Wait and see the beauty

The tulips took their time this year.Weather conditions caused the tulips in Washington’s Skagit Valley to bloom a bit later than some years. Some businesses in the area depend heavily on the economic boom that comes from people pouring into the valley to see the beautiful tulips. Much planning and preparation goes into the festival, but a little bit of helpless dependency remains. The tulips bloom when they bloom.

Waiting isn’t easy. We have invented many devices to try to speed things up. We have grown accustomed to getting things right now. Grumbling starts if we are forced to wait ten seconds for a web page to load. Waiting more than a day for a package to arrive feels like an eternity. But some things, like tulips blooming, can’t be sped up. As much as we don’t like to do it, sometimes we have to wait.

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7). The Creator of the tulips often works like the tulips. He might answer one prayer quickly. Another time the answer we long for seems to take forever. God’s Word is planted in one life and growth is seen right away. In other people the growth might be far more gradual.

We can rest in God’s promises. We can be still. We can be at peace. Be patient and not anxious. God is never slow. He always does His work at the best time and in the best way.

I’m glad the people at the fields didn’t give up on the tulips and try to pull the flowers out of the ground. We would have missed out on a lot of beauty. When we lose patience and give up waiting on God, we miss out on seeing Him do beautiful work.

The prophet Jeremiah did not see much beauty around him. He saw the ugliness of sin as people ignored God and suffered terrible consequences because of it. In the midst of it, though, he trusted it was good to wait on the Lord. “I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:24-26).

Jesus the Gentle King

When voting for political leaders we don’t often ask: “Which candidate is most gentle?” We are drawn to leaders who appear strong and assertive. We think the candidate who is tough and aggressive will be the most effective leader. Gentleness is a trait we appreciate in caregivers, but consider a shortcoming in leaders. We fear a gentle leader will get run over by opposition and not get much done.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday He fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah that said, “See, your king comes to you; gentle and riding on a donkey” (Matthew 21:5). Your King Jesus did not come loud, assertive and full of boasting. Your King came gentle.

Roman leaders would enter a city on a chariot being pulled by large white stallions. They didn’t ride a donkey. The chariot and the large horses looked impressive. They also looked intimidating and were not something people were comfortable getting near. A donkey did not strike terror and fill the crowd with awe. People were comfortable getting close to a king on a donkey.

When the Romans made their grand entrance they would often drag behind them chained opponents they had defeated in battle who were now their captives. They were giving the message: “This is what happens to any who oppose us.”

Jesus did not have captives trailing behind Him as He entered Jerusalem. Instead He entered Jerusalem to willingly become a captive. His purpose was to become a prisoner in chains who would suffer the punishment reserved for the most guilty of criminals, all in order to set us free.

Jesus is the leader who “was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). He is the Lion of Judah who was willing to become a gentle Lamb. We need the gentle Jesus, who was willing to be the lamb who went to the slaughter to pay for our sins.

We, often, are drawn more to ones who resemble the Roman emperors on their chariots, rather than ones who follow the example of gentle Jesus on a donkey. The loud, assertive leader may impress with his appearance of strength. The gentle Jesus has true strength. The gentle Jesus saves us.  The gentle Jesus is the King we need and the King who comes to us.

Thankful for love we can rely on

I belonged to a few different groups when I was in high school. One day I was thinking about the differences between the groups. Sport teams valued me if I was helping the team win. Music groups liked me more if I played my part correctly. My performance on tests determined my standing with academic groups.

It was different with the people at church. They simply loved me. Their love wasn’t based on my achievements or performance. I did some singing at church. Sometimes I did well and sometimes I didn’t. Whether I was in tune or out of tune, the congregation still loved me and kept on encouraging me. Their love, support and welcome was different than what I experienced anywhere else. It wasn’t conditional. It wasn’t based on what I did. They loved me because of what Christ had done in loving us and giving His life for us.

I have always had the privilege of being a part of a loving congregation. It has made a huge difference in my life. It has made me a big believer in the importance of everybody having the opportunity to be a part of a congregation where the good news of Jesus is proclaimed, the risen Lord is worshipped and the love of Christ is shared. God wants everybody in every country of the world to be a part of a loving congregation. And so we plant congregations and build up and encourage congregations.

Congregations that love unconditionally demonstrate the love of Christ. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ gave His life on the cross for us not because we earned it but because we needed it. His love for us is not based on our performance. He loves us when we are successful and He still loves us when we fail.

The world’s affection for us comes and goes. God’s love remains forever. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us” (I John 4:16). Through all the ups and downs of life, we can count on the love of Christ. We give thanks for congregations that help people to know and experience the dependable love of Jesus.

He is gone but we go on

It has been a year. A year ago my pastor, my mentor, the man who was like a second dad to me – Pastor Alvin Grothe – went to be with the Lord. When you are busy living life it is easy to not think much about the difference somebody is making in your life. When they are gone it can cause you to reflect.

Various times during this past year I have been reminded of how blessed I was that Pastor came to be my pastor when I was 13 years old. He was an encourager during times of trial and sorrow. He was an example of what it looks like to follow the Lord and serve people. His firm faith helped me hold on to my faith during times when I wrestled with doubts. When I would question my abilities and whether I could be effective in serving the Lord, his belief that God could use me helped me to keep on going.

He is now gone, but we keep on going. The Savior he loved and pointed the rest of us to is still here. The Bible promises: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:8). That promise was made to Joshua as he was facing the reality that Moses was about to die. His mentor would soon be gone and Joshua would need to lead the people. The same Lord who strengthened and guided Moses promised to be with Joshua.

The ones who walk the path ahead of us can’t be with us forever. But their example and prayers continue to bless us. When they go it may seem like we have to be the ones in the lead. While in one way we do lead, we can also trust the Lord Himself is in the lead. He goes before us. Others have to leave us, but we don’t have to fear. The gracious Lord promises to be with us forever.

The blessing of being still

I was supposed to be in India today, teaching a class for pastors and church leaders. But instead I’m at home in the state of Washington. After Christmas I started having vision trouble in one eye. A couple of weeks ago I saw a doctor who said I had a detached retina that needed to be treated right away. If I went to India and delayed the surgery there was real danger I might lose vision in that eye. So with regret and disappointment we had to cancel the trip. Hopefully we can go next year.

The surgery went well. The recovery involved spending a week facing the floor. We rented a type of massage chair with a donut-type pillow that had a hole in it that I could look through. It came with a tray below the hole that I could put a book or iPad on so I could read. It also had a double mirror set up that made watching TV possible. We also got pillows set up for sleeping on my stomach.

At the follow-up appointment the doctor said recovery is going along well and I can start gradually resuming normal activities. I can lift up my head, make eye contact with people and look out the window. It feels a little like being set free.

We had what we thought were good plans. It is tempting to wonder why God didn’t make things happen the way we wanted them to go. But Proverbs reminds us: “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (Proverbs 16:9, NLT).

Sometimes God has different plans than we do. He is the Lord of lords. He doesn’t owe us an explanation. He doesn’t take orders from us. But He does promise to be with us and care for us, even in those times when things go differently than we expect.

During this change of plans I have been blessed in many ways. My wife, Cathe, has been a wonderful, loving caregiver. I’ve grown even more appreciative of her during these days.

I have been blessed with many caring, praying friends. The congregation I am a part of in Ferndale has been very supportive and praying and my home congregation in Astoria has been also.

This could have happened to me in India, which would have presented a challenge. Instead it happened in an area where I had access to excellent medical care. Not everyone in the world has the opportunity to receive the care I did. It is not something to take for granted.

During my week of being face down I read a biography of Eugene Peterson: “A Burning in My Bones.” It was an enjoyable and appropriate read. Peterson often wrote about the value of quiet and having times of silence and contemplation. I had some times of quiet imposed on me these past few days. I hope to continue to have times of quiet, even when they are not forced upon me.

As I was recovering I couldn’t follow in a literal manner the call of Psalm 121:1: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” With spiritual eyes I could look to the Lord, and look forward to the day when I could look to the mountains with my physical eyes.

As I was facing the floor I could contemplate the call of another Psalm: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us” (Psalm 46:10-11).

We can be still when our plans don’t work out. We don’t need to stress and worry. God is still on the throne. He is still with us. He is still caring for us. It is a great blessing from God that we get to be still.

Grandma’s box

My grandmother left the little town of Aga, Norway in 1905. She was 20-years-old. The people of her village on the Hardanger fjord thought she and another young lady were sharp and full of potential. They believed the girls’ chances of realizing that potential would be better in the United States. So they raised the funds to send them to America.

My grandmother left behind a box with her name on it. It appears she kept school supplies and other things she valued in it. She never returned to Norway. Her brothers who stayed kept the box and passed it on to their children and grandchildren. My wife Cathe and I recently visited Norway and my cousins let me bring grandma’s box back to the U.S.

My grandmother died before I was born but still had a big influence on my life. She had a strong faith in Jesus that impacted her daughter, who became my mother, who passed on to me what she had received.

As I look at the box that once contained school supplies I think of what my grandmother learned. She learned intellectual truths at school. At home and church she learned spiritual truths. She learned that Jesus died for her sins and rose again from the dead. She learned she could have a personal relationship with the living God. She learned the Lord could be trusted to care for her as she ventured into a new land.

It couldn’t have been easy for her to leave her home and family and cross the ocean and begin life in a new country, speaking a new language. She had learned, though, that she could trust the promises of God. She believed the Bible was God’s Word. She knew she needed to hear God’s Word proclaimed. She knew, as she started out alone in a new land, that she couldn’t remain alone in following the Lord. She needed to be part of a congregation. So she became a charter member of a Lutheran Free Church congregation in Luverne, Minnesota.  

The box once contained things of value to my grandmother. It was empty when we got it, but the things of greatest value to my grandmother have already been passed on to me. She valued faith in Jesus. She valued the Bible. She valued her local congregation. She valued missions and sharing the good news of Jesus with the world. She valued her family. She valued loving God and loving people.

I’ve been blessed to have a grandmother who lived out what it says in Psalm 78:4-7: “… we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done. … so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God.”

It is good to have grandma’s box. As I look at it, though, I am reminded of the more valuable things I received from my grandmother, even before I was born. A box that is over 100 years old is good to have, but a hope that is for all eternity is priceless.

God’s Spirit is still here

The game of peek-a-boo has a point.It helps babies learn that people are still present even if they can’t be seen. It’s called learning object permanence. Out of sight for a moment doesn’t mean gone forever. 

 People of all ages need to learn that truth when it comes to spiritual matters. The Spirit of God can’t be seen, but He is just as real and present as the dad who puts a book in front of his face. We rejoice in what we could call “Spirit permanence.”

Before Jesus went to the cross He told His disciples He would send His Holy Spirit – “the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). Even though the Spirit can’t be seen, He can be known. He doesn’t have to be visible to be present and active and doing great work in our lives.

What we do see far too often in this world is warfare and shootings, heartbreak and hurt. At times we might not feel like we see the Spirit’s work going on. We get tempted to wonder if the Spirit played a game of peek-a-boo but never came back. 

Jesus promised the Spirit He gives is “another Counselor to be with you forever” (John 14:16). Even when what we see with our physical eyes is evil and tragic, the Spirit is still here. His work might be hard to see at times but we trust God’s promises.

After His resurrection Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). We don’t see the wind, but we see evidence of its work. We don’t see God’s Spirit, but the Lord can give us eyes of faith that see evidence of the Spirit’s gracious work all around us. 

We get to enjoy a beautiful view of Mt. Baker from the deck of the parsonage in Ferndale, Washington – many days. Some days it is cloudy and the mountain can’t be seen. On those days we know the mountain is still there. On those days when the work of evil clouds our vision, we can trust the Creator of the mountain is still here. The Spirit of the living and loving God is still with us and still at work.

Rescue the needy

In the midst of the devastating war in Ukraine, some noble service has gone on.While millions have fled the war zone some have entered it to care for the hurting and rescue the needy. Mission workers have set up emergency field hospitals, even though bombs have been targeted at some other hospitals. Some have gone into Ukraine to bring to safety people who are unable to flee the war zone on their own. They are putting their lives on the line to rescue ones in danger and help ones in need.

Those serving in Ukraine are doing the type of work all followers of Jesus are called to do. Jesus said, “I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18). He did not pray that we would be taken out of the world. He asked the Father to protect us as we go into the world. We are sent into a world full of conflict and danger. Lost and hurting people are not so much enemies as they are ones who have been deceived by the enemy. They are in danger “behind enemy lines” and need to be rescued.

It is tempting to want to flee from the challenges of this evil world and attempt to hide in safety from the dangers that abound. But those who know Christ are called to hear the cries of the needy and join in the rescue mission, even though it may be costly. We have been given the privilege and the calling to “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4).

Jesus came to the war zone of this world to rescue us. “Jesus … gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:3-4). By His death on the cross He delivers us from enslavement by the enemy and brings us into His glorious kingdom. “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (Colossians 1:13).

Because of what Christ has done for us, even in a world suffering from cruelty and war, we get to be people who declare good news. “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel” (Psalm 71:3-4). The hope of refuge and deliverance found in the Lord still stands. We get to share that hope with the world.

A wonderful answer to a Bible camp prayer

It was the summer when I was 13 years old. I had a relationship with the Lord but I felt like I was drifting away rather than growing closer. One night at Bible camp I stayed after the evening service and talked with a pastor. We prayed that I would get along well with the new pastor that was coming to our church and that he would be a good influence on my life. I look back with much thanksgiving at how graciously God answered that prayer. That summer Pastor Alvin Grothe came to Astoria, Oregon to be my pastor.

Only my parents influenced my life more than Pastor did. He went home to be with the Lord recently, and it was a time to reflect on the many ways God used him in my life.

Pastor was a humble servant. He wasn’t at all impressed with himself. He didn’t make a big deal about things he had done or sacrifices he had made. He was willing to do whatever would best serve the Lord and people. Not long after retiring as pastor of the church, he became the church janitor. He joked that he was going to try to work his way back up to the top again. Really, though, he didn’t care if he was at what others might consider the top or the bottom. He was just glad to serve, in whatever way he could.

Pastor was probably the most sincere man I have ever known. I had the privilege of getting to be around him Monday to Saturday. He was the same man those days as he was on Sunday mornings. He meant and lived what he preached. He truly believed it.

One year they did a skit at Bible camp and they asked the district pastors to take part. Pastor wasn’t very comfortable doing it, but he was such a nice guy he didn’t want to say no to the other pastors. He wasn’t very good in the skit. In a way that seemed appropriate. He wasn’t an actor. When he was preaching from the pulpit or visiting with people, he wasn’t acting. He was real.

Pastor was a good Norwegian when it came to liking lutefisk and gjetost, but he was different from some old-time stoic Scandinavians when it came to showing his emotions. He said, “God gave us tear ducts for a reason.” He was willing to weep with those who wept. He wept with me when I went through times of mourning.

He wasn’t afraid to let his sorrow be seen, but most of the time what you saw on his face was a smile. He liked to laugh. He liked to tell jokes. The trouble was, he didn’t know a whole lot of them, so he told the same jokes over and over. He would still laugh each time he told them. I would usually laugh too, but not so much at the joke. What I enjoyed more was the joy he had. The laughter was contagious.

Not long after Pastor started serving our church he had us start each service by singing the chorus of the hymn, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” It was refreshing to start the service with the invitation to see the glory and grace of Jesus. The challenges and struggles of this earth do grow strangely dim in the light of His grace.

Hebrews 11 tells of different ones who have gone before us and lived by faith in the Lord. It is followed by Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses … let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Pastor Grothe is a big part of the cloud of witnesses for me. His witness has been one of the biggest encouragements for me to run the race with perseverance. For almost 50 years he faithfully encouraged me, built me up and supported me in prayer.

An old song by Dan Fogelberg says, “The leader of the band is tired, and his eyes are growing old, but his blood runs through my instrument, and his song is in my soul. My life has been a poor attempt, to imitate the man. I’m just a living legacy, to the leader of the band.”

After 96 years on this earth, the “leader of the band” got tired, and his eyes grew old. But his witness runs through my instrument. The Jesus he called us to turn our eyes upon is in my soul. I’ll continue to make a poor attempt to imitate the man, and I’ll continue to give thanks for how God answered my Bible camp prayer.

Never lose the awe

From our kitchen window in the parsonage in Ferndale, Washington, we have a beautiful view of Mt. Baker. On clear days the majestic, snow-capped mountain is right there, displaying God’s handiwork as I have my morning coffee. 

It doesn’t take long, however, before a beautiful view like I get to enjoy becomes a familiar sight that a person takes for granted.

Familiarity does not always breed contempt, but it can diminish awe. We get used to the beautiful view, or the well-cooked meal, or the comfortable bed in the warm house. We get so accustomed to the blessings we don’t appreciate them as we once did. Tragically that kind of thing can happen when it comes to the wonders of God and the good news of Jesus. 

We are surrounded by the wonders of God. Psalm 65:8 says, “The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders.” A sunset full of color, a tree full of fruit, the vast array of fish in the sea and birds in the air are all wonders at which we should marvel. May we marvel as well at God’s love so great that He sent Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. His incredible grace and sacrificial love for us are wonders that should always fill us with awe and amazement.

When Jesus appeared on the scene He did wonders that were not at all familiar. He proclaimed forgiveness of sins and performed miraculous healings. “Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today’” (Luke 5:26). Jesus continues to do awe-inspiring wonders today. When we see a heart molded by God and willing to forgive, when we see a person holding on to faith and hope while going through a difficult trial, when we see a congregation serving and loving one another we see remarkable things. 

No matter what the view might be from your window, God wants to give you a view of His grace and love. With hopeful expectation we can pray like the writer of the psalm: “Show me the wonders of your great love” (Psalm 17:7).