What if this Thing Starts Beeping?

So I stopped by the library today and while I was checking out my items in the self-checkout line, I thought about something that I often think about when I am at the library, “What if this thing starts beeping and won’t let me check out any more items because I have already used up all I can have?” 

You see, I use the libary a lot.  Since I don’t have an office, the library is one of the places where I like to do my work.  And the library is also a place that I like to visit on my day off.  I just like to spend time at the library.  And I also like to make liberal use of the resource materials.  I am always checking things out.  I check out books, magazines, audiobooks and videos.  I check out things for myself as well as things that I think Julie or one of the kids might like.  Because of that, I often have a whole bunch of library materials lying around at home. 

So I was standing there checking out 3 magazines and a video and this thought was going through my mind, “What if this thing starts beeping and won’t let me check out any more items because I have already used up all I can have?”  You see I already had at least 3 books, 4 magazines, and 3 audio books from the library sitting at various places in my home.  That means that with this next group of items, I would have 14 items out at one time.  And that is not abnormal.  I have been here less than a year, and I imagine that I have probably checked out over 200 items already.

But one of the really great things about the library is that no matter how much you check out, you can still check out more.  And that is pretty cool.  And while I am sitting there thinking about all of that, I find myself thinking about God and how amazing it is that no matter how many times I have had to rely on His love and grace, He is always ready with more the next time.  I never have to worry that if I go to my knees in prayer asking for God’s love and grace to prevail that something is going to start beeping and I am going to get a message that I have already used up all the love and grace and that is all I can have.

Who would have ever thought that the library would provide me with such a great reminder of God’s unending love and grace?


Yesterday in church I talked about loving your neighbor.  The sermon was from Matthew 22:34-40, where Jesus answers the question, “which is the greates commandment?”  To hear the sermon you can go to “pages” above and use the link for “online sermons.”  I wrapped things up this week with a very specific, almost homework-like challenge for us to love our neighbors this week.  We are to do that by praying for them throughout the week and then doing some act of kindness for them on the weekend.  This coming Sunday we will follow things up to see how it went. 

I am excited to hear the stories when we get back together next Sunday.  This is something that God has commanded us to do, so we know it is His will.  And when we are operating in His will, watch out, because He does some pretty incredible things. 

So maybe you were in church on Sunday and heard the challenge, or maybe you are just hearing about this for the first time right now.  Either way, let me challenge you to choose to tangibly love your neighbor in some way this week.  And in order to help, here are a few suggestions…

  • Mow their lawn
  • Rake their leaves
  • Take over a pan of brownies
  • Order a pizza over the phone and have it sent to their home instead of yours
  • Make a nice homemade card just to let them know you were thinking of them
  • Pick up the trash on your street
  • Help them with a project they are working on
  • Wash their car
  • Deliver the newspaper to the front step
  • Invite them over for dinner

If you have any other ideas, please feel free to post them.

Special Event on October 31

We have a special Sunday event coming up on October 31.  “Revealing The Fingerprints of God” with Dr. Don Bierle, FaithSearch International.  Dr. Bierle will use evidence from nature, history and personal experience to answer the question, “Is the existence of God only imagination or wishful thinking?”  Come and join us on October 31, 9:30 a.m. at The Rex Cinema.

Have You Any Right To Be Angry?

Yesterday in church we talked about letting go of those things that happen in our lives that cause us to become bitter, angry and hard people.  And to instead become kind, loving and forgiving.  Well, today in my devotions I found myself in the book of Jonah.  This was a very fitting place to be the day after that message.
You see, the story of Jonah contains a great lesson for us about God’s compassion and man’s anger and bitterness.   Why did Jonah run away when God called him to go to Nineveh?  Well, we don’t really find that answer until the end of the book.  But before we get there, let me remind us of the story.  Jonah was a prophet of God and God told him to go to Nineveh to preach against it.  But Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, so he went in the other direction and boarded a ship for Tarshish.  But God would not let Jonah get away.  He sent a storm that stopped the ship and threatened to sink it, but when the sailors realized that Jonah was the reason for the storm they through him overboard.  Then God had a big fish come along and swallow Jonah whole and while he was in the fish, Jonah prayed and repented and told God that he would obey.  And so God had the fish vomit Jonah onto the dry land.  And Jonah did obey and go to Nineveh and preached there.  And the people of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s message and repented of their sins and God spared their city.  Then in chapter 4 we find out why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh in the first place.  In Jonah 4:1-3 we read, “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.  He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at hom?  That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.  I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.'”

Isn’t that sad?  Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, and actually ran away from God, simply because he knew that if he went to Nineveh and preached that the people would repent and God would have compassion on them and not destroy their city.  And Jonah didn’t like that because he wanted God to destroy Nineveh.  Nineveh was a bad city and they had caused much pain on Jonah’s people, and Jonah was bitter about that.  And so he didn’t want to see them spared.  He had no compassion for them.  He wanted them destroyed.  And so he tried to run away, but he eventually obeyed God and after the people responded and God spared the city, Jonah was angry.

But notice what God says in verse 4, “But the Lord replied, ‘Have you any right to be angry?'”  That is a great question for us.  Do we have any right to be angry?  Do we have any cause to be bitter?  We look upon those who have harmed us with bitterness, and scorn, but God loves them.  He hates their sin, but He loves them.  We need to be willing to let go of the things that happen to us and move on with our lives. 

Holding on to things, becoming bitter and staying angry is easy.  It is much harder to forgive, to be kind and to have compassion.  But God calls us to those things.  We need to get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice.  And we need to be kind, compassionate and forgiving.  We need to let God’s love for us overflow in our lives so that we too will love others.


So I have this app on my phone that allows me to flip through the day’s news headlines and then click on a headline if I want to read the story.  So I was scanning the headlines the other day and here is a sampling of some of the headlines for September 14, 2010:

  • Tropical Storm Karl Forms in Caribbean
  • Italy Seizes Billions in Suspected Mafia Goods
  • Egg Farm Knew of Salmonella Investigators Say
  • American Freed by Iran Arrives in Oman
  • Eiffel Tower Reopens After Bomb Threat
  • 30 Insurgents Killed in Afghanistan Ahead of Vote
  • Starbucks to Put 12-OZ Tall Drinks Back on Drive-Through Menus

Do you notice anything out of place there?  We have major national and international news including bomb threats, freed hostages, killings, storms, a possible cover-up, and then there is this headline focused on drive-through coffee menus?  Now I know Starbucks is a pretty big deal, but I just had to laugh when I came to that last headline.  I could see having a Starbucks as a news headline if ownership changed hands, or if there was a major change in the corporate philosophy, but we are just talking about their menu board.  I find that a little ridiculous for such a minor point to be considered such a big deal that it becomes a headline.  When you take a moment to consider the impact of putting 12-oz tall drinks back on the drive-through menus compared to a bomb threat and insurgents killed and a tropical storm, the Starbuck’s drink menu just seems to pale in comparison.

But as I was thinking about that, I realized that we have a tendency to do the same thing in Church at times.  We take minor things and give them a major emphasis.  Like for instance, one of the things that the church became known for over the last 15 years was their “worship wars.”  This was because many churches went through a transition from one style of music to another.   The transition is fine, but the fact that in many cases it became a war is a great example of how we major in minor things too often. 

I don’t want to step on toes here, but the kind of music we use to worship God is not as important as the number of people in our community who need us to “be the church.”  Too often we spend more time talking about the kind of carpeting to put in the new sanctuary, the kind of food to serve at our next banquet, the kind of coffee to have at our fellowship time, and even the kind of book to study at our next group meeting than we do on the kind of lives we need to live to glorify God in our community. 

I want to challenge us to not get caught up in the minors.  That doesn’t mean we let things fall through the cracks, or that we ignore details.  I believe we are to do what we do with excellence, but let’s not become so focused on eternally insignifcant details that we miss out on what God is calling us to focus on.

State Fair

I went to my first Minnesota State Fair this past Saturday.  Actually, it was my first state fair from any state.  I have lived in 5 different states, and 8 different cities, and this is my first time to ever attend a state fair.  And I guess I picked the right one to go to for my first experience.  The Minnesota State Fair is the 2nd largest in the country.  And if the information booth attendants that I talked to are correct, then it is only a matter of time before we move to the top of the list.  Of course, they may be a little biased. 

Last year the Fair set a record with about 1.8 million people in attendance.  The daily attendance averages around the 150-200,000 range.  I find that staggering.  I also find it incredible that the fair has been around for 150 years.  A lady I know has gone to the fair every year of her 47 year old life.  My wife’s parents had their first date at the Minnesota State Fair.  And we have relatives that travel up each year from Chicago just to come to the fair for the weekend.  I guess it is kind of a big deal!

Anyway, I thought I would share with you a little bit of my thoughts on the fair itself.  We arrived at the fairgrounds at about 8:15 a.m.  Which is a great time to go by the way.  The crowd was very thin at that time and the temperature was perfect with a nice breeze to keep us cool.  This made it much more enjoyable to leisurely stroll through the grounds and enjoy the sites and sounds.  By the time we left at 2 p.m. we were encased in a sea of people and the sun and humidity combined to make the stroll much less enjoyable. 

So if you can handle the crowd, there is a lot to enjoy at the fair including: Minnesota’s largest pig, a wall filled with beautiful artwork done completely in seeds, a great international bazzaar with several unique booths, parades, star-studded shows, machinery hill, crazy contests, magic, music, education, agriculture, animals, rides, games, and of course more food than you could possibly ever eat.

And speaking of food, after seeing miles of booths, hanging out with more animals than were on the ark (okay maybe not quite that many), and wading through some of the biggest crowds I have ever seen; the thing that stuck out to me more than anything else was all the different foods you can put on a stick. 

If you go to the Minnesota State Fair website you can use the foodfinder to scroll through the information on all 316 food vendors that have booths at the fair.  When you do, you will find typical iconic fair foods like the corn dog, walking tacos,  gyros, footlong hot dogs, and mini-donuts.  You will also find unique and interesting gastronomic delights such as beignets, spamburgers, sticky bun burritos, texas tator dogs, and the pot roast sundae which is a scoop of mashed potatoes, roast beef, gravy, corn, and a cherry tomato.  But the most mind-numbing fad at the fair is the way that each vendor is trying to outdo everyone else in what flavors they can manage to fit on a stick.  This year’s offerings include: chocolate watermelon, macaroni n’ cheese, deep fried tator tots, cajun seasonsed alligator sausage, big fat bacon, ostrich, deep fried candy bars, pork cheeks, salmon, lobster, porcupine meatballs, sliced ice cream on-a-stick dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts, stuffed grape leaves, camel, deep fried bologna, hot dish (that’s right hot dish on a stick), deep fried smores, spaghetti and meatballs, dill pickles, mashed potatoes, and of course, Fudge Puppies (a Belgium waffle on-a-stick dipped in chocolate and topped with choices of whipped topping, crunch coating or strawberries). 

As far as the eye can see at the fair there are people walking around eating food on a stick.   Now, I understand the concept behind this fad.  It makes sense that you want to give people food that is mobile so that they can buy it and eat it while they walk.  But if that is true, can you explain to me why we need things like pizza, olives, and dill pickles to be on a stick?  Aren’t those foods already falling into the walking around category before you attempt to put them on a stick?  And while we are on the subject, does anyone really need a deep-fried candybar?  And how in the world do you put spaghetti and meatballs, or mashed potatoes on a stick?  And why do we need to?

I know it is all for fun and when you go to the fair, the outrageous and the extravagant foods are part of the attraction, but we also need to learn restraint.  One of the problems we face as a society is that we do things just because we can.  We struggle with restraint.  I will be talking this Sunday about the fruit of the Spirit.  Paul tells us in Galatians 5 that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  Self-control isn’t easy, but God wants us to be able to exercise restraint.  We need to know when to say “when.”

So enjoy the fair, have fun, but also let the extravagance of the fair remind you of this lesson.  We don’t just do things just because we can.  At some point we need to learn to say, “when.”

You Can’t Handle the Truth

This week in my devotions I was reading in the book of Jeremiah.  Now if you have never read Jeremiah, it is not an easy book to read.  It is a bit of a downer.  Jeremiah was a prophet of the Lord and God gave him a lot of bad news to share with the people of Judah.  He prophesied about things like the destruction of Jerusalem, exile, and captivity.  Not very good news.  Even one of the most well-known verses from Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11),  comes as part of a letter to the exiles where Jeremiah is telling them to be patient and get comfortable where they are at, because they are going to remain in exile for 70 years. 

But the people didn’t want to hear what Jeremiah had to say.  He was threatened, put in prison, beaten, and even thrown into a cistern.   One of the passages that really stood out to me comes from Jeremiah 43:1-3a “When Jeremiah finished telling the people all the words of the Lord their God — everything the Lord had sent him to tell them — Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, ‘You are lying!'”

Now obviously one of the lessons we should learn from this passage is the faithfulness of Jeremiah in following the Lord even in spite of such opposition and such a difficult task, but instead I want to remind us of what we also can learn from the other side of the story.

Notice that the people called Jeremiah a liar.  Why?  Simply because they didn’t want to hear the message that he was bringing.  But truth is truth regardless of whether or not we like it.  Sometimes we need to hear tough things.  The truth is not always good news.  Sometimes it is painful and hard. 

There is a movie called “A Few Good Men.”  In that movie Jack Nicholson plays a colonel who is called as a witness in a trial.  He is being questioned by Tom Cruise who plays a JAG lawyer.  At one point in the questioning Cruise says he wants the truth and Nicholson tells him that he doesn’t want the truth and that he can’t handle the truth.

Is that true with us?  Do we say we want the truth, but in reality we really don’t want to hear the truth?  Maybe God has been speaking to you.  Maybe He has been trying to tell you some truth that you don’t want to hear.  My challenge is to be willing to hear the truth regardless of how easy it is to take.  Don’t close yourself off to bad news, or tough criticism, or strong rebuke if it comes from God.  The people of Judah needed to be disciplined.  They needed to learn a lesson.  They had strayed from God and that is why God allowed them to be exiled.  But Jeremiah 29:11 was still true as well.  God did know the plans He had for them and ultimately it was for their good.  And it is the same with us.  God knows what He is doing.  Trust Him and let Him help you to handle the truth.

Canned Peaches

Have you ever eaten a canned peach?  They’re pretty good right?  My kids enjoy them so much that they even fight over the left over juice.  Canned peaches come in very handy during the colder months, when a variety of fresh fruit is much harder to come by.

I like canned peaches, but the other day I was peeling a fresh peach for my daughter and I was thinking about canned peaches.  Have you ever thought about the difference?  Canned peaches and fresh peaches don’t even seem like the same thing.  They have very different flavors.  I am sure it has to do with the canning procedure, but whatever the reason, it changes the flavor and makes them different.

But not only are they different, they also just aren’t as good.  There is something really wonderful about eating a big, juicy, fresh peach, with the juice running down your face.  You know what I’m talking about!  Canned peaches are pretty good, but they pale in comparison to the real thing.

Imagine if all you ever knew was canned peaches in your life and then all of a sudden you get your first taste of a fresh peach.  Wow, what a difference!  And you are thinking to yourself, where has this freshness been all my life?  Why have I settled for canned peaches, when fresh peaches are so great? 

So while I was standing there peeling that fresh peach for my daughter and thinking about canned peaches, another thought came to me.  How often do we settle for canned peaches in our spiritual lives?  I think that happens alot.  We are satisfied with our relationship with God being pretty good.  We read our Bible, we pray, and we go to church and participate in worship.  Everything is pretty good.  And we are satisfied with pretty good.  But is that all there is?

I want to challenge you today, to take some time and consider if your relationship with God is more like canned peaches or fresh?  Does God have more in store for you that you are not enjoying simply because you are satisfied with your spiritual life being just pretty good?  Consider David, who in Psalm 42 says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.”  Does that sound like a man who is looking forward to some canned peaches?

This Sunday, I will be talking about a new way of looking at prayer.  It fits in well with this idea of canned peaches compared to fresh.  I don’t want to ever be satisfied with canned peaches, when there is freshness available to me.


My wife Julie was diagnosed with pneumonia last Friday.  The doctor told her that she had to go home and go to bed.  She was told to treat it as if she was in the hospital even though she was at home.  I know that many people have been praying for her and thankfully she has begun to feel a little better.  The fever finally broke and while the cough is still prevalent, at least some of the pain has subsided. 

Now of course, when mommy is laid up the rest of the home is put in a tough position as well.  The kids still need to be taken care of, the house still needs to be cleaned, the laundry needs to be done, and of course everyone still needs to eat.  We have four children, ages 2-10 and so you can imagine that while Julie has been recuperating, my life has been kind of out of whack.  I have been trying to be both mommy and daddy for the last few days as well as taking care of a sick wife. 

Thankfully my work is flexible and I have been able to do a lot of work from home so that the kids are still okay.  I also can multi-task, at least to some extent, which means that I can get laundry and other household tasks done while also working on my sermon and even writing this blog. 

But one of the reasons these last few days have gone so well is because of the ministry of hospitality provided to us by our River Church family.  Julie’s parents live nearby, but they were on their way out of town when Julie was diagnosed.  Julie’s mom offered to postpone our trip, but I told her to go ahead and go, because while it would be convenient to have her here, we also have a church family here with us and they have really stepped up. 

We have had a few people volunteer to take the kids for a time so that I could get work done or run errands.  And we have had several families that have brought us meals so that I did not have to think about cooking dinner.  What a blessing everyone has been.

This is part of what it means to “be the church.”  We are called to show hospitality to one another.  We are supposed to care for one another.  It isn’t always easy.  It isn’t always convenient.  But we do it because we are called to “be the church.”  I am so thankful to our church family for the blessing they have been during this time of need.  Thanks church!

Leadership Summit

So this past week I was at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit Simulcast in Bloomington.  It was a great conference featuring speakers like Bill Hybels, Jim Collins, Tony Dungy, Andy Stanley, and TD Jakes among others.  The Summit is a nice blend of men and women who approach leadership from different perspectives.  Topics included change, endurance, mentoring, tension, and motivation, again, among others.  Several of the names on the docket for this conference were ones that I recognized, but there were a few that I had never heard of before.  And suprisingly it was some of those that impacted me the most.

One of my favorite sessions happened to be an interview with Terri Kelly, the CEO of W.L. Gore & Associates (Gore-Tex).   I actually ran out of space trying to taking notes from some of the points she was making.  The interesting thing is that she was not coming at this from a church leadership viewpoint, but rather from one that was purely business.  But so much of what she was saying fits with the church as well.

For instance, she pointed out that a good leader doesn’t simply tell people what to do, but rather provides influence about what is important.   That is so true of my job as pastor and the leadership of the church.  We need to provide influence about what is important.  We need to be listening to the Lord and seeing where He is at work and what He wants us to do, and bring that to the church so that we can follow the Lord together.  In order for that to happen we need to have a common foundation, which is the Lord, and a common set of values.  We talk often about our vision and purpose and the reason is because we all need to be on the same page so that we have a framework for making decisions about what we are going to do and not do.

Another great presentation was an interview with Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric and author of the book, “Winning.”  He said that it is the leaders’ job to energize people, not through cheerleading or hyping something up, but by getting them to feel the vision. 

What a great concept that is.  Do you feel the vision?  I hope so.  We, at The River, believe we are called to “be the church.”  That is who we are.  We are committed to bringing maximum glory to God through knowing Christ and making Him known to every man, woman and child in the community of Chaska and to the regions beyond.  We will do that through authentic community, intentional discipleship, Spirit-filled worship, Kingdom praying, and missional living.  I hope you feel the vision.  Let’s be the church!

Another great presentation was with Blake Mykoskie, the founder of Tom’s Shoes Inc.  He made a great point about asking people to do audacious things.  I really liked that.  Tom’s Shoes gives away a pair of shoes for every pair of shoes that is bought.  That is pretty audacious.  I want us, as a church, to step up and do audacious things.  Obviously, it needs to be in line with what God is calling us to do, but I believe we sometimes miss out on big things because we are afraid to step out of the boat and trust God to help us walk on water. 

All in all, this was a great conference.  I am really glad that I had an opportunity to be there.  I pray that God will help me to be the leader He has called me to be and that He will use me to lead the church in becoming the church that He is calling us to be.