Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christian Growth in 2017

All people who follow Jesus are his disciples, which is a word that basically means "learners." He is our teacher and we are His students, learning from Him. 

How do we do this learning? The most basic way is by attending worship regularly, where we sing God's praises, hear His word proclaimed, share in the sacraments, and then take our learning with us as we live in the world.  There are a variety of other ways we can learn from Jesus and as the new year begins I want to share some thoughts on three things that you might try to use as you grow as a disciple in 2017. 

The first is to practice some form of personal devotions, where you take some time each day to spend in prayer with God.  There are many good resources that can help, providing a piece of scripture, some thoughts on how that scripture may apply to your life, and some suggestions for prayer.  We have the RCA devotional, Words of Hope, available at church and will soon be getting copies of Our Daily Bread.  There are also excellent online sources, which can be emailed to you each day.  These include, and

Another excellent way to grow as a disciple is by simply reading your Bible.  It is easy to do, and all too easy not to do.  Following a Bible-reading plan is an excellent way to help you start and stay on track.  I have an app on my phone for the plan I am using.  Each day it lets me know what I should read and it provides an easy way to keep track of my progress.  There are many different Bible reading plans and I would be glad to help you find one that would be a good fit for you.

And the last way to grow as a disciple that I want to suggest today is to get into an active relationship with someone who can help you along the way.  While this may sound like it is the hardest way, it is also one of the best ways.  Being a disciple of Jesus is something we can always grow in.  There is no one who is a perfect, or "finished," disciple.  When we work with someone else we share our journey with them and they can help us in many ways.  And as they help us grow, they also grow.  Robin and I both treasure times in our lives when we had another person, or a small group, that we connected with as a part of our spiritual growth.  As with the first two methods, I would be glad to actively help in your spiritual growth.

It is a new year and there is truly no time like the present to grow as a Christian, to have lives that are shaped more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ, as we love and serve Him right here in Dulce.

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.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

"...the time came..."

As I was getting ready for worship on Sunday morning it suddenly occurred to me that I had forgotten something when planning our worship service.  It was Christmas morning and I had left out the Bible's telling of the Christmas story.

On the one hand it was a pretty easy thing to skip.  I was planning worship for this Sunday much as I plan any Sunday.  There are parts to our worship service that happen every Sunday and I had planned all of those parts in the same manner as I do every Sunday.  It wasn't that I was planning on not talking about Christmas, but just that the Christmas story itself just wasn't among my planning materials at the time.

And it was not as if I had completely ignored the Christmas story in worship.  During our Christmas Eve service we read it from Luke 2:1-20.  The weather was dicey that night but we had about 20 people present, and they got to hear the story, read from the Bible. 

Anyhow, as I was doing my usual Sunday morning pre-worship activities I started to think about the Christmas story and I decided to read it as part of the introduction to the sermon.  And so I read it aloud before reviewing my sermon notes.  And as I read it one tiny phrase jumped out at me. 

Joseph and Mary are in Bethlehem, and Mary is pregnant.  Verse 6 says:

"And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth."

Luke tells the story in a very ordinary fashion.  Any of us who are parents and were present when our children were born understand well the idea that in one moment the mother is pregnant and then the time comes for the process of giving birth to the baby.  And so what Luke tells is quite true, but that phrase, "the time came" points to something so much more significant.

"The time came" for God to actively work out the long-awaited plan of redemption. 

"The time came" for God to begin the process that would one day restore everything that went wrong when sin entered the world.

"The time came" for God to free sinners from bondage and show them the way to true peace. 

This morning was the time to remind my congregation of this truth: that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and that without faith in Him we are truly, eternally, lost and without hope.  And yet, while we were lost, "the time came." 

May you know the hope and peace that are only found in Jesus. 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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Center Of Gravity

I like to run.  I have run for quite a few years, accumulating quite a few miles on my feet and participating in quite a few events over those years and miles.  Of all the various events I have run I would say that the marathon is my favorite one.  The marathon is 26.2 miles long.  Some days those miles just fly by and some days it seems as if the next mile marker will never come.  As of last Sunday, when I ran my most recent one, I have completed 45 marathons, along with six races of still longer distances.

The marathon wasn't always my favorite event.  It was hard!  I ran ten of them before I came to believe I "had it figured out."  Then I ran ten that stand out in my memory as nearly being works of art.  Then there were seven that were somewhat mixed as far as my performance goes.  And then due to a variety of circumstances I didn’t run any for ten years.  I still ran, but I passed on the marathon.  And ten years ago I started running them again, not as fast as before, but in some ways they have been every bit as much fun as "the works of art."

My least favorite running activity has been trail running.  I have never felt comfortable when off the road and on the trail.  When I ran with friends back in Minnesota and we went onto a trail I dropped to the back of the group, so that my heightened caution did not become a hazard for anyone else.  All six of the longer-than-marathon races I've done have been on trails.  Four of those were run in the mountains and one thing those four have in common is that somewhere along the way I fell. 

Last week a friend on mine from Minnesota came to visit and we took part in an event that involved running four marathons in four days at the Four Corners monument.  Unbeknownst to us at the time we registered a significant part of the course on three of those days would be on rocky trails.

Our adventure began on Thursday.  About 12 miles of the course was a rocky trail, 12 miles were dirt trail, and the remainder was paved.  We were pleased with our efforts and looked forward to seeing what would happen on Friday.  Neither one of us had ever run marathons back-to-back and we were entering brand new territory, so to speak.

Friday was flat and paved.  It went well and we figured that barring any catastrophe four marathons in four days was an achievable feat.

Saturday turned out to be an altogether different kind of animal.  The course was about 21 miles of rocky trails, ending with five flat, paved miles.  The trail segment was a loop course that we ran a total of 8 times.  The scenery was beautiful, or so I was told.  For me, running a trail means always looking down to see where your feet are headed next. 

When I least expected it, it happened.  I fell. I was at mile 18, a brief flat spot on top of a hill, when I lost my balance and fell forward onto my hands.  I scraped both palms but was otherwise uninjured.  I got started running again, being more cautious than before. 

Very shortly after my fall I had a new insight into trail running.  Trail running isn’t necessarily about being nimble or light or any other characteristic that might seem to offer an advantage on irregular terrain.  The essence of trail running is being able to control your center of gravity.  If a person can simply keep their body upright while going up or down hill everything else about trail running is gravy.

This concept of the control of one's center of gravity is also important to the Christian life, although with a significant difference. As a trail runner I need to control my center of gravity, while as a Christian I need to yield the control of my life's center of gravity to Christ.  He guides me one way and yet so often I think I know a shortcut or a better route.  And pushing off for the way I think best, when it differs from His way, always ends in scrapes, bruises, or worse. 

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
 In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths."

In all things in life our best choice is to always let God have His firm and loving hand on our center of gravity.  Any attempt by me to do better is just a foolish risk, for His hand will never stray from the right path.  Amen.

Two tired runners, still smiling after four days.

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.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

An Old Story That Looks Ahead

The books in our Bible called 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles are essentially writings of history.  They tell the story of God's people living in the Promised Land under the rule of their kings, beginning with their first king, Saul, and ending with the defeat of the divided kingdom and the journey of God's people into exile.  1 Chronicles 17:14 says,

"So David reigned over all Israel, and he administered justice and equity to all his people."

This verse is historical information and it shows us the people of God at one of the high points in their history.  They are God's chosen people, living securely in the land God promised to them hundreds of years earlier.  They have a godly king who has defeated all of the enemies around them.  Their king rules over all of the land and he does so in fairness to all of God's people. 

It must have been a very good time for the people of Israel, but as the chapters that follow make clear, it didn’t last.  Their downfall was bumpy, painful and heartbreaking, as God's chosen people were conquered and carried from the very place God promised would be theirs. 

But this verse in 1 Chronicles does more than record history.  It also points our vision forward, towards a day that is to come.  David is the king chosen by God to rule over His people and he rules in a way that appears to line up with what is right and true.  But
David is a human king, filled with the failings common to so many of us, facts that the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles do not hide.  As we look at David here we are invited to look beyond David, to another coming King.  To Jesus, the King of Kings.

David is a king whose story points us to the end of the story.  A King is coming and He will rule over all of creation.  Similar to the way David defeated his enemies and secured the borders of Israel this King will defeat all His enemies.  When He comes fully into His Kingdom there will not be a single enemy of God having any kind of power anywhere in all of creation. 

This King will perfectly administer justice, although in the most unlikely of ways.  For "his people," or those who have faith in Jesus as their Savior, He will bear the punishment their sin deserves, and give them a place inside His kingdom, where His people will joyfully live with Him forever.

This Christmas let us remember that the event we celebrate, the birth of the baby Jesus, ultimately ends in the reign of the King of Kings.  David's story points us forward.  May you look towards the baby Jesus and see the King.  May He be your Savior and your King.

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, November 29, 2016

Answered Prayer

Today is my first day back from a week's vacation.  As is always the case in coming back from time away there is much catching up to do.  To say that it has been a bit chaotic would be an understatement, although that is in part self-induced.  Besides catching up with last week I am also dealing with preparing for another week off beginning next Tuesday.  On the one hand is a larger-than-normal amount of things to do, while on the other hand are seven days to use wisely.  All in all today has gone very well.

Among the surprises of this morning was an unexpected visitor to the house.  He had stopped by, looking for me, once about two weeks ago and I was gone at the time.  He came back today and we connected.

This man is someone I've met before and see very occasionally.  I ran into him three times in late July and haven’t seen him since.  I haven’t seen him but he has been on my mind, because I know he has a problem with alcohol and his name has been on a list of people I hold in prayer over that issue.

I often think that alcohol is a huge problem on the reservation.  I don’t know if it is such a huge problem by itself, or if that because I am a pastor here that I am more aware of it.  Either way, one result is that I have a list of people who struggle with alcohol that I pray for.  Another result is that when we gather to worship on Sunday morning we regularly ask God to be active in this community and in the people we know who struggle.  We ask God to set boundaries, to bring hope, and to bring healing.  We don’t know what those things might exactly look like but we do believe in asking them of God and trusting the results to Him.

This morning I saw two answers to those prayers.  The first was in the man who came over to the house.  He has been sober for 12 weeks, which is awesome.  I pray that God would continue to work in him, day-by-day.

And the second answer was that he was looking for me to see about expanding the AA program in our community.  Our congregation doesn’t have direct involvement with AA but we provide meeting space for them twice a week.  Or I should say three times a week, because just before leaving on vacation they asked for an additional meeting day, beginning this coming Saturday.

Or…I should say five days a week, because my visitor this morning was asking about adding two more meetings.  And not only are the opportunities increasing for people in this community who are seeking help as they struggle with alcohol, the number of people willing and able to lead those programs has increased.  So I guess that makes three answers to prayer.

What does an answer to prayer look like?  For me today it looks like visible evidence of God at work bringing healing and hope in this community, one person at a time, one day at a time.

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.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Until He Comes

Last Sunday I preached from Mark 13:1-23 and today I preached from Mark 13:24-37.  In this chapter of the Bible Jesus is teaching His disciples about what we might call "end times," i.e. the time when Jesus returns in power and glory and God's judgment on the world comes to pass.  My sermon titles were, "The Coming Judgment, Part 1 & 2."

This morning after the sermon we shared the Lord's Supper.  In the picture is my view from the front of the church, where I look towards the congregation while I preach.  This picture is taken before our worship service began, while I was getting things set-up, and there are two things in the picture I want to touch on.

First is the preaching of the word.  My Bible sits open on the pulpit, with my notes next to it.  There are a few tabs hanging out of my Bible to make it easy to find passages I want to refer to during the sermon.  Being the 21st century I could very easily put those verses into my notes, but my preference, when it comes to reading God's word, is to read it from the Bible itself.

There are possibly almost as many theories to the act of preaching the word as there are preachers.  I belong to the group that believes that, in some way, Jesus Christ must be lifted up in every sermon.  He is the center of the book; the hero, if you will.  Many preachers are quick to begin with the Bible and then move off to their pet topic, usually resulting in a sermon that either moralizes or spiritualizes the biblical text.  

The places in the world where we can get spiritual and/or moral lessons are virtually endless.  The places where we can hear of the unique love that the Living God brings to the world through the person and work of Jesus Christ are few.  Week by week I try to be a preacher who does that with the people God brings before me.  And I will admit that it is a task in which I still have much to learn.

The other thing to notice in the picture is the table sitting in between the pulpit and the pews.  It is in the process of being set-up for us to share the Lord's Supper as a part of our worship.  

Among the words I speak as we get ready to share the Lord's Supper are 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, where Paul says this in verse 26:

"For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."

Mark 13 is a glimpse of the end of the story, from the lips of Jesus.  Or perhaps not quite the end of the story, but what C. S. Lewis called "the beginning of the real story," the time when all of God's children are gathered with Him forever. 

Every time we gather at the table to share the meal Jesus has given  us we strengthen our faith and remember the very good promises of eternal life that He has made to His children. 

And every time we share this meal we give witness to the world that we believe He will return one day.  We proclaim a life that was given over to death for the salvation of all who have faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  We do this church by church throughout the world, "until he comes."


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.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Trusting The Ending

A number of things have surprised me in the aftermath of our recent presidential election. 

The first thing was the identity of the winner. Early in the election season I had decided that, in my opinion, neither of the people who would emerge as the candidates of the major party would receive my vote.  Consequently as the election season moved on and the pool of candidates decreased I paid less and less attention to both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, which, for all practical purposes, meant I didn’t pay much attention to the actual election.  I figured that Clinton would win, and was surprised when she did not.  Poor candidates, each in their own way.  One of them won.  Time to move on.

And so the next thing that surprised me was the lack of "moving on" happening in some portions of the electorate.  Outrage over the result.  Protests.  Typing in ALL CAPS online.  Many people do not like how the election turned out but I imagine that the generally held opinion that the United States is the greatest country in the world has not changed.  Celebrities who promised to move to Canada should Trump win have abandoned their promises.  One of the things that makes this country great is that since Washington-to-Adams, we have a 219-year history of peacefully transferring power from one government to the next. 

The third thing that surprised me was the level of lament heard within the church, specifically by people who pastor congregations and preach the Word of God each Sunday.  Again, my belief is that these were two very poor candidates, and so I don't think it really made much difference if Poor Candidate B emerged the victor over Poor Candidate A.  And yet for some pastors the outcome compelled them to make significant changes to their sermon last Sunday.  When compared to eternity I think the outcome of a presidential election in the United States is not particularly significant.  When compared to the struggles of daily life in places like the Middle East, the outcome of a presidential elections is not particularly significant. 

And the last thing I want to mention today as a surprise was the level of lament noted above that was found among pastors of my own tribe, i.e. pastors  located within the Reformed tradition.  These people, whose roots are in the theology that emerged in the writing and preaching of John Calvin, and whose confession of faith is grounded in either the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity, should understand the idea that come what may, God is sovereign.  His rule, His providence, His promises, are unfailing and they may be found in even the worst of events.  And world history, over just the past 100 years, has some pretty horrible events.  These are pastors who perhaps are not trusting in the ending.

I have been preaching through the Gospel of Mark and so last week and this week I am preaching Mark 13.  This is the chapter of the Bible where Jesus takes some time alone with His disciples to teach them about the coming judgment of God.  In a more concise manner than the Revelation of John, and perhaps with a bit clearer imagery, Jesus prepares His disciples for the moment in time when He will return in power and glory and this age that we live in will come to an end.

The chapter contains words of warning that hard times will come.  Hardship that will be clearly more intense than anything the world has ever seen.

We are also told that believers in Jesus won't be exempted from that hardship.  Jesus goes so far as to say that His followers will be hated for one very specific reason: Their allegiance to His name.

There are also words of encouragement.  Jesus will gather all of His followers to Himself.  No exceptions.  And also the promise that while heaven and earth pass away, none of His words will pass away.  Therefore Christians who are living at the time of Christ's return can face the hardship of those days, not in fear, but in confidence, that the one who holds them will never let them go.  They are His, not for a time, but for all time.

So as Christians let us read the news and follow the events of the day, but not as people who have no hope beyond this life.  As Christians let us be mindful of the days we live in, but remembering that they are but a moment compared with eternity in the presence of our Savior and Lord. 

In His kindness God has given us a glimpse of the end of this age and a preview of the age to come.  Let us live and serve God, trusting in the ending of the story.

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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

It’s a Free Country?

For most people in the United States, the words, "It’s a free country" are a statement of fact, and not a question.  We citizens of the US treasure our freedom and we use that sense of freedom, for better or for worse, to justify all kinds of thoughts, words and actions.

I myself am a lifelong resident of the United States, the country I was born in and the country in whose military I served for four years.  But I find myself living in a part of it where there are a number of caveats to the idea of freedom, leading to the question that makes the title for this post.

For a little more than three years my family and I have lived on the reservation of the Jicarilla Apache Nation (The Nation).  The Nation is sovereign but not quite in the sense of other nations that we consider sovereign in their relationships with the United States.  For example, Canada has its own government, issues its own money and exchanges ambassadors with the United States.  Canadian citizens don't vote in the elections within the United States.  The Nation also has its own government but it uses the same money as the United States and is represented in Congress as a part of the delegation from New Mexico. 

The election season highlights some of the unique things about living on the reservation.  The reservation sits within two counties and I'm registered to vote in Rio Arriba county.  So last week I could cast my vote for president, congress and a number of other offices and issues relevant to New Mexico and Rio Arriba county.  But I live on the reservation as a non-tribal member and so I was not able to vote in the recent election for the Nation's president, vice president or legislative council. 

Going a step farther, as a non-tribal member there are rules and restrictions as to where I can go on the reservation.  I have no explicit rights to any kind of housing or the other benefits that are available to members of the Nation.  There is also a sense of restriction to what might be called "freedom of speech," in that there are a variety of things which I feel are "off limits" for me to express an opinion on.  For me to do could easily result in my being told to leave the reservation, which actually happened to a pastor here once.  I don’t write this as if  I feel suppressed in any way but merely as a statement of fact.  I live here, and serve God here, so long as the Nation allows.  This fact is basically true of all the non-tribal members living on the reservation. 

So I live as a citizen of the United States within the boundaries of land belonging to the Jicarilla Apache Nation, voluntarily surrendering some of those things I might ordinarily claim as within my rights as an American.  But I do so knowing that there is yet one other place to which I hold citizenship.  In Philippians 3:20 the Apostle Paul writes,

"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…"

No matter where believers in Jesus live on this earth, they all hold in common the fact that their true citizenship lies elsewhere.  There are Christians living all over the world with  restrictions that citizens of the United States would never accept. 

You see, there is only one place where there is a truly free country.  The freedom there is not based on its geographic location but is grounded in the nature of its ruler, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Non-citizens may look toward it and shake their heads.  In so many ways it seems a country like any other, with rules and boundaries.  Give up the ability to live as I choose in order to live in ways that look more and more like the ruler's?  I don’t think so.

But from the inside the perspective is completely different.  In the presence of true freedom in Jesus the "freedom" given up in order to follow Jesus shows itself as just so much slavery. 

The United States is truly a great nation and there is none like it in the world.  But it doesn’t compare in the least to the freedom that comes in living as a citizen of heaven under the rule of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

"You Shall Be Holy…"

The 2016 election for the President of the United States is over.  Two major candidates.  One won, and the other lost.  Many Americans are relieved that the election itself is over.  There were strong opinions on each side and I had the sense that whichever side a person was on there was the feeling that if their candidate won all would be well and if they lost it would about the worst disaster that ever befell these United States.

After the election I got involved in a discussion where I expressed the viewpoint that in my opinion each of the major party candidates was disqualified from serving as President on the basis of significant problems with their character.  I felt their character faults were such that I could not vote for either one. 

That opinion received a bit of "push back."  How could I dare equate the character of these two candidates?

My response was to offer one example for one candidate and one example for the other. I said that it may be an "apples to oranges" comparison, but the result was the same, that their character faults were so severe that I could not vote for either one. 

I know that there were a lot of people voting who held reservations about the person they were voting for.  Their plan was to basically pinch their nose and vote for the lesser of two evils.  I had considered that option earlier this summer but here is the thing: A vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil. And when I considered my vote that way I knew the "lesser of two evils" wouldn’t be an option for me.

And this is where I am actually thankful for the post-election conversation push-back, because it helped me to understand my position from a point-of-view shaped by the Bible. 

The "lesser-of-two evils" argument makes a certain kind of practical sense.  We use it when faced with two poor choices and there doesn’t appear to be any other way to go.  And I will grant that the character faults I found in the two major party candidates may not have been any kind of big deal to many other voters.  Over 60 million people voted for each one.  Nonetheless, I knew that I, in good conscience, could not vote for either one.

As children of God we are not called to make choices solely based on their practicality.  Instead, God calls His children to live with a completely different point-of-view, one grounded in who He is.  In Leviticus 19:2 God says,

"You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy."

God doesn't suggest that we consider being holy.  He commands that we who follow Him "be holy," and He commands it based on His own holiness.  And that command shapes our choices and way of living beyond the practical thoughts of the here-and-now. 

While it is a command of God, living on this side of heaven it is a command we can pursue but never fully achieve.  Our world is fallen and saturated in sin.  Every Christian will struggle with sin for as long as they draw breath.  But the Good News is that in Jesus we can know the forgiveness of our sins, those times when we fail to make holy choices and live holy lives.

So let us be people who live with open eyes to the world around us and the choices that lie before us.  Let us be people who seek to live in ways that reflect who God is and to shine His light into the world.  And when we falter, let us seek the mercy and grace that only come at the hand of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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.

Addendum: In a bit of irony I didn’t cast a vote for President last week.  I had intended to write-in my vote, only to arrive at my polling place and learn that write-in votes are not allowed in New Mexico.  There were eight candidates on the ballot.  Besides the two major party candidates I was only familiar with three of the minor party candidates and since I wasn't going to vote for them either I left the presidential choice on my ballot empty.  

Monday, November 7, 2016

Something That Will Last

Tonight it is Monday, November 7th, 2016.  And that means that tomorrow, November 8th, will be the end of a very long election season.  Sometime late tomorrow the people of the United States will know who the next president will be, a decision that will also, in a general way, give a sense of direction for our country as a whole. 

This election season has been long and polarizing.  Has it been more filled with harsh words, conflict, misunderstanding and fear than any other election?  Possibly, but possibly not.  Personally, I'm not that concerned with the end result either way, so I'll wait until after my Wednesday morning prayer time to turn on my computer and find out the end result.

Presidents come.  Presidents go.  Kingdoms come, and they also go.  As a country the United States has been on the scene since 1776, or 240 years, but one day it will come to an end.  That day may be soon or it may be several hundred years in the future, but one day it's end will come. Of that I have no doubts.

Something else I have no doubts about is the permanent nature of the word of God.  The Bible speaks of this in several places, including Mark 13:31, where Jesus says,

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."

Those words came to my mind earlier tonight, as we were closing the gathering of the youth ministry we have in Dulce each Monday evening.  School-age children come for a time of fun and learning, built around the idea of teaching them God's word as a foundation for their life.  They come to learn, memorize, and understand the meaning of the Bible.  They come to learn something that has power past the span of their lives, however long that may turn out to be.  As adults leading the program we are making an investment in the children of our community that has both earthly and eternal consequences. 

On November 8th get out and vote.  The election is important but the outcome and its effects are only for a season.  So at some point during the course of the day take a few minutes or more and spend it in God's word, investing your time in something that is eternal. 

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, November 3, 2016

God's chemotherapy

One of the practices we have when we gather for worship each Sunday is to offer prayer for healing.  I extend an invitation for anyone in need of healing of body, heart, mind, soul or spirit to come forward. Sometimes I read the words of James 5:14, which say:

"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord."

Each Sunday anywhere from one to a dozen people come to the front of the church, where they stand in a semicircle.  I go around the circle and make the sign of the cross on their forehead, using a little oil on my thumb.  As I do so I say their name, adding, "I bless you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."  Those who have come forward for prayer then join hands and I invite anyone who would like to lay hands on them as we pray to come forward.  When everyone is in place I also join their hands and offer up a prayer that God would bring the healing they seek, closing the prayer in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I never ask why anyone comes forward.  Sometimes I know, such as the Sunday following the sudden death of a member's daughter.  Other times I think I have a general idea, because of things I am aware of in a person's life.  And other times I just don't know, and I don’t need to know.  We are God's people, gathered to worship, and I pray with whomever the Spirit moves that morning.

Does God answer their prayer and bring the healing they desire?  Yes in some cases, and not yet in others. 

In three years as their pastor I have prayed with some people on Sunday morning many, many times.  Practically speaking, what is the point of praying with the same people each week, lifting their concerns to God one Sunday, and lifting them again the next Sunday, and the next?

The point is this.  Each Sunday I lift them to the Lord. praising Him, thanking Him, and asking Him to be powerfully active in whatever way it might be that they need healing, leaving the results and it's timing in His hands. 

In a sense our healing prayer is like chemotherapy.  I have a friend with an incurable cancer.  He was diagnosed several years ago and received an initial period of treatment that put the cancer into remission.  His doctors have no cure for the cancer.  All they can do is monitor its status in his body and regularly give him chemotherapy: powerful, nearly deadly medication, designed to keep his cancer levels low.  To the best of my knowledge he will receive chemotherapy for the remainder of his life.

Our healing prayer is like chemotherapy, in the sense that in its own way the prayer is an ongoing kind of treatment for something that is not right and for which we long to be made well.  But there the similarity ends, for where chemotherapy uses deadly chemicals, prayer is a treatment that by it's very nature brings life.   

The specific healing may not be provided immediately, or it may not come for a very long time.  But to approach the Lord God Almighty and to trust that His word and His promises are unfailing, is a powerful act of faith.  In the darkest storm of life the light of God may seem to be invisible, but in our prayer for healing we trust that it is there and we anticipate the day when we will see it in all it's glory.

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.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Where Do You Stand?

One of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament is Elijah.  He makes his first appearance in the Bible in 1 Kings 17:1, which reads,

"Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.""

Elijah comes as God's prophet to Ahab, who is introduced as the king of Israel at the end of chapter 16.  Ahab has a reputation as a bad king, an exceedingly bad king, and the prophecy that Elijah brings to him is a result of the many bad things he has done early in his rule.  And in the story where Elijah and Ahab are intertwined this opening verse is just the beginning of the conflict that they will have with each other.  But the thing that caught my attention as I read this is that the writer of 1 Kings is very clear where the origin of that conflict really begins.  The conflict begins because Elijah is devoted to God.  "The Lord…before whom I stand."  The prophecy that Elijah brings to Ahab is not Elijah's prophecy, but one that comes through Elijah as he serves God.

As much as we might want to believe otherwise, no person stands with complete independence.  For everyone of us there is someone, or something, before whom we yield authority.  For Elijah it was the Lord, the same God who was the God of Israel, the people whom Ahab ruled.  The continuing story of Elijah shows us the hardship that came his way as a result of his following God.  His life wasn't easy but he continued to follow the path he knew was right.

In contrast Ahab shunned his God, the one true God, to pursue false gods, bringing great harm to his people as well as himself.  Through Elijah, God continued to call Ahab, but Ahab's heart was hard and he would never listen.  Instead Ahab followed a god that let him do whatever he wanted, which really isn’t any kind of god at all.     

Before whom do you stand?  At the end of the day, or at the end of your life, to whom is it that you ultimately yield authority to? 

It is my prayer that each of us would learn that there really is only one place to stand, and that is in the same place as Elijah, for "the Lord, the God of Israel," always has been, is today, and always will be, the One True Lord over all of creation.  To yield authority to anyone or anything else is to surrender to a lost cause.  He is trustworthy. He is faithful.  And He longs for you to enjoy being in His presence.

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.

Monday, October 24, 2016


What kinds of things brighten up your day?  In my life there are a variety of things, particularly involving the family members I live with.  There can be all kinds of things with my wife and/or our daughter that I take delight in.  Some of them are perhaps expected and others are things that seem to happen with a complete and surprising randomness. 

An example of the first variety could be my wife simply asking about my day.  It is something she does often but there is something about the meaning in why she does it that lifts me inside.

And our daughter, the last of our children living at home, frequently does things that are unexpected and doubly delightful.  There is the delight in the moment itself, and then again as my wife and I share whatever it was with each other.

This morning, as I read Psalm 119, other delightful moments came to mind.  In verse 74 the psalmist writes,

"Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice,
   because I have hoped in your word."

This brought to mind moments of fellowship with other Christians, moments where underneath whatever was going on in the moment was a bond that existed because we had a common faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  Our hope is in the same place, the word of God that teaches us truthfully of salvation in Christ, and so it is this common bond that causes us to rejoice in each other's presence.

This morning the verse brought back memories of several prayer groups I was a part of while we lived in Minnesota and the joy of having some time set aside for prayer with other Christians.  And now, late in the day and with this evening's community youth ministry activities wrapped up, I think in particular about one young man who closed the evening in prayer.  An elementary school-age child, with so much of life ahead of him, but seeing in the words of his prayer that he is already learning to stand firmly on the unfailing word of God.

May you hope in the word of God, and rejoice in the fellowship of other Christians.

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.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Bumping Along

The picture on the right is of the rear wheel of my daughter's scooter. What I tried to show in the picture are the flat spots on the wheel.  Kat races down the sidewalk and then jams on the brake, sliding on the concrete.  This, of course, makes the wheel a little less round, so that instead of going in smooth circles you can hear it clunk every once and while if she is riding slowly.

That clunking wheel is how my morning felt today.  The very first parts of the morning were normal for a Sunday, but once I made my first trip next door to get things ready for church things began to get out of sync.  Without getting into the details there were numerous times in getting ready for our breakfast potluck, setting up for worship, and worship itself, where, from my point-of-view, things were just a little off.  Like the wheel on the scooter, the morning was moving along but with an occasional bump to remind me that some things just weren't quite as smooth as I would prefer.

And still…God was at work.  Not that He takes the morning off just because this or that thing that I'm up to isn't working out.  As Psalm 121:3-4 says,

"He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
 Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep."

Those are true and reliable words, and good ones to remember at many points in life. 

The working of God became evident to me even as worship was going on, when I closed an extemporaneous prayer, one that I wasn't really sure had been very clear, and I heard a soft "Amen" from one of the people I was praying with.  My awkward words were used by God to touch that person. 

There was more evidence in the short, quiet conversations I had with several people after worship.  And there was still more evidence as I gathered the prayer requests.  God had been at work, through me, even though I thought the morning was moving along in a raggedy sort of way. 

I would have preferred a morning where things roll along smoothly but I am glad for the gentle reminders this morning that I am but a servant of God, and the results are in His hands.

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.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Every Tribe, Every Tongue

Sunday morning, about a half-hour before worship begins, I turn on the music.  We have some speaker in our steeple and I turn on the CD Player connected to them, so that music is playing outside when people arrive.  I also turn on some music inside the sanctuary, so that the people who arrive early have something in the background that is conducive to worshiping God.  Right now there are three different files on my computer that I use for this purpose inside the sanctuary. Two are soft, solo piano medleys of older hymns and the other is an acoustic collection of songs by a modern Christian artist.

Last Sunday I had one of the piano medleys on and I was walking from the entrance of the church up towards the front.  The specific song being played was "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus."  As I walked up the aisle I heard a woman singing along, softly and in Jicarilla Apache.  While I know very little of the Jicarilla Apache language I knew what she was singing because we have sung that song in Jicarilla in worship three or four times over the past three years. 

In Revelation 7:9-10 John says of his vision in heaven,

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!""

God's plan is to draw people from all parts of the world, from every people group, speaking every language, to Himself.  Speakers of English, Spanish, Gaelic, Russian, Farsi, Jicarilla Apache, Mescalero Apache, and Navajo, to name but a few.  According to the Joshua Project there are over 16,000 people in groups in the world, and in 2016, nearly 2,000 years after Jesus walked this earth, 40% of those groups are still unreached with the good news found only in Jesus.

It is my privilege to be able to serve a community made up of one of those groups that has received the Gospel.  The first missionaries to the Jicarilla Apache arrived in 1914.
The church here has never been large but it's presence has been continual.  And while the Gospel has been proclaimed it is fair to say that there are many people living here who have still not heard it.

The passage in Revelation does not claim that all people from all groups will be gathered by God, but that all groups will be represented.  The Jicarilla Apache are a people group that is found in only one place, in Dulce New Mexico.  How many of those thousands of unreached groups are ones that are like the Jicarilla Apache, that only exist in one isolated place? 

When I heard that woman singing last Sunday I knew that we had to sing that song, in her language, the next time we gathered for worship.  So this Sunday we will use it to close our worship, along with a prayer that God's servants would continue to carry the Gospel of Jesus throughout the world, gathering in the people of every tribe and every tongue, people who will one day join in the mighty chorus, exclaiming,

"Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" 

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, October 6, 2016

Comfort For The Cares Of Your Heart

Early this morning I picked up my Bible and read from the Psalms.  I had finished my "ordinary" devotional time, where today I had read Psalm 91 and then spent time in prayer.  Finished with something that is essential to my calling as pastor I picked my Bible back up and began reading on in the Psalms.  When I reached Psalm 94 these words from verse 19 gave me pause,

"When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul."

In the picture is my Bible, opened to Psalm 94, with verse 19 highlighted.  Laying on top of my Bible are slips of paper with the confidential requests for prayer that are given to me on Sunday mornings.

I get several of these requests nearly every Sunday.  Over time here in Dulce I have learned that for the most part the things that people write down and ask me to pray about are the more complex matters of their lives.  They are rarely for things that are quite specific, such as a relative having surgery this week.  Often there is just a name, or perhaps several names, names that represent what the psalmist calls "the cares of my heart."

Because the requests on the cards represent deep needs I keep them for a long time.  That's why there are so many.  I generally keep them for a year, although some have been in my hands a bit longer.  I may have already been praying about the person or situation for a year but I know that the need still exists and so, to borrow from something I read by C.S. Lewis, today just doesn’t seem like the day to stop praying for that need.

As seen in the collection of prayer requests, the cares of the hearts of the congregation I serve are many, and I join with them in lifting their cares to God, trusting in Him to provide the consolation, the comfort, that cheers, that brings gladness, to their souls.

While the needs are many and varied in all cases the only source of comfort is the same, and that is the Lord God, to whom His people faithfully turn to day by day.

May you too find comfort from Him for the deep cares of your heart.  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.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Image result for refuge
Last Monday morning I woke up, got dressed and sat down in my home office with my Bible and the prayer list from Sunday morning worship.  On days when everything goes "according to plan" this is my usual practice.  I begin by reading a chapter of the Bible and then spend time in prayer.  In addition to the list from worship I have the private prayer requests that people give me (which are things I usually hold in prayer for months), a list of the people asking for prayer for healing, a list related to my family and some other things that seem right to be keeping in prayer.  On this particular Monday I read Psalm 71, which begins,

" In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
    let me never be put to shame!
 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
    incline your ear to me, and save me!"

That first phrase virtually stopped me in my tracks.  In you, O Lord, do I take refuge.  The second verse gives emphasis to the psalmist's need for a safe and protected place.  I thought about the concerns that were lifted up on Sunday morning, written down and in my hands.  I thought about some of the other needs within our congregation and our community.  We are a people who very much need the same things the psalmist is crying out to God for.  In our daily lives, which so often seem like a swirling, howling wind, we desperately need refuge. 

We may have a conflict within our family or at work that never seems to end.  We may be struggling with illness that doesn't seem to have a cure.  We may be feeling stretched to a point where we are beginning to lose hope in things ever becoming better.

We need refuge, and so like the psalmist we cry out to God to be our safe place.

Deliver me.  Rescue me.  Save me.

We cry out to God, who hears our prayers and who never fails to protect His children.  He never fails as our place of refuge.  His refuge, His deliverance, His rescue, His salvation…they may not look or feel quite like we desire at the moment we cry out, but He never fails to provide the things His children need.  Never.

In the last section of psalm 71 the psalmist praises God, in part by remembering the many things God has already done, and in part by simply adoring who God is.  This same God who the psalmist cries out to and praises, is the same God who loves and holds you.  This same God who is the only refuge for the psalmist, is also the only refuge for me, for you, and for all who call on Him in faith. In the swirling and howling winds of life may you always find refuge in Him. 

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.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cleansing, both the Temple and Me

Image result for sheep market
This morning I preached from Mark 11:12-21, a challenging passage, to say the least.  In the midst of this section of Mark's gospel is his version of Jesus cleansing the temple in Jerusalem.  The temple is the heart-and-soul of the Hebrew people, the place built as the dwelling place for God and the only location for their most important religious practices. 

Well, that is the idea, but as Mark tells the story the temple is a long ways from being a model of holiness and honor towards God.  It has become the place for buying and selling of animals for sacrifice, with a currency exchange so that observant Jews could pay the temple tax, and also having convenient routes to be used as a shortcut for foot traffic, rather than walking around it.

Into this scene of chaos walks Jesus, creating a bit of havoc of his own as he casts out the people, things and practices that defile the temple.  He casts these things out and does…what?  He replaces them with his teaching.  Verse 17 begins, "And he was teaching them…" and verse 18 ends, "…all the crowd was astonished at his teaching."

Reading this in our day and looking back at Jesus we can see that he was entirely justified in the cleansing of the temple and to then quickly move on to whatever is the next significant event during this final week of his life.  But Mark brings to the fore that the very next thing was of great importance.  Jesus threw the bad out of the temple and replaced it with something very good, his teaching, which was teaching that amazed the crowd.

What did he teach?  We don’t know.  Mark doesn't share that with us.  He merely shares that the teaching itself was profound and done with great power.  The people who heard it were astonished.

But what does this have to do with us?  Jesus has zeal for the holiness of God.  The temple, the dwelling place of God with His people has been defiled and Jesus acts to restore its holiness.  On the one hand he throws out what defiles it and with the other hand he restores what belongs there.  As he teaches the people in the temple he in effect restores what should be going on there.  People are coming to worship God.  To draw near to God.  And as he teaches Jesus is directing them to that purpose.

All well and good.  But what about us?  What does this mean for us today?  In Mark 1:15 Jesus calls on people to "repent and believe in the gospel."  When we do this essential step of repentance-and-belief, repenting of our sin and believing in the Good News of Jesus as our Savior and Lord, then this very thing that happens in the temple is something that he begins to do in us. 

The same zeal that Mark shows Jesus having for the temple he also has for every person who has faith in him.  And he acts accordingly.  He begins that process of removing from us those things that are offensive to God and replacing them with things that are pleasing in God's sight.  While those things, for evil and for good, may vary widely for each person a place where you can get a good general idea is Galatians 5:19-23

This business of personal cleansing is not always easy, particularly when it comes to those things that seem or feel so good.  The things that we want to make excuses for.  Things we want to take a pass on.  Jesus loves us too much to allow us to play in the mud as long as we please. 

So look at that story of the cleansing of the temple as more than something that happened one day many years ago.  See it as a reminder of what Jesus has done, in you, and a marker of what he is doing, in you, right now.  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.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

My attempt to answer a friend's question…

Image result for what should i preach about
"Hey Friend... suggestions for a sermon for pulpit supply in a Presbyterian church... this may be one week or a few..... they have an interim pastor coming the end of October..."

Sermon suggestions?  Do you mean such as what text, or what topic?  I'm assuming that is what you are after, so here goes.

For the most part I believe that the text preached drives the sermon, so for me the big question is deciding the text.  As I study it, and pray, (and it's always best to proceed in the opposite order, i.e. prayer first!) then I take the sermon in the direction I believe God is leading it to lead through the text.  I did a "series" (I have a bit of a distaste for  the 'series' concept) last year where I had a topic first, or rather a question, and then found and explained pieces of scripture that answered the question.

So you are preaching once, and possibly a bit more, for the same congregation, but what to preach?  Using the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is one option.  If the Presbyterians you are preaching to are of the PCUSA persuasion this may be where their sermons frequently come from.  When I began I used the RCL for nearly a year as the primary place to select my texts from. 

Each week the RCL has readings from the OT, Psalms, Gospel and somewhere else in the NT.  Prayerfully consider the readings and see if one of them seems to be the thing to bring to the particular congregation.  Sometimes two readings can fit well together.  I have some issues with the RCL, but since you are preaching just once, or maybe a few Sunday's for one group, that is a conversation for another day. 

It may be that you are personally using a devotional book or following a Bible reading plan.  In that case there may be a text in your reading that strikes you as something to explore and develop more fully as a sermon.

If you are preaching someplace that is glued to the liturgical calendar then it may be that your sermon is developed in conjunction with an event on the calendar.  In that case the RCL should be the source of your text.  On the other hand today I preached from Mark 1:1-11, where Jesus rides into Jerusalem.  Traditionally it is a Palm Sunday text but I am preaching my way through the Gospel of Mark, leaving Mark for only rare occasions, such as Advent, Christmas, Palm Sunday and Easter.  I rarely get feedback on my preaching but on the way out today one man told me that the message was just what he needed to hear, so I was glad to have stayed with that text today, despite its traditional placement. 

If you are preaching one week, and maybe a few more, you could also do a "series"  around a character of the Bible, such as Moses or Peter, taking snapshots of a few periods of the person's life.  If you did that I would take a NT character, rather than preaching several times in a row from the OT to a congregation that isn’t your own flock. 

Whatever you do you have to, in some way, get the Good News of Jesus in front of the congregation.  In every sermon, whatever your text, without exception, in some way, Christ has to be lifted up and shown to make a difference.  This is much easier said than done. 

Another way of looking at this is that the Christian church is not some kind of social club.  It is not one of many different but equally valuable organizations.  Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.  Or as Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:

"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

People who already embrace the Good News have to be comforted, encouraged, reminded and strengthened as they hear it again. 

And those who are presently on the outside need to see that everyone, without exception, is a sinner in the presence of God.  They need to see that there is no other hope for sinners  outside of Jesus.  And lastly, that there is no one who is too far gone to be beyond the saving touch of Jesus.

Some people may say that people who have an evangelical approach to the Gospel place too great of an emphasis on the cross.  I say that if you are going to stand in the pulpit and not bring the core of the Gospel then you might as well be talking to a Rotary club, or the Jaycees, or what have you. 

Hope this is helpful.  Any more questions? Ask away!  And in your preparation and preaching may all the glory be to God!

Addendum: The picture is Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers.  Spurgeon felt that perhaps the hardest part of preaching was choosing a text, something he worked on throughout the week.  He began his actual sermon preparation at 6 PM on Saturday evening, staying at the task until he felt he had sufficiently prepared for Sunday morning.  This method should only be used by the most gifted of preachers!

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.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

From Healthcare to Here

"Brad - I'm curious how you ended up in New Mexico - and as a minister! A far cry from occupational therapist at Mayo in Rochester. Did your kids move with you? You had sent me a couple photos at one time of your granddaughter - how old is she now? Do you have more grandchildren? Take care and have a good day."

I received the message above from a friend whom I reconnected with on Facebook earlier this week.  Her basic question is one I have heard a number of times over the past three years that we’ve been in New Mexico.  

Minnesota to New Mexico?  Mayo Clinic to ministry?  Instead of writing her a personal answer I thought I would write about it here and share with whomever reads my blog. 

The short answer: One thing led to another.  The long answer is more detailed.  I don’t recall quite when I got to know the person who asked the question, or when the last time was that we had regular contact with each other, so I'll go back to the year 2000 and try to bring out the key parts of the story.

In 2000 I was working at the Mayo Clinic as an occupational therapist.  I had been there 14 years.  My wife and I had two children at home and for several years we had been attending a Methodist church.  I had grown up and been confirmed in a Lutheran church but had spent nearly my entire adult life outside of a church.  I'm not quite sure when our family began attending church, perhaps 1996.  Our son's Boy Scout troop met there and our daughter had been participating in some youth activities at the invitation of one our neighbors.  Once we started going it became a habit.  Looking back on those days I would say that I was a Christian in name only.  If someone had asked I would have said I was a Christian but I wouldn’t have the slightest idea of what to say to further explain that identity.

In the fall of 2000 our church offered an Alpha course, a 10-week class which intended to outline basic Christian beliefs.  I thought this would be good for my wife and I to attend, and we did.  Towards the end of the Alpha course I had an experience that is hard to describe.  Not a vision, or voices, nor a powerful personal conviction about sin and salvation but an experience where one moment things were as they always were, and next moment where everything was changed.  In that change I knew very clearly that God was real, and that if God was real then everything in my life was different.  How that change would work itself out was a process that would take years, and in fact it is still happening today.

Two things that happened as a result of my conversion experience were that I began to have an active prayer life, meaning I began to spend time in prayer each day, and that Sunday morning worship began to mean something.  I just didn’t go to church for 45 minutes but the hymns, the prayers, the preaching, all began to have meaning that lasted beyond the end of the worship service.

I came to understand I needed to be in a Bible study and in the fall of 2001 I joined the local Community Bible Study (CBS) group.[1]  I had two acquaintances in the study and thought it would be a good place for me to be.  It turned out to be awesome.  I spent 3 years in CBS as a regular student.  In those years we studied Revelation, Acts and Deuteronomy and Psalms.  I was in different small groups each year and really benefited from the work of our small group leaders and the different people in the groups each year.  I would add that the year we did Deuteronomy/Psalms was the year I learned to love God's word.  I had decided to read both books over the course of the summer as preparation for the study.  An overly ambitious project, as it took more than the summer to do.  But in the course of reading the Psalms I began to love the word that God had given to His people. 

In 2004 I was invited to be a small group leader within CBS.  I was paired with an experienced small group leader and we worked together for 4-5 years.  Facilitating a small group was a rich opportunity to grow in my faith but the real benefit of being a small group leader was that the leaders got together each week for their own time of prayer and study.  Each Saturday we spent 45 minutes in prayer and 45 minutes going over the next week's lesson.  I don’t have the words to describe how precious that weekly prayer group was. 

Without overloading this blog post in minutiae I'll leave out some of the other ways in which I was growing through my involvement with CBS, and also the things I was becoming involved in within my local church.

In early 2005, I think, I had casual conversations with  three different people, conversations that had in common the idea of going to seminary.  Thinking that perhaps God was calling me to get some education, and not having any idea of where that education would lead, I began to explore attending a seminary.  I talked it over with my pastor, who for a number of reasons didn’t think I should.  So I set the idea aside.  If it was of God then God would bring it back up.  In late 2005 He did.  I talked with my pastor, a different person, as our pastor had changed in the summer of that year, and he was encouraging of the idea.

In my work at Mayo a number of my colleagues were pursuing advanced degrees through distance learning programs.  I did not feel as if God was calling me to leave my job at the moment for the sake of going to school for what was at that time a vague purpose and so I began to explore seminary distance learning programs.  In the fall of 2006 I began the distance learning program at Western Theological Seminary (WTS) in Holland, MI. I did lots of coursework on line, attended classes on campus twice a year for two weeks, and also had assignemnts through my local church.  If I stayed on schedule I would complete a Master's in Divinity in 5 years of  "part-time" study, compared to 3 years for a full-time student.

Of the 17 students who started my cohort together, 6 of us graduated on-time in June, 2011.  Taking 18 graduate credits a year, while working full-time, makes for a very busy five years!  As many of you may know, there were a number of major life changes in that period as well.  In early 2007 my wife and I divorced.  We had two children together, both of whom left home in 2005.  In the late summer of 2007 Robin and I met, marrying that fall.  Robin also had two adult children, virtually the same ages as mine, and also living on their own.  In February 2009 we were asked to adopt one of our grandchildren.  Kat, who was 2 at the time, moved in with us a month later and her adoption was finalized later in the year. 

I began at WTS in 2006 and sometime in my second year I began to sense a calling towards pastoral ministry.  In early 2011, shortly before graduation and according to the guidelines of our denomination for seminary students, I began to seek a church to serve.[2]  It was a process that turned out to be much different from what we had expected.  We began looking at vacancies in MN, IA and WI, because that we there the majority of our families were.  Perhaps 125 or so churches in those states.  Pastors move.  They retire.  An opportunity is sure to arise.  So we thought  as we began. 

I sent my information to churches, without much in the way of positive response.  We gradually expanded our search to other states in the Midwest, and then as far as New York.  Over the course of the 2 years I was looking for a church to serve I would average a phone interview about once every three months.  Once I had a second interview.  I came to figure out that as someone in their mid-50's and without a background in ministry, say as a youth pastor, I wasn't a highly desirable pastoral prospect.  Good thing I went to school part-time and still had a full-time job! 

In November 2012 I had a phone call from a friend of mine from seminary.  He had graduated before me and a church where he had almost gone to in late 2011 was still looking for a pastor.  It was on a Native American reservation in New Mexico.  He had received updated information about the church and their search and if I was interested he would send it to me.  Throughout the search process Robin and I were praying that we would be able to discern God's leading and then faithfully follow that lead.  And so we asked my friend to forward the information.  He did so.  We looked it over and responded by sending the search committee the denomination's standard information on pastoral candidates. 

In February 2013, while on vacation in North Carolina, I had a phone interview with the search committee of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church in Dulce, NM.  Then in April Robin, Kat and I went to Dulce for a long weekend.  We toured the community, met with the search committee and I led worship on Sunday morning.  In June they called me to serve as their pastor.  But there was a hiccup in the process and in early July I had to make a trip to Denver to meet with some people for the denomination who had final approval of the call. 

On a Monday I met with the group in Denver for several hours and while I was waiting in the security line at the airport they informed me that they were approving the call to Dulce. I had had two days off from work at Mayo and when I went back on Wednesday I gave my supervisor a letter informing her of my intent to retire at the end of the month.  So I left Mayo Clinic after 27 years as an occupational therapist on July 31st, was ordained as Minister of Word and Sacrament on August 6th, we left Rochester for Dulce on August 22nd, arriving on the 26th, and my first Sunday in the pulpit was September 1st.  Tomorrow, Sunday Septembers 4th, will be the first Sunday of our fourth year.  How time flies! 

And that, more or less, is how I and my family got from healthcare to here.

My friend had a few other questions about our family, and so here goes.  Hope it makes sense!  Robin and I have four adult children, two each from our previous marriages, M, J, N and B.[3]  Together we have Kat, who began as a granddaughter and is adopted as our daughter.    Through our adult children we have these grandchildren: J, I, A, S, R, M, Ta and De.  R died last year in an accident at home.  Many of our grandchildren have half-siblings.  These children are Ka, L, C, I, Dc, Tr, Te, Ja, H, M, Ar, Al, Je, Ko, N and there is one more on the way.  They range from ages 10 ½ to 6 months.  We pray for all of them in the same manner, no matter what their  biological and/or relational connection happens to be.  All credit goes to Robin for keeping us connected with these other children.       

[1] CBS is non-denominational and it is an awesome program for Bible study.  I highly commend it.

[2] In 2007, after we married, Robin and I joined a church that was part of the Reformed Church in America.  This was also the affiliation of WTS, although I was in the United Methodist Church when I began my studies. 

[3] For the sake of privacy for our adult children and the grandchildren I'm just going to identify them all by letter.