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!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Therapeutic massage

Caution: this post runs the risk of crossing the line into TMI.

I have never been a fan of massages. Receiving them, that is. It's just not the way I like to relax. So when the chiropractor told me that I really needed an hour of therapeutic massage on my psoas (pronounced SO-AZ) muscle, I was less excited than resigned. But I have been fighting a nasty case of hip pain lately, and I'm about desperate for anything that will allow me to walk normally instead of gimping around like my left foot has exploded.

Let me tell you a little about the psoas muscle. I had never heard of it until recently. Apparently you have two of them, one on either side. In the small of your back, the psoas attaches to your spine. It then runs down through the inside of your pelvis, right along the inside of your hip joint, and attaches to the upper inside of your femur (the big leg bone), right along the inside of your thigh. It's also attached to a bunch of other muscles that run down the inside of your leg to the knee.

This is all important information because a therapeutic massage to your psoas muscle involves the therapist reaching down inside your pelvic bones somewhere behind your kidney to access the muscle. Then the massage starts, which involves pushing down even farther and displacing even more of your internal organs. If your psoas is at all tender, the discomfort grows even greater. (NOTE FOR THE UNWARY: In medical parlance, "discomfort" means you should have remembered the breathing techniques they taught your wife when she was anticipating labor without meds.)

In my therapist's words, "it's a crazy muscle." She also said somewhere along the way, "I basically get paid to beat people up."

So for an hour, the massage therapist worked inside and outside my skeleton to get at this pesky muscle that seems to be causing me so much trouble. Just for fun, she also worked on a few knots in some of the associated muscles. None of this was in any way enjoyable.

During the inquisition, I started thinking about the word "therapeutic." It comes from the Greek word "therapeuo" which means "to heal." Being healed is not necessarily a fun, relaxing process. Being healed often involves a great deal of pain as old wounds get dealt with.

So often when we ask God to heal us, we think we're asking him to take the pain away. In reality, we may be asking that he would intensify the pain, cut us off from our own comfort, drive us into agony so that he can bring us to a state of wholeness that was not possible while we lived in our original wounded state.

This may be one reason why suffering is so important in the New Testament.

It's also why Jesus asks what I think is one of the most important questions in the New Testament, in the beginning of John 5. Speaking to a man who has been paralyzed for years, Jesus asks, "Do you want to be made well?"

Seems like a stupid question, but notice -- the man never answers it. He simply offers Jesus excuses why he can't get into the pool where healing was supposed to happen. Jesus heals him, and it quickly becomes apparent that this guy is a bit of a weasel. He rats Jesus out to the Jewish leaders. He tattles. It's easy to think maybe he didn't really want to be made well in the first place.

How bad do you want to be whole? Are you willing to dive into some pain to find wholeness? Are you willing to let Jesus take you through suffering if that's how he wants to bring you healing?

While you think about that, I'm going to drink some more water and admire the bruises that are starting to develop all through the surfaces that allow "easy" access to my psoas muscles. Ouch.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Twenty years after the end of the world

Twenty years ago today Mom died. She was 57, and in excellent health -- all except the tiny aneurysm in her coronary artery that let go that early September afternoon. She began having chest pains and went to see the nurse at the school where she worked. She died on the ambulance ride to the hospital. Dad called me that evening -- I knew something was terribly wrong when it was Dad's voice on the phone -- and his first words were, "The world ended today."

I think about some of the things that have happened in the last twenty years and I often wonder what Mom would have thought. 

I know she would have loved seeing her grandkids grow up. She was well on her way to being a fabulous grandmother already when she died. I grieve that my kids never got to know her well. She loved nothing better than sitting with a child reading a book and introducing that little one to the world of words and stories and imagination.

Had she lived, she would doubtless have continued to be the glue that held her family — immediate and extended — together. She wrote scads of letters to each of her kids, making sure we knew what the others were doing. She kept us well informed about the doings around home — weather, crops, neighbors, church, school. 

All the bits and pieces of church leadership I’ve done in the last twenty years would have fascinated her. She had such a heart for the church to be strong and healthy and Jesus-focused. She gave her time to teach, to lead, to serve. She had strong opinions about and strong love for her church, both the local congregation and the wider church.

She would have loved the relationship I built with my dad in the last few years of his life. She would have been so excited for the conversations we had in the last couple years before he died -- conversations when I asked question after question about his younger days, about my own memories and struggles from my childhood, about stories he remembered from his ancestors. She would have just glowed to hear some of those conversations.

But then I think, so much of what has happened was only made possible by Mom’s death.

My younger daughter, for example, was named partly to honor my mom. Who would she be today if her name was different, and if she didn’t have that story about the reason for her name? Hard to say.

Because Mom was not present to be the glue that held us all together, my brothers and I started hunting together each fall. We haven’t always been able to make that work, but those annual hunting trips were an intentional way to stay close in spite of Mom’s absence. Similarly, with all my siblings we’ve tried to be intentional about staying in touch on our own. Without Mom to provide communication, we’ve learned — however poorly — to stay connected.

As far as church leadership, Mom’s death was one of the factors that moved me to attend seminary. In part, it was that sudden, jarring loss that moved me to yearn to be back in the midwest instead of living near Seattle, and seminary seemed like a natural next step. What would my career path have looked like if Mom was still living? Hard to say. What’s more, it was Mom’s sudden death and the powerful experience of community that supported us through it (many thanks to the saints at Elim Lutheran Church in Port Orchard, WA from those days!) that profoundly shaped my own understandings of Christian community that have become such a vital part of my ministry today.

If Mom had still been living, neither Dad nor I would have gone out of our way to have those hard conversations. We were both good at letting Mom be the relationship-builder, the story-teller. Mom’s absence forced us to figure out how to talk about things beyond the weather and the crops and the neighbors.

A verse from the Psalms I’ve returned to again and again over the last few years says, “Precious in the Lord’s sight is the death of his holy ones” (Psalm 116:15). I don’t think God plays dice with us, but rather I believe that if tragedy strikes, God’s promise is that he is using that tragedy for great good. He knows the pain of grief, the pain of loss, the pain of separation. He does not put us through pain needlessly. 

So today, twenty years later, I choose to be thankful for my mom — for her faith, her love, her joy, her hard work and her sense of humor and her faults, all wrapped up in an amazing woman. I choose to focus on the goodness of God who has used long years of grief to fulfill his promises. I choose to be amazed by the good things — the powerful good things — that have come about in part, at least, because of Mom’s death. She would expect nothing less.  Thanks, Mom.

In memoriam, Pearl Krogstad, 1937-1994.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Danger: God At Work

I have been so impressed today with stories about how God is at work, and more important, with experiences of God at work.

This morning a man was in my office who recently returned from Uganda, where he met a pastor who is leading people to Jesus left and right. This pastor is extremely poor and works among extremely poor people, but in the power of God's Spirit he is creating a community of health and vitality centered in Jesus Christ. I nearly came to tears when this man said the Ugandan pastor reminded him of me.

Later in the day I met with a church planter who recently came to Minnesota because he feels called by God to start a church in the Twin Cities. He has a gentle, patient spirit and genuinely cares about people. God has opened doors for him to start building relationships in a local YMCA where he is about to launch an Alpha course. We sat for an hour this afternoon, swapping stories of the goodness of God in opening doors, aligning people's gifts, creating relationships, and more.

Those are just two of the most obvious examples. There's the musician who happens to have a ton of expertise to be able to advise me in the search process for a new modern worship leader.  The tech guy who is able to create exactly the tool we need on our web site. The administrator who knows exactly how to assemble the list of prayer warriors for a particular challenge. The church leader who came alongside me for a difficult meeting, arriving early to pray over me before the meeting began.

I feel a little bit like I'm at the middle of a web of relationships, of circumstances, of divine interventions, and I get to see event after event, conversation after conversation, tiny miracle after tiny miracle. God is definitely at work. It's a privileged position.

The thing is, it's not an easy position. Don't we often believe that if we're at the center of God's will, things should be easy? For me, today, they are not. This has been one of the more challenging days in the last few months. But it's also been soooo good!

The moral, if there is one, I suppose, is that we should not desire that things would be easy for us. We should desire to be at the center of the web of God's work, and to have the courage to embrace what God is doing. Maybe especially in difficult circumstances.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

R.C. Sproul on Martin Luther's Insanity

This is an excellent video by R.C. Sproul dealing with Martin Luther's personality and the comment that some have made that Luther was mentally unbalanced. Good stuff, and well worth a half hour (or a little more) of your day!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Religion vs. Jesus

These are not fully formed thoughts. I might well be in danger of falling into a rant. The last several days I've been collecting religion. Radio shows of people spinning their complex religious systems. Churches full of legalistic claptrap. Well meaning religious people who live their lives according to intricate rules dictated by their strange interpretation of biblical texts.

And all of it seems to zoom right by Jesus. I picture him standing on the side of the freeway watching the cars of religion scream past. In my mental image I don't even see him shaking his head at them. He just watches for a gap so he can cross the road without getting run down by the madmen of religion. He's got work to do, and they're all missing out on it. And him.

This is probably the consequence of reading Romans for the last few weeks. I have no patience for the flesh or the things of the law, and religion is all that.

For the record I'm impatient with myself as well, but I so clearly see my self diagnosed by the words of Romans -- I am dead in sin, but raised to new life in Jesus. I am living by the law of the Spirit of life, crying out "Abba, Father!" At the same time I do not understand the things I do, for the very thing I want to do I cannot do and the things I don't want to do are what I find myself doing.

Religion is most of what pulls me away from the life God wants for me. It's the particular bane of my existence and my profession. Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Scripture in community

One of the thoughts that has been percolating around in my head for a few years is this: I believe that in the next few generations, the church will discover (is already discovering in some circles) that the key to following Jesus faithfully in our day is interpreting and applying the Bible in community.

Simple, right? 

But it's hard work when you actually get down to it. Building and maintaining community is a life-grinding process. When done well, it is incredibly life-giving as well. So in order to interpret and apply the Bible in community, one first has to be willing to do the hard work to live in community. 

For this to work, it also has to be a Christ-centered community. You can't just say that the local trap shooter's association is going to interpret and apply the Bible unless there's some common understanding that the Bible has some measure of authority over the group.

Second, it's critical that both "interpret" and "apply" are brought to bear. We've had groups interpreting the Bible for many generations. To the extent that those groups have failed to apply the Bible as well, they have been less than useless. Both study and action under the Bible's authority are critical.

Third, this is an ongoing pursuit, not a transitory one. Relationship -- with God and with humans -- takes time.

In light of all of these reflections, I was thrilled a couple weeks ago to be preparing for a Boundary Waters trip and to rediscover an amazing gift I was given this spring. The gift came from a group of guys with whom I was privileged to share an adventurous trip to Montana a few years ago. These guys bought me a Duluth pack -- a big canvas bag with shoulder straps, the traditional way to carry your gear in the Boundary Waters -- and inscribed the interior of the pack with their names and significant scripture verses. The Bible in community.

For your edification, here are the verses they shared with me:

Psalm 42:1
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.

Luke 15:3-7
So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."

1 John 4:21
And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Matthew 21:22
And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.

Romans 5:8
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014


Julie and I had some great conversations this last week with good friends on the topic of control. It's a hard thing to talk about, and most of us have some issues -- more or less -- with control.

Mostly, we want to be in control. We want to determine how things turn out. We'd like to have the power to determine outcomes, to decide that someone we love should be healed when they're hurting, to persuade -- not to say force -- people we love to make good decisions.

I totally get the desire to be in control.

But here's another question that's been romping around the edges of my thought all week: Does God want to be in control?

Now, hear me out. I know we think God is in control, but let that go for a second. Does God want to be in control? When you face a hard decision, does God want to be in control of your decision making?  When you are thinking about straying from the path of moral integrity, does God want to be in control?

I would submit that no, he does not. In fact, I think one of the reasons we get so frustrated with our existence is that God doesn't take control when we think he should. We think God ought to step up and make certain things happen. God should make the cancer cells die off, God should prevent the teenage daughter from getting pregnant, God should undo the weather systems that cause super typhoons. God should be in control.

I suspect -- and here I'm getting out into the blank edges of the map, where cartographers have written "Here there be Tygers" -- that God steps back from being in control precisely in order to allow us some measure of freedom, in order to allow us to grow and develop and realize our dependence and mature and get better at taking ownership of our own decisions.

It's just a hunch, you understand, but if this is true it explains a lot in our lives.

I don't think God is interested in having control.  What do you do with that?