Trust

The following is my Sunday article for The News Tribune (Tacoma). It is based on a poem I wrote and published on my blog last week titled, “The Forest”. To God be the glory.


I remember the good ole days when I would turn on the evening news and get informed on what was going on in the world, this nation and the community around me. I even looked forward to it as those behind-the-desk personalities connected with me personally – like they were family. Their insight into the events helped me understand better what was going on and I trusted them. Each night I would turn on my television and wait. When my “family” appeared, they seemed happy to see me and thus I gave them my undivided attention. But gone are those days. Actually, I cannot remember the last time I anxiously turned on the evening news or even reluctantly turned it on. Those days are gone because my so-called “family” has made it easy for me to let go. It is hard to know what or who to trust anymore and thus I have stopped showing up to those evening “family reunions”. Events are still happening in the world, but now I am forced to be more careful of what I read, watch and believe.


And I am thankful, because it has redirected and reinforced in me whom I ultimately should be trusting: Jesus. I used to find peace in knowing what was going on in the world; now I find peace in God knowing me in Jesus Christ. I used to find peace in a “family” who never truly knew me; and now I am at peace in the family of God. I used to find peace in being able to discuss and even debate the events of the day; now I find peace in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.
In the end it is about whom you trust and whom you will follow. Following Jesus is not always easy, but it is always right, for he is always faithful and true. Following Jesus may seem scary and confusing at times, but he IS the Way, the Truth and the Life. Oh sinner, trust and follow Jesus, and be at peace now and with God forever through the forgiveness of your sins.
The following poem is something I wrote as I reflected on following Jesus – anywhere – trusting him with my life.


Following Jesus is one of trust,
like walking through a
forest
and not knowing the way.
Trees –
all looking the same.
Paths –
some looking safe
some looking scary.
Eyes –
watching and judging and waiting.
Noises –
a jumbled mess.
Some days I feel
lost,
but then his gentle hand
reassures.
And just when I think that I am through the
forest,
there is a

cliff.
And Jesus says jump.


Will you jump with me and be at peace? To God be the glory, always and forever, Amen

Time

The following is my article that was published in The News Tribune (Tacoma) this morning. To God be the glory!


Time is a relentless soldier that marches on without compromise. But sometimes we say that time is moving too slow, like when we are engaging in an activity we do not enjoy. Sometimes we say that time flies by too fast, like when we are engaging in an activity we really enjoy. As a father I have often said that I blinked and my kids were grown up. There have been times when it felt like time had stopped. Whatever the situation, the constant through it all is the relentless and methodical march of time. It never varies in speed, even though it feels like it at times, and it never varies in direction. It moves forward and it never, ever changes. It is one of the few things of this world that we can count on.


Twenty years ago, I was in the midst of a summer Greek class as I was beginning seminary in St Paul, Minnesota. It was four years that seemed to last a long time. Sixteen years ago, I was ordained into the ministry of Word and sacrament as I was one month into my first call as a pastor in southwest Minnesota. Four years ago, I was one month into my second call – at Living Word Lutheran Church. Each moment I look back and wonder where the time went. And in each moment, time went where it always does with its unvarying speed – relentlessly marching forward. But still, I feel as if I blinked and now here I am.


Approximately 120+ days ago 2020 took a turn that seems like forever ago, yet it almost feels like yesterday. Satan sells the lie that time has slowed down and thus God is prolonging our suffering – like a stalked storm continuously churning – beating down upon us. But the fact remains, time has not stalled but has marched on – never slowing. And this is indeed a gift from God, for God is the creator of time. He exists outside of time and He is in the midst of it with you and me. We are not drifting aimlessly through this storm but rather being carried along with the relentless march of time. It is because of that fact I am confident that this pandemic (or whatever suffering you are dealing with) will pass, because time never fails. Before we know it, this suffering will be far behind us as a distant memory. Before we know it, we will be reminiscing about how God pruned you and me for his glory. Before we know it, we will be saying, “I blinked, and this suffering disappeared.”


Time is such a gift – perfectly created by our Creator God. These past few months seem long, but continue to hold on, my friends. Time, has not and will not come to a complete stop. Cling to God’s promises in Jesus Christ and march on with Him into glory. Amen.

The Sin of Racism

The following is my Sunday article in The News Tribune (Tacoma). To God be the glory!


In these recent weeks, we have seen an uptick of drastic measures being taken with the hope of eradicating racism. Statues of historical figures have been pulled down because they were slave owners. Nancy Pelosi ordered the removal of portraits of four speakers who served the Confederacy. My hometown Minnesota Twins removed a statue of former owner, Calvin Griffith, from outside their stadium. He moved the team from Washington D.C. to Minnesota in 1961 and then made some racist comments about why he moved the team in 1978. And now I am hearing people say on social media that Christianity is steeped in white supremacy. I get the pain that has bubbled over since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis on May 25, but the measures that are being taken will not solve our problems – it will only exacerbate the true underlining issue.

Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we glorify people who were/are racist, but when we start censoring our past, we risk becoming victims, once again, of the sins of our past. And if we can remove all images of our racist past, what next? What past sin will we go after next? Erasing our past is not the way to healing but rather remembering who we are and whose we are. And here lies the underlining issue – one that we all must accept before any healing can happen. What is the issue? We are all sinners. Tucker Carlson said recently that “No child is born evil. Sin cannot be inherited”. Umm, excuse me Mr Carlson, you are wrong. We are ALL born sinful – you included. The only one born with no sin is Jesus Christ. Period. End of debate.

But now here comes the hope for healing. This sinless One, Jesus, died on the cross and rose from the grave that your sins could be forgiven. Yes, yours too, Mr Carlson. Our hope for healing is admitting that we are born sinful and that we continue to live in sin. Our hope for healing is confessing that we cannot save ourselves. Our hope for life is reaching out to God in faith and throwing ourselves at His feet. We are sinners, and that is a past we must never forget – for when we forget who we are as sinners, we forget about our need for the awesome grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Yes, racism is a sin for we are all made in the image of God – black, white, yellow, or whatever color you are. You were wonderfully and beautifully made by our Father and Creator God. To treat someone as something less than human is to slap God in the face and insult Him. We must deal with this issue, but it all starts with Jesus. Until we do that, all of our worldly efforts will fail miserably as people scramble for power. Submit yourselves to God’s incredible mercy and know the healing that only comes through Christ Jesus our Lord. You are sinner, Never forget that; but also know the love and grace of God through His sinless Son, Jesus Christ. To God be the glory. Amen.

Guided Prayer for Churches

The following is my Sunday article for The News Tribune (Tacoma). To God be the glory!


I was recently asked to record a guided prayer devotion focused on churches planning on resuming in-person or on-site worship. So, I include this devotion here, and ask you to join me in praying. Churches are faced with many challenges today and leaders need to make difficult decisions. May God be glorified as we seek to faithfully follow Him. In Jesus name, let us pray…

Father God,
Awesome and mighty,
Always creating – always reforming.
Create in us clean hearts, oh God, and renew in us a right spirit.
For we acknowledge that we have fallen short of Your glory.
We have become anxious.
We have not always sought You.
At times, we have let this virus divide us and lead us into fear.
Cast out our fears with Your perfect love.
Heal our divisions with the peace that surpasses all understanding.
Revive Your Church, so we may more fully fix our gaze upon You, and You alone – that we may worship You rightly and that our in-person gatherings may not be for selfish reasons, but for the glory of Your holy name.
This virus seemingly has torn the Church apart, but we know that is not true.
Whatever the reasons we are going through this time, one thing is clear – You are sovereign, even over this virus.
We may never look the same again, but that is okay, for You are God, and You are in control. And so,
Reform us.
Revive us.
Remake us.
Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

[Read Psalm 119:8-24]
[Pause to Meditate]

Holy God,
Father and Creator,
You are worthy of all our worship.
You are worthy of all praise.
You are the source of all wisdom and understanding.
You are the great I Am.
And so, teach us, oh God, that we may delight in Your precepts, for we seek to glorify You, and You alone, for salvation is from You through Christ Jesus our Lord. Give wisdom to Your Church as we navigate these waters known only by You. Lead us as we seek togetherness – as we seek to magnify our worship of You. You have held us together and will never let us go.
Oh God, holy and awesome, we praise You.
We love You.
We adore You.

And we want to know You better.

And now, oh God, hear us as we pray the prayer Jesus has taught us…

[Pray the Lord’s Prayer]

Pray, pray and pray some more.
To God be the glory, always and forever, Amen

The Person in the Mirror

The following is the article I wrote for The News Tribune (Tacoma) for this morning’s paper. To God be the glory!


I have been reminded of a 1988 Michael Jackson song titled, “Man in the Mirror”. This is the chorus:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change

I have become frustrated with what I have been seeing on social media. Over and over again I have seen people post comments and articles that blame others for the current state of affairs in our nation: The extreme left, the radical right, white supremacists, ANTIFA, absentee fathers, rogue governors, the court system, etc. It is always someone else’s fault and the finger pointing just exasperates the situation. And if that is not enough, with the finger pointing comes stereotyping, thus inflaming the issue people are outraged about in the first place – racism. Can’t people see that the problem is not with someone else, but rather the problem and the solution begin with the person in the mirror?

The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 3 that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. And we have not fallen just short – like trying to make a basket in basketball and hitting the front rim. We have fallen WAY short of the glory of God. In essence, we are all sinners and thus we are all culpable. We are all responsible. Hold on there, Pastor, I am not a racist. I never said you were, but you are a sinner. That you cannot deny, as 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” We all make judgments of people when we see them. Maybe it is not a race-type judgment, but we all do it. Sometimes it’s good but most often it skews our relationship with that person. Whatever the case, we must remember the heart of a person and that is something only God can see. And when God created man and woman, He said, “It was very good”. Therefore, racism is not just an attack on the person but an insult to God. After all, we were created in God’s image.

Therefore, considering the seriousness of the issue, we cannot just sit idly by and blame someone else – “You need to change”; “You need to stop what you are doing”; “You are the cause of the problem”. That does nothing to make this world a better place. Finger pointing is not the answer – Jesus is the answer; Jesus is the cure; Jesus is the solution. Until each and every person recognizes the fact that they have fallen short, we will continue to fall short as a nation. We must look in the mirror, confess our sins and ask God to change our hearts. It must begin with you and me. We must set the example. We must stop finger pointing and remember who we are – sinners but redeemed by the blood of Jesus. To God be the glory, Amen.

The Fight

Here’s my article for The News Tribune (Tacoma) published in this morning’s paper. To God be the glory.


It is hard to go through a single day without talk of this virus. There are so many news stories, many of which are conflicting. There are leaders politicizing this pandemic for personal gain. People are becoming impatient – demanding relief – demanding a return to normal. There are protests, rebellions, accusations, hatred and so much more. I am saddened to see what this is doing to our communities, nation and the world. Do not get me wrong, I do not blame God for this, but rather I am begging people to stop and drop to their knees and look to God. There are people dying. There are people losing jobs. There are businesses closing their doors. There are families struggling to hold things together. There are people putting their lives on the line. There is a personal aspect of this fight for all of us. We must never forget that, and so I pray. I give thanks each and every day. I plead with and I worship God. Join me now and let us pray…

I wake up each morning,
and I praise You with my first breath,
and I give You thanks for my many blessings.
I rejoice that You have protected me and my family,
yet another day.
But many cannot say this.
They cannot take that first breath without help.
Many people struggle to count their blessings.
Many are fighting this invisible foe so other lives can go on.
It is for them and many others,
for whom I pray.
Oh Lord…
For those who have died of this virus – I mourn.
For those fighting for their lives – I ask for healing.
For families unable to see or speak to loved ones – I ask for comfort.
For those serving on the front lines – I plead for a hedge of protection.
For each essential worker – I ask for strength and provision.
For our elected leaders – I ask for wisdom.
For medical researchers – I ask for knowledge to beat this enemy.
For our children whose lives have been turned upside down – Have mercy.
For teachers learning a new way to teach – I ask for resilience.
For the Church that has now been deployed – Please equip them.
For people struggling to pay bills – Please provide.
For small businesses on the brink – Please give hope.
For each and every moment in this fight – To You, oh God, be the glory.
Oh God, sovereign Lord and King,
In the name of Jesus Christ I pray,
Amen.

May you stay firm in this fight and continue to cry out to the Lord. As the psalmist says in Psalm 116:1-2, I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. To God be the glory, always and forever, Amen.

How The Grinch Didn’t Steal Easter

The following is the article I wrote for The News Tribune (Tacoma) for this morning’s paper. To God be the glory!


From 1 Peter 1:3–5 (ESV) ~ “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Christians from around the world celebrated Easter last week – the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. But it was not the kind of Easter celebration I had imagined. You see, I have fond memories of brightly decorated sanctuaries adorned with beautiful lilies and filled with lively music with lyrics such as, “Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!” I always enjoy seeing the children dressed in their new Easter outfits and seeing visiting family members once again. This year, the day was beautiful with the Mountain out in all its glory, towering behind our church building. But as I stood behind our building gazing at the mountain — and recalling all these Easter traditions — I felt a sense of sadness. It was like the Grinch dressed as the Easter bunny, snuck in and filled his sack with everything Easter, down to the last ham and can of Who Hash. This is not how it was supposed to be.

But if you remember that Dr. Seuss classic, the Grinch – thinking that he had accomplished his fiendish deed – discovered something. Upon hearing the singing in the valley below, as he was basking in the success of his devilish efforts, he realized something.

“He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!”
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!””

[How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Suess]

The hope that comes with Easter is something that does not come in baskets or wrapped in succulent chocolate. The hope of Easter is not dependent on traditions like flowers, bonnets, and music. Easter is so much more. The hope that comes with Easter is kept in heaven FOR YOU and comes through faith in Jesus Christ. The hope of Easter is the fact that Jesus, though crucified and buried, rose from the dead. Jesus did this FOR YOU, that your sins would be forgiven and that you would be reconciled back to God. The “Grinch” has canceled a lot of things, but it could not steal Easter. Though many were not able to gather in church buildings, Jesus is still risen and always will be. And because of this Good News, my heart continues to grow – more than three sizes big. To God be the glory, ALWAYS and forever, Amen.

Washed Clean

The following is an article I wrote for this morning’s paper in The News Tribune (Tacoma). It was something I wrote about a week ago – right when things were really ramping up for many around here with restrictions surrounding COVID-19. Living Word had just canceled the rest of our Lenten services and we were going to discuss the status of our Sunday services (which are online now). What a week it has been, but praise be to God that I am his.


No matter where you go or where you look, you will hear/read news about the COVID-19. Statistics seem to change by the minute. Country, state and county boundaries cannot stop the spread of this virus. The CDC and various state and local health agencies are working hard to keep us informed. Basic health and safety messages are being repeated, “wash your hands”, “stay home if you are sick”, “avoid large crowds”. Aggressive measures are being taken: (i.e. restricting crowd sizes, canceling events, closing schools). But no matter what we do, the virus continues its relentless march like a wall of toothpicks trying to stop a tank. We fight and fight, but the march continues. We hide ourselves away, but it still finds us.

As more and more people experience this menace invading their backyards, the fear factor is rising. “Will I or a loved one be next?”. It seems as if the only thing that can be done is to just sit and wait for the inevitable, like waiting for the invisible man, who has been stalking you, to strike.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like living in fear and therefore…

I WILL NOT!

I refuse to let this virus render me paralyzed by fear. Rather, I am going to remember who I am…

A child of God.

Through Jesus Christ and because I am a sinner: I have been redeemed, I have been claimed, I have been given a new identity, I have been given hope. Through the cross and the empty tomb, I have been given citizenship in the Kingdom of God through the forgiveness of my sins and thus I am protected by God’s holy army. No relentless viral army will touch this redeemed soul. I am His. My creator God is King and Lord. He is sovereign over this virus. He is my loving Father and Mighty Fortress. He is the Rock on which I will stand, and thus I refuse to step off. Satan is wielding this virus to strike fear into people, but I will stand and say, “My life belongs to Jesus! Back off!”

Why isn’t God destroying this virus? Why isn’t God sparing us? Why isn’t God doing something? Well, God is doing something. He’s has my attention. Does he have yours? I really don’t know what God is up to, but I do know, that when this is all said and done, God will be glorified. Why? Because God saves sinners and God is in control.

And therefore, as I repeatedly wash my hands, heeding the advice and warnings of the health professionals I will remember. I will remember that my soul has been washed clean of my sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. Every time I come in contact with water — I will remember and cling to His promises. Water will no longer be a sign, reminding me of the virus I’m trying to ward off – it will now point me to the One who holds my life.

Be cautious. Be diligent. Be smart. But don’t live in fear. Live in hope that through Jesus Christ you are washed clean.

Praise be to God, always and forever, Amen!

Night

The following is my newest article for The News Tribune (Tacoma) – my first for the Sunday edition of the paper. God has now given me the opportunity to expand my outreach for His glory. Sunday is a higher circulation day for the paper. And so, here you go. To God be the glory!


I have been doing a lot of praying recently. This is not to say that I didn’t pray before. I have always been a man of prayer, but I have been challenged to rethink how I pray. I recently read a devotion on prayer where the author asked the following question – “Now answer honestly. If God said yes to every prayer you prayed in the last seven days, how would the world be different?” And so, I started thinking about the content of my prayers. I noticed that I would ask God to bless my family, friends, church, etc; I would ask God to help me do this or that task; I would ask God to be with me and so on. Does this sound familiar? Would I notice a difference if God did all those things? Maybe, but I am guessing that I wouldn’t catch it right away – if I did at all.

Now, I am not suggesting, nor was the author suggesting, that we stop praying those prayers. Instead he challenged me to also be “more bold” in my prayers. He challenged me to move from vagueness to specific. Why? Because God wants you to notice Him at work and thus give Him the glory. Besides, if you access to God almighty – being commanded to pray – why wouldn’t you be bold and ask for the world.

One of the big news stories going on right now is the coronavirus (COVID-19). At the time of writing this article, the death rate is at 3.4% of those infected. The hand sanitizer section in many stores is bare and people are stocking up on necessities in case of a quarantine. Schools have closed to disinfect in response to a student’s connection to the virus. Businesses are rethinking air travel for their employees. Basically, life has changed for many people. But I don’t want to join the media machine that is feeding people doom and gloom – leading them to panic, as if this is the end of the world. Yes, I am concerned, and my family is taking precautions, but we are also praying. How are you praying about this, Pastor? That is a great question, I’m glad you asked. Let us pray…

Sovereign God, You are Lord of all. You reign on high. You sit enthroned over all of creation. This coronavirus is frightening, but I know You are in control. You are not surprised by this outbreak. And even though I don’t understand what is happening and why, I trust You. Please endow healthcare professionals with knowledge to come up with a cure and/or vaccine for this virus. Heal those who are infected. Give peace and hope to a frightened population. Stop COVID-19 dead in its tracks. Destroy this virus. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

Bold prayer? YES. If God were to answer that prayer as I prayed it, would I notice a difference in the world around me? YES. Will God answer that prayer as prayed? I don’t know, but I do know God will be glorified in some way and therefore I will pray boldly. Will join me? Let us pray… Amen.

Heart and Soul

The following is the most recent article I submitted to The News Tribune (Tacoma). To God be the glory.


On Sunday, NBA legend, Kobe Bryant, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others, lost their lives in a tragic helicopter crash near Los Angeles. The news caught my attention even though I was never a Lakers fan. You see, there was just something about watching Kobe that produced a sense of awe in how he played. He was a unique individual with a unique talent. He entered the league at the young age of 17 and made an immediate impact – winning 5 championships. His talent was off the charts. His competitive drive inspired a generation. His will to win was unmatched. Following his untimely death on Sunday, people began mourning over Kobe – many of whom had never met him but were inspired by him. Though he made his share of mistakes, people are not soon going to forget the name: Kobe Bryant. But this is just the beginning of my concern for this generation, and I say this with all due respect.

My concern stems from a comment I heard him say in an interview that was aired during a tribute to him on Sunday night. The comment was this: “I gave my heart and soul to the game of basketball.” Let that sink in for a moment. Some may say that there is nothing wrong with that – that he just gave it his all during his career – and that he did. You see, I am not claiming I know the status of his eternity. Only God knows that. I read a blog post that said Kobe was a devout Catholic, but I don’t know his heart. What I am trying to say is that I am concerned about a generation who believes that giving their “heart and soul” to anything of this world is a good thing. I came across a quote on Twitter recently from a respected theologian that said – “If you don’t live for Jesus you will live for something else. Will those things be enough? Will they die for you?” Now let that sink in for a moment. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

I say all of this because, for me, I gave my heart and soul to the one who died for me – Jesus Christ. Why? Because I am a sinner and nothing of this world can save me. No amount of intelligence, money, fame, popularity, prestige or strength matters when death comes calling. And when death does come, it does not discriminate. But, if you belong to Jesus, death is just a doorway: sin, death and the power of Satan have been defeated by Jesus Christ through his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. As a sinner, you are unable to save yourself.

My hope and prayer is that Kobe’s statement was just that – a statement of how hard he played the game. I also pray, that if you have not given your heart and soul to Jesus, that you will look deep within and see the mess that you are, and then see the beauty and grace of Jesus. Give your heart and soul to the One who keeps your heart and soul for all eternity. Amen.