New Normal

The following is the Sunday article I wrote for The News Tribune (Tacoma) for October 18. To God be the glory!


I have been doing a lot of thinking and praying this year as I know many of you have. This pandemic has dragged on for a long time and, if you are like me, you are getting anxious. You want things the way they were. You are tired of worshiping in a parking lot or online. You miss the sanctuary of your church building. You miss your brothers and sisters in Christ. And I totally get it. But have I come to a realization that may not be too popular with many.

No, I am not going to advocate that we maintain the status quo indefinitely (you can breathe a sigh of relief now). What I want to do is encourage you to pray unselfishly and consider things that maybe you have not considered before. What do I mean? I have been hearing this phrase a lot, but just recently it has caught my attention anew, “I am looking forward to getting back to normal”. And, as I thought about that phrase, God placed this question on my heart:

Have you considered that I am preparing you for a new normal; something you have never even imagined?

I have thought about that in the past, but it never got more than a passing glance; nothing worthy of a full-scaled article like this. So, I asked God, “For what are you preparing us? What does this new normal look like?” Of course, God did not give me a direct answer – He rarely does. But what God did do is give me a series of questions to pray about, and thus I commend them to you:

(1) What if God does not want us to return to “normal”?
(2) What if God has been using this pandemic to completely break what we have been doing in order to create something new?
(3) What if God is using this time to redirect our attention; to hone our vision so it is 20/20 vision on Him? (See what I did there with the “20/20”?)

I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that the Church will never, ever be the same again. We just cannot return to our old “normal”. To do so, we would miss a golden opportunity to glorify Him. I believe that God has been beautifully remolding and reshaping us. Yet, many are afraid of the new. Brothers and sisters in Christ, instead of going full steam ahead in trying to return to “normal”, let us go full steam ahead and pray. Pray, pray and pray some more, and do not be afraid. Pray for the faith, courage and strength to do whatever it is for which God is preparing you. May we not have tunnel vision that is fixated on our comfort zone and “normal” but rather 20/20 vision on our awesome God through Christ Jesus our Lord. He is in control. He reigns and He is sovereign. It is okay to trust Him. He has never let you down and He never will. Let us boldly go into whatever new normal God has for us. To God be the glory, always and forever, Amen.

Trust

Trust is an essential building block for every healthy relationship. It is what makes the world go around. Without trust, marriages are not fruitful – if they last at all; friendships are shallow; life in community is lonely; children do not feel safe, and life in general becomes combative and competitive where the survival of the fittest is the rule. Trust must be earned. Often, earning trust can be a long process, but losing trust is swift. Trust is also an act of love. My children trust that when they go downstairs in the morning, I will feed them. My children trust that when they are scared, I will comfort them. My children trust that when they get hurt, I will put a band-aid on their wound (blood or no blood). My children trust me and thus I will do everything in my power to ensure they will always trust me, otherwise, they will not feel safe. You see, I want my children to feel safe and comfortable talking to me about anything. And that is the life we want in community – one of trust – but sadly, trust is lacking in many communities. Elected leaders have let people down over and over. Parents have violated the trust of their children through abuse. Husbands and wives have violated trust with each other through infidelity. Clergy have violated trust with congregations through misconduct. Many people have become jaded and thus the chaos and disharmony we are seeing in the world today. If only someone would step up, someone who we can trust, someone who can heal our wounds and bring people together.

Someone has stepped up and his name is Jesus.

God has never failed to follow through with any of His promises. God has never done anything to violate trust. God has never been unfaithful. God has always been there. Throughout scripture God promised to restore creation. Starting in Genesis 3 following the fall of man, God promised to send a Savior to defeat Satan once and for all. As you march through scripture, you see time and again, God following through. Ultimately, God proved His love and faithfulness through Jesus Christ, who died on a cross and rose from the dead to give forgiveness of sins and thus peace with God. You see, even though you are a sinner, God followed through on His promises. Even though you break promises with God, God never deserts you. Even though you are unfaithful, God remains faithful.

You will never find perfect community in this world. But through Jesus Christ, you have a God who perfectly loves you. And that is something you can trust, even in the midst of chaos, illness, sadness and death. You can trust that He is near. You can trust that He hears you. You can trust that you are His. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) This is a sure and certain promise, one you can trust. Amen.

Sinking

A little while ago a series of events unfolded, leading me to reflect on the sum of those events taking place all in one day: Wildfire smoke from eastern WA; wildfires around us in western WA; a power outage (that ended up lasting 40 hours); poor air quality means we should not open windows; and the First day of school was postponed. And all of this in the midst of a pandemic. I posted my list on Facebook and concluded my list with a funny movie reference and then asked, “It cannot possibly get any worse, right?” My intention was to be funny, but many people did not see it that way. Some people concluded I was struggling, maybe even depressed. They offered words and prayers of support. A congregation member asked me later if I was doing better. Even though I was trying to be funny, I think my heart was trying to show me something I was forgetting. Soon after I posted my list on Facebook, a seminary classmate commented: “Pandemic, civil unrest, and the heat wave coming tomorrow. Yet Christ’s promises to you remain unchanged.” YES! Christ’s promises to me remain unchanged. A couple days later my morning devotion was about Peter walking on the water with Jesus. When Peter looked at the raging storm around him, he began to sink. I had taken my eyes off Jesus and I was sinking along with Peter.

O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” [Matthew 14:31]

I do not know, but what I do know is that my faithful Lord and Savior reached out to me as my heart cried out. He sent people into my life to proclaim the Truth. He clung to me with those nail-pierced hands and carried me safely to shore. When Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, he declared those whom he saved – saved. He declared that Satan no more has a hold on you. Jesus defeated hopelessness and fear. Jesus reigns on high now, and forever more.

And so, instead of a list of woes and other negatives going on, I am focusing on the blessings in my life: two beautiful children excited for school, a healthy family, less arthritic back pain, the wildfires did not touch my home or church. So much for which to thank and praise God, and when I do, my heart is led to worship. Look to your blessings and not the challenges of this year. Below is a poem I wrote in June 2015 that speaks of my heart today. To God be the glory, always and forever, Amen.

I love You in the morning,
I love You in the eve;
for You are always with me,
and ever will You be.

I thank You with my whole heart,
I thank You all my life;
for You are holy awesome,
and ever be my Light.

Jesus is my Lord and Life,
for his life did he give.
You are always faithful, God,
and ever will I Live.

Assured Forgiveness

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


Let’s get right to it – we are all sinful and thus we make mistakes every single day. We say and do stupid things. We hurt people with our words. We sin through omission. We sin through turning a blind eye or deaf ear to an injustice. There is no getting around it. We all find ourselves in moments where confession is warranted and, for the most part, forgiveness is expected.

We see this over and over again through the media. Some out-front personality makes a mistake. They say something offensive and social media goes wild. After some time, an apology is issued. Immediately the words of the offender are critiqued: Is the apology sincere? Are they only apologizing because they got caught? Did they actually apologize, or did they just craft some words together to make it look that way? Sometimes the apology is simply overlooked as people continue to fixate on the offense. So really, it is not about the apology, but rather for the offender to admit their offense so they can be further punished through the court of public opinion – a court that rarely shows mercy. Soon the offender loses sponsors, business ties or even their job because these businesses fear the court of public opinion. They do not want to be the next victim. Does this sound familiar? If not, just wait, I am sure that the next offender will be coming along anytime now, and the court will be in session to judge and convict. It almost makes a person paranoid. We do not want to be the next victim in this merciless court. But praise be to God that His mercy is boundless.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (Jesus), much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” [Romans 5:10-11]

This is the Good News: You were enemies of God, but Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins that you may now have peace with God. The world may not necessarily want peace with you, but God was so serious about peace with you that Jesus suffered on the cross. That is true love and grace. Even if the world befriends you, it will eventually turn its back on you. But once you are in Christ, that is forever. He will never turn his back on you and thus you never have to worry about a merciless court or God throwing you under the bus. Our amazing God desires reconciliation and thus He desires your faith-filled, humble confession so He can announce to you forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

So go ahead – confess your sins. Confess boldly before the Lord. Confess even your darkest and most embarrassing sins to God. Confess, and rest assured that through faith in Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Amen.

The Savior

The following is the article I wrote for The News Tribune (Tacoma) for today. To God be the glory!


I have been dreading this time of 2020 for a long time. I knew it was coming but I tried to convince myself it was just a nightmare, so I just shook my head and tried to make it go away. And now I just want to stick my fingers in my ears and yell, “LA LA LA LA…” and go to my happy place. But I have a feeling nothing is going to help except to retreat to the only happy place that is filled with joy like none other.


Yes, the presidential campaign has officially taken off with a certain candidate (who shall remain unnamed) choosing a running mate to challenge another candidate (who shall remain unnamed). Soon the airways will be flooded with ads attacking the other candidate/party. Social media will be flooded with memes trying to convince people, through deception, to vote a certain way. Articles, seemingly written by reputable sources, will be passed around with “vital and earth-shattering” information about a particular candidate. It is the same old game that is played every 4 years, but I have a feeling this year will be much worse.
You see, people are clamoring for a savior to save them. There is a pandemic going on; the economy is suffering; people are losing their jobs; radicals from the left and right are fighting for supremacy; and the polar ice caps are melting. Basically, the world is seemingly self-destructing. A savior is needed, and many are turning to this election for that savior.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” [Philippians 3:20]

Yes, we live here on this flawed and sin-filled earth. We are decaying and moving towards death. World peace is nothing more than a fantasy that is unobtainable. We want a restored world where everyone just gets along or, worse yet, one side has enough power to force the other side to knuckle under and submit quietly.


NEWS FLASH: A savior is not coming in this or any election, but THE Savior has arrived. Jesus Christ is that Savior and he is the only Savior you truly need. He is also returning to bring home those who call on his holy name – to a place where peace, joy, love and life will be eternal; a place where the sovereign King will be on the throne and death; sin and evil will be no more. That which you are longing for is a reality. It is just a matter of for whom you are waiting: a savior or the Savior.

And so, my happy place will be gazing into the promises of God through Jesus Christ. I may still put my fingers in my ears to block out this world but instead of “LA LA LA LA!”, I will be singing praises to my God and King for the hope that is Jesus Christ – my only Savior. To God be all glory, honor, praise and worship, now and forever, Amen.

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.