Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Story

Today is Christmas Eve.  It is my first Christmas Eve as a pastor, and I want to get things right.

That was one of my thoughts as I spent some time in prayer this morning, and it has been a recurrent thought as I prepare to lead God's people in worship each week.  And frankly, as a pastor I have recurrent struggles with that thought, mostly because I want to "get things right" for the right reasons, and not the wrong ones.

I have the desire to "get things right" in worship because I am the pastor and leading worship is what the people in the congregation expect me to do.  But the temptation is to do things in such a way that they begin to think of how great a pastor I am, or what a wonderful preacher I may be, or similar things.

I certainly want to be competent at what I do, but not in a way that points their attention on me.

What I really want is to be competent as a pastor in such a way that the people in my congregation cast their eyes past me and onto their Savior.  I want to tell God's story in such a way that the people hearing it don't focus on the storyteller but on the Hero of the story.

It’s a captivating story, God's story that begins in creation and ends in the fulfillment of His plan of redemption.  It isn't captivating because it is told well in the Bible, although it certainly is.  Fascinating characters.  Compelling plot.  Unexpected turns of events.   

Its captivating because it is true. 

From beginning to end, it's true.  I understand that my way of seeing God's story, as truth, isn't the way many other people understand it.  So another prayer is that I would be able to serve Him well in carrying His truth into the world, wherever I may be at the moment.

As I prepare for worship this evening here is the small part of the story that stands out in my mind, from Luke 2:

"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

As you hear the story, may you look past the storyteller and cast your eyes on the Hero.

A  Savior…Christ…the Lord.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


We live in a part of New Mexico that is known for its elk.  I don't hunt but a friend in Minnesota told me before we moved here that there are big elk in this part of the state.  An elk is a pretty good sized animal and the reputation for elk hunting here is exceptional. 

On the highway we drive heading east of town there are areas with tall fences, the kind of fence designed to keep animals such as trophy deer and elk inside.  And on a recent evening while driving on the highway west of town we saw four bull elk standing in the ditch along the road.  Better for us that they were in the ditch, because those were very large animals and striking one with a car would be very unpleasant all the way around.

There have been a number of times in the past two months when I have seen elk hunters sitting along the road, binoculars in hand and scanning the horizon.  That has mostly been in the area 15-25 miles east of town, although sometimes they have been closer to town. 

Yesterday was one of those mornings.  There were two men sitting in a pickup from a guide service scanning the area north of the road.  They were just off of the reservation, about ½ mile from the boundary.  It was just before sunrise and I was out running, heading back towards town.  I saw them pull over ahead of me and they left just after I went past them.  There must not have been any elk in the area.

This morning, at about the same time of day but on a different road and about one mile from where I was yesterday I was surprised to look up and see five elk, all females, crossing the road about 200 yards away.  They didn't show themselves for long, emerging from one wooded area and quickly disappearing into another.

I was on a higher road than yesterday, and as I looked off to the north it appeared as if the area the elk had traveled from was the same place the hunters were checking on yesterday.  Unbeknownst to the elk they had passed from danger into safety.  They had moved from an area that remains open to hunting and crossed onto the reservation, where the elk season is closed. 

On my return home I thought a little bit about the elk, who move back-and-forth across an invisible boundary between safety and peril, and about people, who move about in either spiritual peril or safety.  In both cases the dividing line is unseen but it is the nature of the dividing line that is different.

The elk move between one side and the other, perhaps many times in any day, and for as long as they live.

Humans live on either one side of the line or the other.  They live in either peril, which can be eternal, or in safety, which is eternal.  They live either apart from salvation in Christ, or they live safely in the arms of Christ. 

The boundary marker is faith in Christ.  And it is like a one-way gate.  Once you pass through from the side with no faith there is no going back.  God's hold on you in Christ is eternal and He never lets go.

No Bible verses or other bits to support my point tonight.  If you are interested in learning more I would be glad in talking with you.  And I would be glad to pray with you.    

May you always dwell safely in the arms of Christ.

Friday, December 13, 2013


Last Saturday evening a winter storm blew through our part of New Mexico, dropping 8 inches of snow overnight.  After the snow we had a cold snap and the nighttime temperature went to -18, so that new snow was frozen pretty solidly. 

Living at altitude we are learning that the temperature can swing pretty widely in one day.  By Tuesday it was warming up into the mid 30's and yesterday it went from -1 at dawn to 50 in the afternoon.  Suffice to say that a lot of snow has melted. 

This afternoon I walked from home to the post office and back.  It is about a half mile from one place to the other.  The sun was shining and it was another beautiful day to be outside. 

It was beautiful if you were looking up into the hills, that is.  When my gaze went to the ground what I saw was a mess.  And because of the mess I had to watch where I was walking for most of the trip.  The roads were covered in melted snow and ice.  Dirty snow and ice from the sand that was spread so that cars could drive safely.  The beauty of Sunday morning is a very distant memory. 

This morning my Bible reading was from Zechariah 13.  Zechariah was a prophet of the Old Testament who encouraged the exiles returning to Jerusalem to repent and renew their covenant with God.  In the last chapters of the book he looks forward to God's promised redemption and he gives this image in verse 1:

"On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness."

Walking outside during winter and seeing the cycle of winter weather, with snow moving from pristine to dirty, again and again until spring breaks forth, reminded me of the cycles of my own life. 

I move back and forth between resting in God's forgiveness and seeking His forgiveness.  I alternately see myself as He sees me in Christ, and then see myself for who I am here on Earth, a sinner living in a fallen world.  A sinner frequently seeking His cleansing.

Zechariah 13:1 reminds me that God's promise in Christ is to one day wash me clean.  A washing that will make me whiter than snow, a washing based in Christ's righteousness, so that I can live forever with Him, to His eternal glory.  Amen!

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sandwich ministry

We live in Dulce, New Mexico on the reservation of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, in the parsonage next to the church where I am the pastor.  In the 3½ months we have been here we have seen a lot of people passing through this piece of property, as our home is on a walking route between a residential area and the more central parts of town.

In the first few months we saw lots of people pass through.  We spent a fair amount of time outside and always said "Hi."  Every once in a while we had an opportunity to talk with someone.  And there have been a few times when people have stopped at the back door, asking for help, which Robin has written about here.

Tonight was one of those times.

I was washing dishes after supper and the door bell rang.  I went out and opened the door but no one was there.  As I glanced around a man called out to me, standing in the dark a short ways from the house. 

He asked for a sandwich.  I said sure.  Would peanut butter and jelly be okay?  It would.  What's your name?  He told me something I couldn't quite understand.  I invited him inside.  He wanted to wait outside.

So I went in and made a sandwich and got him an apple from the refrigerator. 

When I returned with the sandwich he was standing off in the dark.  I walked out to meet him and gave him the food.  We made brief small talk about the weather.  Today started well below zero and is headed back there again tonight, although he didn't think it was that cold.  He was on his way to a relative's house somewhere in the neighborhood on the hill behind the parsonage, and he quickly went on his way.

It is my privilege to lead God's people in worship each week.  It is my privilege to dig into the Bible and bring a message from it to those who gather in church each Sunday.  It is my privilege to meet with people in their homes and at the hospital and to pray with them there.  And it was my privilege tonight to provide a neighbor with a small meal. 

Some of these things I do with more skill than others.  I hope that in each of these things, and any other way I serve God here in Dulce, that I am pointing not towards myself but to God, who has called our family to serve Him here among the Jicarilla Apache.

In the closing section of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes:

"Let all that you do be done in love."

In his use of the word "love" Paul means something much deeper and richer than what we might ordinarily think of.  He means a love that is distinctly flavored by the love he has received from God through Jesus Christ.  He means something like this: "Let all that you do be done in love, the love that God has lavished on you and me through His Son, our Lord and Savior."

May this be the love that comes out in the big and little things of my ministry.  And may it be the love that permeates the details of your life too, even something as simple as making a sandwich for someone at your back door.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

100 days in Dulce

Today is our 100th day in Dulce, New Mexico.  On the one hand that seems like a long time and on the other hand it seems like not very long at all.  Given that it is my day off it seems like a good time to pause and consider some of what has gone on since our arrival.

We quickly settled into a house that is in really good shape for being nearly 100 years old.  I'll give credit where credit is due and thank Robin for "driving the bus" in getting things unpacked and in place.  It took about one week and was pretty hectic, but if it was left to me there would still be boxes scattered throughout the house, waiting until who knows when.

Being unpacked and settled allowed us to begin hosting our new friends.  We have had guests over for dinner a number of times.  We have begun holding a Bible study in our home.  And in our first month we even had an open house for our congregation, as a way of thanking them for the warm welcome they extended to us.  Thanks again go to Robin for all of her hard work in the many ways she has made our home a place to welcome others.

I am settling in to a new vocation.  This past Sunday was the 14th in a row that I preached, exceeding by one the number of times I preached in the 3+ years before we came here.  And while preaching may be the most visible aspect of ministry here it is far from the only thing.  I could make a list of the many tasks that come my way but it wouldn't be complete, because nearly every week brings something that I wasn't aware of the week before.

 Dulce is a relatively small community, one that is a bit spread out geographically relative to its population.  We have learned what services are available here and what things we need to get elsewhere.  It is quiet and the pace is slow, and that seems to suit us just fine.

And it is beautiful, in its own way.  I lived in southeast Minnesota for 27 years and grew to love the area.  And in a similar fashion I am growing to love the beauty unique to this area.  One person advised us to take lots of pictures now, while things are new for us, but I am pretty sure that I will still be stopping to look around and enjoy the sights until our last day here.

The first one hundred days have been pretty good.  While we still think of the Midwest as "home," particularly as we make plans to go back and visit our families next year, Dulce has very much become home for us.  Robin and I feel a strong sense of being called here.  We feel that a number of experiences in the preceding years were preparing us to serve God here, though we had no idea of that at the time.  We are thankful for the many people who have prayed, and are praying, for our ministry here.

Our prayer today is one of thanks to God for bringing us to this place, and that He would enable us to serve Him well while we are here, however many more days, months or years that may be.