Counting Your Blessings, Then Do Something with Them

"When you're tempted by the greener grass on the other side of the fence, it might be time to water the grass you're standing on."

"Everyone loves the IDEA of justice & compassion . . . until it involves personal sacrifice and cost. Be people of ACTION."

- Eugene Cho

I'm Not as Poor As I Believe

This past Sunday, Eugene Cho spoke at church. Eugene is the pastor of Qwest, a Covenant church in Seattle and the founder of One Day's Wages, a movement to give up one day's income (which is something like .3% of your yearly salary) to help people who are living on less than $2 a day.

He spoke on a common topic of his: money, our possessions and how we use them. Jesus tells us that we can't serve both Mammon (money) and God. Mammon is not a god, of course, but it becomes a competitor of our worship. Most of us typically spend 80 - 85% of our waking time earning, spending or dreaming about money. It can control us, or we can control it.

We must simply acknowledge that money is a tool. It is not good nor evil (though we often quote that "money is the root of all evil", the Bible actually says "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil"). We have the freedom to choose to use it in good or evil ways. But we must choose or it will choose us.

We also need to constantly remind ourselves how blessed we are. Using my wife's salary (since I get very little income in my current role), she discovered on the Global Rich List that she is the 394,655,173rd riches person in the world. Not a very impressive number until you know that means that she is in the top 6.57% riches people in the world. Even if I take in just $1000 per year from watching my niece, writing some magazine articles and doing other odd jobs, I am still wealthier than 65% of the world. We can place our emphasis on God's blessings on us, or focus on what we don't have. But God reminds us in gentle, rebuking ways: "You are blessed." When we look at those statistics of our ranking in the world's wealth, we can no longer say "those rich people." It now us to be "we rich people." God doesn't bless us simply so we can enjoy that blessing by ourselves.

Eugene reminded us that "generosity rescues us from the abyss of our greed." Of course, generosity isn't just about money. We our called to be generous with all we have: our possessions, or talents, our time. But we're not allowed to sit back and think that we're too poor to do anything. We are indeed, truly blessed.



Beth had picked up a shift at work for today before knowing that her mom was able to get a ride to come visit us. So, we had the afternoon together. We checked out the parks in the neighborhood where we'll be moving. The boys played on the play center for a while (til we had a bathroom emergency). There's a cool chess/checkerboard on a rock table there.

Then we headed over to Como Park (with the hope of the boys taking in a nap--but that didn't happen). We didn't have time to see all the animals, but had some fun seeing what we could. Before leaving, we spent some time enjoying the blooms in the conservatory. I'll just finish with those pictures, as they're the highlight of this post.

Chinchillas and Bearded Dragons

One of the ladies who was doing songs and other things at the Earth Day celebration at the Nature Center this morning at one point brought out her pet chinchilla and bearded dragon. She mentioned how cute, cuddly, soft things like chinchillas are easy to love. But rough, scaly, ugly creatures like a bearded dragon requires extra effort to love. But they're lovable all the same, once you pour some time into them.

I got to thinking that it's the same with all God's creatures--especially people. It's easy to love the attractive, friendly people. It's hard to love those who are rough around the edges, disagreeable and "ugly." But they're still lovable. And we're called to love them. It may take some extra effort and work.

Admittedly, it's less appealing to love the bearded dragon. Chinchillas are easy. You want to touch them, hold them, cuddle them. Unless you are a herpetologist, bearded dragons force us to overcome our revulsion to even get close to them. They make us get out of our comfort zone before we touch them. They require us to look beneath the surface to love them.

We all have bearded dragons in our life: a rude co-worker, an unfriendly neighbor, that kid who doesn't behave (maybe we're even a bearded dragon to someone else). It takes work to love those kind of people. But doesn't anything worthwhile require work (such as marriage, parenting and even work for that matter)? Relationships are seldom easy, but some are much harder than others.

I'm reminded of the lesson Atticus teaches Jem & Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird by making Jem read to Mrs. Dubose. Scout and Jem learned that there was more to Mrs. Dubose than her mean demeanor as Atticus explains her bravery and courage. She wasn't easy to love (and really, only later in life to Jem & Scout see why Atticus had them get to know her), but the children were taught invaluable lessons from their time with her.

I suspect (though I don't know as I have little experience with them) that bearded dragons have lessons for us as well. I do have experience with the human variety (though, admittedly, not as much as I should), and though loving them takes much work, but we grow through our relationship with them. Not to say we should ignore the chinchillas--indeed, I think we need them in our life to recharge us--but we also need to reach out to the bearded dragons.



Anders brought this home from school today. It was something he did for St. Patrick's Day. At the top, the "gold coin" has a large blank line, and below that it says, "is better than gold."

Anders wrote in "God." Apparently it was up in the hallway for the past month. I'm proud of him. I hope he doesn't get to a point of being shy about that in the future (and I also hope he never becomes an insensitive, "Bible-thumper"). I also hope he does a better job of sharing his faith than I ever did. He's off to a good start.


We're Moving!

We have a house (kind of)! We signed the purchase agreement today, with June 18 being the day we finalize and move in.

It's a land trust home, meant to help lower income families get into homes. We own the home, but lease the land. If we sell the house at any point, we sell it back to someone who qualifies. The organization is a great Christian ministry meant to help families as well helping neighborhoods.

So, we're excited. But I admit that I have a bit of apprehension as well. Our monthly payments will be less than our rent, but we also have the additional costs that we haven't had: utilities (we currently average about $35 a month), water, garbage, etc. There'll be extra costs down the road. Anders didn't take the news well today (even though it'll mean more play space for him). He's not excited about leaving his friends and school. We do love our neighborhood and the opportunities around us. But we've moved plenty before--and I'm sure we'll move again at some point. We know we'll meet new neighbors and make new friends and find Anders a school that he'll enjoy.

So, I would ask for your prayers in all this. Prayers for the move, the house, our neighborhood, our finances and for the other decisions that we'll need to make (such as a school for Anders).

For those who want more information, here's the details of the house (off the website) along with some pictures:

1426 25th Ave N


  • 3 Bedroom
  • 1 ½ Baths
  • 1,812 square feet
  • Brand-new 2-Car garage
  • Completely remodeled
  • Brand-new appliances
  • Hardwood floors
  • Forced Air/Heating


More Resurrection Living

I came across this speech delivered at an Easter breakfast:
I can’t shed light on centuries of scriptural interpretation or bring any new understandings to those of you who reflect on Easter’s meaning each and every year and each and every day. But what I can do is tell you what draws me to this holy day and what lesson I take from Christ’s sacrifice and what inspires me about the story of the resurrection.

For even after the passage of 2,000 years, we can still picture the moment in our mind’s eye. The young man from Nazareth marched through Jerusalem; object of scorn and derision and abuse and torture by an empire. The agony of crucifixion amid the cries of thieves. The discovery, just three days later, that would forever alter our world -- that the Son of Man was not to be found in His tomb and that Jesus Christ had risen.

We are awed by the grace He showed even to those who would have killed Him. We are thankful for the sacrifice He gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection.

And such a promise is one of life’s great blessings, because, as I am continually learning, we are, each of us, imperfect. Each of us errs -- by accident or by design. Each of us falls short of how we ought to live. And selfishness and pride are vices that afflict us all.

It’s not easy to purge these afflictions, to achieve redemption. But as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered -- by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul. Redemption makes life, however fleeting here on Earth, resound with eternal hope.

Of all the stories passed down through the gospels, this one in particular speaks to me during this season. And I think of hanging -- watching Christ hang from the cross, enduring the final seconds of His passion. He summoned what remained of His strength to utter a few last words before He breathed His last breath.

“Father,” He said, “into your hands I commit my spirit.” Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. These words were spoken by our Lord and Savior, but they can just as truly be spoken by every one of us here today. Their meaning can just as truly be lived out by all of God’s children.

So, on this day, let us commit our spirit to the pursuit of a life that is true, to act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord. And when we falter, as we will, let redemption -- through commitment and through perseverance and through faith -- be our abiding hope and fervent prayer.

This speech was actually delivered by President Obama (you can find the whole speech here). I'm not going to get political here. I don't agree with everything the President does, but the Bible also admonishes me to obey my leaders and pray for them. There is a lot of propaganda out there trying to get us to live in fear. I've come across many reports on facebook lately that President Obama has canceled the National Day of Prayer. I haven't found anything that validates this claim. Instead, I came across the speech above on the White House website.

Following Christ's crucifixion, many of the disciples lived in fear. The person they believed to be their messiah was dead and they were afraid of government. Then the resurrected Christ appeared. His words, as are common throughout the Bible, were for the disciples to not be afraid. In our current world climate, there seems to be a lot of fear.

Resurrection living means living in hope, not fear. It means, as the President reminded us with the words of Micah 6:8, "to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God." Let us act judgmentally, buying into hate and walking in fear. Let us walk in God's light.

*For more thoughts on Resurrection Living (without any politics involved), here's a piece I wrote for our church's blog: Resurrection Life.


Place in the World

You may not be where you want to be, but praise God that you're not where you used to be. Sometimes we need to be thankful for the season of "in between." - Pastor Efrem Smith


Vengeful or Loving God?

I just stumbled upon this article about a father who is battling protesters at his son's funeral. The protesters are from a fundamentalist church who is targeting funerals of fallen soldiers. They arrive holding signs that blame homosexuals in the military for the deaths of soldiers. This soldier wasn't even gay. Nevertheless, the signs outside the funeral have weighed heavily on the father during this time of grief.

I know I've posted before about not understanding this trend in some Christian circles to blame natural disasters, deaths and other catastrophes on the sins of certain groups of people (it's never the sins of all people--only certain groups). So, indulge me as I rant again. I just don't get this line of thinking.

Did Jesus go to the well and start blaming the adulterous woman for the ills of Samaria? If I remember correctly, He sat there and showed the woman love. Not downplaying her sins, but treating her as someone He came to save, not condemn.

Are we trying to invite people into God's Kingdom, or to keep them at the gates of hell? Do any of us fully have the plank out of our own eye to pick on the speck in others'?

Call me cynical, but I don't think hating others and making people feel angry has ever been a winning evangelism technique. Maybe if we just got back to God's main command of loving others (of course, to do so, we are called to love ourselves, too, and I'm not sure we've mastered that, either), the church might have a stronger presence. Of course, I could be wrong. But my image of Jesus is more of Him loving people, rather than preaching condemnation.



Last night, Beth and I were able to go to a concert. We had gotten free tickets from a drawing from our local Christian radio station, KTIS.

Just a quick rant on the subject of Christian concerts. In recent years, artists seem more intent on making their concerts "worship experiences." I think we even have a live CD by a group who says at one point that the audience maybe didn't know they were going to church, but that's what the concert was. Now, I totally agree that church isn't limited to a building. And "wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus' name, He is there in their midst." However, church is meant to be a place for all people--not just those who can afford the ticket price and Ticketmaster fees (don't get me started on Ticketmaster).

That being said, we did really enjoy the concert. It wasn't groups we knew well--though we did discover we knew most of the songs from the radio.

The opening act was Caleb (Caleb & Will Chapman, son's of Steven Curtis Chapman). The were quite good for their young ages.

The second act was Tenth Avenue North. Again, the music was quite enjoyable; I also really enjoyed some of the thoughts that the lead singer, Mike Donehey, shared.

The closing act was Casting Crowns--a group made up of youth workers from Georgia (I don't know how they do ministry, record and tour and still have time for their families).

It's been a few years since I'd been to an "arena concert." It was definitely a different crowd from some of the previous concerts I'd been to, like DC Talk, Audio Adrenaline and Newsboys. All ages were represented. Plenty of families (even an infant in the row across from us); I really appreciated the older woman in the row ahead of us (as seen in the picture). It was kind of fun to see a woman from her generation getting into the music.

So, thank you to KTIS for the tickets. It was nice to get out without expenses (a good friend from church watched the boys and we found free parking, so the only cost was the water & popcorn Beth bought) and enjoy some uplifting music.


A Home of Our Own?

About a month ago we placed a call to an organization called Urban Homeworks just to see what their program was like. We had friends from church who were looking into purchasing their first home through them.

Now, a month later, we're looking at signing a purchase agreement and possibly moving into a home of our own in the next month or so (it's a land trust home). It's exciting and a bit scary. I like to ruminate on things before I make a big decision.

We've never owned a home before. Often our homes were provided as part of my work package. And we've rented a bit, as well.

Truth be told, if it weren't for Urban Homeworks, we wouldn't be even looking into housing. Their mission is "to perpetuate the hope of Jesus Christ through innovative community development that produces dignified housing for low income families, a strategic network of good neighbors and the redemptive development of real estate." It's kind of a mission strategy: going into some of the rougher neighborhoods in Minneapolis to be light.

It's scary because we're happy with our current location. We like our neighbors. We like the parks and nature center nearby. We like our proximity to places and the ease of getting there. Anders likes his school, his teacher, his friends. There's also part of me that doesn't want to stay in Minneapolis forever (especially after time away in Iowa); but there's another part of me that wants to invest in neighbors (and the neighborhoods our church's ministry is in) while we're here.

But our apartment is also small and cramped. It's not easy to host people. It's hard on the boys to not have much room to move around in. We don't really have a yard or a garden. It's tiring to have to keep getting quarters to do laundry with and not having loads fully dry.

Having a home means additional expenses: maintenance, utilities, taxes, insurance, etc. And plenty of questions about whether or not we can really afford it all. It also will mean we have space and a garden and an investment.

Neighbors don't tend to invest in people who live in apartments. Homes seem to be better for developing relationships.

So there are a lot of thoughts and emotions going on right now. We're looking to sign a purchase agreement this week (partly to help with getting some more grants to lower the price on the place and to get in on some tax incentives). So, prayers are appreciated for the decisions in the weeks ahead (and that they'll be able to find enough grants and such that will bring the cost down to be affordable).


Scenes from Iowa

During Anders' spring break we spent several days on my parents' farm. The boys loved squishing in the mud, climbing on trees and spending time with FarFar (especially in the tractor).

We were up early enough to enjoy a beautiful sunrise. The sunsets are just as beautiful. Not to mention the night-time skies on clear nights.

We took the boys over to my uncle's farm to see their new lambs (they also enjoyed some time swinging in the hay mow).

We also spent a couple days in the Des Moines area, staying with my brother so the boys could have time with their cousins. We got to visit my grandmother at her new apartment, and we picnicked with my sister and her new boyfriend after visiting the Historical Building.

Scenes from Easter

We all went down to Iowa for Palm Sunday weekend (also my Grandma's 89th birthday). We all dyed eggs together, and Anders and Beth tried blowing out an egg.

Beth went back to work, while the boys and I stayed in Iowa during Anders' spring break.

Between the Sunrise Service & the regular church service on Easter morning, the boys hunted for their Easter baskets.

We had Easter dinner at my uncle & aunt's house. The boys (and cousin Riley) had fun hunting eggs outside again.


Each Day A Resurrection Day

Two days ago we celebrated Easter. The boys and I were in Iowa for it; Beth was in the Twin Cities and got to celebrate with some friends from church.

The community I grew up in has a tradition of the youth from all the churches putting on a sunrise service. At 6:30 in the morning. Yes, you read that time correctly. Following that, the host church puts on a breakfast (my siblings who were home and I helped them make enough French Toast to feed 200 people the day before). Then each church does their regular service.

It makes for a long day, but it's a good tradition in many ways. After all, if Christ can go to the cross for us, I can get up a little early to celebrate His resurrection. The symbolism of going to church in the dark after Good Friday and having the sun rise during worship on Resurrection Sunday is very cool as well.

One of my third cousins, a college student, spoke at the sunrise service. She did a nice job--I was impressed. Her message got me thinking about how pointless Resurrection Sunday is if we only are affected by it on Easter.

Jesus' resurrection must be something that transforms and effects us everyday. If we only take note of His death and resurrection one day each year, we make a mockery of everything He went through. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that resurrection needs to be a focal point of each day of our lives (and I admit I've been terrible at this).

We need to be daily transformed by Christ's life and His Spirit, especially in light of His death and resurrection. His crucifixion should give us cause to avoid sinful actions, and instead revel in His love for us. His resurrection should give us cause to live in hope and share that Good News with others.

On the church calendar, we are in "Eastertide" for 50 days until Pentecost. I write this as a reminder to me to not let Easter be removed from my life already as the decorations in department stores have been, but to let it take root in my life each day. May the mystery of that event bless your days as well.


Good Friday

How good can a day be
When taunts and jeers line the street?
When the world mocks
The Son of God audaciously?
How good can that day be?

How good can a day be
When a man is beaten senselessly?
When they strip him of dignity
And nail Him to a tree?
How good can that day be?

How good can a day be
When Jesus dies for you and me?
When love is poured out
For all humanity?
How good can that day be?

How good can a day be
When all my sins are washed away?
When God pardons
And forgives me for going astray?
Oh how good that day can be!