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Yes, Christmas is Coming — That is a good thing!

November 6, 2014 2 comments

wpid-IMG_20140119_144828.jpgEvery year we get to this time of year and two things happen:  People start playing music and other people start complaining about it.  It generally strikes me as funny how Christmas decorations start to whip people in a frenzy.  It is as if they have suddenly realized that this holiday is now coming and there is so much to do.  I am one of the people they are annoyed with because I have embraced fully the season of Christmas.  In fact, I look forward to it all year.  I do this because it brings such excitement to our home (and also there are cookies)  At the same time, I tend to keep it simple when it comes to Christmas.  We set a budget and we stick to it.  We do not use credit cards for gifts.  We don’t waste time trying to impress people because they know better anyway. We just enjoy the season.  There is no reason getting stressed out and maxed out in debt in order to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  In fact, I think it misses the point of the whole season.

Jesus Christ came as a baby in a most humble way, to extremely ‘insignificant’ people and the world has never been the same.  What are we to learn from that?  I think it comes down to two salient truths:  1)  Focus your heart on gratitude and worship and 2) Take time with people over time with stuff.

Focus your heart on worship and gratitude

The point of our lives is God’s glory.  We exists for His glory.  When we remember this, it makes each day significant for us.  I realized that my life is in His hands and my heart leaps with joy.  This is the heart of this season.  God did not just leave us alone in our sin; He came so that He would die for the people (even me and you) that rejected Him.  It is amazing that Christmas actually has very little to do with pickled herring.  (and that is probably a better thing than I would like to admit)

Take time with people over time with stuff

We have spent time over the past few years helping family and friends not buy us gifts.  We would much rather spend time doing something with people than receive a package in the mail.  Sure we get our kids a few gifts, but we save more money for things we can do throughout the year as a family.  This actually creates a better overall family atmosphere and sets up our family time as important and an integral part of our entire year.

So Christmas is coming and yes it is a good thing.  Who knows maybe your humble Christmas might be the one Christmas you remember for the rest of your life and aren’t paying off for the same period of time.

A Little Appreciation

October 22, 2014 2 comments

I know this is pastor appreciation month, but I really don’t want to make too big a deal of that.  It is not that I don’t want to be appreciated, but rather that I feel like I don’t need any extra attention.  Many people show appreciation all year long to me and those notes of encouragement are very helpful in keeping my head on straight sometimes.  It is real special when something is received from a child – a child who decided to write a few things down about their pastor and leave it on his desk.  I get excited about things like that because a little appreciation helps me see that important connections are being made with the children in the church.  That, to me, is one of the greatest compliments and affirmations of my ministry I could receive.  Thank you!

IMAG0547

Our Pastor is Compassionate

Beyond Children’s Church

September 25, 2014 4 comments

It involves a change of attitude, which comes from small, intentional steps.  That is what I keep telling myself with the attitude toward some people in the church toward children.  I have been in churches where they actually said “let’s get the kids out of here so it is quiet”  Sometimes the church brags about having children’s church for the kids, but it really is for the adults.   In my own ministry, I have fought the notion of “keep the cookies in the basement” and “children should be busy during worship so they are not bored.”  That drives me crazy because if you give a kid a cookie, he will ask for a glass of milk, sure, but just let them eat it wherever he wants and if you are encountering God in worship, kids will not be bored.   We must go beyond children’s church!  I often talk with the kids during the sermon or intentionally share something that will connect with them as well.  But then again all of that only comes because I take time to be with the kids relationally.   More adults need to do this.  Talk with kids. Have a snowball fight, go fishing, throw a football around — whatever it takes.  Show interest in them and remember their names.  It makes what you say much more meaningful to them.

The ChurchOne of the big shifts has been creating a small group that is for families.  What I mean is not that we have kids there and they do some sort of craft on their own away from the adults, but we have the kids and adults together the entire time.  We play games together, eat a snack, pray together, and talk about what God is doing in our lives.  This past time we spent time making notes for the shut-ins in our church and have ministered to them through that.   The group teaching is geared at the kids, but the adults find the time to be encouraging for them also.  Their kids are talking about God’s Word together!  Is this not what the Church is supposed to be?

Perhaps one of the most telling events was our baptism service.  We used a water tank for cattle and set it all up outside. This tank was a nice looking pool.  That day was a hot day so keeping the kids out of it was very difficult.  But after we were done with the baptism, the kids went in, some of them in their clothes.  We maintained the respect for what baptism is and made sure we exalted God in it.  But once that was over with, it was time to get wet. This is just another piece, I feel, that makes what we are about as the Church authentic and inviting for kids.  This is important because if it isn’t authentic and inviting for kids, they will most certainly check out.  But if we can get them to understand that the Church is them, now, then perhaps they will grow to be an active part of it.

So, I wonder — are there specific ways your church has tried to connect with children beyond children’s church?

The Lego Jar (9/20/14) – Summer Winds Down — Fishing Winds Up

September 20, 2014 2 comments

I have not done a Lego Jar post in a while simply because my time has been limited.  The who idea of the Lego Jar was to design a post that gave me a chance to write about all the various random events that take place.  There has been no shortage of random around here, I assure you.  I thought I would share a few pieces of the summer, mainly the fishing that we did.    The problem is that I did not catch too many fish when I went with the kids this year.  I wonder why? scenery

The summer season has wrapped up, school has started, and the nightly battle for homework has begun.  Don’t you just love the fall?   Thankfully with the fall weather comes even more time for fishing, since I am trying to get my fishing day count up.  I feel like I am making up for the years on Cape Cod that I didn’t get to fish too much.  Yes, there was water on the Cape, but I had younger children.  Taking younger kids fishing is as fun as tying knots all day long because that is what you do.  Take a kid fishing and you will know what I mean.  For an extra amount of fun, take a couple of kids fishing in a canoe!  Thankfully we have done that this year many times and have had pretty good success with it.

canoeOur most recent trip was on a canoe trail that took us onto the Mississippi River and then back.  After my boys got over the fact that there were big boats out there, they enjoyed the time.   There were a few fish and very little complaining.  Usually no fish means a lot of complaining.  My kids are growing up!

barge

We stayed away from this one

The thing about fishing with kids is that they want to keep every fish that you catch.  In their mind every fish is a keeper.  Now that I think about it, I do have a Northern Pike head in my freezer yet.  That was not to be eaten, but to be shown around as proof that we actually catch more fish than the little ones.

no keeper

This is the time of year when apples are starting to be more available.  We were able to press some cider recently.  The problem we ran into was that there were two bulls in the field that we did not know were there.  All of a sudden there they were.  It was a dramatic time for my 7 year old son who screamed “I’m too young to die”  Needless to say, they don’t want to go pick apples in the pasture anymore.

Some people have asked me how the kids have done with the transition.  I would say after a full summer of fun and a new school year that is underway, they have adjusted well.  I was at a cafe for breakfast with the two older boys and they said to me “dad, I feel like I know everyone in this town.”   I wonder how many people they will know after we have been here an entire year.  Such is life in a small town.

As I wrap this up, I have been asked twice if we can go fishing today.  Is that not what it is all about anyway?  Each season has its own unique rhythm to it, but all of the seasons have fishing attached to them.   Time to get on with it.  After all, the only way you catch fish is by fishing.

camp

At family camp

A Monday Above

September 15, 2014 4 comments
It's a great day!

It’s a great day!

The world is a tough place.  I don’t need to convince you of that.  There are significant and real terrorist threats around the world today; these are poignant reminders to be vigilant.  This September 11th was the first year we really had an in depth conversation with our oldest son, who is 10 years old.  Watching video of the events that took place 13 years ago are quite fresh to all of us who watched it unfold that day and tough to explain to a child.  There is something in us that still cannot comprehend the evil that needs to be present in a life to intentionally target innocent people.  It rattles us and brings out emotions that are not able to be adequately described.

Terrorism is a insurmountable challenge in the world today.  Peace is hard to come by.  But most people don’t walk around worrying about what ISIS is doing or whether or not we will be attacked by some outside group today.  What is on most people’s minds everyday is daily life.  The kids are sick, the dog ran away, the car won’t start and the mortgage is due.  The battle that most people are facing is an internal one that constantly nags at us about inadequacy or frustration over missed opportunities.   Of course it seems like there is always some other unforeseen situation that comes up, especially during a busy week.   How do we keep our minds in the right place?

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” – Colossians 3:1-2

Why do I set my mind on things above?  Because Jesus Christ is there and He is greater than all I will face today.  I need to think above because it is the only hope I have.

We were driving back from somewhere recently and my daughter, who is almost 3 years old now, was singing the song “Give me your eyes” by Brandon Heath.  “Give me your eyes for just one second.  Give me your eyes so I can see.  Everything that I keep missing.  Give me your heart for humanity”  She had no idea what she was signing, but it brought me back to where I need to be.  There are plenty of places for our mind to dwell.   There are plenty of selfish priorities that I have each day.  Keeping my mind above will keep my mind off of my own problems and position me to do all that God might have for me to do so I don’t miss out.  Thinking above might allow me to love someone today that I might have otherwise ignored.  Thinking above might position me in a place that will allow the love of Christ to be shown through me to my neighbors and community.

Today is Monday.  While that might not be great news for you, maybe what can make it better is a perspective that keeps Jesus in view and your position with Him. I guess we just need to keep our eyes in the right place and maybe keep asking God for His eyes.  What a difference we could make if we set our hearts and minds on heavenly things where Jesus Christ is.

Life in Southwest Wisconsin

July 13, 2014 2 comments

It has been over 6 months since we left the familiar life we had on Cape Cod for a totally new way of life in Southwestern Wisconsin.  Let me tell you , it has been a journey.   We have found this community to be a huge blessing to us and our kids.  We have also had opportunities to meet kids and families in the community that has only proven to make our transition smoother.  My kids have developed a working knowledge of crops.  “Hey dad, that looks like corn!”  or “I think that is soybeans” have become common conversation.  When we arrived here they thought that milk was only something that came from the milk store.  Now they know what a cow is and will point all of them out when we drive.

This part of Wisconsin is quite scenic and not as flat as most people think.  The sunsets are something to enjoy every night and the culture is just more laid back than we had grown accustomed to on Cape Cod.  This has made our summer more enjoyable.

Sunset

Sunset

Sunset (no filter)

Sunset (no filter)

I have been able to fish more than I ever did on Cape Cod and we have actually gone to the beach more also.  (ironically)  The main reason is that it is much easier to get around.

Scenic

Scenic

 

Fishing

Fishing

On the flip side,  my kids were not used to severe weather.  Tornadoes had become such an obsession for my 7-year-old son that he has checked out every book on tornadoes from the library.  I showed him slides from my storm spotting class and he has increased his understanding of things like wall clouds and shelf clouds, among other things.  This has been fun to see him develop.  That all changed a few weeks back when at 10 pm we were hustling our kids from their beds to the basement as a tornado quickly formed just outside of town.  Once the kids stopped crying they decided we needed to move somewhere else.  Our tornado chaser in training exclaimed “this is the worst day of my life.”  Of course I told him “you are young”   We only lost the tree in front of our house, but out of town they had true tornado damage.

Good-bye tree

Good-bye tree

We are enjoying summer as much as we can because we know that everyday is one day closer to winter.  We went canoeing, went to Lambeau Field for a Packer Clinic for the kids,  and played some little league.

batter up

Batter Up

Kids Clinic

Kids Clinic

Beach

Beach

Canoeing

Canoeing

 

But God has been so gracious to us and this is very simply my testimony to that.  I know God has plans for our family here as we continue to walk forward and I look forward to seeing how it all plays out.    In the mean time we are going to enjoy every day because each day is a gift.  Make the most of it!

oh, yeah, we rode a ferris wheel also

oh, yeah, we rode a ferris wheel also

Are God’s arms too short?

May 15, 2014 2 comments
It is all in His hands

It is all in His hands

It seems there are impossible circumstances and people all around us.  In ministry I find the challenge is to balance out ways to help someone and be realistic about the results.  It is those times when our faith is increased because it is something only God is able to do.

There is a story in Numbers 11 about Moses and Israelites.  Naturally they are being an impossible group of people to lead because they are taking the blessings of God (freedom from slavery, daily food to eat) and complaining that they are not good enough.  Really?  Do you guys even remember what slavery was like?

But it was an impossible scene and God was not pleased with the people.  Moses heard the complaining and he also grew increasingly angry.  God decides he is going to give them meat to eat for a whole month and, as He tells them, “the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it.”  (I would add “and you will like it”)  Moses, as the rational leader that he is, wonders how God is going to provide so much food for so many people for so much time.   God answers Moses with such graciousness.

“The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short?  You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.” – Numbers 11:23

It seems every day is a new day to question how God is going to take care of a situation.  These are opportunities for Him to get the glory and for us to stand back and praise Him.  I know of lives that are in complete shambles, but we are seeing God’s work in lives in the smallest, yet most profound ways.  I have seen situations where our own family has been wondering how we would pay a bill and God has reminded us that His arm is not too short.

The arm of God is not too short.  It is so wide and powerful that He knows every part of the vast Universe .  His arm is wide enough to climb the tallest mountain,  leap over the oceans, and yet still find each hurting heart right where they are at.  God’s arm proved to be just the right length too as Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, spread His arms on the cross to do the impossible.  He took sinful man and God back together again!

May you be encouraged today in whatever you face.  God’s arm is not too short for whatever you face today.