Alone

It is not good for one to be
alone.
Oh, my God, how I long to be
known.
Known by brothers and sisters,
Connected in Christ,
For we are stronger together,
Let me say that twice.
It is not good for one to be
alone.
Alone I am vulnerable.
Alone I am weak.
Alone I am indefensible.
Here I do not misspeak.
It is not good for one to be
alone.
But even though my brothers and sisters are distant –
for now,
I am never truly
alone.
For through Jesus’ blood,
and his life,
my sins he did
atone.
Oh God, my God,
thank YOU that I am never truly
alone.

Nothing Like It

The following is my article for the Buffalo Center Tribune. It was inspired by 1 John 3:1 – the text I preached on All Saints Sunday, November 7. To God be ALL glory!


I enjoy a good cup of coffee. Wait, that’s not a strong enough statement so let’s try this again: I REALLY enjoy a good POT of coffee, or two. There, that sounds better. You see, I am writing this article at 9:30 AM and I have already finished my first pot and now thinking about my next cup, which will come soon. But also, those who know me well know that I am a first-class coffee snob. I have a local roaster that I buy from, and I do not mind paying a little extra for good coffee. I am not rude, though. I will drink what my host puts in front of me, but I am very picky about what adorns my coffee bar at home.

And this coffee snobbery is on display in my office. One sign reads, “Coffee gets me started, God keeps me going”. Yes, there is a humorous truth here but theologically, many holes can be punched through this. Then there is the sign that reads, “C.O.F.F.E.E. – Christ Offers Forgiveness For Everyone Everywhere”. I like this because this has Gospel (and coffee) written all over it. But there is one more sign – one that I almost feel guilty about having, as it is borderline sacrilegious: “Coffee – Liquid that smells like fresh ground heaven”. Once again, there is a certain humor to this but truthfully, there is nothing that can be compared to heaven – not even coffee (yes, I actually wrote that).

You see, as good as coffee is, or anything of this world, nothing can be compared to our awesome God. 1 John 3:1 says this, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…” The phrase “what kind of love” has the sense in the Greek of “from what country are you from”. John writes this because there is nothing that can be compared to God’s love. There is nothing that can be used in this phrase: “[blank] is like God’s love.” When someone encounters God’s love, it is a love that is so different, so foreign that it should lead someone to say, “Wow, you are not from around these parts”. And that is what John is saying here. God’s love is not like the world, yet, we try to show love to one another using worldly ways and then saying that is God’s love. God’s love is shown and known only through Jesus and him crucified for your sins and raised for you. God’s love is perfect and complete. God’s love is pure and holy. God’s love is like nothing the world has ever seen for God’s love makes YOU His children. No other kind of love can do that.

Yes, there are many fantastically awesome beautiful things of this world (coffee), but nothing that comes close to God – who made all those fantastically awesome beautiful things (coffee). From what country are you from? Through Jesus you’re from the Kingdom of God. And that is a fantastically awesome beautiful truth. To God be all glory, always and forever, Amen.

Combine Ride

The following is my most recent addition to the Buffalo Center Tribune. To God be ALL glory!


I went for a combine ride last week. [Yawn] – that is what I can hear many of you doing right now, along with saying, “Big deal”. Well for me it was a big deal, for this was my first time in a combine. That’s right, I’m fifty years old and grew up in a small farming town in west central Minnesota, but I had never ridden in a combine. I have seen my share of farm machinery in action. I have spoken with and know my share of farmers. I have heard the stories. I am acquainted with the ebbs and flows of the farming community. Rural life is not foreign to me, just the actual riding of the equipment, but now I have gotten a sip. And that sip was enough to fill me with awe. It was not just the fancy combine that literally drove itself, or that fancy tech that knows where we’ve been and what needs to be completed, along with moisture percentages and yield rates. What captivated me was listening to my “chauffer” talk about his passion for farming. I saw and heard his joy for this vocation. He loves his job. And there are so many people out there that just do not understand who farmers are, what they do and what they mean for all of us. I am not saying that I fully understand now; that I could drop my current vocation and become a farmer tomorrow, but with that sip I received last week, I am motivated even more than ever to share the awe that I experienced and learn more myself.


But there is something else that I have sipped that has filled me with more awe – something I want to share with you now.


Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

[Psalm 34:8-10]


You see, just one little taste or sip of the grace of God through Jesus Christ, will open your eyes to a kingdom that is beyond words. It will reveal an awe that will blow you away. Just one little taste and one little look will change you forever. Try it, you will not regret it. For you see, just as one short ride in a combine showed me a brand-new world; giving me a desire to learn more, tasting and seeing God’s grace for sinners will change you or enliven you. It will fill you with awe and give you an appetite to taste more.


And so, taste and see that the Lord is Good. Taste and see and be reminded. Taste and see a brand-new life. Taste and see and know you are and will always be loved. Taste and see and be forever filled. To God be the glory through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wading in the Word: Open doors

As I was wading in the Word this morning, these verses from Colossians splashed me in the face:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
Colossians 4:2‭-‬4 ESV

What got me wet this morning was Paul’s request to pray for him; that God may open doors for the Word. We pray with our children every night and go down the “list” of people in our lives. We thank God for our many blessings. We recount our day. We praise Him. But one thing I have not done was pray for God to open a door for the Word as we go about our days. Paul was in prison and had a captive audience (so to speak); the guards who were guarding him. But why not us? We encounter people nearly everyday and thus, when we encounter them, there is an opportunity for the Word – whether they are a believer or not. Pray that God opens a door for the Word, but also pray for that holy nudge to walk through that door. Pray also for the faith and courage to share the Word, but all the while, giving glory to God.

Holy God, open doors for me this day to share Your Word of life. Give me that nudge to walk through and the words to say in that moment. To You be all glory, honor, praise and worship, through Christ Jesus my Lord, Amen.

The Sound

Sitting in the silence,
with only a trickle of light,
teasing the darkness.
A cup filled with liquid pleasure
warming my hands.
Listening.
The silence is loud,
yet,
small, insignificant sounds distract me,
pulling me away from the moment,
the Sound.
I must silence the sounds –
wading through the clutter –
and return to the Sound,
the Voice,
the One.

Mayah’s Poem

The following is my newest article for the Buffalo Center Tribune. To God be ALL glory, Amen.


About four to five years ago I started to write poetry. No, these are nothing that are book worthy or something for which to cross the street. They are simply smatterings that come from my heart. Sometimes the rhyming is a little corny and I probably break all the poetry rules (if there is such a thing). But suffice it to say, I write these poems as an intellectual exercise but mostly as a spiritual discipline. Thinking about word choices in order to communicate a message in a powerful and meaningful way is something that leads me into deeper thought and reflection on the given topic. But sometimes I make things way too difficult (in poetry and in life). At times I get frustrated when I cannot come up with the perfect word(s) to rhyme with other word(s) that I have chosen. Sometimes I can spend days or longer working on a poem. Sometimes I walk away from the poem and thus forget about it; allowing the moment to pass. Sometimes I turn this simple joy into work and thus lose the joy. Sometimes I just need to take a page out of my daughter’s book.


One night my wife and I were preparing supper. As we started to put everything on the table, we called to our children to wash their hands and come to the table to eat, but both were preoccupied. Malachi was busy with his Legos and Mayah was downstairs in what we call her art studio. After my wife and I got everything set we called to them again, but still nothing. Frustration arose and we were getting annoyed. My wife and I eventually started dishing up our plates. We were going to eat with or without our children. Eventually Mayah showed up and excitedly asked, “Can I pray tonight? I wrote a prayer poem. Can I pray? Please!” I immediately felt guilty for being annoyed and responded, “Of course you can.” We stopped dishing up our plates in order to pray. This is what my 8-year-old daughter wrote (I share this with her permission):


God, thank you for this food.
I may or may not be in a good mood.
You comfort my family.
You give us clothes to keep us warmily.
You keep us happy when we may not be.
I love you because you love me.


And yes, I know “warmily” is not a word, and she may have broken every poetry rule in the book, but that’s alright, for it came from her tender, loving heart. Sometimes we just need to stop making things so difficult and become like a child. Sometimes we just need to slow down and not take things so seriously. My daughter’s prayer was one of the best prayers I have heard in a very long time; for it spoke to my heart. Thank you, Mayah, for your prayer poem. Thank you for making a “difficult” thing look so easy. Thank you for sharing your heart and the joy within. To God be all glory, praise and honor. Amen.

Questions

The following is my most recent article for the Buffalo Center Tribune. To God be the glory!


I am not sure how it started or when and where, but somewhere along the way I had developed a fear of asking questions. This was especially true in school and something that was exasperated while in seminary. Early on in seminary I perceived what I deemed a disadvantage. Many of my classmates were younger and coming straight out of college. But that was not the key disadvantage on which I dwelt. Many of my classmates were coming straight out of private Christian universities (i.e. St Olaf, Augustana, Gustavus). Many had taken religion classes, and some even had religion majors or minors. They had studied many of the theologians that we were studying and reading in seminary. And many of those theologians were ones of which I had never heard or read. Coming out of a state university with an accounting degree, seminary was not even close to my future plans. I felt unprepared and intimidated. So, when questions arose with me, I was afraid to raise my hand in class out of fear of looking ignorant or stupid and so, I kept quiet. Sometimes I worked up the courage to ask my professor after class, but always in their office, away from prying eyes or ears. But even then, I feared what my professor thought of me. And so, through unasked questions, I was left to search for the answers myself or just let it go.

In the Gospel text for Sunday, Sept 19 from Mark 9:30-32, Jesus is teaching the disciples privately saying, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they (the disciples) did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him (Jesus).” Maybe this fear stemmed from Jesus’ rebuke of Peter when Peter challenged Jesus about this earlier. Whatever the case, they kept the matter to themselves, but later would understand. But how many people today, “keep the matter to themselves” and never come to understand. Often it is not because of a fear of asking questions (it could be) but rather not knowing the right questions or even realizing that they have questions. Too often, we just assume that fellow worshippers or others are Christians. They never ask questions, and we never press the issue, but maybe we should.

Have you ever asked someone, “How’s your relationship with Jesus doing?” This may make you or that other person uncomfortable, but it could just be the question they or you need to hear. They could be looking for that right person who will not think less of them if their relationship with Jesus is lacking. You should never assume faith. In all places and in all situations, give them Jesus. As a follower of Jesus, I would love to hear that question from a brother or sister; someone who cares for my eternal wellbeing. Never assume faith and always assume there are unasked questions lurking out there that need answers. Become a safe place for someone to get the answers they need. To God be the glory and Amen.

Okay

My God hears me when I pray,
each and every day.
He hears me when I cry,
til the day I die.
He knows my very heart,
and yet He’ll not depart.
He knows my every sin,
the darkness there within.
He’s ready to forgive,
through Jesus I will live.
He’s ready to remake;
my heart He’ll not forsake.
So hear me when I say,
with Jesus you’re okay.

Uncomprehending Grace

Jesus my Lord, my Savior, and my friend.
With me always all the way to the end.

He heals me, saves me, and delivers me.
He holds me, loves me, and in him I’m free.

I’m disobedient and obstinate.
He’s always and ever compassionate.

Jesus my Lord, my Savior, and my friend.
Oh God, Your grace I’ll never comprehend.

Long Evening Walk

Well here we go, I am back at it. After writing articles for The News Tribune (Tacoma) for a few years while serving at Living Word Lutheran Church, I am now writing in my new community. Below is my first article for the Buffalo Center Tribune in Buffalo Center, IA. My articles are due the first and third Thursday of the month and will be published the following Tuesday. To God be the glory!


My family and I went for a walk one evening. We headed north on 4th Street NE and enjoyed the evening air. I was keenly aware of the beautiful corn field to my right. Quite a change from my former scenery in the Pacific Northwest. We used to live in the shadow of Mount Rainier in the Tacoma/Puyallup area. We had many scenic evening walks there, but this walk here was going to be different – a good different. As we headed north, we could tell that it was going to be a gorgeous sunset. We got to 7th Avenue NE and we had to turn west toward the setting sun. We arrived near AG Performance and there it was – the sun setting over the fields. I wanted to stare but that would not have been good for the eyes. So, I took glimpses through my shielding fingers and snapped a picture on my phone. Staring at that will not hurt my eyes but it definitely does not do the scene justice. We proceeded to head south and work our way home. It was a school night and shower night for the kiddos, so there was no time to waste, but as I said earlier, this walk was going to be a good different.


You see, during our walk we encountered something to which we were not accustomed: Friendly people smiling and wanting to greet us and talk. No, they did not know I was the new guy in town, they were just friendly, down to earth people. One woman was walking her dog and let my kids pet it. Pretty soon my son was talking to her about the pines cones he had just found. Other people we encountered did not try to divert their glance but made a point to make eye contact with us in order to say “hi”. I passed by the home of a church member who came out to talk with us. This school night walk took longer than anticipated but I have no complaints. It was a good different.


Do not get me wrong, people in Western Washington are not rude. There are many kind people there that we grew to love dearly, but the culture is just different. It is not small-town Midwest. Maybe you have not noticed but after living away from the Midwest for five years, we definitely noticed. Walking around town here in Buffalo Center is almost like walking around your yard filled with family. I feel safe and I feel comfortable letting my kids go outside to play without me right there.


So, who is this “new guy” writing in the Buffalo Center Tribune? I am the new pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church. I am a western central Minnesota kid who was called to Western Washington for five years and now back, called by God to return to the homeland, the Midwest. There is definitely more to me than that, but gauging by our beautiful evening walk, you will probably learn much more about me and my family very soon. Thank you for the warm welcome to the Midwest. Praise be to God and Amen.