Category Archives: love


Wedding Plaque

All things work together for good, Romans 8:28

Above the desk in my small home office is the above plaque. It was a wedding gift that has followed me for 40 years.  The scripture has a provocative message in the season of Covid-19: that something good is being birthed.

At present, most of us see only the pain, the disruption, the uncertain chaos surrounding us during the pandemic.  We feel only the fear and anxiety that the suffering evokes.  We are trapped by endless loops of mental agitation that bounce around in our brains.  We yearn for physical and emotional connections that has been stifled as our society seeks ways to stop the spread of the pandemic.  We hate this disruption and we long to return to normal.

Yet St. Paul makes a radical declaration for us to consider.  He states, in a matter-of-fact-way, WE KNOW that God is at work in ALL THINGS.  And ALL THINGS includes a COVID-19 pandemic.   And that the ALL THINGS works together for GOOD.  God is not out to punish us or afflict us.  God is working to bring GOOD to God’s children , TO THEM THAT LOVE GOD.

Could this chaotic, fearful, stressful, lonely time be a birthing process to something new?  Some good that God wants you and I to experience in the depth of our being?   A wake-up call to the reality of God’s abiding, loving presence in ALL THINGS?

Earlier in the eighth chapter of Romans, Paul writes about the groaning of new birth.  We know (again that common knowledge) that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pain until now; and not only the creation, but we are ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:22-23).

God is birthing something new during this season.  Something that pushes us deeper into the reality of God’s abiding love and grace.   Such “knowledge” does not remove the pain and suffering, but it can bring hope and meaning as we awaken to God’s abiding purpose “to work all things together for good.”

Perhaps this is the promise of God to which we need to cling.

Reflecting on the Election

Tuesday evening, I sat down to watch the election results.  I had voted several weeks earlier and was expecting Hillary Clinton to win.  The polls, the main-stream media, my thinking all said, “It may be close, but Hillary will win.”  But as the night and morning unfolded, it became clear that Donald Trump would be our next president.

questionI felt a wave of disappointment, sadness and surprise flow through my body.  I recognized my body’s reaction and simply sat with those feeling for a while.  I also noticed my thinking racing to all kinds of scenarios, “How will President Trump handle Vietnam (where my son’s company does business)” “How will he handle health care, Syria, national disasters, immigrants, global warming, women’s issues?” . . . on and on.

As I stepped back from my stream of thoughts, I realized that nothing has actually changed as of right now.  President Obama is still our President and will be for two months.  President-elect Trump will be making decisions in the future that will change our country and my life, but until he actually makes the changes, it is not helpful or healthy for me to be consumed with worry.  I have had a habit of catastrophizing or magnifying the importance of things and situations out of proportion to reality.  In the past, my thinking would focus on the election of Donald Trump as the possible end of the world. It is not.  It is not what I voted for, but it is not a disaster.

As I write that, I realize that President Trump will have tremendous power and the potential to do much harm (as well as much good) for  people.  Some of his campaign rhetoric greatly disturbed me.  But right now they are words and not policy or legislation.  I will need to be vigilant as to what policies and legislation does come forth, but to be consumed with anger or anxiety at this moment seems unproductive and unhealthy.

I know that many of my fellow Americans are responding differently.   I am mindful that my response is not for everyone.  I am mindful of St. Paul’s pastoral advice in Romans 12:15-16  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.   I realize that some of my friends and colleagues are rejoicing in this election with the hope of change while others are weeping at the same prospect.  I am not wise enough to know how to help all of them other than to be a peaceful, loving presence in the midst of great confusion.

I continue to pray that God’s Kingdom will come and God’s will be done.  Amen.

Running Away?

As 2015 nears the finish line, I am ever grateful for the blessings the year has held. My extended family gathered to celebrate the life of my mom and the many gifts she bestowed on us before her death.  I completed five wonderful, challenging years of pastoral ministry at Resurrection Lutheran Church.   My practice of mindfulness meditation and prayer deepened as I focused on Paul’s prayer in Ephesians, “as you are being rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:17)

A weekly blessing that I too often take for granted is a group of runners who, as the miles roll on, have become friends.  We gather most Saturday morning at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church at 7:30, in summer and winter.  Some are always early, a couple are always late.   We greet one another, teasing whoever has new shoes or jacket.  Some stretch.  Others debate what to wear or what route to run.  Eventually we are out the door and the run begins.Jan 06 Group at GatewayWe always start the run together and kibitz about the past week. We joke that we are “running away from our problems.”   Occasionally there is big news to share, a daughter’s graduation or the loss of a job.  After a mile or two the group begins to break apart as the faster runners pull ahead.  Over the years our runs seem to be shorter.  The group started as a marathon training group, providing weekly long runs of 12+ miles.  Now we rarely run more than six to eight. Last Saturday it was five.

Participation has ebbed and flowed.  We have had more than a dozen runners show up, but more often it is four to eight.  In years past we had weekly e-mails, but now it seems to be texts and Facebook.

Mike Johnson 12

The blessings come in the friendships. Not only do we hold each other accountable for our physical exercise, but we genuinely care about each other. We celebrated when Mike Johnson completed twelve marathons in twelve months.  In mid-December we gather for our White Elephant Gift Exchange where our  zany personalities are in stiff competition to be creative.


McDonnell’s Medal Monument

Jim McDonnell always wins the prize.

Remembering Libby

Steve at Ragnar crop enhnancedThe camaraderie  came into clear focus this past year when one of our runners, Steve Libby, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February and died in May.  During his illness, we visited him or huddled up to pray before our morning run.  We organized a prayer service for him and shared Libby stories.  We grieved at his memorial service and we continue to remember the way Libby touched our lives.

As we approach the start of 2016, I wonder what the year will hold.  I will be starting my first interim ministry at Trinity in Lindstrom. I am contemplating hikes on the Superior Hiking Trail and the PCT.  I hope to make a trip south to visit my daughter in Texas.   And most Saturday morning, I plan to lace up my running shoes and join friends for a run.  Upon reflection, I realize that we run not away from our problems, but towards love and peace.

Go in peace.

Home for the Holidays?

My college was 3000 miles from my home.  Naturally I flew during the short winter break.   Once I was in Minneapolis for a connecting flight but a snow storm swelled and all flights were cancelled.   I remember looking out at the night, watching the snow swirl and wondering if I would get home for Christmas.

That memory has power today as I reflect on how many people in our world have no shelter.  The Syrian refugee crisis has made the homeless a daily part of our news cycle.   Economic and political refugees from Mexico and Central America continue to seek a home in our nation.  Aid agencies and churches seek to serve the homeless in our affluent cities.

Nativity by artist Shelia Diemert

And at the heart of my pondering is the story of Christmas itself.   A young couple forced by political powers to make a journey to Bethlehem.  There Mary gave birth to her son in a stable, because they had no place to stay.  A short time later the new family was forced to flee to Egypt because King Herod felt threatened, insecure.   Being homeless seems to be a key part of the ancient Christmas narrative.

Or at least it makes me ponder, just what is home?  Is it a place, a shelter, a palace or a shack?  Or a set of relationships?  As Robert Frost wrote, Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.   Or is home knowing your place in the universe?

As I read the Gospels, Jesus rarely had a permanent residence.  His early life in Nazareth is not described.  He himself said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).  What he did have was a network of friends, disciples, supporters, family.  And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34-35).

The value of home ownership in our society is clear.  I have supported Habitat for Humanity for years and have seen the power a house can have for a family. To be without shelter is tragic.   But a house is not always “home.”  As another old proverb says, Home is where the heart is.   Where we feel connected and loved and our fears dissipate.  Jesus probably felt at home wherever he went, because he lived connected to God and others.   That same interconnection is for all creation, including you and me.

Eventually that snow storm in Minneapolis passed and flights resumed to Seattle.   I made it home for Christmas and celebrated with family and friends.  Yet the memory of that layover serves as a reminder that I remain connected to Christ and others wherever I am.  My truest home rests in Christ Jesus.

Where do you find your truest sense of home?

Thankful For Resurrection

Even though I have resigned from Resurrection, I am so very thankful for the partnership we share together for five years.  I want to share a few of the memories I cherish.

I remember the Saturday before my first Sunday, November 14, 2010.  It started to snow heavily.   As I watched the snow I began to wonder, “Should I be worried about this?  Who plows the parking lot or shovels the walkways?  Do I need to contact them?”  After fretting for about an hour, I decided to call Tom Hansen, the interim pastor prior to my arrival.  He quickly reassured me, “Don’t worry, John.  Larry will plow the lot and clear the walks.”  Sure enough, when I arrived the next morning, Larry was finishing up the parking lot, clearing away the ten-plus inches of snow.   I have never worried about snow removal or property maintenance since.

Baptsim croppedBaptisms have been a blast!  I love holding each new member of the congregation and instructing the congregation that we have made a promise to the child: the promise to raise the child in faith in Jesus.

However the baptism that will always stand out for me was my first one.  It was for an adult, Jill Blissenbach.  I made sure the water was in the font, the baptismal promises  were on display slides, and the family was ready.  The only problem was that when it came time to do the actual baptism I completely forgot Jill’s name.  Fortunately she did not and graciously laughed with me at my mistake.

Worship Team from Resurrection Lutheran Church

Worship Team from Resurrection Lutheran Church

I remember with joy the children coming up to the front each Sunday for the Children’s message and their eagerness to share God’s love in their comments.   Several times the worship team moved me to visible tears with a song that touched my heart in a special way.  I remember preaching on the four soils from Jesus’ parable of the sower in Mark 4 and how each section of the church responded to being labeled a certain type of soil.   I particularly remember how excited the “good” soil section responded with smiles and a few “Yeahs!”

P6180395I remember the contagious enthusiasm for Vacation Bible Adventure, Camp Wapo and the High School Mission trip each summer.

Families make school kits during Faith In Action Sunday

Families make school kits during Faith In Action Sunday

I remember the energy and excitement of the Faith in Action Sundays when we served in the community in such diverse and meaningful ways.  “What happens at Resurrection leaves Resurrection.”

New Connections 6 - purpleAnd I remember the New Connections Campaign when we had to raise funds to pay for our connection to city sewer, a sign, and a building study.   The generosity of that campaign demonstrated for me that Resurrection can do great things when the members rally together.

2012-01-10_13-50-08_416I have left the most significant for last: the amazing relationship with staff, members, visitors and friends, each carrying the quantum energy of God’s love.  I will miss them.

The memories are rich and diverse, stretching deep into my life.  My decision to leave is NOT based on some deficiency in the congregation, but rather my changing spiritual focus and call.  I believe Resurrection has a great and joyous dance with Jesus coming soon.  I look forward to watching Resurrection become more fully alive in the months and years to come.

What is one of your favorite memories of your congregation?

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Growing up I confused wisdom and knowledge.   My grades were always at the top of the class. I loved the attention teachers and pastors gave me when I had the right answer.  I knew everything and I knew I was RIGHT.  But I was clueless in how this attention caused classmates to resent me.   I was not wise in how to keep friendships thriving.

7K0A0478In the Niebuhr’s Serenity prayer a key petition is to have the wisdom to know what can and what cannot be changed.  This is particularly true in human relationships.  I might desire my spouse, child or co-worker to change in some way, but I cannot make them change.  What I can change is how I interact with them.  I can choose to have the serenity to listen carefully to what the other is expressing.  I can have the courage to “speak my mind” or “to hold my tongue” depending on the context.    I will need wisdom in each situation in what I say or how I act.

IMG_3289I confess that at times I am unwise in my desire to be right.  I think I have the right perspective and the other person must be wrong.   And if I simply repeat myself enough time with varying intensity of voice, the other person will finally hear my perspective and agree.   I KNOW I am right, but I am not WISE in how I interact. Really, at time I can be clueless.

Jesus had the wisdom to know the difference.  He had the courage to confront the self-righteous Pharisees, but the tender compassion to heal a man on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6).

Slowly I am learning to let go of my need to be right.   I think the stronger, wiser course is to learn how to love the other, to listen and to be present to the other.  Wisdom grows one day at a time.

What kind of wisdom do you seek?

Lord Jesus, give me the wisdom to know how to act in love.

The Lap of God

Nearly forty years ago my wife-to-be introduced me to an image of God that has shaped my life ever since.  She wrote me a letter in which she described how God as king invited me into his great heavenly throne room. She described the room as filled with the beauty and wonder fit for a king and how at first I felt overwhelmed.  God then encouraged me to come right up to the throne (like a small child approaching his beloved parent).  With great love and warmth, God’s mighty arms picked me up and placed me on his lap, where I am safe, warmed and filled with love.

I think of that image each Christmas when we read from the beginning of John’s gospel and the coming of the Word of God, Jesus.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, (John 1:12)

Madonna and JesusI also imagine the inverse of the image when I read the Christmas story of Luke, when Jesus is wrapped in clothes and laid in a manger.  I don’t think the infant Jesus spent all his time lying in that manger.  Like any proud parent, Jesus was held in the lap of Mary and Joseph.   Not only are we invited to sit in God’s lap, but God invites us to hold his son when we hold a child of God in love.  As Jesus reminded his followers in his parable from Matthew 25,  And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

The image blazed with light again this past Sunday when I worshiped with my son and daughter-in-law at Christ Presbyterian Church.  Their evening service, called the Table, normally has communion, but for the fourth Sunday in Advent they had a candle lighting ritual instead.   On the platform steps there were placed over a hundred small votive candles and lighting sticks.  We were invited to come forward and light a candle as a sign that we are “waiting” for our savior.   I lit a candle with the rest of the family, but I noticed that my son did not return to the pew afterwards.  A few moments later my wife nudged me and pointed to the candles.  My son had returned to the sanctuary with our 2-year-old grandson, Jack.  My son was helping Jack light a candle.   Afterwards he and Jack came back to the pew and Jack opened his arms for me to hold him.  As we sang a Christmas carol of Emmanuel, God with Us, I felt tears of joy and grace fill my eyes and flow down my cheek.   I was being held in the lap of God, even as I was embraced by a tiny child of God.  O the wonder of God’s grace.

My wife Carolyn and I hold in our laps two children of God, Grace and Jack.

My wife Carolyn and I hold in our laps two children of God, Grace and Jack.

May you be held by the love of God in this Christmas season.

Lap Sitting

Yesterday was my mother’s 89th birthday.  She has been a resident in a memory care unit at the Woodbury Health Care Center for the past three years. We celebrated with cake, flowers and great-grandchildren. Moms 89 bday

Like many adult children with aging parents, I struggle how to best honor and love my mother at this stage of her life. Due to her many falls and dementia, my wife and I cannot take care of her at home.  Earlier in her life, when her dementia was just beginning, my siblings and I tried to talk with her about what living arrangements she would want as the disease progressed.  Like many in her generation, she did not want to discuss those issues, so my siblings and I did our best to find places that could care for her in a loving, humane way.

Now the dementia has progressed to the point where she no longer knows my name or relationship to her.  She cannot hold a conversation.  But she still smiles when I approach her and call her name.  She likes to have her hands rubbed and her arm stroked. She will occasionally look at pictures of her family. We can sing Happy Birthday together. She enjoys cake and ice cream.

Mom and GracePerhaps the greatest joy for her yesterday was holding her newest great-grandchild, Grace.  Mom did not fully comprehend who Grace was.  She could not say her name.  Yet I felt God’s grace surrounding her and us as she held her great-granddaughter.  Love flowed from each.

As I reflect on the moment, I take great hope in the knowledge that God is holding my mom in his lap.  And God is holding me and you as well.  We may not fully realize who we are as children of God, but God fully knows and cares.  God loves holds us even when we forget God’s name.  Someday God will call my mom (and me and you) home and only then will we fully know whose we are.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:12-13

Lord Jesus, hold me as your own.

Wedded To a Faithful Grand

Today Carolyn and I celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary.  I wrote about our romance a couple of years ago here. Though we have had our share of struggles, she continues to bring joy and love into my life.

Family Selfie

Family Selfie

One place where Carolyn excels is in her love of family, our children and grandchildren.  When our children were younger, she set aside her career as a pastor to give time and opportunities for our children, Jonathan, Suzanne and Christina.  She made sure our children had the best overall educational opportunities for each child, using a combination of public schools, private schools, public charter school and home schooling to provide the best learning environment for each of our three children.  She served as an informal college guidance counselor as each child flew from the nest to out-of-state colleges.

Grandparents and GrandkidsNow with two grandchildren, she has embraced her new role as “Grand” (grandmother) .  I know people who struggle or even reject the title of grandparent, since they see it as a sign of aging.  Carolyn has embraced her role, savoring every opportunity to interact with Jack and Grace.  I am so thankful that we are able to share in this honor together as grandparents and her devotion continues to teach and inspire me.  She sees this as part of her calling from God, to share the wonder of Jesus Christ with our children and grandchildren.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.  (2 Timothy 1:5)

Lord Jesus, thank you for Carolyn.

Cultivating Patience

I am in the midst of a preaching series called Foundational Attitudes; Developing the Mind of Christ. Yesterday the attitude was patience.  I Cor 13:4 Love is patient. I shared how my grandson Jack is helping grow in patience. He even taught me how to wait patiently at the doctor’s office prior to his cast being removed.

Jack Waiting Patiently (sort of).

Jack Waiting Patiently (sort of).


Looking back through my blog, I discovered that patience has been a growth area for me.  I have written about patience in several posts:

Patience and beyond January 2011

The Strength of Patience March 2011

The Happiness of Patience March 2011

Waiting for Patience  April 2013

From these it appears that I am a slow impatient learner!

Yet I also realize that patience is cultivated and grown over time.  It is not instantaneous. Yesterday I discussed how we cultivate patience in daily circumstances, with other people and with ourselves. .

Robert Roberts writes about this in his excellent book: The Strengths of a Christian (1984) in which he describes how we cultivate patience with other people – our neighbors in Christ.

Dwelling gladly in the presence of the neighbor does not often, or at first, come naturally to us, any more than dwelling gladly in the presence of God.  The neighbor is almost by Christian definition someone in whose presence it is difficult to dwell gladly.  .  .  . But worse than being boring, the neighbor may be positively repulsive in one way or another or may be in some need that requires attention, time or some kind of sacrifice. (P. 78)


So a peculiarly Christian answer to the question of how one goes about centering on one’s neighbor is this: Remind yourself, when you are impatient, that this is a brother or sister for whom Christ died, one who like you, is precious in the sight of God.  Look at the eyes, the skin, the mouth, and listen to the voice, and remind yourself that this is the flesh that God took upon himself in Jesus.  And so your gratitude to God is summoned up as a power of patience, and thus of love. (p 81)

When have you had to cultivate patience in your relationships with others?

Lord Jesus, teach me to cultivate patience by see you in my neighbor.