This Sure is Different

If I were to say that this year has been “different” you would probably accuse me of understating things. But it most certainly has been different. I mean just in church life alone things are, well, quite different. In our setting, we were online only for eleven weeks. That isn’t as much as some others, I know, but still one of those Sundays included Easter Sunday. Could you ever dream up a scenario when the Church would not be able to gather in person on Easter Sunday? I couldn’t. We have been forced to redevelop our online presence, a task that thankfully I was able to easily integrate. But now as we near the end of the year, are we looking for something else that is different? I have plans in 2021, don’t you? The idea of being in a crowd again, a concert, a restaurant without this strange vibe in the air. I look forward to that. I refuse to call this the new normal; this is different.

Now it feels like we have been in this holding pattern for a while now. I know that I have offered some of the same prayers to God without any dramatic conclusion reached. I mean don’t you just long for those moments when you say amen and things just change. I believe He can do it. I believe God is in control of what we would call normal life, or when things change. But still isn’t it nice to feel like there is progress? Isn’t it fun to look at the results and admire His work?

This last week I was in the book of Luke chapter 1 in the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They were servants of God, serving in the temple, and blameless. They were leading people closer to God and doing a great job of it. Yet, they had this strange vibe hanging in the air over them– Elizabeth was barren. That was not just a personal tragedy, but it was a public disgrace. In these days it was disgraceful for you not to be able to have children. And it is obvious that they had prayed for this for a long time, but now when we meet them they are old. (or well along in years, as Zechariah wisely chooses to be a little gentler with his description about his wife) When all human possibility is exhausted, God sends an angel to interact with Zechariah. And what did he say? He said “God has heard your prayer.” And he goes on to tell him that he will have a son, John, who will play a key part in the story of the coming of Jesus Christ.

Trust God for your story

God has heard your prayer! I was so encouraged by that because this year has gone on for a long time. I mean I saw one of those advertisements for an ornament and it was a dumpster fire. Different is no longer fun. I want something that feels different from this — let’s call it normal even. And prayers, after a while, lose a little bit of their passion because, let’s be honest, we start to accept where we are. Zechariah had. I mean that ship had sailed. He wasn’t going to have kids now, he was old. Who wants to have kids when they are old? Well, God has different plans than we do and they are much better than we could ever dream.

This is an encouragement for all of us fed up with the different. Hang on. God has heard your prayer. And while they might not get answered in the time or manner you would have them, it doesn’t mean God is distant. I don’t know how long this whole pandemic thing goes. But God does. And even if I don’t get to do the things I plan on, it doesn’t mean God isn’t loving. The story in Luke tells us that God had a perfect plan for a specific moment in history. Trust him for your story.


For a sermon on this passage, go to

Glad I’m Not January

After a tough start to winter this year, we finally had some days where we could go outside and not have the wind freeze our flesh. It was quite the treat.  As I walked around the yard I noticed that the snow was deeper than I remembered it being and that getting that snow in your boots is cold.  Over on one side of the yard sat the Christmas tree, waiting in line to be burned in the fire pit during the summer. It still looks really green, but is not as nice as it was in the living room.  In my hands were Christmas lights that for whatever reason decided to stop working, ironically just like my preteen son.  And then it hit me:  I would sure hate to be January.

January — brrr

December gets all the hype, fun lights, gifts, movies,elves, and sweet treats.  November gets Thanksgiving which takes food and football and merges them together in merriment.  What does January get?  Dark days and nights.  Cold temperatures.  Frozen pipes. Cars that won’t start. Ice covered roads.  Garage doors that break. (yes, the replacement of the aforementioned door is happening this week– could be a blog post in that)  All of this and the let down emotionally that Christmas has now come and gone once again.  Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the seasons of the year.   I look foward to them in fact.  It is just that January seems to get left out of the fun, like that one friend that nobody thinks to call and invite to the movie.  Thankfully February shares candy hearts early with everyone, which makes us look forward to spring and February 15th when they get marked down to 50% off.

Yet, as I thought about this I realized that there is a lot of joy to be had in January.  Life is full of adventure and experiences.  Winter sports are in full swing.  Movie nights in the warmth of the living room are a nice treat that does not happen in the summer.  Getting out the skis is a fun activity that even the littlest among us can figure out pretty quickly. (I mean how can you look at her and not smile?)

Enjoy each day

Yes, I guess there is joy to be found in every month of the year.  It takes looking for something that will brighten your day and doing that.   For me it might be getting a cup of coffee and staring out the window for a while.  At other times I enjoy pulling my daughter around the yard in the sled or working on some project.  Whatever it is for you, get out and enjoy each day because each day is a true gift from God.   Yes, even January.



Joy, Pain and Christmas

The season of Christmas has such interesting dynamics to it.  On the one hand, it is really fun.  I mean who doesn’t love seeing their kids dressed like sheep and angels?  It can be fun to have time to catch up with family or friends. My daughter was giving me the details on how many sleeps it is until Christmas and the order of events.  To say she is excited about this Christmas is an understatement.  But in all of my preparation this week for two services,  and time with my family I have been thinking about the amount of suffering that people are going through.  Does that seem strange?  Well, keep in mind I am a Pastor of a church and an EMT in the local community.  I have seen some suffering.  I know we sing songs about how wonderful this time of year is and declare “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.”  But what about those who are not experiencing so much joy

Christ is the hope of Christmas.

this year?  You can’t just sing it and make the pain go away.  Some people have experienced more loss this year than at any point in their life.  Suicide.  Depression.  Alcoholism.  Abuse of all kinds.  Stress.  Anger. Anxiety. Financial Challenges. Illness. I mean, can we just be honest and say that for some people this season does not make pain get better, it just amplifies the issues.

So what difference does this baby make for those who are hurting this Christmas?  Micah 5:5 says that this ruler who was to come out of Bethlehem would be our peace.  Peace is something we talk about and strive for, but can’t seem to achieve.  But if Jesus is our peace, maybe we can experience it.  Maybe this one we celebrate can actually enter into my mess and help me.   And of course the answer is emphatically “yes!”  You are why He came!  You are why He left the comforts of His heavenly home and entered our world in an insignificant town surrounded by insignificant people on some insignificant day in a very insignificant way.  In doing so, however, He did provide for us something we were so desperate for: hope.  Hope says that while right now things are a mess; one day things will no longer be that way.  Why?  Because Jesus has come and is coming again.

Do you have some questions?  Yes.  Do you have some things you are hoping to see resolved?  Yes.  But there is comfort in knowing God was not content just telling us how to live; He needed to send His son to demonstrate His love for us.

So if you are in a good place right now and you know someone who isn’t, it could be a real good idea to encourage them in some way.  In fact, I think it is exactly what Christ demonstrates for us in His birth.  He showed up in our mess in order to save us from it.  I  have showed up many times just to visit with someone who was really having a tough time.  Those kinds of things mean the world to people.   It reminds them that God has not forgotten them — the very heart of the Christmas story.

Oh, and get to it because there are only 3 more sleeps until Christmas.


Want to hear more about what Jesus Christ has offered to us?   Check out my Christmas Sermon Series on our Church Website.

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

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 game of follow the leader with a 2 year old leader.

Follow me
Follow me

We went out after dark this past weekend.  I guess that is not as dramatic as it sounds seeing as it gets dark at like 4:30.  But still it is a big deal to take the family out to dinner and then to a store.  The two older boys needed shoes and the younger two needed nothing.  So we needed to divide and conquer.  I figured since my idea of shoe shopping is not doing it, I would let my wife take care of the shoes and I would chase the other two through the store.  It turned into a game of follow the leader.

It was actually quite funny because these two had no agenda.  They just wanted to walk the perimeter and see what they saw.  They would look at me and say “come on dad.” I followed along and tried to prevent anything from falling off shelves.  My daughter would stop and check on random things saying, “oh, cute” as she touched them.  Someone had a cart full of baby stuff and she climbed up the side of it and admired their things.  When the couple looked at her she said, “hi, I am Claire, this is Siah (Josiah) and that’s daddy.”  Then we were off.  Kids have a way of finding the toys and so we ended up there.

This is where it became so fun for me to watch.  They touched all of the toys and pushed all the buttons.  I actually did too.  But I loved their enthusiasm as they took things off the shelf and said, “oh, cool” and quickly went to show the other one.  They did not ask me to buy anything.  They were just excited to be touching toys that they don’t own.  It was actually quite the sight.  I loved it because they were so simple about it.  Everything was amazing, even the toys that I know will break in 30 seconds.  They loved them all and had such wonder about it.   It was such a calm moment that I stopped to thank God for it.  There was no chaos.  There was no rushing.  There was just enjoying the moment together.

Christmas brings that out of adults too, but it is usually stifled by stress.  I know so many people will talk about what it means to enjoy Christmas and remember the birth of Jesus, but the honest truth is that so many people still get roped into the consumer driven Christmas.  It is sad, really, because there is so much more to it than presents and credit card debt.  Kids teach us things like that as they run around in the dirt or build things out of snow.  They show us how this whole “enjoying of life” thing works when they walk through a store with no agenda and showing kindness to random people.  (some of them ignoring her)  Kids are learning too many negative things from the adult world surrounding Christmas.  I think it is time we stop and follow them around for a while.  It will give perspective and it will make you get your hands full of paint.   It will make you slow down and appreciate an early morning.  But, I believe it will also bring back a little of that  sparkle that is missing  in so many today.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas and find that the celebration brings joy, not stress.


Remember to give and receive and give again.

IMAG0329Christmas is such a magical time.   There is just something about lights and snow that makes me want to drink hot chocolate with candy canes.  It brings families together and brings people to church for candlelight services.    There is something very intriguing to us about a silent night that was interrupted by a chorus of angels praising God for the birth of Jesus Christ. The only thing is that each year it seems like we add more distance between that scene in Bethlehem and what Christmas has become.    Yet,  no matter what we try to scream at each other, Christmas still means something valuable to all of us.  We don’t just enjoy it, we long for it.  It is the one time of year when we throw out all caution about leaving the lights on and we add more lights to our home.  I mean, it is Christmas — it only comes once a year!

Steeped in all of the commercial and political correct jargon is the reality of what has taken place.  Sure a winter solstice is happening, but Christmas was not that big of a deal until it became a celebration of Jesus.  It provided a time for us to gather together to tell the story of God taking on flesh to save people who have rejected Him.  It allows all of us to start to answer the question about what this is all about and how we can have hope in a future.  Jesus is the gift we need and He is where the focus needs to be.  The story actually includes us.

Think about what would happen if you received a gift that would save your life.  If your life literally hung in the balance and you got what you needed to live, would you put that gift on the shelf?  I know I would open it up and apply it to my life.  If I knew someone else with the same problem as I had, I think it would be a nice idea to try to save them too, wouldn’t it?

Who wouldn't want to watch this sheep?
Who wouldn’t want to watch this sheep?

In Luke 2 there are shepherds out tending to their flocks.  It says that they were living in the fields.  I would imagine that it was an ordinary night of sheep watching.  Then God showed up and His glory shown around them.  In other words, they knew that it was the Lord who was showing up to tell them something.  Despite their fear, they are able to calm down and hear about the Savior who has been born.  The gift is a baby and not just any baby, the Savior of the world for all people!

So they go to see and they find the baby in the manger.  What they do next is what I think we need to remember — they went and told everyone!  There is good news and they want the world to know.

This challenges me to make sure I don’t miss out on the giving part of Christmas.  There are people all around us who have never received the gift of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus Christ.  We must not keep Him to ourselves.  I know it is not politically correct to talk about Jesus, but it is far worse not to.  The Savior has come for all people.  (yes, even them)

I believe that all of the rhetoric and media hype over things people say is just a distraction from what really matters.  We need to keep our head on straight.  Jesus Christ is the way for anyone who will come.  Christmas is a holiday to celebrate that.  The Bible is truth and God does not need us to defend any of it.  We are to share the gift of Jesus with the world around us.

As you receive the blessing of drawing near to God because of Jesus, remember also to share Him with others.

Merry Christmas! 


Jesus’ Birthday List

What do you give someone who has everything, literally?  Now before you think of that difficult person in your life to shop for, let me redirect your thoughts for a moment.  We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas and yet we get the gifts.  This has been a consistent issue that my 4-year-old son has had this year.  Just the other day he said, “I want to give Jesus something for His birthday, but nothing I give Him he will want.”  That got me thinking.  What would be on a wish list for Jesus.

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together – Colossians 1:16-17

Obviously, Jesus is not going to want some material gift.  As the creator of everything, getting a new electronic toy is not going to be meaningful to Him.  So, maybe our focus needs to be on things we do for other people.  After all, that is what Jesus modeled, right. What would his list look like?

There are some deeply troubling needs in the world.  Would the top of his list have things like a cure for cancer, food for the hungry, the end of human trafficking?  Would that special gift be that all would have access to medicine or clean water?  Maybe those are too large to try to wrap our mind around.

Well, then how about family needs? Could there be marriages reconciled?  Maybe some parents and children need to find a way to love each other.  How about the financial strain that plague so many families?  Could that be remedied with self-control?

Perhaps instead of something like that, you would look at your own life.  What am I doing for Jesus, is it enough?  Are you showing His love to other people?  Are you avoiding sin or are you embracing it, rationalizing it as ‘not too bad’? Do you prioritize worship, prayer and the reading of the Bible?  Is that what Jesus wants?

While all these things seem nice, I believe that the answer to this question comes in a statement Jesus made.

 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  – Matthew 22:47-49

If we limit what we do for Jesus to a simple material item, or something that is done for Jesus out of duty, we are missing the point.

Jesus was not concerned with material things or having people do something for him out of obligation.  All he wants is for you to love God with all your heart as you follow Him and then love other people.  If we are loving God and people, the needs that are out there would be addressed.  If God has your heart, it gives perspective to life’s struggles and hope for a future.  When we love God we desire to be with Him, we cast off sin and turn to His ways.

Remember the story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18?  He came to Jesus and described how much he had done for God in his life and still he felt like something was missing.   He had kept the commands, or so he said, but realized that without eternal life he had nothing.  Jesus said, “You still lack one thing.  Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” -Luke 18:22

Jesus was not after this man’s wealth, but He realized that the one thing holding Him back from loving God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength was his wealth.  As it turned out, it was the one thing this man was not willing to part with and even the promise of treasure in heaven didn’t entice him to follow Jesus.

There lies the answer to what Jesus wants from us– our life.  He wants us to choose to love and follow Him.

So, while we don’t have a present under the tree wrapped for Jesus, we do have a life that can be given to Him.  Each of us will make a big difference in the world when we love God with passion and love other people.

We told our 4-year-old son that it was not about something we could give to Jesus that he could open, like Legos, but it was living God’s ways.  It is by not doing things our own way, but rather follow God’s ways.  It is by helping other people and showing His love to the world.  For him, we made it personal with things like being kind to his brother, sharing and helping his friends.  They are all ways he can practice his love for God and people.

This Christmas Season give to Jesus what he has wanted all along, your heart.