As I mentioned a few weeks ago, when I was in college I spent a lot of time searching. When I first went to First Lutheran in St. Peter, MN, I was not sure what to expect, but it was a defining moment in my life and my life of faith.
Part of that story includes a lady whose name I cannot recall, but who had a profound impact on me. When I went to First I thought I would hide in the back and just check everything out. Not long after I sat down a little, old lady come over, plopped down next to me, and said, "You look a little lost. Can I help you to understand our service. Why don't I just sit with you today and help you through it. Sometimes it can be a bit confusing."
So she worshiped with me that Sunday. Told me when to stand and sit, how to take communion, and figure out the hymnal. Then after service, when I was about to leave, she grabbed my arm and said, "Where are you going? We are Lutheran which means we have cookies and coffee down the hall. Come with me."
And I did.
Once there she introduced me to a number of people and made me feel welcome.
One of the main reasons I went back was because of her and her hospitality. She made such an impression on me that you can still see it in my relational theology.
This week we hear the story of the first church council, the Jerusalem Council. At this meeting the big debate was what did you have to do to become a Christian. There were come who believed that to be a Christian meant that you had to follow all of the Jewish traditions and laws first, such as being circumcised. But there were others who disagreed and thought that baptism and the gift of the Spirit were enough.
At the end of the reading we see that the conclusion they come up with is that our identity as Christians does not come from follow the rules and customs, but rather it is in what we believe - our faith.
This council opened the door to the Gentile believers in a way that is had not been opened before, and the church continued to grow and demonstrate its inclusive nature.
Yesterday I got the results of another quarterly scan and it came out clean. I was going to post on this earlier, but I got tied up with some work and plain, old forgot. Sorry about that.
As usual, I was nervous going into the oncologist's office, I don't know if that will ever change. The appointment started late, which didn't surprise me, but added to the anxiety.
In the past he would come in with the results on a piece of paper that he had, but not this time. Instead, with the new computer system, be didn't have the results yet either. So he logged on and eventually found them.
All this time my heart is beating faster and faster.
But when he got to the page, there it was - Scan was negative for cancer.
Another quarter of the drug working.
They have said that one day the drug will stop working, but I keep hoping and praying that is a long time from now.
Our church is a land locked church. We are on a corner lot and the back is parking lot.
Last summer we discovered that a neighboring lot had a house on it that was being condemned. The city then had it torn down. A month or so later they got in touch with us and asked us if we wanted to buy the lot.
I believe that anytime a land locked church can get property, it is something to seriously consider. The questions, always, is price.
Well, they wanted to sell it to us for $500.
Yup, $500 for the lot. How could we go wrong. So we jumped on it.
Then we discovered the joy of red tape. Turns out the house was demolished with federal funds, so there was a stipulation about who could buy the property, and the church wasn't eligible.
So the lot sat there. We talked about a lease with the city, but nothing came of it. It was just a vacant lot that the city had to care for.
Last week we got an e-mail from the city - and the requirements had changed. Now the church was eligible to buy the lot and they asked if we were still interested. The purchase price was the same, $500.
Within 48 hours we had all of the paperwork signed and sent back to the city. It should be ours officially in a month or so.
There are so many different possibilities with what we can do with that lot - green space for the kids, BBQ's, volleyball tourney, and list goes on and on.
Growing up one of my summer jobs was running a lawn care business. I would spend my summers mowing, trimming, planting weeding, and watering. It was a great job, and I loved what I did.
Then I burned out, and I took a break from lawn care. Too long of a break.
But lately I have gotten back into it, and I love it. I love working up a sweat in the yard, seeing a job done, and done well. Watching the flowers bloom and working the yard so that the grass is beautiful.
For the past few years we have been collecting all of the tree limbs that have fallen in the yard in a massive pile behind the garage. Every once in a while a friend would come and removed some of it. Well, yesterday I decided to make a dent in that pile. So Scarlett and I loaded up a couple of truckloads and brought them out to a friend's burn pit. When I was done, I felt great. I was dirty, sweaty, had some cuts on me, and I felt like I had accomplished something.
I love that feeling.
I feds me, gives me strength, and gets me ready for the week.
Is there something physical you do that feeds you?
Every once awhile, in the middle of the night, I get a call to go upstairs. Normally one of the girls is having a bad dream or in need of a drink of water or just wants to alert me to the fact that they are going to the bathroom.
Last week I got one of those calls, and it was a little different.
So it's about 1 am and I am awakened by Scarlett yelling for me. So I lumber up the stairs, open her door, and as gently as I can, ask, What is it honey?
There is no response.
So I ask again, while wiping the sleep from my eyes. And then Scarlett says, Look down.
So I look down and at the edge of her bed, on the floor, is a foot waving in the sky.
She says again, Look down.
Then says, I fell out of bed.
She starts laughing hysterically. I fell out of bed, I fell out of bed.
So I pick her up, put her back in bed, and remind her to not fall out again. She says, I know, but it was funny.
What child stories do you have that make you laugh?
This week I want to highlight one of the books of the Bible that I am currently reading. First, a little background on how I currently use my devotional time.
Most mornings I am the first one up, so I head to gym and work up a nice sweat then come home, make a cup of coffee and start to read something in the Bible.
As most of you know, I love technology, and I have integrated it into my devotional life as well. On my I-pad I have a Bible app that I love, YouVersion Bible. Now it isn't perfect and it doesn't have my favorite translation, but it has helped transform my devotional life over the past few years.
With this app I can select different reading programs. Over the years I have read through all of the prophets, the OT, the gospels, Acts, and many more. Some have devotional material with them, others are just a reading plan that break it up day by day as to what you need to read.
So right now I am reading through the Acts and the Letters in the New Testament. Every day I get a chapter from Acts and one of the Letters. The Letter I am reading is Romans. (I know, it took me a long time to get there, but I made it:)
Romans has always been one of my favorite letters by Paul. I especially love the fifth chapter, which is what I was reading yesterday. In this chapter we are reminded of the grace of God and how salvation comes not from what we do, but rather through what Christ has already done. This is a freeing word that empowers me to take risks, live my life of faith, and trust that when I make a mistake, God will be there to lift me up, dust me off, and help me continue on. This is one of my favorite chapters in scripture.
Is there a passage in scripture that is powerful to you every time you read it?
As I have been thinking about the different mentors in the faith that I have had, Jan's name kept coming back to me, and it is not because she was a teacher or pastor who influenced me, but rather she was a parishioner at my first congregation who was a mentor because of what happened to her and her family and the impact that it has had me ever since.
Savage is small little town (and the church is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year - congratulations!) in eastern Montana. It is part of a two point parish that I served 15 years ago. It was here that I got my feet wet as a pastor, I made a number of mistakes and they had the grace to forgive me and help me grow. And it is also where I learned a lot about the frailty of human life.
While I was there Jan and Rollie had a stillborn daughter. I was with them during this time and it was one of the most difficult things I have ever walked with a family through.
It was also the hardest funeral I have ever done. There are images from that service I will never forget.
And the reason I list Jan as a mentor is that she allowed me, and even welcomed me, into her time of grief and loss. She let me walk with her, be a comfort when I could, always hoping I was bringing a message of peace and hope to her. Because of the time I spent walking with her I grew as a pastor in ways that I never dreamed.
It was because of her willingness to be open and vulnerable with me then that I am now able to walk into difficult situations trusting that God will work through me to bring that word of peace and hope to others. She helped me to grow in "pastoral" side of being a pastor that I wasn't sure was even there before I met her.
So thank you, Jan, for your openness and grace to me, and may you continue to be showered with God's peace in your life.
This week we travel with Philip as he heads out into the countryside to share the gospel message. In his travels he runs across an Ethiopian who had some power, as he was in charge of the queens treasury.
He was also an outsider. Because he was a eunuch he was not viewed as whole and was not allowed into the temple.
As he is traveling he is reading through the prophet Isaiah, but doesn't understand it. So in comes Philip, who offers to teach the Ethiopian, and after their conversation the Ethiopian wants to be baptized.
So they stop at a little mud puddle on the side of the road and he is welcomed into the body of Christ.
It is a beautiful story about the power of God's word and how it comes open us to changed lives.
And it is a story that reminds us to be open to meeting people on the road. There may be times in our lives when we are like the Ethiopian, not understanding, feeling like an outsider, and in need of someone to come to us, mentor us, guide us. And it is at these times that we need to be open to the people that Spirit sends our way.
And there are times when we need to have the courage to walk up to the person who is struggling and offer to give a hand to them.
When you read through this passage, what speaks to you?
This week I have been involved in a number of deep conversations. Some have been in group settings, trying to figure out the best way to move forward with things, others have been one on one, and in them I felt the moving of the Spirit in wonderful ways.
As I have talked about many times in person and on here, my theology is very relational. We were created to be in relationships, and in these relationships we are blessed to see the face of God in many and various ways.
This week I had an overwhelming sense on joy in two of the conversations that I had, with people I don't often get to sit down and talk with. As we were talking I felt the breath of the Spirit blowing across us and they were two of the better conversations I have had in long time.
And I was reminded, again, that often God talks to us through other people. And what a blessing it is that he does.
Did you have any conversations this week that moved you or brought you joy?
I love to read. I bring my I-pad with me everywhere and I always have something on there to read - a novel, a theology book, a blog, a paper, a magazine ... Something that I can dive into even if it is for a short amount of time.
And want to share that love of reading with my girls, which seems to be working. When Sierra wakes up in the morning and it is not yet 7:00, she pulls out a book and reads. And Scarlett is jumping in with both feet, she is sounding out words and reading like a champ for a four-year-old.
And reading feeds me.
Sometimes I am fed with the life of the characters that I enter into with the fiction books I read. Other times I am fed by reading authors I agree with, or disagree with, and challenge my beliefs. I am fed by having my mind expanded, my horizons broadened, my world made bigger.
I am reminded that there is always something new to learn out there, and being able to read about it helps me to grow in so many different ways.
What do you read on a regular basis that has an impact on you?
Last Sunday we had a church bowling outing. I always love these time to get together with people outside of church and have some fun.
And I like beating my wife at bowling.
Which happened one out of two times.
The other time, well, she whooped me.
And Sierra tied me.
It was a bad second game for me.
But the greatest joy of the day was watching the two girls bowl. Sierra has come a long way. She is figuring out her approach, how to throw the ball, and even get a little spin on it. It is impressive.
And Scarlett, well, she is a creative bowler. We still use a ramp for her, as you can see her sitting on it in the picture above. And then she bowls with, well, style. When she puts to ball on the ramp she then decides what body part to use to push the ball down the ramp. Often it is her elbow or head, but my favorite was the "belly ball." She puts her belly up to the ball and pushes it down the ramp. It is wonderful to watch.
It reminds me that there are way too many times that we take life too seriously. We need to kick back and enjoy life more. Smile at the little things, celebrate the joys, and take in the wonder of those around us.
Who knows, if they let me use the ramp, maybe I would do a belly ball too :)
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I recently started Rob Bell's new book, "What We Talk About When We Talk About God." I am only about a quarter of the way into it so far, but I thought I would give my initial impression with you.
In this book Rob talks about the baggage that comes with the word, and the definition we have, of God. No matter where we come from, we have an image of God. This image has been shaped by what we have read, what has been said, and who we have learned from. Rob tries to move the reader past what we have brought to the table to be opened to a different view of God.
The book centers around a few words that have made an impact on Rob over the years.
Like I said, I haven't gotten very far, but I am into the section on the word Open. In this chapter he discusses the either/or stances many people have when it comes to faith.
Faith or intelect
Belief or reason
Miracles or logic
God or science
Then he moves into a conversation where he talks about how we do not need the either/or stances. Instead God is bigger than the either/or's of life. He has a long section on science and how everything is connected. It is quite interesting, and I had to stay focused as I read through it.
So far I am intrigued with the book and I am looking forward to see where it is going.
Back when I was in college and going through my searching stage I took a religion course with a visiting professor, Kyle Pasewark. In this class I fell in love with religion, theology, and even with God. Eventually Kyle became my adviser, and one of my degrees was in Religion.
I remember sitting in his office and discussing faith in very deep and theological way, and then he would bring it back to a daily application which made it even more meaningful to me.
One of the classes I took from him was a J-Term class where we study the theology of John Updike. This was the first time I really looked at faith in novels and inspired me even more.
Kyle was also one of my greatest cheerleaders in getting me to apply to seminary and be a pastor. I am not sure I would be here, doing this, if it were not for him.
I haven't seen or talked to Kyle in over 20 years, but he was a true mentor in my life of faith.
So thank you Kyle.
Was there anyone in your late teens and 20's who inspired your faith?
Our lesson this week comes from Acts, Chapters 6:1-7:2a and 7:44-60.
In this reading we hear the story of Stephen. Stephen is the first martyr in the church, dying because of his belief in Jesus as the Son of God. But before he was put to death he was selected as a leader to help care for those in need.
What was happening was that the early church was going through some growing pains. They kept gaining more and more followers and the apostles were spread pretty thin. So they selected some people to help care for those in need. Stephen was one of the ones selected for this task.
The story of Stephen reminds me of the diversity of gifts we are all given. Some are blessed to preach and teach, some to serve others, some to sing, some to write, some to comfort, and the list goes on and on.
The fact is we are all blessed with different gifts, so how can we put our gifts to use to further the Gospel message?
As I look back on the past week I am reminded of the joy of the little things in life. Here are some of the things that gave me joy:
- Being able to sleep in the car. We drove 17 hours straight on vacation and I was able to get a few hours of sleep, even if it was uncomfortable. Without that sleep I would have been really grumpy, or grumpier, if I hadn't.
- Watching Scarlett bark like a dog. Yeah, she pretends she a dog often and when she gets on all fours and barks, well, it makes me laugh.
- Swim lessons - watching the girls grow in their swim ability gives me great joy
- An embrace from Jennifer - another little thing, but there are times when a hug, a touch, a kiss from her just lights up my day
- Getting something done - there are days when I don't feel like I accomplish anything, and when I do get something substantial done I feel great.
- Sleep - When I was on vacation I slept great, I love having a good night sleep and the energy it gives me.
One of the greatest joys in my life is playing with my girls. These two have a bundle of energy and when I enter into their worlds I see some absolutely amazing things. They are creative, joyful and filled with a zest for life that inspires me on a daily basis.
Of course, there are those times that push my buttons, but I try to look past that as often as I can. Especially at 2 in the morning when I have to stumble upstairs and assure them that there are no monsters in the dark.
But even then, as I am walking, stumbling, down the stairs, I am fed by them. Then love me enough to call me up there, and trust that I will come. What a blessing that is.
So my girls feed me, and when I am really down and need a bit of a boost, a trip to the bowling alley or a bike ride with them will often give me what I need.
Today is my first day back in the office after a nice little post-Easter vacation, so I haven't jumped into any big books over the past week or so. I read a few murder mystery novels on vacation, but not spectacular.
So today I want to talk about one of the blogs that I read on a regular basis. It is called "Stuff Christians Like" by Jon Acuff. It is a blog filled with satire about the Christian life and is quite humorous. It also makes some wonderful points about faith and how we live out our lives as Christians in the world.
Jon has a second blog as well where he writes about ways to better yourself and follow your dreams. It is good, but I don't spend as much time with it as I do with Stuff Christians Like.
When I was in college I went through a major time of searching. Entering college I was not an active Christian. I had been baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal faith, but didn't actively attend anywhere.
There were a number of things going on in life, and I started searching for a deeper meaning of life. It was at that time that I would up at First Lutheran in St. Peter, MN.
How I got there is a long story, I will save that for another time.
As I attended there I got to know the pastor, Mark Solyst. Over the next couple of years I spent a fair amount of time with Mark, talking with him, talking faith, and dealing with my questions and even some of my demons,
Part of the reason I wound up going to seminary and becoming a pastor is because of Mark. He was a mentor in my faith and I will always appreciate everything he did for me those years.
This is my train of thought post of the week - five things I am thinking about.
1 - I am on a beach. I am not a huge beach person. They are fine, but just sitting in the sun on the beach is not my favorite thing to do. But since Scarlett and Sierra are here, there is a lot of digging and jumping in waves and squeals of delight. Vacation is good.
2 - I don't lead worship this weekend. This is a strange one for me. When I have weekends like this it messes up my internal clock, but it is a good thing. We all need to get out of our routines and have a break every once in a while.
3 - A 17-hour car ride with two little girls and two adult women was a long car ride :) In all honesty. it went well and we had as good a time as we could.
4 - Our former intern is leading worship at OSLC this weekend. If you know Jeremy, swing by and say hi.
5 - Scarlett still likes to pretend she is a talking dog. Not quite sure where this came from, but I do have fun scratching behind her ears.
One of the great joys I have in life is being able to sit down with people, have a cup of coffee, and talk, just talk, about life, faith and anything else we feel like talking about.
Because of the busy-ness of being pastor, I don't always get that chance to just sit and talk. Over the years I have learned that I actually have to schedule this time, time to go to the coffee shop and visit with folks.
So a couple of times a month I head out to either Starbucks or Bagels and More and invite people to join me. We will sit there for an hour or so, sitting, talking, building relationships, and overall just having a good time. I have gotten to know a number of people quite a bit better through these times, and I have also been fed.
Sometimes I am moving in so many different directions, I need to be slowed down and reminded about why I do what I do.
I need to reflect on how what I teach and say and preach relates to everyday.
I am on vacation this week, which is a great time for me to read. During this week I will be readings through some mystery and suspense books, stuff that is quick to read, gets me involved, and takes me away from the normally weekly reading I do at work.
But one of the books I started before vacation is the new one by Rob Bell. It is called "What We Talk About When We Talk About God."
Rob Bell was the founding pastor at Mars Hill in Michigan. He is a very dynamic speaker and writer and has a way of drawing his audience in and keeping us, even when he is discussing dome pretty deep stuff.
Not long ago he left Mars Hill and moved to California where he is doing his ministry in a new way. He continues to write and produce videos to share his faith.
This book, which I only just started, has to do with how we talk about God in our own lives and even how we view God. He also issues a challenge, of sorts, in how we understand God.
I am not sure what I think yet, I need to be more that 17 pages into it. But he is thought provoking. More on this book later.
Now that we have entered the Easter season and finished our Lenten Journey, I am working on some new regular post ideas. I am not sure how long these series will go, but it is a start.
On Mondays I am going to be doing a Models of Faith. I will look at people who have made an impact on me throughout my life and why they have been inspirations to me,
Tuesdays will be What I am Reading day. Sometimes people ask me what I have been reading and so I want to share some of the gems I run across. I am an eclectic reader, so there should be a good variety of stuff here.
Wednesday will be my Funny of the Week. What was it during the past week that made me laugh. We all need to laugh in our lives, and I hope some of my funnies will may you laugh too.
Thursday is about Being Fed. Just like you, I need to be fed spiritually too. So I will share what it was that fed me lately.
Friday will be Fast Five Friday - the first five things I am thinking about. This could be interesting in seeing how my mind wanders.
Saturday is about joy - what is that made me smile, gave me joy over the past week.
And Sunday will be faith reflections. It may be about the sermon for the weekend, a hymn or song that moved me, or anything that causes me to reflect on the gift of faith.
Odds are I will miss a day or two, but I am going to try and be dedicated to my writing here as I have the past season of lent. As always, if you have any comments or questions, please let me know.