Category Archives: Personal Growth

A Unique Friendship

October 4, 2015

Many of you know that a dear childhood friend of mine has recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Unless the Lord touches his life, Wes has only a few months to live. In fact, he is already spending most of his day in bed. Although I have experienced the death of many good friends and family, I was not prepared for the emotional impact that Wes’ cancer has had on me. I can hardly think about it without tears and sometimes I cannot speak because of the emotional grip on my vocal cords.

As I thought about it, I realized that Wes as been a very close friend of mine for all of my life. We first met in the Nursery Sunday School class in the church we both grew up attending. We were youth together in that church, including participating in many church activities and ministries. We went to high school together (although Wes was a year younger than me). We attended college together, carpooling the daily drive for most of those years. I worked on the family farm of Wes’ family and we even worked the same part time job together, cleaning the shop floor of an Oldsmobile dealer.

Wes and I were both married about the same time in life and both felt called to be pastors. We both attended seminary (although we went to different schools) and our kids are about the same ages.

About two years after I was called to pastor in Devils Lake, ND, Wes was called to pastor in North Dakota too (an Evangelical Free Church in Wilton). Then, when I came here to be the pastor, it was not long before Wes moved his family to a rural church near St. Cloud. Wes was the pastor there for 24 years before resigning about a year ago.

In all those years, Wes and I shared many phone calls, visits, letters, emails, sermons, and most of all the common challenges of pastoring similarly sized churches. It is no exaggeration to say that Wes and I have shared life for 60 years. We have shared life more closely than most brothers ever have a chance to share life. When I thought about it this past week, I realized how truly amazing that gift from God was for me.

I went to see Wes on Friday. Our 2½ hour visit flew by. We talked about the life we have shared. We talked about heaven and the amazing life that heaven promises to us. I read to him at his request and as he grew tired, I read to Wes from the Bible, II Corinthians 4 and 5. “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands… so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life…God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” As I finished that last verse, Wes said AMEN. You see, that is the Good News, Jesus took our sin, so that we might receive His righteousness and the hope of an eternal home in Heaven. What a hope! Amen, thank you, Jesus!


September 20, 2015

As I wrap up preaching through Proverbs, chapter 30 has several themes. I suppose I could address each theme individually, but instead I will preach from the verses that describe the four small things that are “extremely wise.”

Still, there is another description that causes me to pause and think.

Proverbs 30:15-16

The leach has two daughters.

Give! Give! They cry.

There are three things that are never satisfied,

Four that never say, ‘Enough!’

The grave,

The barren womb,

Land, which is never satisfied with water

And fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’

While I realize that it is possible to be satisfied with things that are not as they should be and that dissatisfaction does motivate us to healthy and beneficial change. Still, it would seem that Agur (the writer of Proverbs 30) is encouraging us to be satisfied. He promotes satisfaction by pointing out four things that are NEVER satisfied. Four things that none of us would consider admirable and desirable: the grave, a childless woman, the thirsty desert, and a blazing fire. I really do not think any of us would want to be like either of those four examples.

It draws me back to the beginning verse, “The leach has two daughters. Give! Give! They cry.” In my mind, it begs the question, Am I always wanting God to give me something? Is my connection with God about getting from Him? Getting forgiveness. Getting abundant life. Getting things I want. Getting my way in relationships. Getting help with my problems. Getting, getting, getting.

When I stop and think about it, it is not a very attractive picture (and neither are Agur’s four other pictures). Do I really want to be a spiritual leach?

How about turning that around. How about asking God a very different kind of question. What can I give? Who can I serve? Where am I needed? How can I help?

The more I think about it, the more Agur’s words sound like Jesus. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25) Agur gives us a warning, Jesus gives us an invitation. Both show us the path to the kind of life God intends us to live.

How does this happen?

August 23, 2015

I was shocked to read in the newspaper yesterday a story about the arrest of a RedHawks baseball player early Friday morning. He apparently admitted to drinking, marijuana use and performance enhancing drug use without a prescription. The newspaper reported that the RedHawks management would investigate the matter and take action they deemed appropriate. In the end, the player arrested was released from the team yesterday.

Although I did not know this player personally, I was stunned by the situation. I have great respect for the management of the RedHawks and for the players I know personally. This sad situation affects a lot of people and I know some of them quite well. I prayed for them through the day, asking God to guide them in their responses and words as they deal with these matters.

In a more detached way I also thought about the traps of sin that all of us face. As you probably remember, my “favorite” definition of sin is “trying to make my life work without God.”   How does a baseball player get caught up in illegal drug use (or even legal drug abuse) and the lure of performance enhancing drugs? The short answer is that he is trying to make his life work without God.

If we decide that we do not have a place in our lives for a Heavenly Father, then we will grab on to those things that will give us what we think we need. Alcohol and marijuana give us a feeling of peace and block out the stress and disappointments of daily life. Do I need a Heavenly Father if I have alcohol? If baseball is my source of significance and wellbeing, then is there any doubt that performance enhancement will draw me into its web?

BUT the good news is that we do not need to try to make our lives work without God. In fact, if we will turn back to Him, He promises to receive us. If we confess our sins, He promises to forgive us. If we believe in (trust) Him, he promises to give us eternal life. We do not need to try to make our life work without God, we can invite Him in and He will bring with Himself the life that we are looking for.

That life is not found in baseball performance, the best jobs, the perfect family or marriage, the successful business or a big bank account. Life is found in Jesus. As John tells us, “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:3-4)

We were never meant to try to make our lives work without God. Instead, we were created for a connection with Him. Have you found life in Him?

What we believe makes a difference

August 16, 2015

For some reason (I don’t know the reason) I was awake a 2 AM this morning. As I lay in bed half asleep, something I had read and memorized many years ago came strongly to my mind. I recited it over and over thinking about what it says and the deep, biblical meaning in each phrase. I decided I would give it to you today, a gift of truth that can guide and change your life too.

It was written by H.C.G. Moule, a New Testament Greek scholar and Anglican Church Bishop who lived at the beginning of the 20th century. In his “Morning Act of Faith” he captured important truth from God’s Word.

A Morning Act of Faith

I believe on the Son of God, therefore I am in Him,

having redemption through HIs blood and life by His Spirit.

HE IS IN ME and all fullness is in Him.

To Him I belong by

creation, purchase, conquest, and self-surrender.

To me He belongs for all my hourly need.

There is no cloud between my Lord and me.

There is no difficulty inward or outward which He is not
ready to meet in me today.

I believe I have received not the spirit of fearfulness,

but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

The Lord is my keeper.

It is so important that truth should guide our thinking and our choices. This must not be a “personal or individual truth” but truth from God. Truth that will be a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (see Psalm 119). Truth that will keep us on the right path when many around us are walking the wrong path (see II Tim 3). Truth that will calibrate our conscience and teach us right from wrong (see Exodus 20). Truth that will set us free. Free from the guilt and burden of our sin and free to serve and glorify our Creator (see John 8).

Here is a suggestion that I give you from my own years of wanting to follow Jesus… take these words from the Handley Moule and memorize them. Speak them to yourself as you begin a day. Let each powerful, biblical idea impact your life that day for God’s glory. And, it is a great summary of truth to think about at night when sleep seems to be just beyond your grasp.

Journey Off The Map

August 2, 2015

Our adult VBS class will look at the book of Daniel and see how trusting God helps us face the unexpected future – Our Journey Off The Map. Today’s Baseball Chapel Handout also comes from the book of Daniel and emphasizes the integrity of Daniel and his Jewish friends, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego. These men obeyed God even when their lives were at stake. Here are a few of the highlights from their story.

When they were served the royal food, they were determined not to compromise. “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way” (1:8).

They did not cave in to peer pressure. “…but the official told Daniel, ‘I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you’” (1:10).

They respectfully dealt with their overseer and offered an alternative. “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see” (1:11-13).

They were wise and tactful. “When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact” (2:14).

They praised God and gave Him the credit.   “I thank and praise You, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, You have made known to me what we asked of You, You have made known to us the dream of the king” (2:23).

When threatened to be thrown into a furnace, they had faith that God could save them, but understood that He might choose not to. “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (3:16-18).

In the end, it is always best to obey God. Those who honor Me I will honor, but those who despise Me will be disdained” (1 Samuel 2:30b).

Join us for VBS this week and learn more about trusting God as we Journey Off The Map.

God the Forgiver

July 26, 2015

There are some verses in the Bible that we simply MUST know. The truth they convey is so important and so practical, that without them, we would surely wander down the wrong road of life.

Some of those MUST KNOW verses are personal. That is to say they are different for each person. Our personalities, our unique experiences, and our specific needs are addressed in the Bible and once we discover what God has to say to those personal needs and challenges, we hold onto those words for LIFE. They are our personal MUST KNOW verses. What are some of your personal MUST KNOW verses? How have those verses helped you?

But, there are some verses that are MUST KNOW verses for everyone. They address needs we ALL have. They speak to a universal condition. These MUST KNOW verses keep us from wrong turns and faulty logic.

One of those MUST KNOW verses for everyone is I John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

This is a MUST KNOW verse because all of us need God’s forgiveness. John said it this way, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1:8) I must face reality. I am a sinner. In finding forgiveness my part is to CONFESS. Admit I am a sinner. No excuses. No explanations. No blame. I will never find the forgiveness I need if I do not confess my sins.

Confession is humiliating. It usually comes out of brokenness and failure. It is always personal and often specific. I must call my actions SINS, when God has called them sins. But, confession is also freeing, releasing and welcome. When I confess, there is a fresh openness in my life and in my heart. Confession is good for the soul because it sets us up for God’s forgiveness.

God says IF we confess, then HE forgives.   His forgiveness is faithful, we can depend on it. He will forgive without any strings attached. I can count on God’s forgiveness, my part is confession, His part is forgiveness.

God’s forgiveness is also just. My sins have been punished, their debt is paid. It was paid by Jesus on the cross. He died the death my sins deserved. So, when God forgives me, that forgiveness is righteous because the debt of sin is covered by the death of Jesus on the cross.

Finally, when God forgives, He also purifies. He makes us clean. He works in my life to make forgiveness active and effective. It makes a difference.

Can you see why this is a MUST KNOW verse? Have you experienced God’s forgiveness? If not, there is no better day than today. Confess and receive His forgiveness.

Summer Hope and TBC

June 28, 2015

As you probably know by now, a group of believers have decided to reach out to the Van Raden and Riviaria Heights communities here in our north Fargo area. This outreach is called Summer Hope and is set for Aug 22 from 10:00-4:00.

The primary leadership for this outreach comes from the group, “Master’s Heart.” They have invited north Fargo churches to work with them. At this time Messiah Lutheran, Knollbrook Covenant and our church are involved. It is a big undertaking and they hope to have about 100 volunteers working together.

The plan is to provide several practical service/ministries as well as special outreach to kids. About 1000 local families will be invited to come and enjoy games; gifts of shoes, groceries, school supplies; job connections; health screening; and an opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus and be invited to receive His gift of forgiveness and life.

At this time, our part of the plan is to use our South Valley Block Party Trailer that day at Trollwood park. We will set up the bounce houses for kids and provide treats of cotton candy and snow cones too. We need your help.

It will be similar to our own “Outreach in the Park” times the last two summers, except it will be for a longer time (Aug 22, 10:00-4:00). We will supervise the kids using the bounce houses, make snowcones, spin cotton candy and talk with those who come to the event. Even if you cannot spend the whole day, can you come for part of that day and help?

There are several posters and signup sheets in the hallway for you to consider. Some are for donations (listing the items needed) and some are for volunteers that will help in the various service areas provided that day (doing setup; fitting shoes, giving out grocery bags, offering reading glasses, simple health screening, career encouragement, sharing the gospel and other opportunities).   You are certainly welcome to help in any of the areas (not just our Block Party trailer). Master’s Heart will provide training as we get closer to the date (Aug 13 and Aug 20). If you have questions, feel free to talk with me or with Milton or Sherry. If we do not know the answer to your questions, we can find out more for you.

Here’s the bottom line…there are people living all around us who need love, encouragement, forgiveness and hope. We who know Jesus can offer some of what they need and Jesus can work miracles in the lives of those who will trust Him. We can join hands with others and offer that hope. Let’s do it!

Everyday Wisdom

June 14, 2015

When I was growing up, we had three sets of clothes. We had our “Sunday clothes” or as some might still refer to them, “our Sunday best.” We wore these only on Sunday to church and once in a while for special occasions.

Then we had our “school clothes.” These we wore to school and other times when we needed to look presentable. But once we were home, they came off and we wore our “everyday clothes.”

“Everyday clothes” were not special, but they were the clothes we liked best. We could play, work, ride bikes and do whatever we wanted in our “everyday clothes.” They were the clothes we wore most often.

In somewhat the same sense, the wisdom of the book of Proverbs is an “everyday wisdom.” It is not wisdom only for special occasions or unique situations. Rather, it is wisdom that works in everyday life.

Trust the LORD, He is involved in our daily lives and plans.

Hard work brings success, laziness invites poverty.

Words are important, be careful what you say.

Watch out for pride, be humble and quick to take advice.

Parenting is important, do it well.

Adultery and sexual sin will destroy your life if you let them entice you.

Be careful who you let influence your life.

How you live with your neighbors is important, treat them with respect.

One’s inner life (one’s heart) is of great importance, watch over it.

Friends and family are important to us.

Plan and save, don’t borrow and loan.

Riches are not as important as they might seem.

Be generous and kind to the poor and those less fortunate than you.

Notice how practical these everyday ideas are? That is why ignoring wisdom from God’s Word and making decisions about everyday life based on the world’s values is so dangerous. Once we make a choice, we belong to the consequences of those choices. There are no “do over’s” in everyday life.

That is not to say that the Lord does not forgive and redeem. He will always receive us if we turn to Him. We can bring our broken lives to Him and find a new start. BUT, the consequences of our decisions live on, even after forgiveness and grace.   How much better to LISTEN to God’s wisdom and make good choices in everyday life.   “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.” (Proverbs 3:1-2)

D-Day Faithfulness

June 7, 2015

“On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s troops.” (Department of Defense facebook post yesterday.)

Today, very few of those who lived through D-Day are still alive, but the memory of their heroism lives on. I doubt that many who were part of D-Day understood the great ramifications of the event in which they participated. Some leaders did, but the men who assaulted the beaches in France were mostly there simply because they followed their orders. In fact, I doubt that few of those soldiers wanted to be a part of that invasion. They knew very well the risks and the terror of war. Still, they did their duty. They were faithful.

Sometimes, I think of my Christian life in that same way. I may never know the big picture of God’s work and how I fit in. I may do my part and it will seem small, insignificant, or unimportant. But in the end, like the soldiers at D-Day, my job is to be faithful and leave the end results in the hands of the One I serve.

I began my service many years ago, and at that time, I signed over to my Savior the right to tell me what to do. Since that time, I have been responsible to do what He places before me. Marriage, parenting, pastoring, preaching, teaching the Bible, prayer, sharing my life, helping others, serving organizations, and many other responsibilities have been mine, simply because I told the Lord I would be faithful, the best I could understand His directives. I did not aspire to lead Bible studies with Chinese students, to be a chaplain for baseball or a local business. I did not set out to help start a Christian counseling center, chair the board, or be the president of a convention. I did not even know for sure that I would preach and teach the Bible (although that was something that I wanted to do).   Instead, I just said to the Lord, please use me and open the doors that You want for me.

Yes, some days I want to quit. Some days I wish I could stay home and hide from my responsibilities, but a soldier needs to show up, give his best and in the end, he must be faithful.

Will you join me in being faithful, like those soldiers 71 years ago?

Roofing Project

May 31, 2015

Some of you know that last weekend (Memorial weekend) Joel assembled a team together to put a new roof on their house. The Peck’s house is not very big and most of us who worked on their project thought the job would be quicker than it eventually turned out to be. But Tuesday night at about 9:30 Leap, Hiep and Joel drove the last nail and the job was done.

Here is the way Katie said it on a facebook post yesterday”I cannot begin to express my heartfelt gratitude to all the great guys who came out to help us re-shingle our roof last weekend. It turned out to be the longest long weekend project ever but it was made all the better by the support, kindness, dedication and love you all showed. I can’t wait to bring this baby into this family, knowing that she will have so many wonderful men in her life. And thank you to all the families who shared your dads and husbands over the holiday weekend. You guys NAILED it!”

The honor role of workers included: Leap, Dan (and Dane), Matt (and Jonah), Michael, Ron (Joel’s dad), Mitch (Joel’s coworker), David (Joel’s uncle), Hiep, Scott, and of course Joel.

One of the challenges during the project was the threat of rain. In fact, twice during the 4 days it did rain. But, Joel and Leap were wise enough to plan for the rain and there was no damage to the house even when the roof was only partly finished. Good job!

As I reflected on the roofing experience at the Peck’s house, here are some lessons I noticed.

Be careful about assumptions and expectations. I expected the job to be easier than it was. My expectations were unrealistic and made the work more difficult for me.

Do not give up. In the middle of a job, it is tempting to quit. Don’t quit.

Working together is the way to go. We need the help, encouragement, partnership and expertise of others. Don’t do it alone.

Helping is important, even if I do not do as much as someone else does. It is not just quantity of work, presence also matters.

Ice cream cake at the end is great. Don’t be afraid to build in a reward for a job well done.

I am seldom sorry when I help someone with a challenge. It really does feel good to help.

Good friends help each other and they really do do it because they love, not because they are obligated.

I agree with Katie…THANKS everyone who could help for a job well done.