Disclaimer

Disclaimer: I am embarking on a new course as 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!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The rest of the fairy tale

And so the servants took hold of the king by his coat sleeves and began to drag him from the throne room as the foolish peasant watched. He began to laugh and to call after them, "Throw him into the street ..." However, the whole time the king, being dragged across the room, merely looked into the eyes of the peasant. He never once looked away, and the peasant sitting on the throne found himself unnerved by the steady gaze of his king.

Suddenly he could imagine his future -- a future of roast chickens and barrels of wine, a future of self-indulgence and meaningless gifts, a future of petty arguments and arbitrary commands. He saw that left to himself, his life would be purely and only about himself and that in the end, his selfishness would leave his lonely wife weeping and his lame brother limping and all the others in this kingdom without help, without hope.

"Stop!" he cried before he even knew what he was saying. He flung the golden goblet from his hand, spilling wine down the steps, and threw himself from the throne to lie wretched on the floor. "He is the king, he is the king," he called out. As the depth of his own foolishness and the callouses of his own arrogance and the wretchedness of his self-focused heart lay open before him, he began to weep, and to weep, and to weep. Wracked with sobs he lay on the flagstones before the empty throne.

At his words, "He is the king," the eyes of the servants were opened. They hastened to help the king back toward his throne, but he was already ahead of them running toward the peasant. Falling to the floor the king embraced the weeping fool.

"My lord, my lord, can you forgive me? I am a fool, my lord, and I have no excuse!" the peasant cried out. The king embraced the man even tighter and whispered, "And so you are no longer a fool, having seen your foolishness. All is forgiven. I have need of you in my kingdom. Will you serve me?"

And so the peasant became an ambassador for the king, utterly loyal to his master. The king returned to his throne and began to right the foolish wrongs the peasant had committed. Over time, the kingdom grew again and prospered and the word of the king's grace and generosity spread throughout the land.

When the peasant, now a royal ambassador, grew in authority and influence, the king declared him Prime Minister of the kingdom. Because he knew the king's grace and mercy so well the Prime Minister wept and laughed at the same time. And occasionally at feasts and among his closest friends, the Prime Minister of this great kingdom commented that he was not Prime Minister, but Chief Fool and Jester for his king. Those who heard him who knew the king laughed and wept with him for the understood both the joke and the truth.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a foolish peasant who lived in a kingdom ruled by a wise, generous king. The king was taken away from the kingdom on business for a few days, and the peasant happened to wander into the throne room. (This was not unusual because the king was loved by his subjects and they had free access to him and to his palace.) At that moment, no one else happened to be in the throne room, and the peasant thought to himself how wonderful it would be to sit on the throne, just for a moment. He climbed up onto the throne and sat there, feeling proud, feeling like he himself was the king of the world. 
At that moment one of the king’s servants happened to wander into the throne room. Now it was customary in those days for the king’s servants never to look directly at the king, but they lived only for the goal of hearing his voice, serving the king well and fulfilling his commands. 
The foolish peasant, caught up in his foolishness, pretended to be the king himself. What would I want if I was a king? he thought. At once he blurted out to the servant, “Bring me a dozen cooked chickens and a barrel full of wine!” Much to the peasant’s surprise, the servant bowed and went off to get these things. Soon the servant came back with a table filled with a dozen cooked chickens and a small wagon hauling a barrel of the kingdom’s finest wine. The peasant began to stuff himself with these things. Soon he began to grow more and more foolish. 
The peasant thought of his wife, who sat home day after day weeping for loneliness. He told the servants her name and her location and said, “Bring her a golden harp and a flask of the finest perfume!” And it was done. He thought of his brother, who was lame in one leg and had to walk with a crutch, and who had no one to tend his garden or his animals. “Bring that man a crutch made of carven wood, inlaid with gold!” And it was done. 
Day after day the peasant went on indulging his own fantasies and showering ridiculous gifts on people without caring for their real needs. The resources of the kingdom were spent on things that were not really helpful, and those who had real needs became more and more neglected. 
One day the king returned to his kingdom and, in a quiet moment, walked in to the throne room where he found the peasant sitting on the throne, drinking from a golden goblet. The king stopped in front of the throne and said quietly, “I see you have become king. Will you come down that I might rule over you once again?”
The peasant started in fear, for he thought the king would have him slain immediately for his foolishness. But the king’s words quieted him and made him think: Did he really want to come down from the throne? The servants were now used to his voice and his unusual commands. What should he do?

At that moment one of the royal servants walked through the throne room. For just a moment the peasant hesitated. Then he called out boldly, “Servant! This man is mocking the king! Throw him out of the palace at once!”

Friday, November 14, 2014

Natural rhythms

It's mid-November as I write this, and I find myself thinking about the fact that rifle season for white-tailed deer is coming to an end in Minnesota. The rifle season is scheduled to coincide with the whitetail rut, which is really what I spend my time thinking about. Today I had to drive up to Rogers and passing little patches of woods along the way, I pondered the fact that in those woods, a massive stir is taking place. The bodies of does are coming into estrus, and bucks are wound up tighter than springs to find and breed them.

It's a natural cycle that goes on every fall like clockwork. You can wander the woods and field edges during the last week of October and see the evidence that the bucks are getting ready for the rut. They create scrapes, using antlers and hooves, along their most traveled trails. Urine and other scents mark these scrapes and they become a sort of bulletin board for the whitetail community. During the rut a buck will travel along those scrape lines and check out the scents of other bucks and of does who may be leaving scent messages.

Frequently a buck will find a doe that is not quite ready to breed and he'll begin chasing her through the woods. I've often seen these chases -- a buck scrambling along with his tongue literally hanging out of his mouth chasing a doe who looks more than a little frightened of him. Often such a chase careens right past a hunter. This is one reason why hunting seasons are scheduled as they are -- because wary bucks become a lot less wary during the breeding season.

Here's why I was thinking about this: It bothers me that there are these natural cycles going on around me all the time, and more often than not I'm unaware of them. The rut is totally dominating the whitetail deer population right now -- but even as I drive past the woods and fields where this is going on, I'm more concerned with whether I'll be on time to my next appointment, or whether the traffic on I-94 will be backed up. I live almost entirely disconnected from the natural world.

I often ask myself this question to gauge my connectedness: Without looking at a calendar, do you know if the moon is waxing or waning? At this moment, I don't. I haven't been outdoors to see the moon at night, or I haven't paid attention what phase it's in. Yet the moon and its phases is one of the most basic of all natural rhythms, and one of the most accessible. My schedule lately has been dominated by an artificial rhythm of meetings and banquets and appointments and social gatherings. All good things, but things that keep me from connecting with the natural world.

So I grieve for that disconnect. And this is a rhythm, too - because when I find myself grieving in this particular way, I know it's time for me to schedule some outdoor time, to go into the woods someplace and walk the deer trails, to reconnect, to see the crescent moon hanging in the sky just after sunset and watch the stars come out at night in different places than they were in August.

It's not a bad thing to live in the city -- but it separates me from a critical piece of my life. I need to get back to some natural rhythms.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Simple?

Well, we've transitioned to winter since I last wrote on this blog. This year it was a little like flipping a switch -- we just went from fall to snow NOW!

So here's my thought lately. I'm not sure I'm ready to go very far out on this limb but maybe putting it out for you all to ponder with me will help.

I've been studying Matthew 6:19-34 for quite a while now. Actually, Matthew 6:25-34 is one of the first passages I remember ever studying in depth in a class at the Lutheran Bible Institute back in the fall of 1983. Inductive Bible Study with Josee Jordan. Good stuff. We picked out key words, questions, wrote in the margins, analyzed, pondered, circled back and reread until we had that passage totally pegged. Or so we thought. Little did I then realize that the Bible has greater depths than I can understand.

This weekend I'll be preaching -- the second installment in our three-part stewardship series -- on this passage. The title of the sermon is "Live in Trust."

So here's my potential heresy:

I believe Jesus calls us to simplicity. Maybe we're not all called to the radical simplicity of the Amish, though I think there's something gorgeous about that level of world-rejection. No, I think it's quite possible to be a Jesus-follower and use and iPhone. BUT here's my thesis: The more complex my life is, the more likely that I have fallen prey to idolatry somewhere along the way.

Of course I know it's possible to idolize simplicity, and that legalism and Pharisaism are quite possible in the quest for simplicity. Yet, I think Jesus calls us to a kind of hold-on-loosely simplicity that sees worldly goods as tools to be used, not toys to be accumulated.

So one simple question is, do you use your stuff, or do you accumulate it?  If you had to throw away anything you haven't used in two years, how much of your stuff would go in the trash?

I'm afraid I have some bins of tools in the garage that would be bound for the garbage.  That voltmeter that seemed like such a good investment would certainly be trash.

Or maybe I'd recycle it. Let's not be poor stewards.

What is the challenge of simplicity for the modern suburban life? And where do you draw the line to avoid simplicity becoming legalism?

Perhaps most important, does simplicity really help one to be a more single-minded Jesus follower?

These are a few of my favorite ponderings lately. I don't know the answers. I think that not having broadcast TV of any kind (cable, satellite, bunny-ears, etc.) in my house has simplified my life a bit. Of course, I can be on the internet anytime. Our attempt to go without wi-fi when we first moved in didn't last very long. I think I have more expendable time since I'm not following any NFL teams very closely this year. I haven't had a clue for a year or two about any new TV series starting up. (Julie and I had a brief dalliance with "Revolution" but NBC cancelled it last year, so I'm back to no TV.  Feels good.)

Probably an important question in all this is, What does one do with the extra time Simplicity provides? That opens a whole can of worms, doesn't it?

Curious what you think about all this. Is it possible to live a complex life (think: hectic schedules, multiple vehicles. multiple devices cross-linked to one another, multiple sources of information, etc.) and remain a single-minded follower of Jesus?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Apologies, once again

I have been most remiss in keeping up this blog lately. It seems like "real" life -- work and family mostly -- have taken over my spare hours. Lots of good things going on across all those fronts, but that leaves little time for creative writing.

I've been thinking some this week, in anticipation of Reformation Sunday coming up on the 26th, about the most commonly used gospel text for Reformation Sunday in the churches where I've served. It's from John 8, where Jesus tells the Jews who have believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." The Jews have an explosive negative reaction to that. "We are children of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone!"

Methinks they doth protest too much.

What was the hallmark story, the defining story of the Israelites?  The Exodus, of course.  Why did the Exodus story take place? Because the Israelites were SLAVES in the land of Egypt.  Once God set them free they had their own country for a while, then in 722 b.c. the Assyrians came and carted off the northern tribes. In 587 b.c. Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon did the same to the people of Judah. These Judahites (later to become known as "Jews") were slaves in the land of Babylon for 70 years. Then they were allowed to come back and reestablish Judah as a vassal (read "slave") state under Babylonian rule.  In the time of Alexander the Great, the Greeks took over and the Jews were enslaved under Greek rule. A little later the Romans took over and at the time Jesus walked this earth and at the time the gospels were written, the Jews chafed under Roman rule, enslaved to the Romans.

We are children of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.

Yeah, right.

Why is it so hard for us to see ourselves accurately?  Why do we have so little ability to recognize our own failings and foibles, our own arrogance or our own false humility?

Did you know you've never seen your own face? Think about it. You've seen reflections, images, photographs, but never your own face. You can't. You just can't.

It's similar with our own souls. We can't see ourselves accurately. So we need a word that comes from outside ourselves to properly diagnose us, to accurately portray us.

This is why so often we resist what God's Word says about us. We don't want to see ourselves that clearly. We don't want that accurate a picture. We don't want to face reality. We don't want to acknowledge our slavery.

Ouch.

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed, Jesus says. The truth will set you free. The truth of who you are in Jesus, in his pronouncement about you. The truth of what he has done for you in bleeding and dying for you, because you desperately needed him to do so. Whether you believe it or not.

The truth is harsh and hard to accept.

The only thing worse is living a lie.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Appointments

I finally got through to the doctor's office today. It's been a frustrating, week-long game of phone tag -- for them and for me. I was in a couple weeks ago, had the x-rays, talked to the doc who used words like "congenital dysplasia" and said he'd be glad to give me a cortisone shot that would make my hip feel better for a couple weeks, but that's a temporary solution.

I've been limping on and off for a few years. Sunday mornings at church with all those hours of standing on concrete floors have been killers for me. (I'm definitely in the wrong line of work, right?) During those years of intermittent hip pain I've raced mountain bikes, jogged for miles, bowhunted from tree stands in the northern Minnesota swamps and while hiking up and down buttes in the North Dakota badlands. Not bad.

This summer my hip has been getting worse. So I finally started trying stuff. Some of you have heard rumors that I even attempted yoga. It's true. I submitted to the attentions of a chiropractor and a massage therapist, all in attempts to try to figure out what's going on. Along the way, my excellent chiropractor happened to mention that "if you have bone spurs or any kind of hip issue, all the massage and chiropractic in the world won't do you any good. So let me give you the name of an amazing orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hip issues. He can check you out."

When I saw this great doctor -- and I really believe he is, in part because he takes vacations in Tanzania and does scads of hip replacement surgeries there, giving life back to a whole lot of people who would otherwise remain crippled -- his first words were encouraging. "Your knees look great." But then he went on to describe my congenitally dysplasiatic hips and say, "You'll eventually need hip surgery."

So, I asked, who decides when it's time for surgery?

"You do," he said. "When the pain gets so bad you want the surgery, we can do it. Basically it will probably happen when you can't sleep at night."

Yuk.

So guess who hasn't been sleeping well lately? The last several nights it's taken hours of tossing and turning to finally get to a point where I can drift off deep enough that hip twinges don't wake me up again. Then the alarm goes off way too early.

So part of the adventure has been watching an online video of a hip replacement surgery. Not exactly what I'm going to have done, but pretty close. Fascinating. It reminds me of butchering the hindquarter of a deer, something I'm quite familiar with.

I called in to reserve my particular date on the operating table. Seems a little weird.

It also makes me incredibly thankful, when I dig into various kinds of hip surgery and realize just how far this technology has come in the last few years. Pretty amazing.

In the meantime, though, I spent a few days last week limping carefully through the woods up north, carrying my new Black Widow recurve and looking for whitetails. I climbed in and out of a few tree stands, and came within a few seconds of arrowing a nice eight-point buck. It was a good trip in the fall woods.

Recovery time will keep me from doing much hunting later in the season. I might miss my annual New Year's Eve celebration on my deer stand. So I'll have to try to make good use of October, before my surgery is scheduled.

I don't have much for deep ponderings about all this, except to say that I'm spending time lately thinking about how it affects people (me in particular) to live with pain, and how God uses that pain to shape us in ways we probably don't want to be shaped. Holiness, not happiness, right?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

September days

I have to confess that I absolutely love these sunny late September / early October days. There is nothing quite like this time of year. The leaves are just starting to turn and the early morning air has a tangy feel / smell that is hard to define, but exquisite to experience. U2 recently came out with a song that includes the line, "Stolen days are just enough." Feels a little like that these days -- these gorgeous days are stolen from the advancing tide of frost lines and snowdrifts, transitory and precious beyond measuring.

In some ways we would do well to pay attention to these sensations. It is our own lives that are precious, our own moments that are stolen from an advancing tide of decay and death, and (to quote Tennyson) "all experience is an arch wherethro' gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades for ever and forever when I move."

So these September days remind us of the glorious, precious nature of our lives. Julie and I sat yesterday morning with a dear friend who is in the last days of his earthly life, and we all delighted in each others' company and said some of the things that need to be said in love and appreciation and gratitude. Life is a gift. 

Perhaps there is a touch of grief in this transitional time. We see the leaves change and we are sorrowful, just a little, for the change of seasons. Gerard Manley Hopkins drove right to the heart of these emotions in his poem "Spring and Fall: To a young child". Mercilessly truthful, he points out the reality that it is not the leaves that make us weep, but it is ourselves we mourn for:

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for. 
 
So enjoy these halcyon days, the last of summer, the first of fall. Revel in the treasure that is your life.