Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Little Slice of Heaven

Today (Saturday) I officiated at a wedding for an young Indonesian woman and an young American Samoan man. Some of the service was in Batak (a dialect of Indonesian) and some of it in English. It was a very beautiful ceremony and I was honored to be a small part of it.

It was also interesting in that I knew what was going on – for the most part. But the language differences still kept us apart on some things. We had a little stumbling here and there because I didn’t understand – and wasn’t understood – at times.

But in the end it didn’t really matter. We all knew what we were there for – to celebrate God’s gift of marriage to two people. And that is exactly what we ended up doing.

I can’t help but think of heaven. Heaven will not be a place where there is only one kind of people all speaking the same language.  Heaven will be a place with people of all languages, tribes, nations, and races. We’ll all be different but with one important commonality – Jesus Christ died to save all of us from our sins.

Here on earth, it tends to be bad things that unite people. This morning (Saturday) there was a big earthquake in the center of the nation of Chile. Like the Haitian earthquake a few weeks ago and the hurricanes in the U.S. a few years ago, these natural disaster united the peoples of different languages and nations – united to help the victims. And that is a wonderful thing in response to something very bad.

In heaven, however, so many different people will also be united. But this time we will be united by something very good.

In heaven there will be no more tears, death, mourning, crying, or pain (Rev. 21:4). We will not be united around a disaster but around a miracle. We will be united by the miracle of our salvation by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will be united to sing our praise to God for this salvation. We will live forever in a new heaven and new earth. Life will be eternal. Life will be good.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What’s Taking So Long? Part 2

Sometimes we get a chance to start over. Sometimes we need a chance to start over. Sometimes we have to start over even when we don’t want to.

Twelve days after setting out from California on her circumnavigation of the world, Abby Sunderland had to pull into port in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Equipment malfunctions forced her to into port to make repairs before she could continue on her adventure of sailing around the world alone in a sail boat.

When I was in the 6th grade, I began thinking about being a pastor – due in large part to my teacher, Mr. Lams. But in the 7th grade, I transferred to a public school, a new church, and that, together with noticing girls for the first time as people who were not “yucky,” I got sidetracked. I also discovered something new and exciting – the personal computer. A new technology – one that my father was heavily involved in – made me rethink my career path. Now I wanted to go “in to computers” of some sort. By the end of high school, this would be specifically robotic engineering.

After three days of repairs, Abby was ready to leave port again and start over on her journey around the world. Now she would complete her journey in Cabo San Lucas (according to the “rules” of solo-circumnavigation). She was now ready to face the open ocean with equipment that was working as it should.

After four years of high school and learning what I could on my own about computers, I was ready to head off to college to begin my adventure of robotic engineering. But I was ignoring warning signs that this was not the path for me. My grades in math were average – thanks to a best friend who tutored me in math. If he hadn’t I would have failed math utterly. I did push ahead though. I took a course in computer programming at the local community college my senior year of high school and did well in that class – thanks to a lot of help from my dad (who could have taught the class). My freshman year of college I enrolled at the same community college because I didn’t score high enough on entrance exams to go to a university like Cal Poly or University of Illinois. During that first year, I barely passed freshman math and I failed the introductory engineering class. It was time for me to pull into port and reexamine where I was going and the equipment I had with me.

Seven days out from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Abby is nearly a 1000 miles into her 17,000 mile adventure. All is going well. Equipment is working as it should, weather has been relatively good, she has good winds and is making great progress. Spirits are high as she is doing what she loves, following her heart and passion to be the youngest to sail around the world alone. Yet she isn’t really alone. Nearly everyday she “blogs” her feelings and hundreds – if not thousands – read her blog. In essence, she has thousands of people with her on her journey.

After the debacle of my first semester in college, I had a long talk with my parents and my pastor – John Zellmer – about what I should do with my life. We came back to what Mr. Lams saw in me back in the sixth grade. So for my second semester at community college, I took basic freshman courses and then applied to a small Christian college in Southeastern Wisconsin – Concordia College. In the Autumn of 1984 I began classes in a new school, in a new program – pastoral ministry. I met some wonderful people – who I still count as dear friends today nearly thirty years later.

It wasn’t easy. Just because I had changed direction into pastoral ministry didn’t mean I would have clear sailing to ordination. There were many more obstacles to overcome – most of my own doing. But I was never alone. I was solely responsible for studying and preparing for pastoral ministry, but I was never by myself. I had my friends and family encouraging me – both near and from afar. I also had God by my side every step of the way.

I couldn’t have gotten here – marking the 15th anniversary of my ordination into the pastoral ministry – without the wind of the Holy Spirit, the blood of Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father.

It may have taken a lot longer than I imagined – when I was imagining it at all – but I have gotten here. And what a great adventure it has been and continues to be!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

What’s taking so long?

Sometimes we get a chance to start over. Sometimes we need a chance to start over. Sometimes we have to start over even when we don’t want to.

She has a dream of doing something someone her age had never done. She prepared for the trip many months. Circumnavigating the globe alone in a sail boat is referred to as “the Everest of sailing” and is a daunting and dangerous feat for anyone but especially for a sixteen year old! Abby Sunderland of Thousand Oaks, California has dreamed of this for years and in January 2010 set out to fulfill her dream.

When I was in the sixth grade, my teacher – Mr. Lams – would refer to me and another classmate as his “theologians” because we loved religion class and were pretty good at it (thanks in large part to the way Mr. Lams taught it). I think it was at that time that the dream of being a full-time theologian and pastor was sparked in me. But it took a long, long time for that dream to ignite.

Abby set sail full of hope and excitement! Many people saw her off from Marina Del Rey, California. The sun was shining, she had good winds, and everything was beginning great! After a couple of hours, she sailed out of the safety and calm of the harbor and on her own in the open sea, heading south and starting her great adventure of sailing around the world!

When I was in 7th grade, my family and I changed churches due to several things – controversy in our synod (the mid to late 70’s was a tumultuous time for our church body) and some difficulties in our local church. Even though I was Mr. Lams “theologian” in the sixth grade, I ended up going to a public school in the seventh grade. After six years of Lutheran school, I entered the open sea of the world.

Four days into her adventure, Abby realized that she had a problem. Instruments weren’t working correctly. Her batteries weren’t recharging like they should have. She had limited power and limited contact with her team (via radio). She could still sail, but attempting to circumnavigate solo under these conditions was dangerous at best. She made the decision to pull into port and make repairs. She could still complete her dream, but she would have to start from a different position.

Two things were working against me as a “theologian.” I was in a public school and I had discovered girls. Priorities went a bit out of whack and I no longer had the daily exposure to God’s Word like I did in Lutheran day school. My parents did what they could for me, keeping me involved in church and worship; I was even treasurer of my church’s youth group during high school. But over the years it became clear that if I was going to get back to the path of becoming a pastor, I was going to need to get back to a daily routine of prayer and devotion. And that happened after my freshmen year of college, when I transferred to a Lutheran school and into a pastoral ministry undergraduate program.

To be continued….

The Bible says “that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). It was my experience that God’s plan for my life was not an “overnight sensation” but rather a long, drawn-out, deliberate plan. There have been false-starts, do-overs, and seasons of waiting. This is not extraordinary with God and His people. Moses had to wait 40 years before he became leader of Israel and led them out of Egypt. It took David 13 years before he ascended to the throne of Israel. St. Paul spent three years in Arabia and another four years in Tarsus after his conversion before he set out on his missionary journeys.

Coming to faith in Jesus Christ can – and does, for many, – happen in an instant. But God seems to take His time in preparing us for work in His kingdom. The message of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is something that seems to take time to sink in to our hearts and transform our lives in such a way that God can use it to bring others to faith.

Patience, endurance, and trust are all part of our calling as children of God. And like that, this story will take another week to unfold.

© 2010 True Men Ministries

Monday, February 1, 2010

Where Adventure Begins

Our planet is about two-thirds water. In fact, water is the first thing –after God – we are introduced to on this planet in Genesis 1.

For many there has been a strong fascination of the water and ever since it was “discovered” that the world was, indeed, round, the lure of traveling around the world by sea has beckoned.

The first to travel all the way around the world by sea was Juan Sebastián Elcano in 1519-1522. Although the expedition was begun and led by Ferdinand Magellan, he was killed half-way through the attempt and Elcano completed the expedition.

Relatively few have actually completed a circumnavigation of the world by sea, as it is a very dangerous and daunting task.

Two young ladies have captured attention as they are attempting to be the youngest to complete this adventure – Jessica Watson of Buderim, Australia and Abby Sunderland of California, USA. They are using the latest technology to record their trip – twitter, facebook, and the web.

Jessica has posted this about her trip: Inspired in her turn by Kay Cottee, the first woman to sail solo non-stop unassisted around the world and by Jesse Martin, the youngest person to do so, Jessica Watson has set her sights on shattering Jesse’s record. In the process, Jessica hopes to inspire young sailors, adventurers and everyone with a dream in their heart.

Abby Sunderland is the younger sister of Zac Sunderland who, for one short month, was the youngest person to complete a circumnavigation. Abby posted this about her own trip: "I had begun to think that dreams are meant to be no more than dreams and that in reality dreams don't come true. Then my brother (Zac) left on his trip. It was amazing to see all the support that he got from around the world and to see how everyone worked together to help make his dream reality. Watching him do this really made me believe that I could too."

Circumnavigation is called “The Everest of Sailing.” It is something that inspires people to grow and truly live. I believe these are qualities that God has created us with. Not everyone will be enticed by the same adventures – I never will want to attempt to sail around the world alone, nor will I want to scale Everest itself. But I do want to live a life of adventure and this is part of my – and all of our – calling by God.

Adventures can be seemingly mundane things but when done in the grace of God and to the glory of God, they take on epic proportions. Being a husband, being a father, working as a plumber, as salesman, volunteering at a senior center, or anything that people do – these are epic adventures in God’s eyes.

And while I doubt that anyone can complete a circumnavigation of the world or reach the summit of Everest without a deep-rooted passion to do so, it is true that we can do the “mundane” things without such passion.

But that isn’t really living. And while people do it all the time, I must ask, “Why?” Why would anyone want to live that way? I bet they would rather be on a sailboat or hiking in the Himalayas or on some kind of “true” adventure. Yet, adventure isn’t so much what you do but how you do it. It is a matter of the heart.

God has given you your heart. He loves you with an unconditional love – evidenced in the sacrifice of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. It is this Son that says to you, “I have come that [you] may have life and have it to the full” (my paraphrase of John 10:10).

Living an adventure is what we were created to do. There is no greater adventure than our relationship with the creator of the universe – a relationship made possible by Jesus Christ. It is a great adventure because it changes how and why we do everything else.

If you want to make your life an adventure, it begins in your heart. God has a lot to say about this in His Word – so get connected to God and His Word in a Bible Study or life group that meets near you.

And if you want to follow the adventures of Zac, Abby and Jessica you can do so by following their blogs:

Zac Sunderland:

Abby Sunderland:

Jessica Watson: