Sunday Night Musings: Flight and Pursuit

Here are Paul's instructions to Timothy that we heard at church last night:
Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.
Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. (2 Timothy 2:22-26, NLT)
When Paul writes to individuals like Timothy, Titus, and Philemon we get to see a short glimpse into mentoring relationships. Of course, the advice given is not always universal, but it is often helpful.

I appreciate how Paul doesn't simply tell Timothy what to avoid and stay away from, but he also tells him what to pursue instead. There's a contrast between running from and running to, between fleeing and pursuing. He offers good things to fill one's life with instead of just avoiding the bad. (This is the same approach I took in my book Cultural Enslavement: Breaking Free into Abundant Living.)

Flee from the things that stimulate youthful, lustful desires.
Pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace.
Avoid isolated temptation.
Seek out community.
Escape from foolish arguments, quarreling, the devil's trap, and captivity.
Run toward gentleness, instruction, patience, and the truth.

Again, we don't just run from evil or temptation. That just leaves our heart vulnerable. Instead we pursue godly things.

This, of course, is easier said than done. Simply avoiding is easier than avoiding and pursuing. But simply avoiding also creates a lot more work for us in the long run. Pursuing after something takes determination and perseverance, but it is also rewarding.

So don't just flee, but pursue. And know what you're going to pursue.


MLK & Character

As a (somewhat) middle-class white male, I don't have much right to speak about Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the day our nation has set aside to honor his legacy. Other people's lives have been impacted far more than mine by his life. Still, without his work and the efforts of countless others, my life would be different. I wouldn't be living in the neighborhood I do surrounded by Hmong, Latino, Sudanese, and African American families. I would be able to work in the school I work at nor have some of the friends I do. Neither would my children. I wouldn't have some of the family members that I have.

His is a wonderful legacy. Of course, it's not finished yet. His quote from the March on Washington is as true today as it was then: "Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children." Injustice still exists. Poverty still exists. Racism hasn't been eradicated.

That's why today is important. It's a reminder that there's still work to be done. I don't believe that the "unalienable rights" of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been granted to all people in this nation.

And if we're going to get to the point of fulfilling King's dream that his children will be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, then we've got a lot of work to do. Not just on the racism end of things, but on the character end as well. That's an area we all need to work on--a look at the evening news makes that evident. A walk through a school yard makes that evident. Waiting in a checkout lane makes that evident.

Character won't develop on its own. It takes community.

We were talking with friends who were over for our house recently about how times are different for our children than they were for us. We had the freedom of wandering through the city on our own at their age (well, I didn't since I lived on a farm, but I still knew freedoms that my children don't). That freedom existed in part because of community. Our neighbors knew us. Even if they didn't know us, they would correct us if we were doing something wrong. There was accountability.

We still need that. Single moms need other adults to show their children character. Two-parent homes need their neighbors to teach their children how to behave when they're out in the community. How to treat elders with respect. How to be honest. How to care for each other. How to fight for the oppressed. How to have fun. How to love. How to stand up against what is wrong and for what is right.

Martin Luther King knew this. "Beloved Community" was core to his work. That's why marches and boycotts were so important. They required community. And through community could come change.


Sunday Night Musings: 2 Timothy

Tonight at church we continued in looking at 2 Timothy (1:6-14 tonight). We spent time writing down a person who was influential in our faith--remembering is one of the themes in Timothy. We then shared those in a little more depth with two other people, and ended with sharing the one sentence about the person that we had written down. It was heart-warming to hear the stories. 

Since last Sunday I shared a little about some of those people who were influential in my life. So tonight I thought it would be good for me to reflect on some of the phrases from 2 Timothy 1:6-14 that stuck out to me as the passage was read.

"Fan into flame the gift of God" (1:6, all verses are NIV). This is an interesting thought. I don't know the fullness of what that means, other than the spiritual gifts we receive need to be cultivated, so to speak. They may start as a spark, but with effort they can become a big fire. That only begins when we know our gifts. I admit that I'm not a very good flame-fanner of mine. I need bigger bellows.

"For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline" (1:7). I like this. I don't always live it, but I like it. I can be timid in my faith. Not in a sense of being soft-spoken to others--I don't think that's what this is necessarily referring to--but that I don't live it as boldly as I could. That timidity comes from elsewhere--not from God. I like that his Spirit gives us power, love, and self-discipline. I need those things.

"Join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God" (1:8). This I don't like as much. Suffering is something I'd prefer to enjoy. The call to follow Christ is not a call to a happy, Pleasantville sort of life. There is definitely joy, but there is also the potential of great suffering. This is often neglected by many preachers.

"He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace" (1:9). My salvation is not due to anything I have done. This is very counter-cultural, but in an odd way it is good to know that I'm not good enough. Only God is good enough. I still try sometimes to be a "do-gooder" in order to win His favor. But I don't need to. He already loves me. My good deeds should flow out of Him in my life.

"Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light" (1:10). Being in the season of Epiphany, I like this image of bringing life and immortality to light. I know I've still got dark areas which need life shed on them. I'm thankful for Christ who does that in addition to life and immortality. I also find the thought of bringing those two things to light interesting; we clearly don't understand them fully yet, but Jesus will keep making them clearer.


Sunday Night Musing: Faith Mentoring

Tonight at church we celebrated Epiphany since we missed it last week due to the weather. Again, I love the light breaking into darkness images of Epiphany. Stars hang from the ceiling in our worship space. I love the image of the magi: wise men from various parts of the world who read the signs and came to worship the God who came to earth. And of course I love the manifestation of God becoming one of us in an ungodly way.

In this season of Epiphany we're also going to be going through the book of II Timothy. The apostle Paul writes the letter to Timothy with advice on pastoring a church and encouragement in his faith. In the introduction he also recognizes Timothy's grandmother and mother who instrumental in his faith.

I am mindful of the people who shaped my faith. Some are around, but many have passed away. There were a number of older members of my church growing up who played a part in encouraging me and my walk with Jesus. There was Avery Shold, Clifford Shold, Bill Shold, Arlyn Youngberg, Maurice Peterson and other men with whom I sang in the church choir in my teen years and who taught me songs in Swedish as a child. There were my Sunday School teachers (most of whom I won't remember) including Betty Nordine and Ebba Youngberg. Bible camp was a huge part of my faith formation. The DeVries family were the camp managers when I was young--and I was lucky to stay connected with them as I entered in to camping ministry myself. I remember some of my counselors when I was in grade school: Mark Samuelson, Kyle Welander, John Gambs (who was my counselor several times I believe), and Adrian Wolbrink (who after my first summer at camp sent me a letter later with a card with the "Cross in My Pocket" poem and a little cross to keep in my pocket--that follow-up was special to me at a young age). Though I don't remember the speaker's name, the woman who shared at camp my first summer helped me verbalize my commitment. Each of these people (and many more!) invested a little bit in my life and showed me what faith could look like.

I had a few pastors who were influential, but Dave Wells was the one who taught my confirmation class and encouraged me to think about ministry. I had several good youth group leaders along the way: Robert Johnson, the Sunblads, the Linds, the Kischers. As I grew older our denomination's national youth convention was important to me. I witnessed several thousand other students worshiping God freely without inhibition. Speakers like Tony Campolo and Duffy Robbins challenged my walk. At the end of high school I started spending my summers working at Bible Camp where Joel Rude (with whom I later worked full-time), Dave Cairns, Bruce Peterson and many other staff members encouraged and mentored me.

As I entered college, seminary, ministry, and living as an adult, hundreds of people of been important in my faith walk. I can't even try to name them all: various professors, colleagues in ministry, church members, and friends.

And of course, my family has been the most influential. My great-grandparents, grandparents and parents passed on so much said and unsaid faith as did uncles, aunts, great-uncles and -aunts, and cousins of varying degrees.

I thank God for each of the people (and I know I'm forgetting to name some other mentors) who have played an important role in my faith walk, and for those whom I'm learning from today.

Please share in the comments the names of people who have played an important part in your faith walk. I'd love to hear those stories.


A Grumbly Snow-Day Solution

So yesterday I wrote a response to some of the complaining and grumbling I had seen around facebook due to a second cancelled day of school on the heels of Christmas break. It gathered a few comments and reactions (oddly, none were directly on the blog, but all on my facebook link to it).

Admittedly, my children had been getting at each others' throats for a few days.  My wife connected it to when they found the old Super Nintendo, lugged it upstairs from its box in the basement, connected it to the television, and started playing. One controller was broken, so they could only play one player at a time. The non-playing brother would sit close by and offer "helpful" suggestions during play. Which inevitably led to sore feelings and inappropriate comments toward one another.

I pointed out that it didn't matter if they were playing video games or not. They were getting to the point of verbal combat with one another over the simplest thing, electronic or not.

And I understand that this is why some parents hate an unexpected day off from school. Especially on the heels of sixteen previous days. Especially when we've been in the midst of this "polar vortex" with -50 degree F windchill.

Thankfully (that word is about to come into play) I remembered all the writing I've done and all the conversations from friends about the importance of gratitude in one's life. So yesterday, on our drive to the YMCA for a little swimming (and to get out of the house) after a morning that wasn't completely pleasant around the house at times I made up a little game. It went like this:

"Okay, boys, we're going to play a little game (groans emerge from the back seat). Each of us is going to think up something that completes the sentence "I'm grateful for...or I'm thankful for..." (more groans). I'll start and then I'll count to five and then Anders has to share something before I finish counting. After he shares then it's on to Nils who has to share something before I count to five. Then it's back to me and we keep going. But if anyone doesn't think up something before I count to five, they're out. I'll give you a few seconds to think up at least two things your thankful for before I start."

By this time the moans had diminished and they were beginning to take it seriously. So I started. And the gratitude kept going around.

Some were serious: I'm grateful for a warm house; I'm thankful that the gas tank is full so I don't have to pump gas in this cold; I'm thankful for our Y membership right now; I'm grateful for the food we have to eat.

Some were more frivolous: I'm thankful for root beer; I'm grateful for candy; I'm thankful for Legos; I'm grateful for that I won Milles Bornes (the card game).

I had to mail a package at the post office on the way, so I had to pause the game then. We had already done nearly a dozen shares each. Now part of our bedtime routine is sharing something we're thankful for each day and then praying. Some days they have trouble coming up with something. But this format made it possible for them to keep going.

So I offer up a solution for those days of grumbling, fighting, and complaining: the gratitude game.

It can't hurt to give it a try. You might just be grateful you did.


The Message We Send when School is Closed

We've been home for two days with no school because of the sub-zero temperatures and dangerous windchill that has hit our area. This is on top of Christmas break, so we're looking at nearly 2 1/2 weeks at home with the kids. Yesterday's windchill dipped to -50 degrees Fahrenheit. It's cold here. We've been trapped inside. We all need to move a little more.

I could participate in the trend I see on facebook: complaining about having to be around my kids these two extra days because we're all going stir-crazy. Yes, I'm tired of their complaining--especially when asked to do a chore. Yes, I'm tired of their arguing with each other--especially when one is playing a video game and the other is trying to be "helpful" (yesterday they were each allowed 15 minutes of video game time and even then it resulted in tears). Yes, I'm tired of being inside, too, feeling like there's nothing to do even though there is plenty.

But complaining only breeds contempt. Not only for our children but from others. What impact does our complaining about our children have on the barren couple who has been trying for years to have a child of her own? Or on the couple whose child recently died in a military skirmish?

And while my children aren't on facebook right now, they will be someday. What kind of message would that send to them? Yes, kids, we brought you into this world and love you dearly, but I can't stand spending time with you...

Do they hear my grumbling or do they see my gratitude?

Gratitude? Of course. At least I can strive to have more gratitude than grumbling in my life...

Gratitude that I am able to be home with them on these cold days and not struggling to find child care to shuffle them off to. Gratitude that they had some time helping their mom bake cookies and getting to learn some kitchen skills. Gratitude that we had a little extra time together. 

Yes, we may get cabin fever and get a little stir-crazy, but how about using that extra energy toward some creative things to do together (and I fully admit that I don't always do this--that sometimes it's easier to do my own distraction and let the boys do theirs)? We did some cold experiments yesterday (along with half the facebook population in the Midwest). We threw boiling water in the air to see what happened (it was cool, but not as impressive as we thought it might be). We put a plate of dish-soap bubbles outside. We tried blowing bubbles to see them freeze (most popped before they froze). We had friends who froze a t-shirt and broke it in half and who played ice-bowling. It's too cold to be outside for long, but it's perfectly fine for short periods of time.

How about teaching children a new skill in the kitchen? Or having them help with a project that requires tools? Or simply doing some household chores together? Our boys enjoyed simply pulling off the blue trim tape after a painting project.

So many people are on pinterest, that I'm sure there's plenty of great things to try with children there (I haven't opened up that time-distraction--I've got enough as it is!). My boys have filled up several pages in the sketch books they received in their stockings at Christmas. My youngest is creating things with duct tape.

We haven't really had much screen time (mainly because they've lost some of it from bad attitudes; if we hadn't been coming off a two week break, we maybe would have considered a movie marathon, but we'd already watch several movies at night in the past few weeks), but we've played plenty of board and card games. And of course, there's plenty of reading adventures! Sometimes we take a break and all read together (last year we read through The Hobbit during one evening a week).

Maybe a good project together is to make a collage of things you are thankful for. Gratitude might just be a better way to spend a day rather than grumbling.

With that said, we're about to try and get the car started so we can go to the YMCA. My youngest will complain about the temperature of the water in the swimming pool (the child has zero body fat which is to his detriment for swimming time). But I'm grateful we have a car we can travel with, I'm grateful that we have a few months of Y membership, I'm grateful we can exercise together, and I'm grateful the gas tank is full enough that I don't have to stop and fill it in the cold.

Hopefully I can pass some of that gratitude on to my sons. 



From distant lands they came
Journeying many days and nights
Guided by a star in the sky--
A special star, a sign they
Discovered through their
Astronomical studies.
Wise men: magi from
Gentile lands bearing
Treasures fit for a king.

For a King He was,
Thought not as any expected.
Not born in a palace warm,
But without even a room.
Laid for warmth amongst
The rough straw in the manger
Where the livestock fed.
Surrounded by shepherds
Rather than royal knaves.

A King like no other:
Coming to free the prisoner,
Bring justice to the oppressed,
Give sight to the blind,
And love to all who would
Have them as their Lord.
One who rules from a
Heavenly throne yet walks
Amongst the leper and whore.

What treasure can I give?
I have no gold or silver;
I lack precious incense
Or embalming oil.
And would I readily give
What I do have?
My money? My time?
My heart? My life?
These I shall try to give

To the One who alone
Is worthy of my worship;
To the one who came
To save the lost and forsaken--
People like me in need
Of a Savior, in need of
Love, in need of forgiveness.
What He has given me,
I shall return through worship.

* * * * * * *

Church was cancelled tonight because of the extreme cold in Minnesota (the Governor called off all school across the state tomorrow). Still, I wanted to be there. It's Epiphany, and I wanted to be at church for it, not at home. So I thought I'd draw and reflect upon the holy day at least.

We don't know how many magi there were. We number them three because of the gifts. The truth is there could have been more. They might not have even been all men for all we know. We don't know where they were from other than that they followed the star from the East (or the star was in the east--some translations don't make that very clear even.

Traditionally the three are given names: Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar. They are often depicted as being from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East (or Persia, India, and Arabia--do a wikipedia search if you're interested in finding out more about what the church has historically believed about the magi). It's unlikely that they were from differing continents; Matthew 2 makes it sound like they came from the same country. But if I'm going to depict the traditional three magi, I like the thought of making them from a variety of places.

They were likely the first Gentiles to come and worship the Jewish child (Jesus wasn't likely a baby nor in a stable--the text says they went to a home). This is significant. The Christ-child wasn't merely to be worshiped by His own people as many thought the Messiah should be, but by all people. Even those who maybe had no concept of the Hebrew God or the stories and laws of the Torah.

Despite all we don't know about these astronomers, we do know what they did. They came and worshiped Jesus. They brought Him gifts of significance. They knelt before Him.

These are things you and I can do. These are the actions that make us wise like them.


11th Day of Christmas: A New Year, New Adventures

We're a few days into 2014. Time passes too quickly sometimes. Too slowly at others. We had a nice New Year's Eve. Friends from church came over. We had soup and hors oeuvres. We played games. Board games, card games, dice games. The teenagers in the group pulled out their electronic devices, but we got them in on some games as well. No one was here past 11:30pm.

It's that time of year to make your resolutions. To be honest: I don't make New Year's resolutions. Never have; never will. I don't have a problem with you making them, if that's your thing. But it's not mine. Partly because I'm not good at setting goals like that. Partly because if I'm not already making some change happen in my life, then a resolution probably isn't going to make a difference (I suppose making goals could help with that). Partly because it would take some introspection to figure out what I need to change in my life and set some goals on how to make that happen (again with the goals!).

Okay, so maybe I need to be more goal-oriented. Can that be my resolution for 2014?

Goals are probably something I should take up more. Maybe my life would be different now. Maybe I'd be further along on some more successful path. Maybe I'd have that '65 Mustang rebuilt that's been sitting in the garage for years (wait, I must be thinking of someone entirely different than myself).

Goal: Be more adventurous. Be willing to take risks, and do new things. With discernment and moderation, of course.

Goal: Make a difference. In someone's life. Some where. Some how. Repeat. Daily as possible. (That whole "love thy neighbor" thing: do it.)

Goal: Be more grateful and less resentful. Complain less; forgive more.

Maybe those aren't that great of goals. Maybe I should be more concrete and specific.

Goal: Try and write another book this year. Fiction, I think. And look into having an agent this time, or a publisher that helps market better.

Goal: See A Prairie Home Companion before Garrison retires or we move from the Twin Cities. (We're actually working on a bucket list of things we want to do before we leave Minneapolis.)

Do those work? I know they're not the typical resolutions. I should be including stuff about exercising more (which right now I'm at the YMCA about 4 times a week), eating more healthfully (eating less and learning to not overeat is what I need to focus on),

* * * * * * * 

It's the 11th Day of Christmas. It's cold up here in Minnesota. And going to get colder. The governor called off school across the state for this coming Monday because of the temperatures. We're staying inside more than I'd like. But it's nice at the same time.

I read a book last year called Praying in Black and White for Men. It encourages men to doodle while they pray. Drawing becomes your form of prayer. I've done it off and on. I've done a few of them the last few days (a friend doing some drawing has encouraged me to do some more, plus we each got new sketch books for Christmas). The drawing above isn't really a meditative prayer drawing, but it's a prayer for the New Year.

A door open to new adventures. A path ahead to explore. Valleys, mountains. Ups, downs, turns, and bends in the road. You can see a little ways, but there's so much unknown.

Into the New Year we go!