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Proud

Whenever we achieve something great, the temptation is to be proud of it. And if achieving that thing took a lot of work, time, or money, it’s natural and okay to feel a sense of satisfaction from a job well-done. But we have to be careful what form that satisfaction takes.

It’s right and good to think, “Wow! I just finished a marathon. Look at what this God-designed human body is capable of. I am so thankful for good health and a family that encouraged me to accomplish this goal!”

It’s not so good to think, “Look at this company I built for myself. I am master of my fate and totally self-reliant. This accomplishment is proof of that.”

Not that anyone’s inner monologue actually sounds that stiff, but I’ve definitely felt those emotions welling up in myself whenever I do something that doesn’t flop.

Whether we admit it our not, we’ve all been there. When God chooses to bless us, it’s so tempting to take the credit. I am personally very blessed, so I face this temptation every day.

I recently started working at a Christian College that just finished a large building project. I think we are all proud of it. It is a well-thought-out addition to the school. A lot of talent and hard work went into designing and building it.

But I hope that we are mostly thankful. Thankful to donors that have now funded over half of the cost. Thankful for leadership that evaluates the direction of the school in light of scripture. Thankful for a God that has allowed this school to remain on the shore of Medicine Lake for over 50 years. Thankful for this treasure in jars of clay that we get to share with the students who come here.

So go, accomplish great things, run marathons, start companies, build gyms. But remember who made you.

Soli Deo Gloria.

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

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To Whom Much is Given…

I used to think the most misunderstood parable of Jesus was The Prodigal Son.

But now I think the Parable of the Talents might just give it a run for its money in that metric.

A quick summary for the uninitiated. Jesus told this story:

A rich guy goes on a trip, leaving a portion of his wealth with a few individual servants. To one he gives a large amount of money, to the next he gives a moderate amount, and to the last, he gives a small amount.

The guy comes back, and his servants start showing him what they used the money on. The first two servants invested or used the the money in such a way that they doubled their portion. The last one hid his money in order to return it safely to his master. To the first two the master says “Good job! Since you did well here, I’m going to trust you with even more.” To the last one, he says, “You failed. You’re done working for me. Give me back the money.”

In our neat armchair dissection of these verses, we praise the ones who invested and returned a profit. But in practice, we encourage a far more conservative approach.

Let’s take a look at how we run our churches. The Lutheran church denomination I am a part of (AFLC) is made up of individual, self-governing congregations. We are an association rather than a synod. We unite under a common confession, but we are largely independent. This means each church gets to make its own decisions.

As part of this conservative church body, we are known for our rigid adherence to scriptural inerrancy. . . and our resistance to cultural change.

This resistance is not an entirely bad thing. American culture is taking a nosedive by biblical standards—at least in the external ways we pay most attention to.

But that conservative resistance to change also pushes us to play it safe in ways we shouldn’t. It causes us to have an emotional attachment to the past that hampers us from doing present good.

A quick note: In talking about the past, I do not intend to disparage the historical church. We have inherited a rich theology from the reformation and beyond. Many churches have too quickly left this behind. I am not in any way encouraging a separation from the biblical Lutheran theology of the past. Rather, I am encouraging an evaluation of what is theology, and what is merely nostalgia.

Getting back to the parable: What was the final servant’s motive for hanging onto his small sum of money? I don’t think it was greed. He knew he would have to give it back, after all. I think his motive was fear. Fear of losing what was entrusted to him.

How often are we motivated by fear? How often do we miss out on what God has for us because we are afraid to fall on our face—afraid of our pride being bruised.

Congregations within a synod do not have complete control over how they spend their money and resources. In the AFLC, we do. We also emphasize lay (non-pastor) involvement.

This is where I quote Spiderman’s Uncle Ben who said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” To rephrase: With the freedom or the ability to act, comes the duty to act. Or to put it biblically, “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48)

However you want to say it, what does that mean for the “Free and Living Congregations” of the AFLC? It means that “keeping things the way they always were” for the sake of comfort and safety is a poor way to use our God-given wealth, talents, skills, and ideas.

Now, you might say, “We’re not a wealthy church, in money or in talent.” But remember the last servant was also given little. The expectation placed on him was the same: to multiply what he had.

We can complain about declining culture, and declining church attendance, but what if it’s our fault? What if we have not been faithful in how we interact with culture? What if we have not been faithful in how we’ve used our resources? What if, instead of investing our time, our resources, the very Gospel itself, we have instead hidden them all in a hole like the foolish servant?

The wise servant (church) doesn’t build up walls to keep himself protected from the thieves outside; he invests what he is given in the world around him. In the case of the church, returning a profit of souls.

That might mean interacting with culture. It certainly means maintaining our church building and pursuing excellence in the quality and thoughtfulness of the worship service.

If we don’t do this, the little we have may be taken away.

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The Purpose of Man

Men have to figure out what they have to do. And if they have nothing worth living for, then they stay Peter Pan, and why the hell not? Because the alternative to valued responsibility is impulsive, low-class pleasure.

Jordan Peterson

Men need purpose. All people—but specifically men. On a spiritual level, they need to feel that their work is accomplishing something. That what they do on the daily makes some kind of difference.

That’s why simple employment can be so soul crushing. Pushing paper across a desk doesn’t fulfill this need unless it is part of a larger purpose he believes in.

That’s not to say that your day job has to be your purpose. Plenty of men find great satisfaction through volunteer work and time spent with family. But you can bet that if a man is happy, it’s because he’s found meaningful work in some area of his life.

There is no shortage of pleasures available to the affluent western world. Even the lower class has access to constant entertainment. It’s enticing, even addicting, but it does not fulfill the purpose of man. Video games, movies, and sports are fun, but they are poor substitutes to a meaningful life.

The purpose of man is to work. Go find something you believe in and work at it.

Not only does that glorify God, it leads to a much more fulfilling life.

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I Know What You’re Thinking

I wrote this back in December of 2020, but I was timid about posting it online. I was afraid people would jump to assuming I was making a political statement. I’m really not. This is more a question about value.

If I were to sum up the collective mood of nearly everyone I have interacted with this year, I would describe it as withdrawn discouragement. I have often seen the same in myself.

How can anyone go on caring about anything after a year like 2020? I think we all have a nagging fear that as soon as something matters to us, it will be taken away as a cruel joke of God/fate.

Christmas time is normally the most hectic—and supposed to be the most cheerful—time of year. This year it is neither and we're all feeling a bit lost. Again, how does one spread good cheer in a year like 2020.

I won't tell you to obey or disobey your state, local, or national government, but I would encourage you to take a step back this year and reevaluate what is important to you. What do you hold most dear? Have you been forced to let your grasp on that thing go? Are you okay with that?

Now, two years later, I would no longer describe the collective mood as withdrawn discouragement. I think it has since descended further into what can only be described as sarcastic nihilism. I would plead with you to not let your circumstances, your culture, or your government dictate what you value. Moving forward, life may look different that we remember it. But that has always been the case.

Keep loving those around you. Keep bettering yourself. Keep forgiving. Keep running to Jesus when you fail at all three.

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Thankful to have been Wronged

I’ve always loved the story of Joseph. As long as I can remember, Genesis 37-50 has been my favorite biblical account. In a theatrical sense, it’s a really satisfying story. It has betrayal, mistaken identity, looming catastrophe, and sweet redemption. But the reason I’m drawn to it is actually deeper than that.

The fundamental idea presented in this chunk of scripture is that God uses our pain for good. Not only our individual good, but BIG good—the kind that affects nations. I won’t summarize the whole story here, but through the unthinkable betrayal of Joseph by his brothers, an entire empire (and beyond!) was saved from starvation.

God uses our pain for good. Not only our individual good, but BIG good.

Considering that God created the world to be free of pain and suffering in the first place, this idea of good coming out of pain is pretty radical. Goes to show that God is in control, even when we are not. (And if you look through the Bible, you are sure to find other places with this same theme.)

As a result of growing up with this story, I’ve always been of the opinion that God uses my own hurts for his glory. More recently, I’ve tasted and seen that this is true.

Over the course of 5 years, I was majorly wronged by someone very close to me. This is not the place to go into detail, but suffice it to say, it was something I never thought I would have to go through. It fundamentally altered how I see the world.

Now, it obviously had many negative effects on my life. It was emotionally torturous to go through. It cost me a lot of money. It wasted a huge amount of my time. And I now tend to be a bit more cynical of people because of it.

But I have seen good come of it too.

Because of what happened, I can help others who may be going through something similar. I’ve experienced personal growth that has furthered my walk with God, and surprisingly my career too.

On top of that there have been some really far reaching ways God has used this pain. Many I will never know the full extent of, but a surprising number I do.

This ordeal has affected my family. They will now make certain life decisions much more carefully. They have been able to give informed advice to a surprising number of friends going through similar situations. It has affected how my family members do ministry. It has affected how they serve their local church congregation and how they advise on school boards.

I was told recently that God used this unfortunate event in my life to impact the leadership culture of an entire college. This one was staggering to me!

But I really shouldn’t be surprised.

Just like so many other stories in the Old Testament, the story of Joseph points us to the larger narrative of the Bible. It points to Jesus. It points to the BIGGEST good, resulting from the DARKEST evil.

You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive. (Gen 50:20)

If God used the evil desires of men to help bring about salvation for all through Jesus’ death on the cross, it’s really no surprise that he can use my pain too.

If he’s big enough to do all that, I can be thankful for my trials.

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The Call of the Page

I tell people I enjoy writing fiction. That’s a blatant lie on a couple levels.

First of all, It would be more correct to say, “I enjoy having written.” Any real writer will tell you that the act of writing is torture. A writer writes because he is driven to, not because he wants to or because he enjoys it. 

Second, I’ve managed to avoid writing anything of significance for over a year now. Can I really call myself a writer? Writing marketing content for my employer doesn’t count. There’s writing and then there’s writing. I think you get it.  

But the call has always been there. I may do a decent job of ignoring it, covering it up, or distracting myself from the inner voice that screams at me to bleed my subconscious onto the page, but It’s always there.

Sometimes it threatens me. “This story that you so want to get out will never be completed at the rate you’re going. Are you even capable of pulling this off? It’s about time you wrote SOMETHING if you’re going to call yourself a writer.

Sometimes the call is gentler. The smell of fresh coffee. The snow falling outside. The live streamed Yule log on YouTube. All coaxing me back into my craft. My profession. My possession.

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Let the Dream Die

There’s some irony in starting a business, or writing a book, or any other creative endeavor. You have to let the dream die first.

I’m a hobbyist fiction writer. One of the hardest parts about writing is getting over the fear that I’m doing it wrong. It actually kind of cripples me at times.

I worry that a story won’t come out exactly how I want it to. I worry that a character won’t mean as much to the reader as they do to me. I worry no one will like my book because it wasn’t the absolute best it could be.

So I do nothing. I close my laptop and wait for it to be perfect.

The truth is that reality will always look a bit different than our dreams, no matter what. there’s no way around it. Every artist, every businessman, every human has to face this fact.

If you have a dream of doing something daring, something entrepreneurial, something great, go do it. It wont turn out the way it did in your head. It can’t. In many ways it will be better, but first you have to let your hold on perfection die. You have to let the dream die.

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Letter to Myself

Dear Morning Luke,
I’m having a hard time wanting to go to bed. The sooner I go to bed, the sooner morning comes. And morning always sucks, so why would I want it to come sooner? Let’s try something. I, Night Luke, will list all the reasons not to go to bed, and you, Morning Luke, can weigh in on the other side. If I stay up, I can: watch more YouTube videos about all kinds of things that will easily hold my attention for another hour or two. I could eat ice cream. I really want some ice cream. I was decently productive this evening, so I think I deserve some “relaxation” time in front of the TV. . . never mind that I already watched two episodes of Battlestar Galactica tonight. If I stay up, I COULD be productive and do laundry… or maybe something more fun like YouTube. Okay, I have to admit I’m just stalling now. Fine, I’ll go to bed. Hope you’re happy, Morning Luke. Hope your morning was worth ruining my fun for.
Sincerely,
Night Luke

Dear Night Luke,
It’s nice that you decided to go to bed “early” last night. That was very considerate of you. Might I suggest you skip the half hour of complaining and just go to bed next time? Morning still came too early. You took away my writing time this morning. That being said, this whole day at work flew by because of how productive I was. And I reluctantly owe that to you. Keep up the good work; it was definitely worth it.
Sincerely,
Afternoon Luke (filling in for Morning Luke)

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Selling Jesus

Some Christians get a little squeamish when they hear people talk about church marketing. They fear that marketing will turn Jesus into a product.

I understand and even admire their hesitation to some extent. Perhaps, like me, they have friends who decide to stay away from church because they think the church is out to snatch their money or rope them into volunteering.

But this fear of marketing really comes from a lack of understanding of what marketing is. High-falutin “Marketing” is not to blame when churches require donations. (Predatory churches is a topic for another post.)

Seth Godin, a nationally recognized entrepreneur and marketing expert, describes marketing as “the stories we tell”.

If THAT is what marketing is, then no church can exist without it. The Church’s whole existence is centered around an incredible story that they believe is true. And not only true, but relevant.

So Church, if you want to grow. Get out there and tell your story. Start “marketing” Jesus.