Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How (and Why) I Use the Foursquare App

In the last couple months I’ve started to use a new app on my iPhone called Foursquare. When my wife started to see Foursquare updates on my Facebook timeline she said to me, “That’s an app for people trying to find single people to hook up with.” While it may be used that way by some people, that is DEFINATLEY not why I use Foursquare.

Here’s how it works.

When you open up the Foursquare app it uses your GPS location to identify the names of business, restaurants, parks and other places around you. If you are in one of those locations you can ‘check-in’ there. Then, depending on how your options are set-up, you can share your check-in information on other social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. By sharing you are letting other people know where you are and giving them the chance to connect with you.

Also, Foursquare can send you alerts when other Foursquare friends have checked-in to a location near you. Here’s a good example of why this is cool. Last Saturday I went to Canterbury Park to watch some extreme animal racing. I checked-in using the Foursquare app, and I was immediately able to see that a friend from college was also at the track that day. I texted him and we had the opportunity to arrange a meeting and say hi to each other. Pretty cool. Imagine how much fun this could add to your experience at baseball games and music concerts!

Another neat thing about Foursquare is that you can leave reviews and tips about the locations you check-in. When you do this, anyone else who checks-in to that same place can see the reviews and tips about food quality, service, pricing, and many other things. Reading these check-in tips can improve your user experience.

What has been your experience? Are you a Foursquare user? If you are we should be friends and connect sometime when our paths cross!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Notes and Quotes from my Sermon "The Wheat and the Weeds"

Today I had the pleasure of preaching at Main Street Moravian Church in Northfield, MN.  I have been preaching there once or twice a month for the last couple years.  They do not have a full time pastor and so I am part of a team of pastors who come in and rotate in the pulpit.  My philosophy has always been to preach as directly from the Bible as possible and to relate everything back to the person and work of Jesus.

The sermon today was from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.  It is the parable Jesus told about the wheat and the weeds.  Here are some quotes from the manuscript.

- So, what we know from the story so far is that it is about a wealthy, powerful landowner who had a rival. And that rival, in an act of secrecy, wickedness, and jealous has polluted the wealthy man’s good field with weeds in an effort to destroy him. It seems like a simple story, easy to understand. But what does it actually mean?

- What Jesus is saying is that in the world he has children, children who have been sown in the good seed of faith. They are adopted children, joined in the family of God through faith in his son Jesus.

- In my garden I have wanted to pick out weeds but I have needed to wait to make sure they are not plants developing. Unknowingly I may have picked out something that was to produce a good harvest. I really had to stress this with Isabelle when we were first getting the garden going because she just wanted to rip out everything.

- This is what the Master’s servants wanted to do. They wanted to immediately go and rip out all the weeds but the master was wiser than they were. The master knew that in recklessly ripping out weeds some of the good wheat would risk being destroyed also.

- And after all there is deep truth in the charitable saying of Augustine, "Those who are weeds today, may be wheat tomorrow."

- Human beings make poor eternal judges. Did you know that? There are way too many religious people running around doing the job of the angels and God, rounding up sinners and condemning them. I would advise this. If we can’t judge the authenticity of a $100 bill, then we would do best to avoid judging the souls of men.

- There is coming an end to all the world. This place as we know it will no longer be as we know. And Jesus will return as a triumphal king to rule over the righteous. All sin and evil will be eradicated from the presence of the righteous and they shall live in peace.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Feeling of Being Buried Alive

Buried alive.

It is the nightmare of every mountain climber and high altitude skier. Thousands and thousands of pounds of snow slowing down the mountainside and trapping everyone and everything underneath a dense blanket of snow and rock and ice. The weight crushes the chest and the lungs scream out for oxygen but there is none to be had. There is little chance of survival in such a scenario. People buried alive simply do not usually claw themselves back out and into safety. To have any chance at all a rescue operation needs to happen, and the victims must be dug out by another in order to be saved.

Have you ever felt buried alive? Maybe you’re suffocating because of financial hardship and debt that is sucking the oxygen out of your life. Maybe you screwed up and made a choice with consequences that seem to be crushing you at the core. I know what this feels like. I have feel the crushing weight of consequences, I have felt the oxygen being sucked out of my lungs. My biggest problems came years ago, but to this day, this very day, I still have moments where it all seems way too heavy to bear. I am grateful to my wife, my family and some wonderful friends we all worked in various ways to help dig me out and get me to safety.

The Bible says that because of the sinful attitudes of our hearts, and the sinful ways we rebel against God, that we are condemned to eternal separation from God. In essence, an avalanche of sin, of our own causing, has buried us alive and there is no way any person can dig themselves out. Let like this we will surely die. But there is good news. Jesus Christ, God’s son, came to earth to save us. In the ultimate rescue mission Jesus not only digs us out and pulls us to safety, but he heals us of all our sin and empowers us to live new lives. He doesn’t just rescue, he also redeems and restores and rebuilds. No one but the perfect Son of God has the power to do this.

By Jesus we are no longer buried alive, but instead we are made alive to worship Jesus and live transformed lives.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

8 Questions to Ask to Examine the Condition of Your Heart

Here's an excerpt from my recent sermon on The Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13.....

Here’s what is scary. A lot of us hear the parable of the sower, and because we’ve heard it before, or because we’ve been going to church for a while, or because our parents go to church and have a Bible in the home, we automatically default into thinking that we are the good soil without ever stepping back and asking, “Is my life bearing fruit?” This is a critical question. Jesus said twice in Matthew 3 and in Matthew 7, that every tree that does not bear fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.”

So, get out your mental paper and pen and checklist. I’m going to read through a list of questions. I want you to think about these questions and assess yourself to see if you are growing in faith. This isn't going to be one of those funny, youth group story time moments. It is actually going to be more like a colonoscopy for you heart. Uncomfortable, a little scary, and not a blast for the doctor either, but important because it is potentially life saving.

We're going to take a few moments to examine ourselves. Ask the Holy Spirit to come and reveal to you the things in your life that you need to hand over to him, the ways in which you are failing to bear the fruit of God in your life.

1. Is my language consistent with the kind of language that pleases God and brings him honor, or do I use my words to cut others down, to speak harshly, to be profane and vulgar, or minimize the honor of God’s name?

2. Am I concerned with the approval of men or the approval of God? What motivates my behavior? Am I obsessed with being popular, having a boyfriend or girlfriend, impressing my teachers, or having everyone like me? In what ways am I tempted to compromise my values?

3. How do I treat the people around me and in authority over me? Do I respect and obey my parents even when I disagree? Do I show love and concern for my siblings and help them out however I can joyfully and not begrudgingly? Would teachers, coaches, administrators, and bosses say I am a delight and an asset to the school, team or job...or would they say I am difficult, trouble, and disrespectful or unreliable?

4. How do I spend my free time and my money? Does God get what is leftover after I have spent money on myself? Do I give God the leftover time of the day for prayer and Bible reading, or does God get the first and best time of the day? Would be ready and willing to live sacrificially or do you only give to God when you can and then still maintain your comfort levels?

5. Where does my mind go when it wanders? Do I think about God, who he is, how he loves me, how I can love him and serve him and give him glory, or do I think about FaceBook, Twitter, being with my friends, and all the concerns of my life?

6. Do acts of injustice and foolishness, sexual immorality, abortion, prejudice, starvation and malnutrition, unreached people groups, persecution of Christians, and others societal sins that Scripture speaks of - do they bother me or am I participating in their normalization either actively or by my silence?

7. Am I ever truly sorry for my sinfulness and the way I have offended God by my pride and selfishness and hardness of heart, or am I simply glad that I don’t have to pay the penalty for it and go to hell? Does God’s mercy and forgiveness lead to praise, or just a head nod of thanks?

8. Is there anything going on your life where you are dependent on your faith? Are you taking any risks, stretching yourself, do you really, honestly have any need for God in your life? How are you living that makes you any different from any other person?

We cannot assume we are good soil. We have to ask ourselves, regularly, “Has my relationship with God changed anything about the way I live? 

"Is there any evidence in my life that I am connected to God, or am I pretty much like everyone else, except I go to church and youth group? Do I just blend in with everyone else at school and work or is there something different about the way I date, spend money, treat others, respond to authority, talk, and live?"

Saturday, July 12, 2014

My Beef with Your Beef About the 2014 Fifa World Cup

I have a confession to make.  Every four years something inside of stirs and I become a huge soccer fan.  This year has been no exception; I have had a great time watching the Fifa World Cup matches. It was really exciting to see the USA club make it out of the pool of death and into the knock-out rounds.  I have also enjoyed watching other countries like Germany, Netherlands, and even Costa Rica play.

One thing that bugs me though is how suddenly everyone who doesn't like soccer thinks this is the time to bring up their dislike.  I've read many opinion pieces that trash soccer.  You hear people talking about how boring it is, how the players take dives, how the field should be smaller…blah blah blah!!! Here's a great idea I had.  If you don't like soccer don't watch it and don't talk about it.  Just go ahead on your merry little way and no one will be worse off.

What really cranks me up is when people make a big deal about diving (or it is sometimes called flopping).  Who cares if the guy flops?  It is part of the game and if you do it effectively congrats to you.  You think soccer is the only sport this happens?  You think guys in football don't pretend to get grabbed and held?  Wide receivers don't fake being interfered with on passes?  Ever see a baseball player pretend to be hit by a pitch?  Ever see a catcher move his glove to 'frame' a pitch?  Ever see a hockey player fall down a little too easily when he's hooked?  Ever see a basketball player flop?  Or jump into a defender to get a free throw?  There is a gamesmanship to faking out the refs and I support it.

I'm not a year round soccer guy.  Heck, I'm not even a bi-annual soccer guy.  I'm a World Cup guy and for two months I get a little soccer obsessed.  I understand the criticism but I'm not going to sit on my couch or behind my keyboard and call ever soccer player a stupid, socialist, wimpy flopper.

That's just crazy.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Preparing to Handle the Valley Times of Our Lives

Life is full of ups and downs.  The hard part is that it seems the downs are a lot lower than the ups are high.  And they come more frequently.  Would you agree?

One of the reasons I am such a proponent of Bible study, exegetical preaching and constant sermon listening is because you never know when the lows are going to hit, and when they hit is not the time to decide how you are going to handle them.  Think of the fire drills you did during your time in elementary school.  You didn’t do those fire drills so that you’d have extra recess time.  You did them so that just in case an actual fire occurred, you would be prepared and know how to react appropriately.

As followers of Jesus we need to be prepared for cancer, job loss, disappointment, frustration, and struggle.  I have walked through my fair share of hardships and it was my spiritual foundation that sustained me.  Jesus said a wise man builds his house on the rocks, not the sand, so that when storms in life come you can stand firm.  Isn’t that what we all want – to feel like we’re standing firm?  Therefore, we need to build on the rocks of God’s love, His sovereignty, His goodness, and His wisdom.  With a firm, Biblically-informed grasp of these things we are prepared to react when trouble comes.

Of course none of this is meant to minimize the pain and fear that come in storms or times of trouble.  If the elementary school is on fire the kids are still going to yell and scream and shake, but if they have prepared ahead of time they will still be able to safely navigate the fire.  That is what I want for myself, and what I want for all of you who read this.  Jesus Christ came to earth, died on a cross in our place, and has overcome sin and death to give us new life and an unshakable hope for the future.  My prayer is that we all may have a relationship with him that sustains us in all circumstances.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Two Different Types of Church

Picture Found Here

I don't know what sparked the conversation but I was talking to a friend recently about church, more specifically types of church.  I was telling him about two different camps or mindsets when it comes to the purpose of what Christians do on Sunday mornings (or Saturday if you prefer).  I described for him what I differentiate as the attractional/evangelistic model and the family-gathering/discipleship model.  Here are what I see as the major differences.

- make church fun
- sermons geared mainly for non-Christians
- more showmanship
- emphasis on excellenance in all things, all the time
- people bring friends, pastor witnesses to them
- service is done with outsiders mostly in mind

- more of a serious event
- sermons geared mainly for Christians
- less performance and more interaction with congregation
- less emphasis on everything being perfect
- people bring friends, but do the majority of witness during the week
- pastor preaches to Christians for instruction, conviction, encouragement, development
- service is done with outsiders welcomed but not specifically catered to

I'm sure some people are feeling vastly over/under characterized by these descriptions.  "You completely misrepresented us!"  Please forgive me.  In these descriptions I'm merely pointing out what I have seen and experienced in my years involved with church.  I am not casting judgement on either style.

What I explained to my friend is that both these camps have pros and cons.  They also exist on a continuum.  You have churches that are so seeker-friendly they don't have a single cross in the building.  On the other end of the spectrum you have churches so Christian-friendly they are completely shut off from the outside world.  Although my preference is towards the Discipleship model of church, I don't think churches at the far end of either sides of the spectrum are particularly helpful to the cause of Christ and the Kingdom of God.

Maybe I'll write more about each type of church and why I lean the way I do.  Or maybe not, who knows.  For now lunch break is over and I have to get back to work.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

4th of July Fireworks (Otherwise known as "Being Called a Russian Communist")

Well, we had a great 4th of July weekend as a family in 2014 doing what many other Minnesota families do to celebrate Independence Day - we went up north to the lake. So cliche isn't it? I know, it is.  We had a wonderful time visiting my parents who live in their retirement home, what used to be our family cabin.  Some of the fun things we did were tube, ride the four wheeler, ride on a motorcycle, fish, and play cards.  It always feels so good to get away for a few days and listen to the waves kiss the rocks of the shoreline and watch the sun set over the smooth blue water.  There is just something refreshing about being buried deep under the blanket of trees and northern stars.

This trip up north included a little bonus action.  Friday night we had a bit of a dust up with a man and his kids who were fishing close to my dad's dock and shoreline.  The guy in the boat seemed liked he's had a couple two, three beers and he and my dad shared a few words about property rights, Russian communism, and the nice weather (ok, they didn't discuss the weather).  I came running out of the cabin when I heard them "discussing" the situation.  Normally I'm not a real physically aggressive guy. I prefer to beat people up over a keyboard or at least with a nice one-two punch of passive aggressiveness and sarcasm.  However, in this case, I didn't feel good about my sixty four year old dad having words with a slightly drunk guy threatening to get out of his boat (wonder if he could have walked on water like Peter and Jesus? Hmmm?) without me at least being there to watch my dad whoop him!

Eventually our unwelcome visitor gave up the shouting and drove away.  I say eventually because before he left he let me know he'd be happy to knock 40 lbs off my fat butt (or some words similar to those) if I wanted to keep standing there and waving goodbye to him (which I did).  When he left I couldn't help but think through the situation and ask myself some questions.

- What would I have done if he really did get out of the boat?
- How would Jesus have handled that situation in my place?
- Why did he have to say 40 lbs?  Twenty-five I would understand but do I really need to lose 40?

I didn't let the encounter ruin my weekend but it did remind me that there are a lot of people out there in this world who are immature adults, ready to fly off the handle at some pretty stupid stuff.  It also reminded me that representing Jesus when I'm angry or feeling threatened can be difficult.  Finally it inspired to me take a look at myself and honestly deal with the weight I've gained from my cushy desk job.  Next time I don't want to give anyone the opportunity to take a shot at me like that.

Waseca Congregational Church - Seeking the Purposes of God in Our Suffering (1 Peter 1:1-9)

Seeking the Purposes of God in Our Suffering (1 Peter 1:1-9) from 1st Congregational Church on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Slow Process of Soul Gardening

John Starke recently tweeted,

“From what I can tell, all the biblical imagery for spiritual growth and maturity are slow things: seeds to trees, infants to adults.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this ever since I read it.  I think it is especially on mind since I’ve recently planted a couple tomato plants and a small garden at my house.  

 I call it “Suburban Farming.”   

It has been a lot of fun to build some garden beds, haul in the compost, learn from good friends (like this guy) and plant some seeds with my daughter Isabelle.

What I’m seeing, and what is obvious, is that there is nothing fast about gardening.  You can’t plant fast, you can’t water fast, you can’t grow fast, and you can’t harvest fast.  Gardening takes time.  It takes patience and it takes a little faith that the small seed you put in the dirt will one day produce a crop.  John Starke is right; spiritual growth is just like this.   

You can’t rush sanctification and holiness. 

Growing into biblical maturity takes time.  I’ve been following Jesus for most of my 34 years on this earth and I still am a long way from where I want to be.  The encouraging part however, is that when I look back I can see I am also a long way from where I used to be.  

When I look out at my garden I wish I could see more growth, more quickly.  I get so excited when a leave breaks through the soil crust or when a small tomato begins to hang from the vine.  There is a great feeling of anticipation associated with waiting to enjoy the ‘fruit’ of your labor. 

I encourage you to view your spiritual growth and maturity with the same amount of eagerness and anticipation.  

If you care for your soul, in time, you will see your heart transformed to become more like Jesus and the fruit of a life guided by His Spirit will begin to be evident.   

Activities like reading God’s Word and listening to preaching will water your soul.  Regular introspection and confession and accountability will help you pick any spiritual weeds.  Worship and prayer are like spiritual fertilizer.  Small groups and serving others help build cages of support and protection around you.  Do these things and your soul garden will grow.

Just don’t rush it.  Remember it takes some time for the seeds to grow into trees.   

Monday, June 30, 2014

Should I Let Jacob Watch Happy Gilmore?

We’re coming to a new parenting threshold with Jacob.  He is at the age where his friends are starting to watch movies and listen to music that we haven’t allowed him to watch.  This is usually because of the language, violence, crude humor, or sexuality that is involved.  Jacob is now asking to watch some of these movies and Stephanie and I are talking about when is appropriate for him to do so. 

One view of the issue is that we want Jacob to maintain friendships, feel like he is a part of a group, and be able to enjoy the parts of these movies that are truly humorous.  Movies like Happy Gilmore are very funny and can be a lot of fun to laugh at and enjoy with friends. 

A second view on the issue is that Jacob will very likely watch these movies at some point and watching them at home, with his parents, gives us the opportunity to filter the movies and discuss certain parts of it with Jacob.  This would be preferable, it is said, to Jacob secretly watching movies at other places without Stephanie and I around. 

A third view is that Jacob doesn’t need to watch these at all, that humor can be found elsewhere, and that he doesn’t need to repeat movie lines with his friends in order to fit in. 

This is a pretty complex issue.  I think there are even more things to be considered in the conversation including questions like…

-          What does it say about me and Stephanie that we have watched and enjoyed these movies?
-          Are movies with war/violence/con artistry any better or worse than crude humor and sexuality?
-          Are these the kind of kids we want Jacob to be fit in with and be friends with?
-          How will these friends impact Jacob in the future if they have these kind of boundaries now?
-          Can Christians enjoy certain parts of a movie if they filter out/ignore the bad stuff?
-          How much does what I watch infiltrate my mind and heart in ways I may not even be conscious of?
-          Would I want to sit and watch the movie with Jesus present?
-          How do I lead Jacob into holiness without being legalistic or making him become begrudgingly submissive?
-          Am I teaching Jacob how to live in the world without being drawn into it?
-          Am I leading a life that models for my children, in an attractive way, what it looks like to love and obey Jesus?

We’re at a stage we’re we have to teach Jacob how to engage the kids and world around him through a Biblical, Christ-honoring lens.  This is tough.  And it forces me to examine myself to see what standards I have for myself and my own walk with God.  I realize that I have to be the example of what it looks like to live the kind of life I am calling my son to.


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