On Another Birthday

It didn't start off as a great day. The electricity went off in the house in the middle of cooking breakfast. The boys were dawdling (imagine that) on the way out the door. Already late, one of them ran back to the house to get a book from inside. I hate to admit it, but I yelled a bit. The kids of school have been ready for the end of school--but we still have six more days of it. The lead teacher in my classroom went home sick in the afternoon, and the other assistant in our room wasn't able to arrive until 30 minutes after I was supposed to be teaching gym with another class. I managed to fit in an appointment to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store after school to get my phone looked at, but it was a spur of the moment thing so I didn't have my phone backed up, so they weren't able to get the problem solved (which will mean another trip to the mall). Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't that terrible of a day; people have much worse ones. But it wasn't great.

But friends from church invited the boys and I over for supper, knowing that my wife is out of the country. When we got there, we saw several familiar cars. It turned out that our old small group had come together for birthday nachos. Everyone--even their dog--ran out with birthday hats on as we came up the sidewalk.

I'm not a big birthday celebration person. It's probably some unhealthy self-worth stuff going on--not liking the attention, not feeling I deserve it. But it was nice. It was a reminder of why I need community.

Community makes me not alone. That's an obvious fact, but I am bent toward avoiding sometimes--especially when I'm down on myself.

Community reminds me of the good within myself (especially when they went around the table saying something they liked about me).

Community, I'm learning, makes life worth it.

As I travel around the sun another time, I'm discovering how much I wished I learned earlier on in life. I'm trying to make things better, and leave a positive mark on those I come in contact with on my journey through life. I'm learning to embrace my imperfections and weaknesses, as well as moving forward, becoming a better person.

And I can't do it alone.


Sunday Night Musings: Trinity Sunday

Today is Trinity Sunday on the Western church calendar. It seems like an odd thing to observe: of course, we know that God is three-in-one, and we recognize that triune-ness each Sunday (in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).

But it wasn't so in the early church. A group who followed a church leader named Arius didn't believe that God the Son was on the same level as God the Father. Councils were called, a heresy was issued, and the church asserted the oneness of the Trinity. 

* * * * * * * 

We are out our church camp this weekend helping get things ready for summer camp. It's our fourth time coming here. The first time we came up, we were the only ones from our former church--a diverse church that we loved, but we didn't feel a part of, no matter how hard we tried (which, admittedly, we could have always tried harder). While we were here we met our current church. Most of their members were here together. They made up the vast majority of camp, even though it was for Covenant churches from all over the Twin Cities. It was their sense of community that drew us in (and there's much more to this story, of course, but the community is the part that's relevant for today). 

We play together; we play together. We worship together; we eat together. We celebrate together; we morn together. It goes beyond our Sunday gatherings. 

I believe part of the importance of the Trinity is the acknowledgement that God is about relationship. God is in relationship with Himself. It is part of His being--central to His being, I believe. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We are called to love God, our neighbors, and ourselves (a trinity of loving). Relationship and community are at our core. In Genesis 1:26 God says, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Did you notice the pluralness of God's words (you should--I italicized them)? Relationship is part of our being created in God's image.

So on this Trinity Sunday, may you find yourself blessed by the community around you. And in that community may you notice the love of a Triune God.


Why I Don't Like Going to the Doctor (besides me being a man)

I went to the doctor today. It turns out the kids at school had likely given me some conjunctivitis (geez, thanks--you shouldn't have). It wasn't my regular doctor (not that I would call my doctor "regular" since I've only been to him once last year) as we're in a different city.

And it wasn't a bad experience. It was urgent care as that was what was available on a Saturday afternoon on Memorial Day weekend. I called ahead; they said they only had one or two people waiting. When I got there the nurse called my name before I had even finished checking in. I've never had an appointment ready that quickly. And they took care of me well. 

But here's what I dislike about our health care system.

1. Redundancy. I had to tell three separate people my medical allergies. That should have only happened once. Wait. That shouldn't have needed to happen at all. It doesn't make sense to me that when I visit a new doctor, they don't have any access of my health history. We're in the 21st century. Shouldn't doctors be able to share that information easily so they can treat us fully? Almost any time I visit a medical facility, I end up telling three or four people the same information over and over again. 

2. Inconsistency. This is not so much in the health care system (though I know it is there at times), but in some of the professionals. Of the three people I interacted with, I was probably the lightest one, and I know I have more poundage than I need (I've been working on it, honest). The doctor easily had 125 pounds on me. Never trust a skinny chef, but why would I trust an overweight doctor? I'm also always surprised at the number of staff at hospitals who smoke.  Plenty of people are frustrated with hypocrisy in the church (and I admit to contributing to it), but what about some of the healthcare professionals? 

3. Bureaucracy. Of the three people I spent time with, the one I spent the least amount of time with will get paid the most. The doctor came was with me for probably less than a minute. He didn't really even look at my eye. He was just there out of obligation. I get that the doctor has the most knowledge and education, and has to be the one who signs off, but it's driven by liability and litigation. 

Please don't tell me that our nation has the best health care system in the world. A). We don't (if we did, why does our country not lead in life expectancy, lowest infant mortality rates, and several other areas?). B). Even if it was the best, there is certainly much room for improvement. I wish that instead of forcing the government to get involved that there was a way for the system to reform itself.

Admittedly, I'm not that knowledgeable, so I'd love to hear from readers in medical professions.


Bad Places

It's my birthday coming up soon. At the same time, I'm reminded by a former classmate that today is our 20th anniversary of our high school graduation. A lot of things have happened since then.

But I'm feeling down on myself. I'm reminded of things in my life I haven't done well. Mistakes I've made. Issues I let take root rather than pulling them out of my life. Plenty of things I'm not proud of. People I've hurt.

And I have this tendency to look at the bad things in my life and feel like I'm a bad person. Never mind the good I've done--that doesn't balance out in my mind. At least when I'm in this frame of thinking. Of course, that path of thinking keeps me in a bad place. But I'm seldom rational enough to make myself realize that it's not helpful.

Thankfully, I've been reminded by others that though I may do bad things at times, I'm not a bad person. I'm a sinner, but I'm also saved by grace. I've turned away from God at times, but I am His beloved. No matter what I do.

I don't think I'm the only one who gets in these bad places. So may my remembering remind you: God loves you (me).

And may that reminder spur us on to do good. We are more than our past. We are more than our present. We have a future with God. We have His Spirit in us who empowers us to do great things.

So, that's what I'm going to try and keep before me: I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. I am a piece of craftsmanship created to do good things.



Even Reserved Swedish Pietists Get Down with The Spirit

Steve Elde's illustration for The Pietisten Magazine.

Sunday Night Musings: Happy Birthday, Church!

If you didn't know, today was the birthday of the Church. The big "C" Church. Not a denomination or a building of worship, but the Church throughout time. Today is Pentecost--the day when God poured out His Spirit upon the gathered believers.

Now His Spirit had been around before. The Old Testament mentions many people being filled with the Spirit: David, Samson, Moses, etc. On Pentecost (a festival marking the day when God gave the Law to Israel on Mt. Sinai 50 days after the Exodus; it also is a Festival of First Fruits) the disciples of Jesus gathered together as they had been doing since His crucifixion.

As they were together, God poured out His Spirit upon them; it came noisily like a rushing wind as tongues of fire settled upon each man and woman present (see Acts 2:1-21 for the story as we heard it tonight). Then they all began to speak in foreign languages, and the people passing by were surprised to hear this as many foreigners were in town and didn't expect to hear familiar tongues. So Peter explains to them that this was all a fulfillment of Joel's prophecy:

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth...And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls." (Joel 2:28-32)
The beauty of the day was that it was a communal event. God didn't pour out His Spirit on Peter and then John and then Mary and then James and then Salome...He poured it out on everyone who was gathered at once.

And it wasn't just the Jews who were a part of this. The people who heard their own language being spoken came from every continent in the known world at the time: Asia, Africa, Europe. They were Jews and Gentiles. Men and women. Anyone who called on the name of the Lord was saved.

That's a message we need to remember today. The church isn't just for those who are already within its walls. The church (by which I mean the people of God) gather together in worship of God so that everyone--Americans, Iraqis, North Koreans, addicts, ex-felons, the unchurched, homosexuals, hipsters, IRS agents, gang members--may see wonders, may see the works of God as done by His servants, and know Him as Lord and Savior.

The Holy Spirit came with power (the text said it sounded like a violent wind), but also with grace. That power is ours. Not only to do good works, but also to be able to stand strong as we do bold things--things that might not be popular, but that are right. The things Jesus did got Him killed. He asked us to follow Him. But we follow not to die, but to live fully so that others might experience that same life.

Tonight at church we wore red to celebrate Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out on Jesus' followers and the church was born. May we walk boldly, filled with the power and grace of the Spirit, so that all the world might believe.


I've Got Nothing, Still I Write

Some days it just feels like I've got nothing to write about (so why am I writing then your sarcastic self may ask?). And it's not that nothing is happening. I could write about the marriage amendment in Minnesota (but anything said there is going to be divisive). I could be pedestrian and discuss the rash of insanely warm weather we've been having right after having had snow recently. I could wax poetic about my children's marvelous abilities or drone on in lament over their periods of frustrating behavior.

I could count down the days until school is out. It seems appropriate. I'm ready for summer. But when I focus on the days left, I find myself missing out on the present. I come across as more of a whiner when I'd rather be someone who finds enjoyment in the moment and tries to make it a good day.

Speaking of good days, I'm trying to focus less on wishing to have a good day, and more on making it a good day. It's an attitude decision, after all. As is most of life. It's also something I'm striving to work on with our oldest son who can get himself in an emotional slump easily.

So while there are possible topics, I don't feel like I've got anything worthwhile to say. But I write nonetheless. In some aspect I write because I need to--or at least I feel compelled. It's cathartic in some ethereal way. It helps me focus my thoughts, as well as explore what's going on in that gray matter within my skull.

I also write because I love to read. They're connected in my mind. I'm not one who spends the whole evening reading or can finish a book in a day or two, but I do it each night before sleeping (almost compulsively, I admit). I've currently got about three books I'm reading at once along with a stack of books in queue. Plus the books arriving from publishers for me to review. I really hope that's not as unhealthy as it sounds.

But I read to learn about the world and humanity  (as well as it being a good diversionary outlet sometimes). Even if I only read fiction, I learn about how to relate to and appreciate the stories of others. I learn to think in ways I wouldn't think on my own. I learn look at the world from different viewpoints--even if I don't agree with them (which are usually the best viewpoints to learn from).

And when I write I learn about myself. It gives me a chance to process my thoughts, to explore what's going on in my head. I usually don't take the time for that inner-reflection unless I write.

So, as much as there at times I like to write and know that people read what I write, the writing is for myself. Just as when you read, you read for yourself. But in the reading, and the writing, we find ourselves connected to the larger whole of humanity. And so our nothing becomes a part of a bigger something.


Sunday Night Musings: Of Table Prayers and the Parousia

When I was a child, our common table prayer was: "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed." It's kind of the Protestant version of the Catholic "Bless us, O Lord, for these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty through Christ Jesus our Lord." It was said at our family table as well as my grandparents' table. Though we seldom say it ourselves, our children know it and will say it from time to time when they're asked to pray for the food.

The prayer starts the same way the Bible ends. Right near the end of Revelation in the penultimate verse (22:20), right after Jesus says he will come again, we find the simple prayer: "Come, Lord Jesus."

It's not an uncommon prayer. We say it often in some form or another. During Advent we sing, "O come, o come, Emmanuel." We grace our meals with it. We offer it up in troubled times.

And we usually mean it: we want Jesus to come and set things right. We want to be in His presence. We want Him to fill the earth with his justice, mercy, kindness, goodness, redemption, and love.

Theologians call Jesus' return the Parousia. It's a Greek word that simply means presence, arrival, or official visit. But biblical scholars use it to refer to the second coming of Christ, which is something Christians have been waiting for since the Resurrection occurred. The early church was growing impatient that it hadn't happened yet. From all indications, it was supposed to happen soon. Jesus says so right at the end of Revelation (again in 22:20--which elicits John's response of "Come, Lord Jesus"). But John writes Revelation in part to assure the churches in Asia Minor that they could trust Jesus' promise that He would return.

And here we are, two millenia later, and we're still waiting for it.  Clearly, God's definition of "soon" means something different than in our timing. But we know it will happen, so we still pray, "Come, Lord Jesus."

But it's a dangerous prayer. And if I examine myself, I realize that I don't really want it to happen yet. I have places I want to visit, things I want to do, things I want to accomplish in life before Christ returns. If I'm honest, I'm not really ready. My life feels too messed up in so many ways, I feel that I need time to get things in order before He returns. Yet, that is also precisely why I need Him to return.

As we've been discussing over the past few weeks at church as we've been going through Revelation, the book isn't just about the future, but about the present. The now and the not yet. That though the Kingdom of God isn't here yet, we can still make it so. And so, when we say, "Come, Lord Jesus," we know He is here with us. I'm still learning and working on practicing the presence of Christ, but I know He is with me. I just don't always live like He is. Which is why I'm not ready for His return completely. But I desire it--at least to some extent.

And so, even in the midst of my messy life and my unwillingness at times, I pray, "Come, Lord Jesus."


Sunday Night Musing: Blessed Bikes and Revelation Rivers

Tonight at church we opened with a blessing of the bikes. This reminded me of a scene from the Britcom The Vicar of Dibley where, much to the consternation of councilman David Horton, the Reverend Geraldine Granger blessed the animals of the townspeople--horses, rabbits, dogs, sheep, birds, and all manner of pets and livestock.
Sidenote: I'm only aware of two decent shows that focus on the life of a pastor: The Vicar of Dibley and Rev. Both come from Great Britain. Both have plenty of inappropriateness. Both are quite hilarious at times. Neither one shows an upright, pious, overly-moral pastor (whether that's good or bad), and both show some decent insight into the life of a minister. 

We have a lot of bicyclists (as well as children on two or three wheels) in our church.  A lot of commuters, and a lot who just enjoy cycling. A blessing over bikers, their equipment, and everyone on the road was apt. I've also heard of a church in Iowa that recently blessed its farm equipment. We all have areas of life where we need a little extra protection and blessing. Every little prayer and sprinkling of holy water helps.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tonight we heard teaching from Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5. We had options to attend a group discussion, doxa soma (body praise), or singing. I needed the singing tonight, so that's where I went. Our worship leader had written a song based on the text, which we learned. Then he asked us to fill in our own thoughts for the verses. We had learned that Revelation isn't just about the coming Kingdom with the New Heaven and Earth; it's about our life in Christ now, as well. So we were encouraged to think about what the images mean for us today.

John says that the New Jerusalem does not have a temple in it because we will be in the presence of Christ. We don't need a building to worship Him in as we will be with Him. And though we can't see His face, He is still with us. He has given us His Spirit. So wherever we are, we can be in worship. We aren't to compartmentalize out time at church from the rest of our week. It is all about worship of the Risen King.

John tells us that there will be no darkness, as Christ's light will illuminate the city. For me in our present context it got me thinking that Christ's light illumines all. There is nothing I can hide from Him--no matter how much I try sometimes. He knows me to my deepest core. Which also means He knows who I truly am--not the person I think I am or try to be for the sake of others. Right now I'm at a place of in-betweenness--figuring out career and ministry, getting my life in order, dealing with my brokenness. I don't fully know myself yet. But Jesus does. And His light will show me more each day.

The city's gates will never be shut as there will be no night there. There will be nothing to fear, nothing to guard the city from. I live in a part of town where we lock down everything: our cars, our garage, our house doors each night. We make sure nothing is left in the yard that we'd worry about someone taking. But this is all fueled by fear and greed. I want my stuff; I don't want others to take it. I don't want to be violated. I want my family to be safe. But I have nothing to truly fear. No one can take anything from me that is of eternal importance. So for me today, this passage means two things: 1) I need to be generous with what God has given me, and 2) I need to protect those who are in need.

John also tells us that there is a river with the water of life that flows from the throne of God into the center of the city. On its banks stand two trees of life that bear a different fruit each month and leaves of healing for the nations. The curse will be gone. We are acutely aware today that the nations are in need of healing, that our cities are in need of healing, that our homes are in need of healing. Christ has given me life; I need to protect life and spread healing to broken places.

Sometimes it's easy to think about the Kingdom of God in only future terms: of the New Heaven and Earth on the other side of eternity. Sometimes we relegate our faith life to being about getting into Heaven and how we'll have perfect bodies then and there won't be any sadness or hurt. But faith is just as much about the now as it is about the then. Maybe more so.

God is the One who is and was and is to come. And we are in Him. So all that the future holds, and all that the past has begotten, are accessible to us in the present. Thy will be done--on Earth as it is in Heaven. Amen.


May the Fourth

It was a busy day. Our oldest son was at his first non-family-member sleep-over last night as a friend from school was doing a birthday celebration. We picked him up this morning. Apparently 2am was the going bed time. I expected he would have been the one who bowed out early. He's done it before at family gatherings--when he's tired enough he'll tell me he needs to go to bed. We'll see what manner of grouchiness tomorrow brings if he doesn't sleep in long enough.

After his brother and I picked him up, we headed to a local comic book shop. Today was the coinciding of two of our favorite non-religious holidays: Free Comic Book Day and Star Wars Day (dubbed so by fans years ago because it's May the 4th--as in May the Fourth be with you. Yes, nerds enjoy a good pun). So we stopped in and got a few of the free comics they offered. Unfortunately, they didn't have the free Pippi Longstocking comic that my wife desired, so we were going to have to try another comic book store. Much to our chagrin, of course.

I'm not naive enough to think all comics are good. Decades ago there was a fairly successful movement to censor comics and make sure they were all moral and such. They're not all, of course. There's plenty of violence and immorality and women who are drawn way out of proportion. But there's a lot of good stories and fun to be had. Good to triumph over evil, superpowers to be bestowed upon weaklings, and puns to be said.

But before we got to the next store, we had a stop at Home Depot for their kids' workshop. Today's project: a herb planter. Which wasn't a big project. One screw for attaching two pieces of wood. It ended up being more of a painting project. Which was fine. They boys enjoyed it thoroughly.

Then, onto the second place for comics. Which they had a few books that the first store didn't have. But still no Pippi Longstocking. So our quest continued. For my wife, of course. (It didn't hurt that the boys remembered that the third store we were aware of had a Captain America cake last year.)

The third store finally had the Pippi book (though I thought they were out of it at first, because the comic was turned over--often there are two comics put together for the free books and the flipside was what was facing up).

We were all tired by that point, so we headed home. The boys did some reading while I did laundry, cleaned bathrooms, and worked on the pizza dough for supper.

So we had to finish off the evening by celebrating Star Wars Day. The boys picked out Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (after I steered them away from Episode I). Besides being a fun movie to watch, the original Star Wars movies offer a lot. I won't try and make biblical parallels, but there is, of course, the story of forgiveness and redemption as Luke tries to turn his father, the evil Darth Vader, back to the good side. He knows there's good in him yet. And he is right. Even after his father has sliced off his hand, killed his mentor, tortured his friends, and had a hand in the massacre of his foster parents, Luke doesn't give up on old Anakin Skywalker.

And Luke himself is a story of growing from a whiny farm boy who would rather go with his friends to Tosche Station than do his job, to a whiny Jedi-in-training for whom everything is impossible, to finally a Jedi knight who is showing signs of maturity and wisdom. Not to mention that a back-world farm boy can save the galaxy for a seemingly undefeatable evil.

And of course we learn that we are the ones in control of our destiny. Not our parents--even if they happen to be the Dark Lord of the Sith who force-chokes everyone who disagrees with him. Not even the force ghosts of our mentors who try to get us on the right path. We always have the power to make our own choices, no matter what forces are working for or against us.

There's a lot more that could be unpacked, but needless to say, we enjoyed watching the movie together. And of course there are plenty of free comic books to read (especially after visiting three stores) at bedtime. So May the Fourth be with you. (To which I always want to reply, in good liturgical fashion, "And also with you.")