a young age I have tried to place them in situations with coaches who understand the philosophy I described above.  God has blessed us with such coaches.  I am amazed with how mature my sons are about their outlook on sports and competition, compared to me at their age for sure. Still, like all of us on life's journey, they need constant prodding and coaching to keep the right things in mind and they are working to perfect their craft.

Last year my two oldest boys played for a large club in Kansas City.  The coach is a friend of mine, but he was planning on a change of coaching venues, so we needed to find another club.  I heard about Alec Lemmon and TOCA FC from several friends.  I called Coach Lemmon last Spring and was immediately impressed by the mature philosophy of this 25-year old man.  He not only understood and embraced the basic philosophy I described above, he challenged me to think even more holistically about the whole youth soccer scene and the potential good that could come from approaching sports differently. He was an accomplished player himself, who went through a philosophical transformation similar to mine, only with far more diverse playing and coaching experience to shape his thinking.  Long story short, my two oldest sons joined TOCA FC teams after summer tryouts and it has been an overwhelming joy to watch this club operate and my sons grow under the leadership of their coaches.

Before you get the impression that TOCA is some kind of pansy "we don't care about winning" organization, be sure such is far from true.  They are only in their 4th year of existence and are producing some of the best young teams in the region.  Alec Lemmon coaches several TOCA teams and is also the club's Technical Director.  He has trained his young teams to play a level of possession soccer I didn't think was possible.  The quality of game played by his under 13 team is just crazy.  I watched my son's team play a game, against another Division 1 opponent, where TOCA possessed the ball a full 8 minutes before the other team even touched the ball.  I have seen that kind of thing happen several times this past season.  TOCA is working at perfecting the "beautiful game".  My youngest son, Jordan, will join a TOCA team this Spring.

I know TOCA will teach my boys about soccer and competition the right way and with the utmost intensity, intentionality, and view to the future. I wish there were more clubs like this. Youth sports needs an overhaul. TOCA is a model in progress. They really want competitive, elite, youth soccer, to be an agent of personal development in the lives of each player, so they become remarkable leaders. Part of the TOCA experience is to make a special team effort to serve others.  This past Fall, Coach Lemmon took the boys on a service/mission trip to a needy area in St. Louis. They used soccer as the relational touch point for serving and encouraging others.

Learn more about TOCA FC here.

Here's video recap of a summer mission/service trip Coach Alec led my son's U13 team on this past fall:

Atheist vs Christian View on Life

I found this very clever post on Facebook today.  Pretty accurate.