For his Halloween party at school on Friday, Anders went as Luke Skywalker. He was going to go as a mummy, but Beth worked the 2 nights before then, and I just didn't get the outfit together. He kept going back and forth between what he wanted to dress up as anyway.

It was kind of that way tonight, too. We weren't too sure what they were going to walk out the door as until a few minutes before we did. Anders wanted to go as Luke Skywalker again. We convinced him to go in his outfit from the ice planet Hoth, so we could work in his winter coat and other warm clothing. Nils finally ended up going with Spiderman (which was what he had initally decided upon), but wanted a cowboy hat to go with it. His coat underneath gave him some nice muscles.

I commented tonight on how we used to get popcorn balls and sugar cookies and apples when I was young. We were also by a small town where we started the evening with a costume parade in the school's old gymnasium and the bank gave each kid a half-dollar coin. Our town also had set hours for trick-or-treating (not always on Halloween night--especially if Halloween was on a Sunday).

They don't do that around here. I've never heard of any of the towns in the Twin Cities area that have set trick-or-treating hours. People just start when the first kids show up (I'm not sure how those kids decide to go out).

Halloween is an odd holiday. People can get very polarized over it--though very few that I know. For most people it's all about the candy--just like Christmas is about the presents and Easter about the chocolate eggs.

Most Christian holidays were existing pagan festivals that believers reclaim (I also feel that Christianity isn't so much a religion but a transforming agent--transforming people in the culture they're in). We don't have our own original holidays outside of the ones originating in the Old Testament--which we don't tend to celebrate.

And so, somewhere along the line, when people in Ireland first followed Jesus, they decided to take the celebration of Samhain (which was a harvest/end-of-summer festival as well as the day when the spiritual world became more open to the material) and blend it with the church's celebration of the saints--those who had passed on before them. And so, to simplify the history, All Saints Day was born (or All Hallow's Day, which started on the evening of October 31, so All Hallow's Eve became Hallowe'en). Most of our churches pay little attention to All Saints Day (and few give a passing nod to Reformation Day on October 31, observing Martin Luther's call for the church to stop some of it's practices that went against Christ's teachings).

So, Halloween has become a celebration of fear instead of us taking the time to remember the faith of our predecessors. Our culture's attraction to fear is another odd thing. St. John tells us that "perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18). Fear isn't always a bad thing--but it is meant to drive us toward reverence of God, rather than being scared.

So, as I get ready for bed, and enjoy the big pile of candy in our cupboard, I remind myself to take sometime to remember the examples of those gone before me. Like Martin Luther. Like Martin Luther King. Like my grandfathers and my great-grandparents.


The Life Jog

While Nils and I were out for a walk this morning we encountered a PE class from the Junior High at the south end of the lake near our apartment. From what I observed, they had to do a lap on the path around the pond (close to a mile) before they began the next part of class. It was interesting to watch the kids run/jog/walk around the pond.

At the very front was the boy who was clearing running to prove he was the fastest. That or he really liked the game they were going to play next and wanted to get it started as soon as he could. But usually in the front is the person who wants to prove themself to be the best.

After him were the runners who were good at it, but also enjoy being with friends. So they ran in pairs. More than likely one was running a little slower than they could so that they could be with their friend.

Interspersed amongst them were the occasional loner. Whether they wanted to run at their own speed or they had no one that would run with them, they ran alone.

Toward the end were the clumps of people who were there because they had to be. They were the walkers. Mostly girls in this case who who probably hated being forced to have a PE class. A few hadn't even changed for class. Some clearly didn't want to ruin their look. Others lowered themselves from what they could have been achieving because they wanted to be with their friends. They moved in swarms.

Heading up the tail were the two boys who got to class late. You could easily follow them because of the cologne trail. (Jr. High boys--and a few girls--tend to either have bad body odor or too much cologne; unfortunately some carry that trend into adulthood).

We tend to go through life in the same way as those junior high kids ran around the pond. Some of us are there to get out in front and show off our skills. Others are there to do their best, while keeping relationships important. Some are clearly here because they have to be, and they're not going to put any effort into it. Some are alone; others have lost their identity in the pack. Where are you at?


I Am Loved--So Are You

For the past nearly 19 months, the concept of God’s love for me has been tailing me like that leaf that is stuck to the bumper of our car. Most of the time I don’t want to shake it, but there are times when I want to. There are times when that voice gets inside my head and tries to convince me that I’m not worth it—I’m not good enough to receive God’s love. I listen more to the voice that points out my faults and insignificance rather than the voice that reminds me of my worth in God’s eyes. God’s love for me exists apart from what I do or don’t do. Even in the midst of all the sin around me (including my vast contribution to it), God remains a God of love. His love for me hasn’t ever changed (nor has His love for you). Christ was crucified because of that love. He went to the cross for me. He would do it again—even knowing what kind of life I’ve lived (and wasted at times).

In today’s sermon, Pastor Efrem Smith spoke about God’s love for us—and the whole world. Spring-boarding off Genesis 4:1-15 (Cain’s murder of Abel), Pastor Efrem gave witness to three ways we know God loves us.

1. We know God is Love because God speaks. Even though Cain’s offering wasn’t regarded by God, God still loved Cain. He spoke to him. He gave him warning of what the sin in his heart could turn to if he didn’t keep it in check. God even spoke to him after Cain had murdered Abel. And He still speaks to us (we just have to be willing to listen).

2. We know God’s Love because God sees us. Later in Genesis 16, Abram is trying to have children with no success. His wife gives him permission to sleep with her servant/slave Hagar to produce an offspring. After he does and Hagar conceives, Sarai becomes jealous and sends her away. God sees this pregnant, homeless woman in the wilderness beside the Spring of Shur. God sees us where we are—even when our life seems to be in ruins.

3. We know God Loves because God saves. In Exodus 3:1-9 God sees Moses and speaks to Him through the burning bush, telling him that he has seen and heard the cries of His people in slavery in Egypt and is sending Moses to save them. And of course, God sent His son because He so loves the world.

I still work on listening to the voice that reminds me of how much God loves me—that I am His child, that no matter what I do He still loves me. I need to ignore that voice that tries to convince me of my worthlessness. I need to surround myself that voices that can speak to my self-worth in God’s sight. And I need to be a voice who speaks to others of their worth as well.

God loves me. Once again I remind myself that I am worth the life of Jesus Christ. I am valuable--He created me with special gifts and abilities and made me unique. Nothing I can do will ever diminish His love for me. The same goes for you.


First Field Trip

Anders had his first school field trip today. It was to the nature center near our house, so the bus ride there from school was shorter than his bus ride to school. We've been there plenty, so it wasn't overly exciting for him, but I think he enjoyed it just the same. All of us got to join him (Beth had to leave partway through to get to work, but she was there for a bit).

The students all gather together first for a puppet show about apples. Judging by the laughter and interaction, it was a big hit. It was about apples. Specifically how they start out as flowers, get pollinated by insects and mature into fruit which is a tasty container for the seeds.

The classes split up and Anders' group went and made apple cider. Each student got to put an apple in the grinder. Then they watched it get pressed and got to drink some cider.

Lastly was a leaf scavenger hunt. The leader from the nature center had them look for similarly shaped or colored leaves. Unfortunately it was a miserable day for a field trip of this nature--at least for the outdoor part of it. It was just above freezing and raining/sleeting the whole time. The kids couldn't pick up leaves off the ground because of their gloves. But they still enjoyed it as all kids do (for the most part). I think Anders learned to listen to me about which jacket to wear. We'll see if he remembers that on Monday.


God's Love & Your Neighbor's Soul

I'd hoped to do some more reflecting this week on last Sunday's sermon. I maybe should have been more realistic. Or maybe I should have planned time for being reflective. So I'm taking some time right now.

Pastor Cecelia preached on "Soul Liberation" in the "For God So Loved the World" sermon series that we're going through. The text was from Genesis 3 (and the chapters surrounding it). We were given three questions to ask:

1. Where is God? Sometimes there are times when life seems too crazy for God to be around. Remember Genesis 1. Sometimes God does some of his best, His most creative work, in chaos.

2. Where are you? After Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and wisdom, they heard God walking in the garden. They realized they were naked so they hid. From God. God, of course, knew where they were, but He still asked them, because He wanted them to know He still cared. Fear is a good response to have with God. God is to be feared. But fear shouldn't make us try to run from God. We can't. And even if we could, He still loves us. Pastor Cecelia pointed out that God asking Adam and Eve, "Where are you?" is the first missional/evangelistic statement in the Bible. God seeks us out. He doesn't want us to hide from Him.

3. Where's your brother? (Do you care?) After Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, they had children. Cain killed Abel over jealousy. And God came and asked him where his brother was. Cain responded, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Yes. He was. We all are. Sin unchecked leads to death. We are called to loving accountability with those around us.

I find it interesting that the subjects of those three questions are all found in Christ's answer to what the greatest commandment is: to love God with all your heart, soul and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). That's the relational trinity that we're called to love: God, neighbor and even ourselves. If we're only focus on one or two of those areas, we're missing out on the whole. God loves me. God loves others. As His follower I'm supposed to respond in kind.


Sin Boogie

Here's Pastor Cecelia's analogy for sin from today's sermon:

Sin is like being horrible at the Electric Slide: "you're jackin' yourself up and hurtin' others in the process, but you keep on going anyway." Thankfully, there are friends who pull you off the dance floor. That's loving accountability.

Art for Posers

Anders favorite thing to do with at the art museum yesterday was to pose. So here, for your viewing pleasure is Anders and works of art.


Winter Weather

This past week we experienced our first big snowfall. We had a light dusting last Saturday and then a couple inches of snow on Monday. It was received with mixed reviews, of course. Most people weren't thrilled with how early it is (the average first measurable snowfall here is usually mid-November). Of course, it didn't last too long--by the afternoon, much of it was melted. The boys loved it, of course. The first snowman was quickly built. It was a bit odd to see all that snow on the trees with leaves sill on them. Hopefully we'll get a bit of fall yet, as the boys want to jump into some leaf piles.


Faith in the Midst of Failure

"I've been granted the opportunity to show I don't serve him because of what he gives me. To show I trust him even when it looks like I shouldn't." - Professor Laud in Karen Hancock's The Shadow Within

It's easy to be a person of faith when everything is going well and you feel God's blessing upon you (though, I often think we loose some of our faith in those times as well as it becomes easy to rest on our laurels rather than trust God for everything). Our faith is really proven (and shown to others) when it stays strong when all we have is taken away. That's not easy at all, but often times we need to get to those places to recognize that God is all we need (and that we've sometimes put other things in front of Him, that we can truly trust in Him when there is nowhere else to turn).

I'm not able to name one person of faith from the Bible who didn't go through a down period in their lives--a moment where all they had was taken from them. We need those moments to discover what our faith truly means to us and to see how much we truly trust God with everything. Sharing those times don't often make sense to others, but they show that our faith is real and not just based upon what we get from it.


Where We've Been Placed

Leading into today's sermon, Pastor Efrem reminded us that whole life stewardship means seeing everything around us in where we have been placed as resources for advancing the Kingdom. We've been discussing that all year, but the way he said it today connected with me. He mentioned where we have been placed includes our housing, transportation, job, etc. It hit me because lately I can get in ruts where I feel like our tiny apartment prevents us from hosting a Bible study or having people over. I can feel like our economic situation limits me in helping others--or even in being able to do things that connect us to others. That, of course, is wrong thinking. And I kick myself when I fall into it. Satan does like to speak lies to us, though. The truth is that whatever our situation in life, God has placed us there to give us opportunities to advance His Kingdom. As Efrem said, "God desires to use you and I as expressions of His love in the world." That isn't dependent on our being where we want to be; it's dependent on our being available to be used. And willing. And even that we seek the opportunities to be used. I wonder if I try to much to make myself content rather than just being available where I'm at and letting contentment come through being usable. Ah, so I've still got work to do. I thought that was probably the case.


Faith Like a Child

Each night after we read a couple books to the boys, we read a devotion together. For a while we had gone through a couple books that had Bible stories with a reflection after each one. They helped the boys learn the Bible stories, but I'm not sure if they made deeper connections. On one of our last trips to my parents' house, I brought back Little Visits with God, the common family devotional book first published in 1957. I found my grandfather's name written inside, much to my surprise. It doesn't tell Bible stories, but tells stories that highlight a biblical principle. Then, there are questions at the end. Anders does really well with answering the questions. Nils has a hard time sitting still for the story in the first place.

It's interesting how I learn new insights quite often, as well. Last night the verse used was Matthew 18:20: Jesus said, "Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The story pointed out how our troubles, worries, issues and sins wear us down. We often have difficulties falling asleep because we're worrying. So, when we turn our problems (whether worries or bigger sins) over to Jesus, He unburdens us, taking it upon Himself. Then we can rest. Of course, God provides us the promise of real rest once we join Him in eternity. But some unburdening in this lifetime is a pretty good deal, too.


Ministry & Love

Beth and I were asked to be one of the sets of communion servers at church today. We're in a church of 1000 people, so it felt nice to be asked. And it felt good to do it. It had been a while since I've done something "ministerial". It was good. In many ways I'm not ready to do official ministry. But that need not stop me from doing ministry all the same. We're still figuring out how to do that as "lay people" in a "big church."

We were reminded, at least, in talking about God's love for the world today that our call in life is to love others (hmm, this sounds familiar, doesn't it?). God's plan for the world it to show it His love. His plan for us is for us to be vehicles of that love. Sometimes it's hard to get beyond my self-centeredness and notice the needs of others around me--especially those I don't know well. Love is an action, and it requires vigilance--at least on my part so that I am focused on loving.

Pastor Efrem pointed out today that the church at large has readily gone to start clinics in the Congo, but we're reluctant to address health needs of those in our neighborhood; we'll go and build homes in Honduras, but are we taking care of the homeless around us? As Efrem said, "If we don't love the world around us, we can't love the world beyond us."