Birthday Fellowship

Today is my beautiful bride's birthday. We celebrated more on Friday night. My sister & brother-in-law came over to watch the boys so we could go out. Beth had a coupon for a free burger at Red Robin. We discovered Red Robin while we were in BC. It became one of our favorite chains. So it was fun to go back and get a tasty burger (although Beth's wasn't done as well as she asked--they let her keep her coupon so she may go back tomorrow on a date with Nils. She also had a coupon for a free admission to Comedy Sportz. Laughing is good. And it's nice to not have to worry about offensive humor.

Yesterday (after a morning & afternoon of the boys being on their un-best behavior) we went over to the home of some friends' from church for our Fellowship Meal Group. It was the first time we've been able to attend in months. I made a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting to take. Fellowship is good.

Today after church we took the fixings for taco salad up to some friends who just had a baby. We offered to bring them a meal; they requested that we stay and eat it with them. It was good to have more fellowship. And time with a cute baby (they're not all cute, you know). Even after having experienced two births in our family, its always amazing to see the little miracle of life.

My wife is celebrating right now by watching the USA-Canada hockey game (well, watching and napping). Most of my family is cheering for Canada. They've actually got the players we know better. Either way, it's bound to be a good game.

The sun is shining, the snow is melting and it's around 40 degrees outside. I think a walk might be in order as well. If the birthday girl desires.

Happy birthday, sweetie.



Two little brothers, cuddling on the couch.
Sunshine in February.
A wife full of forgiveness, grace and love.
The aroma of fresh-baked bread.
When your son asks for a "family game night."
Making cookies together.
Watching your three-year old learn new things--like how to read and write.
When your five-year old swims on his own.
Something in the mailbox other than bills or junk mail.
A walk through the woods, kayaking on a lake and discovering a warm spot in Lake Superior.
A phone call from a friend.
The final chapter of a good book or the end of a good movie.
Holding a newborn baby.
A butterfly alighting on your arm.
Blooming flowers.
Watching a great blue heron in flight.
A personal encounter with the Living God.


Faith Development

Beth came home from her mom's prayer group last night thanking me for doing things to instill a love for God in our boys.

There's always the concern of going too far in indoctrinating your children, that they aren't able to make religious decisions for themselves. Sometimes I fret that the boys are just mimicking us in our faith. But then again, I'm not sure that's such a bad thing.

They ape us because they're seeing our faith lived out. They don't sing "Jesus songs" as they like to call them because they only hear them at church--they hear us sing them, they hear them on the CDs we play, they hear them on the radio. That's not to say that we only play Christian music--I've got my ABBA, Simon and Garfunkel, Crash Test Dummies and Indigo Girls--but that they see that praise and worship songs are not just for church.

They know their Bible stories because we read them at home, as well as getting them in Sunday School. They pray because they hear prayers at home and are given opportunities to pray themselves. Each night after getting pajamas on and reading a book (usually from the library), we read a devotion together, the boys name something they're thankful for or anything else they want to pray about and we pray together.

Again, I hope it doesn't come across that we're hyper-religious (if you know us at all, you know we're not). But I'm realizing that one of the biggest elements for faith development in children is that they see Sunday morning lived out during the rest of the week. I should probably have been more aware of this, having a Master's degree in Christian Education and all, but it just dawned on me today while I was washing dishes (which I need to get back and finish, so I'll wrap this up).

Some children aren't given the opportunity to grow up in a Christian family. That's why it's all the more important that all of us in the church are living out our faith in a daily basis. We can't compartmentalize work, home and faith (saving it for Sunday mornings). Faith has to be present and visible in all of our lives.

And I'm not trying to point to parents whose children aren't getting it to say that they're failing in living out their faith. In many cases, that's probably not the case. But I'm fairly certain in our house that's the main reason why the boys can truly say that they love God.


Pastoral Search

We had a member meeting after church today. Our Senior Pastor, Efrem Smith, has been called to be Superintendent of one of our denomination's conferences.

It's not a big deal to us--we've been through plenty of pastoral changes. At the church we were at in Iowa, we went through three pastors in less than five years. That's bad phrasing--we didn't go through them like we chewed them up and spit them out. The first was called to a conference leadership position. The second, admittedly, didn't end up working out well. The third is still there. But having had those changes also means we had two interim pastors (three, actually--one of the times was a husband-wife co-pastor team).

But it's a big deal to a lot of people in our church. This is the first time they've gone through it. Efrem was the planter of the church. He's a dynamic speaker and competent leader. People attend because of him. Very few people in our church have had previous experience with the Evangelical Covenant Church, either. They're a little apprehensive of what's going to happen next.

In our church, a search committee is voted upon (they try hard to get most segments of the church demographic represented). The denomination helps filter through applicants, but they do not decide who the next pastor will be. The search committee narrows down the pool of applicants to one person whom they feel is the person God is calling to our church. After several days of face time with that candidate, the members vote upon the candidate. It requires a lot of trust in the search committee, but ultimately we should all be trusting the Holy Spirit's guidance in all that.

That process is scary for people that haven't experienced it before. There was plenty of concern voiced today: concern over just having one candidate to vote upon (it was pointed out that having several candidates would just divide the church), concern that the senior pastor isn't involved with filling his replacement, concern of bringing someone in who doesn't know the church.

Pastor Efrem has been asserting for years that it's God church, not his nor anyone else. Why do we, in God's church (I speak for all of Christendom), have such a difficult time trusting Him? I guess because we have to trust Him to work through sinners (albeit redeemed ones). And sometimes we put too much weight on the pastor and not enough on the church as a whole. I have little doubt that some people will leave our church because of the pastoral change. That's our current church culture--we lack commitment, searching for the meeting of our own needs, instead (but that's a whole separate post). St. Paul did tell us that the church is the body of Christ: not a body and a pastor who is somehow separate from that body in a special way. Now, I know a pastor (and their personality, leadership and vision) is an important part of the church, and that the wrong fit can have big ramifications. This is all the more reason for us to depend upon the Holy Spirit--and not one person or group of people--and trusting God's Hand in all things.


A Lenten Reflection

As we begin this Lenten journey, I am reflecting on the message that Nichole Bullock, church planter in residence at Sanctuary and co-planter of Blue Oaks Covenant Church, gave at Sanctuary last Sunday. This reflection begins where Lent ends: at the cross.

Pastor Nichole was preaching on Hebrews 12:1-2, connecting how Advancing the Kingdom of God is deeply connected to suffering and sacrifice. The cross is our reminder that God loves us so much that He wants to spend eternity with us.

When we talk about bearing our crosses, we must remember that Jesus bore His cross for the sake of Advancing the Kingdom. Our "cross to bear" is not an annoying neighbor, a blemish on our face or troubles at work. When Christ calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him, we must remember that the cross is about suffering, sacrifice and even death.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:30-32 that to find our life, we must be first loose it. Just as a seed must die before it can become the plant contained inside (1 Corinthians 15:36).

There is a Kingdom to Advance and God calls us not to be comfortable, but to the cross. The cross is where we find reconciliation and restoration. We come to the cross broken to be transformed and changed. It's easy to get sucked into "the American Dream." But in following Jesus we must be willing to love as He did (dare I use the word sacrificial again?).

Suffering and sacrifice is uncomfortable to think about. It goes deeper than just giving up something for Lent. It brings us into alignment with Jesus.

If you want to find your life--the abundant life that Christ offers--look to the cross.

Ash Wednesday

Today many people are deciding on what they're giving up for Lent which begins today and lasts for 40 days (not counting Sundays). It's an admirable thing to do. The reason behind doing it is to identify with Jesus' forty days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness. It also helps us identify with Christ's sufferings in these weeks leading up to Good Friday.

I've never been in a church that had Ash Wednesday services or where most people gave something up for Lent. Any spiritual discipline (such as fasting) or church tradition (such as a cross of ash on your forehead) that bring you closer to God are beneficial. I find it desirable.

Sometimes we give up something just because we know it's bad for us--like smoking or candy--but that leaves us with a void (an empty space which that thing we're giving up used to fill). And we forget to fill that void with something else that fulfills our spiritual needs.

I've never given up something for Lent. I guess I've never felt called to do so; I've also been a little doubtful that I could be successful for 40 days.

I think, instead of giving something up (though maybe it will result in giving up wasted time), I'm going to try to go through a Lenten devotional with my wife.


The Art Museum Ended Up Being Closed on Mondays . . .

so we ended up at the zoo and conservatory. We had brought some notebooks and pens along to draw with at the art museum, so Anders used them diligently making sketches of what he was seeing. He's quite the artist.

I for one am enjoying the winter. I find nothing to complain about during the seasons. But, if you're yearning for spring, may these blooms remind you of what is to come.


Still Dating After All These Years

When Beth and I would do premarital counseling for couples whose wedding I was asked to officiate, we would always stress the importance of keeping a date night with each other.

We we ever good at it ourselves? Admittedly, no. It's easy to let life get in the way: no money, no babysitter, no time, too tired . . .

And though we were never good at following our own advice, we still knew the value of it.

We got a date night last night for Valentine's Day. One of Beth's co-workers who also goes to our church offered to watch the boys for us.

Admittedly, I'm terrible at planning dates. We end up usually seeing a movie. We saw one last night (I came across 2-for-1 tickets). I think I enjoy movies so much because it's a more convenient way of sharing a story together than taking the time to read together from a book. And stories are powerful. They can be life-changing.

We saw The Blind Side last night. A movie I wanted to see, but would have waited until it's DVD release for, but there wasn't anything that was a "must see in the theater." The Blind Side can be one of those life-changing stories. It's a powerful story of being good stewards--of sharing what we have with those who don't, of sharing ourselves, of taking a chance on doing the right thing, of taking a chance on others and yourself. It provided us with some good discussion at supper afterward (adoption and foster parenting are important to us).

And date nights are important to us. We may not get them in as often as we like to (we still have a small babysitter pool), but we also know that date nights don't necessarily have a predefined look. What's important is to have the time together, sharing ourselves, investing in each other. We don't necesssarily have to even leave the apartment, but we have to be intentional.

I love you, Beth. And I love being with you. Now and forever.


From the Art

The boys painted some mini-canvases for Beth for Valentine's Day. We made them a few days ago, but I had to keep the pictures under wraps.

Beth asked Nils what his paintings were (the top two), and he replied, "Beautiful." I had to dab off the paint so that they would dry. Anders wanted to take one of his to the Art Shanty Projects to trade with someone else for a different piece of art, but I told him he'd have to wait until next year. He was good with giving both of them to Beth. They are kind of a set, after all.


The Valentine's Day Party

On Friday Beth was off, so we all went to Anders school to help out that day for their Valentine's Day party. They started the morning with sledding on a hill by the school. The snow was so thick, it took several runs before the kids could get very far down the hill.

We brought our toboggan along--the kids loved it because six of them could ride at a time. We did get some exercise carrying it back up the hill.
I drove all the sleds over to the top of the hill in our car. A yard along the way had a quite impressive snow sculpture of a train engine.

After the sledding, Beth and Nils stayed in Anders' classroom to help with their party. They still decorate bags (though we did shoe boxes when I was little) and pass out cards (I was impressed with the number that weren't store bought; kids don't have to participate--though if they did--and everyone did--they had to give a card to everyone). I went to the media center to help out there (initially figuring Nils would be with me and could read books or play on a computer).

It was fun working in the library as one of the classes arrived. Some kept asking me where certain books were, assuming I knew since I was there. One boy kept sharing all the facts he knew about spiders and other things from books he was looking at. The teacher part of me misses some of that--being a part of students' learning. I guess it's good that I get that as a parent--especially an at-home parent.


O Canada - The Olympic Scene

We're watching the parade of nations during the Winter Olympic opening ceremonies.. We thought we'd still be living in BC during these games. But things changed, and we're not there right now. Which, we're glad we don't have to deal with the added traffic and the craziness of the border crossing. We were excited to see a more "cosmopolitan" viewing of the games (the US tends to only show competitions which they are good in).

It's fun to see sights from our old backyard again. And it's hard to see the sights we hoped to see, but didn't get a chance to do so. We never drove on the Sea to Sky highway to the Whistler area or got out to Victoria Island. We never really spent much time in Vancouver itself.

Yet Canada was a part of us for a year. We enjoyed it (while, of course, there were parts we didn't enjoy). We sing along with the anthem. We know that it's called "bobsleigh" instead of "bobsled." I've been curling.

Maybe that's why I enjoy the Olympics so much (especially as a person who seldom watches televised sports)--because it brings the entire world to our door. We learn about the history, culture and traditions of people from other countries.

It's tragic that the games have to begin on a tragic note with the death of the Georgian luger (and I'm a bit alarmed at how often the video was played). There is much tragedy in our world, of course. Yet, the world comes together and puts aside their differences to play. Yes, competition is involved, but it's for the sake of pride, not of conquering.

I don't necessarily care about who wins how many gold medals (though I like to see a country win their first medal ever). For the next couple weeks, I'll be watching with the rest of the world as Canada hosts the Olympics and we all come together, cheering on the best in us all.


How Much Space Do We Need?

I stumbled across two pictorial stories today about people living in small (quite small) spaces and making the most out of them intentionally. Does more space enhance our lives?
1. Life in a Yurt (Click here for slide show)
2. A Roomy 178 Square Feet (Click here for slide show)

Post Script: I was reflecting later how I wrote this mostly for myself. I find it a struggle at times to be content in our little apartment. Yet is is more than four times as large as the one in the second article (albeit, we have four people in here, so it comes out to about the sme square footage per person). I personally could do with less inside space if I ha some outside space of my own.

Spiritual Activities

It's time to go work on supper (hmmm, what shall we have tonight?). I know I've been talking a bit lately on using time during household chores to grow in my relationship with God, but I think tonight I'm going to use that time in a different way. I couldn't talk the boys into going for a walk with me this afternoon, and I'm in need of some exercise today, so I think I'm going to put on a lively CD and burn some calories with some active cooking (aka dancing and looking like a fool while putting a recipe together). Sometimes taking care of our bodies is a spiritual act in and of itself.

Blizzards & Global Warming

I read an article today addressing a lot of recent questions about how we can have such brutal winters if we're going through global warming.

There are a lot of views on the validity of global warming--but not enough open mindedness. I haven't studied the issue in enough depth to have a good argument either way. I do think there are noticeable changes (such as disappearing glaciers); I'm also not sure that just over a century of statistics is enough data to tell us what the norm actually is (there was scientific evidence in the 1970s that the climate was cooling).

The first command God ever gave humans is not about worship or obedience. "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground' (Genesis 1:28)." This verse follows on the cusp of God creating man and woman "in His image" (1:26).

For us to understand how we are to "subdue" and "rule over" creation, we should look at how God subdues and rules over. As I see it, He does so with a lot of stewardship, care and, dare I say, love (and I think it's safe to say that God shows how to love without it becoming worship).

So, without being fanatical, I do try and keep this place lookin' good. I'm guilty of plenty of transgressions, I admit. But I do try to take steps (like picking up litter and being more energy efficient) to be a little "greener."

Either way--whether global warming is a farce or not--I'm still going to try and keep things nice around here. I hate kayaking in a lake with trash floating in it; I dislike hiking in a nice forest and seeing trash on the trail. I believe God's creation is amazing and I'd like others to see that as well.



After lunch yesterday afternoon, the boys and I headed back out to Medicine Lake for the last day of the Art Shanty Projects. We were just experiencing the beginnings of our 2-day snow. It really was quite nice. The boys tried out the kick-sleds at the Scandinavian Shack, slide on the ice patches on the lake, and read a little in the library shanty.

We went to the Tiny Shanty again (a 3-story mansion, shrunk down, as the story goes). The resident described the boys as the "artists in residence" as they made tiny pictures to hang on the walls (it was encouraged--as you can see, many others had done it already). The boys also took some art they had made earlier to the Art Swap Shanty. I forgot to take pictures there of their trades, but I hope to get pictures off their website when they're up.

After some hot cocoa and a hot dog to share from the Art Taxi Shanty, we headed out to make a few stops (okay, I guess it was 4) before picking Beth up from work. It was half-time of the Super Bowl when we got home from picking her up. We miss the fellowship that we used to have during the Super Bowl. It wasn't feasible for us to host a party as Beth was working for part of the game and we had to pick her up. I guess it's been a few years since we've been to a party. Not a big deal as we're not football fans, but we could always count on being invited somewhere in Iowa. It wasn't unusual for churches to host a party with a big screen or projector. That probably happens in the city as well; we just don't hear much about it.


Why the Desert Fathers Ruined Me

Don't get me wrong--I love the Desert Fathers & Mothers. They hold a lot of wisdom and faith to pass on to us. I'm not trying to point blame.

There are many times when I desire the life of a desert father or to join a monastic order (if it was possible to do so while staying married and having kids). In my mind at least those places seem like ideal situations to experience God more deeply. No distractions, just time to pray, meditate, get into the Word and practice the disciplines.

This morning I tried to focus on praying while taking my shower and doing the dishes. But while I was showering, my mind was thinking something profound--I can't remember what--I think it was a writing project thought--hmm, probably should have written that down--so I didn't get far into prayer. And while I was doing the dishes there was too much commotion going on around me, I never got focused. The second time I did the dishes I turned on some music. I obviously need some time alone and without distractions to be able to focus on God better in my day.

Or do I? After all, doesn't God expect us to follow Him where we are? Shouldn't I be able to connect with Him no matter what I'm doing? Noah was able to walk with God while building a huge boat (with no Home Depot around) and making preparations to feed a zoo for over a year. David was intimate with God in the midst of war and being hunted by Saul. And of course Jesus Himself was present with God while making disciples, preaching and feeding multitudes and healing the sick.

I need to face it: the spiritual disciplines are called "disciplines" for a reason. And all too often, I'm not disciplined enough. They take practice to get beyond the distractions and to be able to stay focused. My children aren't distractions--they're reasons to pray. And I need to embrace the silence at times instead of drowning it out with music (even if it's worship music).

Now if I can put this into practice for tomorrow . . . (I suppose I should get a head start on it tonight).


Of Colds and Washing Dishes

I've had a cold the last few days. It doesn't take long for me to get to the point where I'm sick of being sick. I hate having sapped energy, I hate the pressure in my head and I hate going through a box of tissues in a day. I feel like I've been sick a lot more since having my appendix removed. It's annoying.

Sickness is always a sign of something wrong with our bodies. Often it's a reminder that we need to slow down and take a rest.

Just as I need to take some time to rest to get better, I need to rest in God for my spiritual life to get better. He invites me to come into His presence, sit at His feet and get to know Him.

I've been doing a terrible job at living more like Brother Lawrence--my desire has been to practice the presence of God more in my daily routines. I get too distracted or too involved and forget to focus on God being with me at all moments. I forget to converse with Him. Brother Lawrence perfected it while doing the dishes at the monastery where he lived.

So, that's my aim for this next week: to get over this cold and to practice the presence of God more. I'll keep you posted.


The Groundhog vs. Candlemas

Here's the run down of the major groundhogs and their predictions today:

Roxboro Naba of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania = early spring
Jimmy the Groundhog of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin = early spring
General Beauregard Lee of Snellville, Georgia = early spring
Malverne Mel of Malverne, New York = 6 more weeks of winter
Staten Island Chuck of Staten Island (New York City) = early spring
Woodstock Willie of Woodstock, Illinois = early spring
Wiarton Willie of Wiarton, Ontario = 6 more weeks of winter
Punxsutawney Phil of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania =
6 more weeks of winter
Spanish Joe of Spanish, Ontario = 6 more weeks of winter
Dunkirk Dave of Dunkirk, New York = early spring
Buckeye Chuck of Marion, Ohio = early spring
Balzac Billy of Balzac, Alberta = early spring
Shubenacadie Sam of Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia = 6 more weeks of winter

French Creek Freddie of French Creek, West Virginia = early spring

So, by my count, that's 9 for and early spring and 5 for six more weeks of winter. Either way we're ahead since the vernal equinox (the technical start of spring) isn't for nearly seven weeks.

In my book, Groundhog Day does nothing but frustrate people. Either the portent is for more winter, which makes few happy or for an early spring which is bound to let everyone down.

Most of you probably aren't aware that on the church calendar, today is Candelmas--the celebration of Jesus' presentation at the temple. Forty days after His birth, Mary and Joseph take the baby to the temple to fulfill the Mosaic laws of the dedication of the firstborn and purification of the mother.

There they meet Simeon, a righteous man whom God told would not die until he saw the Messiah, and Anna, a prophetess. Both proclaim Jesus' work of salvation for the world.

Maybe, just maybe, that's a better place to turn to when we need some hope amidst several weeks of cold and darkness. Maybe we just need the reminder of the Light of the World and His redemption of all who would have Him. Either way, I think Simeon and Anna did a better job with their predictions than any groundhog ever has.