Selfishness Revised

One of the things I would change in my book is the chapter on Selfishness. In it I describe my frustration with drivers I encounter who are clearly only thinking of themselves and not the others on the road. When all know these people--the ones who consistently don't use their blinker, who speed through the red light, who zoom past the line of merging cars to get as far ahead in the line as possible. Those drivers frustrate me to no end sometimes. So I used them as my example for selfishness.

But I realized later that it's only pointing a finger back at myself. I'm frustrated with selfish drivers because they inconvenience me.  There's probably a bit of self-righteousness going on as well ("well, at least I'm not like those drivers"). But I'm coming to see my selfishness in being upset at their driving. There are times I want to drive like that. I want to be outwardly selfish rather than just inwardly selfish--it would sure help me get where I want to go a little faster. But I'm better than that, so I think.

I'm finding that I become less selfish if I just assume the best. "Well, they must have a pregnant woman in the back, so they're rushing to the hospital." Or "Clearly they're late for something important. I hope they get there on time. Sometimes I'll try to pray for them--beyond the "Lord-it-would-sure-be-nice-to-see-them-pulled-over-by-a-cop-a-few-miles-down-the-road"-prayer.

Sometimes the road brings out the worst in us. Sometimes other drivers help. Often, I'm fairly good at bringing out the worst in myself.

But I really do find that prayer helps. If I pray for the other person (in real, helpful ways)--"Lord, give them a good day today" or "Jesus, help them slow down to see the beauty you've created around them" or even an honest "God, keep them safe and everyone else they drive near"--I find myself less focused on me.

I'm finding that to be the case in a lot of life's arenas. That if I pray for the other around me, I'm not focused on myself in unhealthy ways. I envy less if I pray for their blessings. I lust less if I pray for their day to go well (plus, I'm refocusing on them as a person and not an object). I am less angry if I pray for their health. I fear less if I pray for peace for them. Nothing fancy--just asking God for one simple thing that I'd desire if I was that person.

I still have a ways to go. There are plenty of times when I don't remember to pray for them. Plenty of times when I'm closer to uttering a curse against them than a blessing. But I'm getting better. Mile by mile, block by block.

(Selfishness is Chapter 9 in my book Cultural Enslavement: Breaking Free into Abundant Living. Consider adding these thoughts to Chapter 19 on Selflessness as you read through it)
mile. Block


Haiku Prayers

One of the things I love about our church is its creativity. That even though we follow a general liturgy each week in worship, there is much that is outside the box. Currently as we are going through the Eastertide season in the book of Revelation, we gather for a brief teaching about the text and then we have three options of what we do next to further our look at the word. One is often a dialogue about the text. Another one is usually artistic in nature--like helping create new worship pictures for the sanctuary based on Revelation's images of Jesus. Sometimes doing a body prayer (doxa soma) is offered. Sometimes it's learning a new song that our worship leader wrote based on the night's text.

Tonight I went to a session where we wrote haiku prayers based upon Revelation 21:1-6 that will become part of a prayer flag. Here are some of them:

* * * * *

Holy Creator,
Redeemer of the fallen world,
Dwell amidst us now.

* * * * *

Trustworthy and True
You are; give us water from
The spring of Life.

* * * * *

Seated on the throne,
You reign over all; You will
Bring us redemption.

* * * * *

Redeemer, we long
For the fallen to be made
Whole again. Save us.

* * * * *

Beginning and End,
The Maker of all things new,
You deserve our praise.


Reflections from a Gathering of Pastors

I just got home from worship with a few hundred ministers. Our denominational conference (churches in Western Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas) is gathering for its annual meeting. Today the ministerium met for their time together. I'm technically still a part of this group, though I haven't been able to attend much in the past five years.

I'm at this place of wandering in the wilderness of career and calling. With my wife in grad school, it's not very practical to look for a job in ministry right now. Nor do I want to. Well, part of me wants to, but I know I'm not ready for it yet. I've still got some growth in my life before I'm there yet. And I'm not really sure what I'm called to do anymore. Even outside of ministry, I'm not sure where I'm called to be.

But I still find myself identifying with this group of people in ministry--even if I'm not right now. I went not knowing if I'd know anyone. I left, one of the last cars in the parking lot as I kept running into people to chat with (yes, even a deep introvert like me).

I'm always encouraged by time at gatherings with my denomination. They are a good people.

The theme of the annual meeting this year is "Make & Deepen Disciples." Even as the pastors gathered they focused on this theme with the reminder that "It starts with me." If I'm going to make and deepen disciples, I must be a deep disciple myself. 

Between those who shared who are going through the ordination process, and the main speaker, Gary Walter who is the President of the Evangelical Covenant Church, we heard some good things. Here are some of the notes I took down so I can continue ruminating:

* "Jesus has a life for you that you'd be willing to live forever." This is our invitation to others--not our doctrines, not our creeds, not our ministries. Jesus offers an abundant life.

* "Discipleship is about trajectory." Either you're moving toward God or away from Him. We are invited to ask others to join us in going deeper.

* "The church is succeeding at loving the less fortunate, but failing at loving the less godly." We've got work to do in reaching those who have never set foot inside a church. Too often we have an arrogant faith that compares our righteousness to sinners' lives; we need a humble faith. We need to remember that Christ has a love "that turns our enemies into equals."

* "No amount of work for the Kingdom can make up for neglecting the King." I have been guilty of this. I can pour myself into ministry and godly things, but too often I have neglected growing deeper with God.

* "The more you know, the more you see" and "Roots go deep when the water is allowed to seep." Four values our denomination holds are being: biblical, devotional, missional, and connectional. These two phrases were said tonight in regards to be biblical and devotional. The more you know about God, the more you see Him at work. But all that knowledge doesn't do any good if you don't have deep roots in Him. Meditating on (and applying) His Word creates those deep roots.

* "Follow me." Jesus never said, "Do you agree with me?" Instead He invited everyone to follow Him and obey Him. Too often our churches and our discipleship tends be a place where we want everyone to agree. Someone tonight shared the Anne Lamott quote, "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when He it turns out God hates all the same people you do." We too often want people to have their theology in order before we get them into church. Instead, we need to be getting people into church because it's a place they can experience God's love for them.

These may mean little to you. But there are little nuggets in there that I need to keep in my mind. The last thing I jotted down tonight was from a hymn we sang at the end. It was a prayer that God would "Turn our worship into witness in the sacrament of life." Sacrament of life. We don't often think of it that way. A sacrament is often defined as "an outward, visible sign of an inward, invisible grace." It's a calling to live life that that way. No matter if I'm in ministry or not.



Anders had a cold all weekend; that meant not having anyone over for a meal and to hang out. Which is fine--I think the down time was good for us all.

The weekend was speckled with plenty of washing and putting away laundry, mopping floors, making beds, cleaning bathrooms. It seems to pile up on us more that we're both working.

Beth had her usual morning Sunday run with a neighbor. They have a good routine together, it seems.

When she got home I got some time alone at the Y to do the elipticals, stationary bike, and several laps in the pool--not to mention a little time in the sauna and whirl pool. I enjoy swimming with the boys after school, but it is nice to have some time to myself every once in a while. Too often I don't take it. I need to be better at claiming some of that time.

In the afternoon, I took the boys down to the basement to do a little painting together--something we haven't done for a while (something else I don't do often enough for myself). Unfortunately, while we were down there I was supposed to remember the beans simmering on the stove while Beth had to run and pick up a camera lens from a guy off of Craigslist. The beans I had started soaking the night before. The beans Beth had worked on for a while as part of a recipe for our contribution to the meal at church tonight. The beans that just needed the juice to thicken before I added some tomatoes and corn for a Brazilian chili recipe. The beans I forgot about while we were painting.

I felt awfully bad about forgetting to check on them. In getting down on myself, I don't leave much room for Beth's feelings of disappointment. In my frustration, I get upset and yell when I shouldn't. I owned my mistake, but not the tension of the moment. I got something else made in the 30 minutes before we needed to leave for church, but it was a less than pleasant departure from home.

One of the books around our home is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. After a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day in which nothing goes right and it seems everyone is against him, Alexander's mother acknowledges, "Some days are like that. Even in Australia."

Most of today was pretty good. But we all have those terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad moments. Even in Australia.

* * * * * * * * *

As we've been going through the lectionary this Easter season at church, we've been looking at the book of Revelation. Yep, that Revelation. The one with all the weird visions. The one we tend to think of about being all about the end times. We've discussed how St. John is using imagery to introduce a fledgling church to a new paradigm about heaven and earth. Mostly, it's about Jesus (and the Triune God as a whole--Father and Holy Spirit, but mostly reminding the church of the Kingship of the sacrificed Lamb).

In each of the texts we've read, large groups of people, angels, and odd beings with many eyes and wings surround Jesus declaring His worth. He is worthy of praise, glory, wisdom, honor, power, strength, wealth, blessing, thanksgiving, etc. (see Revelation 5:12 and 7:12).

As we looked at Revelation 7 tonight, Jesus is surrounded by people dressed in white. John is told that these are the martyrs who have gone through the tribulation. In our discussion group we also looked at Acts 6-8 which tells the story of the church's first martyr, Stephen. He was stoned to death for being a faithful witness to God. In the midst of religious persecution, he doesn't waver, but reminds the gathered assembly about the history of their faith--that God has been faithful, but people keep turning their backs on Him. So Stephen is going to remain faithful, despite what the outcome will be.

Luke records that Stephen was "full of God's grace and power" (Acts 6:8, NIV) and that the others "could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke" (6:10). Before those gathered pick up their rocks to kill him, God grants Stephen a glimpse of Himself and Heaven--I think a reward for his faithfulness. Even as he is being killed, Stephen is full of grace and forgives his killers.

It seems we have a high calling to be counted amongst the faithful witnesses. To be a man like Stephen is no easy task. I feel I fall short continuously. And yes, I know God's grace and forgiveness cover my sins, and that one day I will be in Heaven with Him. But I also wonder if I'll experience Heaven as fully as those who have been so deeply faithful in their witness.

I believe I've written in previous years that we are a people of the resurrection, and how we live matters. Christ came and shed His blood for us so that we may live more fully in Him.

I try to live well. I still fail a lot. I know that God has been faithful and is worthy of praise, glory, honor, etc. Still, I sometimes forget to praise Him.

I think part of the point of Revelation is to assure us that it's okay. We've got all eternity to get it right. But when we can, as much as we can, we are to be practicing singing His praises.

And I think (I hope) that the more I practice, the better I'll be at staying focused during those terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad moments.


A World of Wilderness

I've been reading through the book of Numbers lately (I know--it's not one of those "go-to" books to read). While parts of the Old Testament--especially books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy--are hard to trudge through at times, there are also a lot of great stories and a lot that raises questions.

Right now the Israelites are wandering in the wilderness. After being released from slavery in Egypt, having God deliver them through the Red Sea, getting fed by God with manna and quail as well as water from rocks, and being given commandments for living abundantly directly from God Himself; the Israelites still struggled with following God. Because of their complaining, grumbling, and disbelief they were not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

The wilderness, in many ways, was punishment--a purgatory to trod through until they died. God was still present with them, but it wasn't life as it should be.

* * * * * * * * 

Two weeks ago, my children and I were hiking in the Ozark mountains in northwestern Arkansas. It was in the 70s and sunshiny. We enjoyed the wilderness, soaking in the Spring.

Meanwhile, back in Minnesota, we're on the verge of yet another snowstorm while we're halfway through April to May. It's a little depressing. While I generally go for cooler weather over intense heat, I'm longing for some sunshine and flowering blooms.

The wilderness in Arkansas was refreshing. The more metaphorical wilderness in life right now is dry and hard. It's not exactly where I want to be. There are a lot of tough things, it's dismal outside, and though God is present I don't always feel it. I don't feel as connected as I desire. I want more; I want to feel refreshed in the wilderness; I want to enjoy what's around me.

The world kind of feels like its in that wilderness place as well. Bombings in Boston, threats of war from North Korea, gun violence in schools, human trafficking, abortions, broken marriages, children born into poverty...

I don't like seeing what's around me all the time. I want the wilderness to be paths through the mountains where the dogwoods are in bloom, the fern fronds are unfurling, and water drips over rocky ledges. Instead it sometimes feels like that desert place where it is barren and lifeless and seemingly hopeless.

Yet, I know God is present. I may not feel Him right by my side, but I can look back and know that He's always been there. He's been faithful. And I can trust He's with me through wherever I journey.

Though the world is in a place of pain and suffering, I know that somewhere God is present. I don't expect everyone to get that or even believe the same. I just know my experience--that no matter how bad it's gotten, God is there to pull me through it. It doesn't mean life is easy or even enjoyable all the time. It does mean that the wilderness is manageable.

The wilderness doesn't go on forever. And there are many places of beauty along the way--not to mention adventure.


Road Trip Pictures

Here are a whole bunch of pictures from the Spring Break Road Trip for those interested in seeing more from the Ozarks.


The End of a Spring Break Road Trip

We started the road trip at my sister and brother-in-law's place on our way down to the Ozarks. We are near the end now as we gather at my brother and sister-in-law's place to celebrate my niece and nephew's birthdays.

I know that traveling becomes so much about the place for me at times. My pictures are largely scenery with the boys mixed in here and there. And while places are important--they show us much of God's handiwork and majesty--they should never come before people.

It's not easy for me as an introvert to strike up conversation. I would have loved to had more interaction with people along the way. We had some with park rangers, the older group of women on the hiking trail, the woman in the campsite next to us who pointed out the albino squirrel, the homeless man on the side of the road whom we gave some food to today. But I need to keep learning to love.

There are many things that I hope my boys are learning as we do things like this trip together: build a good campfire, enjoy a good hike, identify constellations, pick out species of birds, trees, and plants, etc. But I hope I teach them better about how to love others.

Tomorrow morning we do the last leg of our trip north to get home. We all miss Beth. We miss our beds. We're ready to be done in the car for a while. We managed to travel through 5 states, camping in three of them, enjoying their beauty and their great outdoors as spring arrives. We visited places we hadn't been to before.

I would do it again some day if Spring Break ever comes this late in the year again. I would do it a little differently now that we know the area. If the weather cooperated I would spend most of our time in the mountains of Arkansas at the State Park we stayed at where there were many good options for hiking and enjoying the outdoors. We were near a few Civil War battlefields that I would like to explore with the boys. There was a Native American Museum in a town that would be good for educating them. I would try to spend less time in the car and more time outside.

I'm not sure I'm ready for the week ahead. I'm not ready to unpack and clean things up and put things away. I'm not ready to be back in the day-to-day swing of things. But back to those things I must go. And so I will with a little more fresh air in my lungs, with the fragrance of dogwood blossoms in my nostrils, and with a rugged, mountaineering spring in my step. And hopefully I'll keep remembering to focus on the people around me in whatever place I'm in.

The Saga of a Spring Break Road Trip 4

 We thoroughly loved Devil's Den State Park in Arkansas. If we had known about it ahead of time (and if the weather had been different at the start of the trip), we would have headed straight there and spent several days. The hiking was great--at least on the short loop we did. There were several caves and many crevices, a few small waterfalls, lots of elevation to the trails, and beautiful scenery. We saw a bat and a five-lined skink (the armadillo still eludes us).

Even in early April while most of the trees were still budding and much of the grass has not turned green, there was still much to see: flowering dogwoods, small woodland flowers, fern fronds getting ready to uncurl. For the most part the insects had not started being bothersome.

But while yesterday's temperature reached into the 60s, the nighttime dropped to some of the coldest temperatures we'd felt. There was a faint hint of frost in places. Thankfully my sleeping bag is rated low enough. And for the boys I layered one unzipped sleeping back across their sleeping pads, and on top of them was a fleece blanket apiece, a shared blanked and the other sleeping bag lain across both of them. I learned to tuck the sleeping bag on the bottom under their pads so it didn't slide off so easily, but the top blankets became a struggle to keep equally on both of them. None of us wanted to get up quickly this morning and greet the cold air.

Thankfully, it warmed up quickly. We enjoyed driving around most of the day with windows down.

A cancellation meant we could have stayed another night in Arkansas. We seriously considered it. But we also knew we have a lot of ground to cover tomorrow. And with the mountain bike fest in the campground, we figured it might be a little harder to sleep tonight with a full capacity.

So we ventured north a little ways. We were intending to go to the campground in southwest Missouri where we intended to try and get to on our first night of the trip. But along the way we discovered there was a campground in Oklahoma not much further away. And none of us had been to Oklahoma before.

So I write this from Twin Bridges State Park. It's situated on one of those large, meandering river-lakes that are prevalent in this part of the country. From what I can tell, we're about the only campers here without a boat or at least fishing equipment. It seems to be the fishing destination for this area.

Our site is on a bluff above the lake. We haven't gotten to enjoy it too much as daylight was fading when we got here (and then when the propane for the camp stove went out part way through cooking the meal, we used up the rest of daylight trying to find some--of which there was none too nearby, so we ended up eating out at a cafe attached to a gas station attached to a casino). We did enjoy spotting pelicans, egrets, and other water fowl as we crossed the lake. It is our first cloudless night, so there are finally stars to see. Orion is up, as is Jupiter.

We drove through two different nations on our way to the campgrounds. Yesterday we had spent time on the Trail of Tears. With more time, I would have taken the boys to a Native American Museum we drove by. We also saw a couple signs for Civil War battlefield sites. These are not things we see in Minnesota. Some other time, we'll have to head this way and take in the history as well as the natural beauty. There is much to see in the vast country of ours.

In the last three days we've camped in three different states (MO, AR, OK). We've been up and down through the Ozark Mountain range, along many a meandering road. It's gone from cold and rainy, with temperatures in the 30s to warm and sunny on a 70 degree day. We've spent more time on the road than we'd necessarily like, but we've gotten to hike in some nice places. We've seen hundreds of turkey vultures as well as many song birds, ready for the warmer weather.

And most importantly, we've had some time together: father and sons. I know my patience has worn thin some times and I've yelled at them more than I'd like (seriously, why can't they just come the first time I call them to come help tear down camp). They've been grumpy and cried a few times (a twisted ankle on the trail, a change of plans due to the weather). But overall, we've had a good time together. It's been fun to watch them just go off and play along the river or in the woods. We didn't take in any of the sites in Branson--no "fun" activities or amusements; most of our time has been outside or in visitors' centers that deal with nature. Nothing fancy, but there's plenty of love.

And that's what makes any family road trip worth it.

The Saga of a Spring Break Road Trip 3

We got through a rainy and cold night of camping at Table Rock State Park outside of Branson. Thankfully it didn't rain that much, and it didn't get that cold--by which I mean dropping below freezing (though it was close enough that none of us wanted to get out of our sleeping bags in the morning).

While waiting for our tent to dry out we visited a nearby fish hatchery. The boys enjoyed seeing the trout jump to get the pellets of food they threw at them.

After picnicking by the river below the dam (which some how gets called a lake) and packing up camp, we headed south and crossed another state off our list. The nice folks at the Arkansas Welcome Center directed us toward several nice areas for camping in the northwest corner of the state. We picked Devil"s Den State Park which looked like it was tucked away in the mountains with plenty of hiking options and other things to do and see.

Upon arriving we were given a campsite for the night, but told all the sites were booked for the weekend. Which made me mad. I couldn't see how all of these empty sites (there are only two other occupied sites in our loop of the campground) were going to fill up tomorrow. Who heard of a campground filling up the first weekend in April? I generally dislike the reservation system which makes you plan camping trips a year ahead of time. If we don't have enough space to let people pitch a tent to sleep when they want, then maybe we need more spaces to pitch a tent in this country.

I discovered on our way to the shower house (they boys were in dire need) that there's a big mountain biking event this weekend. Which explained all the campgrounds being full. I was just hoping to spend the next two nights in one place. So I guess we'll do what we can here tomorrow and then hope we can find a place to pitch a tent north of here.

I like this camping in April deal. The weather can be a little sketchy, but it's so nice to be nestled between two ridges of the Ozark Mountains along a river. I'm about ready to crawl into my sleeping bag amidst the sounds of rushing water and peeping frogs.


The Saga of a Spring Break Road Trip 2

Other than 30 seconds of light sprinkles around 6pm we made it through the day without rain. So we're camping tonight and hoping the boys stay warm enough.

It was good to be outside in mild temperatures. We went for a nice hike near Table Rock Mountain. The hopeful desire to spot an armadillo along the way kept the boys motivated to keep going (I found out later that I could have used the threat of scorpions and tarantulas, but I think then positive motivation worked better).

It's good to get them time outside. While I was making supper they were playing in the woods building a fort. They play in ways they don't often do together--even outside in the city.

So our prayers for a dry day worked (which others might not be happy about as they're still recovering from last year's drought). So here's prayers for warm weather tonight and a beautiful next couple of days.


The Saga of a Spring Break Road Trip

It's Spring Break week. Tired of a long winter and yearning for time in nature, the boys and I have headed to southern Missouri/northern Arkansas to go camping in the Ozarks. Going against my nature, we left without much of a plan. Just to drive south, find a place to camp, and do some hiking.

Of course as we neared within a half hour of the destination where we first thought we might find some decent camping, it started raining and the temperature dropped. Last week it had been in the 70s. Today was only pushing the upper 40s. I don't mind camping in the rain. I don't mind camping when it's cold. But both together would not have made a good combination--especially with young kids. And the rain doesn't look like its going to let up much tomorrow, either. When is frustrating when all of our plans are outside.

So with the help of my wonderful wife at home, we're spending the night in a motel in Branson, Missouri. Which was about 2 hours from where we had hoped to end up for our first night of camping. But we figured it was our best option for having potential back-up plans for another rainy day. The extra drive took us through some beautiful country--as well as places like Cape Fair, Shell Knob, and Rocky Comfort (great name--but not as good as Peculiar, which we had gone through earlier in the day).

The boys travel fairly well. A few extra hours don't help, though. We were all tired of driving by the end. And the car is way overpacked with winter coats as well as rain coats and all our gear.

I realized while driving that we probably could have just stayed home and done some of the more costly things around town that we never do because of the price (which would have been made up for with what we're paying in gas). But I wanted to see green grass, smell the blossoms, hear the birds chirp, and feel the muddy earth squish under my feet. I also decided that I need to seize those adventurous moments. Life is short.

Plus, I get time with my children, which will be more developmentally positive for them than pouring money into other places. And so the day closes as we snuggle into our beds in the Gazebo Inn, praying tomorrow brings some warmth and sunshine. There's some hiking to do!