A postmodern journey of faith...


Taking God for Granted?

Alan Creech from VBCC has a great post about taking God for granted. I think he may be on to something here...you know, how we tend to work and work to achieve things and to attain stature with God. We don't want to take salvation for granted. On the other hand, isn't that the point of salvation by grace?

Read all about it.


Just a word from our sponsor...

Hidey-ho. I'm just sitting here in front of my "new-to-me" Thinkpad T23 (nice machine), thinking that I should do a quick update. First off, I'm sorry I haven't kept this site moving. My bad. I'm still paying for it, so I've not given up yet. You never know what can happen. Second, the last month has been insane for me, shedule-wise, hence the silence. We made a flying trip to Pennsylvania on a family medical emergency (more on that trip later on), and I'm still in recovery.

But overally, life is pretty good. The depression seems to have subsided, although the questions about the future of my mission remain. I've started a small computer business, and it's going rather well. Folks like getting their PC's fixed. What can I say?

So, I'm good. And enjoying my "new" toy! ;)


Pray the Lord of the Harvest

Matthew 9:35-38
Jesus traveled through all the cities and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And wherever he went, he healed people of every sort of disease and illness. He felt great pity for the crowds that came, because their problems were so great and they didn't know where to go for help. They were like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, "The harvest is so great, but the workers are so few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send out more workers for his fields."
What does it mean to be a laborer in the harvest field? Has the evangelical church misconstrued it to mean something that it does not? I truly wonder this...I mean, it's painfully apparent to me that the "conversion" mode of salvation wasn't an option at this time. Instead, it was a kind of revelation...a kind of opening-up to the reality of God. It was a jettisoning of the old and dead and embracing new life, hope, and dreams. It was deliverance from dead religion and dead reality and an entrance into life.

So, what?

What does this mean to me? I must be an imparter of life...one who brings life and encouragement to others, rather than sucks it away. People must be able to trust me. My children must trust me. My wife must trust me. My congregation must trust me. My friends must trust me.

I must trust me.

What can I do to be an imparter of life?


Tools of the Trade

"Jesus now called the Twelve and gave them authority and power to deal with all the demons and cure diseases. He commissioned them to preach the news of God's kingdom and heal the sick. He said, "Don't load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment." (Luke 9:1-4a, The Message)

Wow. That really resonates with me today. In ministry, so often we hide behind stuff and circumstances. For me, it seems more and more that a building and "stuff" may be nothing more than a hinderance to the Gospel--depending on the context. The problem comes when we get so focused on our stuff, using it and maintaining it, that we forget to "keep it simple." Ultimately, it's not my building or my "stuff" that Jesus wants to use to touch somebody. It's me. I am the equipment.


What are you reading?

When is the last time you read something that really challenged you? I mean, seriously challenged you?

We tend to read things that resonate with us, don't we? We tend to appreciate input that backs up our own point of view. But when was the last time you read something--by choice--that wasn't like that? When was the last time you took in something that left you feeling sick in the pit of your stomach...because it disagreed with you...and you realized it was probably right?

Just food for thought. Get challenged. You may want to start here.

See them as they are...

I meant to make this entry last night. But I got distracted. Pehaps that's the story of my life...

My beautiful daughter was one of the crownbearers at our local homecoming last night. I have to tell you, she's gorgeous. I think she's one of the most beautiful little girls around...of course, I'm very unbiased.

But I realized something. Too often I get focused on my kids' behavior, and not who they are. My little girl has a personality that matches her beauty. She's very vibrant and outgoing. Along with that come the occasional hassles on the homefront. Too often, I feel, I allow her behavior to overshadow who she is.

A person is not defined by what they do. If they were, I'd have been in a lot of trouble over the years, because I've done some pretty dumb stuff.

And so, I must remember to see her--and my other kids--and people in general as they are, not as what they're doing. I think that's what Jesus did. When he saw the woman caught in adultery, or the woman at the well, or even wee-little Zaccheus, he saw who they were, not what they did.

God would that I do the same.


Am I working too hard?

When I was 14 or so, I marched into my youth pastor's office and told him, "God has called me to be a pastor!"

He replied, "Really? That's good. But you've gotta go with your gifts." He knew I was a computer geek.

There was a comment posted for my "Mission Drift" entry (except it ended up under "People are jerks"--both before I migrated back to blogger) where I had the following thought posed to me:
If you feel that you have to work hard at what you do could be a sign that this particular shoe isn't for you to fit yourself in. A more useful tip is to consult with God about this, he can guide you in the direction you seek.
It's a really good point. I've often said that myself...to others. I feel like I need to give some history. Why? Because I feel an overwhelming need to spill my guts all over the computer screen. No, not really. But I think that I could give some insight into the struggle I'm having now. Maybe I can help someone else. Maybe someone else can help me.

I used to enjoy ministry...a lot. More times than I can count, I said, "I can't believe I'm getting paid for this! Life is great." Then, something happened. I'm not sure if it was simply a focus shift within our church, or if it also had to do with a focus shift within me, but something changed. What's frustrating is that I can't even put my finger on it. I'd like to, but I can't. Because I couldn't put my finger on it, there's even a chance that I overstayed my welcome at my last church. I'm just not sure. But what was once my life's greatest passion became my greatest source of pain. Now, I can't say that it is my greatest source of pain nowadays, but sometimes it is a great source of frustration. I've often asked myself the question that was posed to me above...about whether I'm trying to shoehorn myself into something that's not me. But I have to tell you that "seek God" is a pretty trite suggestion, even though it's all I've got.

Perhaps that's part of the problem. For western evangelicals, so much of faith is conceptual. We lack in the "actual" component. The thing is, the "actual" is what God has led me toward over the last couple of years. I spent too many years giving people the conceptual instead of helping them to find the "actual" for themselves. And I watched most of those people fail...miserably. This, in turn, made me feel like a failure as I had taken their spiritual development to be my responsibility.

It's not.

It never was.

Each person is to work out their own salvation. Should they get help? Yes. Absolutely. Can I be there to help? Yes. I should. So should you. But it's not my job to make sure that somebody else lives according to my "divinely inspired" western evangelical values, especially when I'm seeing more and more that my "divinely inspired" western evangelical values are pretty messed-up and non-biblical.

And there's the other side of the problem. I'm tired of the church machine, the organization, the big "spiritual beast." My heart is to simply be with people...to help lead them closer to God...to shepherd them, if you will. But I end up being so bogged down with "pastoral" stuff that I don't get the time I need to do the "pastoring" without making my family pay the price. And that's something I just won't do--make my family pay the price. They are my first responsibilty, right after my personal relationship with God.

But I'm not looking for a way out. And I'm certainly not released from my church--I just don't feel that it's time to go. I'll say this: I'm keeping myself more tuned in to know when it's time to go this time.

I told my District Superintendent recently that I probably would not be pursuing vocational pastoring after my time here is through. I'm rather looking forward to that time. Maybe then I can get on with helping people, and not worry about the "stuff."


Joy in the Journey

You know, I think there is hope.

My thanks go out to Geoff Elliott and Eric Mack for their compassion and concern for me. These are great guys. Geoff's blog isn't much unless you're a geek (like me), but Eric's blog is a great all-purpose read. He's kind of like me, except more...gathered. ;)

Speaking of being a geek, I'm sitting here trying to convert b0se's Codename: Opus 3.0 visual style to a WindowBlinds theme. Not gonna do it. I don't know what the deal is, but it's not going to work. I've tried it on two PCs now, and it just gets all buggy and wierd. Hopefully either he or Snidely Whiplash will get around to converting it eventually. I don't have time to troubleshoot stuff like this...although it's a great theme. If you're into msstyles (e.g. a patched Uxtheme.dll), then I'd recommend it highly.

Anyway, this has absolutely no relevance to my stated title. But the good news is that I'm not whining. Yes, it's true. I'm actually not depressed. Really, I haven't been for a couple of weeks now. I knew I needed to get this blog updated when both Geoff and Eric contacted me to encourage me. They're good guys. It's good to know people care.

I'm not sure exactly what brought the change about. When Geoff and I were talking on IRC, he brought up the idea of learning to be happy in the wilderness. I think that's probably been a big part of it for me...just learning to be content. One of my biggest frustrations comes from my desire to mold my children into good people. But it occurred to me that my efforts to mold them (at least by being a disciplinarian) will only cause the opposite. People need to be who they are, even when they're kids. I always resented it when I felt like my mother did that to me, and I'm sure they'll grow to resent me as well if I continue. So, I "chilled out." It made all the difference in the world. That's not to say that all the questions are answered or that I don't still have bad days--but things are really getting better. And I'm grateful, both to God and man for their intervention.

Another great thing that's helped immensely is being able to get my computer consulting business off the ground. I've been able to do about $200 worth of business in the last two weeks, which is a really good start for Smalltown USA. It feels good to be able to pay the bills, you know?

I think the other thing that really made the difference has been a renewed focus on journaling and prayer...concurrently. I'm not one of those who does well verbally "talking to God" for long periods of time. But if I get behind a computer keyboard, everything changes. If you're the kind who has trouble praying, I'd recommend it highly. I usually start at Sacred Space and use it as my guide through a time of Lectio Divina.

Anyway...I'm finding some joy in the journey. Where am I at with being a pastor? Fine for now. Where will I be long-term, like years down the road? I don't know. Only God knows. He only gives me enough light for my feet. If He gave me more, I'd run away, I know it.

Gratia vobis et pax.


Mission Drift

I want to quit. No, I mean it. I really rather suck at life right now.

I guess it must've started a year or so ago...oh, maybe even 2 years ago. I began to experience mission drift.

I must explain something...I'm as passionate about the Gospel as ever. Perhaps not so passionate about traditional evangelism...but certainly about the Gospel. I have a heart desire to impact my world with the peace and good will of Jesus Christ. That's what I want to do.

Right now I'm a pastor. I'm frustrated with pastoring, though. I love our church. I love our people--they're great. But the expectations of a traditional church/pastor setup tend to neuter the Gospel, in my opinion. The people at our church are generous givers. I wonder how much more effective their finances would be for the Gospel if they didn't have to pay for a broken-down building and an breaking-down pastor? I wonder how much more effective I would be if I didn't feel pressure to perform as a pastor...a professional...and instead could just focus on loving people. Now, I understand that my people don't expect me to do any more than that (apart from a sermon), really. But I feel a pressure to perform. I need a regular job. I need to feel like I've earned my money. So, the pressure to perform is probably more about me than anyone else. And there's pressure to perform in family as well. I want to do it all right...and I seem to end up failing at most of it.

My interests are in computers and the Gospel (duh), not traditional ministry and church polity. So I'm experiencing mission-drift.

It may be just for today.

Maybe not.

I think I


People are jerks.

Matthew 13:54-55

It is the nature of people to be inconsistent jerks. Expect no less. And don't be one yourself.


Training Wheels for Faith?

My youngest son is incredibly spunky. This week, he decided that it was time for him to transition from training wheels to a "two-wheeler." He pestered me a few times about removing the training wheels, but my tools always seemed to be in the back of Mom's van when he asked. Finally, the little twirp took matters into his own hands. I found him out in the lawn, plastic wrench and toy drill in hand, and he'd actually gotten one of the wheels off! I was incredulous! Admittedly, I was a little proud of him...pretty industrious for a four-year-old. Still, one of the biggest reasons I'd stalled was because I knew he wasn't ready to have the wheels taken off. Raised up, maybe. But not taken off entirely.

Later that day, I ran to the grocery store and had a conversation with the neighbor lady, who had been enjoying watching me teach my son to ride on his sister's bike. I told her about the training wheels incident, to which she promptly replied, "Our kids didn't use training wheels." Come to think of it, neither did I. So, why did we give our kids training wheels? As I thought about it, I came up with a one-word conclusion: acceptance. Quite simply, we didn't want our little guy to feel left out of the world of bike-riding, and we didn't want to make the time to teach him...so we slapped on some training wheels and let him go.

My question: Is this a good thing? I'm not sure.

Are kids who learn without training wheels better bike riders? Not necessarily...theyjust learn faster, and probably with a few more skinned knees to show off as trophies. But from the other perspective, is it good for a child to "coddle" him along just so he feels like he fits in? Would he be better off if he'd had the "rite of passage" of bike-riding, sans training wheels? Is it OK to allow people to feel left behind if it motivates them to move forward? After all, that's what made me learn to ride bike. I was tired of feeling left out, so one day I just got on the dang thing and pedaled and it worked.

So, here we are in the "new church," and we're working very hard to find ways to make faith accessible for those to whom it has seemed alien and distant. In essence, we're providing spiritual "training wheels," so we can help folks avoid some of the skinned knees in their faith walk. But is it good and right to do this? How does a person end up better off in the long-run: if he is allowed to fall off a few times, or if he's given the tools to prevent crashes? I know from my bike-riding experiences that if I'd had training wheels, I would have become dependent upon them and probably not have gone without them until they were taken away--at which time I may have simply stopped riding my bike.

Herein lies our problem, and I think it's a question of balance (again, as usual). My son did miserably without training wheels, so I put them back on. The reason he did poorly, however, is because I've neglected to raise them up gradually so that he will learn to balance himself. My daughter ended up bending her wheels up by accident, and thus taught herself how to ride. My son has stronger wheels on his bike--so they need some assistance from dear ol' dad. When I put the wheels back on, I raised them up--and he continues to do better and better.

Spiritually, I think the reason we see crashes is because we tend to start people out with training wheels--which is good--but then decide one day to take them away. Heck, sometimes just seeing them there provides the security we need to keep going--like a safety net below a tightrope walker. Once we take them away, they try to ride again, crash, and many end up getting off the bike for good.

Today's question: How do we "raise up the wheels" for people in the emerging church?

UPDATE (2 months later): Yesterday my wife and I were laying down for our Sunday afternoon nap when my son came running in, "DADDY! I have something to show you!" So, I followed him outside--where he proceeded to get on his sister's two-wheeled bike and ride like the wind...no training wheels! Today, the kids and I gallavanted all over town together on bikes. The older two each crashed once--but my youngest didn't even falter.

The ultimate answer here is that I guess the use of traiining wheels depends on the person. Sometimes we need to allow folks their own time and space to adjust. Forcing my boy to ride without training wheels would've caused him to give up in bike-riding altogether. But allowing him his own space and time to mature and grow--well, it worked perfectly.

Tomorrow, I will be taking off his training wheels.


"...and throw it all in a bucket!"

I received this text from a friend of mine. The insight is great...I think it's worth some serious consideration:
The reality (in my opinion) is that we need both. We need to combine the mystic Christianity and the objective Christianity together in equal parts. It is much the same with our persons. All my life I've been preached at, to run away from myself..."run away from that damned natural man." In reality, if I run away from the natural man, there's no point in having the spiritual man, because I cannot do anything without the natural, and likewise, the natural cannot do anything without the spiritual. So it seems to me that we should be striving to achieve a co-existence of these two factions...much like we should do so with the two forms of Christianity. Then and only then, are we truly whole; the way in which we were intended to be.

Wow. I think that's worthy of some serious thought and consideration. Couple it with this for a meaty meditation today: Sin Deprivation Theory


Individuality in the Context of Faith

Alan Creech wrote a great post concerning being an individual in the context of a faith community--much of it is quotes (attributed) from Thomas Merton. Specifically, I think he has some good thoughts on how to regard others in the community context--to not "get excited about the things that people eat and drink, wear on their bodies, or hang on the walls of their houses." Good stuff...I recommend giving it a read.


"I won't give another dime to the Archdiocese!"

In yet another adventure in missing the point, 74-year-old Bob Frasca declared in the national media, "I feel like we've been betrayed. I will not give another dime to the archdiocese," upon hearing of the closing of St. Susanna Parish in Dedham, MA after attending faithfully during the 42 years the church has been open.

The Archdiocese of Boston has announced that it will close 65 of its 357 churches by the end of the year. According to USAToday.com, this is "a massive restructuring brought on partly by the clergy sex abuse scandal that aggravated already shrinking Mass attendance and weekly collections."

I think it's a sad commentary on the church in general. Not just the closings...actually, not the closings at all. That's just a tragedy. But the reasons for the closings--shrinking mass attendance and the whole sex abuse thing. I'm not going to condemn the Roman Catholic church. Frankly, it's not just them. In reality, my views fall a whole lot more in line with the Roman Catholics than they do with many other mainstream "Christian" churches. Two things strike me here...

First, mass attendance is not just dropping because of the clergy abuse scandals. Yes, that's part of it. But ask any one of those priests and they'll tell you that it's not the whole reason. I'd submit that it's more a question of relevance; of form versus function. More and more people are asking the question, "Why do I go to church?" And if the only answer they're getting is, "Because someone says I'll go to hell if I don't," then their replies are becoming more and more, "Who are they to judge me?!?" And so, until these people can find a reason to go to church, it has no place in their busy lives. Heck, I wouldn't go to church if it didn't play an important part in my life. I guess that's the problem with the church being an organization rather than an organism. Organizations provide services. Organisms fulfill a function.

Second, I think Mr. Frasca's attitude here is part of the problem. Not him...just his attitude. Why do you give? Because you're told to? Because you're guilty? Because the church is providing a service for you and this is your price for admission (Soul-Cleansing and Deliverance from Hell on YOUR TERMS or your money back)? For cheap entertainment and kitschy outfits on a weekly basis? I don't know that NOT giving to the archdiocese is going to help the problem. It's not like voting for a political candidate...or at least it shouldn't be. Or do we give to the church because it's giving to God's work? Is the church feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, taking care of strangers, widows, and orphans, providing avenues for the Gospel to traverse the highways and byways of the globe? If it's doing that, give. And give generously. If not, well...find someplace that is "doin' the stuff."

But then, if the church you're in isn't doing Jesus' work, why are you there?

Maybe that's the real problem-at-large, not just in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.


Pondering Evolution @ Falls Park

Today we went to Sioux Falls for the day. We spent way too much money with the kids at Chuck E. Cheese's and had a blast playing games. (I suck at skeeball.) Then we had lunch and headed to Falls Park. It is absolutely a beautiful sight...so much glory and majesty. We worked our way up to the top of the falls, and at the top I made some observations which got me thinking.

It's a well-understood fact that water causes erosion. But it's the time frame that bothers me. There is a bit of a disagreement between "creation" scientists and secular scientists concerning the times in which these things take place. Science says millions of years. Creationists say thousands. So, who is right?

I'm going to postulate something here that won't be too popular. Really, I'm just asking a question rather than drawing a conclusion. Christians seem really good at trying to force life to fit within the framework of their theology. Sometimes I wonder if that's not what's happening here. Could it be that the reason Creation scientists maintain that the earth is only thousands of years old is because that's the only way it fits into their "young earth" theology? To me, science would seem to better support the "age-day" theory or [gasp!] "theistic evolution." I'm a firm believer that science and scripture should not collide violently, but rather that there should be a marraige between the two.

On the other hand, there's a whole lot of evidence to show that the "old earth" people don't know what their talking about either, and any Creationist will be happy to show it to you:

  • the inaccuracy of Carbon-14 dating

  • inconsistencies in "layers" of soil (skeletal fossils spanning multiple "ages" of layers--yeah, that fish stood upright for 2 million years)

  • the speed at which erosion can occur under the right conditions

  • the fallacy of "neanderthal" man

  • etc., etc., etc.

My conclusion here: I don't have one. I think it's another of those things that's "up for grabs." The Bible says that God created the earth in 7 days. Whether that means 7 literal days or 7 figurative days remains to be seen. When my feeble faith gets me to meet God face-to-face, maybe I'll ask Him.

But then again, maybe it won't matter to me then.


Home Again...

Well, here we are. 1500 miles, a crashed Palm Pilot, a dog, and a depressed mother later. We're back in South Dakota. A little the worse for wear, yes, but we're home. I had a few great blog entries written, but lost them when my Palm decided to say goodnight on the first day we were in Montana. I suppose it was the Lord's way of ensuring that I took some much-needed time off and stayed focused on what I needed to be.

I had the opportunity and unique privilege of conducting my step-father's memorial service (there was no funeral, as he was cremated). Things went well, and my hope and aim is that I was able impact someone's life in the words I shared. That's the foolishness of preaching...the best we can do is throw the words out there and hope they stick where we put them for long enough to do some good.

At any rate, I really need to get focused on the talk for this week instead of blogging. When I get some time, I'll try to post some reflections on this last week, which was considerably better than the last trip back "home." How ironic...
Posted on Saturday, May 15, 2004 at 01:52PM


I'm still here...more coming.

Allen Soderfelt, 1948-2004, R.I.P.

Well, this day went down the crapper right quickly. It was really turning out to be a good day. I got my keyboard. I finally fixed the lawn mower and mowed the lawn. I INSTALLED A NEW STARTER ON MY VAN...how cool is that?

And then, Mom called. Al, my stepdad, died. Heart attack. Happened while he was out cutting trees. Right about the time my wife and I were rejoicing over the fact that I'd been able to repair our van.

This sucks. Pardon my french. I don't think Al knew Jesus in any real tangible way. And I'd had opportunities to witness to him...and I used a few of them. But mostly, it was wasted. I hate to say that his was a wasted life, but I think it was certainly a life not lived to its potential. I feel like crying. Al died alone. No one held his hand. No amazing grace. No fond fairwell. He just died. And the only people who will notice will be his tree-cutting customers. And Mom. And me.

I guess I have yet another thing to add to my file of "things not to think about for the sake of my continuing sanity." The file is getting way too full these days.

We'll likely leave for the funeral tomorrow. No one around here really seems to mind his passing except me. And me? I'm left asking, "Why?" It a question I ask way too much these days. Something has got to change. I think I've just about reached my limit. Again.

New Toy!

YAY!!! I finally received my functional Belkin PDA keyboard. I suppose you've probably missed this ongoing saga...mainly since I haven't shared about it yet here. But I got a heck of a deal on a Belkin G700 PDA keyboard for my Zire71 on eBay. It was like $31 with shipping. I had to make an emergency trip to Montana to see my Grandparents right when it was to arrive, so I had it express mailed to me there so I could continue to do work. Imagine my disappointment when I got it and it woudn't work. Major bummer. Anyway, the end of this long, BORING saga is that Cali-Wholesalers, the dealer I bought it from was more than willing to issue a replacement. So, now I have it...and it works like a charm. I'm blogging on it now. :-)
Posted on Monday, May 10, 2004 at 10:41AM


It's the NOISE, I tell you!

NOISE, NOISE, NOISE! It's the noise that's the problem!

Today my kids drove me nuts. They wouldn't be quiet...not for a minute. And then tonight Sacred Space began talking about freedom...from the noise which separates us from God...which got me thinking (always a dangerous thing).

I have allowed what they do to distract me from who they are, and Who God is in them. And that's just a shame...a stinking shame. For me, the solution probably would have been as simple as stopping for a minute and realizing what I was doing. Sadly, the noise distracted me from doing that, too.

So, this begs the question: How much of God do I miss every day because I get focused on the NOISE instead of HIM?


Submission is the Key to Freedom

Submission is the key. I've spent so much time talking about this semi-metaphysical stuff...the idea that life is far more than we see. But there has always seemed to be a piece missing. This is it: our way of "hacking into the Matrix" is by allowing God to mold us into who He would have us to be. In this way, then, He can trust us with the control we are given in the spiritual realm. Without this critical requirement, we would become dangerous beyond comprehension.

But then, this begs the next big question: how does one get to the point where he is molded "enough" to tap into this power? Enquiring minds want to know...