You can’t take it with you.

We’ve all heard it, we all know it, and sometimes we even remember to take it seriously. But there are things aside from money and possessions that we can carry all the way to the grave, and those things will weigh us down, drag us down, bend us and break us, until we don’t even realize we are no longer even walking upright. Continue reading Forgiveness

Write Your Own Obituary

There is a Garth Brooks’ song that talks about what it means to truly live.

The chorus goes like this:

There’s two dates in time That they’ll carve On your stone
And everyone knows What they mean
What’s more important is The time that is known
In that little dash There in between

What’s on your little dash there in between?

What will people say about you when you’re gone?

What do you hope people will say about you when you’re gone?

“For the wonderful thing about saints is that they were human. They lost their tempers, got angry, scolded God, were egotistical or testy or impatient in their turns, made mistakes and regretted them. Still they went on doggedly blundering toward heaven.”

-Phyllis McGinlyey

We take comfort in knowing: those who came before us were sinners like us.

And – just as we will one day be – they are in heaven with the Lord now.

Not because they earned or deserved it, but because they believed.

So, who are your saints?

I’m not talking about the Roman Catholic Saints, with their statues and miracles and whatever else –

I mean who are your saints?

Who are the people whom God placed in your life –

Who loved you, taught you, inspired you…

And who are now with God?

She wasn’t perfect, was she?

He had his faults, didn’t he?

And yet they meant so much to you because they were there – in your life, somehow, some way – pushing, pulling, nurturing, mentoring, caring…

They filled in that dash in a way that was incredibly significant for you.

How would you write their obituary? Their epitaph? A tribute to what they meant to you?

Now, whose saint will you be?

Have you taken the same time, the same care, to be there for others in the way others were there for you?

We all have a choice to make.

Because that little dash in between our numbers – the dash we are filling in right now

It’s being written for you, right now.

We don’t get to write our own obituary after we’re gone – by then, it’s already been written.

The time for writing is right now.

Whether you know it or not, whether you’re aware of it or not,

You are writing your life story – and it’s that story that you will leave behind when you’re gone.

So is it a story you would be proud to have told?

If you could read your obituary, would it humble you to hear how well people think of you?

Or would it humble you with shame to hear how little you meant?

Because that’s the choice we own – what story are you writing?

You could spend your life making millions –

Go sky diving, mountain climbing and hang gliding,

Swim with the sharks, run with the bulls, even soar with the eagles,

Live a life our world would say was lived to the fullest.

But a life truly lived is a life filled with love.

Because, when it’s all said and done, we’re all put here for a reason –

And we were saved for a reason, too.

If we live our life for ourselves, why on earth would Jesus die for that?

But if we can live a life that leaves its mark on others –

If our lives can come to an end surrounded by those who would say of us that we have made a difference in their life –

To be loved and honored and cherished because you helped someone –

Because you took the time to push, pull, nurture, mentor;

To care, to love, to teach, to inspire.

Now that is a story worth reading – a dash to be proud of!

Right now, take a few moments and actually write your own obituary.

Ask yourself these questions:

Aside from the basic facts, what would your obituary say if it were written right now?

What do you hope it would say?

What do you want it to say?

If your great-grandchildren were to read it, what would you want them to know about you?

Take a few moments right now to write your own obituary – what you want it to say.

Because it’s not too late to change your story.

You are forgiven for the life you’ve lived up until now,

And you are not too old to do better, with God’s help.

So write the obituary you want written about you.

And then live it out.

Paying the Price

Today, we set aside a national holiday to remember all those who have died either while serving our country’s military, or who have died since that service.

For most of us, it means the day off work or school, and a three-day weekend.

But it is also a really valuable time for reflection – to think about what it means to be willing to sacrifice everything for what you believe.

What would you fight for? What would you die for? For that matter, what are you living for?

Lots of people believe a lot of different things. And, we happen to live in a time and place where you can express those beliefs and opinions via internet comments or social media with very little risk of any real repercussion, save an unpopular response or a lack of “likes.”

But when it comes down to it, what would you really be willing to stake your life on?

What about your eternity?

Today, as we remember those who fought and died for our freedoms, maybe it’s also time to think about real freedom ourselves.

When was the last time you went to church? If you go regularly, when was the last time you invited someone?

I don’t know where you stand in what you believe, but let today be the day that you look for more than just this life and the pain and loss that surrounds us. If you don’t have a church, find one. Know what it’s like to know your Savior and to know the love of a church family.

And if you do have a church and a church family, it’s time to help that family grow. If there are people in your life that you love and care about who don’t go to church, it’s time to stand up and fight for them. Fight for their eternity.

Because faith matters. Faith in Jesus isn’t about some set of old-fashioned rules or way of controlling you. It’s about the greatest news ever given: that whatever things you’ve done, whatever things you’ve failed to do, God sent His Son to pay the price for those things – no matter how shameful or unforgivable they might look in your mind. Learn more about the One who died so that we would have life, and tell others what you know.

Thank God for the brave men and women who took a stand and paid the price for our freedom to go to church and change our eternity. Don’t you think it’s time you took a stand?

The Answer

If you were to die tonight and find yourself standing before the great judgment throne of God Himself, only to have Him ask you why He should let you into heaven, how would you answer?

It’s an old question, meant to terrify a little and prompt you to clarify whether and what you actually believe.

So, what would you answer?

Have you been good enough to deserve heaven?

Most people, after all, believe that good people go to heaven. But what does it mean to be good? And what qualifies as “good enough?”

The question scares us – because we don’t know the answer. Do we deserve heaven? Are we good enough? Is our faith strong enough to save us? How can we know?

Most people believe good people go to heaven, but let’s think about that for a minute: what does it mean to be good? Are we talking Mother Theresa good? Or just not-Hitler good? A lot of people think it’s about keeping the 10 Commandments, but a lot of those same people probably couldn’t name 5 Commandments, let alone keep them perfectly. And by the way, Jesus made the 10 Commandments even more impossible to keep perfectly: You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:21-29).

To make matters worse, the Bible is pretty openly opposed to the “good people go to heaven” view. In fact, according to the Bible, good people do not go to heaven. To begin with, there is no such thing as a good person: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12).

And Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that “good enough” is not good enough. In order to earn heaven, you have to be better than perfect: For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).

So if good people don’t go to heaven, who does?

Good people don’t go to heaven; forgiven people do: But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

So how do we know if we are forgiven? To (Jesus) all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:43).

But we want assurances. We want to feel forgiven. I get it, because I’ve been there. There is something wonderfully reassuring about the emotional high of an altar call, where the music soars and you pray that sinner’s prayer for all you’re worth. In that moment, the tears flow because you feel saved. It’s awesome…

Until you walk out the doors, go back home, back to work, back to school, and find that you are still the same person. So you start to wonder if it “took.” What if that wasn’t it? What if you still aren’t really saved? How can you be sure?

You can quit looking to your feelings, which can change with the weather. You can stop trusting your gut, which is directly related to how long it’s been since you last ate. Instead, try looking to the only stability in this crazy universe: God and His Word.

And God’s Word says you are saved: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It’s done. Finished. Completed on the cross, on a very Good Friday 2,000 years ago.

Are you worried, though, that you might not truly believe it? Well, do you want to believe it? Does it make sense to you? Do you want saving faith to be your own? Then it already belongs to you. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t care.

Saving faith means believing that you are not a good person, but you have been rescued anyway by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. To believe there is nothing you can do to make God love you more – or to make God love you less.

Do you want to know the answer? Do you want to know how to be sure you’re saved? It’s because God said so. And God never breaks His Word. Ever.

Do you want an assurance?

  • The next time you’re in the shower, feel the water running over your head and be reminded that you were baptized.
  • Make the sign of the cross to remind you of your baptism.
  • Make the sign of the cross in the mirror and tell yourself, “You are a baptized child of God.”
  • When you take communion, remember the body that was sacrificed for you. As the wine passes over your lips and tongue, remember the blood that was shed for you.
  • When you are tempted to beat yourself up for your failures, wash your hands and remember you have been washed clean.
  • When you are tempted to look down on others because you think you’re better than them, instead look up and remember that you both stand under heaven.

We don’t need to be afraid of whether or not salvation “took,” or whether or not we have been good enough, because our Heavenly Father gave us His Word that His grace is enough.

The Truth is, you already knew the answer. You probably learned it a long time ago, when things seemed much simpler:

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

How can you know you’re really saved? Because God said so. And that is enough.


Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30

As we head out of this Mother’s Day and head back to our regularly scheduled lives, I would like to say “thank you” once more to those who have walked, are walking and will walk in the calling of motherhood. And to those who have for any number of reasons not been called to be a mother, please know that you, too, are appreciated.

I know that you are overwhelmed. I also know you live your life in fear that you will not measure up to the impossible standard of womanhood you carry.

Your heart breaks because you don’t feel like you could ever live up to the high calling of a wife or mother.

You struggle with the social pressures and desires of your mind for your career and the desires of your heart to be with your family.

You struggle with the expectations of appearance vs. your desire for comfort. You want to feel and look beautiful, but you don’t want to be objectified or passed over because of your appearance.

And all of that makes you feel like a failure as a woman, because it feels like you are the only woman who doesn’t have it all figured out.

But what you don’t understand is that through the blood of Jesus, your heavenly Father sees you as you were created to be – who you were redeemed to be.

He doesn’t see your failures.

He doesn’t count your imperfections.

He doesn’t compare you to anyone else.

God sees you as the woman you believe you can be – or maybe as the woman you think you could never be.

Whoever you are, in whatever roles you are called to serve, God has gifted, equipped and called you to serve there.

You have been saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus.

And Jesus died to save sinful women; to save women who lose their temper too easily with their children and women who resent their husbands; to save women who never feel adequate and women who are obsessed with appearances; to save women who carry too much and women who don’t do enough; to save women who feel they have to be strong and women who feel too weak; to save women who feel like they have to hold everything together and women who feel like if they stop moving 100 miles per hour they will fall apart; to save women who struggle to leave abusive relationships and women who are terrified they’ll go back to them; to save the women who are offended by this post and the women who needed it.

Women like you.

You are loved and you are forgiven. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are a marvelous work of God. God has called you to be uniquely you and not someone else. He has called you to trust in His great love for you – and He has called you to show His love to those around you.

So thank you for being who He has called you to be (whether you feel like it or not), and thank you for being in our lives.

May the God of grace and mercy bless all women, Amen.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Worship Is…

A common misconception (because it is wrongly taught and spoken of in that way) is that worship refers only to the songs we sing when we are in church: the musical portion of the church service. In fact, most “Evangelical” churches (Evangelical meaning non-Catholic, Protestant, conservative and Bible-based) separate their church services into two parts, often referred to as “worship” and the “word.” Services typically consist of 30 minutes of singing and 30 minutes of preaching, followed by an altar call.

But worship is so much more than just the songs we sing. It is everything we do together as Christ’s church, gathered in the presence of God to receive His gifts. And yes, I said to receive. Worship is not about what we do or give to God. We do that in response to the great and generous gifts He pours out on us – and in turn He pours out more blessings upon us as we try to give Him what little we have. You cannot out-give God, no matter how hard you try. Even the financial offering we bring is simply an acknowledgement of all we have received from God, and it is an offering which pales in comparison to the generous blessings He pours out on us before, during and after our puny tithe.

And since everything we do is worship, a much better differentiation between parts of the service than “Worship” and “Word” is “Word” and “Sacrament*.” Because the music we sing, play and listen to is a part of the service of the Word. In fact, the music is there to reinforce the Word as a part of the Word. The songs we sing are not an offering that we bring; they are a teaching tool.

How often have you left church singing a hymn or praise song from that morning? Have you ever found yourself in a difficult situation and remembered the words of a Bible verse or a hymn/song that gave you comfort? Found yourself looking at a beautiful sunset and thinking to yourself, “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder”? No? Never? Maybe you need to spend more time in church…

The Word is there from God. Read to us in the daily Scripture reading(s). Explained to us and applied to our lives in the message/sermon. Reinforced in the words of the songs/hymns we sing, the words of the confession or the prayers. This is all taken into consideration in the planning and constructing of the worship service – or at least, it should be, if the Pastor and staff members are being faithful…

The word for the order of the service is liturgy. It is an ancient word that means “the work of the people.” Today, it is associated with traditional churches with a “high church” order of service, as opposed to the 30 & 30 style mentioned earlier, but liturgy simply refers to the order of the service. Even 30 & 30 is a type of liturgy, it’s just an especially simplified one. The purpose of the liturgy is to lead the people through the corporate act of worship by constructing sentences within a greater paragraph, or as phrases within a greater conversation.By the end of the service, you may not be aware of how all the parts fit together, but you should leave knowing whatever the thematic point was for that service (for example, that God’s grace is free, or that we are called to love our neighbor).

The worship service is a conversation between God and His people, between Christ and His Church. When we are planning worship, we are writing the dialogue. This is why it is such a high calling, such a tremendous responsibility, such an incalculable honor to do it. If the different parts and pieces do not fit together, then it’s like having a disjointed conversation. You risk the people missing the point of the service; you lose the heart of the communication. But just as the many parts of the body join together to form one being in ourselves and in the church, the many parts of the liturgy join together to form one worship service.

We need to make sure we don’t fall into the habit of dividing the worship service into the things we do (worship) vs. the things we learn (word). God pours at least as much out on us through our music as we could ever give to Him. And the sermon is more than a teaching: it is the timeless Word of God Himself, spoken into our lives in the here and now. If the message doesn’t somehow convict you of your sin, remind you that you are forgiven, and push you to live out your faith in a way that applies to your life, your pastor isn’t doing his job.+

The point is, don’t view worship as something God needs from you, or something you owe Him (though technically, we do). See it as something you need in order to be healthy. Come to worship to be filled up again. To be surrounded by a family of believers who is struggling with some of the very same things you are. To be told that you are not OK, and that’s OK. To be reminded that you are forgiven, really, truly and completely. Come to worship to grow as a person. Come as you are… but don’t stay that way. And yes, come to worship – don’t watch it on TV or live stream it unless you are physically unable to go in person. Worship happens with God’s family, in the church, where the Word and Sacrament are distributed freely, lovingly, and indiscriminately.

Trust me: it’s good stuff.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

“On Sunday go to church.  Yes, I know all the excuses.  I know that one can worship the Creator and dedicate oneself to good living in a grove of trees, or by a running brook, or in one’s own house, just as well as in a church.  But I also know that as a matter of cold fact the average man does not thus worship or dedicate himself.” -Teddy Roosevelt


*A Sacrament has three characteristics, which must all be present:

  1. It is instituted by God.
  2. It combines God’s Word with a visible element.
  3. There is actual forgiveness of sins taking place.

Because of this, we as Lutherans recognize two Sacraments:

  1. God’s Word + Water = Baptism
  2. God’s Word + Bread & Wine = The Lord’sSupper.

+Your Pastor has a hard job, believe it or not, and not every sermon will be a home run. Cut him some slack – but if none of his sermons ever convict, remind or push, you might consider that you are suffering from bad preaching. Or, maybe, an attention deficit on your part?

From the Floor of the Senate

UPDATE: It made the (downriver) paper!

This morning, I had the incredible honor of giving the Invocation (opening prayer) before the morning session of the Michigan State Senate. And yes, they still do that.

I was invited by the State Senator for our District, the Honorable Hoon-Yung Hopgood. It was awesome. Such an honor. I was further invited to “hang out” on the Senate floor for a while, as the guest of Senator Hopgood. I thought that was great, but I actually got to “hang out” with Senator Hopgood! He’s a really great guy – a family man, Christian, very personable. He answered a lot of questions and showed me how things work – I’ve always been very interested in politics and the processes of government. Government was one of my favorite classes in school.

It was an honor to be there and give the Invocation – something I’ll never forget – and yes, I had to be myself, so I threw in a little joke at the expense of our neighbors to the Southeast… And yes, I got laughs from the floor and appreciation from a handful of senators afterward.

May God bless the men and women of our state legislature, as well as their families, and my most sincere thanks to Senator Hopgood and his staff!

Hopefully, the video below will work for you (sorry it’s video of video – you can watch the original here, though I don’t know how long it will be available).

If In Doubt, Talk It Out

I cannot say this enough:



Stop making assumptions.

Don’t talk about people – talk to them.

The longer you let things fester, the worse they get until they are irreparable.

This goes for your marriage, kids, parents, friendships, and all relationships – with family, coworkers, bosses, teachers, pastors, neighbors, you name it.

It seems easier to be mad and walk away, but it just breeds bitterness and you never truly put it behind you.

Marriages end because someone stops talking about what’s bothering them.

Parents become estranged from children because someone assumes the other won’t understand.

People walk away from jobs they love because they don’t hear that they are appreciated, and don’t ask, either.

People leave churches they grew up in because they hear a rumor and assume it’s true.

Friendships end because someone misunderstands something that was said, and never asks why.

And each of those people carry around for the rest of their lives the weight of those broken relationships, never able to fully understand how they could have been treated that way – and never having the courage to ask.

But what if it was all a misunderstanding?

What if we misread the situation?

What if the other person couldn’t read our mind?…

Yes, people hurt each other.

And yes, sometimes people are just mean.

And yes, sometimes talking leads to fighting.

And yes, sometimes things do get worse.

But sometimes out of the worst fights – out of those raw and real moments – come some of the deepest truths.

And sometimes those truths break us.

But sometimes being broken is what we need.

And sometimes what we need is to see ourselves in the eyes of that other – to realize what we ourselves have become.

Sometimes the only way we can grow is to be cut down and replanted.

I cannot tell you how many times this has been proven in my life.

Both to my astonishment…

And to my shame.

There are people in my life who mean the world to me.

And they remain in my life because I – or they – swallowed our pride and talked it out when something went wrong.

Because something always goes wrong, because we remain human, after all.

But it can only be fixed if it gets acknowledged first.

And that means you have to talk about it.

It’s not always easy.

But it’s almost always worth it.

If you need to walk away, then do it.

But then go back.

And talk.

And I know.

It’s difficult and scary.

And it leaves us vulnerable.

But even if all we learn from talking is that the relationship does need to end,

At least now we can truly say we know.

Because we tried.

We talked.

So talk.

Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.

Talk to the person.

Oh, one more thing:


500 Years and a Weird Haircut

I decided to go all out, and all in, for Halloween this year.

500 years ago, on October 31st, 1517, a German priest, monk and professor of theology named Martin Luther posted on the door of the town church a document protesting the Roman Catholic Church’s sale of God’s grace. Luther based his argument on the Bible, which clearly states that God’s forgiveness, His grace, His mercy and His salvation, are all free gifts – they cannot be earned, let alone bought or sold.

As time went by, Luther wrote and said much more, calling for reform – for a return to biblical Christianity, which teaches that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. He was called on by the church to recant, or take back what he said, but he refused – because to do so would have been to deny the authority of God’s own Word.

Luther is a hero of mine – he is largely the reason we can read the Bible for ourselves, the reason we play and sing music in church, and above all the reason we can know for certain – based on the Bible – that our salvation is not dependent on our own merit, understanding, or personal experience – it is wholly dependent on Jesus, and Him alone. But the reformation, like the church and the Gospel, are not about Martin Luther – it is ALL about Jesus, and what God accomplished through Luther – just as God continues to do extraordinary things through ordinary people like you and me.

Still, this being the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I decided to dress as Martin Luther for Halloween – what better time to do it, right? But I really wasn’t digging the wig. So, me being me, I just went full Marty – and Heidi gave me a monk’s haircut, which I’ve worn for our Hall-O-ween service, our Sunday worship, and finally for Halloween.

And yes, I can confirm that my natural bald spot is in the shape of a cross. To be clear: the cross is NOT shaved in, it is natural. I have nothing more to say about that.

Have a happy and blessed Reformation, and remember: it’s always been about Jesus. Grace alone through Faith alone in Christ alone. “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me, Amen.”

Thoughts on Installing a Pastor

Yesterday afternoon, I was able to take part in one of my favorite worship services: the installation of a new pastor. I’m not the first to use this analogy, but the relationship between a pastor and the church he is called to much more closely resembles a marriage than a job/hiring, and the Installation service is very much the wedding.

As worship services go, it’s pretty standard fair most of the way, but the themes heard in the songs and readings chosen echo the great responsibility placed on those called to preach the Good News of salvation, as well as their willingness to walk in those enormous shoes.

My favorite part comes right after the Rite of Installation: other pastors who have gathered for this moment (some from the area, some friends who have traveled for this) surround the new pastor, lay their hands on him and bless him. Usually a scripture is given by each, along with a prayer or word of blessing, but each pastor in turn lays this blessing upon the new pastor. In this way, each pastor is visibly brought into his office not by his own desire or declaration, but by the blessing and authority of his peers. It is a powerful moment to participate in, as well as to witness.

This vocation – being a pastor – is incredibly unique. We are called to be servant-leaders. We are shepherds who are also sheep. We are asked to be Counselors who sometimes need counseling ourselves. We are blessed with the capacity to love and care about even those who refuse it or revolt against it – though we are also human and sinful, and none of us manages this at all times. We can be thanked, complimented and loved, but we will dwell on and lose sleep over a single harsh word. We balance the needs of home with the needs of the members, the staff and the business of the church. It is simultaneously beautiful, ugly, impossible, easy, overwhelming, inspiring, humbling, disappointing, frustrating, rewarding and more adjectives than are in my mind to write at this moment. It is often beyond description.

It is comforting, then, to know that we are not alone in this. We are strengthened by the Holy Spirit, surrounded by the saints, held aloft by countless prayers – and supported by our peers. Even when we disagree on some point of theology or practice, we can still come together and lay hands on a brother as he enters into this sacred relationship – and let him know that we understand what he is about to take on – and that he is not alone.

God bless those who pastor His church, Amen.