Saturday, April 30, 2011

Good Friday Tornado Relief Efforts

I wanted to share with you both the destruction and the hope I saw today. Service International has been organizing efforts all week to help the people of Maryland Heights and Bridgeton as they cope with the devastation from the EF4. The scope of the damage was hard to take in and the massive effort of people from all over the St. Louis area was amazing.

I videoed some of it to share with you. Please pray for these families hit so hard and thanks God that no one was killed.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Omni-Presence, the Mystical Communion of the Spirit and Non-Locality

This blog entry was first posted on "Mercy Corner" a couple of years ago, but I was teaching on the Holy Spirit recently and thought it would be of interest to some folks in our new church family.

WARNING: I get kind of geeky and philosophical here.

A colleague and friend posted this article on his Facebook page recently: Science, Spirituality, and Some Mismatched Socks, by Guatam Naik (you can find it here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124147752556985009.html).

Being trained as a scientist and a theologian, I was fascinated with the quatum phenomenon described in the article. Quantum Mechanics is the study of sub-atomic particles (like electrons and protons), the things that make up those particles (like quarks and gluons) and the particle behavior of light (photons). (yes, Quantum Mechanics covers more than this but this isn’t a sceintific blog!) One of the inviolable laws of this science (or any science for that matter) is the fixed and unsurpassable speed of light: 299,792,458 meters/second. To put it in more tangible terms, the universal speed limit is the speed of light and at that speed you could circumnavigate the globe in 1 1/3 second.


Now, it is too complicated for this setting to explain all aspects of this experiment, but in 2008, scientists (Nicolas Gisin, pictured at left, along with colleagues and students) took two photons with specific characteristics (a certain spin), ‘entangled’ the protons with a laser (meaning there characteristics become related), shot these photons along two different fiber-optic cables of exactly equal length, to two Swiss villages some 11 miles apart. During the journey, when one photon changed characteristics (switching to a slightly higher energy level), its twin instantly changed its characteristics in a corresponding way (switching to a slightly lower energy level). But the sum of the energies stayed constant, proving that the photons remained entangled. More important, the team couldn't detect any time difference in the changes. “If there was any communication [between the particles], it would have to have been at least 10,000 times the speed of light.” There is some mysterious connection between these two things that defies space. The instantaneous relation between the two particles is refered to as ‘non-locality’; the aspect of these things that seems to defy location. Leading physicist Bernard d'Espagnat looks at this result and prompts him to affirm “life's spiritual dimension.” The writer of the article summarizes it this way: “Dr. d'Espagnat's big idea is that science can only probe so far into what is real, and there's a ‘veiled reality’ that will always elude us."

I firmly believe that the Creation not simply bears the marks of its Creator but reflects the nature of its Creator. We see this in things like the noumenal/phenomenal or ‘one and many’ tension of the world as it reflects the ‘one and many’ we see in the Lord himself (the Trinity). Perhaps we see more parallels here with this idea of relation that defies locality. Perhaps ‘non-locality’ is not quite the right concept but something connects things that is ‘omni-local.’ And so to the connection betweem the risen and still embodied Christ to his people as well as believers separated by half the globe is something that is real but difficult to conceive intellectually (Quantum Mechanics is wonderful at confounding the mind!). There is a mystical communion of Christ's Church within itself and with their Savior. To say that something is ‘mystical’ does not refer to its immateriality (just as the use of the ‘spiritual’ in the New Testament also does not refer to immateriality, but to refers to power over against the weakness of common flesh). Jesus is still an incarnated being and our union and communion with him and each other is not something solely between the constituent part of us that we call the spirit alone. In our whole being (body and soul), we are united to Christ and commune with his Church. And it is the Spirit of God who is this connection. We are bound, really and inseparably (unlike the ‘entaglement’ mentioned above) to each other through the mediation of the Holy Spirit.

This leads Paul to talk about how the shame of one part of this mystical body is the shame of it all. This has profound implications for us as we think of our brothers and sisters in poverty living a mile or two from our comfortable air-conditioned homes; as we think of our brothers and sisters facing persecution and famine in northern Africa; as we think of our brothers and sisters half way across the globe recovering from a devastating earth-quake or tsunami. Locality is irrelevant. They are us. Not in some kharmic sense, but in that we are one body. The mystical nature of the body of Christ is a wonderful and powerful thing. It’s a shame we don’t think on it as often as we should or treat it as the real thing that it is.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunday Dinner: An Ordinary Gathering... an Extraordinary Community

We wanted to share with you an ordinary idea (having people over for lunch) that can have extraordinary results (people building community and loving each other well). Carla and Ely Britton had this idea and shared some of the results with us via e-mail (including a picture):

"Since Christmas we have been trying to get a few people from WCF over for dinner but kept running into scheduling challenges. We finally had the date set (at least 6 weeks ago) for 3/26. Then it snowed and the Gardners could not get out of their subdivision. Through God's grace... the food held until Sunday after church when we were all available... We would strongly encourage anyone to invite someone you do not know over for a meal. We had a great time getting to know one and other!!!"

Pictured from left to right: Kenny Jaworski, Steve and Megan Gardner, Ely and Carla Britton, Chris, Cari and Abby Lowe (photo taken by Chris and Cari's other daughter, Lauren Lowe, age 12).

Have you thought about inviting folks over for lunch after church on Sunday? Don't underestimate the power of good conversation over a shared meal. Something extraordinary might happen: you might find that the people around you really love you... and that you love them!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When Tech Says 'NO' But God Says 'YES'

“We have a tech problem with the video”

These are not the words I want to hear 15 minutes before a worship service. I went into the control room and some very knowledgeable and experienced tech people couldn’t figure it out. The computer was working. The DVD player was working. The switch box that controlled what appeared on the screens (computer or DVD) was working. Even the audio was working. But we could not get the DVD picture to show on the screen.

For a pastor, there are few frustrations greater then something going wrong with a worship service just before it starts. This was a big “NO” life was throwing at us… was throwing at “me,” so I thought in my self-centeredness.

So… at 9:28 am (service starts at 9:30 am), I went up to our substitute music director (our regular director was on vacation in Hawaii) and as he was playing for the prelude I told him that he would lead the worship service and that I hoped to be back very soon.

I drove to my house, not knowing if I had a sermon there (we rent space for our worship service and my office is split between my home and the Clayton campus of our church, 20 minutes away). I had some sermons on the home computer but our printer had broken just the week before. I had hard copies of sermons but I had recently moved them all to the Clayton campus… or so I thought.

There was a folder of sermons from James on a near empty bookshelf. I grabbed it and headed back to my car. I leafed through the sermons as I drove (yes… a bad call, I know). “No, not that one… that one doesn’t fit… maybe this one.” I hurriedly walked to the front of the YMCA theater and sat down to look over these very unfamiliar notes. And just then, one of my daughters moved over to my lap and began to cry, distraught that she had left her baby doll in one of the back rooms of the YMCA. I decided compassion from my daughter took precedence (though I wasn't sure this was the right call).

I walked up on stage with the most tenuous grasp on my notes, hoping that this would not be an unmitigated disaster. These are the kinds of moments that God orchestrates that He might show Himself more important than our preparation (though preparation is part of being faithful)… more important than our abilities (though He gives and uses them). Life might have been saying ‘no’… but God ended up saying ‘YES’ and it trumped all other things. God used our weakness to bring about a wonderful encouraging service of worship… because we were looking to Him. We had to!

The sermon series has been called, “How God Turns ‘NO’ into ‘YES,’” and we experienced some of that this past week at WCF. And it was sweet.

Let us know about your stories of God pulling the trump card and turning your ‘no’s into ‘yes’s.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Do We Say When We Talk about Japan?

You're watching the news... how do you respond to what you are seeing? Of course, our hearts go out to all those who are suffering and we should respond in some practical compassionate way to help them (Central Presbyterian is currently putting together a plan to get our folks involved with relief efforts... more on that later), but how do we make sense of these events?

Many people will say in the heartbreak of seeing the devestation, 'how could a loving God allow this?' This is a very good question... not simply because it's to the point, but it's honest.

The most rudimentary form of this question takes this shape: why do bad things happen to good people? Who has an answer to this question? Do Christians have an answer? Does the Bible? Does the pastor have an answer? When I am asked this question, I let people in to my own struggles with it. I don't hope to have some "objective" justification for suffering but I do present what I think is a personally satisfying resolution to suffering.

So, to ask the question again: "why do bad things happen to good people?"... well, I am not sure what qualifies as 'bad' and I am certain 'I' don't qualify as good (I don't mean to speak for anybody else). Oh, I am not a man guilty of capital offenses, but I am guilty of pride that has broken the hearts of my wife and children. I am guilty of brutal selfishness, offering less than my best efforts at work and therefore less than what I am paid for, thinking other people are not as important of me and at time wishing other people would simply disappear... certainly the root of murder. I am not a good person. Therefore, whatever joys I have in this life are more than I deserve.

And defining 'bad' is also more difficult than at first glance. Our personal definitions of 'bad' and 'good' matter a great deal. They depend on what we think are worthy goals... right goals in our life. Is happiness our pursuit? Pleasure? Knowledge? What? 'Bad' is usually defined as something that hinders us from these pursuits, death being the ultimate 'bad'. Yet, we all face death.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a man with a bright future in Soviet Russia. He had education, a keen mind and an ability to write. He served faithfully in the Red Army but his criticism of Stalin in a personal letter to a friend led to his imprisonment in a labor camp. Was this 'bad'? Solzhenitsyn wrote about his imprisonment and how it changed him... in his mind for the better:

"It has granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of my youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first strivings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and then all human hearts”

(from Cancer Ward)


He later wrote:

“And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me, bless you, prison, for having been a part of my life.”


Perhaps we call some things bad because we simply don't have eyes to see the good.

Japan, however, falls into the category of horrific. I don't have a great answer for it except to say that I believe God will redeem all pain and death in the resurrection - that restoration of our bodies and reuniting of body and soul... that God himself, who is good, suffered the most horrific evil (death on the cross and the suffering of divine wrath) to accomplish this. We either chose to take refuge in this or face a bleak "unyielding despair" (Bertrand Russell, "A Free Man's Worship"... see below for the full quote) without him. And this is no answer at all.


Bertrand Russell, from A Free Man's Worship
That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end of they were achieving; that his origin… his loves and his beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism… can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all labors of the ages, all the devotion.. all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system… are so nearly certain that no philosophy that rejects them can hope to stand…. [O]nly on the firm foundation of the unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

"In Their Own Words..." No. 2: What Is Being a Parent All About?

Here is another entry in our "In Their Own Words..." series. This time, we ask about parenting.

So... what is being a parent all about?





What do you think? Add your thoughts in the comments section.

Friday, March 4, 2011

"In Their Own Words..." No. 1: What Is Marriage About?

At West County Fellowship, we try to look at issues that matter both to God and to everyday life. We want to know what God has to say about things that may be mundane but are none-the-less persistent and hard to ignore realities... realities like the glory and pain of marriage.

One of the things we incorporate into our "discussion" are the thoughts of our own people. What do they think about these everyday but important matters? We often interview people at West County or the Clayton campus of Central Presbyterian to hear them "in their own words." We thought we would share some of those interviews with you.

So... what is marriage all about?



What do you think? Add your thoughts in the comments section.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Benefit Concert for Promise Academy, St. Louis

There are some exceptionally talented musicians and singers at Central Presbyterian Church and West County Fellowship and we most often use their gifts in worship of God, the Creator. But this Friday night we will see them put their abilities to use to help some very special children… children made in the image of their Creator.

Promise Christian Academy (http://promisestl.org) is a special place where children who need alternative instructional approaches can be educated, loved and cherished as a life with incalculable dignity. It’s a place where children are seen as more than simply someone with autism or downs syndrome. And the folks who work their not only do amazing work, but display the sweet character of Christ. I know. I’ve seen it!

This Friday night, there will be a benefit concert for Promise Academy to help support their mission. Randy Mayfield along with Gina Tuck (Clayton campus pianist), Justin Heimburger (West County campus percussionist), Tim Mauldin (West County campus music director and guitarist), Eric Stiller (Trio pastor and jazz bassist) along with many others will perform at Chesterfield Presbyterian Church at 7:00 PM.

I had the chance to attend part of the rehearsal tonight and I thought I would share some of it with you to whet your appetite for Friday night.



For more of the same, I would encourage anyone in the St. Louis area to attend for a great night of music and an opportunity to support a fantastic school.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Posting the Audio for the Series, The Spirit Filled Life

I am currently leading a study and discussion with the Women's Ministry at the Clayton campus of Central Presbyterian Church and some folks asked if it was being recorded. Well, the answer is 'yes' and I have posted the three sessions that have already happened. We will get the the rest of the series up as it happens over the next two or three months. I am recording on my own portable digital recorder so the quality is not fantastic but still pretty good. A Q&A session follows each presentation. I hope you find the study helpful and encouraging as you hear about God's work through His Spirit in the world, in the church and in you.

Click here to get to the audio links.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Marriage Is Like a Crucifixion? A Strange Valentine Message

If you were at West County Fellowship yesterday (2/13/11) you have already heard this thought but it bears repeating. I came across a quote from C.S. Lewis on marriage as I prepared for a message on what it means to be a husband:

“Christian writers have sometimes spoken of the husband’s headship with a complacency to make the blood run cold. We must go back to our Bibles. The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the Church-read on-and give his life for her. This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least….

At first this may seem like a strange Valentine's Day sentiment: that our marriages should should be more like crucifixions. This seems at complete odds with the romantic pictures of lovers lost in passion for one another. And yet the idea of a man giving himself... to die to himself... to love and protect his lover is perhaps the most profoundly romantic idea imaginable. It is a challenging and inspiring idea to us husbands that in our marriages, our wives should "receive most and give least." This is the way of Christ with his bride. What is your way with your bride?

To hear the full message from yesterday's worship service, Husbands: Leadership in Service of Another, click here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Marriage Enrichment Director Clay Coffee Makes Some Recommendations

I spoke recently with Clay Coffee, Central's Director of Marriage Enrichment, about the preaching series on marriage going on at West County Fellowship. He had some book recommendations for those looking to foster a healthy relationship with their spouse. Take a look:



We will have these books available for purchase at WCF very soon.

If you would like to do a "marriage tune-up" with Clay (a relationship inventory and a couple of sessions) feel free to e-mail him or contact him at the church's main line (314-727-2777). If you are looking for more in-depth help with your marriage, Clay can also refer you to many excellent counselors in the St. Louis area.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What We Mean and What People Hear: Communicating God’s Mercy to and Loving the Secularized Person

Sir Anthony Hopkins was interviewed by Piers Morgan the other night on CNN and it got me thinking about how people outside the church hear us when we talk about our beliefs in God and scripture. Here are some snippets from an article describing the interview:

When asked if he believes in God by Piers Morgan on his CNN talk show, he said: "Yes, I do. I'm not an atheist. I don't know what it is. None of us do… I believe in a God that Einstein believed in, a sort of Spinoza kind of interpretation."

Discussing the absolute beliefs of organized religions, he said: "I think it is dangerous. Certainty is responsible for some of the most awful terrors in the world.

"I made a point in the film ('The Rite'), I was saying to the young priest, 'So what do you believe in? The truth? Oh, yes, the truth. Look where that got us. Hitler, Stalin - they know the truth.'


For those of us who have a Christian faith or other specific faith convictions, we might take offense at this, but I believe it’s more constructive to think about Sir Anthony’s reaction to the idea of intellectual certainty (Stalin could hardly be called a person of religious certainty unless that he was certain that God didn’t exist). Intellectual certainty, in Sir Anthony’s mind, leads to a destructive arrogance and a devaluing of human life.

Whether we agree with this logic or not is not my concern at the moment. The fact that many people in our culture think this, logical or not, does interest me. It interests me because when I seek to talk about God’s mercy in Christ, I want to make sure they hear what I mean. When I talk about God's mercy, I mean 'God values you and so do I... God has shown me grace and that has humbled me... that humility leads me to service and care of any person who crosses my path.' Saying “I am a Bible-believing Christian” may be akin to saying, “I am a religious extremist,” in the minds of many people. Is this what we mean to communicate?

I have no formula to vault over the prejudices of our culture against those who have religious convictions, but I can tell you how I have sought to present to people the orientation of my life. When someone asks, ‘Do you believe in the Bible?’ I answer, ‘I believe in God… I trust Him… and I believe that he has spoken to me in a way I can trust: namely, the Christian scriptures.’ I don’t imagine that this would dispel all fears a secularized person might have of me, but at least it puts my faith in terms that don’t hit upon his or her worst fears: bigotry and arrogance.

If we are to communicate what we mean to say about God’s love and mercy, we must spend time thinking about what people are hearing when we talk. And this kind of sensitivity and care is usually the first step in answering God’s call upon our life: loving your neighbor

For the full article about Piers Morgan’s interview with Sir Anthony Hopkins, click here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Active Ingredient in Loving Relationships: Submission

I have been thinking a good bit about marriage and relationships in general... what makes them work, what puts strain on them. Again and again I come back to this idea: submission is the active ingredient in loving relationships. Of course, there are many things which go into healthy relationships but what makes these diverse ingredients come together is submission.

I am not talking about rolling over and playing dead in a relationship. I mean taking what you have... your gifts, your resources, your very person... and actively submitting it to the good of another. "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." Phil. 2:4. So many of our relationships are a pursuit of self-affirmation. This is why we tend to be friends with people who share our outlook and interests. It also tends to be why we have so much tension in our marriages, as our spouse seem less and less interested in telling us how great we are.

This is at once both a difficult concept and an empowering idea. It is difficult because the idea of willfully submitting ourselves to another's interests seems to violate our freedom and personhood. It is empowering in that our love no longer becomes a question of someone else's behavior. As Christ actively gave himself to the good of those who were undeserving but in need... submitting who he was to our good, so we should love others... by submitting ourselves to their good. Food for thought as we lie in bed next to people who we feel often disappoint our expectations.

(For more on this idea, come here Daryl preach on 2/6/11 at West County Fellowship, Marriage: Loving Self or Loving Another? or listen online after 2/6/11)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Staff Thoughts on Christ, Part 1: Music Director Eric Stiller

Christ is central to our faith and our worship. His divinity and the necessity of his life, death and resurrection are clear from scripture. However, there may be many different aspects of who Christ is and what he has done that strike us most powerfully. We thought we would ask our staff about their personal reactions to Christ and share their thoughts with you. We start that today with a brief interview with Eric Stiller, Director of Music for West County Fellowship.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Charlie and Rachel Looney Welcome a New Son, Calvin

We wanted to let you know the good news: Charlie (intern with Central and WCF) and Rachel Looney are now the parents of a baby boy, Calvin James Looney. Calvin was born this morning (1/29) at 4:30 am. Mother and baby are doing great and will head home tomorrow. Glory to God for this amazing blessing to the Looneys and to our church. Take a look for yourself.

video

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Brief Chat with Matt Wicker, WCF Children's Ministry Director

We are showcasing two things with this blog entry. First, we are trying to make better use of our video capabilities to let folks know about West County Fellowship... our staff, our events, our hopes for West County as we tell folks about the love of Christ. Second, we took advantage of this technology to talk briefly with our Director of Children's Ministries, Matt Wicker and hear about his work day. Take a look and let us know what you think about going 'behind the curtain' with the WCF and Central staff. We hope you enjoy this first taste.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Need for Discipleship

I have been thinking a great deal about our fledgling group out in West County St. Louis and both the need and opportunity we have to grow both deeper and wider. Though we are connected to a well established and mature church (Central Presbyterian, Clayton Campus) we need to be working on how we, as the West County campus of Central, grow in maturity.

Most of the programs Central offers tend to be Clayton based and therefore not always easily accessible to our folks. With that in mind, I wanted to begin building a menu of things for our folks based here in West County. First on the menu: What Christians Should Believe... this is 13 week (a quarter) one-on-one meeting with the pastor (me) walking through the fundamentals of our faith and how it should impact our lives.

It is based on the book Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. If you are a man looking to go deeper in your faith through study and mentoring, contact me and we'll get started. I am looking to work with four men this quarter but if more show interest we will schedule you for the next quarter. If you are a lady looking for an opportunity to be mentored by either walking through this book or doing something else, please let me know and we will get a mentoring relationship set-up for you.

Lord willing in the next couple of months we will add more things to the menu... perhaps a weekend seminar or a mid-week class. Until then, let me know if you would like to take advantage of this appetizer!