This Week’s Links

Internet1This Week’s Links used to be a staple on the blog, and it is my hope that they return to their usual Tuesday rhythm as we enter the summer. They are slimmer, but hopefully just as helpful. To make sense of some of the things that I have read and found interesting, I have grouped them in the following categories: Church and Ministry Thought & Practice; Leadership Thought & Practice; Millennials; Neighbor Love; Stewardship; and Vocation. I hope you enjoy this edition of the links.

Church and Ministry Thought & Practice
The Lutheran World Federation Assembly concluded last week in Namibia, but not before “Nigerian Archbishop Musa Panti Filibus was elected LWF President.” Blessings and congratulations Bishop!

Bishop maas knocks
Bishop Brian Maas knocking on the door of St. Cecilia’s Cathedral in Omaha.

What happens when a Lutheran Bishop and Roman Catholic Archbishop get together? They pray and worship, commemorating the Reformation of course.

If you happen to be in Omaha on Thursday, I invite you to join me in an “Ascension Day Eucharist” at Kountze Memorial Lutheran. Bishop Brian Maas from the Nebraska Synod of the ELCA will preside, and Bishop Scott Barker of the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska will preach.

Have you thought about the possibilities for social enterprises in ministry? Last month Matt Overton shared this intriguing look and explanation about “Why I started a social enterprise at my church.” What might this idea look like in your context?

In exciting ministry news from Nebraska, Tammy Real-McKeighan wrote about the creation of the “Faith Ambassadors Parish,” a merging of five congregations choosing to go into collaboration to create a new parish just north of where I live.

If you are in ministry and imagining new ways to have children in worship, then I encourage you to check out this post by Traci Smith about “Church ‘Pray-grounds:’ Eight Stories and Inspiring Examples #kidmin.

Bishop Mike Rinehart shared a post that’s particularly helpful for young ministry leaders, “10 Financial Tips for Young Leaders.”

Friend and pastor Juliet Hampton shared this look by Michael O’Connor at interfaith work in the Omaha area, as well as a look at the growth of the Muslim faith and population in the region.

Leadership Thought & Practice
Friend, professor, and now Dean at the Drucker School, Dr. Jenny Darroch wrote and shared about, “The Drucker School of Thought: Distilling Drucker’s Work into Five Key Principles.” The principles highlighted include: a belief in the importance of a functioning society; a focus on people; a focus on performance; a focus on self-management; and a practice-based, transdisciplinary, and lifelong approach to learning. Do you have any remaining questions as to why I’m such a fan of Drucker’s work?

In a news story that could affect thousands of people, and perhaps even a whole generation of servant leaders (of whom, many are Millennials), Jordan Weissman wrote last week about how United States Secretary of Education, “Betsy DeVos wants to kill a Major Student Loan Forgiveness Program.” This is unacceptable, and should be rejected across the board.

Neighbor Love

Dr. Torvend
When you are gifted to attend a workshop put on by one of your favorite professors from PLU, of course you take a selfie with them! (Dr. Torvend with Allison and me last January)

Friend and professor Rev. Dr. Samuel Torvend has authored a new article that was recently published in the Oxford Religion Encyclopedia, just in time for the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, “Martin Luther’s Teaching and Practice of Charity and Social Ethics.” The article is available currently for free download, so be sure and check it out.

Also in celebration of the Reformation, check out “The Annotated Luther Summer Sale.”

Pastor Jennifer Crist shared some ideas about “Practicing Advocacy with Communities of Hope.”

In the midst of on-going discussion and worries regarding budgets and healthcare, Alexandra Stone reported in Omaha about how “Families are fearful as state cuts millions in funding disability service providers,” particularly affected is Mosaic, one of the great social ministries and serving arms of the church.

Pastor and author Jason Micheli reflected about, “What to say about God when there’s nothing to say.”

Friend and pastor Melissa Melnick shared an update and reflection in “Sending,” and honestly reflected about and in the midst of her grieving the loss of her son Chris. (Melissa, we continue to hold you and your family in prayer and love in Nebraska.)

Is the idea “more than enough” helpful for thinking about or reframing abundance? Friend Adam Copeland shared this post by Alex Benson. In thinking about this question, I greatly appreciate Pastor Bonnie Wilcox’s response to my initial question on Twitter, when she wrote last week that, “It speaks to the middle class at best. Not to those on limited incomes, esp. seniors.” What do you think?

Are you preaching this week? If so, here are some thoughts, ideas, and nuggets for consideration for “Preaching on Stewardship- May 28, 2017.”

Friend and professor Dr. Ron Byrnes asked, “How do you decide whom to give to?” See Ron’s thoughts, and join the conversation about giving.

Friend Marcia Shetler shared some great ideas on the COMPASS blog, writing about the importance of “Understanding Our Relationship with Money.” And in a related post in that series, Beryl Jantzi wrote and asked, “What is your money, debt management, and generosity type?

I have been serving as the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod for just over a year now. Looking back at the first year, and to the year ahead, I shared some reflections about how I feel “Beyond Grateful.”

Congratulations to friend Ed Grogan, who was elected the new chair of the Board of Regents at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU).

Speaking of PLU, as we are in the midst of graduation and commencement season, Kari Plog shares a look at four students’ stories in “Commencement 2017: Lutes prepare for life after college.” Thanks to friend Carrie Gubsch for first sharing this post with me.

That will conclude this week’s edition of the links. I hope you have enjoyed them, and that you are enjoying the new rhythm to the blog. If you have ideas for me, please let me know in the comments. Thank you for reading and being part of the conversation, and blessings on your week! -TS

Image Credits: The links and Bishop Maas knocking.

International Women’s Day #Instruct

As part of my Lenten journey this year, I will be blogging daily using the themes or words created by the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin in partnership with other ELCA synods for “Lent Photo a Day.” The word for today, March 8th, is “Instruct.”

I am doing something different today. Instead of a theological or biblical devotion, I am simply going to stand in solidarity with all of the women in my life, and remind or instruct myself about all of these important women.

On this International Women’s Day, or Day Without Women, I am wearing red. I am also going to use the following post to share just a sampling of a list of some of the women who have had and/or continue to have an impact on me by their leadership, friendship, mentorship, collegiality, and willingness to listen and be in conversation with me and others. It is long past due that all women receive full equal rights, equal pay, equal respect, and equal authority.

If the world did not have the following women, I would not be who I am today, and for all of you, and the many more not listed here, thank you, and know that I am with you as an ally, friend, and colleague.

women 1
Some of the strong women in my family.

Rev. Allison Siburg
Tricia Siburg
Tamara Siburg
Jakki Parks
Maria Harwell
Melba Tengesdal
Joan Siburg
Dr. Margo Holm
Dr. Lynn Chandler
Dr. Joan Rogers
Natalie Holm
Joanne Parks
Dr. Barb Tengesdal
Britta Tengesdal
Lisa Tengesdal
Pat Jackson
Kristin Jackson
Suzy Siburg
Holly Jenkins
Amanda Siburg

women 2
More of the amazing women in my family

Elizabeth Bateman
Kristin Bateman
Kath Bateman
Erin Parks
Carla Parks
Becca Padrick
Anna Padrick
Tracy Padrick
Dorothea Tenney
Elaine Vangerud
Rev. Nancy Victorin-Vangerud
Mary Vangerud
Heather Vangerud
Sharon Tenney
Diane Schori
Karla Tengesdal
Sophie Ommedahl
Myra Johnson
Myrna Stanton
Nancy Land
Rev. Alison Shane
Dr. Terri Elton
Rev. Dr. Mary Sue Dreier
Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis

dr. marit
Allison and I with Dr. Marit Trelstad, one of our favorite professors from PLU, whom taught one of the more influential classes for me, “Feminist, Womanist, & Mujerista Theology”

Dr. Marit Trelstad
Dr. Lynn Hunnicutt
Dr. Karen Travis
Dr. Brenda Ihssen
Dr. Priscilla St. Clair
Dr. Patricia O’Connell Killen
Dr. Jean Lipman-Blumen
Dr. Amy Marga
Dr. Lois Malcolm
Dr. Deanna Thompson
Rev. Karen Stevenson
Rev. Juliet Hampton
Rev. Megan Morrow
Stephanie Lusienski
Diane Harpster
Lisa Kramme
Michele Herrick
Sandy Terry
Rev. Rebecca Sheridan
Rev. Rebecca Sullivan
Rev. Amanda Ullrich
Rev. Kaitlyn Forster
Carrie Gubsch
Andi Mandrick
Rev. Emmy Kegler
Rev. Jill Rode
Deacon Connie Stover
Deacon Peggy Hahn
Deacon Beth Hartfiel
Chris Hicks
Vonda Drees
Lynn Willis
Joanne Erickson
Elise Erickson
Svea Erickson
Sylvia Cauter
Emily Cauter
Susie Soine
Karen Byrd
Kerrie Byrd
Carol Zach
Carol Peterson
Ursula Alexander
Carin Nelson
Lynn Rupp
Debbie Collier
Christie Lofall
Mrs. Tobin
Mrs. Bryant
Mrs. Hamlin
Mrs. McLaughlin
Mrs. Harmon
Mrs. Smith
Mrs. Youngquist
Sharon Ferguson
Mrs. Davies
Mrs. Webster
Mrs. Piper
Mrs. Olson
Mrs. Bale
Mrs. Overby

Some of our many friends who gathered with us on our wedding day from PLU. Look at all of those great leaders, people, and especially the sheer number of amazing women.

MaryAnn Anderson
Kristen Lee
Rachel Danforth
Jamie Lindberg
Louise Rose
Andrea Goddard
Kim Skelly
Katie Oost
Mallory Ferland
Kristen Sprague
Ella Sanman
Kellie Kuntz
Ariana Stinson
Nicole Perigard
Stacy Davis
Allison Ryan
Dr. Jenny Darroch
Dr. Sarah Smith-Orr
Dr. Katharina Pick
Dr. Lois Farag
Dr. Susan Heinrich
Dr. Mary Hess
Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda
Marcia Shetler
Senator Patty Murray
Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn
Dr. Elizabeth Goldsmith
Kim Parker
Hannah Heinzekehr
Deacon Julia Nelson
Margaret Ellsworth
Cori Jo Duncan
Holly Wright
Jacklyn Henly
Kristin Tranby
Jody Thone
Kim Pleticha
Rev. Siri Erickson
Mary Struwve
Nancy Giddings
Deb Meyer
LuAnn Olson
Kelly Simon
Jessica Potts
Joy Studer
Connie Howard
Deacon Julie Bracken
Janet Borst
Rev. Kathy Braafladt
Rev. Melanie Wallschlaeger
Allison Ramsey
Karen Pickering
Presiding Bishop, Rev. Elizabeth Eaton

Some of my closest friends from seminary- confidants, co-conspirators, cheerleaders, dreamers, and doers.

Rev. Emily Wiles
Rev. Katie Emery
Rev. Beth Wartick
Grace Duddy Pomroy
Jody Meyer
Angie Moeller
Heather Ruwe
Shirley Kocher
Katherine Ostlie
Jennifer Olson-Kringle
Sara Garbers
Rev. Michelle DeBeauchamp Olafsen
Alice Olson
Annie Romstad
Judy Hedman
Myrlette Giddings
Sheryl Jacobsen
Tisa Zachau
Kari Osmek
Kris Bjorke
Rev. Diane Roth
Rev. Sarah Cordray
Rev. Sarah Ruch
Rev. Sheryl Kester-Beyer
Rev. Sylvia Karlsson
Heather Hanson
Mary Ann Peterson
Joanne Hinckle

Obviously, I could keep going, and this is only a few people, but it’s a sampling of some of the countless women who have had and/or continue to have an impact on me. If it weren’t for these people, and many others not named here, I would not be who I am.

Who would you be without the women in your life? 

As we continue together our journey through Lent to the cross, join me in pondering these questions, and join the #LentPhotoaDay adventure through images and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels. 

How might we show the #Fruit of the Spirit?

As part of my Lenten journey this year, I will be blogging daily using the themes or words created by the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin in partnership with other ELCA synods for “Lent Photo a Day.” The word for today, March 7th, is “Fruit.”

An apple, a glass of water, and some great books on the book shelf. Good fruit to start the morning in my office.

Did you grow up hearing the adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away?”

I’m not sure I ever believed that, but as I think back to a year living in California where I probably had my best balanced diet and did my most walking ever, I could see the merit in it. I did in fact nearly have an apple a day that year, and I was hardly ever sick. So, maybe there is a correlation?

In thinking of apples and fruit today, I am thinking about the fruit of the spirit.

The apostle Paul writes,

“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” – Galatians 5:22-26, NRSV.

Sometimes you might hear these fruits and think of someone as a passive, mild, and meek individual. Perhaps they are. But “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” are not always easy things, and often they require more action, strength, courage, and leadership than we might expect.

I suspect that this year will be such a year where these fruits will require more action than many of us are used to. Are we up for the task with God’s help?

To put it another way, ponder these questions with me:

  1. Are we up to the task and calling to show love to all people, no matter if we agree with them at all times or not?
  2. Are we able to find joy, like the joy of a child in our life, joy in God’s gift and promise of abundant life?
  3. Are we able to center ourselves in the assurance of the peace that surpasses all understanding?
  4. Will we strive to be patient with those we live, love, and serve with, as well as those whom we are in relationship with?
  5. Are we able to show kindness to all, especially those marginalized, victimized, living in fear of decisions and potential decisions being made that could turn life upside down or worse?
  6. Are we willing to be generous at all times because God is generous?
  7. Will we be faithful by: living among God’s faithful people, hearing the word of God and sharing in the Lord’s supper, proclaiming the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, serving all people following the example of Jesus, and striving for justice and peace in all the earth?
  8. In all that we do, will we strive to live gently with those around us, working to reconcile and strengthen relationships?
  9. Will we exercise self-control to the best of our abilities?

These are lots of questions, and I’m not sure that I could answer all of these in the affirmative. But perhaps they are helpful in light of centering ourselves this season of Lent, and in living out our baptismal callings and vocations as Children of God?

However you answer these questions inspired by the fruit of the spirit, know that we are in this together as Children of God, called, created, and loved by a God who knows us better than we know ourselves.

Let us close today’s reflection with a prayer often heard following baptism or the affirmation of the congregation:

We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give us new birth, cleanse us from sin, and raise us to eternal life. Stir up in your people the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.

As we continue together our journey through Lent to the cross, join me in pondering these questions, and join the #LentPhotoaDay adventure through images and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels. 

References: Question 7 was taken from the affirmation of baptism liturgy along with the closing prayer, found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), pages 236-237.

From Where Shall My #Help Come

As part of my Lenten journey this year, I will be blogging daily using the themes or words created by the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin in partnership with other ELCA synods for “Lent Photo a Day.” The word for today, March 6th, is “Help.”

The psalms are filled with cries for help and songs of pleading for deliverance. Here are just four examples, three from the psalmist and one from the Lord:

Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your name’s sake.” – Psalm 79:9. 

Help me, O Lord my God; save me according to your steadfast love.” – Psalm 109:26.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?” – Psalm 121:1. 

“‘Because the needy are oppressed, and the poor cry out in misery, I will rise up,’ says the Lord, ‘and I will give them the help they long for.'” – Psalm 12:5.  

As I think about what it means to help, I am struck by how much we all need help. These verses above illustrate just some of the ways we need God’s help. We can’t deliver ourselves. We can’t forgive our own sins. We can’t save ourselves. And often, we really can’t save ourselves from ourselves.

From where shall my help come?

On a cloudy day on the afternoon after I was consecrated as a deacon in Poulsbo, the Olympic Mountains are starting to break through the clouds.

Inspired by Psalm 121, I have always thought of this passage with the images I had growing up, going to school and being able to see the beauty of the Olympic Mountains in one direction, and often Mount Rainier in a different direction. I guess that might be the benefit of having grown up in Washington state where there aren’t just hills, but mountains.

Perhaps the illustration lacks effect in places without mountains, but hopefully it illustrates the notion of seeing something grand, majestic, and bigger than ourselves. At the same time, this bigger and majestic hill or mountain, can be daunting or frightening to climb or travel across, only possible through God’s help or deliverance.

In what ways are you feeling that you, or others you know, need help right now?

Mount Rainier as I saw it from my plane last fall on a flight from Seattle to Omaha.

When we come together as people, we can do a lot of good to help one another as God calls us to do.

But when close ourselves off from community, build walls and hide behind them, and when we turn our back on our neighbors in need, we are the ones really needing help. For we have lost sight of why we are here and why God has created us.

For all those in need, our selves included, let us pray this prayer from Martin Luther,

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen me. I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether. O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you. In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have. I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor. I am a sinner; you are upright. With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give. Amen. 

As we continue together our journey through Lent to the cross, join me in pondering these questions, and join the #LentPhotoaDay adventure through images and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels. 

Source: “A prayer from Martin Luther,” found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), page 87.

Overcoming Joyless Busyness – #TheStruggleisReal

This past Sunday, February 26, 2017, I had the privilege to visit and preach at Spirit of Grace Lutheran Church in Holdrege, Nebraska. Not only was it Transfiguration Sunday, it was also the fourth and final week of a series in worship at the congregation called, #TheStruggleisReal. The premise of the series was, “We live in an age of distraction, temptation, and joyless busy-ness. But it doesn’t have to be that way!” Hence, my focus topic as part of the series was “joyless busy-ness.” The passage for the theme was Ephesians 2:1-10, and the accompanying gospel for Transfiguration was Matthew 17:1-9.

What follows is the majority of the manuscript of the sermon I preached. If you are interested in seeing a video of the sermon from the Connexion Service (the second service on Sunday mornings), you can see a recording via Facebook Live on the congregation’s Facebook page. Thank you again to Pastor Ted Carnahan for the invitation to preach and visit. 

Grace, peace, and blessings from the one who calls, creates, loves, and saves us. Amen. It is a great joy to be with you this morning, and thank you again to Pr. Ted for the invitation. On behalf of the whole Nebraska Synod, and all of your 100,000 sisters and brothers from across it, I bring greetings. As the relatively new Director for Stewardship for the synod, I am still getting acquainted with Nebraska. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, spent a year in California, and five in Minnesota, but this is my wife’s and my first year in Nebraska, so, I am grateful for this first opportunity to come to Holdrege and see what God is up to in amazing and exciting ways here at Spirit of Grace.

Outside the entrance to Spirit of Grace.

To get to wrap-up this four part series about how the “Struggle is Real,” is an honor, and I think it fits nicely within a sense of holistic stewardship. For me, stewardship is not just about money. It’s about all of who God created us to be, and all that we have and all that we are. It includes our money, but it also equally includes our selves, our time, our possessions, our dreams, our questions, ideas, stories, vocations, relationships- basically every component of how we live our lives in response to the good ness of God’s gifts. But I’ll get to that more in a few minutes.

Joy-less Busyness
I don’t know about you… but it can be easy to get swept up in all of the work and busyness of life, so easy that we lose sight of the reason we’re doing everything we’re doing. In being busy, we can forget to take the time to breathe, to be, and, sometimes, there’s really a lot of things we’re doing which maybe we might not need to be doing, at all. You might call it, “Joy-less Busyness” perhaps.

Maybe a story might help. Let me set the scene. Imagine Minnesota in the middle of winter. Maybe like here during one of those winters where it actually snows a fair amount, and the temperatures are regularly below zero. My wife Allison and I had graduated about a year before from seminary with non-ordination degrees.

We were working in part-time roles in two different congregations, and doing various other contract type work that seemed common for people our age at the time. We were juggling all of these part-time roles, living in St. Paul, and working about 100 miles away from each other on any given day, while also being a 1-car family. You do the math. It was complicated. Thank goodness for Google calendars, or I don’t know how our marriage would have lasted through that busyness and craziness.

Buddy looking disapprovingly.

But it came to a point, that we realized it wasn’t sustainable. But what were we going to do? I think our cat Buddy had had it up to here with us and the craziness of our coming and going schedule from our central base of our nice little apartment south of Como Park, for those of you who might know St. Paul. It was getting harder and harder to feel joy. We were just too busy. And something would have to change.

Obviously, there’s more to the story, but I think you see the point. Whether it’s caused by work, relationships, things we volunteer for or put on our calendars, tasks we take on, trips to the store, meetings galore… life can get full of stuff quickly. And though you can find meaning in a life that’s always on the go, you can also lose any sense of calm, grounding, purpose, and fulfillment too.

So what are we to do? Where’s the good news in this?

Freedom, Promise, and Salvation through Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10)
I am not sure that I felt dead, but I know that anyone of us when we get so bogged down can feel dead and lost like Paul describes in the beginning of today’s reading from his letter to the Ephesians. But Paul, as Paul often does, brings it back to the heart of the gospel with words that we might often hear in the absolution or forgiveness, “But God, who is rich in mercy…”

It is through God that we are able to lay aside the things that hold us down, including our needs and feelings to be productive or to “measure up” to some self or societal created standard of achievement.

Out of God’s “great love” we have been “made alive together with Christ,” and so fittingly we hear this passage today, as we are in this 500th commemoration year of the Reformation. “By grace you have been saved.” This is a free gift. This is freedom that is only possible through God in Christ.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God- not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

Could you imagine my Grandpa doing a mic drop?

My grandpa was a Lutheran pastor, and the one thing I remember from him teaching me about preaching, was that, if a sermon doesn’t have grace, it’s not worth preaching. And I can imagine my Grandpa, if he were still around for the rise of YouTube, would have just read this verse, dropped his microphone, and sat down. It’s that good. It’s core to who we are as Christians, and particularly within our lens as Lutherans.

In this we hear of salvation, we are reminded that it is a gift. It’s also a promise. A promise of relationship that began at the very beginning of creation, and was affirmed with God’s covenant with Abraham, and then of course through the cross with Christ. We are created in Christ Jesus, as Children of God, and we are reminded that we are all created in the very image of God. That’s an on-going promise of a God who knows us- who doesn’t just create us, but a God who knows us more deeply than we know ourselves, who is with us, and as we’ll remember in a few moments in communion, is for us.

So, what do we do? We can’t do anything to earn this gift. But, it’s such an incredible gift, that we can’t just sit on our hands or continue to run around in our daily lives ragged, weary, and detached.

In these words from Paul, we are reminded that we have purpose. We were created for good works, something that Martin Luther picked up on immensely when writing about how we are perfectly free, yet also, perfectly enslaved or bound to our neighbor. Put another way, we are created to serve and love our neighbor.

It’s our joyful response to the gifts and promises of God. Not because we need to do this to be saved, but because God has already promised and saved us. We can’t help but be so caught up in joy for the relief of the good news, that our lives are changed. How we go about living them, serving in our various vocations, roles, and relationships, reflects how that good news impacts us.

Of course… you might think I am a little passionate about this, as the Director for Stewardship, but I can’t help it. When I hear stories of people serving their neighbor, when I see the many unique ways congregations go about responding to the needs they see locally and globally, I get so excited, I want to learn, listen, share, and tell those stories. They are real life examples of people’s lives being changed because of the Good News, and the love of God, as shown through the love, words, and deeds of God’s people.

Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9)
It’s interesting that today in the church we are also remembering and celebrating the Transfiguration. As much as the world changed when Jesus was baptized, and God’s voice broke into the gospels for the first time, in today’s story of Jesus, Peter, James, and John going up to the mountain top, God speaks again.

Iconography Metamorphosis Transfiguration Church
An iconography depiction of the Transfiguration.

The disciples were amazed at the sight, and I mean, who wouldn’t be, if before their eyes they saw Moses or Elijah? They wanted to stay, and who could blame them. It all must have just felt perfect. Bright, safe, majestic. Maybe you have had an experience of pure joy that you didn’t ever want to leave. Perhaps a dream vacation or honeymoon like I just had? Or perhaps a moment of transcendence and closeness with God where you lost track of time? A place where the worries of today, the to-do list that never ends, and all the other things on your calendar, didn’t matter anymore.

I imagine that’s especially how Peter felt as he offered to make three dwellings there. But before everyone could get settled, God’s voice broke in, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.” We hear these words more or less in every telling of the Transfiguration story. But what’s unique in Matthew’s version, are the last three words God says, “listen to him!” “Listen to him!”

What do you say to that? I kind of wish God would be so direct today. But it can be hard when we get so busy to hear God. And perhaps when we do sense God’s nudge, pull, or tap on the shoulder, we might either be too scared to listen, or too busy to make the time to listen and start to wonder, what might God be up to here?

As anyone probably would have been, the disciples were terrified at this whole experience. But Jesus is there with one of his most common sets of greetings, after commanding them to get up, he says, “do not be afraid.”

It’s easier said than done, to not be afraid. We can again get so caught up in our busyness, stress, worries, and anxieties, that it can seem impossible not to be afraid of something. And this fear, not only can hurt our relationship with God, it certainly hurts our relationships with each other, and within our self. Perhaps it’s this very fear of not being enough which drives us into the madness of our over-scheduled non-stop chaotic lives, where we can lose sight of why we are doing what we are doing?

And it’s precisely when this happens, that we need to recall that God is in fact still with us. God is walking alongside us. And God wants us to choose life- a life of abundance and joy, not a life of scarcity and fear.

Looking to the Cross

Remembering one’s baptism after receiving communion at Spirit of Grace.

On Wednesday, Christians across the church will gather and be reminded that “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” No other day of the year so clearly points to the finiteness of human life and frailty on earth. It’s the day we all begin our symbolic journey on the road to the cross in our time of Lent. It’s the time we might most deeply remember Jesus’ journey to and through the cross. The harshness of it, yet also, the insanity of the gift that it is for us. A gift we could never earn nor deserve. A gift God gives freely out of love for us.

Questions, Impact, and Abundant Life
So, as I like to ask, how will you live your life? How will you be so caught up in joy for all that God has done and continues to do for you? And what will that joy lead to? What will your joy look like? Will it be a joyful response and change in your life? Or will it be a fleeting moment of joy on a mountaintop, before having to go back out into the craziness of a non-stop schedule and world?

Putting my stewardship hat on, your answers to these questions are stewardship answers. They get to how you will use, live, or steward your life. No answer is necessarily wrong or right, they just are. But here’s my hope for you:

Take the time to look at your to-do list and calendar. What’s the busiest part of your life? How does it bring you joy? Or, how does it keep you from experiencing joy? If there are things on your calendar that keep you from experiencing joy, what can you give up? I promise you, there are things that you, as hard as it might seem at this moment in time, can make the choice to give up and not be so busy.

Think about your daily routine. Do you have any breathing space? Time to center in prayer? Time to sit with God’s word? Or, sing and play some music that might help you experience God? Perhaps you feel God on walks out in the beauty of God’s creation, or by being artistic, in coloring or designing something? Whatever it looks like for you, find that breathing space. Even if its only 5 minutes a day, that five minutes will have a big impact on the rest of your day.

Finish this sentence, I will make room for joy in my life by _______________.

Putting it all together- the Rest of the Story

The Connexion Worship Band singing about joy at Spirit of Grace.

Here, I’ll help you by fast forwarding a bit in the story of who I am, and how my wife and I discerned a path out of the chaos of always on the go life in Minnesota. Long story short, Allison went back to seminary and was ordained to word and sacrament ministry this past fall, and I was consecrated as a deacon for word and service ministry.

That’s what I have the joy of doing now in serving here in Nebraska- teaching, thinking, listening, partnering with, and coming alongside the many individuals, congregations, and communities who are in partnership together in the Nebraska Synod. I get to hear, and help tell the story of God at work, and how that is seen through lives of service and great generosity across this whole state out of love and gratitude for all that God has done and continues to do.

But, it has not always been easy. Since moving to Nebraska, I have been still trying to figure out a routine. My wife Allison is the new pastor at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle, which is just northeast of Fremont.

It’s a lovely congregation in a rural setting. In figuring out daily life, however, I still haven’t settled into a routine that allows me to work out as much as I need to. So, to finish the sentence for myself, I will make room for joy in my life by either going for a walk daily, or making the time to leave work a little early in Omaha to be able to work out at the YMCA in Fremont.

How about another sentence to finish. I will respond to the good news of God joyfully by __________. What is something you will do, whether you do it all the time, haven’t done it in awhile, or have never done, because you feel a passion to do it, and because you feel that it’s a way you can share God’s love with the world around you?

A Way Forward and a Reminder of God’s Love and Promises

God claims you and loves you, just because you are a Child of God. (I love this sign and station at Spirit of Grace by the way.)

These answers are part of the answer to the question of what will you do because you are so grateful, thankful, and caught up in joy for all that God has done and continues to do. They are also a start of a way forward to with God’s help, overcome our self-inflicted joylessness.

No matter where you are- living joyfully, or working on paths out of joylessness, please hear me and remember this. You are enough, because God is enough. God created you, knows you, claims you, and loves you. There’s nothing you can do about that. It’s freeing. It’s counter-intuitive, perhaps counter-cultural in today’s society, and it’s a central promise from God.

As Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

Image Credit: The Transfiguration

Honest Reflections of the Heart

It’s already late February. My birthday has come and gone, a big one actually this year in terms of milestones. (Yay for a new decade… I think.) Where has the year gone? I haven’t blogged as often as I like. I have been still figuring out what life is like in a new place, Nebraska, and in a new capacity, as the Nebraska Synod Director for Stewardship.

My heart is full of joy, love, and purpose. 

The staff of the Nebraska Synod gathered together before Christmas in December 2016.

This I do know- I love my job, ministry, and call. I love my team of colleagues, friends, and peers, who serve alongside me and whom partner together to serve in their various vocations and callings- for the sake of their neighbor, God’s work and mission in the world, and the spreading of the Good News of the promises of God. I love the community and congregation my wife and I are a part of. And I am excited for the year ahead.

At the same time, my heart hurts. 

I hurt as I see the continued rise in hatred and bigotry. I hurt as I see ill-conceived policies and decisions being enacted without apparent concern for compassion and humanity.

I could respond to a long list of decisions through news stories and commentaries, but I trust you see enough of those where you get your news and in your social media feeds. I could get on my soapbox and explain why theologically I feel so unnerved by many of these decisions. But today, I want to stick to a societal argument, if possible.

Policies and decisions enacted by leaders are not just for themselves. In a business world, there is truth that those decisions are for shareholders and customers. But in a civil society, those decisions are for the elusive and hard to define, “common good.”

How do you define the “common good?”

Everyone defines the concept differently, but it’s one that we must hold at the center of our decision making to be able to collaborate and live together in community. If we do not, then we really do not have much holding us together at all, except for some malleable laws and rights, which hopefully have universal meaning.

It’s my opinion (and my opinion alone), that many of the decisions and policies currently being enacted do not have the common good in mind. And I wonder, if the reason for this is because there is a misunderstanding of the role of government and civil society? I was taught and modeled in school and previous career opportunities, that leadership in such environments is a privilege and a gift. But most importantly, leadership in such capacity is service!

Leadership is service. Government is service. 

It’s not about popularity. It’s not about power. It’s not about partisanship on any side. It’s about service, and particularly serving for the common good of our shared ideals- those grounded in the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. And also adapting as those ideals must evolve as our understanding of science, people, technology, and the world change over time. But through such change, we must hold on to the importance of service for the sake of the common good.

Why does my heart hurt?

  • Because those currently enacting policies and decisions don’t seem to understand this- the very notion of service and common good.
  • Because instead of moving to unite across party politics, campaign rallies are still being held by those elected.
  • Because the fourth estate, the press, is being singled out as the enemy, and those who offer differing opinions and protest or resist are being dismissed as the enemy or a few “paid” people.

Until these concerns are addressed, my heart will likely continue to hurt. And at the same time, protests and resistance will grow stronger and louder.

Here I am, grateful. Happy and willing to talk with you, because we are in relationship with each other.

So here I am. A person who is grateful for the role I am in, my vocation, and calling. At the same time, a person who is convicted by my understandings of leadership and theology by what I am seeing in my country that I love, and in God’s beautiful yet hurting and broken world that is thirsting and in need for reconciliation.

Wherever you are, know that I am here. A fellow Child of God, happy and willing to talk with you, because whether we agree or not, we are in relationship with each other as citizens of society, and people created in the Image of God. As you wrestle with your daily life, call, questions, ideas, dreams, worries, and wonderings, know that I too do so. We’re in this together. And God is here with us too.

On one other note, it is my plan to return to daily blogging on Ash Wednesday, blogging a short reflection each day during Lent. I hope to be able to follow through on that plan. We’ll see starting next week. Until then, blessings and peace friends, and thank you for reading, serving in your vocations, and being part of the conversation and work together.  -Timothy

Image Credit: For the Common Good

Building Bridges, Not Walls

This past weekend, I was consecrated as a deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It was a wonderful day, full of celebrating the work of the Holy Spirit. I was excited to write all about it and share my joy this week here on the blog. That will have to come in a later post. Because today, I am about as a joyless as I have ever been.

I have been raised to believe in the power of communities to come together.

I have been raised to believe in the power of people working together, so that all might do well and have an equal opportunity regardless of ethnicity, skin color, religious belief, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, relationship status, and any other forms of identity and experience.

I believe in the importance of working for the common good.

I believe in building bridges, not walls. 

Build bridges, not walls.
Build bridges, not walls.

That’s why today is so sad. It is so hard. There is no way to find joy in knowing that my country, has voted for someone who openly ran on a platform of division and building walls between people and communities, not bridges. My country has voted for a man who created and fed off an irrational  sense of fear of the other.

My country has voted for a man who claims to be a Christian, and whom many Christians believe to be one. But there is no way to square his platform with my understanding of the Christian faith. For, if you open up the gospels, one can easily see that where ever society creates walls and tries to separate communities, Jesus shows up on the margins or the other side of the wall in relationship with the other, the outsider, the Samaritan woman at the well, the leper long since forgotten with sores, the tax collector Zacchaeus, and many more.

I am sad today, because if the person who has just become president-elect makes good on his campaign platform rhetoric, communities will be broken, relationships will be torn apart, rights will be stripped away, and many people at the margins of society may rightfully be scared to wake up in the morning.

I have no joy in writing this.

But I also know this, I believe in a God who shows up and is always present.

I believe in a God who calls us all through the waters of baptism to lives of service, and vocations for the sake of the world and our neighbor. Through the water and the word, we make promises:

  • to live among God’s faithful people,
  • to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
  • to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
  • to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
  • and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

And it is because of this, that we cannot hide. It is because of this that we cannot back away in despair. Today is a sad day, perhaps even a terrifying one. But it is also a day where we are called to be the church just like every other day, but perhaps even more importantly now.

Many are legitimately afraid of being pushed aside on the other side of a wall. I will play no part in building any wall. And I invite you to join me.

Join me by building bridges and connections. Join me, by choosing kindness and love over fear and suspicion. Join me, in talking to the person you meet on the side of the street or inside the grocery store. Join me, in sharing how your faith compels you to be a servant leader to your neighbor.

Martin Luther famously wrote, “A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to all.” The paradox Luther points to is that we are called and created to be free, but also servants to one another. This is leadership, and speaks to how we are created and called to be in relationship and community. So this is what I choose to do, but more importantly, feel called to do today, and all the days after.

We have work to do. It’s God’s work. The work of God’s kingdom breaking in. The work of showing love, peace, and justice for all people and all creation. The work of finding common ground and peace in the midst of great divisiveness.

I pray for President Elect Trump. I pray that God’s wisdom fills him, and that he turns out to be a good leader who works to build bridges and not walls.

No matter how the days and years ahead turn out, I promise to be one who builds bridges and works to promote the dignity of all people, my neighbors, and fellow Children of God. I promise to be one who resists any attacks on the vulnerable, marginalized, and the oppressed. (And I invite you to join that promise by signing this petition.) I promise to be an ally, even if that means putting  my own life and work at risk, because if one member of the Body of Christ is threatened, we are all threatened.

Please join me in this work. This is not something that can be done alone, but rather in community, with a God who calls us together, sustains us, fills us with the Holy Spirit, and reminds us that each and everyone is loved by God, simply because they are one of God’s children.

No matter who you voted for, I want to build bridges with you. I hope you want to build bridges with me, and I trust that with God, this is still possible. Thanks be to God for the hope we know through God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and the peace which sustains us especially on days like this.

An important reminder today and every day.

Image Credit: Build Bridges Not Walls, Light Shines in the Darkness