Monthly Archives: March 2015

Weekend Word (3/18): National Championship Edition

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. ~ Jeremiah 29:11

I love this time of year: National Tournament time.  It’s the biggest stage, the biggest moment for a college wrestler.  Last week, I loved watching two of my home state Minnesota team, Augsburg College and St. Cloud State University, win the NCAA Division III and II team championships last weekend.  And now, here you all are, at the Division I championships, the biggest tournament we have in our sport (in my opinion).

I want to say this to you: as big as the tournament is this weekend, it will not be the biggest moment of your life.  It will not be the defining moment of your life.  God has bigger plans for you and you are and will be capable of so much more.    The person that God has created and continues to form you to be – that is what will define you.  God’s call and purpose for your life – that is what will define you. Your life is so much bigger than one weekend of wrestling – although a really big and important one.  God has plans for you that will be greater and more joyful than anything you’ve ever known.

So where does that place the Tournament in your life this weekend?  It’s as I’ve always said – a tremendous opportunity to do something that God has given you the gifts to do.  It is a moment to live into a God-given passion to enjoy and find joy in.  It is a weekend and experience to savor and relish – not live in anxiety and fear from the pressure – because it is a rare opportunity that so few have experienced.  And that is what I would call a blessing.

Get after it this weekend on the Big Stage.  Go pursue those dreams.  Just know that God has a bigger dream for you and this moment is just one of many blessings God will place in your life.

I write these devotions for the Old Dominion University Wrestling Team, which competes in NCAA Division I.  


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No Choice is Giving Them a Choice: Parents, Youth, & Church

I had lunch the other day with one of the 80 year-old “shut-ins” in one of my congregations.  It was a routine visit, primarily just to check up on her since I hadn’t seen her in a while.  She sweetly asked if I could bring over a pizza because she had been “craving it for a couple of weeks now.”  That probably gives you an indication of the kind of person she is; needless to say, I really enjoy our visits and I often walk away with little nuggets of wisdom.

As what typically happens with all my visits to my older congregations, the topic of conversation wandered towards the lack of young people in the church, and their reflection on their own children and grandchildren’s journey back to the church….or distance from it.  In the midst of our conversation, this wonderful, sweet lady reported to me her son and his family finally had found a church they were comfortable in, after years of searching.  “I’m happy for them,” she said.

And then she offered one of those nuggets of wisdom I so value, “My son always told me when he was growing up and even into adulthood how I never gave him the choice to go to church or not.  But I told him, how could you ever make a choice if you didn’t have a reference to choose from?  By making you go and participate in the church, I was giving you that reference…so you knew what you’d be choosing later on.”

By not giving her son a choice….she gave him a gift –  the freedom to make an informed choice later on.

As someone who’s worked with youth and families, I see this desire to give their kids choice play out with parents.  They let their kids decide if they want to participate or not – which is just the notion of faith being a personal choice being played out between parents and their kids.  It was a personal choice for them… it stands it should be for their kids.

Parents, in case you didn’t know, you are the most influential persons when it comes to your son or daughter’s faith life.  The NSYR, the largest study done on youth and faith, says this.  There are lots of articles like this that reinforce that finding.  And, there are Youth Ministry consultants like Rich Melheim at Faith Incubators that will tell you the same thing.  Shoot, even ask your local youth director or youth pastor.  You get the point: you have influence over your kids’ faith formation.  If it’s important to you, then it will be important to them.

But I think most parents still want their kids to choose.  Parents these days don’t want to be those overbearing figures in their kids’ lives, making their kids do something that actually is only important to them.  No parent wants to be that psycho parent that we often see in the stands and sidelines of sporting events, pushing their kid the whole time while their kid simply hates it and goes through the motion – only to quit once they have the freedom to do so.  Parents think the same about their kids and church too, I believe.

Yet, what if parents understood, like this 80 year-old congregant of mine, that not giving their kid the choice to attend church now actually will equip them to make an informed, intelligent choice later on?  For her, it wasn’t an imposition on her son; it was exposing him to the witness and testimony of what the church is and can be for his life.  Through the church, she hoped her son would see the role the church plays in testifying and embodying God’s presence and ongoing work in his life.  By insisting her son be exposed to the church, he would know what church was all about, so that he could make that choice for himself and for his family later on.

I think such a message to parents does two things: one, it empowers them to make a choice for their children while still maintaining that freedom of choice for them.  It empowers them to live into what all the studies and experts tell us about parents’ importance in the faith formation of their kids.  Yet there is also another message, one I think that might be more powerful: two, it demands that the church’s role in youth ministry is primarily about testimony and witness rather than assimilating youth into the beliefs, rituals, and practices of the church in order to gain their loyalty later on.  Think about it: if youth and family ministry is about the latter, then we actually end up not giving our kids a choice at all…..and in a culture where choice is valued by parents and kids alike – they might just walk away for good.

The former, however, becomes and invitation to come and see.  We don’t know how and if their experience of church will take hold in their lives at the present, but we trust the Holy Spirit to work in them, and when the moment happens, in that prior experience of witness and testimony…….they will be equipped to make a choice.

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The Monday Morning Preacher (3/9)….& one other point of business.

Text: Matthew 22:1-16

It was another of the “Kingdom of Heaven” parables.  This time, it was the wedding feast that the King invited the first round of guests to, they blew him off, and so the King pulled people off the streets to fill the banquet.  Then there’s the one weird dude who decides not to dress up, and finds himself getting thrown out.

There’s a lot of things going on in this parable – but I think in some ways it speaks to what a lot of older folks (in other words, most of them) are wondering these days: “Why doesn’t my son/daughter/grandkids/family go to church?”

I think they’re like the first wave of guests at the banquet….there’s just a lot of things competing for their time.  And while it’s a conscious choice on their end, I don’t see it as an all-out snub at God and the church.  It’s simply a matter of too many choices….and church is losing out.

Now why is that?  I think we in the church have a tendency to think that being at church is “the big party.”  But I’m not so sure that’s what people see.  They see a lot of people going out of obligation and old habit.  They hear about how we’ve been the ones to stay “faithful all these years.”  But I’ll tell you what: the cows on my farm growing up were just as faithful coming to the feed trough at 7am every morning, regardless if there was feed there or not.  My point: habit and just “showing up” doesn’t equate to a relationship with God, and experience of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

Yet I think we’ve all had them…..those experiences of the Kingdom, and in church no less.  In fact, I’m willing to bet that’s why people keep coming back week after week, time after time.  It’s why they’re dedicated to the churches they love so much.  There’s a story there – where God and the Kingdom broke into your life while you were within the confines of the church; the walls or the community of faith.  You were once that person standing on the street during the second round of invites, and found yourself standing there in the great banquet hall, and with a nice suit or dress on no less.

I think the challenge and call for us is to tell that story – our story.  Stories of redemption, hope, grace and forgiveness, care and healing….stories of Jesus and his love.  They’re stories in which we’ve experienced the Kingdom of Heaven in the church, and it’s why we keep coming back.  And I think if we share that…..something will happen.  God will work his invitation to the party through our stories….and who knows?  Maybe people will start sticking around, just like you.

So, what’s your story?  I encourage you to think about it this week – “why do you go to church?  What experience with the Kingdom have you had within the walls of the church, or the boundary of the community?  

And share that story with someone this week, if you’re feeling brave.  And, feel free to share it in the comments here; folks would love to hear.

On an unrelated note:  For my small, but dedicated readers, I am taking a break from blogging routinely for awhile.  I realize I’m getting very little interaction and traffic on here.  While I love to write for you all, there are a lot of things on my plate, and this is one of those things I may need to step back from.  I hope you’ll understand….may God be present always in powerful and wonderful ways!

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Weekend Word (3/5): “A Song of Quiet Trust”

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.  But I have calmed and quieted my soul……O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.” ~Psalm 131:1-2a; 3)

The title of this Psalm in my bible is “Song of Quiet Trust.”  I might rename it the “Song of Pre-Tournament & Match preparation.”  I remember getting pretty amped up before important competition…..the lights, the crowd, the atmosphere, knowing what’s at stake.  I’d both thrive and get paralyzed by it at the same time.
This psalm calls us to trust and hope in God…..because God and our relationship with him is so much bigger than moments like end of season tournaments.  The looming competition doesn’t seem so large in the face of the role God plays in our lives.  We don’t get caught up in all the “too great and marvelous things” we cannot control, but rather find a quiet, yet strong confidence to do the task in front of us: the next takedown; the next escape or reversal; winning the whistle on top and getting that riding time built up….score the next point.
May you find that quiet strength and resolve in God for the weekend ahead…..and in your life beyond it.
I write these devotions for the Old Dominion University Wrestling Team, currently ranked #17 in the nation in NCAA Division I.

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The Monday Morning Preacher (3/2): “Caught up in the Kingdom of Heaven”

The text for yesterday was Matthew 22:1-16.

A quick question for you: “What would it mean to get caught up in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

I think that’s a hard question…..hard because we don’t really know or see the Kingdom of Heaven in our weekly lives perhaps.  But I figure, let’s take a stab at it.  The parable in Sunday’s text really isn’t about the laborers in the vineyard…’s about the generosity of the landowner.  It’s about the graciousness of a landowner who gives everyone a portion enough to live on – sufficient for the day.

Maybe to get caught up in the Kingdom of Heaven is to get caught up by this reality of God’s generosity and graciousness…..a grace that the apostle Paul writes was told to him to be “sufficient for him.” (2 Cor. 12:9a, paraphrase mine) Does the reality of God’s generosity and graciousness to all of us, regardless of status, take hold of us?  If so, in what ways does it take hold of us?

I’d love for you to share in either a comment on this blog or on social media about how God’s generosity and grace is taking hold of you this week!  Get caught up in the Kingdom of Heaven this week!

For some extra motivation: I shared this story on Sunday, a modern-day parable of what the “Kingdom of Heaven is like…..”

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