39 Things I’m Thankful For

On Twitter, this guy said he’s not thankful this year because Trump is in office. I think that’s crazy. Imagine having such an obsessive hatred of  Donald Trump that you can’t see how many wonderful things are in your life. There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in the world, but I’ve had the best year of my life. Here’s a bunch of things I am thankful for.

  1. I am thankful for my baby girl. A year ago at this time Shelby and I would babysit our family-friends’ foster daughter about once a week. Now that baby is our baby. And she brings us so, so, so much joy.
  2. I am thankful for our friends who were her foster parents. Our daughter is so emotionally healthy for her age, and so much of that is because of the loving environment her foster family gave her.
  3. I am thankful for a healthy marriage. I am consistently happier with Shelby than I have ever been in three-and-a-half-years of marriage.
  4. I am thankful that Shelby and I have a good relationship with our daughters birth mom. She is a blessing to us and we love her very much.
  5. I am thankful for our former housemate Madelyn. I am happy she’s in grad school.
  6. I am thankful for our current housemate Michaela. The four of us are having a great time living together. I am so happy that I get to live with my wife, my daughter, and my friend.
  7. I am thankful that God called my friend to missionary work in the Middle East.
  8. I am thankful for technology that allows me to talk/text him and also my sister who lives in Australia.
  9. I am thankful God let me be the pastor of Gospel Church.
  10. I am thankful for Dima who is leading Gospel Church now.
  11. I am thankful for our new church, Gospel Life Church. I am so glad I get to be a part of this community.
  12. I am thankful for my pastor.
  13. I am thankful to God for opening the eyes of a man last Thursday, who gave his life to Jesus Christ.
  14. I am thankful for friends on my block. It can feel lonely being the white guy in North. It’s easy to feel like an outsider, but they include me as one of the guys.
  15. I am thankful for my two nephews that were born this year.
  16. I am thankful for God’s patience and grace with me.
  17. I am thankful that the Bible was translated into English.
  18. I am thankful to those who teach and preach and write so I can know more about the Lord.
  19. I am thankful for friends who are loving to me during seasons of depression. Specifically Shelby and my friend David Ruess.
  20. I am thankful for all the people who give financially to my ministry. Church planting doesn’t bring in money, but it does take time. I couldn’t give so much time to it if people did not support me.
  21. I am thankful for all the people we give to financially, and that they’d think to ask Shelby and when they were raising financial support. I love what all of them are doing in so many different parts of the world and get so excited whenever we receive an update letter or email from them.
  22. I am thankful for my mom and dad as well as my step-parents. I am very glad they are just a phone call away.
  23. I am thankful for my brother and sister, as well as their spouses.
  24. I am thankful for my in-laws.
  25. I am thankful I got to take a trip to my hometown in Iowa with my 14-year-old-brother-in-law JJ.
  26. I am thankful for blog readers who send me encouraging messages. The nice comments didn’t always outweigh the mean comments. I am happy the nice now outweighs the mean.
  27. I am thankful that all my cousins who live in the area now have monthly dinners. It’s easy to take the family who live closest to you for granted. I’m glad we make sure we spend time with one another at least once a month.
  28. I am thankful that my wife is leading our family to be more environmentally conscious. I am also thankful her desire to care for the environment never comes across as pretentious.
  29. I am thankful for the realtors who let me do business with them, as well as the workers who worked with my company this summer.
  30. I am thankful that my friendship with Matt and Lydia has grown this year.
  31. I am thankful that my friend Carlos moved to North last year. It’s good to have a friend nearby.
  32. I am thankful for people (my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, Michaela, and family friends who used to be our daughters foster family) who babysit our daughter so Shelby and I can go on dates, have meetings, and spend time with friends.
  33. I am thankful for friends that regularly remind me of the gospel.
  34. I am thankful for the people who let me interview them for my final project for LDI.
  35. I am thankful to God for sending His Son to, not only reconciling me to Himself but to give me a big, big family all over the world.
  36. I am thankful that my buddy Collin goes to Timberwolves games with me. And also that I have some friends to talk basketball with, in this hockey-crazed state.
  37. I am thankful that God allows me to feel excited about the things He has called me to do. Preaching and planting could just be an obligation. But thanks to God for making it a joyful-obligation!
  38. I am thankful for Settlers of Catan. I like competition, so it’s good to have something to play with my wife. I’m thankful that I’ve gotten to play a bunch with Shelby and Michaela these last few months.
  39. I’m happy I got reconnected with my friend Sam, and that he moved to Milwaukee. I went seven years without seeing him and then Shelby and I stayed at he and his wife’s house in April. Then in September his wife was out of town so I drove to Milwaukee with him.I got to hang out with him and meet some of his friends, worship with his church, and got to see the Cubs beat the Brewers.

I could keep going. I’ve missed about 100,000. But 39 seems like a good number to stop at. You know, there’s really know way to give thanks without sounding like a five-year-old. Thanksgiving is all about recognizing that you’ve been given something you haven’t earned. Thanksgiving is all about unmerited favor from God. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Are we animals?

Right before my junior year of high school, a new girl moved to town. In a small high school, it’s very exciting for the boys when an attractive new girl moves to town. But for most of the girls, a new girl that the boys like represents a threat. I remember the same thing happening in middle school. A new girl moved to town and she was called names by the other girls and left out.

I don’t know if it’s still like that in my hometown, with the boys obsessing over the new girl and the girls bullying her. I hope it isn’t.

To make a long story short, the girl had sex with a few of the guys that year. At least one of those guys was dating another girl at the time. I remember how much the girls hated her, but the guys didn’t experience any real negative backlash.

I remember one girl (whose boyfriend the new girl had sex with) talking about how much she hated the girl while her boyfriend was sitting next to her at lunch. I couldn’t understand it: Why did this girl hate the new girl for having sex with her boyfriend, but she didn’t hate her boyfriend for having sex with the new girl? Are boys and men animals?

The new girl left before the end of the school year. I really regret not being a friend and a person of peace in this situation.

“I didn’t know they believed that.”

In January, Shelby and I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Art for their Martin Luther exhibit. Typically when I go to the MIA, I get bored after 25 minutes. I wish I liked it more, but I don’t. The Luther exhibit was different. At the Luther exhibit, I experienced 2.5 hours of childlike wonder. I could not believe how much fun I had. One sobering memory sticks out though.

These two women in their 60’s were there. They looked like they frequented art exhibits a lot. Anyway, they read how Luther was changed by reading Ephesians 2:8-9:

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.

One of them said to the other, “I didn’t know they believed that.”

Oh God, how great a need there is for more gospel proclamation in the Twin Cities. This Scandinavian-looking woman, who very likely grew up in the Lutheran dominated Minnesota, had never heard the good news that changed Luther’s life, that God saves sinners by grace through faith. And this is not people’s own doing, but it is a gift from God.

How many more lost image bearers of God have yet to hear this good news? No, not in some far off country. How many more people in your areas of influence (family, work, neighborhood, etc.) have never heard that they can know for certain God is happy with them because of what Jesus did for them on the cross? How many do not know that God sent His only begotten Son so they can have eternal life?

I want to give my life to ensuring that more people know this good news. I cannot make people believe. But I can make sure people hear. I desperately want more and more people to know the loving lordship of Jesus Christ.

“How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14)

Faith in Faith Cannot Save You

One of the most wonderful truths to come out of the Reformation is the fact that God saves people, not on their merit, but on what Christ has done for them. The exclamation point of the Bible is that Christ died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). This is how God saves people, not by our efforts but by His grace displayed on the cross. Martin Luther read this verse and the world was changed:

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)

We are justified by trusting (having faith in) Jesus. We grow as humans by trusting in Jesus. We are saved by trusting in Jesus. Isn’t this wonderful?! I do not have to be a trailblazer or a wanderer on the earth. I am not a pioneer. I am walking with Jesus on the trail is has already blazed for me.




One of the most devasting fictions to come out of the Reformation is the falsity that we are saved by faith in faith. No, we are not saved by faith in faith, we are saved by faith in Jesus!

How many have faith in faith? How many think they’re right with God because of an intellectual assent to a handful of bullet-points? How many think they’re Christians when they’re actually just theists who believe in heaven?




Last summer I was talking about Jesus over beers with a guy. He told me that he does not believe most of the stuff in the Bible, nor does he follow much in the Bible. But he knows for certain he is going to heaven because he has a “strong belief in God.” 

Did you catch that? He doesn’t believe or follow the God of the Bible, but he has a strong “belief” in God? Look at James 2:19:

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.

Big deal if you intellectually submit to belief in a god. Heck, big deal if you intellectually submit to the reality of the one true God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The demons do that, and they shudder. You don’t even wince.

Look below at Matthew 14:22-29. This is the faith God is looking for.

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.

If Peter were the guy I had beers with, he’d say: “Yes Jesus, I have a strong faith in you” while he kicked back in the boat and looked the other way. But Peter actually had faith. Peter couldn’t say, “I trust you Jesus” and stay in the boat. No, Peter’s faith was made evident by the fact that he got out of the boat.

People don’t walk on water. It’s not possible. But Peter believed Jesus, and this belief brought him to the water.

Peter didn’t earn the right to walk on water. Peter didn’t walk on water with his own strength. Heck, if you keep reading the story you’ll see Peter sank because Peter doubted. But Jesus kept on loving Peter. Jesus kept on teaching Peter.

Then Peter went on to deny Jesus at the time of Jesus’ death. But Jesus forgave Peter and sent Peter the Holy Spirit. Peter showed his faith in God by doing some amazing things in the power of the Holy Spirit.

And then Peter doubted and participated in racism. But God forgave Peter once again.

You see, faith is active. Works always come with faith. Both the work of righteous acts and the work of repentance. True trust in Christ causes us to truly follow Christ. And real faith in Christ causes us to find our forgiveness in Christ.

Don’t have faith in faith. Don’t simply check off a list of doctrinal bullet points. Place your faith in Jesus. Then, you will get out of the boat and begin following Him.

LGBTQA+ Theology is Not the Greatest Threat to the Church in America

Five years ago I was desperate to affirm monogamous same-sex relationships. And I was extremely disappointed to find every single argument for affirming-theology to be inconsistent with the whole of Scripture. Let me make this very clear: The Scriptures prohibit same-sex-sex. From Genesis to Revelation. From Moses to Jesus to Paul to Jude. Five years ago, I wished this were not true. But I did not see a convincing argument to believe otherwise, and five years later, I have still not seen a convincing argument to separate me from 2,000 years of Christian thought on sexuality. As we look back at the Reformation let’s remember that Scripture is to be held in honor above Tradition. But in the case of same-sex-sex, Tradition affirms Scripture.

I do not look down on those who are rethinking sexuality. After all, five years ago I was rethinking my views on sexuality. In fact, I believe most compassionate young people will rethink their views on sexuality. But I fear greatly for those who are convinced (and stay convinced) in their belief that God can see same-sex-sex as holy when Jesus says sexual immorality (see Leviticus 18 for a list of what constitutes “sexual immorality”) defiles a person (Matthew 15:18-20).

Teachers who teach that same-sex-sex can be good and holy are leading people astray. It is dangerous to lead people astray. Many see this teaching as the greatest threat to the Church in America, today. But I do not.

No, the greatest threat to the Church in America today is the same as it has been since the 18th Century. The greatest threat to the Church in America is God and Country Theology. The greatest threat to the Church in America is the belief that we can give our full selves to a kingdom of this world when Jesus proclaims His Kingdom is not of this world. Too many have believed we can love God with our entire heart, soul, mind, and strength while we are loving America with our entire heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is a false gospel, and it has warped the minds of countless Christians in America.

To be clear, this post is not about standing for the National Anthem. There are patriotic activities I choose not to participate in, but I stand for the National Anthem. I also pray while singing “God Bless America.” With that being said, I respect Christians who do otherwise, so long as their refusal to participate in such exercises comes from a heart of worship, and not a desire to attract attention to themselves or foster a spirit of individualism.

My current understanding is that participation in patriotic exercises (the Anthem, the Pledge, etc) is one of conscience. My conscience allows me to participate in some of these exercises, while not participating in others. I know good, godly people who happily participate in all Patriotic exercises. And I know good, godly people who do not participate in any exercise of patriotism. The Amish, for example, believe they must not participate in any Patriotic exercise. We should respect one another’s consciences, and not assume the worst in our brothers and sisters in Christ. I do not, as our President does, believe the Amish to be “sons of bitches.”

My fear is not that some participate in the Anthem and some do not. No, I fear that far too many Christians in America love America more than they love God.

How many Christians become more emotional during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” than they do while singing “Amazing Grace”?

How many are more shocked by a burning flag than by a burning cross?

When I tell people about my missionary friends in the Middle East, so many respond with a confused look: “Don’t they know it’s dangerous?” Many of these people are the first to pop out of their seat with pride at the sight of a soldier. They know exactly why he went to the Middle East, but they’re confused why a missionary would go to the Middle East. Is the cause of Christ less important than the cause of America? Is spreading the gospel to the nations a less worthy cause than spreading democracy to the nations? Is seeing people released from the bondage of sin less important than protecting American freedom?

How many Christians in America would support the bombing of other Christians if it were best for American interest? Afterall, in 1945 Nagasaki was the epicenter of Catholicism in Japan and many Christians still stand by Truman’s decision to bomb that city. Consider this: Christians in America supported the destruction of entire Christian households for the sake of American interests. Christians in America supported the destruction of monasteries for the sake of American interests. That is at best a misunderstanding of the situation. And that is at worst clear and utter idolatry.

Christians everywhere must defend the faith against modern heresies. But let’s not forget the age-old sin of America that still lingers in all our churches. May we reject that “old time religion” and bind ourselves to an ancient and universal Faith.

Pornography, White Supremacy, and Raising Healthy Men in the Internet Age

If you’re living under a rock, you might not realize how great a temptation pornography is to teenage boys.(1) Even though the (far and away) majority of young American boys are watching pornography on the internet, many parents feel their sons are not the type of boys with a libido and therefore are in no need of restriction and supervision when it comes to what they view on the internet. Many parents, though, are increasingly aware of the looming presence and dangers of pornography. There are many strategies, resources, and tips for training up a sexually healthy child in the internet age.

You might scoff at my hubris. Afterall, I have a seventeen-month-year-old-daughter, am I in any position to tell you how to raise your teenage son? But sympathize with me for a minute: I meet with several grown men every year whose pornography addiction started as a teenager. Their addiction lowers their self-esteem, their libido, and the quality of their marriage.

But the recent march in Charlottesville reminded me pornography isn’t the only evil on the internet that preys on influential teenage boys. A new generation of boys is being introduced to white supremacy and Nazi ideology through the internet. I was first made aware of this by learning about the self-radicalization of Dylann Roof.

Roof was radicalized, not through the influence of a local chapter of the KKK, but through hate which was given a platform on the dark pages of the internet. In the age of high-speed internet, an 11-year-old-boy doesn’t need to face the danger and embarrassment of stealing a Playboy magazine from the local convenient store. Instead, he can enter sexual situations(2) from the privacy of an incognito window on his iPhone. In the same way, young boys don’t need to know a white supremacist or a Nazi to be introduced to these ideas that are antithetical to the gospel of reconciliation. Instead, perverse ideas about race and ethnicity seek him out.

After a source from the Associated Press broke the news to Samantha Bloom that her son committed a terrorist act in Charlottesville, she was asked if she had any indication of her son’s views. She responded, “I try to stay out of his political views.” 

Parents who are engaged in efforts to raise sexually healthy children in the internet age should also be aware of the efforts of white supremacists to radicalize young people via the internet.

(1) First one to make the obligatory “Girls watch porn too” comment wins a prize. It’s true. They do. I know that. 

(2) Situations that are far more damaging to his brain than a Playboy magazine

 

Finding Hitler in our Hopes for Progress

This past weekend, the world watched as groups inspired by Nazi ideology marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. To curb my anxiety, I have, for the last few months, taken in a smaller dose of national news. But this event was almost impossible to ignore. And anyway, it is right for my heart to experience unrest over such a despicable display of bigotry in my own country.

As I rocked my daughter to bed, I cried as I wondered if race-relations are worse today than they were when my parents were rocking me to bed.(1) This month marks 72 years since the end of WWII, and there is a large gathering of Nazis marching in the streets. What kind of America will my daughter inherit?

It is clear the death of Hitler was not the end of Hitler.

But today, a CBS News story on Iceland’s strategy to eliminate Down Syndrome through abortion reminded me that the legacy of Nazism is not confined to the Alt-Right. Hitler dreamed of the world progressing to the point where there would be a pure race. Not only were Africans, Gypsies, and Jews anathema to his goal, but there were other “undesirables” he wished to see eliminated from the human race. Other targets included “handicapped individuals, including the mentally ill and people born deaf and blind.”(2)

Compassionate liberals and libertarians are horrified as the world watches young men marching unabashedly for the ideals of Hitler. These same people do not see the log in the eye of their own desires for “progress.” The legacy of Hitler is quietly marching beside the “Stand with PP” marchers; the legacy of Hitler is whispering in the ear of the man who sees his wife’s ultrasound as they discover the fetus has Down Syndrome. Afterall, this is America. This is the West. Life is about going fast and having fun. We preach the Prosperity Gospel in our churches, which sings praises to the gods of health and wealth. For all our acceptance and tolerance for who “people truly are,” we would still love to see our land empty of Down Syndrome, even though 99% of people with Down Syndrome consider themselves happy with their lives.(3) But we don’t care how people with Down Syndrome feel. The rising abortion rates of fetuses with Down Syndrome has little to do with their suffering and everything to do with a society who is too busy making money and having fun to show compassion to those who are “undesirable.”

A country with no Down Syndrome would not be a sign of progress. A country with no Down Syndrome would be a sign of selfishness, greed, and intolerance for anyone whose differences cause them to be outside of the pure race of Western idealism.

Let’s be angry with the overt praise of Hilter in Charlottesville. But first, let’s look inwardly and see if any of his hopes for “progress” are found in our own vision of a better world.

 

(1) I don’t think they are worse today, but my lack of confidence is disappointing. The fact that I even have to think about it makes my heart sad. 

(2) The Holocaust Museum

(3) The Truth About Down Syndrome