Category Archives: mental exercise

Mystery of Trust

Paul at the Areopagus by artist Kennedy Paizs

One of the great mysteries of faith is why some people believe in Jesus and others do not.  One trusts completely while another turns away.  In Acts 17, Paul comes to Thessalonica and preaches in the Jewish synagogue.

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures,  explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.”  Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. (Act 17:2-4)

Paul was persuasive and some came to trust in Jesus, yet many did not believe. I recognize that the Holy Spirit, prayer, and human temperament all play a role, yet I am amazed that within one family, exposed to the same environment and influences, some members place their trust in Jesus and other members do not. The parents and church community express the gospel in word and deed, but not everyone hears and responds. It is like the seed in Jesus’ parable of the sower in Mark 4. Some seed falls on rocky soil, some among the weeds, some on the trodden path, and some on the good soil. Only the see in the good soil takes root and bears fruit.

Occasionally what seems to be the random nature of faith can be disheartening. My intellectual curiosity can twist me into knots. At those times, I “fold the wings of my intellect” and simply rest in  Jesus. I trust in his mercy and grace. Jesus has touched and changed my life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God has impacted my life. And I have seen other lives changed as well. With hope I continue to fling the seed of God’s Word, trusting in God and not myself.

So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ, Romans 10:17

Lord Jesus, create in each of us a faith that bears fruit for your kingdom.

The Fun in Run For Others

Last Saturday, I joined other runners from Resurrection LC to run in the Cemstone Run for Others 5K/10K race. We had a blast benefiting Habitat for Humanity. Though I ran most of the 10K race by myself, the challenge and the course volunteers kept me motivated. I even got a prize for taking second in my age group!

Running is often thought of as a solitary sport. You don’t need any teammates to have a good run. Like many other runners, I enjoy the solitude of a run as a time of reflection and prayer.

Yet the camaraderie of a race is special. In a race setting, one feels the urge to do one’s best. I think the competition pushes me to test my limits, to learn how to persevere in a difficult task. I don’t have to win or even set a personal best to benefit from being part of a race.  Running in a race gives me the affirmation, “I am a runner.”

The joy and excitement of Saturday was contagious. I stand next to my friend and pastoral colleague, Mike Carlson, who was running his first race in several years. We are flanked by two great race directors, Scott Folgelson and Tim Torgerson. It was a wonderful morning for run and fun fellowship.

Also, I am so thankful for all the volunteers who gave of their time and energy to make the day special and safe. They worked hard so that the runners could focus on the race. I have volunteered at road races and the tasks can be tedious or boring. Yet without the volunteers, the race could not happen. Tim Torgerson has directed the Cemstone Run For Others race for over a decade and his efforts are to lifted up.

St. Paul writes that the church is one body, but made up of many members (I Cor. 12). Each person and part is needed for the Body of Christ to function well. We all have a part to play in our church, community and world. God has gifted each of us to participate. So whether you race, volunteer or cheer, get involved and have some fun.

Lord Jesus, continue to call me into active service in your name.

Racing with St. Patrick

Today we celebrate one of God’s great saints.

There will be a variety of St. Patrick Day celebrations, including road races. Many of the races will feature post-race celebrations, including green alcohol.

It has always been curious to me that a day dedicated to an evangelist and missionary should become the focus of such drinking and carousing. Not that I am against parties, since I can  enjoy post-race celebrations very much. But when people think of St. Patrick they seem to focus on the Patrick and not the Saint.

But that is even more curious, since St. Patrick was born in England, captured by Irish raiders and sold as a slave in Ireland. After serving as a shepherd for six years, he escaped and made his way back to England. During this adventure, he had a conversion to Christianity and he felt the call to preach the faith to (surprise!) the Irish people. He studied for the priesthood in France but was not a very good student. His superiors did not want him to go, but still he went. He preached all over Ireland, making converts and founding monasteries. He became a great hero, not only for Ireland, but for the Christian faith.

In his confession he wrote, “If I am worthy, I am ready also to give up my life, without hesitation, and most willingly, for his name. I want to spend myself in that country, even in death, if the Lord should grant me this favor. I am deeply in his debt, for he gave me the great grace that through me many people would be reborn in God, and then made perfect by confirmation, one people gathered by the Lord.”

St. Patrick reminds me of St. Paul.  St. Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). St. Patrick, like St. Paul, ran the good race. Maybe we should try to run like him.

Lord Jesus, teach me to run the race of life with you and your saints.

New Year’s with JB

John the Baptist’s message is great for this week between Christmas and New Years.  He calls us back to a simple life-style. After all the feasting we may need repentance.

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:4-5)

The wilderness in Scripture was not some beautiful garden-like place where people went on vacation.  Wilderness was wild, uncivilized, stripped of all niceties and refinement.  Israel had spent forty years in the wilderness during the Exodus to purify themselves from all the toxic Egyptian cultural practices. It was a place for spiritual death and rebirth.

John’s clothes of camel’s hair and leather belt, reminded the people of the Old Testament prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8).  Sort of like wearing a red cape to remind people of Superman. But John/Elijah had a stronger purpose than Superman, to call the hearts and lives of people back to God.

John called people to recalibrate their vision of life, success, and values.  They were baptized as a cleansing of their sinful ways so that they could begin anew, fresh and clean.

Now as 2011 concludes, we can come to our Lord seeking a fresh beginning, a new start in 2012.  We can confess our sin, knowing that God forgives us our sin and will give us a clean start.

Try this the next time you take a bath or shower.  As you wash the sweat and dirt of the day, say to yourself as you pray to God, “I am cleansed, body, mind and spirit, by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Then step out into the promise of vibrant new life in Christ. Resolve to act as a child of God, seeking God’s path this day.

Lord Jesus, cleanse me and make me new.

Rushing towards Christmas

Santa racing on a bicycleChristmas is fast approaching. On my way to work this morning, two people asked me if I was ready. It seems like Christmas has become an invasion that requires complex preparation, sort of like the D-day invasion of Normandy beaches during World War II. There are the gifts to buy and wrap, the cookies to bake, the programs and parties to attend. Each is good in itself, but the intensity and high expectation surrounding each piece puts a crimp in the holiday season. Some people just seem to go crazy with the stress of the holidays.

Of course, the first Christmas was a very simple affair: a mom, a dad, and a baby. The setting was a lowly stable, nothing fancy. There was a great sound and light show with angelic choirs, but the family only heard about it second-hand. Mary and Joe kept their focus on the baby. Later Mary pondered the shepherd’s words (Luke 2:19).

As a pastor, my Christmas celebration revolves around the worship services on Christmas Eve and Day. With the familiar carols and Gospel story, it is hard to deliver something new and spectacular. Many have told me that their deepest, most joyful Christmas memory is lighting candle in a darkened church and singing Silent Night, Holy Night. Tradition has depth that builds intensity year-by-year. The new and spectacular is overshadowed by the old and familiar.

I pray that you will have time to ponder, to reflect, to simply embrace God’s love for you. It might be late at night after the packages are wrapped, or early in the morning before you run last set of errands. The Prince of Peace is coming. He is coming for you.

Lord Jesus, break through the complexity of my life and grant me peace, your peace.


Trail Crew

Trail Crew near Lake Haiyaha in Rocky Mountain National Park

A final thought from Labor Day. While hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park last month, I encountered a trail crew building a new bridge. As a teen-ager I had thought trail crew would be the greatest job. They were paid to hike in the wilderness, surrounded by the wonder and beauty of God’s creation. Their work had tangible results, a path that leads from point x to point y.

Only later did I realize how hard their work truly was. Rocks, streams, trees, even mountains block their route. The crew had limited resources, mostly assorted hand tools, to construct the trail. Earlier that I had seen a crew moving large stones with only shovels and pickaxes so that the path could pass through a large boulder field.  They had to battle rain, heat, cold, mosquitoes and biting flies, while eating only the food they carried in. Watching them work, I realized their job is not as idyllic as I once thought.

The Bridge below Lake Haiyaha

Still as I watched, I gave a silent prayer of appreciation and thanks for the work they were doing. For years I have hike mountain trails, prepared and cleared by others. I realize that a small part of my tax dollars go to pay for this as does part of my user fees. Still I am benefiting from other’s labor. I am thankful for those who planned, surveyed, built and maintain our national parks and wilderness areas.

I am also mindful that Jesus has prepared the way for us to the Father.  He cleared the trail for us.  He lifted the heavy burden of our sin off our souls and buried it in the deepest sea. He continues to maintain the path that leads to eternal life.

You show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy; Psalm 16:11.

What path are you following through life and who constructed it?

Lord Jesus, place me on the path that leads to yourself, that I might become what you created me to be.

Mountain Guide

First, I want to thank Sarah Storvick for being my guest blogger last week.  I appreciate her thoughtful reflections on participation in a “fake” book club and our call to be authentic followers of Jesus Christ.  I am so thankful for having gifted co-workers to share the call to trust, live and serve.

Pastor John Atop Hallett's Peak in RMNP

Second, I am thankful for a refreshing vacation.  I had some great hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, including the top of Hallett Peak on the Continental Divide.  While atop the peak, I met a volunteer ranger named John. He named all the surrounding peaks for me and told me stories of some of his past hikes and climbs.  He was carrying an ice axe which was not needed on the hike up.  He informed me that he was planning to descend via Andrew’s glacier, an alternate return route that I had been considering.  But seeing his ice axe caused me concern since I did not carry one.  I asked, “Do you think I could descend the glacier without an ice axe?”

He responded,  “I honestly don’t know, but you are welcome to follow me and together we can find out.”

Ranger John preparing to descend Andrews Glacier

Ranger John lead me across the boulder-strewn divide to Andrew’s Glacier and there he stopped to attach some light hiking crampons to his boot. He then directed me on the best angle to descend the ice field and how to navigate beyond the small lake at the glacier’s bottom.   His guiding presence gave me peace and confidence through some tricky parts.

Shortly after John and I parted, I wondered if I would have been as patient and caring to a fellow hiker?  Ranger John certainly was enthusiastic about hiking and proud of the many hidden splendors of Rocky Mountain National Park.  He was a natural evangelists for the park and especially the back country.  Am I as enthusiastic about my journey with Jesus Christ and the high country through which he guides me?  Are you?

Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17).

Lord Jesus, guide me this day along the path you have given to walk.  Prepare me to be companion guide for the people I meet.

Hiking with Suzanne and with Jesus

I am looking forward to my two-week vacation, starting next Monday. The second week will be traveling out to Estes Park, Colorado, to bring daughter Suzanne home from her summer job as a pastry chef at Lane’s Guest Ranch . I am going out early to do some hiking and camping. The mountain trails in Rocky Mountain National Park stir my soul and challenge my heart, lungs and legs.  Mountain hiking is true Body/Mind/Spirit exercise for me.

Suzanne Climbing the Path

I often associate Suzanne with Rocky Mountain National Park, not only because she has worked there the past three summer. In 1996 my wife’s family had a reunion at nearby YMCA of the Rockies. Most of the week was cool and cloudy with frequent rain showers. One afternoon Suzanne and I took a special hike together. We climbed a small prominent peak near the camp and contemplated the vista. I remember the hike well, because I marvel at Suzanne’s ability to hike in spite of her open heart surgery five years before. She was a trooper and celebrated the climb with a shout of victory and a granola bar.

Climbing a mountain is one of my favorite metaphors for the Christian life. Our path in life is often uncertain and challenging. We may only be able to see the next few steps. We persevere through blown down trees or muddy streams. Life in Christ often has its challenges. The path may be steep and long. Still we trust the path will eventually lead us to our goal. As we climb higher our vista opens and we experience the joy and wonder of God’s creation and majesty.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:7). The psalmist sang, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path” (Proverbs 119:105).

How would you describe your recent path with God?

Lord Jesus, be my guide this day as I seek to follow your path for my life.

Running with the Truth and Joy

You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.  John 8:32 

When Jesus said this, he was not talking about a kind of philosophical truth that only deeper thinkers would find.  Rather Jesus was saying that he was the source of all truth and that knowing him would give us the freedom to live fully alive.  Later in John’s gospel, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”   Knowing Jesus as friend and savior guides us to knowing the truth about ourselves, our world and our relationship with others and with God.  Jesus is the true source of a vibrant life.  

Running with Joy is TRUE Running

Truth as personal knowledge of Jesus is similar to how I understand running.  On a biological and psychological level I can know that running is good for me, but that rarely gets me out the door and on the trail.  Rather I need to experience the benefits first hand, feel the joy of lungs breathing deeply and legs turning quickly.  As I run I experience the real truth about the benefits of running. My head clears and my spirit soars (at least on the good days.)  Now that I can run four miles again, the joy is especially sweet. 

The same is true with knowing Jesus, only as I run with him and experience him in my own life do I discover that he is the truth.  Jesus is not some collection of doctrines to comprehend, but a true friendship that keeps me moving along the road of life.  He is a true friend who seeks to guide, encourage, warn and embrace us.  

How true and real is your friendship with Jesus today?

Lord Jesus be real to me this hour, this day.

Go in Peace, Serve the Lord

Yesterday morning our youth mission team left for a mission trip to Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota.   They will be serving among the people of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux tribe in both children’s programs and work projects.  I ask for your prayers as they live out our congregation’s mission statement: trust, live and serve.   They bear witness to the vibrant life of faith in Christ by their trusting in Jesus, their living in daily community with the Word of God and prayer, and by serving others. 

Launching our Mission Team for Service

We had a prayer of blessing as they prepared to leave.   As I reflect on their departure, I realize that this is a graphic illustration of what a congregation should be every week: a launching pad for ministry in the world.  This week our youth team is doing that in a very intentional way. 

I believe mission trips are vital to a congregation’s vitality.  Such trips provide opportunity for intentional reflection upon our place in God’s kingdom.  Participants  interact with people of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds.  They discover how their unique gifts and dependable strengths can be used to help others.  And each day the team has devotions and conversation so that they can integrate their often physical experiences into their spiritual, emotional and mental lives.  Such trips can truly be life-changing.

Yet Christian service is not restricted to mission tripsWe can serve God by loving our neighbor wherever we are: in our homes, workplaces or community.  As we love our children or spouse, as we work with our staff and customers, as we visit with our neighbors, we can be God’s hands, feet, voice and heart in the world. We all can be servants of God in our daily lives.  A mission trip trains the heart and mind for such daily service.

At the end of worship each Sunday I announce. “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.”   The congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.”  I love this sending.  I just wish that some Sunday we would take time to report on how we serve the Lord this past week.  I am confident that our youth team will have some stories to share.

What helps you  to serve?

Lord Jesus, we ask you to bless and encourage the youth of Resurrection as they serve in your kingdom.