Monday, October 12, 2015


My friends and I were sitting around a table full of pizza in Fargo. We had just finished a Color Run, and were re-energizing for the rest of the day. It was mid-August, and I had known about my new call and relocation for about three weeks.

“Do you have to preach your first Sunday there?” one of them asked.

My eyes widened. “I don’t know,” I said. “I have no idea what I would even talk about.”

“You could talk about unpacking!” another friend chimed in. “The things you need right away, what you leave until later. Some things you don’t even really pack up.”

My friends are brilliant. I told them I was stealing that idea.

Over the past few weeks, people have asked how I am settling into town. Most of the time my response has something to do with how many boxes are still filling up my house. Depending on how the week is going, they could be anything from everywhere to mountains to manageable little piles.

Getting to know a place--and letting that place get to know you--is exactly like unpacking. There are skills and pieces of you that are needed immediately. Handshakes, smiles, organization, listening ears and open conversations are the toothbrushes and cereal bowls of starting in a new place. There are things that will take a little longer to find their place, and things that don’t necessarily need to be used right away because whatever they would accomplish is already being done. I have a hymnal still in a box at home because there are plenty here, and it’s not really needed.

Then there are the boxes that will stay right where they are for months or years before they are considered at all. Right now is not the time to figure out where they belong.

I don’t have everything, either, because I can’t do everything. No golf clubs will be unpacked, because I don’t play golf. I also shouldn’t accompany anyone on the piano. I don’t have that skill. I am happy to let others do both of those things, though.

It sounds like I am doing all of the unpacking, but you have things packed up, too. Any time you encounter someone new, they know nothing about you or how things work in your world until they’re shown. Just like unpacking, some of it will be displayed right away. Other pieces will take some time to be revealed. There are probably things that I won’t be trusted with until much later, and some things I will never discover.

Whatever happens, it's going to be an adventure. I’m excited to see just how this ministry will develop for everyone here as we all unpack what we have and determine where everything fits into this place that is the church.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Walking by Faith

I did look up the holiday dates online. 
Please forgive and/or correct me if they were reported wrong.


Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Light, will take place on Tuesday, December 16, through Wednesday, December 24, 2014. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is Wednesday, September 24, through Friday, September 26, 2014. Ramadan, the Islamic Revelation of the Qur’an, is Saturday, June 28, through Sunday, July 27, 2014. Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, is on Thursday, October 23, 2014. Easter, the Christian celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, is Sunday, April 20, 2014.

Why list all of these religion’s holy days together like this? Well, each of these religious holy days is not anchored to a particular day of the year. They’re based on other calendars or seasonal indicators. Like Easter, they can be early or late in a standard 365-day year.

Only one of them is celebrated with vacation days in the school systems, and Christmas is a federal holiday.

Christianity has enjoyed a place of privilege in our culture. In a country founded with religious freedom, this religion has had a little more freedom. The standard work week ran Monday through Friday, with Sundays and then Saturdays being considered weekends to be granted for personal refreshment and use. Even Wednesday evenings have been set aside in several school districts as days for faith education and instruction. It was easy to work in religious practice and commitment in a culture that automatically set aside Christianity’s special days.

This is slowly changing.

Work weeks are becoming less predictable as shifts are scheduled on a seven-day week. Sporting events, school trips, and practices are becoming less forgiving of faith-based absences as they begin to occur on weekends and holidays. Christianity is no longer given special space and treatment by the culture at large.

And here’s the thing—we shouldn’t have it.

Christianity should not be privileged in a culture that claims to be founded on religious freedom. Logically, that just makes sense. Whether that means bringing the status of other religions into equal privilege, declaring national vacation days for Rosh Hashanah or Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan), remains to be seen. In the meanwhile, we have to decide how to live today.

Rather than lament the loss of this cultural privilege and status, however, we need to learn to live faithfully in the world as it is. Just as other religions have learned to remain faithful without the advantage of having their worship days and holidays nationalized with vacation, we too need to learn how to make decisions when challenged on our time and priorities.

What does this mean? It means finding the strength to acknowledge that today’s culture does make us decide between church and other activities sometimes. Sunday mornings will have sports tournaments and church services. Wednesday evenings will have practices and Confirmation and youth group. Saturday nights will have late parties, and friends and relatives will take weekend trips to the lake or elsewhere at the last minute. Winter will happen. Alarm clocks will sound. Calendars will be double-booked.

This is not going to change—choices will always have to be made. Weekly Shabbat services take place on Friday nights, and I’ve yet to see a serious change made for the Jewish religion. Complaining about the loss of Sunday morning privilege will not help you attend more church, nor will it help you make it to more activities.

I will not tell you that it’s okay to skip church for a party or tournament or other activity.
I will also not tell you to skip the party or tournament for church.

I will tell you that this is a choice. I hope that acknowledging that this is a reality will help you address these choices in an intentional way—a way that recognizes faithfulness, reality, and balance.

Time is spent on priorities. Our actions reveal much more about us than our words ever could. They reveal to anyone watching what it is we value and believe. As we continue through Lent into Easter, we are called to reflect and evaluate what it is we believe and how we live that out.

Christianity has a position of privilege in our society. It is growing into a less privileged position—as it should in a culture based on equality. It is up to us to discern how we, without that special treatment, will walk through this life faithfully and intentionally.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why Inexperience is a Good Thing

Most people reading this have likely said or been told the reasons experience is helpful. Among other things, experience offers the benefit of having done something before and understanding how the next trial will go. Experience helps in understanding what’s superficial and what really matters.

Experience is valuable.
Inexperience can be just as valuable.

Obviously, inexperience is valuable in different ways, and that is the first of its benefits. Inexperience is completely different from experience, so it’s not in competition with it. In fact, the two really can complement rather than compete with one another if given the chance.

Beyond the simple advantage of balancing out experience, inexperience has benefits all on its own. Even the wisest beings can often see the merit in looking at the world from a new perspective.

Inexperience enables a fresh, new energy that allows the traditionally impossible to happen. Possibilities and options need to be explored and evaluated. Inexperience may respond and engage with rather than react to new scenarios.

You don’t know what you can’t do. Since you’ve never tried before, almost anything could be an option. Nothing is discarded because it didn’t work last time if there is no last time. Being inexperienced requires the imagination work to find creative solutions to questions and situations.

Adaptation is possible. If something doesn’t work, you can try something different. Of course, the negative side to this is the risk of changing something that others have worked on and offending someone in the process. The hidden landmines of tradition can be a great threat to inexperience. Step on one, and the whole situation can blow up in your face. However, if the experienced help and allow an occasional misstep, change and adaptation to new contexts and situations can occur.

Everyone has inexperience in something. It may be an idea you’ve always wanted to try, an art or activity you’ve wanted to learn, or a role you’ve wanted to volunteer to fill. Let inexperience work for you even as you work with inexperience.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cliches and Religion

This is a reflection about what we do when we say canned phrases but don't think them through. Words and phrases hold meaning, even if we don't intend to say what we say.

Clichés and Religion:
When good intentions go bad, or,
Say what you mean and know what you’re saying

I’ve caught myself using them up to ten times in a conversation. Quick little phrases that are easy to say and received without question because they’ve been used so many times they’ve lost any real meaning. “Beat around the bush.” “I can’t see the forest for the trees.” “It’s a drop in the bucket.” I say them often because they’re easy, quick, and generally accepted without question. Before I use a cliché, though, I have to think about what I really mean.

Words matter.

Most of the time, conversational clichés are relatively harmless if we think about the meaning behind them. However, we have religious clichés as well. Little slogans we say to ourselves and others, and they have a little more weight when we look at what we’re really saying.

To be clear, I honestly believe that when these clichés are used, no harm is meant by the person saying them. Usually we don’t consider the deeper meaning of clichés like these, but when we do, we can hopefully see that we need to pause and consider what we really want to say.


“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

This saying is the most common religious cliché I’ve heard in my life. It’s also the most concerning to me. It implies that God causes our suffering and struggles. This saying does not acknowledge the brokenness of our human world or the forces of the world that defy God. Pushed to the extreme, this saying holds a double standard on free will—that you as a human can handle it, but not that someone besides God did whatever it was that caused struggle. Worst of all, it discounts completely the individuals that the world does overwhelm with more than they can handle; those who take their own life to escape it. We live in a fallen and broken world. God walks with us in struggle and suffering, but does not cause it.

“Heaven needed another angel.”

This one is probably the most harmful saying I’ve encountered. Usually said when a child dies, it has some really awful implications and effects. While it’s often intended to comfort a family, it undermines the grief process by implying that they should be okay or even grateful that their loved one is gone. It also begs the question about all of the other potential angels who are still living on earth. Did heaven not want or need them? Of course not. Again, this saying disregards the brokenness of the world and claims that God is the source of all suffering.

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

Revenge. This one is more difficult, because it is in the Bible—four times. Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy talk about judgment and restitution for people who cause severe harm to another individual. The fourth instance is Matthew 5:38-41, where Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”

Jesus lived hundreds of years after the Law had been written, and certain sayings had become misinterpreted clichés. This one has morphed to where it can mean something as simple as “If someone hits you, hit them back.” Jesus reminds us that this is not the way or the intent of the Law.


I must restate that I truly believe that when these clichés are used, no harm is meant by the person saying them. In fact, most of the time help or comfort is intended in the midst of a confusing and often impossible situation. Clichés fill a space of silence when there aren’t words for the situation. However, even the best intentions can cause pain and harm. Some things can be worse than nothing. Sometimes a silent, comforting presence will be the best we can offer.

Clichés are nothing new. Jesus dealt with them in his life and teaching (as can be seen in the last cliché). The Apostle Paul had trouble with people using religious slogans, too. In his letter of I Corinthians, Paul quotes the phrase “All things are lawful” several times, but refutes it each time for this Corinthian Christian community. For example, I Corinthians 10:23 reads, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.”

Words matter. Are all religious sayings harmful? Hopefully not. However, we do need to really consider what we’re saying when we use them. “We are both saint and sinner” is a common saying. It acknowledges human nature, but it's an explanation, not an excuse, for when we mess up. “We are saved by grace through faith,” but we are not to cheapen that gift and our identity by forgetting about the needs of the world and just doing whatever we want.

Words matter. We communicate what we believe with our words and actions, and we need to care for that gift of communication. We need to be aware of what we’re saying and how we say it. It matters.