“IT’S NOT JUST FOR YOU!”

Karen and I were married in 1975. To make room for my bride, I kicked the guys out of the White House. The Brotherhood was blessed by God for five years–until Luthor, Willie, and I got married. So much for a brotherhood.

A few years later, through the generosity of Trinity Lutheran, we purchased the home Larry Christenson had lived in. Then Karen’s parents retired from 38 years of mission work in Japan. We said, “Move to San Pedro. We aren’t going anywhere.” They did. And we moved away. That wasn’t the plan, but Larry called me a few years after they arrived and asked me if I was sitting down. I said, “No, but I could.”  He said, “The Lutheran Renewal board would like you to take over Lutheran Renewal.” It had never occurred to me that I would follow Larry again. We expected to stay put the rest of our lives. I have a cemetery plot to prove it.

I asked for a month to pray. Halfway in Karen said, “Shouldn’t we start praying?” I asked, “Do we need to?” She answered quietly, “No.” She was giving up precious time with parents she had left 30 years ago to go to college. And we were going to raise our youngest, Karis, with her sister Miriam’s daughter Kristina. Hard on Karen, but she said “yes” to the plan of God.

We had never been house-shopping before, but we flew to St. Paul to find a house for ourselves and five of the six children. Andrew stayed to finish college. We had two days. At the end of the first, we had seen nice homes but none we felt like we would be living in. Then we saw 1707 Lydia Avenue West. Big home. Older than the ones we had looked at. Lots of wood on the walls. I said to our realtor friend, “I’ll be right back.” I jumped the creek running through the property and ran along a wooded path that ended at a lake at the U of Northwestern. I asked myself, “Would my children like to grow up here?” Our yard in San Pedro was 1/60th the size of this property. I came back and whispered to Karen, “I think this is it.”

We had one more day to look at houses. Karen asked that night if I wanted to review the specs of the houses we would be seeing. I answered, “No, I don’t need to.” She stayed up–and pondered. Then she prayed, “I want to follow my husband, but I want to hear from you, Lord!”.  She thought that what we had just seen looked more like a retreat center than a home. God spoke to her and said, “It’s not just for you.” She quietly said a “yes” to the holy will of God. “Retreat Center” comes close to describing what “the Ranch,” the name given by the young people who have lived here, really is.  Non-stop young adults from the get-go, up to ten at a time living with us. Then Gabriel and Drew started a young adult community in 2005 that met on Tuesday night–and grew to 160 in our basement. (I counted them!). 

Karen said two hard yeses to the will of God. And now she is more than stunned by the goodness of God, with five married children all living close–and having babies!! Her “yes” was followed by God’s strong YES! No regrets from us, only gratitude for the overwhelming kindness of God. You need not fear saying “yes” to the good and perfect will of God, even if it’s tough! (I love you, Karen!)

RACISM IS REAL! (part 3)

So how might we respond?

1 PRAY AND ASK GOD.

“If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).  God loves races and hates racism. He loves national identities so much that they will be on display in the new earth: “By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Revelation 21:24). Exciting! We will see the best that nations and ethnic groups can offer–without a shred of racism. Nationalism is a good thing. Globalism stinks because it obliterates national and ethnic character.

The answer to racism begins at the cross of Christ.  Racism erects hateful barriers between people, and God breaks them down: “Remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…” (Ephesians 2:15-17). 

2 LISTEN TO PEOPLE.

James again helps us know what to do. He writes, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19,20). Best if we keep our hearts open and our mouths shut. What is out of our zone can make us uncomfortable,  fearful–and maybe hostile.  It may surprise us to find out what people have gone through. I am so thankful that God led me to ask people, mainly Blacks, about their experience of racism. Such an insightful education. We have already formed opinions and they might not be the truth. Validate what others have experienced. Rejection is hard to manage. And do not politicize this discussion. Politics will not answer racism. Empathy will.

3 REALIZE IT SADLY GETS WORSE.

We have never been more polarized, but the divide will deepen at the end. Jesus said that “nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:7).  The world’s ultimate solution will be “the lawless one”, a dictator. He embodies the god of self the world will bow down to. He will give them freedom to come against the restraints of a holy God (2 Thessalonians 2). Eye-opening. Sadly, at the end of time “many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another” (Matthew 24:10). People don’t do well without a compassionate God. That is why

4 OUR ANSWER IS LOVE,

not a political party. It is found “where two or three are gathered in my name,” said Jesus. Love convinces people we have something (and Someone) worth sharing. Jesus told a racist Jew to be like the good Samaritan, an oxymoron to a Jew.  Love is the answer because we are commanded to go low and show compassion rather than justifying ourselves. We have already been justified by Jesus. (I’d like to hear from you if you have thoughts to share).

RELENTLESS RACISM, part 2

.Billy Graham was asked what he thought the number one problem in the world was. He answered, “Racism.” World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. An estimated 85 million died from at least fifty different countries, about 3% of the world population. “Nation rising  against nation”. That is racism–we versus them. Two individuals or two families or 50 nations.

“Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.”  We sang this song in Sunday School. Maybe in His sight, not always in ours. 

RED

I am thankful for people like my friend Jacob Beguhl who are helping to restore the soul of First Nation people after the slaughter of lives that took perhaps millions. Indians are still trying to figure out who they are since being mistreated by European colonists. Many were sent off to make their home elsewhere. No one knows the population of American Indians from the early days–in the millions for sure. Genocide has been used to describe how they were treated. Multiplied thousands died when contracting diseases from settlers for which they had no immunities. What a sad history lesson!

AND YELLOW

Pearl Harbor was terrible. We lost 2403. So were the detainment camps President Roosevelt ordered that sent 117,000 Japanese Americans to desolate parts of Western United States, because we could not trust them. Most were citizens in good standing. Or so they thought. Not after we grew some good old-fashioned prejudice. Many were separated from family members and died alone. Fear can lead to racism. I am sad and mad!

BLACK AND WHITE

Imagine Africans Americans going to a university and seeing the sign, “For Whites Only.” Or to a “public” bathroom. Such ignorant hatred.  It is despicable. White supremacists tortured blacks by lynching them. I wish I could go to Blacks in the south who had to endure this kind of treatment and say that they are loved and valued, not despised and worthless. Black lives indeed matter! Tell blacks and tell whites! Their signs do not offend me! They hope someone is listening and looking. I am–with tears!

God had plans for Peter and Paul, then Saul. Both were both hardcore racists, people who believed that they belong to a superior race and that others were inferior. Racism wreaks with pride and ignorance. Peter preached to thousands of Jews at Pentecost and 3000 came into the family. Many signs and wonders were done through him, including a lame beggar, whose healing drew another large crowd–and two thousand more brought in. People were even healed by Peter’s shadow falling on them (Acts 5:15). And yet he didn’t believe that the gospel was meant for Gentile “dogs.” God had to do a number on him, then send him to a Gentile home to preach, then watch the Spirit on them before he could discard his pent-up prejudice. The disease goes deep in some good people. 

So how can we help in a world that is literally burning up with hatred and unrest? I will give you four responses in Part 3.

RACISM IS REAL! (part 1)

If you don’t believe me, ask the black people you know–and keep your mouth shut. Don’t say stupid things like, “Well, it’s getting better than it was,” or “Glad they finally figured things out in the South!” I knew it was real. White supremacy. Ku Klux Klan, How dare they use the symbol of the cross? It is demonic. Now I know a little better how pervasive racism is. I decided to ask people. Started with our Lydia House Church:

Esther is a capable Asian lady, mother of two. Her first exposure to racism came in a small Minnesota town. Older men had inappropriate and impure comments for her. In the workplace she had to labor hard to portray that she was capable and educated, because some assumed she was probably ignorant. Her son didn’t know he was bi-racial–until he got bullied. 

Brent and Audrey are a delightful and gifted couple.  Audrey grew up in the African nation of Gabon and came to the States in 2001. In college people would purposely avoid touching her, making her feel like she was contaminated. She and her white husband have often been stared at in sinister ways from people who have opinions about “mixed marriages.” A geneticist told his students, one of whom was Audrey, that Blacks had a lower IQ than Whites and Asians. How could he? Since becoming a medical therapist, Audrey has had patients refuse to work with her because of her color. Some are convinced that African Americans are inferior. I knew none of this–until I asked!

Paul McKenzie wrote on behalf of his wife, whom Karen and I have known and loved for over ten years but didn’t know this: “Adriana experienced racism in a variety of ways, like being watched closely in stores as a suspected thief. Being married to a Caucasian we’ve felt some disrespect from the African American culture because we have an interracial marriage. In school Adriana was accused of ‘trying to be white’, because she talked and behaved certain ways. So yes, racism is real.” All of these women are beautiful on the outside and inside, full of love, not hate.

My friend Anthony, intelligent, easy-going, hard-working, found that some jobs were not available to him because he was black. He has been stared down because he has a white daughter. He has had to deal with fear, because he has often felt on the defensive, like he has had to prove himself. 

I decided to keep listening, so I asked the guy at the gas station after pumping gas if he had experienced racism. He said softly and politely, “Yes sir. My mind is racing with thoughts on what to share. People have often used the “n-” word for me. I was pulled over by a police officer, then two other cars showed up. I got a ticket for an expired license.”

On my quick trip at Home Depot, I stopped a black man and asked him. He was big, gentle, soft-spoken, polite, and thanked me for asking and shared briefly. The cashier told me she was sometimes told to go back to Africa. She was born here. I won’t stop asking. I want to understand! Part 2 next!

MY UNFORGETTABLE TRIP TO THE DUMP

25 years of accumulation. Time to REALLY clean the garage.  At 76, we have maybe two more years at the Ranch, the name young people gave to our property. When in doubt, throw it out–the axiom I used last week. Filled the trailer with what I now called junk–carpets, gas cans, old tarps, a bike, electronics I figured I may use–sometime, broken tools I would maybe get fixed. “Sometime” just changed to “never”. I drove to the dump hauling beat-up tables, faulty toys. I get it–the week after you toss it you need it. Already happened. I still did not regret my action. I am enjoying my NEW garage too much to care. Been out a few times just to stare. Each time I take the car out, I pause–and the elation returns. (Why didn’t I do it a year ago?) I know where EVERYTHING is in the garage now. No more looking through piles. I paid Walter’s Recycling $50 to take the precious possessions I finally called trash. It was a slow go to haul it. I felt like a Beverly hillbilly.

The analogy–too obvious to ignore. Many of us need a trip to the dump with trash that clutters our soul and robs us of joy and peace, like

1 Broken relationships that never mended but still occupy our thoughts.

2 Failures we regret but have not removed from our memory bank.

3 Lost opportunities that keep us from dreaming again.

Paul made it clear: “Have no anxiety about anything…” In truth we sometimes have anxiety about everything. In our weakened state we live below the level of freedom, taking on blame, shame, guilt, depression, doubt, fear and anxiety as if we owned those qualities and bore some responsibility for keeping them around. We make ourselves the exception to the promise that still holds true: “All things work together for good…” Not that all things are good, but going to the right places (like the dump) converts the bad to good, the broken to the healed, the painful to the purposeful. We can learn to overcome evil with good, as scripture commands (Rom. 12:21).

Okay, Paul, I get it–sort of. Help me go to the dump. How can I do it–now? 

Try 3 steps. Maybe take a day for each one:

1 Turn regret into repentance and never return to regret. It is a passive emotion, freezing us in time and keeps us from fresh mobility. We regret decisions, words spoken, promises forgotten. Jesus died for our sins, not regrets. Confess them and take them to the dump.

2 Forgive everyone–for everything. Like I told you, I forgave a man who ripped me off of precious cargo after I let him, his girlfriend and new baby live in our home. Unforgiveness is cancer on the soul, rotting your insides. I know they hurt you, but unforgiveness is a TERRIBLE way to get revenge. Forgiveness releases them–and you! Do an inventory. Forgive everyone!

3 Build up an immunity to discouragement. Why? Because it turns you in on yourself. You then invite self-pity in and the two of them destroy you–for a day, a week, a year. Not helpful. Say “no” to discouragement–every time. It is garbage to be thrown out. You can do it!

LIFE WOULDN’T BE SO HARD…

…if you didn’t expect it to be so easy. I am quoting a wise grandfather. I thought life would be easier. I was a pastor’s kid. That should count for something. We were a Christian family. A mom with cancer. Terrible. She lost her singing voice. Two sisters divorced. Really sad! 

I thought marriage was going to be easier. Hey, we really loved each other. Still do. And yet we sometimes misunderstood each other. I didn’t get it for years. I came into marriage with expectations of what Karen would do. Expectations are demands baking in the oven. They come out sooner or later. I tell engaged couples to write out their expectations–then burn them. When I counsel them, I warn them: “It’s going to be harder than you think.” They smile, because they know it will be different for them. Like fun! Love doesn’t deal with all the problems. You are not easy to live with; you’ve got issues. You’re proud when you need to be humble. You get hurt when you should take the high road and ignore it. You have said things when you should keep your mouth shut, haven’t you?

I thought raising kids was going to be a piece o’ cake. We loved them, and they loved us–sort of. But they occasionally made life really difficult. And we sometimes yelled, or said stupid things, or disciplined them when we should not have, or made rules that were not quite fair. We didn’t get to practice before being thrown into the real thing. We learned how to parent–by parenting and by making mistakes–with living human beings. Our home was a peaceful place–some of the time. At other times I was embarrassed at how we lived. I thought, “If people in our church could see us now. They might quit.” Why is HE preaching about family life?”

I thought ministry was going to be easier. That is what I went to school for. I made a commitment at age ten. I knew in high school that I was going to be a pastor. Just didn’t talk about it much. Four years of seminary should have prepared me adequately. Wrong! I have messed up many times. Should have known better. Counseled people wrong. Should have loved everyone. Didn’t! A few of my sermons were embarrassing. Same for my dad. Some Sundays he would come home and go to bed with a migraine. He knew he could have done better–and didn’t. At least he didn’t think so. Sunday wasn’t always the delightful day it should have been at the Anderson’s..

What’s my point? Embrace the hardship of life from the get-go. If young couples accept the fact that they will have really hard times, they just got easier. If we accept the reality that raising kids is not impossible but almost, we just relaxed. And that makes us better parents. Ministry is not for people who think it is easy. I thought so as a young pastor, and it made me proud. 

Your mindset is far more important than you think. Get over the need to have things easy and embrace the difficult stuff. I am talking to myself, because I sometimes am still thrown by hardship. Thanks for understanding.

 

OUT-OF-THE-BOX GENEROSITY

Can you name any examples from the Bible? I’ll give you one. First, two reasons why they maybe shouldn’t: 1) Severe test of affliction. When we are being tried with problems on all sides, our first thought may not be to give generously. We would be tempted toward caution. We might excuse our holding back. 2) Extreme poverty. When we are at our lowest point financially, we may feel justified not to give, and especially not to dig deep.

How would you rate your giving to your church and beyond? Calculated, medium, above average, extravagant? Heaven watches how we give, because it provides a clue to how we live.

Paul’s friends in Macedonia knew how to let go: “For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and the extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints–and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Corinthians 8:2-5).

6 truths stand out in their over-the-top giving:

1  Did they have reasons not to give? Yes, on the human level, but faith overrode fear. 

2  Paul didn’t just call it generosity; it was “a wealth of generosity.” God tells the people of Israel to give generously ”and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Malachi 2:10). In their “severe test of affliction,” the Macedonians turned the tables and put God to the test. Did it work? Sure sounds like it! When you are being tested financially, do you tend to hold back or pour out more? Ever heard of the widow’s mite? Jesus was impressed with her, not with the rich people who gave out of their abundance. Is God taking notice of your giving?

3 Is it foolish to give beyond our means? I think some folks would say so. Not the apostle Paul. Not the Macedonian Christians. Not God!

4 They saw giving as a privilege, not an obligation. Wow! They begged Paul to let them give. Radical! If giving makes you happy, you probably consider it a privilege as well.

5 They used the giving opportunity to once again lay their lives on the altar. They were already committed followers of Jesus, but Paul says that with the gift “they gave themselves first to the Lord.” I would like to meet these Macedonian believers. When you find people who are generous with their finances, they are also generous with their time, their words of affirmation, and their energy. They all go together. Generosity of the heart includes generosity of the hand.

6 This is evidence of God’s grace at work. Paul said, “We want you to know about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia” (v.1).

Karen and I have often told the kids our faith stories in the midst of the squeeze to encourage them toward the same kind of giving. Now we are hearing their stories–a double blessing for us. The message got through.

THE MARVEL OF ADOPTION!

Karen and I have six children here and one in heaven. We didn’t order the gender or the hair color. Those kinds of decisions were made for us, not by us. Hey, we really like what we got. We didn’t trade any of them in.

Those who adopt operate with a different system. They can make choices not available to parents of natural-born offspring. If we decided to adopt (no, we are not thinking about it), I suspect that Karen would look toward an Asian child and particularly a Japanese. Those who know her realize that she is more Japanese than American. But none of our kids look Japanese. That would need to come through adoption. Both “systems” have their advantages. With the adoption process, you can make more decisions about what you end up with if you want to.

So listen to what Paul says: “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15).  Three truths come from this verse:

  1. God has chosen us. Choice implies worth. How does it feel to be picked out by the sovereign Lord and King of the Universe?! That should give us a powerful sense of belonging. Some people need healing from a spirit of abandonment. They were made to feel like garbage. But now they can say “Father” to a God who brought them into His family. 
  2. We are of value. Girls are walking the streets of downtown Minneapolis tonight hoping that guys will find value in them. They were not treasured at home. Dad was more interested in golf scores than homework scores, and now he wonders why he has a rebel daughter. Children are important, and God gives us a sense of value, enough to have His own Son die to redeem us so we could be members of His family.
  3. Fear is replaced by faith. A difficult past is left for a sure future. Lay claim to yours!

All this happens because of adoption. Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father. We are adopted children, given the inheritance of our elder Brother Jesus, who is kind and generous in sharing it with us. If you were in Israel today, you could hear children running to catch up with their father and saying, “Abba, abba”–Daddy!”  People in the Old Testament believed in a holy God and revered Him. Those under the New Covenant have a Father and know they belong in the family. So if your natural family gave you the feeling that you were not worth the trouble, you can experience healing through the spirit of adoption and know you will be valued for the rest of your eternity!

John writes, “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus didn’t come to talk about God; he came to reveal His Father. A father who values work above home tells his children they are not worth the time. Not the Father of Jesus. I’m adopted. I’m in–forever!!

NO MORE WHINING!

I had pretty strong legs in my adult life.  Hour-long runs were common. Ran a few marathons in younger days. Pain started showing up in the knees as a 60-year old, not severe enough to do anything about it, but enough to complain once in a while. As the decade wore on, so did the knees. Karen recommended a trip to the doctor. He took x-rays, and it revealed deterioration. No surprise. He said two things: 1) You need knee replacements, and 2) I won’t do it for you now. The two statements didn’t match. He’s a surgeon. He does this kind of thing for a living. So I asked him why he wouldn’t do mine. His answer: “You’re not ready. Your life is way too active, and you are not complaining enough. Come back when you are ready.”

That was not what I had expected to hear. My friend was cautious about me going, because he suspected they would be more than eager to use the knife, even if it was not serious. Wrong this time. About six months later I went back to see him and said, “We’re ready.” He booked the surgery without an argument.

One at a time. After the first I was doing bar dips on the walker and going down the halls so fast that nurses said I was going to get a ticket. Bring on number two. Not quite as easy the second time around. No bar dips. No speeding tickets. Having two weakened knees seemed to change the landscape. Standing up from a sitting position became harder–every time. Running was out of the picture. 

Finally back to doing a block or two–max! I didn’t expect such a change. Friends encouraged me  to get the surgery. They said normal would return in months. It has been three years and the new normal doesn’t feel good. The balance once enjoyed is not there. Going up ladders was never so hard. Turning around can bring on dizziness. Getting out of a chair is no longer easy. Not about popping up; I wrestle my way up. That gets tiring.

My wife finally heard my complaint this morning. I said, “Even after a good night’s rest, I am shuffling around like a 90-year old.”  She answered, “It’s because you work so hard.”   My response:  “No, this is the way they always feel.” Then a call came from my friend. We walk in accountability together, so it is not uncommon for one of us to call the other for prayer. After he shared his concern, for which he got prayer, then he heard about the knees–and the whining. 

When he finished praying, something had changed. I resolved that by God’s grace never again would He hear complaining about the knees. They would get used for only a short time anyway before a resurrection body in the new earth. God gave grace to believe. The change was immediate. Now I get to live it out the next 25 years. Ask me in ten years how it is going.  Any areas where you need a makeover in your attitude? Ask for prayer–and believe!!

IS THERE HIERARCHY IN THE HOME?

The word can sound scary, maybe oppressive. It means “a system involving levels of authority.” Paul writes that “when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (I Cor. 15:28). The Son loves being subject to his Father, because the Father loves and honors the Son. 

Peter talks about levels of authority (hierarchy) in government, society, and home:  “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors…” (I Peter 2:13,14). Then he says, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect…” (18). Regarding marriage he writes, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands…For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (1,5,6). Then he says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way…” (7). The Greek word for “be subject to” or “submit to” (hupotasso) means” to station oneself under,” as Jesus did (and does) with the Father. The connotation in its multiple uses is positive, suggesting care, protection, and service rather than domination.

Paul is consistent with Peter when looking at relationships. Like Peter, he addresses women first: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wlves, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her…” (Ephesians 5:22-26). So women do not submit to men, but in the home the wife submits to her husband. Paul continues, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (6:1). In his letter to the Colossians, he echoes the same relationships, adding servants and masters as Peter described (3:18-24). 

The way Jesus exercised care for his bride was to die for her. I carry out my responsibility the same way. If Karen and I come into disagreement, we talk it through. I try to take the example of Christ literally and die for my wife. I once heard Larry Christenson say, “The only purpose of hierarchy is service.” I don’t lord it over Karen. People who live in our home (and we have always had many in our household from the get-go) do not see a big boss; they see a servant. I work hard and long. I use my energy in part  to lay down my life for my wife and children. That’s how I exercise authority.

Jesus said to disciples afflicted with “the best seat syndrome” like Gentile rulers, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). The reason for a position over is to get under. Listen well, husbands!