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.