Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rejoicing at the Wrong Time

Peter and John were having a great time in Acts 4 and 5. People were being healed as the Holy Spirit worked through them and in turn many people were turning to faith in Christ. This got the religious leaders of the day up in arms and more than once they were brought before the Sanhedrin to get what was due them. 

Since the Jewish council could not discount the miracles that were taking place they decided that Peter and John should stop preaching in the name of Jesus, healing in the name of Jesus, in short...stop mentioning the name of Jesus. It was making them all look bad.

The apostles' response? Acts 5:29-32 "We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead--who you had killed by hanging him on a tree. (Nice dig!) God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him."

As you would imagine, the men of the Sanhedrin were a tad upset. Not only had they ordered these men to stop speaking the name of Jesus, the apostles had just preached at them in their own council! They wanted the apostles dead. But the wisdom of a Pharisee named Gamaliel spared the apostles (read about in Acts 5) and they were only flogged and sent on their way, again orderied not to speak in the name of Jesus.

Acts 5:41 "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name."

Verse 41 got me thinking. Have I ever rejoiced because I have been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for Christ? Have I ever done anything that would bring me disgrace because of my stand for Christ? This is sort of radical, isn't it? 

I am used to rejoicing when God has answered some amazing prayer for me. I am quick to rejoice when the church is full and people come to know Christ. I am thankful when my position as Pastor puts me in places to see God move and minister. I rejoice when I am supposed to...when everything is going right. 

But when someone won't talk to me because I stand for Christ, do I rejoice then? When I am given the silent treatment and awkward glances when I make the case for God, do I rejoice then?
When I am treated differently because of my faith in Christ, do I rejoice then? 

Or do I try to curry favor with those who oppose me?

The apostles rejoiced at the wrong time. They continued to speak the Truth without compromising their stand. They spoke plainly to those who would come against them, rightly saying "We need to listen to God." 

Their rejection, their suffering, their disgrace probably did not feel good yet the apostles rejoiced for the privilege of being counted worthy to suffer for Christ. How often do I have the opportunity to rejoice at the wrong time?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I am sitting in Caribou Coffee this morning enjoying a cup of Joe and taking in the storm clouds that are hovering over the Twin Cities. As I write on my laptop I am simultaneously syncing my tablet because I just upgraded Patty's Spotify to Premium so that she may have her music as she is away to Maine at Bible Camp. To my right is my cell phone, charging for the day ahead.

At a table in front of me is another gentleman who is working on his laptop while he listens to music from his tablet. Ear buds in place, he has created a virtual cubicle to do his work. Just a few moments ago a young man worked his way just behind me in order to plug in his laptop and is now studiously surveying whatever he has pulled across his screen.

Technology. Gotta love it!

Some, though, do not. Some think technology is evil. Some think technology deepens and hastens depravity of mankind. It may...

All I know is that on my cell phone this morning was a message from one of my parishioners praising God that her tests came back in the most positive of ways.  I proceeded to jump on Facebook and message my church group so they could celebrate with her and be affirmed that God is answering prayer.

This morning I will have read some blog posts from some pastor friends of mine, inspiring me with the wisdom God has brought to them. That wisdom is now shared with me and hundreds, (thousands?) of others through the wonder of technology.

While preparing my sermon I can google and biblos my way to illustrations and translations that make the message God has placed on my heart for His people more relevant, more understandable and easier to apply to their hungry hearts.

As I write this, Missionaries all over the world are using cutting edge technology to reach the people God has placed on their heart. Technology allows me to support them financially and to encourage them prayerfully in the most immediate way possible.

I can only surmise that when Christ said we would go to the ends of the earth, modern-day technology must play a part.

For every positive I can give you for the use of technology, many can come up with a counterpoint of negative use of technology. Pornography is more easily accessible. Marriages are broken as lost loves are found and present loves are abandoned for the thrill of re-capturing the affections of our youth. Financial schemes and scams find their way past the most severe level of protection. Hateful, hurtful words and bullying hide behind the safety of the WEB.

Like most things it is not the things we use, it is how we use them. The tried and true principles of the Bible carry over to technology as well. The Golden Rule is just as Golden be it face-to-face or on Facebook. The love and honor I show my wife should be just as consistent on the WEB as it is as I walk with her hand in hand.

Ultimately, God will never rely on technology to reach our world for Christ. Modern-day technology is just a tool, as earth-shaking for our day as the Guttenberg Press was in its day.
It is never the tool but the heart of the one using the tool that determines the good and evil purpose of anything.

Used for the purposes of God, technology has shaped and will shape our generation, until Christ returns. If I may paraphrase Matthew 12:34 "Out of the overflow of the heart the [technology] speaks." Keep our hearts pure before God, keep our motives pure before God and today's technology remains a tool used by God to reach the hearts of the lost.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


     I detest, I despise, I am frustrated with writer's block. I can always tell I have hit the very bottom of the barrel during writer's block when I begin to write about the BLOCK.
     I am not all that sure why I get frustrated with the BLOCK. I don't make my living with my pen, so I will eat tomorrow. I have no deadlines to meet, so I will sleep well tonight. There aren't any people whose lives will be changed by the few words I would possibly write, so my conscience is clear. Yet I am in the midst of the longest BLOCK I have ever been in and what comes to mind is: "Will I ever be able to string a sentence together ever again? A sentence that does not pertain to the BLOCK?"
     The most frustrating thing about this BLOCK is that a tremendous inspiration explodes in my brain but by the time I write the first word of whatever that inspiration it explodes again. This time like a pen that has gone through the dryer in my pocket. A mess, in other words.
     I have done all the tricks. Free associated on paper. Read a bunch of my previous writing. (Don't do this during a BLOCK because then even the old stuff looks really bad!) I have gone off to a quiet place. Sat in a familiar place. Kept a notebook at hand to write anything that may be the seed of something worth expanding on paper. Blocked. BLOCKED. BLOCKED!
     The interesting thing is that I do make my living with words. Every Sunday I have the privilege to stand in front of a great bunch of people and preach out of God's Word. No BLOCK, but then, again, I have some help of the spiritual sort.
     I am thankful for this, then: God is never BLOCKED. "I will never leave you nor forsake you." "Draw near to me and I will draw near to you." "If you seek me you shall find me." "Lo, I am with you always. Even unto the end of the age." And even unto the end of the BLOCK.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


One of my favorite authors, Christian or Secular, is Philip Yancey. His many books have challenged me, inspired me, and have helped me grow in my walk with Christ. Yancey is a constant companion. What I appreciate about Philip Yancey is his honesty about his journey of faith that at times has been riddled with doubt.

While perusing the bargain shelves of a Christian Bookstore I found a prayer journal by Yancey called "Keeping Company with God". Though I probably would not have picked it up for the original $16 price, the bargain price of $2.97 made it worth the risk. And I am glad I took the risk.

Prayer is supposed to be a constant in our faith. I envy people who easily pray to God as if He is sitting across from them in Panera Bread. As I have matured in my faith I have found prayer to not be a chore or an obligation but a privilege and a discipline I have developed. Faith dictates that God hears me. I believe this and so I pray.

In Yancey's prayer journal he asks this question of the reader "How do you react when your doubts make it difficult to pray?" Following is my response. Not sure if it answers the question but it provoked thought I hope it encourages you as well.

Is there a time when I pray that there isn't a bit of doubt? Isn't that, for me, part of my faith: That I continue to pray though I do not see happening what I have prayed for? Does it not take faith to pray even if you think you are not being heard?

As I wonder about the slowness or quickness of the answer  what I think  may be a point of immediacy or urgency may not be with God. Since God sets outside of time, the word NOW does not apply to Him. It just is. 

I have found that any doubt I have has never been centered around the word 'can'. I have no doubt that God "can" do anything and everything. The word for me is "will". Will God do what he most certainly can?

I have friends with terminal cancer, a father with Parkinsons. Will God? I need a financial boost. Will God? Our church needs space and workers and needs them NOW! Will God?

God can. Will He? If not, why not? If so, when?

For some strange reason these thoughts strengthen my faith more than weaken it. God has not ceded being God by the requests of his people, but continues to prove He is God by answering any prayer in the best way and at the best time. God can and God will. When is not up to me, but to Him.


Hebrews 11:13 gives insight to my faith walk when speaking of the giants of faith: All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.

My prayer is that my faith grows so that I can welcome what I have been promised, what I have prayed for, from a distance. Things may not happen in my life time or  in my place. But God can. And faith within me says "God will."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Written Word

John 19:22 Pilate answered "What I have written, I have written."

Pilate, who earlier asked the Christ "What is Truth?" and then did all he could to stop Christ from being crucified, stood firm on the truth he had discovered. So firm, that he put it in writing, in three languages and publicly displayed it so all could see: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

This made many people upset but Pilate stood firm. If he could have elaborated he might have said "Let the record show and let history record this truth: Here is the King of the Jews".

There is something about the written word. It's permanence. It's transparency. I have always preferred the written word over the spoken word. Every day, it seems, the media has a retraction from a politician, a celebrity or a sports star that what they had said was not what they had said or meant.  This is why I believe it takes more courage, more thought to put to paper what could be read by thousands. It is rare a retraction is made for the written word because once it is on paper it might as well be writ in stone.

When I peruse my journals, most that will never see the eyes of others, I am taken back to the foolishness and seriousness of those moments. The schmaltzy teen-age love poems; the paragraphs of hurt and rejection; the elation of that first kiss and the confusion of what I would be doing with the rest of my life. As I have matured, my journals have matured but I still find solace in those written expressions of my life-in-the-moment.  I think it is safe to say that of all the things I have carried with me through life it is the written word that has consoled me, inspired me, enlightened me, enraged me and carried me. The written word has been the constant, be it my own words or the words of others.

I am a lover of the binded book. I look warily on the e-book revolution that has taken place. I like the feel of a book in my hands, the antiseptic smell of a book just off the bookstore shelf or the musty odor of a book found at a yard sale. I like walking through an airport and being able to spy what other people are reading. Can't do that with an e-book.

I like walking into a Barnes and Noble to see the vast kingdom of books before me. I like the time it takes to hit all the stacks and try to find the I-never-would-have-thought-to-buy-that-book-unless-I-saw-it book. I find no romance or intrigue in scrolling down a computer screen to pick out a book.

I also desecrate books. I write in them, I underline the thoughts and the passages that strike me. There are very few books in my library that have not been cut by my ink sword. In fact, I have purchased borrowed books when I have become so lost in the words I forgot the book was not mine and marked it as if it were. I like the motion and the familiarity of turning the page and of dog-earing the page when finished for the moment. Can't do that with an e-book.

Trust me, I catch the irony in expressing these thoughts in a paperless blog.

I understand the new technology. I use the new technology. The new technology has made my job easier in preparing sermons, in counseling people, in growing in Christ. Yet, nothing compares to my first preaching Bible that sits in a box in my office. The binding is tore from use and the pages are stained with tears and coffee. Margins are filled with my scrawled observations and God's prodding. Exclamation points and question marks abound after certain passages. The Bible I preach out of now will soon be boxed and soon I will get to break in a new one. I love those old Bibles that chart my growth and history as a Pastor.

I could get the new E-Bible. Many preachers are reading off of I-Pads and I-Phones. It would be convenient. It would be quicker. It would be totally up-to-date and relevant to the congregation. Yet, I think I will stick with the binded Bible.

Whether you are an old nostalgic soul like me or a cutting edge techno-geek we must understand that God understands the power of the written word. If there is one book we must read it would be His Word. E-Bible or Old-musty Bible the Truth of the written word stays the same and continues to impact lives: Christ became one of us, lived like us, died for us, and rose again so that we might have a restored relationship with God. He put it in writing. God has written what He has written. And I am forever thankful for His Written Word.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Psalm 19:1-3 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard."

I am not what you would call an outdoorsman. Any voluntary activity out-of-doors usually includes a golf club or a softball bat. Any activity I am forced to do out-of-doors is with a shovel, a mower or a woodpile.
Fall, though, is my favorite season of the year. If I am going to be outside just to be outside, it will be now, as the smell of wood burning stoves being stoked mix with the fermentation of the leaves that have fallen early. The sun does not burn, but warms and brings light and shadow to the dawn as the fog curls off the lake.  The last ray of light is a visual Taps, warning at dusk:

"Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.
Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh."

For me, Fall is when I hear the heavens declare the glory of God the loudest. It is the time I am more likely to stop from the activity of the day and just revel in the beauty that is creation. I am more likely to take a walk in the fall, breathe in the morning air in the fall, and meander until it is dark. There is peace, I think, in the Fall. God is nigh.

Too often we overlook the beauty of God's creation and do not hear the declaration of his glory because the day has gotten ahead of us. There are things to do. People to see. Fires to put out. Meetings to attend.

Even if we are outside surrounded by the wonder of God's creation we may be pre-occupied with our cell-phone, reflexively grabbing it at any vibration, and grabbing it again when we feel it has not vibrated frequently enough. Even if we have left the cell behind, our mind races and runs to the hours and the days ahead. It is somehow ironic that in the midst of God's beauty we do not heed one of his commands: "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:34

I am going to take a walk, today. I will do my best to clear my head and open my heart to the call of nature singing out the glory of my God. I hope someone has a fire burning and enough leaves are on the ground that  will "rustle" as I walk through them. May be in the silence of an Autumn sunset I will allow God to speak to me in that still small voice that has so encouraged me and instructed me in the past.

As I go, this I know, God is nigh.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Proverbs 22:6- "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."

It was the end of July 1995. My wife and I, two kids-Morgan age 7 and Jordan age 4-pulled out of the driveway of our Pastor's home in Portland, Maine headed for Minneapolis, Minnesota to attend North Central University. This was the journey of all journeys as I finally followed through on God's call on my life to enter ministry full-time. I would receive my schooling and return to Maine. That was the plan.

To help on the trip was my Mom and Dad and my oldest brother. We had borrowed another brother's truck, an uncle's trailer, packed up everything we owned, had said our good-byes to our church family, blood family and friends and off we went. By August 2nd 1995 we were moved in to our apartment in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. By August 5th Mom and Dad were gone and our connection to Maine would be by telephone, the postal service and the fledgling internet.

The decision to make such a life altering move was not simple, nor easy. The full story takes more time than you are willing to read in a blog, but let me say that it could not have been done without Mom and Dad. And I am not just talking about the physical move, but the spiritual move.

Mom and Dad brought me up in church. They instilled in me the routine of faith until I could determine the depth of faith for myself. They were not just Sunday Christians as I witnessed them living out their faith in every way imaginable. They dealt with sickness, disappointment, prosperity, and poverty the same way: with God. I caught them praying for us kids at the house, saw Mom reading her Bible while having a cup of tea at the kitchen table. I marveled at the offering check they would put in the plate every week, even though some weeks the money was tight. I listened to them sing during worship, saw Dad usher and take the offering. Mom and Dad taught Sunday School, served on various boards, helped people in time of need. The lived their faith.

As I grew to have kids of my own I began to realize that the above verse is not just about the rote of Scripture, prayers and creeds. It was not just about the obligation of attending church services. Every time my Mom let me put the offering in the offering plate she was training me to be generous to God. Every time Mom and Dad went out of their way to pick someone else for church they were teaching me to serve others. Every time I caught them praying and reading the Bible they were re-enforcing the importance of such disciplines. All along, intentional or not, they were training me on the way I should go with God.

The choice to serve God, of course, has been mine. The choice to heed God's call to be a minister has been mine, as well. Yet I had role models in my parents that whatever I should choose to do, it is possible and always better to do it with God.

I cringe, as a Pastor, when someone tells me that they were so burned by the church when they were young that they would not force God or church on their kids. Instead, they will let their children make that decision on their own as they get older. I understand the sentiment and the abuses of the church in the past, but by not giving our kids a faith foundation or a model of what a healthy relationship with God and the church looks like, we are training them that life is lived without God. I am not sure that is anyone's intent.

Training anyone in anything takes modeling. If we do not model the life of faith to our kids, what are we modeling?

As I write this I am sitting in a Panera Bread in Green Bay, Wisconsin. My wife and I have just moved our daughter and our soon-to-be son-in-law from Minneapolis for them to begin their ministry as youth and worship pastors at Central Church. We borrowed someone's truck and someone's trailer, packed it up and made the trip to Packer land.

When they expressed thanks, I said to my daughter "Don't you remember when Gramma and Grampa and Uncle Kent helped us move out here? I am just doing what they did. And with pleasure."

I hope my daughter and son will be able to write the words I have written about my parents, some day. I hope they caught me praying, reading the Bible and serving others. I hope and pray that I have trained them as my parents trained me, not just with words but with actions.

The fact my daughter has entered the "family business" is not proof I have trained her well. How she lives her life and makes her decisions with God as her foundation is. I am doubly blessed, with parents that followed God's command to train me, and with children who took to that training I learned from Mom and Dad. Thank you, God.