Jonah

Below is my newest article for the Buffalo Center Tribune. I am now on a new schedule. Instead of the 2nd and 4th weeks of the month, I will be publishing an article every other week. Not a huge change but it will mean the opportunity to write more often over the course of the year 🙂 To God be the glory!


I realize that we have just finished Christmas, but I am going to say that “L” word anyway: Lent. There, I wrote it. I feel better now, like a huge weight off my chest (sorry, that sounds like I am laying it on thick). Anyway, Lent is coming soon with Ash Wednesday on March 2. Why in the world is this guy talking about Lent in January? Well, the reason I am mentioning Lent is that I am excitedly working on my midweek preaching series through the book of Jonah. You mean the guy who got swallowed by a whale? Actually, the Bible says a “big fish”, but that is just splitting hairs, back to my point.


I have always liked Jonah because he is more like us than we sometimes care to admit. He is a prophet; someone who claims that he fears God (at least that is what he told the sailors on that stormy sea). But yet, Jonah repents (runs away) from God when God commanded him to preach a message to a people that he (Jonah) did not like. Most God-fearing people repent from sin, not God. But admit it, you have run away from God’s call more that you care to admit. You do not have to answer that right now – back to Jonah. Jonah finally goes to “those people” after being vomited up on a beach following a three-day stint in the belly of a big fish. Jonah preaches the message of judgment but is fearful that God will be merciful if “those people” repent. “Those people” do repent and God is merciful, and Jonah is angry. “SMITE THEM, O GOD. THEY DO NOT DESERVE MERCY.” And the story continues, but I will save the rest for Lent.


Sorry to leave you hanging, but my point here is not to advertise Lent (which I am kind of doing) but rather to draw your attention to an important truth: Living in the belly of a fish is smelly and miserable. Well duh, I don’t need a pastor to tell me that. Actually, you kind of do, because if you are running away from God, life does not smell like roses, despite what you may say. Life is miserable and stinky because running away from God never turns out well for the runner, just ask Jonah.


And so, instead of running away from God, run to God – not stopping to smell the roses but smelling them along the way. This does not mean life will be easy. This does not mean that you will always enjoy everything God commands you. What this means is that you will be part of God’s perfect and sovereign plan – a beautiful painting yet to be revealed, even if you do not understand it. But when you see that painting someday, through Jesus Christ, it will all make sense and thus God will be glorified. Do not try to create your own painting; your own story but be part of God’s story; God’s painting. Get out of that fish’s belly you are in and trust God. I promise you; you will not be disappointed. Amen.

The 12 Gospel Days of Christmas

The following is my article for the Buffalo Center Tribune for this week. It is a poem I published here last year but thought it was worthy to share again. To God be the glory


The following is a poem that I wrote for the end of the twelve days of Christmas last year, 2020. I share it with you now – before Christmas – to prepare your hearts for the Good News of Jesus. For you see, Jesus is more than the “stuff” of Christmas. Jesus is God incarnate; love made manifest; forgiveness; salvation; mercy and Life. Jesus was born in a stable FOR YOU and FOR ME. Christmas, not just twelve days but every day, is about Jesus. And so, to the glory of God, I present you this poem:
My true Love doesn’t give me things like partridges or turtle doves, French hens or pipers piping, dancing ladies or egg-laying geese. My true Love does not give me silly things like these. My true Love, Jesus, gave to me…
(1) Instead of a partridge in a pear tree, I have a Savior who died for me.
(2) Instead of two turtle doves, I have His love that came down from above.
(3) Instead of three French hens, I have the faith to boldly pray my amens.
(4) Instead of four calling birds, I have His inspired, infallible, inerrant holy Word.
(5) Instead of five golden rings, I have a Spirit-renewed heart that sings.
(6) Instead of six geese a-laying, I have confidence that with Him I will be staying.
(7) Instead of seven swans a-swimming, I have a joy that is more than brimming.
(8) Instead of eight maids a-milking, I have His promises fulfilled that He’s not bilking (yes, that’s a word – and used correctly).
(9) Instead of nine ladies dancing, I have a place in His holy court, at whom I won’t be just glancing.
(10) Instead of ten lords a-leaping, I have security in His hands in which I have safekeeping.
(11) Instead of eleven pipers piping, I have the sure and certain hope that my tears He will be wiping.
(12) Instead of twelve drummers drumming, I have excitement that my Lord Jesus will soon be coming.

My true Love gave me everything I need, for all that I need is Him. And all that YOU need is him as well. Merry Christmas and Amen.

Samuel

The following is my article for the Buffalo Center Tribune that was published this week. I hope you enjoy it. To God be the glory.


I would like to introduce you to someone. His name is Samuel. Samuel has been visiting our home for about four years now. He shows up every year starting December 1 and returns home after Christmas. Each morning when my kids wake up, Samuel is hiding someplace different, so the fun is searching for him. This morning (December 1) he was sitting on top of our grandfather clock because, well, it is time (see what I did there?).


I know what you are probably thinking: Well, isn’t this cute. He’s talking about his Elf on a Shelf. And you would be wrong. Samuel is not an elf; he is our Shepherd on the Search. The search for what (or whom)? Samuel is on the search for Jesus. Each morning when the kids get up, they are searching, not just for, but with Samuel. You see, Samuel does not report back to Jesus on whether they have been naughty or nice, but rather, reminds us that because we are naughty, Jesus was born for us. He was born to die on the cross and rise from the grave for the forgiveness of our naughtiness. And that is what Christmas is all about. Now, I could easily say, “Amen” and end this article right here with that statement, but I am not done.


What are you searching for this Christmas? Are you searching for some normalcy after a pandemic-stricken year seemingly stole Christmas last year? Are you searching for that perfect gift? What is the object of your searching? What is getting your focus? The world has seemingly hijacked Christmas with its materialistic ad campaigns filled with stuff that you simply “must have”. And thus, the world tries to define the object of your searching. But really, can you honestly remember what you got for Christmas 10 years ago? Five years ago? Last year? I cannot remember, but I do remember what God gave me 2000 years ago. God gave me Himself in Jesus Christ, and let me tell you, that is the gift that keeps on giving. It keeps on giving because I keep on being naughty. No, I am not unique in that sense for you/we are all naughty, all sinners in need of a Savior. And the searching is not because Jesus is playing some cosmic game of hide and seek. The searching is our reminder that Christmas is more than we think. It is not about worrying that some elf or shepherd will report back to Jesus with a list of your naughtiness. No, rather Jesus is full of grace and mercy. That is Christmas. It is all about Jesus FOR YOU.


So may your Christmas searching shine the light of hope that through faith in Jesus, you have everlasting life. Keep your eyes firmly fixed on the baby in the manger and see a love like none other, for God IS love. Amen and happy searching.

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.

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.

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.