You’re Being Watched

Here is my newest article for the Buffalo Center Tribune that was published today. To God be the glory!


Have you ever gone through your day thinking that someone is watching you? Do you ever look over your shoulder to see if someone is following you? Unnerving thoughts to say the least, but that is reality. For you see, your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). But many people (maybe even you) don’t even give this a second thought. But the fact remains, Satan is prowling around waiting for an opportune time to attack. And then, when you least expect it, he pounces on his prey.


Now, maybe you’re thinking, “My faith is strong”; “I read my Bible”; “I pray every day”; “I go to worship”; “I attend Bible study”; “I hang out with Christian friends”. Basically, “What do I have to worry about?” Well, let me tell you, that is the opportune time for which Satan is waiting. A mentor of mine once told me that Satan likes to attack us where we are the strongest, where we feel the most comfortable. He likes to pounce on our strengths in order to tempt us to misuse them. If you are a strong orator, then the temptation will be to use your words to your own advantage through a distortion of the truth. If you are charismatic, then the temptation will be to use your personality to lead people astray. If you are good with numbers, then the temptation might be to embezzle. And you get the point. But the weak are not safe from the lion. They are just easier prey.


So, what is the hope? How do we stay strong? How to we withstand Satan’s attacks? Well, first you must admit that you are the problem; sin living in you. You were conceived in sin, born in sin and now live in sin. You cannot pass the buck here, “The Devil made me do it”. But there is Good News. The father of lies, Satan, has been defeated through the cross of Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead for the forgiveness of your sins. You have been redeemed from the power of sin and death. You have been set free from the taskmaster, Satan. Yes, you are still a sinner, and yes, Satan still stalks his prey. But God has won the battle. Look to him, not just in weakness but also in strength.


And so, I invite you to attend Holy Week services this week. There is a community Maundy Thursday service at Bethlehem Lutheran Church (also live streamed on our YouTube channel) and a community Good Friday service at the United Methodist Church. Both services are at 7 PM. And then on Sunday, attend Easter worship at the church of your choice. Here at Bethlehem we have a 7:00 AM Sunrise and 9:30 AM Festival service. Both are also live streamed on our YouTube channel.

Hear the Good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and give thanks and praise for the salvation He freely gives to sinners. All is not lost, but rather, everything has been gained for you. Seek Jesus. Know Jesus. Praise Jesus. To God be all glory, forever and ever, Amen.

Speak Life

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


As I write this article, it is Wednesday, March 23. The reason I mention that is because it is the two-year anniversary of the first “shelter in place” order that was issued in the state of Washington (where we were living at the time). I remember that first day well, driving to my church office. It was a 20-minute commute, and the roadways were eerily quiet. I almost felt like a fugitive sneaking around and wondering if the police would stop and question me and then take me to pandemic jail. That never happened, of course, but the feeling remained for a long time as life changed in a big hurry. Masks became common apparel, and some became accessories to match with outfits. Hand sanitizer and toilet paper flew off the shelves, and panic ensued when neither could be found. YouTube worship services, Zoom and video calls became the way we stayed connected with people. Remote/virtual school started to challenge family schedules. Working from home became the norm. And as time went on, and the curve did not flatten, other changes began to happen. Political discourse became more feisty as lines were drawn in the sand. Mask vs no-mask groups squared off and did battle. Protests began as people resisted “emergency powers”. And then the Church got more involved and vocal, which lead to more division. The world changed in drastic ways, some for better and some for worse.


Today, many would say that this pandemic is over and that the “all clear” needs to be officially sounded. But no matter where you fall on that issue, for many it is not “all clear”. I have a dear friend who has many health challenges and because of this virus, I have not seen her in-person for over 2 years. Hopefully that will change soon. Now, I do not want to get into a political discourse over this, but I bring this up for the very reason that I marked March 23 on my calendar. Whatever the reasons (I am not judging, and I hope you will not either), many have not returned to in-person worship and/or in-person social life. And whether you agree with how this pandemic has been managed there are real people involved and they need you. Sometimes I forget as I rarely see masks or hear about this virus every other second on the news. But my calendar reminded me today that there is much work and ministry to be done.


Instead of drawing lines in the sand, we need to wash those lines away and come together. We need to remember people and accept the fact that life will never be the same as it was in early 2020. And so, do not forget about those for whom it is not “all clear”. Reach out to them and offer your hand of friendship. Let people know that they are not alone. Let’s stand in the sand together without any lines drawn and share the love of Christ. This pandemic has divided too many people and caused too much damage. Let’s not be willing parties to its destructive work. Let’s speak life, in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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.

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.

Thoughts and Ways

The following is my second to last article for The News Tribune (Tacoma). My final article is due to be published on August 1 – my final Sunday at Living Word. It has been a joy to write these articles over the years. A big THANK YOU to The News Tribune for publishing these articles. I hope continue writing articles after I get settled in my new call in Buffalo Center, Iowa. I begin serving there on August 29. To God be the glory – always. Amen.


We have an awesome, incredible, loving, and gracious God. He is mighty to save. He is abundant in mercy. He is faithful to never, ever turn His back on us. Though we may not understand or enjoy the circumstances, God is in complete control. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” But I still wish I understood better God’s thoughts and ways because it gets frustrating when things do not go my way.


I never would have planned these past few weeks. My family and I were supposed to go to the Midwest and vacation with family over the July 4th holiday. This is an annual event to which we look forward, but unfortunate circumstances in my life changed those thoughts and ways. I will save you all the details lest I take glory away from God. Suffice it to say, it was an injury that required surgery, but I am doing well now. We had planned our way and were thinking thoughts, but all of that got thrown up in the air and scattered in the wind. There was much lamenting and even a few tears over why this was happening. I even had a couple dark moments when I felt utterly alone and abandoned. I began to relate to the psalmist at times as he lamented and wondered where God was. But as I wrote earlier, God was and is faithful to never, ever turn His back on His children. God never abandoned me.


In the grand scheme of things, my pain and discomfort really was and is not that bad, especially when I think of what others are going through. But I like my ways and thoughts and thus when they get disrupted, I whine. But I praise God that He is faithful. Though I may whine at times, God is still there to remind me that He has a bigger picture in mind. I still do not understand why my circumstances happened, but I know a bigger “why” that leads me to worship this faithful, grace-filled, loving God. I am a sinner, but Jesus died on the cross that I could be forgiven and thus have eternal life with God. The “why” of everything – God is merciful and full of grace and love.


My thoughts and ways are of this world, but God’s thoughts and ways are much bigger. Though things get tough now, God is walking you through them and will never let you go. Though things are confusing, God knows exactly where you are going. Though you disagree with God’s ways and thoughts, trust that, in all His sovereignty, God’s plan is perfect and God’s purpose in your life is holy. Therefore always remember, we have an awesome, incredible, loving, and gracious God. He is mighty to save. He is abundant in mercy. He is faithful to never, ever turn His back on you. Amen.

The Turning Page

The page is turning, the chapter is ending,
But the story is still the same.
The setting is changing with twists and turns,
But the plot is not in flames.

The direction of the story ebbs and flows,
Directed by Your sovereign hand.
You continue to write Your masterpiece,
A story that is so grand.

And being a part of Your perfect story,
In this chapter that’s now ending.
I am thankful that You will always be,
With me forever attending.

And So I thank You God for bringing me here:
The stunning Pacific Northwest.
Now it’s off to Iowa following You,
In You we’ve been truly blessed.