Disclaimer: I serve as the Senior Pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church in Golden Valley, MN. However, these blog posts are not endorsed by Calvary, and they reflect my own opinions. Feel free to post comments or responses to these posts!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Mid-September reflections

Tomorrow is one of my favorite holidays. In Minnesota, it is opening day of small game hunting season, grouse hunting season, and archery deer season.

I'm not a big early season hunter. Usually there are too many mosquitoes, and the leaves still on the trees make it difficult to see game. One has to weigh that against the fact that you can go into the woods without risking frostbite. There are pros and cons to everything, I guess.

Still, there's the promise of something wonderful in the air these days. Maple trees here and there are starting to go colorful, and some mornings you wake up and you can imagine it will freeze hard (take that, mosquitoes!) in the next few days. There's a smell and a feel to September days that is simply wonderful.

Julie and I took some time to go to the Boundary Waters in August. Paddling across Lake Saganaga, right on the Canadian border, I was amazed to see a slope of alders already turning yellow. Now that wave of color has come south to the Twin Cities. It's the beginning of something glorious.

It makes me think of what Paul says in Romans 8:

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." 

That's verse 18 according to the ESV. This translation says "to us" -- that the glory will be revealed and we will get to see it. Other translations (NIV for example) say "in us" -- that the glory will be revealed in our bodies, our character, our discipleship, and that others -- the world, maybe, or all creation if you go with the following verse -- will see it. Both are legitimate ways to translate the Greek, and both are supported elsewhere in the New Testament.

Both, I think, are true. God's glory is certainly revealed to us, whether in fall colors splashed over a curbside maple tree or answered prayer. We see it and rejoice. God's glory is also revealed through his people, especially when they suffer without striking back, when they endure trials without losing their focus on Jesus, when they live as Jesus lived. Paul points here to suffering as one of the primary places where God's glory shines through us.

It's interesting to think that the glory of September is really a glory borne of suffering. The resplendent leaves are slowly losing the life that courses through them. The smell in the air these days is at least in part the sharp tang of plant matter beginning a decay that prepares the soil and the root systems for winter. There is a death coming with the snows, but the descent into death is a great opportunity for glory.

And the promise of God is that resurrection is coming. This is one reason I love living in Minnesota. The seasons are such a clockwork witness to the good news of Jesus!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Family Camp

I had the privilege last week of preaching at Family Camp at Mount Carmel Bible Camp near Alexandria MN. What a great place, deeply rooted in the Word of God -- both meaning Jesus as the Word and meaning the Bible as the Word. 

It was fun to be at Mt. Carmel in part because that camp and Calvary share some great DNA. There's a common spirit between the two places, a desire to see people transformed by God's Word, drawn deep into relationship with Jesus. One of the greatest things about Family Camp at Mount Carmel is seeing all generations -- from infants to wheelchairs -- and all kinds of definitions of family, from singles to parents and kids to grandparents to multiple layers of cousins -- sharing camp together. It's fantastic to see six year olds and sixteen year olds enjoying age appropriate activities, young adults and octogenarians digging into Bible passages together.

John Bjorge, a pastor from Seattle who has deep Minnesota roots, was teaching last week on the Old Testament book of Daniel. It's been a very long time since I did any in-depth study of Daniel, and John really pulled out some great applications to today. He's such a good teacher that he takes very deep ideas and truths and applies them in what look like very simple ways -- but when you start to chew on what he's saying, you realize just how challenging these ideas are!

I served as preacher last week. Family Camp at Mount Carmel includes teaching time in the morning for the adults while the kids have age-appropriate programming, then scads of free time with optional structured activities in the afternoon (think fishing, ropes course, waterfront, soccer, naps) and a whole-camp worship time in the evening with occasionally a talent show or other special event thrown in. It's fantastic, relaxing, renewing time. I preached during the evening services on John 9 and the story of Jesus healing a man born blind. It was great fun to see how the Holy Spirit coordinated themes between John's teaching on Daniel and my preaching through John 9. Lots of common themes!


This short video clip is worth pondering. If we had to define love, what would it look like? Brene Brown points out that our temptation would be to romanticize it, to make it "rainbows and unicorns" because we're afraid of the real, vulnerable-making power of love. Great stuff to think about!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Pondering the 4th of July

For a wide variety of reasons, I have not been posting much here lately. One of the biggest reasons is that my day job has been all-consuming lately, in a really good way. This morning I find myself with a few hours to relax, and time to ponder. It's good.

And so I am thinking about the 4th of July. Independence Day. The United States of America. Patriotism. The cost and responsibility of freedom.

One of the more instructive experiences of my life has been hearing people from other countries express their patriotism. I think of the privilege of listening to a Canadian praying in great thanksgiving for God's hand on his country, for the privilege of living in that amazing nation. I have heard Hondurans singing their national anthem with tears in their eyes as they express their gratitude to God for the privilege of living in that beautiful place. I've talked deep into the night with Filipinos who agonize about how best to be stewards of the privilege of living in the Philippines with all the wonder and all the challenge facing that great country. I've listened to Mexicans talk in depth about the political future of the country they love so much as they debate political candidates and parties, yearning for their country to experience the very best future it can possibly have, and speaking with pride and thanksgiving for its noble history.

It puts the 4th of July in a different perspective.

It doesn't make me any less thankful to be part of the United States of America. It does help me see that just because I love this country doesn't mean that other countries aren't wonderful and amazing as well. America is a great nation. And there are many other great nations.

So -- and this is always my question -- what is God up to in all this?

So often we believe that for us to be great, everyone else has to be less. This mentality gives rise to the desire to push everyone else down in order that we might emphasize our greatness. I don't think that is a responsible attitude for a Jesus-follower to have. Instead, I think Jesus-followers in the United States have to look at our patriotism as a question of stewardship. We have been given much. What will we do with it?

Will we climb over the top of other nations or other faiths to emphasize our own greatness? That certainly contradicts what Jesus taught. Will we be critical and judgmental of others to push the rightness of our own beliefs? Again, that seems contrary to Jesus' example.

Maybe the word I'm looking for is humility.

How can one be a humble patriot? How can one be a humble, yet faithful, Jesus follower? What does humility look like on the 4th of July?

As I've been rereading the gospels these last couple months, I've noticed again and again how Jesus lived in tension with the nationalism of his own time. I see over and over how Jesus grieved for the political attitudes that he knew would result in the Romans destroying Jerusalem in a few short decades. He called his own beloved people to repentance and humility. "If only you had known the things that make for peace!" he said (Luke 19:42). Jesus recognized that an arrogant nationalism would create strife and bring destruction. Yet he himself recognized the very special identity of Judaism and the nation of Israel, perhaps more than any other person ever has!

It's worth pondering on this Independence Day. This is the spirit of the hymn that is not so much a tribute to America's greatness as a prayer for God's help:

O beautiful for patriots' dream that sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears!
America, America, God mend thine every flaw
Confirm thy soul in self control,
Thy liberty in law!

Friday, May 1, 2015


Mostly I eat a low-carb kind of diet. Not strictly, you understand, but for very practical reasons. I find, as a type-1 diabetic, that a low carbohydrate diet helps me regulate my blood sugars. I have gone round and round with my doctors about this over the years. For years they told me it was unhealthy, I was going to get high cholesterol (my cholesterol has never been above 160, and usually hovers around 140 or so. The 160 was when I was eating lots of carbs.) So I live on eggs and summer sausage and bacon and nuts. I eat very little bread and almost never drink things like fruit juices and such. I avoid oatmeal because of the blood sugar spikes that follow, even though oatmeal is a delicious gift from God. Yesterday for both lunch and supper I had a pork chop on a stick along with some veggies. Low carb.

But once in a very great while it is an amazing pleasure to have a piece of apple pie for breakfast.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Mexico trip

For almost 20 years, Calvary has had a relationship with a mission in the Mazahua Valley northwest of Mexico City. The Mazahua are an indigenous people group native to that part of Mexico. They tend to live in poverty or on its edge. They have made significant strides in the last few decades to create better lives, greater infrastructure, and economic possibilities in their area. Parallel to that growth has been the growth of evangelical Christianity among the Mazahua. Mazahua Valley Ministries is an organization that provides encouragement and modest support to 50-60 evangelical churches and their leaders within the Mazahua Valley area.

Pastor Tacho Dominguez is on staff at Calvary as an associate pastor. He grew up in the Mazahua Valley and has a wide and deep knowledge of the history of both the region and the people. It was a real privilege to have him take me and Alan, the third member of our group, on an extended week long tour of the region. Alan had been to MVM three previous times and has a deep love for the people there. He doesn't speak a lot of Spanish, but has been a loyal volunteer there and also serves along with his wife at the Spanish language worship service at Calvary.

We visited several churches each day, meeting with leaders and often sharing meals. We heard about the work of larger, more established ministries and the struggles of fledgling churches that have only been in existence a short time. I worked on my Spanish skills and enjoyed actually having a couple significant conversations in that beautiful language. It's a little strange to realize that I have a harder time talking about what to eat for breakfast than I have talking about the relationship between the gospel and politics. Not sure how that happens.

One of the things that excites me most about Calvary (there are lots) is this business of mission partners -- whether locally or globally, Calvary is tied to many organizations like MVM and the individuals who give so much time and energy to building the kingdom of God in some way through these partnerships. What a privilege to be a part of such things! What an honor as senior pastor of Calvary to be able to connect with brothers and sisters who love and serve Jesus in other places!

Here are a couple pictures from the trip.

Above you see Manuel, Pastor Tacho's cousin, talking with people at Gilgal, the site I mentioned in my previous post. Manuel was a university professor who retired and is now giving his time to mission work. The girl in the light blue dress in the foreground is a bright-eyed, joyful helper who has become a key part of the work of Elsa, the missionary who has made the closest contact with these people. As you can see, dogs are everywhere.

This is Alan teaching a group of pastors and their families (especially the kids) about morse code. It was a fascinating demonstration using some of Alan's ham radio expertise and equipment.

This is a common sight -- mostly empty plates and full bellies. Around the table, left to right, are Alan, David (who works at MVM), Isidro (an ex-cop who did a great job of driving us up from Mexico City and back into the city -- driving in Mexico City requires a special kind of courage!), and Tacho.

This was a photo op as we were driving up to Gilgal. In many areas this is a common way to bring water back to the home.

Roca de Salvacion (Rock of Salvation) is one of the largest evangelical churches in the valley. There are about 1400 members in this church. They have a  beautiful sanctuary, a dedicated leadership team, and a heart for missions. It was humbling to be prayed for by this leadership team in this beautiful sanctuary!

Tacho standing in the midst of a group of pottery creations near a church known as "The Potter's House." The church has helped some of the people in this area take advantage of the presence of high quality clay to create beautiful pottery and bring in a few pesos. We watched this potter creating a number of different items in his backyard. 

I had to laugh when people asked me if I enjoyed the heat in Mexico. It never got above 70 degrees, and that was only on the middle of the warmest afternoon. Nights were cold. Here David is bundled up to function on a morning when it was certainly under 40 degrees. With no insulation and no heat in the buildings, I was much warmer once I got back to Minnesota!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mexican adventures

I returned a couple days ago from a week in Mexico. The first question everyone asks me here in Minnesota is, do you miss the warmth? I tell them I was colder in Mexico than I am in Minnesota. We were in the Mazahua Valley, up around 9,000-11,000 feet depending on location, and the nights got plenty cold. In uninsulated homes without heat, it was chilly.

But it was a great experience. I was the guest of Mazahua Valley Ministries, a long-time ministry partner of Calvary. Pastor Tacho, who grew up in the Valley but now is on staff at Calvary as well as maintaining close ties with MVM hosted me and another guy (Alan).  We visited a bunch of churches and a Bible school and experienced the great hospitality of these people. Everywhere we went we were greeted with grace and affection and food. Lots of food. Excellent food!

In the coming days, my hope is to share with you some of the pictures and experiences of that week, along with some of the reflections about the mission of the church, the changing nature of missionaries, the task of crossing cultures, and more.

For now, here's a picture of a delightful pair of ladies I met on a mountaintop called Gilgal above Ixtlahuaca.