A Poem for Christmas

God's Son was thrust into our World--
The world He helped create--
Out of the birth canal of an unmarried woman,
Into the musty stench of a ramshackle barn.
It was just his mother there to welcome Him
along with the man whom he would call father.
Domesticated livestock surrounded him;
The smell of their food and refuse filled the air.
Their water trough was used to wash
The newborn infant.

He suckled at his mother's breast,
she held him close, tenderly.
His new father, unsure of what to do,
Sat down next to them
Gazing upon the face of the infant.
He was wrapped in cloth
And laid in the animals' food trough
Atop a fresh pile of straw.
He cried, expelling air from his newly used lungs.

He gave up His divine powers,
Drawing instead upon the strength of His Father.
Completely human God came to us,
To walk amongst us, teach us, know us--
Most importantly to love us
And show us how it was meant to be.
He came, not born of nobility in a palace,
But of commoners in the lowest place,
Accessible to all. One of us.

I know it's not December 25th, but historically the church has celebrated Christmas for 12 days (hence The 12 Days of Christmas).


Foreign Visitors

We had our first visitors at our house from Canada tonight. It was Nate & Johanna--a young couple with whom we had done some premarital counseling last year. Nate's family is from Wisconsin, just across the border from here. It was a treat to get to see them again. Our boys have always been really taken with them.

I've been wrestling lately with what the future holds for me: something in ministry, something in education, something entirely different. Their visit tonight (as well as one a week ago from Mike & Holly) was a reminder that one of the things I enjoyed in ministry was getting to be a part of couple's lives like that.


Merry Christmas

Beth worked until a little after 6pm last night. Since our church meets in a school, they don't have a Christmas Eve/Morning service. The ones I could find around here were either before 6pm last night or after 8:30 (which would be late for the boys' bedtime). I ended up walking with the boys a few blocks over to a church in our neighborhood for their 5pm candlelight service. It was nice; not quite the same when you're not in church with family (whether blood or your regular church family). It was also harder having both the boys myself, but they did really well. After walking back home and having a bite to eat, Beth came home. Once she had fed herself, we had, what we like to call, a "pajama adventure." We carried Anders and Nils out to the car in their pajamas and drove around a looked at lights. A favorite spot was the city park where we go to use the splash pad in the summer. They had lights on all their oak trees. We also found a house with a yard-full. Nils called it "Candyland" because of the candy cane and peppermint lollypops that lined the sidewalks (probably because he's been asking to play the Candyland board game recently as well). Really, just the simple lighted trees and eaves were enough to please the boys. (Good reminders that the Light has come into the world.)

This morning, after a breakfast of Swedish pancakes and sausage, we gathered around to listen to the Christmas story. The boys each had one main present under the tree (plus a few things that were too big for their stockings) and a stocking full of small toys and games. We had a lovely lunch together (after playing with the new Thomas the Train pieces and putting together the Lego set). I think this afternoon may hold some sledding for us.

I was reminded last night as we sang carols at the church we were at, how Christmas isn't just about celebrating the birth of Jesus by gathering with family and opening presents, but by making sure that Jesus is born in our hearts. We don't have to have things in order for that to happen: the stable was a messy, smelly place; the manger was a rough and scratchy for lying in. But God is ready to give the greatest gift in His Son if we are ready to receive Him.


Where's My Bailout Package?

(Rant alert)
I'm not much into economics or politics, so I admit I haven't paid attention to all the details of the economic crash and the subsequent bailout plans the government has been packaging up the last couple months. Personally, I think it's about time that we have some responsibility out there; sometimes we need to accept the consequences of our actions.

I don't understand completely how the economy works. It seems to be based on greed for the most part: it's doing well when people are spending a lot of money on things they don't need. Frugality doesn't cause a good economy.

Frankly, automobile manufacturers should have to deal with having made gas-guzzling vehicles that people don't want more of. I think it's ridiculous to take out of funds for helping produce more fuel-efficient/alternative fuel vehicles so that we can help out manufacturers who are failing because they haven't done that (I also think it's ridiculous that the average mpg of Ford vehicles is the same as their very first car almost a century ago--we can warm our seats, but we can't average better than 25 mpg?).

I know lots of jobs are effected by the bad economy. We're acutely aware of that. And I don't wish anyone to lose their job. People need grace; corporations don't.

I was reminded in church last Sunday that we say we live in the best country, with the best economy and the best military, etc. But we don't. The Kingdom of God has the most might. It's economy is better than anything else on Earth. It truly is the best place to have your citizenship. That may sound like pious sermonizing; I don't mean for it to be that way. Patriotism can easily become idolatry. Our duty is to transform this place, not conform to it.

And on this Christmas Eve, we must be mindful that God gave us the best bailout plan of all (I know--that sounds like some cheezy saying on a church marquis). Our greatest security is in Jesus. May he be the One who stimulates your life--not some check from the government.


Christmas with a Beat

The snow subsided last early last night so getting to church this morning wasn't a problem at all. I was grateful we could make it. I hate missing church during Advent (even if our church doesn't go through the church calendar)--plus, it's an opportunity to get out of the house. I knew today was going to be the Christmas celebration at church. It also is the 3rd Sunday, which usually means Hip Hop Sunday. I wasn't sure how that would play out, but they ended up going with both. And I can truly say it was the best Hip Hop Christmas worship service I've ever been to. I really wish I had means of video recording Nils dance. He made his way up front for a couple songs to "bust a move." I don't like to use the word "cute", but it was.

The worship contained so many art mediums: singing, rap, freestyle, poetry, hip hop dance, ballet, liturgical dance, painting, instrumental music . . . I feel like I'm missing some. Not everything spoke to me, but I enjoyed the variety and the authentic worship behind it. Pastor Efrem spoke on worship as well, of course from the standpoint that all life should be worship. he also mentioned how our giving should be an act of worship. Not just giving to the church, or giving of our time, but even of giving presents to others (which shouldn't just be a Christmas thing). And our gifts should bring the recipients closer to the Kingdom of God (which may mean just spending time with a child instead of buying a new video game system).


An Advent Poem

Through exile and Roman occupation,
Israel awaited for a Messiah to come
And bring salvation and healing
To the land and the people.
The Messiah, however, came humbly
With no pomp and circumstance,
Born amidst the squalor of a stable.
Few people took notice--
Just some shepherds caught unaware
By the heralding of the heavenly host,
And a group of astronomers from pagan lands
Who watched the skies for signs
And responded to a heavenly announcement
As given by a distant star.

We still wait for the Messiah today.
His first coming ended with
A promise of return.
May we not be caught unawares
Because we ignored the signs.
May our hearts be prepared
To receive the fullness of His glory
No matter how humbly
Or ceremoniously His return is.
With yearning hearts and redeemed lives,
May we herald the Messiah's coming.
Not just during Advent
As we lead into the celebration
Of His birth,
But everyday may we live
In anticipation of the coming
Of God's only Son.

Be Strengthened

"The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him" (II Chronicles 16:9 NLT). I'm taking a break in my reading for today to reflect on this verse that jumped out at me. Sometimes I know I pray, "Lord, give me strength." But I pray it flippantly, expecting God to just give because I ask. But the Bible says that we have to do our part as well. Isaiah 40:31 that strength will be renewed for those who hope in the Lord (or wait upon the Lord). The Chronicler says that we must have hearts that are fully committed to God. Then, God searches us out to strenghten us. That's encouraging--if I am truly committed to God. A good reminder, though: do your part and God does His. And His part enables us to keep doing our part. How can we go wrong?


Ancient Art, Swiss Guards and Papal Vestements

This afternoon Beth and I had a date. I know. It was exciting for us, too. A good friend whom we've met through church watched the boys for us. Through a radio station (KTIS) I obtained free tickets for Vatican Splendors exhibit at the Minnesota History Center (which would have been a $40 cost otherwise). The parking lot was unattended, so we didn't even have to pay there! Which is also exciting for us, right now.

It was a fascinating exhibit. It started with ancient art works, depicting the gospel story and Christian history. We even saw a reliquary which supposedly holds a bone fragment from Saint Peter. It went on into art and architecture from Saint Peter's Basilica (the first cathedral as well as the current one). There was a display of the uniforms, weaponry and history of the Swiss Guard (which, if you get a chance to see their outfits, you'll understand why Switzerland doesn't fight in any wars).

It then moved into some of the papal history and items from several of the Popes including many from Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It helped gain a deeper appreciation for the history of many rituals and the meanings behind them (which I think are often forgotten).
It was fun to see works by Giotto and Michelangelo among others. I enjoy seeing how scenes from Jesus' life are depicted differently--how many artists place those events in their own time period and settings or the little details they add to a scene. It was neat to see items that haven't been displayed to the public before.

The Vatican itself isn't a huge draw for us, but we appreciate the history of the church and the meaning behind the traditions and rituals. We enjoyed learning more of the faith many of the church leaders exhibited (one of the Pope's sold the papal crown in order to give the money to the poor). It was just cool to be connected to so much Christian history (especially if that really was St. Peter's bone!). The church's history (by which I mean the Body of Christ universal throughout time) hasn't been perfect--just as none of us are perfect. But God has used it despite that. Just as He uses us to bring about His will in this world. Just as He used a stinky barn in little Bethlehem to give the world the greatest gift it has ever known. That is where the Splendor of God starts. In humble beginnings.


There's No Place Like Home for The Holidays . . .

Which is why my family goes somewhere else. For the past few years, my parents have started taking everyone to a weekend away instead of buying us presents (of course, the grandkids still get plenty). It cuts down on some of the stress of finding beds for everyone and orchestrating meals and activities. So, this past weekend we were at a hotel with a water park in Okoboji.

The boys had a great time with FarFar & FarMor, uncles & aunts, cousins and Bella (my sister's dog & Nils' favorite cousin it seems). Really, they could get by without getting any presents, but of course people buy for them. Just to make our job of teaching them that Christmas isn't about the presents, it seems. But of course, the boys enjoy the gifts (they've been wearing the new clothes, reading the new books and playing with the new toys nonstop), and we can't take away from others the joy of giving. It is fun to watch kids open presents.

We drove back yesterday on the edge of a major blizzard system. Thankfully the DOT websites weren't accurate--the roads were fine. And now its back to real life: washing clothes, putting things away, serving coffee (not me, but Beth's doing that today). It's too bad we can't spend more time in the celebration and revelry of the holidays. Of course, maybe these short times together help us appreciate and want to be with our family a little more.


Beyond the Lamp Post

This week Anders and I finished reading the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. We've been at it for a while, reading a chapter here and there during rest time of all seven books. He doesn't get everything yet, of course (they're a bit beyond his age level), but he enjoys the adventure and imagination in the stories. I think he even understands some of the deeper meanings. He likes to put on some of the knight costume pieces we have, don a sword and be High King Peter.

It's great to get to share stories with him and re-experience them myself. I find I gain more and more appreciation for how the Shadowlands give us glimpses of eternity.

Small Things Hide Greatness

"Yes," said Queen Lucy, "in our world, too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world."
- C.S. Lews, The Last Battle


Let It Snow

It's been snowing since mid-afternoon and doesn't look to be letting up until early tomorrow morning. We'll maybe get 3-5 inches out of it. My poor wife had over an hour commute home (which is normally 20 minutes). After she finished her supper, we took the boys out to the park next to our apartment to do some sledding on the hill. It was well past sunset, so we didn't get any pictures of it, but sledding in the dark is kind of fun. Of course, it wasn't that dark--I enjoy the glow created by city lights between the snow on the ground and the snow in the sky. It was good to get out of the house--we need that during this time of year (as you can tell by their glazed-over expressions in the picture). And when I live in a climate with cold winters, I want the snow (the wind can go elsewhere, however).


'Tis the Season

Yesterday, Anders got to go with a friend to a concert. Before hand they could try some instruments, learn about conducting and gain the knowledge that the violin bow string is made from horse hair (Anders' favorite fact for the day). The concert was the Nutcracker with some jazz music as well. Apparently, the music was the best when there were dancers along with it.

Last night we went over to another couple's home. It's nice to start having some of those opportunities again, now that we've been here a while and are getting to know people. We had a family we've gotten know well over after church today as well.

Right now, if I knew how to do stuff with video on here at all, you'd be watching Nils do his version of dancing (which he has picked up through the hip hop services at church) to Nat King Cole singing Christmas songs.

Yesterday was St. Nicholas Day. We didn't have time yesterday to observe it all together. So this morning, before church we did our presents. We first talked about who St. Nicholas was, how he gave people gifts instead of using his wealth to buy more for himself, and how his name became "Santa Claus." We told the boys about how he gave to others because he loved Jesus; we talked about how God gave us Jesus and how Jesus wants us to give to others. Anders and Beth had recently taken a box of presents we had purchased down to the local headquarters for Operation Christmas Child (through Samaritan's Purse) which we learned would be sent to a boy in Trinidad who wouldn't get presents otherwise. So we discussed how we did that, like St. Nicholas did, because Jesus wants us to take care of others instead of focusing on the things we want others to give us.

Anders had recently seen some of the old classic Christmas specials on TV. He's got some things from those stories mixed into St. Nicholas's story, but over all he knows that Jesus is the best present we could receive. So, Santa Claus won't be visiting our house on Christmas morning, but hopefully we're all learning about giving instead of focusing on what we want for ourselves. I know for myself, though, that's it's not an easy habit to break.


Growing Up

Yesterday morning I got to watch my niece, who is now two months old, as my sister returned to work for the first time. It was a treat--as well as a new adventure. I haven't watched a baby (especially a girl!) by myself for a while--and definitely not with two other boys to take care of. She slept the majority of the time. Which was good, except she wouldn't sleep on the bed, only on my shoulder. So I re-learned doing chores around the house with just one hand. The boys were good helpers. And they love their cousin.

Last night I went to a Kindergarten information meeting. It's different for us being in a large city where we have a choice as to which school we send Anders to. The one that we're in the district for seems really good--we're also going to look out the city's Spanish immersion school. It's hard to believe we'll have a kid in school already. But he's ready for it. He's reading and writing some words already. And he'll love being with other kids.

Nils had apparently found the right buttons on the camera. I found this picture on it last night. That's our Nils.


Der Tannenbaum

We put up the tree and decorated the house yesterday (it really doesn't take all that long in our apartment). It's pretty early for us. It seemed fitting, being the first Sunday in Advent and all. Speaking of, that's the part of "contemporary worship" that I miss: celebrating the church calendar. We found some family Advent devotionals online that we're going to try using.

It's fun to watch Advent unfold through the boys' eyes. Nils doesn't really remember any of this, so it's all new. We'll see if the tree survives him, though. Anders knows what it's all about. He knows all the characters in the nativity scene and what their roles are. I think he's even getting the "giving" aspect of Christmas: we enjoyed putting a shoe box together for Operation Christmas Child.



When we got home from church today, Anders asked if he could go shovel snow as a chore (I know . . . where did this kid come from? And why can't he want to do the chores I ask him to do?). We don't really have anything to shovel as our responsibility, but I said I would take him out for a little bit. This wasn't our first snowfall, but it finally seemed enough to try out the new sled that Nils received for his birthday. So we did a few runs down the hill in the park next to our apartment.
There's a certain purity with snow. Anders likes to test the edibleness of it. A fresh snowfall leaves a trail of where you've been (if you're one of the first ones out on it). We noticed squirrel tracks on the roof of the garage this morning and rabbit tracks on the ground as we were walking out to the car. We could tell which sled ride of ours took us the furthest because of the trail we left.

We leave trails in life, too. I look at the path I've left behind me and think about how I can make a better trail on the road ahead of me. Most likely, some people will follow our paths. We're not going to be perfect, but we have opportunities to set things right and make our trail better for those who follow us.


Give Thanks

It's our first Thanksgiving (it will not get recognition as Turkey Day by me--I call it as it is) by ourselves today. We couldn't make the trip in one day to get to any family gatherings, and our friends here were already occupied. Beth had to work late last night and has a crazy early morning tomorrow. So we're at our house by ourselves. Which, in a way is kind of nice. We ate our meal at a normal time (it seems like family gatherings always have something like a 3pm meal--which is right in the middle of nap time for little kids). Beth made a fabulous meal, by the way. She didn't let me do much of it (I did make a pumpkin cake). We just got back from a walk around the lake/pond. The boys are in rest time. It's been a nice day. All the same, we do miss family and friends.

Here's my short list of things I'm thankful for:
My loving wife, my wonderful boys, my family, good friends (new nearby and far away), new life, my denomination, a new church family, old church families, parks, lakes, woods, books, music, movies that tell a good story, good food, second chances, recovery, forgiveness, when Anders & Nils hip-hop dance, the Muppet Show, gentle snowfalls, sunshine, soft rains, singing birds, the Hand of Providence and God's great love & provision (among a myriad of other things).

Happy Thanksgiving.


Hulk Angry

Today while reading in Ephesians, I came across this verse: "don't sin by letting anger gain control over you" (Eph 4:26 NLT, which is a quote from Psalm 4:4). I've read that before, but today it meant something different. I've been working through anger lately.

My previous tendency in reading that verse was to take it to mean, don't get overly angry so that you are driven by it. I have since learned that my actual tendency is to repress my anger, and in doing so, it gains control of me. I'm still learning how to be angry properly. There is a time and a place for it. I know that much. And I know that I can't let it control me by repressing it or by giving in to it. So I'm still learning what it means to be angry. I guess I'm still learning about a lot of my emotions (us Scandinavian types stereo-typically haven't done will with expressing them). So, I guess what I'm trying to say is don't tick me off, because you don't know what I'll do. I kid. Mostly.

I am learning that emotions, like much of life, is a balance between not over doing it (binging) and avoiding all together (anorexic). That's where healthy living lies.
(I haven't seen the Incredible Hulk since it was on TV back in the day)


Sacrificially Thankful

My reading in the Psalms today was Psalm 116. The seventeenth verse reads: "I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord" (NLT). The phrase sacrifice of thanksgiving stuck out at me today. Much like the "sacrifice of praise" mentioned in Hebrews 13:15, I'm not sure what it means. Obviously, the Bible wasn't refering to our American (or Canadian) holiday Thanksgiving.

In the Law that God gave to the Israelites, they were make specific offerings of thanksgiving (a type of peace or fellowship offering) in which they sacrificed an animal and some bread. And of course, we're not bound to the Law under Christ. But I wonder what it means for me. Is there something I sacrifice in giving God thanks? There are times, I believe, when it is fitting of us to give an extra offering when we receive an extra blessing (pay raise, inheritance, bonus, etc.). I wonder, though, in the season of Thanksgiving what it might mean to be sacrificiallly thankful. Maybe it just means sacrificing some time to reflect on what God has done for and given us--something more deliberate going beyond the prayer around the dinner table. Maybe it's as simple as that.


Figuring Out My Place in the Body

Last night was our church's annual meeting. It started at 5pm with worship & then a meal (soul food, mostly--including collard greens, which were the spiciest I've tasted). Kids were dismissed (the children's ministry team had stuff for them). The business part of things was pretty quick: 1) information on how the church how to move out of their office & ended up buying space that will house church staff offices, our community development center staff offices and space to have some activities; 2) budget proposal (no line items--basically it was just the expected income and expenses); 3) discussion about hiring a consultant to help the church determine how to move forward in having our own worship space; 4) new elders. It was all done shortly after 7pm.

It was different than any church meeting I've been apart of. Most congregations list everything and have reports from all the ministry areas. I kind of missed knowing on what's going on everywhere. We're still adjusting to this big church thing. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. For being a young church (5 years old), they do a lot of things really well. Of course, there are some things I'd do differently, but they still work. Great ministry is being done. God has been moving and lives are being changed (we've seen several people make first-time commitments to follow Jesus the past few weeks).

And we're trying to figure out where and how to serve. We kind of feel like there aren't a lot of feasible possibilities without having two vehicles or making Sunday mornings really dreadful for the boys. And the mid-week events don't really work with our schedule right now either. We are starting to know some people, though. And that's good for us.


Change. Will Do You Good.

At church today we were in the second of a 3-part series, "Change We Can Believe In." (No matter the outcome of the election, the pastoral staff had a sermon series based on the candidate's motto. The other option was: "God First.")

Maybe I've said this before, but I've been learning this past year that Romans 12:2 is not a one time thing. ("Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." NIV) We must be about constantly being transformed and renewed.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2Corinthians 5:17) I think for much of my life I lived in the state of mind that I'm saved, so there's not much else I need to do other than believe in God. Pastor Efrem said this morning, "Every day ought to be about change." New life is a changed (as well as a changing) life. And our mission is to bring change to the world around us.

It becomes easy to be in a situation and wish that everyone around us would change. "If only my job was different. If only my friends would change. If only my spouse would change. Or my family, or my boss, or my situation in life." But change might come in life and we find nothing is different because we're still the same old us. Pastor Efrem spurred us on to consider, "Have you ever considered how much you need change?"

I can't go through each day living the same way any longer. I must constantly be asking Jesus what change He desires to bring about in my life. And through me, in my change, God might bring change to the world around me where I live. It's not political institutions that are going to bring good change to the world. It's the body of Christ, where each of us is doing God's will in the world, that will change the health care system, and housing, and the economy.

It's frightening to change. Things will be different. But that's not a bad thing. We must be intentional about wanting to change and asking God (and ourselves) how we need to change.


Black & White, Life & Death, The Hope of Heaven

On Thursday I happened to notice on Facebook that my friend Leonid from seminary--originally from Russia, has been doing missions work in Russia and is now in the Chicago metro area--was in Minnesota according to his status. So I commented on it and asked where he was and if he'd be coming through the Twin Cities. After a few hours of going back and forth sporadically, it ended up working out that he was going to join us for supper.

We talked about life and such; part of the conversation was about our church, seminary friends, religion at large, etc. He brought up someone else who had gone through seminary with us and is pastoring a multi-ethnic church in Minneapolis. Leonid said that our other friend wasn't sure how to make this multi-ethnic church experience work out. Everyone in the church is gung-ho about it, until their children start dating across racial lines--or worse, get married. Then the unity breaks down, and people start leaving.

Our church doesn't have that problem. I think it helps that there are so many mixed-race couples in the church to start with. Our pastors did say a few times during our membership classes that it takes work to make a multi-cultural church work. You have to make the effort to not just associate with the people you naturally gravitate toward.

Last night we had a fellowship supper with people from church. Other than the host family, who is Korean, everyone we've met so far is white (except for some adopted children). There are plenty in the group who haven't been able to be there the two times we have been. So, chances are good--especially in our church--that the others aren't white. We're hoping so--that's part of the reason why we went to the church in the first place. Heaven's not going to be white, so why should our church--or all our friends.

This morning at church we sat with one of our friends (who have adopted African-American children) in the second row. Anders and their son (who is a year older, but towers above him) are great friends. Today was hip-hop Sunday. So Nathaniel, Anders and Nils were up front dancing to the worhsip songs. It made my heart happy. Anders even pulled on his black Yoda touque at one point. Though they may not have had the intention during the time, it was worship to me.

We ended up heading over to the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory after lunch (it's free). We were hoping to get a good two-year portrait. He wasn't overly into being photographed today. But he's still a cute little stinker-monkey. Anders had a notebook along and was drawing pictures as we walked through the conservatory (ala Sid the Science Kid on PBS Kids TV). He loves to draw and color. And, he's pretty good, too.

We swung by Beth's cousin's house on the way home to drop off some stuff. We ended up staying for supper (bless you, Nate & Gwen). I don't really know Beth's extended family as well as she knows mine (they don't get together in the same ways mine do), but I enjoy having Nate nearby and getting to know him and his wife. And our kids really like being together, too, so that's a big bonus. Of course, they're in St. Paul, and we're west of Minneapolis, but we can put differences aside.

It was also a hard week at points. Beth had a rough phone call Friday night, she ended up working seven days in a row (which, we needed the extra money, but it's draining of course) and a good friend of ours from Iowa passed away Saturday morning. She had a long battle with cancer, and we all knew this was coming, but it's hard to think that she won't be there the next time we get back (we're not going to be able to make it down for the funeral). Her children (and their families) are good friends of ours as well (I officiaed one of their weddings). We know how it sucks to deal with the death of a parent (or any loved one). Even though we know she's done with her cancer and the pain, and that she's in God's presence, death still sucks. It's heart-breaking to lose someone.

The consolation is the hope in knowing that someday there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth, that we we have new bodies, that death and pain and the ill-effects of sin will all be gone, and that we will be forever in the presence of Love. That is what we hope for; that is what we live for: marana tha (O Lord, come!).



Veteran's Day (or Armistice Day) is nearly over. It's been interesting to note how it is trivialized in some ways in America. In Canada red poppies are everywhere during the month of November. People are proud of their service for their country, and the country is proud to honor those who served it. I know there are plenty of observances across America, but I can't say I've seen a single poppy in the last week or so (granted, I haven't been out as much). We like to flex our military muscle and talk about how great our military is (which is true), but we, as a nation, haven't done a great job of remembering the sacrifices of those who have given us (and much of the rest of the world) its freedom. It seems that without remembering those sacrifices, we've easily taken freedom for granted. We push for our rights in every arena of life (including the right to sue if the coffee is too hot), but we have forgotten the price of freedom--the blood that it is built upon. Freedom (like Spiderman's power) comes with responsibility.

I haven't done a good job of observing this day, but I wanted to take a moment to reflect. And to thank those of you out there who have served. The military may not be my cup of tea, but I appreciate those who have the drive to serve in it. I think of my grandfathers who fought in the war, and came back to raise their families in freedom.

At the same time, I feel negligent if I don't mention that McCain's slogan, "Country First," is off the mark. It must be God First. Now, our history is filled with horrendous acts of violence in the name of God. That's off the mark as well. We must seek the Kingdom first--the Kingdom of peace and righteousness. And in doing so, we will be reminded of the things worth fighting for: justice, mercy, compassion and freedom. In seeking Him first, may we know when to turn the other cheek and when to stand up for those who can't stand for themselves. And don't forget to thank a veteran--as well as God for our freedoms--as you do so.


Happy Birthday, Nils

Nils turned 2 today. It's hard to believe he's been with us for two years. And sometimes it feels like it's been a lot longer. One of our many affectionate names for Nils is Stinker Monkey (an offshoot of the Canadian/British Cheeky Monkey). He can be the biggest stinker at times (as evidenced in the picture--I discovered he had gotten into the flour I had left out from kneading dough). Yet, he's extremely cute and (almost) innocent at the same time.

He's our adventurer. He loves to get into things, take things apart, find out what happens when you mix two things, etc. Somehow his only hospitalization thus far has been for the extraction of a chipped tooth. His angels have been on double-duty to keep him safe.

Right now he's very independent. He wants to do everything himself: open doors, get in the car seat, put on his clothes, etc. He's even potty-trained himself in the last few days (sort of--there's a few kinks to work out yet, but he's doing very well). He's not afraid to walk off by himself without either of his parents around. He's also much harder to discipline. It takes a while for bad habits to be broken.

In many ways, he's nothing like his brother. In other ways, he's exactly like him. At night when we do our bedtime routine, Nils asks for a song when he's in bed. Usually "Jesus Loves Me This I Know"; sometimes "Trygarre Kan Ingen Vara." It has to be sung at the right speed so that he can sing along, too (it's cute to hear him try and sing in Swedish)--if I try and rush it, he makes me slow down. Afterwards, he's been responding with "I love you." And it's not just repeating the phrase back. You can tell he means it.

Despite the frustration he can sometimes bring, Nils is a joy. I love him dearly. He helps keep me in check with how I'm acting. I can't wait to see the man he'll grow into some day . . . but not too soon.


Membership Has Its Privileges

Today Beth and I became members at Sanctuary Covenant Church. It involved six weeks of classes on Sunday morning. A lot of it was recap for us, of course, but it also contained a lot of good information (including Dave Olson's biblical mandate for multi-ethnic churches). It's still a bit different for us, being in such a large church. It's forced us to be more intentional in meeting people and building community (we're not great at it yet, but we're getting better). Frankly, I'm still not much for the whole big church scene. But we appreciate the church. Anders loves his Sunday School teachers (it's mutual). The teaching has been extraordinary. We love how the boys both do their own version of "hip hop" dance when music is playing anywhere. Our biggest draw is how the church is a better reflection than most of the Kingdom. The Body is economically, spiritually (people come from almost every denominational background) and racially diverse. I'm still not much of a city person, but if I'm going to live in a city, I want my church to minister to the people of the city.

Church membership isn't popular in today's society. That was very evident when we were installed as members during the second service today. There were probably as many members who stood up to welcome us in as there were new members being inducted. We went through membership mostly as a way to meet new people. But also I feel it's important to be committed to a church for the sake of advancing the Kingdom, for supporting the work of the church and for having a say in the ministry of the church.

I don't know what the future holds for me in ministry or even for us in Twin Cities area, but for now this is our home.


Change We Can Make Happen

Regardless of the outcome of the elections, I'm glad that the campaigning is done. It was getting to be very tiresome. I don't think I've ever heard the word "cronies" used so much. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that the way the political ads play out is the way the politicians play out, too.

It's been interesting to hear people's reactions to the election. Just looking through my Facebook friends' statuses people are excited, disappointed, hopeful, prayerful and even wanting to leave the country.

Let's face it: many people prayed going into this election and some felt led to vote for one candidate, some felt led to vote for the other. God doesn't put the answer to the nation's woes in one person; He places them in all of us.

Rudy Guliani said last night that after the election, we're no longer Republicans or Democrats but Americans. (Hmmm, that reminds that we're no longer male/female, slave/free, Jew/Gentile but all one in Christ.) Nearly everyone who voted hoped for change. One leader (whether the one you voted for or note) can't bring about change by himself. Change doesn't just happen. It requires work, and we all must work together to bring about change. So, don't just sit back and expect it to happen. Roll up your sleeves, America. Let's get to work. And don't forget to keep hoping while you're at it.

"Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone" (Psalm 33:22, NLT).


T-Shirt Philosophies

Seen on a shirt at church this morning:
Who Would Jesus Deport?

Good question.

Tricks, Treats & Birthday Cake

Friday night we took the boys out trick-or-treating. Halloween isn't a big holiday for us, but when the boys know there's candy to be had, well, you can't just ignore it. So we took dinosaur and Spiderman for a walk around the block. I have never seen such a haul. We'll have that candy around until at least Valentine's Day. Nils was quite excited about his first Halloween that he was able to really participate in.

My family (except for Aunt Amy) came up this weekend & since Beth had off, we celebrated Nils's birthday a week early. After some cake (I baked a pumpkin cake, Beth made cream cheese frosting and decorated with a Thomas train) & ice cream, we enjoyed the weather and played in the park for a while. Then back in for presents (interspersed with time with Baby Riley). I had made some chili for supper and we played some Apples to Apples together. It's a good thing we had an extra hour for this morning!


Beth and I have been taking the membership class at our church. It's a very in-depth class--we have one left. Today's topic was stewardship. A lot of it is review, of course--but review is good. Though I know all I have belongs to God, I seldom live that out completely in my life.

I think the thing that stuck with me most today was that as good stewards we need to not just maintain status quo, but make things better. When Jesus told the parable of the stewards, the master rewarded the two stewards who invested the money their were given so it was returned with more. The one who just buried it so nothing would happen to it was chastised.

I've often taken that to just mean that we need to use our gifts (talents, time, abilities) for God's Kingdom and not neglect them. But today it struck me that I need to be increasing the value of what I'm given as well.

God has given me everything I have. It is His. I am just His steward. Of my possessions, my family, my body, my time, my talents, my faith and the gospel as well. So, use it or lose it. And seek to improve it.


Political Pumpkins

Yesterday, when Anders and I arrived home after grocery shopping, I heard from the back seat, "I'm Charlie Brown, and I approve this message." Needless to say, I laughed right then and there.

The only TV the boys watch is PBS Kids. Except for the other night when It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was on. There must have been a few political ads during the program that he picked up on message approval. And after the Great Pumpkin was a special in which Charlie Brown hopes to run for student body president. I guess that was enough.


Near the End of the Political Season

One of our fine state's politicians has been taking some heat after an interview on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews (which I happened to actually catch some of while we were up North a few weeks ago). I am very independent voter--I'm not tied to any party in any way--so I don't say this with political bias. Her problem was that she went on a rant about all liberals being anti-American.

I mention this because the candidate has run a commercial which has been on several times tonight and it bothers me every time. She's been trying to correct her image with the commercial which shows her being nice and homey and conversational with the viewer. At the end she says something along the lines of, "I may not always get my words right, but I know that my heart is right because my heart is for you."

Now to me it's one thing to say the wrong thing--to use a wrong word or something like that. But clearly making an argument for your point isn't the same as getting words wrong in my book. Jesus said, "For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34 NIV). What we say is closely tied to what we think and believe.

Many politicians try to divorce themselves from their beliefs or their character. It can't be done, though. If you're going to make a bunch of promises to me to entice me to vote for you, then I need to know that I can trust you to follow through on those. Maybe that's just me, but that's how I vote.

On a lighter political note, Anders decided whom he hopes becomes president today: the younger of the two candidates. Age, apparently, is his main political platform.


The Mark(er) of Sin

Somehow, Nils always manages to get into something he's not supposed to mess with. And it's almost always something that we've talked about before as being off limits.

The picture above shows Nils after some marker usage. It doesn't show up very well, but it's all over his hands, down his arm, and even in (yes, in) his nose. I don't know how many times he's been told that markers, crayons, pencils and pens only go on paper. Not on the table. Not on the wall. Not on the floor. Not on his clothes.

Nils is our child who will get into everything that's off limits (and I know, some of it needs to be more out of reach, but the reality is that we're in a 4-room apartment right now, too). He has a propensity to forget the past thirty-seven times he's been told not to do something. I suppose we maybe all do. I know I do at least. Stupid original sin. That's what it was after all. Adam and Eve were told not to do one thing: eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. But they go ahead and do it anyway.

Paul, in confusing eloquence, puts it this way:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:15-20 NIV)

Only Jesus can rescue us from ourselves. Only by living in the Spirit, and not following what we want to do. That takes work; it is a daily (hourly, minute-by-minute) choice. Jesus said that the mark of a Christian is love. I guess the mark of a sinner is orange, brown, red, yellow and purple scribbles up and down your arm.


Didn't Autumn Just Start a Month Ago?

We're experiencing our first snowfall of the season today. It's not going to do anything (hopefully--it's been way too warm lately for it to stick), but it's been flurrying for almost 3 hours at least.

Another update for those out there in other parts of the globe: we've seen gas for $2.29 in the metro area (I've heard even below $2.20 in places). That'll be a nice change for the pocketbook.


My Little Angels

This is Anders' picture from Sunday School last week. He's a great colorer, but I most love the fact that his people aren't just white in his pictures. It helps that only a handful of kids in his class are white. The Kingdom of Heaven will be like that. I'm glad he sees it already.

Nils has started saying his own prayers lately. He's actually started in pretty much the same way that Anders did: by looking around and thanking God for what he sees (plus he usually remembers MorMor, FarFar, FarMor, Aunt Amy, Bella, Uncle Wilder, Aunt April and Baby Riley). It's a good reminder for me to be grateful of all that is around me.

Right now, I wish they were the angels that they sound like at times. I hate having to discipline them during bedtime. Nils has been asserting his independence lately. Everything he does, he has to do it by himself. If I've already opened the door, he has to have it shut so he can open it by himself. He spends eighteen minutes in the bathroom washing his hands (playing in the water, mostly--today I found him sitting in the sink). It's good for him to learn to do things, but it gets frustrating when we're trying to get somewhere and he has to open the car door himself (which he can't do), climb in by himself and get in his seat by himself--which doesn't help the time crunch. They're helping me really develop my patience more. And I love them completely.


Simple Pleasures

"Happiness is the sum total of the small things."
Norman Clegg, Last of the Summer Wine

Up North

Last Thursday, we headed up north. We hadn't gotten out to go camping all summer and we realized we needed some time in the outdoors (outside of city parks & preserves) for some refreshment. We didn't go camping, instead staying with our friends the Mueckes in Mahtowa, Minnesota, just south of Duluth. Bryan is the director at Covenant Park Bible Camp, so we stopped there for a little canoeing.

The next day we headed up the North Shore to Gooseberry Falls State Park. It was MEA weekend in Minnesota (apparently all the schools are out on Thursday & Friday, while the teachers supposedly have conferences--though the couple teachers I know were going on trips; I just looked it up, though, and apparently it's a bigger travel weekend than Thanksgiving in the state), and the park was fuller than we've ever experienced. We still enjoyed a little hiking (though not as much as we used to before children) and the beauty of the place.

We also stopped at Two Harbors on our way back. We walked out on the breakwall and watched a ship being loaded.

I'm not sure if I'm as refreshed as I normally would have been on a trip like that, but I got to share the wonder of God's creation with my boys as well as big boats, lighthouses and tunnels. Rocks and water are always a good time, too.