Feb 27, 2009

The Main Question

Okay. Just for a moment, let's say that there are aliens from outer space.

If that alien from outer space were to come to Trinity Presbyterian Church to see what the church was all about, what would he/she/it learn?

If that alien were to ask the leaders what Trinity Presbyterian Church was all about, I think I can confidently say that we would answer that Trinity Presbyterian Church exists to grow new Christians and grow faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

But if that same alien were to look at how we spent our time, talents, energy, and finances, how we went about doing "ministry" and "mission" throughout the course of the week, would that alien see a connection between our vision and our practice?

I think we've made the church too complicated than necessary. I think we're doing a bunch of stuff that really isn't producing new Christians or faithful disciples. I think we're doing a bunch of stuff that is not effectively getting our vision accomplished.

The question before us is then how can we do church in such a way that our vision is consistent with how we're doing church?

We're not a terrible church. We're not even your average church. I think God's doing some great things in our midst. But, we're not yet a great church. And that's what I think God's calling our church and every church to be - a great church that's impacting the world for Jesus Christ by making new Christians, and growing every Christ-follower into a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

Feb 26, 2009

Worthless Christianity

Worship that changes nothing,
worship that doesn't change me;

A religion that changes nothing,
a religion that doesn't change me;

A faith that changes nothing,
a faith that doesn't change me;

A god who changes nothing,
a god that doesn't change me...


Feb 25, 2009

Recipe for Disaster

Imagine yourself needing open heart bypass surgery. Who would you want operating on you? What criteria would you be looking for? I would think that the only thing that matters to you is that the person who's going to split you open be the best surgeon, the most qualified surgeon.

Imagine yourself in the midst of a terrible divorce and custody battle. Who would you want representing you? What criteria would you be looking for?

For that matter, imagine any scenario where your life was on the line, who would you want leading?

But here's the crazy thing. Presbyterians, when it comes to the most important meeting of the church - the General Assembly, or when it comes to choosing leaders in the presbytery and synod structures, never once do we ask who are the most qualified? Who are the most spiritually discerning and wise?

What questions do we ask?
- what color?
- what gender?
- any disabilities?
- how old are they?

We have allowed the representational issues to supersede common sense and worse yet, Biblical guidance on spiritual leadership.

This is a recipe for disaster.

Feb 23, 2009

Lessons from By-Pass Surgery

1) Thank you!

For the most part, I get to be on the other side of praying for people, but this was the first real time where I've been the receiving end of the prayer thing. And of course I know prayer works and all that, but I am shocked by how much prayer works! Your prayers, your notes of encouragement, your visits, your calls, have meant so much. Thank you!

2) Getting your chest split open really hurts!

I knew that the first 48 hours was going to unpleasant. What I didn't know was how unpleasant that entire experience was going to be - getting the sternum split open, getting your shoulders and chest pealed back so that your heart can be worked on, the tubes down your throat to help you breathe, the collapsed lungs that have to be reopened by coughing of all things after open heart surgery, the intense thirst, etc, etc, etc..

Thank God the 48 hours are over. After the 48 hours or so, the body makes an amazing recovery. God is awesome like that.

3) I hate to say it - women make better nurses than men - well, at least when it comes to the smelling department.

Women nurses were much more gentle about taking care of you. For instance. I hadn't showered or had my sheets changed for three four days since surgery. I had been profusely sweating at times due to the discomfort. Of course, I made everything smell bad.

But that didn't bother me. And apparently, it never bothered any of the other male nurses who were in the ICU with me. It must have bothered my wife because she asked several times if I could be wiped down or the sheets changed.

And then on the fourth day this lady nurse takes charge of me and the first thing she does is strips my bed of its sheets, sponges me down, and changes out everything.

I must have really stunk!

4) It's great to be home.

There's no place like home. I was so ready to get out of the hospital. It's crazy. They tell me, "You've got to rest, you really need to get some sleep tonight." And then they poke and prod me all night. It's crazy. This one time, the nurses knew I hadn't slept much for a couple of nights so they give me a sleeping pill to help me sleep. But along with my other medication, they also gave me this pill that makes me pee like crazy every 30 minutes to and hour. And so I am tired, trying to get to sleep, and when I finally do, I have start the excruciating process of trying to get out of bed so I can go pee!

None of that at home! It's great to be home.

Thank you all for your prayers and support.

James <><

Excellent Post on Biblical Understanding on Homosexulity

Should We Support Gay Marriage? NO
by Wolfhart Pannenberg
Good News Magazine

Can love ever be sinful? The entire tradition of Christian doctrine teaches that there is such a thing as inverted, perverted love. Human beings are created for love, as creatures of the God who is Love. And yet that divine appointment is corrupted whenever people turn away from God or love other things more than God.

Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…” (Matt. 10:37, NRSV). Love for God must take precedence over love for our parents, even though love for parents is commanded by the fourth commandment.

The will of God be the guiding star of our identity and self- determination. What this means for sexual behavior can be seen in Jesus’ teaching about divorce. In order to answer the Pharisees’ question about the admissibility of divorce, Jesus refers to the creation of human beings. Here he sees God expressing his purpose for his creatures: Creation confirms that God has created human beings as male and female. Thus, a man leaves his father and mother to be united with his wife, and the two become one flesh.

Jesus concludes from this that the unbreakable permanence of fellowship between husband and wife is the Creator’s will for human beings. The indissoluble fellowship of marriage, therefore, is the goal of our creation as sexual beings (Mark 10:2-9). Since on this principle the Bible is not time bound, Jesus’ word is the foundation and criterion for all Christian pronouncement on sexuality, not just marriage in particular, but our entire creaturely identities as sexual beings. According to Jesus’ teaching, human sexuality as male and as female
is intended for the indissoluble fellowship of marriage. This standard informs Christian teaching about the entire domain of sexual behavior.

Jesus’ perspective, by and large, corresponds to Jewish tradition, even though his stress on the indissolubility of marriage goes beyond the provision for divorce within Jewish law (Deut. 24:1). It was a shared Jewish conviction that men and women in their sexual identity are intended for the community of marriage. This also accounts for the Old Testament assessment of sexual behaviors that depart from this norm, including fornication, adultery, and homosexual relations.

The biblical assessments of homosexual practice are unambiguous in their rejection, and all its statements on this subject agree without exception. The Holiness Code of Leviticus incontrovertibly affirms, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Lev. 18:22 NRSV). Leviticus 20 includes homosexual behavior among the crimes meriting capital punishment (Lev. 20:13; it is significant that the same applies to adultery in verse 10). On these matters, Judaism always knew itself to be distinct from other nations.

This same distinctiveness continued to determine the New Testament statement about homosexuality, in contrast to the Hellenistic culture that took no offense at homosexual relations. In Romans, Paul includes homosexual behavior among the consequences of turning away from God (1:27). In 1 Corinthians, homosexual practice belongs with fornication, adultery, idolatry, greed, drunkenness, theft, and robbery as behaviors that preclude participation in the kingdom of God (6:9 10); Paul affirms that through baptism Christians have become free from their entanglement in all these practices (6:11).

The New Testament contains not a single passage that might indicate a more positive assessment of homosexual activity to counterbalance these Pauline statements. Thus, the entire biblical witness includes practicing homosexuality, without exception among the kinds of behavior that give particularly striking expression to humanity’s turning away from God. This exegetical result places very narrow boundaries around the view of homosexuality in any church that is under the authority of Scripture. What is more, the biblical statements on this subject merely represent the negative corollary to the Bible’s positive views on the creational purpose of men and women in their sexuality.

These texts that are negative toward homosexual behavior are not merely dealing with marginal opinions that could be neglected without detriment to the Christian message as a whole. Moreover, the biblical statements about homosexuality cannot be relativized as the expressions of a cultural situation that today is simply outdated. The biblical witness from the outset deliberately opposed the assumptions of their cultural environment in the name of faith in the God of Israel, who in Creation appointed men and women for a particular identity.

Contemporary advocates for a change in the church’s view of homosexuality commonly point out that the biblical statements were unaware of important modern anthropological evidence. This new evidence, it is said, suggests that homosexuality must be regarded as a given constituent of the psychosomatic identity of homosexual persons, entirely prior to any corresponding sexual expression. (For the sake of clarity it is better to speak here of a homophile inclination as distant from homosexual practice.) Such phenomena occur not only in people who are homosexually active. But inclination need not dictate practice. It is characteristic of human beings that our sexual impulses are not confined to a separate realm of behavior; they permeate our behavior in every area of life. This, of course, includes relationships with persons of the same sex. However, precisely because erotic motives are involved in all aspects of human behavior, we are
faced with the task of integrating them into the whole of our life and

The mere existence of homophile inclinations does not automatically lead to homosexual practice. Rather, these inclinations can be integrated into a life in which they are subordinated to the relationship with the opposite sex where, in fact, the subject of sexual activity should not be the all-determining center of human life and vocation. As the sociologist Helmut Schelsky has rightly pointed out, one of the primary achievements of marriage as an institution is its enrollment of human sexuality in the service of ulterior tasks and goals.

The reality of homophile inclinations, therefore, need not be denied and must not be condemned. The question, however, is how to handle such inclinations within the human task of responsibly directing our behavior. This is the real problem; and it is here that we must deal with the conclusion that homosexual activity is a departure from the norm for sexual behavior that has been given to men and women as creatures of God. For the church this is the case not only for homosexual, but for any sexual activity that does not intend the goal of marriage between man and wife particular, adultery.

The church has to live with the fact that, in this area of life as in
others, departures from the norm are not exceptional but rather common and widespread. The church must encounter all those concerned with tolerance and understanding but also call them to repentance. It cannot surrender the distinction between the norm and behavior that departs from that norm.

Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

Wolfhart Pannenberg, arguably the preeminent contemporary theologian, recently retired after 27 years as professor of systematic theology at the University of Munich, Germany, and director of the Institute of Ecumenical Theology. Translated by Markus Bockmuehl for publication in the Church Times; copyright Wolfhart Pannenberg.

Feb 16, 2009

Thoughts Before Surgery

I will be in surgery in less than nine hours.

Never been in surgery before. This will be a new experience - one I hope not to repeat for a long time.

Here are some things I am thinking before my bypass surgery.
1) I am at peace. Very little anxiety. I know that God is in control. Here's what that means in a very literal sense for me:
- if things go as they should, then I get healthy and everything is good.
- if things don't go as planned, then I get to be in heaven and God who loves me, who wants what's best for me and my family, and who knows how best to get that accomplished for me and my family will take care of my family.

So either way, both my family and I are covered. And since those are the only two options, I'm good with that.

2) From what I hear, the first 24 hours are going to suck. I guess I'm okay with that too. I don't necessarily like pain, but if it will mean a lifetime of health 24 hours of pretty intense pain isn't too bad. I will report back to you after the first 24 hours and tell you if I think otherwise after the actual experience.

3) I am looking forward to Easter. I don't know what it is yet, but I am pretty sure that I will have a new appreciation for Easter than ever before.

4) I am looking forward to being back at my church. I can't wait to get back and worship with my folks.

5) I am not looking forward to necessary life changes I am going to have to make. I will make them because I don't want to be lying on the operating table any time soon because of further blockage.

6) Wondering what are the things I am going to have to cut out of my life. I know that I have to add regular exercise and regular sleeping habits. So that means something else has to give so I can add the extra hours of sleep and exercise. I covet your prayers for wisdom on this one.

7) It's a lot easier saying yes to stuff than cutting stuff out.

8) It's all going to be good. Looking forward to chatting with you all after the surgery and when I'm not so loony with the drugs.


Feb 14, 2009

Daddy Loves You!

I had a wonderful conversation with my children this morning. We had an awesome Valentines' breakfast - well, the kids did. They had pancakes with whipped cream and berries and bacon, while I ate my bowl of Cheerios - where we shared our valentines with one another.

After breakfast, we all talked about my bypass surgery.

Up to this point, Helen and I have tried to downplay the serious nature of the surgery because we didn't want our children worrying more than they should. Their teachers all know and they have already been telling them that things would be okay and such so the kids know that this isn't your everyday visit to the hospital.

While we still want our children to see Helen and I walking in faith with God, we do want to prepare them for what could happen. I assured my children that I had every intention of recovering fully and being back stronger than ever. But there is always the chance that things may not go well. And should things go bad, here are the things that my children must know:
1) Daddy loves them
2) Daddy is super proud of them
3) That I will always love them and that nothing will ever change that

And no matter what happens, everything will all turn out for good because:
1) God loves us
2) God wants what's best for us
3) God knows how best to make that a reality

And you know what, these are things that every child of God needs to know - whether they are sick or not. Because knowing this makes all the difference in the world. It is because of God's faithfulness that we can face all things with joy and great expectation. It is because of God's promises that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Do you know that your Daddy loves you?

Do you know that your Daddy wants what's best for you?

Do you trust that your Daddy knows how best to make that a reality?

Then the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding will watch over you.

Make today a wonderful day because your Daddy loves you!

Feb 13, 2009

My Will

Because of the upcoming open heart surgery, I gave my good lawyer friend - Charlie is both a good lawyer, and a good friend - Charlie a call to ask some questions regarding protecting my family should anything go wrong.

Since I don't have a ton of assets, there really isn't a whole lot that I would be leaving for my family, but the reason why I decided to go ahead with a will is because should something happen to both Helen and me, without a will, the courts decide what happens to my children. And that is simply not acceptable.

I've known that I should have a will for some time but just never got around to it. But because of the surgery, I decided this would be as good a time as any.

And as I began working through the will, it allowed my wife and I to have some very important and sobering discussions:
- who should get custody of our children should something happen?
- what decisions do we make for one another if we are ever in a vegetative state?
- permission to move on with life should one of us pass

Things like that. Things that aren't your typical, "How was your day?" type conversations.

It's all kind of sobering.

And the funny thing about that is it really shouldn't be. The reality is everyone of us will die at some point. And if we are smart about it, we should do everything we can to protect our loved ones.

So, if you haven't prepared a will for yourself, do your family a huge favor and get it done.

Not Stressed

I know that open heart/by-pass surgery is a major surgery.

I know that there is a possibility that something could go wrong.

I know that I will be in a lot of pain after the surgery.

And many have expressed your concerns and they are greatly appreciated.

But here's the deal.

I'm not that stressed or worried.

I know that God is in control and I trust that God knows what He's doing. I trust that God wants what is best for me and that He knows better than I do how to get that accomplished.

So no matter what happens - I'm good. Not only me, but my family too, because God loves my wife and children the same way.

I am looking forward to being better, being there for my children as they grow up, getting old with my wife.

There's a reason why God kept me alive when two of my main arteries are 100% blocked. There's a reason why God wants me in the hospital next week. There are people I'm supposed to meet. There are people who will be a blessing to me. There are people I am to bless. I will keep my heart open to see what God wants to show me.

Please keep the prayers coming.

Feb 12, 2009

Day Set for Bypass Surgery - Next Tuesday

I will be going in at 5:30am on Tuesday morning for my open heart surgery next Tuesday morning.

I will go to the hospital on Monday at 11am so they can get some of the pre-op stuff done. I will spend the night at home and then head to the hospital in the morning.

My job until then is to rest, wait, and not have a heart attack.

I used to joke around telling people, "Chill out! Don't have a heart attack!" Now, those words are for real!

It's all good. Still in good spirits. God is good. Nothing will ever change that.

But I tell you what, this waiting around stuff is for the birds!

I know that there are things that God wants me to learn and see during this resting and waiting time, so I am keeping my ears and heart open to see what God wants to show me.

Thank you all for your words of support and encouragement. Keep the prayers coming.

God is good!

James <><

Feb 11, 2009

Not a very good Wait-er

I am not a very good wait-er. I know that I will have open heart surgery. I know that the first couple of weeks are going to be painful. I just want to get it over with. I would have preferred that the doctors did the surgery on me yesterday so that I was already one day into healing.

I prefer doing something - anything. At least if I already had the surgery, I would know that I am working toward feeling better. But what in the world are you supposed to be doing while you're waiting?

For reasons beyond my control - don't you hate that? things beyond our control? - I will not be in surgery until sometime next week.

In the mean time, I am told to wait. Wait.

There is a reason why God wants me to wait. There is something that God wants to show me during this season of rest.

I will learn to wait. I will read, I will pray, I will listen, and I will reflect. Don't want to miss out on what God wants to show me during these days of waiting.

Feb 10, 2009

Things I'm Learning from the Hospital Room - Lesson 1

One of the things that I get to do because of my health situation is to spend some time reflecting on things. There's not a whole lot you can do when you're stuck in a hospital room.

Here's the first lesson I've learned from the Hospital Room.

Focus Externally - The first thing that happens when one finds themselves in a situation like mine is to get focused inward. You don't even have to try. It just happens. You know you are focused inward when you start asking questions like, "Why is this happening to me?" "Why me?"

The inward focus gets you in a downward spiral of feeling sorry for yourself and angry with God because there is no one else to blame. This "Woe is me" inward focus will kill all the joy and ability to seek God's purpose.

But it's amazing when you begin focusing externally - looking at the people around you and asking determining, "God has me here in this place for a reason. There are people I am supposed to meet and bless. There is someone who needs what Jesus can offer through me."

Focusing externally, I see that there are people just right down the hallway who may not make it through the night. There are people in much worse circumstances than me.

What I'm going through is not that bad. I will be sore and hurting for a while, but the prognosis of getting well is very good because I am young and my heart is healthy. What's there to complain about.

It's amazing how focusing externally changes everything.

And here's the greatest part - I don't think you have to be in a hospital room to start feeling sorry for yourself. The "Woe is me" syndrome is everywhere. And it will rob you of joy.

Start looking beyond yourself to seek what God may have you do today.

Feb 9, 2009

My Heart Surgery

I had my angiogram this morning. The plan was to find the areas of blockage and then place stints in. I was supposed to go home tomorrow. That was the plan.

The good news is that we didn't need to place stints in.

The bad news is that my heart my arteries are so bad that what is needed is more invasive procedures than stints.

So here's the plan:
- Out of the four major arteries that feed the heart 2 are completely blocked, and the other 2 are 80-90% blocked
- The ideal situation would have been to do a by pass with the blocked arteries
- The problem is that with the two of the completely blocked arteries, the arteries are so damaged that there is not a healthy portion of the artery to graft/bypass into.
- With the remaining two 80-90% blocked arteries, the doctors will perform the bypass.

Right now, we are waiting for the massive blood thinners that I have been on to work its way through my system. Once that happens, we will perform the surgery.

So at this point, we are just waiting until the opportune time to do the surgery.

That's the story.

Thank you all for your prayers and thoughts.

God is good and I have no worries because I know that whatever happens will be to God's glory.

Feb 6, 2009

My Heart

I just got back from the cardiologist. Had the second day test of the stress test.

Here's what we know. The scans definitely show that there are portions of my heart not getting enough blood. Plain English - it means that there's some sort of blockage in my heart.

I will have an angiogram on Monday and should the angiogram confirm the blockage, will have stint(s) placed in my heart on Monday.

Again, God is in control. No worries. Just need to rest up. They put me on blood thinners until Monday.

Will go from there.

All your prayers are greatly appreciated.

Feb 5, 2009

The Inside Scoop - The latest development with my health

As many of you know, I have been on a strict low carb, low fat, low sodium, low sugar diet since the beginning of the year because my numbers were all sky high.

Since then I have made great progress in lowering my high blood pressure and my diabetic numbers.

My cholesterol and tryglerceride numbers remain high but not as high as they were before.

I have been taking medication and watching my diet. Since the beginning of the new year, I've lost 17 pounds and feel great.

I went to the cardiologist to get a stress test on my heart. After examining the pictures from the scan, the doctors have told me that there is some blockage in my arteries. The doctor who looked at my scan was not my cardiologist so she did not want to get into any of the details. All I know is that whatever she saw was disconcerting enough to have me see my cardiologist tomorrow so that we can discuss the options to dealing with the blockage.

So that's where we stand today. I should know more tomorrow.

Good news is that God is in control. I feel great. No worries because I am in God's hands.

Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers.

Feb 4, 2009

Messy People - What Ministry is All About

Life - ministry is about people.

And because it's about people, we're going to have to deal with the issues that people deal with.

And that means that life and ministry is messy because we are messy.

If we would all do what we know to be right, if we would all do what we know God is calling us to do. But we don't. People don't. And because we don't, the result is chaos and dealing the the mess that people find themselves in.

That's ministry. That's life.

And unless we're ready to deal with this chaos and mess with the grace and the power of God, we have no business leading. That's what leaders are called to do - to apply God's grace and power in messy and chaotic situations.

God grant me the wisdom to lead in such a way.

God grant our leaders the same wisdom.