Category Archives: Hospitality


35 0818 Trail near Hopkins Pass cropped compressI have hiked three sections (70-100 miles) of the PCT solo.  It has become my preferred option.  Though on the PCT in midsummer one is rarely alone.  Day hikers, overnight backpackers, and other section hikers were encountered each day.  The most intriguing of fellow travelers are the thru-hikers.

15 0816 So Done William frm Belgium cropped

“So Done” William

I probably encountered twenty of so thru-hikers during my recent trip. They started at the Mexican border and now 2600 miles later they were approaching the Canadian border.   William (trail name “So Done”) was the first I met.  He was from Belgium and had started in early May. He was a college graduate student who would go back to school when he returned to Belgium.  I hiked with him for about thirty minutes until his pace was too fast for me.

Many of the thru-hikers I met were from Europe: Sweden, UK, Austria, and Germany. Most were young males in their twenties.   You could quickly identify them by their beards, light packs and thin, thin physiques.

Two in particular stood out for me.  One was the morning of my day hike to the border and back (25 miles total).  I was up early and on the trail by 5:15 am.  It was a beautiful morning with the western North Cascade glowing in golden light.  I passed a sleeping bag by the side of the trail and a head poked out to greet me.  The young man’s accented English and scruffy beard hinted that he was thru-hiker.  I asked where he was from and he said France.   I asked if he would finished today and he cheerfully said yes and went back to sleep.  I hiked on.

42 0818 Monument with JVK 2 cropped compressAbout four hours later I was at the trail monument on the Canadian border, talking with some other section hikers.   I turned to see the young French man again, briskly moving down the trail, wearing only his pack and hiking shoes.  Nothing else!   I had read about nude hiking before, but this was my first encounter.  As he approached he said, “Oh, I guess I better put some clothes on.”  I decided nude hiking will not be my choice to lighten the pack.

As I turned back from the monument, a thru-hiker actually touched my soul.  He was older with some gray in his beard.  He stopped to tell me that he was from Prague in the Czech Republic.  He wanted to tell me how excited and grateful he was for our nation preserving the PCT.  “There is no trail like this in Europe.  I am so happy that your country shares it with the world!”  He was so exuberant in his praise for our country’s wilderness that I could only nod my head in agreement.   His joy was so contagious that it carried me the next few miles.

Being at our border for a short time allowed me to reflect a bit on being American and the gift our nation is to so many.  I pray that I might be as grateful as the hiker from Prague.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

Broken and Unbroken Promises

I have been neglecting my blog for several months for no good reason.  Recently I was contacted by the congregation where I was confirmed, Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Bremerton, WA.  They are celebrating their 70th anniversary this fall and was seeking stories from former congregation members.  My confirmation experience became a kind of crossroads in my spiritual life so I will share it here as well.

Emmanuel Lutheran BremWA

Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Bremerton, WA

Pastor Orville Crawford was my 9th grade confirmation teacher and our class of about twenty boisterous teenagers met most Wednesday evenings in the basement of Emmanuel. We struggled to memorized Luther’s Small Catechism. Being a good student, I struggled less than others. God had given me a sharp mind that grabbed new concepts quickly. I was also active in the small Sunday afternoon Luther League activities, so Pastor Crawford knew me well.

In the spring, as our Confirmation Sunday drew near, Pastor Crawford had a concern. At that time, communion was restricted to confirmed members and thus our first communion would come the Sunday following our confirmation. We were to receive communion as a class, sitting together in the front of the church, just as we would do on our confirmation Sunday. Pastor Crawford was concerned that not all the class would be present for the first communion because it would fall on Memorial Day Week-end that year. So he asked me, “John, how many of your confirmation classmates will be there for the First Communion?” I had no idea, so I said, “I don’t know, but you can count on me being there!” I remember how confident my promise was to him.

Our confirmation Sunday went smoothly. I was very excited to confess my faith in Jesus Christ and become an active member of the congregation. However, that afternoon some friends approached me about going on a backpack trip the next week-end into the Olympic Mountains. It would be my first such trip. I was torn. I remembered my promise to Pastor Crawford, but also wanted to try backpacking. My parents said it was my decision, since I had completed confirmation. With only a brief hesitation, I decided to go backpacking.

Lower Lena Lake

Lower Lena Lake where we camped. It rained most of the week-end.

When I returned I discovered that I was the only member of my confirmation class not present for the first communion Sunday!

Yet when I next came to worship Pastor Crawford did not chastise or judge me. He simply welcomed me to the Lord’s Table, delighted that I was there. I felt loved and forgiven.

What I learned from that experience is that God’s Grace is not about what promises I make to God, but about God’s promises to us. I might make lofty promises to God or God’s people, only to discover that I fail to keep them. Yet God does not hold that against me. God is always willing to welcome me in love. Jesus promises to forgive and heal us. “This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” Also as an ordained pastor, I have worked to follow Pastor Crawford’s example of grace and hospitality.

The ironic thing is I learned to love backpacking as a member of Emmanuel’s Luther League.  Every summer during high school we made a long hike in Olympic National Park. That love (along with the love of God) continues with me as I prepare to return to the PCT in Washington next week.

History Lessons

Yesterday I was taught the value of living history.  Inez Oehlke spoke to our youth regarding the early history of the Woodbury community. Inez and her husband Glenn farmed the land where Resurrection Lutheran Church now stands and she donated her farmstead buildings and land to the church when she moved into senior housing.

Outdoor WorshipWe now enjoy summer outdoor worship under the tall oak trees that surrounded her farmhouse and barn.


Inez Oehlke

Inez recently celebrated her 94 birthday, but she is still active in the community. She has spoken at Luther Seminary regarding stewardship and generosity as well as the  Woodbury Foundation Gala on the early history of our city. She has seen plenty of change in the city landscape, but she also sees enduring values.

Yesterday, she told the youth about the early white settlers in Woodbury: the Middleton family. The immigrated from Ireland in stages, finally settling in south Washington county prior to the Civil War. The Middleton built their home near a rough trail that the Ojibwa Indians used to travel between the Mississippi and St. Croix River. The Middleton family welcomed the Ojibwa to camp on their land and fed them whenever there where food shortages. Inez praised the Middleton family for their values of hospitality and compassion towards others.

Inez then reminded us that the city of Woodbury continues to live out these values in two significant ways. Woodbury has the most Habitat for Humanity homes of any Twin Cities suburban community; the city thus practices hospitality in a meaningful way. Woodbury’s churches continue to show compassion through food shelves (like the Christian Cupboard) that works to feed the hungry in our midst. The values the Middleton family practiced more than a 150 years ago continue to impact us today.

In our fast-paced society, we rarely take time to remember our history. Inez reminded our youth of our shared values of hospitality and compassion.

Inez with youth 2After her talk Inez was presented with a photo book that captured how Resurrection is now using her old farm house for youth ministry. She was so grateful for this token of appreciation.

I am so thankful for elders like Inez who inspire us to be faithful and generous.

What history lessons have you learned?

Lord Jesus, teach me to listen to the wisdom of my elders.

Doing Something New

One of my favorite quotes is from Ken Blanchard, a business consultant. “Unless you feel awkward doing something new, you are NOT doing something new.”

Awkward Second Change

I remembered it as I joined six friends in August on a long bike ride near La Crosse WI and learned that I was one of the least experienced cyclists in the group. In the first seven miles I had a flat and I felt awkward as I tried to change the tire as quickly as possible.  In my haste I only pinched or damaged two new tubes and so felt a triple embarrassment as I changed each new flat.  I seriously thought about dropping out and riding/walking back to the motel.

Yet the marvelous thing about my cycling buddies is that they graciously responded to my awkwardness with understanding and care. No one abandoned me. No one spurned me. The helped me in part because they each had been in the same awkward position on other rides. They had experienced flat tires and awkward changes.

This fall I want to encourage you to try something new. It might be a new volunteer opportunity or new social group.  It might be a small group Bible Study or worship experience.  You may feel a bit awkward starting out, but unless you try something new you will never fully appreciate the wonder of discovery.

At the same time, if you are in an established group and someone new arrives, practice  hospitality and be attentive to their needs.   Jesus taught this simple rule, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12). This is our encouragement to see the newcomer as someone to welcome and to guide as we remember our own first arrival in the group.  The newcomer may feel awkward the first time they run with a group or open a Bible or serve on a task force or change a flat.   Yet we can help them move out of the awkward, beginning stage.

I am so glad I was able to swallow my pride and continued the ride.  We saw some spectacular scenery and shared some major climbs.   As we finished our sixty-plus miles, we all marveled at what a wonderful day it was.  And no one mentioned flat tires.

Lord Jesus, challenge me again to discover something new in life.

Garage Sale Stewardship

Testing a Garage Sale Donation

Thursday, May 10, begins the big Woodbury Lions Club Garage Sale and Resurrection Lutheran will be participating. The church is being transformed into a market place of new and used items.  I took a few minutes this morning to test a donation.

The test remined me of a discussion with fellow pastors about stewardship. It was triggered by one pastor’s comment that his congregation does not “do” special fundraisers like car washes or garage sales. “Our congregation has adopted the stewardship philosophy that all funding comes through the offering plate. Our members believe in the mission of the congregation and they donate directly to its budget.”

I agree that the bulk of the stewardship giving needs to be through the offering plate or direct contributions to the congregation. This has become more sophisticated with on-line giving and electronic fund transfers such as Simply Giving from Thrivent. We recently added QR codes to our bulletins so that people can use their smart phones on Sunday Morning to make contributions. I am delighted with how many members of Resurrection Lutheran stepped up in March to make special contributions for our High School youth who will be attending the ELCA Youth Gathering this summer.  Direct contributions remain the primary way people give to their congregation.

As Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about being generous in giving,

This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone. (2 Corinthians 9:13, The Message)

Still I think there is a place for special fund-raisers like the Garage Sale. It allows a variety of people to participate actively in a congregational ministry, thus building relationships. It promotes the recycling of various items, eliminating some of the waste that goes in landfills, a form of environmental stewardship. It also allows new and old residents to visit our church building; last year I met two people who later came back for our outdoor worship. We also provide a service to the shoppers by having clean restrooms and shelter. The garage sale has become a unique form of ministry for our congregation.

I certainly don’t want our church building and volunteers to do this every week. It is neither our primary mission nor our primary form of stewardship. There will probably come a day when Resurrection will not participate. Still, for three days this week, Resurrection Lutheran will be a place of friendly hospitality and great deals. Check it out.

Lord Jesus, guide each of us to be good stewards of our time, talents and treasures.

Table Matters

My wonderful new daughter-in-law, Maggie Keller, wrote a awesome post on Something Holy about the Table.  It reminded me of how my wife worked hard and long to finish our dining room table when we were first married.  And how many thousands of meals around that table began with the invitation, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.  May these gifts to us be blessed.   Quakers teach that every meal can be a meal of Holy Communion.
As I sit in a hospital room, waiting for my Mom’s hip surgery, I remember all the delicious meals she made.  Our table may have been simple, but it was blessed.  Thanks be to God.


Baker’s Vocation or Vacation

Vocation and vacation sound alike, but rarely overlap in meaning. Vocation means calling and is often used interchangeably with job or career. Vacation means freedom from occupation or time away from job or career. My trip to Coloraod was a vacation from my role as pastor, but it was also a chance to witness my daughter’s vocation.

Suzanne Smiles in Her Domain

Though she graduated from college with a creative writing degree, Suzanne’s current passion and love is baking. Two years ago she went to Estes Park with a college friend to seek summer employment. I remember the frustration in her voice when she phoned home to tell us, she could find no work in Estes, not even at McDonald’s or Subway. I was preparing to drive out and bring her home, when my friend, Michael Johnson, suggested she look at guest ranches in Colorado. A few phone calls later, she had an interview at Lane’s Guest Ranch. The interview led to a job as pastry chef and my opportunity to enjoy her baking and cooking.

Baking in the mountains was a challenge. The high altitude affected dough and the kitchen was often over 100 degrees. This summer they were short staff most of the season. Still I enjoyed her strawberry shortcake, whole wheat rolls, white chocolate Torte and blueberry pancakes. I also discovered a big secret to making delicious brownies is a cup of brandy in the batter (at least I think it was a cup; Suzanne is very secretive about her recipes).  Suzanne is now back in Minnesota, seeking a winter vocation.

On the drive home Suzanne reminded me of the significance of bread in the Bible. God told Adam that it would be “by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,” when God removed Adam and Eve from the Garden (Genesis 3:19). Thus the work for bread is part of the curse we endure as rebellious sinners. Yet God provided bread for the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16) and for the prophet Elijah in his journey (I Kings 19).

Jesus transformed bread from Satan’s temptation in the wilderness (where it is a reminder of Adam’s curse) to the miracle of feeding 5,000 with just five loaves. Afterwards Jesus stated, “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35). Finally Jesus promised Holy Communion when we eat the bread that is his body (Matthew 26:26). To be a baker is to have a holy vocation.

How is your vocation a place for God to work?

Lord Jesus, thank you for all who sweat and work for my daily bread.

Visitor from Wibaux

Yesterday after worship, I met Wayne, a visitor from Rochester, New York.  He was here in Minnesota on a business trip and decided to worship at Resurrection.   We had a pleasant conversation around visiting churches.   After our conversation, I observed others conversing with him.  Hospitality was being practiced.

Wayne’s visit reminded me of my first week at my old church.  My first Sunday morning was a bit overwhelming.  Like Resurrection, it was a growing congregation and being the new staff person, every face and name was new to me. A primary part of my job was to follow-up with visitors via letter and phone calls.  On Monday morning, as I looked through the small stack of visitor cards, one card stood out: a visitor from Wibaux, Montana.

Pierre Wibaux, the town's namesake.

Wibaux is a tiny town on the eastern edge of Montana.  Wibaux has no distinction, other than it was where my father grew up in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  My grandfather had been the county doctor.  Though the area has hit hard times in recent years, my father always spoke with great fondness for this high-plains town.  

When I saw the Wibaux welcome card, I wrote a special letter of welcome with a note asking if the visitor knew of my grandfather or father.  She wrote me back a short note, saying that yes, she had known my grandfather. In fact, he had assisted in the delivery of her children years ago.  She also wrote how she appreciated the visit to the church and the hospitality.  Her kind letter gave me some much-needed affirmation during a stressful transition.

In Genesis 18, Abraham is sitting by his tent when he spots three visitors approaching.  He immediately offers hospitality to the visitors, providing a special meal for them.  Soon he discovers that his guests are angelic visitors from God, who bring the promise of a son for Abraham and Sarah.  Hospitality has always been a hallmark of God’s people that brings blessings to both the giver and recipient.

How have you practiced hospitality recently?  When have you received hospitality from others?   

Prayer: Lord Jesus, may I practice mercy and kindness towards the stranger in your name.

Holy Week Story – Thursday

Pilate Washing His Hands by artist He Qi

Reflections on Jesus’ Trial with Pilate.

Read Matthew 27:1-31

So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Matt 27:24

Jesus’ trial before Governor Pilate changes the tenor of the story.  It is no longer a  religious squabble between Jewish sects.  Jesus claims are extended beyond international boundaries, into the very halls of the political power and authority. Rome was known for its power and system of justice.  Who is the real King or Ruler of this world?  Jesus exposes the self-serving character of Pilate and the Roman system.   Though he tries to wash away his connection, Pilate remains complicit in Jesus’ crucifixion.

It is easy to paint Pilate as a self-serving bureaucrat who was either corrupt to begin with or was easily manipulated by the crowd.  Yet I can see the Pilate in me, the part of me unwilling to take a stand against the mob and stand by someone who is innocent.   Are there not people in our community who need someone to be their advocate?

In his book, Tattoos of the Heart, the Jesuit priest, Gregory Boyle, describes his ministry with the gangs of LA.  One day he takes two gang members, Chepe and Richie, on a road trip.   They stop at a Coco’s restaurant for dinner.  Their welcome by the receptionist and other diners is ice-cold.  They stare at Chepe and Richie’s shaved heads, tattoos, and all their baggy clothes gangster garb.

Richie whispers, “We don’t belong here, we should go somewhere else.”

“What are you talkin’ about?” said Greg.

“There’s just pure, rich white people here.” Richie pleaded.

Then the waitress came.

Our waitress is an entirely different story from the frozen and awkward reception we seem to be getting from everybody else. She puts her arms around the “fellas,” calling Chepe and Richie ‘Sweetie” and “Honey” and bringing them refills (“and we didn’t even have to ask”) with extra this and more of that, and supplying Tapatio on demand. She is Jesus in an apron. (p. 136)

When have you experienced either abuse of power or an advocate for justice?

Prayer: Use us, Lord God, as instruments of peace in a world broken by violence, hatred and fear.

A Logger’s Confession

Red Alder Woods

When I was in elementary school, my best friend was David Brown.  Every morning I would stop by his house so we could walk the last five blocks to school together.   We attended the same church and sang in the children’s choir.  After school we would usually end up at his home or mine for whatever adventure we could dream up.

One of those adventures involved the deep woods across from my house.   We lived near a lumber mill and logging trucks rumbled by throughout the day.  We aspired to be loggers, so at the tender age of nine, we “borrowed” my dad’s hatchet and started chopping.  It took us three days of swinging our mighty hatchet to finally watch the tall red alder begin to wobble.  When it fell, David and I leaped out-of-the-way to watch.  Unfortunately the woods were thick and the tree did not crash to earth, but came to rest on another tree.   So David and I would climb the half-fallen tree, bouncing up and down, pushing it to the earth. We left the tree to rot on the ground and went off in search for some new adventure.

Over the next couple of years we probably chopped down 10-15 trees.   Our parents never knew of our “adventures.” David and I both moved away in sixth grade and our logging days were over.  

I write about this experience, because at the time it seemed so innocent, yet now it troubles me. It was a secret I kept from my parents.  Our chopping trees was simply for our pleasure and served no useful purpose.  Our behavior could have hurt either of us seriously.  We had no respect for the creation God had given to us nor for our neighbor’s land.  Perhaps most troubling, at the time we had no idea we were doing anything wrong.  Could I be doing something today that I don’t realize is harmful to God or my neighbor?

As we prepare to confess our sin on Ash Wednesday, let us be mindful that sin can come in various forms and disguises.   Let us ask God to cleanse us of known and unknown sin, and to lead us out of darkness into light.

 Has sin every troubled you?