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!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Quiet, busy days

I'm in the middle of an odd experience. Julie and her siblings are doing a fantastic family reunion of sorts on Maui for two weeks. It's exciting for her to have the opportunity, and it's a little weird for me to be living solo for this long a stretch. We've certainly spent time apart before, but up until recently there were always kids involved somehow. Now the kids are off being adults (what's with that?) and I have a big house to myself for two weeks.

Decidedly odd.

In the middle of this odd experience I get to have a bunch of plumbing work done, since we discovered that our kitchen drain line has rusted through underneath our concrete slab. So there will be plumbers and other skilled people coming and going, busting up my concrete and repairing stuff. I wonder sometimes what they thought in 1965 when they put those metal pipes down into the soil ... did they think, "In 50 years someone will do something about this" or did they assume their work was permanent? Or was it simply the best option they had at the time? Hard to say.  But I'm hoping that the work will be completely done and beautiful again before Julie comes home.

Along the way I've been working a ton. I find myself surprised by how much I enjoy being senior pastor at Calvary. I've made no secret of the fact that I didn't ever expect to be in this position, but as I live in this role I find that in spite of my misgivings early on, it's a good fit. Seems to be a good fit for Calvary as well, though of course not everyone thinks so. There is a small contingent of people who think I'm destroying the church, and that comforts me. There are many, many more voices that recognize we're moving in a good direction. If I made decisions according to public opinion I might get worried about things like that, but I've been reminded again and again lately that every time the Israelites voted in the Old Testament they got it wrong. Let's go back to Egypt.

So I keep asking God what he wants to do with his church, and I do my best to discern his voice and lead in his direction. That kind of following makes life exciting as God opens up new opportunities and new adventures. And in the middle of it all I have a quiet house (when I'm not running around busily) that seems both emptier than usual and also more full of God's Spirit, waiting not so much to speak as just to be recognized, to keep me company.

It's a little odd, but I like it.

And Julie will be back before long, and I'm tremendously excited about that.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Gratitude and team building

Tonight Julie and I are hosting a gathering for Calvary's staff. What a privilege to pull as many of these people together and honor them! I'm so grateful for each one and what they've done to make Calvary what it is today.

I also think it's incredibly important for a ministry team to spend time together doing purely relational things -- getting to know spouses and families, talking about the Christmas past, joking, eating, teasing, playing. It's not just a job, and if it is, that's a problem.

It's especially appropriate, I think, on this ninth day of Christmas, second day of 2015, and just a few days before Epiphany -- after most of the holiday chaos and before the New Year really gets ramped up. Take a deep breath. Try the meatballs. Have another glass of wine. Relax. Enjoy these people.

What a privilege! But right now, I have to go get the house ready. (Yes, my hip is recovered enough that I can do housework. A tiny little part of me misses being waited on, but mostly I'm grateful for that too!)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Jeff's personal update

Recovering from hip replacement surgery is a lot of work.

Not physical work, you understand, since there's very little I've been able to do physically for the last three weeks plus. Mostly just a lot of being unable to do stuff, but breathing hard anyway.

Like climbing stairs. Our house is a four-level split that was designed by a malicious physical therapist, I think, so that every time I want to do anything of consequence I have to go up or down a half dozen steps. Then for most of the last three weeks I'd stop and breathe for half a minute before proceeding.

It's gotten better, and everyone tells me I'm moving wonderfully. And I feel better than I did pre-surgery, so that's a good thing.

It just takes a long time to heal.

I've started back to work more-or-less full-time now, which means that I am mostly focused on preparing and delivering sermons. Thankfully, a lot of the administrative detail that usually demands my attention is a) being taken care of by others or b) hiding in the nooks and crannies until after New Year's. I'm happy with either solution at this point.

So to hit the particulars, for those who have been paying attention:

My swelling, so pronounced after surgery ("Does this surgery make my butt look fat?") has gone way down, in fact is pretty much gone. This is a great blessing.

My incision is healing nicely. Nobody really wants to see it even when I offer. That's probably good.

The anemia that has been my biggest problem is slowly, slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y going away. Iron supplements and a high protein diet and even liver and onions are doing what they can to bring me back to a normal state of hemoglobinness. (Spell Check decidedly does NOT like the word hemoglobinness.)

I'm starting to be able to do normal tasks again occasionally, like buying groceries, carrying firewood and moving storage bins and cooking chili. All of these have been attempted with great success. Sitting in a glider rocker, however, seems beyond me as yet since I got bucked off one yesterday afternoon. Amazing the reaction from a roomful of people when the hip surgery victim falls off his chair. No damage done except to my dignity. I have been persuaded that other normal tasks should not be attempted as yet, like moving furniture and climbing on the roof.

I have seen my physical therapist, and unlike most of his tribe he doesn't seem to take great delight in causing physical pain. He is, in fact, a long-time friend of our family and has a pretty good idea of my pain tolerance. So he told me, "You are a lot like my dad. His colon basically exploded and he said it was a little uncomfortable. So if your pain goes from a one to a four ... no, wait, a three ... I want you to stop doing these exercises." So far I haven't had to stop, except to breathe.

I am surrounded by the most wonderful people, from the very core (Julie and my family) and working outward. If love alone could heal a man, I'd be dancing. Well, I never have been much of a dancer. It's an expression.

I'm suffering a terrible internal debate about my annual observance of The End Of Bowhunting Season, which is one of the most notable holidays on my personal calendar. It happens to coincide with New Year's Eve in this part of the world and I'm debating if I'll be well enough to go sit in the woods. Of course, sitting in the woods, done properly, involves climbing into a tree stand. And a tree stand, properly set up, needs to be a far bit above the ground. See above about "normal tasks." The debate goes on.

Thanks for all the prayers and expressions of concern and sympathetic jokes. As I said above, if love alone could heal a man ...

In the meantime, today is the shortest / darkest day of the year. And in many ways, not in my personal world but in so many other ways, the world seems like a pretty dark place. I am wrapped and consumed in the joy of proclaiming Jesus this season -- Jesus who didn't come to be a cute Christmas-card cover, but rather who came to be the physical, human expression and form of God's love in the midst of God's creation. Jesus, whose arrival caused a slaughter of innocent children in the area around Bethlehem. Jesus, whose family became refugees, crossing the border (probably illegally) into Egypt. Jesus, over whom an old prophet spoke that he would be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel.

There's a lot to ponder this season. Catch your breath and take some time this dark evening to think about the one who comes as light into this world.

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


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?