Tuesday, April 30, 2019


let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Hebrews 12:1

                As I was running the other day, I was feeling the effects of a long winter with no running. At one point I told myself, for me, running is not about speed, but about endurance. The goal is to persevere and not give up until I had finished my run. It got me thinking about the difference between sprinters and long-distance runners.  

                There is a major difference between sprinters and long-distance runners. Sprinters are all about speed. Long-distance runners are all about endurance. A sprinter will dominate a long-distance runner in a short run. But a long-distance runner will keep going long after a sprinter has run out of gas.

                We live in a society obsessed with speed. We want everything fast. The faster the better. For example, a particular sub sandwich place advertises that their delivery is freaky fast. Amazon will ship your package overnight, or even within hours, if you live in the right place. We have been programmed to be impatient. We do not like to wait. In a similar way, the Church has become obsessed with speed. We have become impatient with this spiritual journey. Things need to change and quickly. We are challenged to become spiritual sprinters.

                In my experience in ministry, I have encountered many spiritual sprinters. They are full of energy and nothing seems to hold them back. Early on they appear to be spiritual rising stars, yet many of them flame out before they really get going. They are all about moving forward as fast as possible, yet they rarely think about what is sustainable for the long haul. Many young Christians fall into this trap. Their enthusiasm for they faith propels them forward at breakneck speed. Then they run out of gas and wonder what happened. Enthusiasm and idealism are great, but they are not enough to keep you going for the long haul.

                One of the lessons I have learned from running is how to pace myself. When I am preparing to run a half-marathon, I determine in advance what my target time is for the race. Then I determine what pace I will have to maintain to achieve my goal. If I start out too fast, I will not have enough strength to finish the race. If I start too slow, I will miss my target.

                Just as it is in running, so it is in the Christian life. As exciting as it is to move forward at speed, appropriate pacing is the key to a successful Christian life. When I was in college, someone put it this way. God does not want us to burn out, or rust out. He wants us to hold out until the end. The key to a truly successful Christian life is godly endurance.

                James talks about this in James 1:2-4. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

                On this journey of faith, we will face all kinds of challenges. These challenges will put our faith to the test. James tells us that God uses these trials to refine our faith and to produce perseverance. The only way to become mature and complete in our faith is to develop spiritual endurance.

                Perseverance and endurance are not dragging our feet and going as slowly and cautiously as we can. They are moving forward in the face of challenges with an intentional, sustainable pace. A long-distance runner runs as fast as he or she can at a pace that can be sustained until the end of the race. So it is with our journey of faith. We keep pressing forward at a pace that we can sustain.

                Just as there are different runners, with different abilities, who run at different paces, not all believers will keep up the same pace. Some will move faster and some with progress slower. But all truly mature believers will persevere. Peter includes perseverance as an essential component of living a productive Christian life.

    For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)

                In the world of track and field, the glory goes to the sprinters. The highest goal is to be crowned the fastest runner in the world. Yet the greatest test of a runner’s abilities is the marathon. In many ways, the Church today has put its focus on the spiritual sprinters.  We shower them with glory and honor. We hold them up as the model that everyone should emulate. But long after the spiritual sprinters have run out of gas and have faded to the sidelines, those who have developed endurance continue to steadily move forward toward the goal. Their ministry may not be as flashy or as cutting edge as the sprinter, but over the long-haul, they will accomplish far more for the Kingdom of God. The greatest test of a believers faith is their ability to endure to the end of the race.

                The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. If we want to live a life worthy of our calling in Christ, then we need to learn to pace ourselves for the long-haul. It is those who have developed patience, perseverance, and endurance who, when they cross the finish line, will hear those words, well done good and faithful servant.

    And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:10-12)


Tuesday, April 23, 2019


1 Timothy 4:8
For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

                When I crawled out of bed this morning, my legs were stiff and sore. I was a feeling that I do not like, but I understand. Throughout this winter, I was unable to get out and run. Yesterday, with the sun shining and the air warm, I laced up my running shoes and ventured out. I felt the strain the entire way, as I forced my legs to propel me forward. At the end of two and a half miles, I leaned over in my driveway, with my hands on my knees, and panted for breath.

                Over the past few weeks, I have been reminded of a universal truth. That truth is that you never really stand still in life. You are either moving forward or slipping back. For a significant period of time before I left Mankato, I was either running or working out at the gym regularly. During that time, my weight was stable and my waistline was shrinking. Then we made the move. I cancelled my gym membership. My running became more sporadic and eventually ceased. The consequence was that my weight and my waistline began to increase. I am now back to trying to reverse the trend.

                Most of us understand that if we fail to take care of ourselves physically, we will face negative consequences. All of the hard work that I had done in the gym disappeared when I stopped going. But we do not often think that way when it comes to our spiritual health.

                Too often we settle for minimum spiritual effort, then wonder why we are not making any progress. Just like with our physical health, we never really stay the same. We are either growing spiritually or regressing spiritually. We can never really stand still.

                Paul challenged the Philippians to actively pursue spiritual health. Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)

                When I was going to the gym, all the equipment that I needed to be physically fit was available to me. But just having a gym membership was not enough. I actually had to use the equipment. In essence Paul is saying the same thing to us. God has provided for us everything we need to grow strong spiritually, but it is up to us to actually use the resources we have been given. It is not enough to just belong. We need to stretch and train our spiritual muscles.

                If we have been complacent for a while, using our spiritual muscles might hurt a little. We will feel the strain of flexing unused muscles. But the strain and pain are the cost of spiritual strength. If we persevere, and don’t give up, our spiritual muscles will grow stronger. The initial pain will subside and we will again experience the joy. The more that we actively exercise our spiritual muscles, the stronger and more resilient we become.

                When I first went to the gym, a friend set up a routine for me to follow. I was pretty clueless, so I needed a guide to help me make the most of my time. In the same way, we need a guide to help us get the most out of our spiritual exercise. There are many helpful guides available that explain how to use the classic spiritual disciplines in your life. I have learned a few general lessons that can help you get the maximum benefit from what ever “program” you decide to follow.

                Be intentional about what you want to accomplish. People who work out at the gym usually are intentional about what muscles they want to work on. One day they might work on their legs. The next day they might work on their arms. The next on their core. In a similar way, we need to be intentional about what aspect of our spiritual life we want to work on.

                Be consistent. The secret to any exercise program is consistency. The same is true for our spiritual growth. I recommend that at person establish a consistent time and place to engage in the various spiritual disciplines. Having a regular time for prayer, Bible study, and reflection trains our spiritual muscles more effectively. Being engaged in regular times of service allows us to test our spiritual strength. Consistency is the key to genuine growth.

                Use variety. I have been told that if you do the same exercises over and over again, your body adapts and you cease to get the benefit. But if you vary your exercise, you will have greater results. I have found this to be true spiritually as well. We can get into a rut, using the same approach or resources over and over again. After a while they lose their power to challenge and transform us. The key is to add variety to your spiritual exercises. Try different spiritual disciplines at different times. Change how you study the Bible. Use different styles of devotional guides to keep your times with God fresh and alive.

                Keep pushing forward. I began by referring to running. Over the years I have learned that I need to keep pushing myself to go a little farther. Over time I was able to progress from barely running one mile to running a half-marathon. Spiritually we need to keep pressing forward. This will mean accepting new challenges, risking doing things we have never done before, pushing the limits of what we think we can handle. I can tell you from experience that we can accomplish much more that we think we can. God wants to push the limits we place on ourselves to show us His power.

                In life, we are either moving forward or we are moving backward. There is no standing still. We can not stand still in our spiritual life either. If we want to have strong spiritual muscles, we will need to actively work at them.

Philippians 3:12-14
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.


Saturday, April 20, 2019


Psalm 104:10-12
He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
it flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the air nest by the waters;
they sing among the branches.

                You know that spring has arrived when the birds begin to sing. As I have been walking to my office in the mornings, the air has been filled with bird song. There is something uplifting in listening to the various songs of the birds as they serenade one another. It is a natural competition to out-sing the other birds, to be recognized, to stand out. Instead of trudging along, as I have throughout the winter, I experience a new spring in my step.

                Birds are one of those fascinating creatures who cohabitate with us. Although they keep a safe distance from us, yet they live out their lives in our presence. Many of us have placed bird feeders in our yards to entice our feathered friends to grace us with their activity, color, and song. If we are fortunate, we may be able to watch them build a nest, lay eggs, and produce a new generation.

                Birds are fragile, yet resilient. Many of them have the ability to withstand both harsh winters and scorching summers. Their movement in the air is magical. They soar and swoop seemingly effortlessly. They can change direction in a split second to avoid an unfortunate collision. I have often marveled at a flock of small birds flying amass is unison. They seem to make a single, coordinated organism as they create breathtaking patterns in the sky.

                Jesus pointed us to the birds of the air to remind us of just how much our Heavenly Father cares for us. There is so much of life that is out of our control, yet God constantly is watching over us, just as He does the birds of the air. In Jesus’ teaching about worry, He tells us to rest in the constant and intimate care of our Heavenly Father. Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26) Jesus’ point is that, if God takes such care of the birds of the air, we can trust Him to take care of us as well. Of course, it doesn’t mean that we just sit around and expect God to feed us, but it does mean that as we do our part to meet our basic needs, God will provide.

                I think there is another way that the birds of the air direct our thoughts to God. It is through their song. The songs of the birds are a glorious concert of praise to God. The variety and intensity of their songs rivals any human choir. They are unconcerned about being in tune or in rhythm. Their song is a spontaneous response to their creator.

                The Psalms challenge us to lift our voices in joyful song to God.

Psalm 33:1-3
Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.

                Singing and making music is one of the ways that we can actively praise God. Music has the ability to engage all of our senses, all of our emotions. It can transport us beyond mere words to a profound experience of standing in the very presence of God. Music is a gift that God has given to us that we, in turn, can give back to Him.

                Our world would be a much poorer place without the birds of the air. Their color, their activity, their song all add life and vitality to our world. Too often, we take their presence for granted. We pay little attention to them as they flit from tree to tree, or soar high above us, or form a line on the telephone lines. Yet our lives are enriched by their presence. They are a constant reminder that God is actively involved in our world. They are a reminder that the God who cares for the birds of the air cares for us as well.
Matthew 10:29-31
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019


James 4:10
    Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

                During my devotions this morning I was directed to read Psalm 23. Psalm 23 is probably one of the most well-known passages of scripture in the world. It is often used at funerals as a source of comfort.

                As I read this familiar passage today, I was reminded of an incident that happened to me while I was serving as a chaplain at our local hospital in Mankato. To put things into context, I was an on-call chaplain, which meant that I was usually being called in at a critical time for the patient and their family. Although I served in that position for over a decade, I was always apprehensive and a little unsure of myself when I was called in.

                On this particular occasion, I was seeking to give some comfort to a family who had just lost a loved one. Not knowing what their spiritual background was, I asked is I could read the 23rd Psalm for them. They agreed. After I finished, they asked if we could say the Lord’s Prayer together. We bowed our heads and I began, “The Lord is my shepherd…”

                I was puzzled by the fact that the others were not praying with me, so I stopped. Sheepishly, one person pointed out that I was not reciting the Lord’s Prayer but the 23rd Psalm. To say the least, I was embarrassed and humbled. I’m sure the people wondered what kind of a pastor would mix up the 23rd Psalm with the Lord’s Prayer. As I left the room, I could not believe that I had made such a blatant mistake. My focus was totally on me. I had forgotten why I was in that room in the first place.

                Most of us are not outwardly arrogant, but we can allow complacency to blur our vision. We can fall into a comfortable routine, which tends to put the focus on our needs and wants, and lose sight of those around us. We can become the center of our own world without realizing that we are doing it. At those times, God will often slip some incident into our lives that makes us aware of our frailty.  Those embarrassing mishaps are often God’s way of getting us to take another look at where we have placed our focus.

                James tells us that we should intentionally humble ourselves before God. When we do that, He will put our life into proper perspective. True humility is not looking down on ourselves, downplaying our strengths and exaggerating our weaknesses. True humility is having an honest and realistic view of ourselves. It is recognizing our faults, without letting them dominate our thinking. It is fully embracing our strengths, without drawing undue attention to them. True humility is turning our focus away from ourselves and looking outward, in a positive way, toward God and others.

                True humility begins with having an honest estimation of ourselves. Paul challenges us to look in the mirror to gain a realistic image of ourselves. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (Romans 12:3)

                True humility also creates an honest image of those around us. Paul challenges us to take the focus off of ourselves and place it on others. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

                True humility brings with it the blessing of God. God created us not to be doormats, but to be His masterpieces. Like a proud parent, God is delighted when His children use their gifts and abilities well. Like a wise parent, God is ready to confront self-promoting arrogance in His children. But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6)

                It is hard to be humble in a world that has made self-promotion a virtue. Yet, if we are to follow Christ, we must follow the path of true humility. During this Holy Week, we are reminded that Jesus willingly humbled Himself on our behalf so that we might have life eternal.

Philippians 2:5-11
    Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

    Who, being in very nature God,
        did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
    but made himself nothing,
        taking the very nature of a servant,
        being made in human likeness.
    And being found in appearance as a man,
        he humbled himself
        and became obedient to death--
            even death on a cross!
    Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
        and gave him the name that is above every name,
    that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
        in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
        to the glory of God the Father.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019


John 7:38
 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

                It was a relatively warm day yesterday, so I decided to go for a run. Actually, I have been aching to get out and go for a run all winter. I could tell that it had been a long time, as my legs and lungs began to protest, but it felt good to be stretching my muscles again.

                As I was running, I crossed a foot bridge over the Tongue River. I have crossed that bridge multiple times during the winter. Each time, I would look down at a frozen sheet of ice covering the water underneath. Obvious on the surface of the river were the tracks of animals seeking out the life-giving water. It was different yesterday. I looked down on a freely flowing stream. There were still pockets of ice here and there, but the river was flowing freely again. Now the animals can come freely and drink to quench their thirst.

                In ancient Israel, running water was referred to as living water. Running water was viewed as purer than a pool or pond. Running water was seen as life giving. Running water was always being refreshed.

                One day, while Jesus was traveling through Samaria, he encountered a woman at Jacob’s well. A well was the center of life for any town or village. The women of the village would gather in the early morning and in the evening at the well to draw water and to interact with one another. In a sense, the well was the social hub of the community. On this occasion, it was midday, not a normal time for a woman to be drawing water from the well. We can speculate why this woman arrived at the well when she did, but I have the suspicion that she was trying to avoid the other women. For her, the well was not a live-giving place, but a life-draining one. So, she was most likely startled when she arrived to find Jesus sitting there.

                Jesus engaged this woman in conversation, which also took the woman by surprise. Jesus was violating several cultural norms of the day. Jesus asked this woman to provide him with a drink of water. This led to an exchange that confused and unsettled the woman.

    The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
    Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." (John 4:9-10)

                This woman came seeking water from the well. Jesus offered her living water. This confused the woman even more. There was no stream nearby, no place to get “living water”. So, she challenged Jesus. His response completely changed the dynamics of the conversation.

    Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:13-14

                In her eagerness to avoid the conflict in her life that the well represented, she asked Jesus to give her this living water. The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water." John 4:15

                Much later, in another setting, Jesus promised to give living water to all who would come to Him in faith. On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. John 7:37-39

                We live in a thirsty world that is seeking to quench its thirst from stagnant pools and dry wells. People’s souls are parched and dry. They are looking for something that will satisfy them. Yet, like the woman at the well, they keep going back to the same, unsatisfying places. Speaking for God, Jeremiah expressed what is so common in our world today. "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jeremiah 2:13

                Jesus came to meet our deepest spiritual thirst, a thirst for a sense of purpose, meaning, and hope. He is the source of living water that leads to eternal life. Jesus promised to give us the Holy Spirit who becomes that living water within us. He is constantly giving us new life. He is constantly refreshing us. He flows in us and through us. Jesus is the life-giving water that quenches our spiritual thirst.

                All winter long the Tongue River has been encased in ice. Now that spring has arrived, the ice is melting and the water is freely flowing again. Many people live their entire lives as if their soul is encased in ice. Jesus has come to melt aware the ice that traps our soul and to replace it with the free-flowing, life-giving water of His love, His grace, and His presence.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A Birthday Reflection: April 2

Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

                Today I crossed a line, albeit an artificial one. Today I turned 65 years old. Today I entered the ranks of Medicare, although not yet Social Security. Today is one of those benchmarks of life.

                When I was growing up, I thought anyone who was 65 was ancient. By the age of 65 a person was heading out to pasture, life was basically over. All of the jokes about being over the hill flourished. It was time to retire, move over, and let others take your place. Today I turned 65 and I do not feel ancient or over the hill. I willingly will encourage others to take their place beside me, but I am not ready to move over and get out of the way.

                One of my favorite quotes about aging came from Satchel Page, one of the elite Negro League baseball players who broke the color barrier and entered the Major Leagues. When asked how old he was, he responded, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?” As best as anyone can tell, Page pitched for the Cleveland Indians into his 50’s.

                Getting older is a matter of both the passage of time and our attitude. There is nothing we can do about the passage of time, but we do have a choice about our attitude. I have known people in their 50’s who were “old” and people in their 80’s who were not. The difference was their attitude toward life.

                In Psalm 90, Moses challenges us to be very careful about our life. He tells us to number our days in the right way, so that we can gain a heart of wisdom. Wisdom comes as we are able to look back over our life, determine the lessons that we have learned, and then live accordingly. It is possible for us to live our lives in the past and turn our back on the future. It is also possible for us to live each day as an isolated event, unaffected by yesterday and with no thought for tomorrow. Or we can see our life as a journey that is leading us in a particular direction. Each day is informed by the past and has an eye on where it will lead in the future.

                Paul challenged us, in his letter to the Ephesians, to take the days of our lives seriously. Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:15-20

                As I reflect upon “crossing the line”, I am determined to make this next phase of my life the very best. I have made mistakes in the past, learned a few lessons, and now it is time to live out of a heart of wisdom. I do not look forward with apprehension, but with anticipation of how God might use me. And so I resonate with the words of Paul in Philippians 3:12-14. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.