Monthly Archives: October 2013

10 Things I Learned About Young Adults + 1″Bonus”

For the past 3 years, I coached wrestling at Augsburg College, a small ELCA college in Minneapolis. That time has given me the gift of hanging out with young adults – wrestlers, in specific. Because of the nature of the sport and the coach-athlete relationship, I’ve learned some important lessons about young adults and their lives.

1. Athletes are typical young adults. If you grew up disliking athletes/athletics in school and still do, I’d say get past it. The only thing “typical” about young adults is that they don’t fit any mold – and don’t wish to for the most part.

2. Young Adults are easy to love, but can be really hard to like. I love my athletes like little brothers and sons even….but they piss me off too. They miss practices, make excuses, their fail classes, they sell themselves short, etc.

3. Young adults are ideological – which is both good and bad. They’ll say some profound and great things, and some boneheaded and insensitive things too.

4. Young adults are gonna “do what they do,” in the words of one of my wrestlers. Which means to me, stop trying to convince them of whatever YOU think is important for them.

5. It takes A LOT of time and effort to earn their trust…..

6. ….and the best way to do that is simply be yourself around them.

7. Young adults like knowing you’re a person of deep faith – even if they’re not. Go ahead and talk about it; just don’t proselytize. (See #5 & 6)

8. Young adults are dealing with a ton of stuff in their lives…..but they won’t tell you.

9. But if you’re paying attention to the non-verbal cues, and you simply ask – they will.

10. Young adults can be some of the most insecure and fearful people I know – and they’ll do just about anything to cover it up. Wrestlers are the worst offenders, I’ve found.

And, the “bonus insight.”

“Young adults” hate being called “young adults.” To the older generations’ question of “how do we get young people (adults) back in church?” a friend of mine replied, “Stop calling us young people.”

Maybe if we simply starting seeing them as people – meaning we accept them on their terms, and also hold them accountable for their action/inaction or words/silence, the divide wouldn’t exist so much.

Because when I come to think of it, I don’t think of any of the athletes I’ve coached as “young adults.” They’re simply my athletes…they’re simply people living, trying to make their way in this world, and at times trying to make sense of it – just like you and me.

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Filed under Children, Youth, Family & Young Adult Ministry

My First Synod Ministerium Conference: Some thoughts…

Last week, I got a dose of reality that I am a pastor: Synod Ministerium Conference, or also known to some as a gathering of pastors. It was good overall; networking, getting to know folks, and of course, wrestling with things that were said and their implications for ministry.

1. The church has a language problem. An insider language problem to be exact. Words like “justification, sanctification, evangelical, stewardship,” and even words like “love, grace” hold all sorts of meanings and in some cases, come with a lot of baggage as well. These are words that “insiders” understand (or do they?), but those outside the church tradition/institution have all sorts of misconceptions about, or no clue at all.

We have to be better translators of these words. I don’t think it’s helpful to throw them out, just as it’s not helpful to simply keep hammering them into people until they “get it.” We have to translate them in a way the world will get their meaning. That means understanding context matters. Think of it this way: translation is the work of the church that participates in the Word of God speaking to the world, today.

2. There is no “social gospel” or “evangelical gospel.” It’s just the GOSPEL. Frankly I’m tired of the arguments and critiques on this one. In fact, I think it’s a nonissue for outside the church institution. Yes, I get that the social gospel implies that human action is equal to God’s action, and that’s problematic. Yes, I get people need to hear about what God does for them in Christ – the evangelical gospel.

But sometimes “good news” comes in the form of feeding – like 5 loaves and two fish. Sometimes gospel is heard through the words, “I found you a job” or “You have health care.” I think Lutherans overdo the “works righteousness” thing to a fault sometimes – and it leads to inaction. But, God is a God of ACTION. God loves, God forgives. Christ heals, Christ feeds. Christ died, Christ rose from the dead.

If we still believe that God is present and active in and through the world today, why is it so hard to believe that perhaps God might be working through our actions? I agree, our actions are inadequate and will not bring about total salvation in any way – only God alone can do that. But our action witnesses to the reality of a God who acts, to the good news that God actually is concerned with the reality of the world here and now, and we get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God – where God is breaking into the world today, and a taste of the fullness of what God in Christ will bring.

Moreover, a church that enters deeply into the deep reality of suffering, injustice, and problems of the world – no matter how complicated or messy they might be – is being a church of the cross. It is a church that points to God’s presence in a suffering, injust, problem-filled world, and action to raise it to new life.

3. Partnerships are vital for the 21st Century church. I’m always energized by conversations about what other people are doing and thinking about. I’m not great at creating on my own, but rather, I’m one of those guys that can play off other’s imaginations and ideas. Like a musician who perhaps “fills in the notes” on the page, I love partnerships because sometimes, I need a sheet of music to get me going, to give me something to play, but in a particular way in my context.

And, I think in this day and age where the church is facing the reality of having to do “more with less,” partnerships are great, because we can also find ways to share resources. We can share information. We can help people find faith communities that draw them deeper into relationship with God, rather than be forced to try to fit them awkwardly into our own.

If our motivation as the church and in ministry is to draw people into a deep and meaningful relationship with God, then why would it matter where that happens? We rejoice…even if we don’t derive direct benefit from it. Partnerships are great….and perhaps seeking them out will energize people and congregations who are honestly, feeling a bit exhausted at being church these days.

Well, there’s where I’m at. Lots to wrestle with, and now that I’m a pastor serving two congregations, that wrestling really matters now. And I’m thankful for that!

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Wisdom from the Mat: Perseverance

I remember this time of the year well from my days in college: fall practice season.

You wouldn’t think it, but it’s honestly one of the hardest times of the year in the sport – you’re starting school, learning a new class schedule, learning new people, and on top of that, practices and training are brutal with two-a-day workouts and getting your body back in competition shape. Then there’s the reality that competition won’t start for another one, two months for some. So it’s the same thing, day after day…a grind.

And I remember as a freshmen, that got compounded by the reality of homesickness, that I hadn’t seen my family and wouldn’t see them for awhile. While other students at other colleges got fall breaks, I didn’t at the Naval Academy, and even if I did, I’d have to stay at school and train anyway.

I am reminded of this fact when I think about my little cousin as a freshmen at the University of North Dakota. And I was also reminded of this fact when I was in the wrestling room at Old Dominion University, and saw it in the faces of some of the wrestlers. (Side note: I find it interesting how people wear those emotions so openly, if you take the time to pay attention just a bit)

So what is one to do in such a time? Persevere.

Ok, that isn’t a very “sexy” word, and maybe that seems too cliche. I suppose it’s because perseverance is often thought of as enduring some sort of punishment that has no discernible end in sight. But I guess I don’t see it that way.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” ~Hebrews 12:1-2a

This passage highlights a couple things for me:

1. You’re not alone. No one is an island. And the lie a lot of us buy into in our hearts and minds is that when things aren’t going well, we’re left isolated and alone; no one cares, and no one can help. And we actually become self-fulfilling prophesies because in those feelings of isolation and lonliness, we just further pull away from people. But you’re not alone. Perseverance happens with others, “a great cloud of witnesses,” and needs to happen with others. Know there’s people going through the same things as you, and people there to support you – and be honest with you when you need to hear that word – but sincerely support you. Voicing those feelings of isolation and loneliness isn’t weakness, it’s honesty. And I’ve learned that once you can be honest with people, it’s a whole lot easier to move on…to persevere.

2. Goals and Vision are important. Or said another way: “Remember why you came here.” I was told that when I was at the Naval Academy, and I tell athletes I coach and mentor today. Remember why you came here. Remember what you fell in love with. Remember those dreams you had on your first visit, and the day you committed to your college decision. Remember why you love the sport. Remember that the first competition isn’t that far off.

If you have to, write those goals/visions/dreams down. Start a countdown to that first competition. Put them next to your bed, or on the mirror in your dorm so you look at them everyday. But know there’s a goal, and end, and keep it in sight; all your hard work is leading somewhere. That’s what faith is: trusting that what you believe to be true will indeed, come to be true.

Perseverance is the sign of a growing, strong faith.

I’ve found that to be true not only on the wrestling mat, but in my life as well – there are those “down” times when the end seems far away, when our dreams and goals, and even the things and ones we care about seem so far out of reach. But this time is forming you, preparing you to truly live and enjoy that time when the end comes – when you see your loved ones, when those dreams and goals are realized. It was awesome when I put on that Navy singlet for the first time; and I truly enjoyed the times I saw family, but knew the supported me from afar. And, when I reached out to those around me, I’ve formed some of the best and lasting friendships and relationships with teammates and coaches; coworkers and mentors.

And, perseverance has deepened my faith in a God who in Jesus Christ deals with me graciously when in those times I feel tempted to give up, and who I’ve found to be with me in and through those moments and trials – on the mat, and in life.

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“10 Lepers walk into a bar…..”: an issue of Healing vs. Wellness

My sermon from this past Sunday…one I’m particularly proud of. It’s on Luke 17:5-10.

Every time I hear this story from our gospel this morning, this thought pops in my head: “10 lepers walk into a bar, and only one comes out. Why?” Sounds like the opening line of a riddle that’s about to be either really really bad or really really inappropriate, right?
Anyway, I still find myself asking: “Why?” Why did the one leper go back, and why do the other 9 return to the priest? Why does Jesus commend the one who came back to him, and honestly, why is he any better off than the other 9 for doing so?
This week, another question came up for me: “Is there a difference between being healed and being made well?”

I’m not sure how many of you can recall the letter I sent to you a couple weeks ago before my arrival. To recap: I mentioned a former wrestler of mine, a 3x National Finalist, a 3x All-American at Augsburg College, a small liberal arts college in Minneapolis where I coached wrestling the past 3 years. I was serving communion to the bishop, the senior pastor & the pastor who preached at my ordination service while the rest of the congregation waited. And my wrestler came up, unprompted, and stood right next to them to take communion.
Now, along with all the confused looks, my wrestler got the hint that he was doing things out of turn , and started to apologize. I told him no need, and what was going on, he said, “Sorry coach, it’s just you said that everyone was welcome to come to the Table, and I thought, ‘What’s everyone waiting for?’ So I just came up.”
That moment was the highlight of my ordination, and it was awesome because my wrestler just a few months ago, “converted” to the faith, as he puts it. But I wonder if it wasn’t so much a “conversion,” so much as he himself being transformed, being made well.
You see, my wrestler grew up in a pretty rough neighborhood in Florida, where there was drugs, gangs, and violence that usually put you in prison or you ended up dead. And so, the rules were pretty simple: you had to survive. That meant keeping your distance, being tough & strong, and fighting off anything that threatened to weaken that survival mechanism.
Because of that attitude and his environment, my wrestler was by no means a saint. He did and said things that wouldn’t be considered good by many on the outside. But the thing is, he knew it too. And when it came to religious folks, to that community, he knew the rules: he wasn’t “clean enough.” He wasn’t “healed.” He wasn’t good enough, he didn’t do the right things to be part of that community.
That has been how my wrestler has lived, at least until his “conversion.” Now he comes up for communion unprompted. He is posting all over Facebook how much he loves God and Jesus. He sends me text messages saying “good morning and God bless.” He spends his time coaching and working with young kids and wants to be a mentor for them. Now he lives at peace with himself and others, without limits or barriers.
And that question comes up for me, for others, “WHY?” WHY THE CHANGE?

I think about this gospel story today, and I can’t help but think that there is a difference between healing and wellness. Because while all 10 lepers are healed, only one turns back. And that tells me two things:
One, healing is something that Jesus does for all of us, it’s not something that’s withheld, or is a divine reward for good behavior. And that is good news, that in Jesus’ love and mercy, God can and will heal us in all our cries for mercy.
But I wonder, how often do we make healing to be some sort of “rule” or “barrier” in order to be part of the community? You have to be healed, and you have to show yourself to the priest and prove you’re healed, in order re-enter the community.
And I wonder, how often do we make our faith communities like that? You have to believe and behave the “right way,” you have to follow a certain set of rules in worship, or in a meeting. You have to prove you are “clean,” that you’re “healed,” that you’re “Christian.”
And I wonder, if the one leper doesn’t turn back because he realizes that a community built on a system where one has to be healed and clean enough to be part of the community, isn’t really community at all.
Because in such a life, he’d always be striving to maintain that level of healing and cleanliness, of righteousness. He’d always live in the anxiety he could end up and outsider again, and perhaps, no matter how hard he tried to follow the rules, that’s something he couldn’t prevent from happening.
And honestly, is that any way to live?

So, this one Samaritan leper turns back to Jesus. And Jesus proclaims to him to “get up and go, your faith has made you well.”
And right there, perhaps that’s the difference between simply being healed and being made well: FAITH.
It is faith, trust in Jesus’ love and mercy that is offered to us freely, unconditionally; with no rules or barriers, and no strings attached. It’s a love and mercy that draws us into God’s community – a much more inclusive and wider one, where all that’s required is YOU – you with all your flaws and gifts, your ills and healing. YOU – as both saint and sinner…is all that’s required to live in community with God, and in the community of all God’s people.

And so, “that’s why.” That’s why the Samaritan leper turns back, why my wrestler’s had his conversion to faith, and perhaps why you’re here today. Perhaps you feel like outsider in need of mercy; the old way is no longer an option. And rather than needing to be fixed – to be healed – what you really need is to hear your are loved, forgiven, and you, both the saint and the sinner, JUST YOU, is enough.

In short, you need to be made well.

And for those of us who have experienced God’s wellness in the love and mercy and grace of Jesus Christ, I wonder if God is also inviting us to consider if this church, this community, is a place of healing or of wellness.
Is the church a place of therapy, where the goal is to perhaps “fix” people, make them Christian, or make them morally better or righteous? Is it a place of rules and barriers that determine that your standing in the community, if you’re in or you’re out, diseased or healed.
Or, is the church a place where people experience God’s inclusive love and grace and mercy. Is it a place where people simply come, because they are welcome in the first place – damaged goods and all. And so they come because in this place, this community, they trust they will experience God’s love and grace that heals all people…..they come in faith – to be made well.

And so today, as Jesus certainly commands that Samaritan leper to “get up and go on you way,” and so commands us in the same way, let us first and always rejoice in the blessing that in Christ, we are already healed by God’s inclusive love and grace and mercy. And it is our faith and trust in that, that truly transforms us each day, making us new. Making us well. Amen.

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