Category Archives: Beginnings

Beginning the Transition

Recently I posted on my decision to leave as Lead Pastor of Resurrection.   Today I am writing about my decision to train for interim ministry.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end
Semisonic’s  “Closing Time”

I was introduced to transitions twenty years ago with William Bridges book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life Changes.   Bridges describes every transition as having three parts.

1.       An Ending
2.       An In-between  Period of Confusion/Distress
3.       A new Beginning.

"So long, partner" Woody, Toy Story 3

“So long, partner” Woody, Toy Story 3

Each part needs attention.   For example, right now I am in the midst of an ending as I prepare to leave Resurrection.  Ending always have some element of grief and pain, even when they are chosen endings. Bridges writes “Those who had chosen their transitions tended to minimize the importance of endings, almost as if they felt that to acknowledge that an ending was painful would be to admit that the transition was a mistake.”  Leaving a group of people who you love is hard.


The second part of a transition is often neglected in our instant society.  People and congregations like to rush immediately to the new beginning.   “Let’s call a new pastor as soon as possible!”  Sometimes a congregation is ready to call a new pastor.  Often they are not.

Before rushing to the new beginning, individuals and congregations need to pause and assess where they are and what God is doing.  Bridges calls this time “The Neutral Zone.”   I prefer to call it “The Wilderness Time,” remembering both the wilderness stories of Exodus and Jesus.   The Israelites spent forty years between the time they left slavery in Egypt and prior to their new start in the land of Canaan.  They wandered in the wilderness.  Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness after his baptism. His was a time of intense prayer as to what his ministry would be.

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoy

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoy

And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 1:12-13)

The wilderness period can be an intensely spiritual time because the armor of daily routine and thought are cracked wide open.  The Spirit has new ways to penetrate the hardness of our hearts.   It can also be a time of darkness and temptation, yet such temptations can be points of new wisdom as well, “for angels waited on him.”

Intentional Interim Ministry is for the wilderness time in a congregation’s life.  When a long-tenured pastor leaves, an interim pastor is hired to serve a short contract (6-18 months) to shepherd the congregation through a time of assessment as it prepares to call a new pastor.   These “temporary shepherds” may need to deal with certain issues (past conflict, neglect, staff concerns to name just a few) as well as help the leadership prepare for their next pastor.

I sense a call to this kind of intense but short-duration ministry.  My own prayer life is centered on the phrase, “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10.  During an interim a congregation needs to be still and discover whose they are.  I believe I have the wisdom, experience, patience and pastoral skills to assist congregations during their transition.  Time will tell.

I will start the specialized training for Intentional Interim Ministry on Monday, October 26.  Prayers appreciated.

Discover the Unnamed Disciple

At the beginning of each gospel, Jesus calls disciples to join his mission. Jesus will not be a solo prophet, working independently. He starts a community that will explore God’s new reality together.

In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist introduces two of his own disciples to Jesus with the words, “Behold, the lamb of God.” (John 1:35-42) The two disciples follow Jesus at a distance but soon Jesus spots them and invites them to spend the evening. As we read further, we discover that one of the disciples is named Andrew. Andrew is so excited by the encounter that he hurries off to his brother Simon and brings him to meet Jesus as well. Jesus renames Simon as Peter – The Rock.

unknown-personBut the other disciple remains unnamed.

Immediately following this story comes a second like it. Philip meets Jesus and he also is transformed by his encounter that he tracks down his friend Nathaniel and brings him to Jesus.  By the end of chapter one there are five disciples following Jesus: Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathaniel, and the “unnamed disciple.”

We can speculate who that disciple was, but I think a more productive reading is to reflect on who that disciple is. I believe the unnamed disciple is you (and me), the reader of the Gospel. Like Andrew, we are invited by Jesus, to “come and see” as we study the Gospel of John. We are invited to experience the life transformation of a personal relationship with Jesus as we read the Gospel of John.

John, the writer of the Gospel, address the reader (you and me) directly at the end of the Gospel.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.(John 20:30-31)

As you read the Gospels, place yourself in the story. See yourself in the mirror of scripture.  And receive the life Jesus has to offer.

How do you respond to Jesus invitation to “come and see?”

Lord Jesus, open my eyes to see you today.

Day One: Walking Wet

The start of a hike has not only a loaded backpack but also plenty of emotions and thoughts: worries that I might have brought too much, too little or the wrong equipment; excitement for the unknown that I will discover or the challenges that I must endure; curiosity as to whom I will meet on the trail or what self-revelation will surface. Eight days and 104 miles proved to be enough time for all kinds of emotions and thoughts to bubble up.

Preparing to kayak with my brother Rob and sister Kris prior to hike

Preparing to kayak with sister Kris and my brother Rob prior to hike

My brother Robert graciously drove me from Seattle to Lake Chelan in Central Washington and accompanied me on the ferry to the far end of the lake. Without the assistance of my awesome brother (and sister Kris) I would not be able to complete many of the mountain backpacks that I have accomplished over the past decade. Gratitude for family was an underlying emotion from the start.

After 2.5 hours the ferry reached the village of Stehekin. The only vehicles in the village have been shipped by barge including the shuttle bus that rattled over 16 miles of dirt roads to High Bridge, mile post 2580 on the Pacific Crest Trail. I quickly picked up my pack and started down the trail.

Full pack at Stehekin

Full pack at Stehekin

Actually it was up the trail, since High Bridge was the lowest elevation (1587 feet above sea level) I would encounter on the trail. I was in a deep river canyon, slowly making my way to the high alpine country I love. After stopping for a trail lunch, I steadily climbed into a forest that was thick with brush in places making it difficult to see the trail at times.

The clouds thickened and a light drizzle began. I considered using my rain gear but decided my own sweat inside the rain jacket would be worse. I hiked on as the drizzle became a steady rain. With the sections of thick brush, clothing was soon soaked. I marched on.

Having grown up in Washington, I knew rain. If one keeps moving, the body stays warm. I was thankful that my recent purchase of a broad rim hat kept the rain off my face and glasses.

Here is a short video of the wet brush, (you may need to use “full screen” to see it.)

I arrived at Cedar Camp at 5:30 pm, ten miles from High Bridge, soaking wet. I set up my tent, changed to drier, warmer clothes and greeted the others camping at this site. I discovered some were from Holden Village, a nearby Lutheran retreat center. I met Ben Stewart, a pastor and professor from Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. I informed him that a new presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, had been elected at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly the day before.

As I talked with other hikers from Holden, the forest continued to drip with mist and showers.  I was reminded of a phrase that I learn when I had visited Holden years ago, that as Christians “we walk wet.” The phrase was a reminder of our baptism into Christ. Though the water of our baptism may have long evaporated, we are still renew each day by the promises of our baptism, that we are beloved children of God, empowered by the Spirit. That thought warmed me as much as the freeze-dried chicken-and-rice meal I ate. I was “walking wet” in the wonder of God’s creation.

How do you walk wet?

Lord Jesus, thank you for the gifts of creation, family, church and renewal.

“I Hold My Life Up to You Now”

Years ago a friend and spiritual mentor introduced me to Ted Loder’s book of prayers called, Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle.  Ted Loder is a retired United Methodist pastor who has written several book and has a semi-active blog here.   Below is Ted’s prayer for New Year’s Day is titled “I Hold My Life Up to You Now.”  His last petition is my prayer for the coming year.


Patient God,
the clock struck midnight
and I partied with a strange sadness in my heart,
confusion in my mind.
Now I ask you to gather me
for I realize
the storms of time have scattered me,
the furies of the year past have driven me,
many sorrows have scarred me,
many accomplishments have disappointed me,
much activity has wearied me,
and fear has spooked me into a hundred hiding places,
one of which is pretended gaiety.

I am sick of a string of “have-a-nice-day’s.”
What I want is passionate days, wondrous days, dangerous days,
blessed days, surprising days.
What I want is you!

Patient God,
this day teeters on the edge of waiting and things seem to slip away from me,
as though everything is only a memory and memory is capricious
Help me not to let my life slip away from me.
O God, I hold up my life to you now,
as much as I can, as high as I can, in this mysterious reach called prayer.
Come close, lest I wobble and fall short.
It is not days or years I seek from you,
not infinity and enormity,
but small things and moments and awareness,
awareness that you are in what I am
and in what I have been indifferent to.

It is not new time,
but new eyes, new heart I seek,
and you.


This past Thanksgiving I started my first running streak. It came from a challenge at Runner’s World. The goal of the streak was to run at least a mile every day between Thanksgiving and New Years. I normally run 3-5 days a week, giving my body plenty of time to rest and recover from any muscle damage during runs. Since my marathon in October, my running has been rather sporadic, lacking a goal or passion. So I decided to embrace a new challenge.

The key for me was to keep my normal rest days easy, just a slow-pace mile or two. I wear a heart rate monitor so it was easy to check my pulse and see if I was pushing too hard. I have discovered that doing an easy mile was both relaxing and a great way to start the day.

Yaktrax RunnersI added to the challenge by making every run an outdoor run. Treadmills and indoor tracks have their place, but I wanted fresh air. This became more challenging when our first Minnesota snow fell in mid-December. Fortunately I had a pair of Yaktrax that gave me good footing. Still, for an outdoor run I often took twenty minutes to dress for a ten minute jog.

I did get a short break when I traveled to Austin, Texas, for a memorial service after Christmas. A ten-mile run in warm sunshine and shorts lifted my spirit and confidence.

SA runners 122212 small

Some of my running buddies on Saturday morning.

I am not sure how long the streak will continue into the New Year. My legs are feeling strong and injury free. I have developed a habit that I enjoy and that promotes health. I suspect sometime in the next month a cold or tight schedule will end the streak. I don’t plan to be obsessive about it. I am confident that my running friends will be both encouragers as well as wise advisors.

It has got me wondering about my own spiritual practices. I pray daily, but my devotions have become sporadic and unfocused. The memorial service I attended was at an Episcopal church and it had more liturgy than I normally used. I found the prayers helpful and healing. So I have decided to use a written liturgy to guide my prayers during the month of January. You can see a copy of it here.

Thus, I am committing myself to new streak, a prayer streak.  My first goal is to use the daily liturgical prayer format each morning for the month of January.   Care to join me?

Lord Jesus, thank you for your tender mercies in 2012. Guide me deeper into your love in 2013

The Marathon Challenge

My first marathon was Twin Cities in 1999. Like this year, the forecast was for a cold start, around 35-40 degrees. Having run mostly in warm weather, I panicked and rushed out to buy my first pair of running tights a couple of days before the race. I used them and never felt very comfortable the whole race. I also made other rookie mistakes, like surging ahead at mile 15 when I was feeling great, only to hit the wall at mile 22. I finished in just over four hours, thinking “that was TOUGH.”

What if the Marathon was in January?

Many runners finish their first marathon and think, “Okay, I’ve done that. Don’t need to go through the pain, struggle and adversity again. Once is enough.” For me, the race had the opposite effect. I saw it as a great puzzle or challenge that I still have not figured out. Not that I think I will ever “solve” the marathon puzzle, but the combination of physical, mental and spiritual challenges continues to intrigue me. The challenge pushed me to run year round, even in Minnesota winters.  Plus I still have that elusive goal of qualifying to run the Boston Marathon.

This Sunday, I may be a bit cold when I approach the start line in Minneapolis, wearing shorts and t-shirt, hat and gloves. I will also have an old long-sleeve t-shirt that I will toss aside after warming up during the first couple of miles. After finishing ten marathons, I will know not to surge at mile 15, but wait for the real challenge at mile 21 and beyond. My marathon mantra, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Neh. 8:10) will be on my lips and the encouraging words of my friends and family will be in my ears. The chill of marathon morning will quickly pass as my body, mind and spirit rise to the challenge.  The finish is only 26.2 miles away.

Lord Jesus, let me meet the challenges of this day with your strength and joy.

Fuel the Flame

My blogging here has slowed the past week due to a new adventure: video blogging. Resurrection has started its fall stewardship emphasis called Fuel the Flame. Our stewardship team has made some video interviews of our members, asking them the question, “How has Resurrection Fueled Your Flame?” Another form of the question might be, “What do you appreciate about Resurrection?”

I have the joyful task of making simple edits and posting the video to our special blog: I am discovering there is certainly an art and skill to video editing, and like anything, it takes practice and time. As I posted a month ago, doing something new has an awkward phase to it. Yet I am confident that I can learn to do video editing better. My hope is to add video posts to my trustliveserve blog soon.

I am thankful for how the stewardship team is working together to make Fuel the Flame a significant part of our congregation’s ministry. Our theme is based on 2 Timothy 1:6, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God” (NIV). Part of that flame is becoming a generous people, contributing financially to our shared mission. God has ignited a flame within the hearts of Resurrection and I am excited to see it grow and spread.

Lord Jesus, help me fan the flame of your Spirit in my life and others.

Rebellion and Love

Why do we do the stupid things we do? Why would Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden? Why do I continue to trust in my own abilities and not God’s direction and commands?

“Woman gives her man to eat” by Lucile Butel, 1989

I ask those questions whenever I read Genesis 3, the story of Adam’s and Eve’s choice to disobey God. The story is often called “The Fall” since it describes humanity’s fall from God’s loving, eternal presence, yet I prefer the title “The Rebellion” since it is our human tendency to rebel against God’s commands. We rebel when we place ourselves in the center of our lives, and not God. We listen to the crafty voice of the serpent that says “you will not die, but will find pleasure, riches, knowledge, significance, or fame” if we yield to our own temptations. The story of Adam and Eve’s rebellion is our story of rebellion; our human choice to sin. And if we try to blame anyone or anything else, we are only echoing their response when God confronted them afterwards. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent (Genesis 3:11-13).

The Bible introduces sin and brokenness as an essential piece of our humanity. Though the biblical story begins with humanity created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), the image is quickly twist and stained by our rebellion. The next eight chapters of Genesis highlights how the infection of sin penetrates all of life: Cain murders Able, The Flood, and the Tower of Babel. Each story hammering home the sinful quality of humanity.

You Will Be A Blessing by David Hetland

Yet each story also shows elements of God’s mercy and grace. After Adam and Eve rebel, God provides them with animal skins for clothing. After Cain murders his brother, God provides a place of sanctuary for him. As God contemplates destroying the sinful world with a flood (Genesis 6), God provides a new beginning through Noah and his family. And after God scatters the people when they build the idolatrous Tower of Babel, God selects Abraham to become a blessing to all people (Genesis 12).

Even our rebellion will not stop God from loving us.

Lord Jesus, have mercy upon us.

Garden of Eden

This Sunday I am preaching on the first story in the Bible, Genesis 2 and 3. The story begins with God creating man from the mud of the earth and breathing into adam/man the breath of life. The story has word-play because the Hebrew word for man ‘adam’ sounds like the Hebrew word for ground or dirt is ‘adamah.’ Then the Lord God places the man in a garden in Eden that has “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:8).

The Garden of Eden has fascinated humanity. My initial impression was of a small compact garden, sort of like a resort on the edge of a river. At the center of the garden is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, with the crafty serpent nearby. I tend to push the story forward to the temptation scene in chapter three, where both the woman and the man disobey and rebel against God.

But that tight image has been challenged by the painter Thomas Cole and his painting called “The Garden of Eden” (1828).

Philip Tallon, a Methodist seminary professor, writes about the painting,

As painted by Cole, the garden seems to encompass the whole earth. It is an infinite playground in which Adam and Eve are dwarfed by rivers, mountains, trees, and even sparkling gems that erupt from the earth. As Cole himself wrote in an 1828 letter about the painting, “I have endeavored to conceive a happy spot where all the beautiful objects of nature were concentered.” This conveys first to me the magnificent, plurality of creation: a Christmas stocking so overflowing with treats that we will never get to the bottom.

The abundance and wonder of the God’s creation can be seen in the scripture. It is essential for understanding the story to rest a moment in the awesome beauty of God’s gift to humanity before moving to the fateful confrontation with the serpent. The wonder of that creation remains all around us, if we have eyes to see.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the beauty of your creation.