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Layman's Walk

A Prayer for My Children

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Tonight, Kari is away, headed to South Carolina with her soon-to-be sister-in-law. (I couldn’t be happier for either of them!)

Tonight, I helped a friend acquire a free piano vis-a-vis the back of my truck while his lovely wife fed our kids dinner. It was a pretty sweet deal if I do say so.

Once we returned home, the kids began their nightly duties–brush teeth, dirty clothes in the hamper, PJs on…and I tucked them each into bed.

Upon leaving their rooms, I was struck with an overwhelming urge to pray for them. I’ll admit, I do not pray for my own children as much as I should. Frankly, I don’t pray at all as much as I should–and that’s coming from a seminarian. Interpret that in whatever way you want.

None the less, I was brought to my knees tonight outside their doorways in an overwhelming feeling of gratitude, praise, and prayers for their continued guidance, regardless of how flawed my own guidance may be. That God would look upon them with favor, give them protection, show them the way in which they should go, and ultimately, help them live up to the promises he has given each of them.

There is something quite powerful in prayer. Perhaps this is not news to you. It’s not to me. But each time it occurs, I am awestruck by it.

I do truly feel that God has blessed Kari and me with our family. I can only hope that they live to the potential God has given them and do so in the humility of the grace he has granted them.


Peace to you and yours.


Layman's Walk

It’s a Matter of Chemistry

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Hey there!

Man, it’s been a month since I’ve written anything!  And it’s not as if there hasn’t been plenty going on.  In national news, we had the atrocious events in Charlottesville, Virginia, the hurricanes that have decimated Texas, Florida, the Virgin Islands and many more places (along with the threats of three more hurricanes off the southeast coast of the continent), and so much more.

The coverage of these events has been significant.  I did not feel that there was a need for my additional commentary.  If you know me, you’ve got the basics of my thoughts on the matter:  Nazi’s, racists, hate = bad.  Donating money, time, talents to help victims of natural disasters = good.

We’re now in the middle of September and I’m starting my third week in the distributed learning program at Luther Seminary.  It’s a lot of reading, a lot of writing, and a lot of thoughtful reflection.  And paperwork.  Ugh.  But overall, things are going splendidly.  Even though we leverage the Internet a lot for our studies, we have excellent video conferencing for small group discussions, live classroom streaming and interaction in real-time.  Our online learning system (Moodle) is fast and easy to use.  As students, we have closed groups on Facebook where we can have “hallway conversations,” share opinions, and ask questions.  We also have official Luther Sem Facebook groups for more official communications.  Arguably most importantly, our professors and instructors have lots of experience working with distance learners and do a great job of providing a quality classroom experience–even if we have students (which I do in my small groups) who live everywhere from Alaska to Florida to New England.

At the same time, I’m still working on becoming a certified Dale Carnegie Course instructor and running my consulting biz.  Pile that on top of all the activity of the other five members of my family, a busy schedule at Church, and a reasonably active social life, and you’ve got a busy guy!

This last week was the Morton Pumpkin Festival.  If you know me, you know this is far from my favorite week of the year.  Traffic through town is messed up, there are tons more people in town, we end up spending more money than necessary, and, well, I just don’t like it.

So while I’m grumbling over P-Fest, starting seminary, and dealing with all the other stuff going on, I decided in my infinite wisdom that this would also be a great time to try weaning myself off of the antidepressant I’ve been taking for the last 4-5 years.  I didn’t cut it cold-turkey (that’s a terrible idea if you’re taking an SSRI), but I tried cutting my dose in half for two days, then taking my regular dose the third day, and repeating this sequence.

After about a week, I scrapped the idea and went back to my regular daily dosage.  And here’s why:

I became (or re-became) an unbelievably irritated, frustrated, self-centered prick.

Why on earth would I bring this up, let alone share it on a medium like this?  Because it is so important for people to realize that mental illnesses are just that: illnesses.  Like with any other illness, you get checked out when you think something is wrong, you get diagnosed, and you apply the prescribed treatment.  Mental illnesses are still too often stigmatized in our society, even to a point where there are many people who need treatment whose fear and pride won’t allow them to do so.

I take blood pressure medicine every day and I have done so for about seven years.  I don’t have a second thought about it.  It’s a chemical that provides a reaction in my body to make something that isn’t working quite right work better.  It’s the same thing with my antidepressant.  It’s all about a chemical reaction–my brain “eats” serotonin too fast and my medicine helps it do so at a slower rate.  That’s it!

The last day I had self-adjusted my medication, I was pretty much intolerable to be around.  At one point, I finally had the self-awareness to realize what was going on and, while still in a terrible mood, apologized to my wife and kids and took the other half of my dose.  I kid you not, about an hour later relief literally rushed over me.  Along with a much better disposition, I was also filled with disappointment at how I had treated others earlier that day.  The feeling of that rush of relief was almost unbelievable.  That relief was really the catalyst for my writing this post–it really, truly is a chemical thing.  It’s not that I don’t have the self-discipline or that I should just cheer up, suck it up, and quit being so whiney.  It’s literally a chemical reaction.

If you think there might not be something quite right about how you feel or behave, or how a loved one may be acting, do something about it. Whether is counseling, medicine, or some other course of treatment, it’s every bit as important to address it as it is to address high blood pressure, diabetes, or any other disorder.

Love God.  Love others.  Love yourself.



Layman's Walk

“When Were You Saved?”

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This is a question you’ll often hear Christians ask one another.  Sometimes the question is different: “Have you been saved?”

This often results in the respondent giving a variety of answers from something as brief as saying they prayed a special prayer they were taught in a Sunday school class to a major life-changing event when they were so deeply inspired by the presence of God they found faith.

These stories can be wonderful to hear and I love to see the excitement people have and the expression of their faith as they tell them.

Quite often, not always, but often, there’s a common theme, and it might sound like the following:
– “I made the decision…”
– “I decided…”
– “I became…”

The focus is often on “I,” or “me,” the sinner, not on God.

This is a delicate topic because these events are real, spiritual events.  They are, for many people, the point in their lives when they recognized God’s saving grace.

I say the “the point when they recognized God’s saving grace” rather than “when they were saved” (I know, it’s subtle) because God’s power to save is independent of any individual. While we may appear or feel like we are making a decision, we as humans do not have the ability on our own to have faith. Rather, faith itself is a gift from God, inspired in us by the Holy Spirit.

I realize this may seem like a minor difference, but it is actually larger than that.  Does it make a difference in how that person felt at the time of their ‘saving story’ or does understanding this make anyone more or less ‘saved?’ Of course not.

It’s really just recognizing that the first chapter in all of humanity’s saving story is about actions taken and decisions made by God. It’s a slight change in the understanding of how God’s saving grace works and the fact that our participation in it is significantly less than we often think.

Additionally, it is crucial that Christians do not use the “saving story” as some sort of litmus test to try to tell people “whether they’re going to heaven or not.”  The fact of the matter is, God is the only one who knows the answer to that question we often see on church billboards:  “Where are YOU going?”  God is the only one who gets to make that decision–period.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Below is a generic ‘saving story.’ You may have one similar or have heard one similar to this.

“I was at Sunday school and we were talking about Jesus. Our teacher told us we have to accept Jesus into our hearts in order to be saved. I knew this was what I wanted because I wanted to go to heaven. Our teacher told us a prayer to say to ask Jesus into our hearts. I repeated the lines along with her. It was then I was saved and I felt good knowing that when I die I’ll be in heaven with Jesus.”

Here’s that same story again with the first chapter:

“I was listening to the lesson my Sunday school teacher was telling us. It was about how Jesus died on a cross as a substitute for us and our sins. He did this because God loves us unconditionally. The Holy Spirit worked in my teacher as she told us this story and the Spirit moved in me, and my heart was opened to this understanding that God’s love and saving grace was also for me. It made me feel different–I had a sense of peace and love, and I knew that what I had learned was the truth–that God sent Jesus to die for my sins.”

Now obviously, if this were actually a story retold by a child in Sunday school, there’s little chance it would sound like the second example. When we are first teaching the young people or anyone who is new to the faith, it’s difficult to explain concepts like substitution, grace, and the movement or inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  The “saving story” concept is easier than the larger, impractical, theological discussion

It is important to be careful not to pressure people with terror and fear of eternal damnation.  Don’t claim, “if you don’t do X, Y, and Z you’re going to hell.”  God is not looking for people to run to God in terror, fearing eternal punishment.  God is looking for us to recognize God’s love for us and, in turn, love God and others.  Like a parent can coerce a child into compliance through threats of punishment or encourage a child in love to get the same result, only the latter establishes a relationship that is healthy and mutually loving.  God is not a scorekeeper or an auditor checking boxes.  God is mercy and love.

As our faith matures, it is important to be able to look back on our “saving stories” with new eyes. When we do, we realize that our being saved is much bigger than a decision we made or a prayer we prayed. It wasn’t at the time that we were actually saved–it’s when we realized it.

We were destined to be saved by grace in Christ before creation came into existence. As the Gospel of John tells us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him, nothing was made that has been made.

Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was the pivotal moment when God’s grace was fulfilled for all people–those who had come before, those who were alive then, and all those who came after (including us). As Paul tells us in 1 Timothy:

[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

Two key things to note in this passage. First, what God “wants.” It is safe to say, if God wants something, God will have it. If God wants something done, it will be done. Second, it states that Jesus was a ransom for “all” people–not some, not those who were worthy, not a select group–All.

Ultimately, it is God who makes the decision for the salvation of humanity, not us. “Saving stories” are “recognizing that we have been saved stories” rather than stories of “being saved at that particular point in time.”

Salvation is achieved not through human will, but though God acting in us through the faith that is God-given.

Subtle?  Yeah.

True?  Yep.


(When was I saved?  About 2,000 years ago, but it had been decided before the universe was made.  When did I come to truly realize it?  I knew it as fact since I was a kid, but I learned it as faith at East Bay Methodist Church Camp during the summer of 1996 when I was 15.  And I rediscover it each day.)




Layman's Walk

How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You?!

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As an often-frustrated parent, I’ve found myself asking my kids the same questions over and over again:

“Why did you do that?”

“Haven’t I told you this needs to be done?”

“What do you mean, ‘you forgot?’  It’s the same every day!”

“You knew what was going to happen if you did that, and you did it anyway?”

“I’ve told you a thousand times not to do that!  WHY!? Ahhh!!”

“You know very well that we don’t behave that way.  Your mom and I expect better than that from you.”

“Guys, it’s bedtime–it’s the same routine. Every. Single. Night.”

“What?  I have to tell you to brush your teeth?  You don’t just do this on your own??”

“How many times do I have to tell you?!”

And yet, the other day as I was sitting on the couch with my wife lamenting what seemed to be the complete inability of our children to follow even the easiest instructions, my younger son, Evan, came into the room and said, “Daddy, I love you!  Can I have a hug and kiss?”

And my heart melted.  I bent over and picked him up and gave him a big ol’ hug and a kiss.  He hugged me back as tightly as he could (which I love).  Hugs with my kids are never quick–I love to hold them close.  I cherish how small they still are, even as they grow bigger every day.  I love the feeling of their arms wrapped tightly around my neck, the softness of their faces when they put their cheek against mine, and the sound of their breath as I hear them relax and recharge–knowing their daddy loves them more than they can possibly understand.

When I finally put him down, he went running off.  After about two or three steps, he turned around and shouted, “Thanks, Daddy!”  “You bet!  I love you!” I hollered as he cleared the room, happy to get back to whatever he was doing.

I looked over at Kari and asked her, “How is it that something you and I created together can be both the source of some of my greatest frustration and also the source of some of my greatest joy, meaning, and love?”

“I don’t know!” she responded as we both laughed.  It was funny because of the irony of the situation and because I had completely forgotten about what was frustrating me so badly to begin with!

As I sat there mulling this over in my head, a quiet voice said almost silently, “<chuckle> I know the feeling!”

How true that much be of our own loving Creator!

How often must God ask those same questions of us, God’s own children:

“Why did you do that?”

“Haven’t I told you this needs to be done?”

“What do you mean, ‘you forgot?’  It’s the same every day!”

“You knew what was going to happen if you did that, and you did it anyway?”

“I’ve told you a thousand times not to do that!  WHY!? Ahhh!!”

“You know very well that we don’t behave that way.  I expect better than that from you.”

“How many times do I have to tell you?!”

We know that as children of God we are incapable of meeting God’s expectations.  It can be the Ten Commandments of Moses, Jesus expansion of those commandments, or even just the simple on Jesus himself gives us:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.  And love you neighbor as yourself.”  We never get it right–whether we’re trying at all or trying with all our might.

What a source of frustration humanity must be for its creator!  To have been given such basic instruction (even so much that we have a basic understanding of “right and wrong” essentially hard-wired into our nature) that was then simply ignored must be aggravating.

Let’s be honest, so many of God’s instructions to us are similar to the instruction we receive throughout our own lives:

  • Don’t hit (let alone kill).
  • Share with others; be generous.
  • Be nice.
  • Don’t judge others because you’re not perfect either.
  • Speak kindly about others.
  • Don’t lie.
  • Don’t hurt other people.
  • Don’t be promiscuous.
  • Be faithful to one another.
  • Don’t take what isn’t yours–whatever that happens to be.
  • Forgive others.
  • Love others.

And yet, as a loving parent, God was willing to live with us, his children, in our weak condition to show us how to live and how to love.  Even more importantly, God showed us how much he loves us by going so far as to die a horrible death at the hands of those to whom he had only shown love and mercy.

It makes sense; what parent wouldn’t be willing to die, even in a terrible way, to save their kids?

Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel:

“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Think on that–if we who are imperfect know how to do right by others, how much more must God be able to do that?  Take it a step further:  If we who are imperfect are frustrated at how others cannot follow simple instructions, how frustrating must that be to God who is perfect?”

But the good news I found is this:  “Even as a frustrated, imperfect, human parent, how much love do I have for my kids when they come to me?  More than I ever knew I had!  And if as a sinner I can give that much love to my own children, how much more will God give to us, God’s own disobedient children, when we come to him looking for forgiveness, help, and love?!”

Thanks to God for unending grace, hope, and love!




Layman's Walk

New Life!

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(This has been stuck in my drafts folder since June 28!  You’d think an IT guy would be better with technology!!)

I am always in awe at a new birth!

Tuesday was one of celebration for our family. My wife, Kari, and I became an Aunt and Uncle again! (And our children gained a new handsome cousin!)

This time, it was on her side of the family. Her baby sister (who I have known since she was all of 8 years old) had a baby boy: Brycen Lee LeClair. This young gent was born about a week early at over 7 lbs and over 20″ long. Mommy and baby are happy and healthy. That in itself is a fantastic blessing.

When I reflect on the births of my four children, as well as those of both my wife’s sister and my sister (and frankly, anyone else!) I consistently find myself in awe.

The idea that we, as a human being, can create something so beautiful and pure is astounding to me.

Yes, I understand biology and evolution. I completely understand that without the ability to reproduce in a viable manner no species would survive. I also appreciate that human evolution has taught us to find the “cuteness” in our own offspring to prevent us from abandoning them.

I look at the whole system in awe. That we, as beings made of “star stuff” (as said by the great Carl Sagan), are capable of not only being conscious and aware but of also creating others in our own likeness, is amazing.

In my own children, I am seeing the development of individuals, of powerful personalities, of unique beings. It floors me.

When I consider my own imperfections and weaknesses and see that I still have offspring who may overcome those particular issues, I am in awe.

I’m reminded of this every time I see a new life born. And it continues to blow my mind, even more, when I am close to the new baby’s parents.

No parents have a hope of being perfect. Yet the child born to them is (at least for a while)!

Taking it a step further, I know many wonderful, loving, and imperfect couples who haven’t their own biological children. I have watched these wonderful and loving people bring a child into their home and love them as their own–who in fact, do become their own–and it is, to me, another great wonder of humanity and of life.

When I see or think of that new life, I can’t help but compare this new life in humanity to the new life we are promised in Christ.  All of us, from the youngest baby to the oldest man or woman, will face the same inevitable fate.  Our lives are finite.  Yet in Christ, we are promised new life in Him.

Celebrate life.  Share love.


Layman's Walk

Class Registration….What?

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July 11, 2017

Apparently, it is a good idea to check the e-mail address associated with the college you’re planning to attend!!!

Thank the good Lord for my friend Brian Moeller who shot me a note this morning asking about my progress towards seminary! I got all my classes registered by 10 a.m. so no problem there. Also got all my books for said courses ordered promptly.

I’m quite excited about the classes I’ll be taking this first semester at Luther Seminary!

Layman's Walk

“These Spiritual Windowshoppers”

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American society is one of consumerism. We are constantly bombarded with messages telling us about all the things we have just got to have. We shop. It used to be mostly in stores, then also in catalogs, and now it’s largely online. While the mediums have changed, the concept remains largely the same.

“What does this do for me?”

“Can I get it somewhere else for less?”

“Is it worth my time or money?

“What will others think of me if I buy this?

And while this most certainly applies to how we acquire consumer goods, it also increasingly seems to apply to our spiritual lives.

A new friend of mine introduced me to this poem the other day. It’s called “These Spiritual Windowshoppers” and it was written by a Sufi Mystic known as Rumi. It was translated into English by Coleman Barks as such:

These spiritual windowshoopers,
who idly ask, “How much is that? Oh, I’m just looking.”
they handle a hundred items and put them down,
shadows with no capital.

What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping.
But these walk into a shop,
and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
in that shop.

Where did you go? “Nowhere.”
What do you have to eat? “Nothing much.”

Even if you don’t know what you want,
buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow.

Start a huge, foolish project,
like Noah.

It makes absolutely no difference
what people think of you.

There are a variety of ways we can read this poem.  I’d be very interested in hearing the interpretations that others have.  In fact, if you feel so inclined as to reflect on what this poem means to you, lease stop reading this post until you have had a chance to do so.  I do not want my thoughts on this to unintentionally influence you.

If you have now given it some thought, I’ll share with you what I gleaned from this poem.

We live our lives seeking purpose; to find that which is greater than what we are as individual specs of dust in a seemingly infinite cosmos.  We see a variety of options available to us in prominent faiths and secular causes.  We consider getting involved; doing something; finding our meaning and purpose and trying to gain an understanding of the purpose of life, our Creator, and the other mysteries we ponder.  We seek out various options.  Even if we have chosen a given faith or cause, we consider the various ways we can be involved, how we can contribute.  And yet, when we consider the costs, (What will this involve?  What will it cost?  What will others think?  Will it really matter?) we shy away–“Oh, I’m just looking.

In our failure to do anything–to make a difference, to reach out to others and to God, to simply “look” and not truly “do” (or to be “in” but not “involved” or “committed”), we remain unfulfilled and unsatisfied.  Our ability to love also lessens.  (Love is truly one of those marvelous things that only grows larger and larger the more we try to give it away.)  The longer we stay this way, the more of our lives we waste until we suddenly realize, it’s over.

If we do nothing greater with our lives than “make a living” without delving into the richer things of service and love, in the end, our answer to the questions, “What did you do?”  “Where did you go?”  “How will you be remembered?” will ultimately amount to, “not much.”  This is regardless of professional/vocational/financial success.  People are not remembered simply for what they did, but what they did for others.

So even if we’re not sure our choice is perfect, even if what we envision is not complete, go for it.  Jump in.  Do something.  Have faith.  Join “the flow.”  Be a part of what is larger than yourself and more significant than any individual life.

Even if it’s something crazy–something that everyone else says can’t be done……..GO FOR IT!  And to hell with the doubters and the trolls.  Those are the folks who are scared of your success and will rejoice in your failure.  But do it anyway.

Have faith.  Have love.  Be big.  Be bold.  Do good.

This is only my personal interpretation of the poem.  I’m sure there are as many interpretations as there are readers of it and I would in no way claim mine to be correct nor would I claim any others incorrect.  Like any other reading or form of art, we interpret what we see/read/hear through the “lens” of our own experiences and understandings of the world.  (Frankly, I find that to be one of the most beautiful things about any type art–including scriptures–that each person who experiences it will have their own unique response to it.)

Should you have looked up the author of this poem, you will see that he died in the 13th century.  Certainly, he wasn’t speaking about our modern society, right?  I would simply say:  “There is nothing new under the sun.”  Human nature has been consistent for centuries.  We do gradually improve, but the more primitive parts of our brains and bodies are the last to evolve.

My friend interpreted Rumi’s poem in a more Christ-focused manner and connected it with what has become one of my favorite passages from the Gospel of Matthew:

[Jesus said,] “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearl; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

If we consider the first half of this passage (the kingdom of heaven is a treasure that someone found in a field and then hid), we can see a parallel with Rumi’s poem.  Both are telling us to “spend,” to commit with all that we have and all that we are.  Because once we find that which is a joy–in particular, joy in Christ and the promised kingdom–we will be willing to forgo all we have to pursue it.

Of course, that is easier said than done.  Take me, for example.  I’m planning to start my seminary training this fall.  Have I walked away from my profession to dedicate myself to this pursuit?  No, I have not.

I also believe that God is working through me in his own timeframe.  I do not believe that today I am the person I need to be in order to be a pastor.  I see myself lacking in spiritual discipline and in the strength of my faith.  I still feel the calling, and I know that I need the time to grow into what I believe God is calling me to be.  As I heard in a song this morning, “God is not done with me yet.”

I mentioned this had become one of my favorite passages.  This is not because of the first half, but because of the second, which my friend explained so well.

In the second portion, we easily miss that Jesus tells us that the “kingdom of heaven is like a merchant.”  Because of how the first portion goes, it is easy to mistake that we are the merchant and the kingdom is the pearl.  However, it clearly states that the kingdom is the merchant.  This means we are the pearls.

And this is why I love this passage:

Just as the first portion says that when we find the kingdom of heaven we will willingly give up everything we have to obtain it, God, when finding us, loves us so that God is willing to give everything that we might be obtained.  This refers directly to Christ’s coming to earth and his death on the cross.  Because God finds us and loves us so much that God is willing to give up everything–including infinite power–to suffer as a human to prove the love that God has and to compensate for our weaknesses.

God knows that even if we are the person who finds the “treasure in the field,” we remain unable to give up all we have to acquire it.  Even though we fail, God still sees us as valuable–so much that God is willing to sacrifice all God has in order to have us.

That is love.

God is love.

Go and share that love with others.




Layman's Walk

Vacation Bible School!

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God made you.  “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex.” (Psalm 139:14)

God is for you.  “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

God is always with you.  “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

God will always love you.  “Your unfailing love will last forever.” (Psalm 89:2)

God made you for a reason.  “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Last night ended one of the longest but most rewarding weeks of our family’s summer:  

Vacation Bible School at First English!

(The statements above are the lesson points for each of the five nights of VBS.)

My wife, Kari, and I both serve as instructors at different stations where the various groups of kids rotate through each night.  By the end of the mere two hours of leading groups you are left exhausted, but also left with a sense of peace and thankfulness.

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It’s really amazing to see how much work goes into putting on a VBS each year and how many people contribute to making it a success.  Preparations start months in advance.  The week before the program is spent setting up all of the props/scenery.  Instructors prepare their lessons for each night and gather supplies.  Volunteers prepare the service projects the kids complete during the program to help others in need.

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And that’s just a start!  The church’s praise band, Stained Glass, provides live music for the program opening and closing each night.  A huge crew of volunteers serves as leaders for the 15 different groups of kids who go from one activity to another each night.  Kitchen staff prepares snacks for all the kids to enjoy about halfway through the program (on top of serving a meal each night before the program starts to all the staff members and their families).  Additionally, we have a variety of congregants who show up to help randomly throughout the week or specifically for the setup/teardown work.

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And of course, none of this would happen without our amazing youth leader, Raylee Brown.  God has blessed this woman with seemingly unlimited energy and drive. (And a very healthy dose of patience, too!)  She leads the whole effort and more or less lives at the church for several weeks in order to pull this off.

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It is truly a labor of love.  And it shows.

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We ended up having 50-60 kids this year who attended; I don’t have the exact figures.  That’s 50-60 young people with whom we were able to share the love of God and promise of Christ this week.  We have a lot of participation from our own congregation.  However, we are making a deliberate point to reach out to neighbors in our church building’s neighborhood, the Peoria East Bluff.  Each year, we have lots of kids from the area join us, and it was even more so this year.  It was wonderful!

I instruct a portion of the program called “Bible Adventures.”  The objective is to take the Bible story and lesson of the day and make it into something interactive so that we “relive” the story rather than just hear it.  We have a lot of fun in my rotation, but it can be hard to compete with other parts of the program like “Kid Vid Cinema” and “Games!”  Keeping the kids’ attention is a challenge, both with younger and older ones and their levels of “energy” vary from night-to-night.

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As we get towards the end of our session, I really try to drive home the key lesson.  Throughout the night, I make a point to not “kidiefy” the message, but still make it appropriate for their age. I speak with the kids honestly and frankly.  You can tell they appreciate not having things “dumbed down” or being talked to “like little kids.”

There are nights where the Holy Spirit really makes her presence known. 

You can see it in the faces of the kids.  They’re not scrambling around on the floor or looking around.  They look directly at me as I speak to them.  When I share the promises God has made to us–to love each of us, without any merit of our own, forever–you can see their expressions soften, their eyes get a little wider and brighter, and room takes on a calmness that at any other time in the night simply cannot exist.  You can tell they’re listening and you can tell the Spirit is working in them.

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As if that were not enough or a reward, I had a few different kids I hadn’t known previously come up to me and ask for a high-five and thank me or run up and catch me by surprise with a big hug at the end of our last session.

Maybe I read too deep into it, but if God was able to use me to bring even a small bit of faith or peace to one kid, I’ll be back to VBS year after year after year!





Layman's Walk

One Step at a Time

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One of the things I’ve been most nervous about taking steps towards public ministry is the amount and intensity of the changes that would occur in my life and in the lives of my family. The idea of leaving a job, moving, leaving friends and family here, and the other associated social and financial changes involved made me feel like I was standing in front of me as a mountain I wasn’t ready to climb.

Today, I made it through the foothills. After about 11 and a half years at State Farm, I will be resigning on 5/19. I’ll then be running my IT consultancy full-time. I’m most excited about this because I’ll now be geographically flexible. I do most  of my work remotely, so I could pretty much live and work anywhere there is a good internet connection.  Also, due to the nature of my work, if I want to go the kids’ school and have lunch, or help out on a field trip, of whatever the opportunity, I can flex my hours and fit it all in.

One step at a time!

Layman's Walk

Money. It’s a gas. (Just keep your hands off of my stash.)

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Ah, money.  What in our world today does not somehow involve the “almighty dollar?”  From even a young age, we recognize the power that money possesses, how it affects those around us, and all the things it can bring us.

We can’t really get away from it.  We need money to acquire the necessary things in life:  food, shelter, clothing.

It’s the subject (directly or indirectly) of many of our favorite movies and books.  It’s the motive behind countless crimes.  The lust for it rises above the desire for fairness, preservation, respect, and sometimes even the recognition of others’ basic humanity.

It’s the underlying issue in nearly all political debate (who gives, who gets, how much is spent).  It tarnishes friendships.  It can destroy family ties.  The relentless pursuit for more of it can blind us to the world around us and the needs of those closest to us.

Most people have heard the phase from 1 Timothy, that “the pursuit of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  While on the surface, this may appear extreme, though it is quite arguably true.


I’ve had my own love affair with the pursuit of money, of wealth, of prestige, of status, of continuously having “more.”  And on some days, it’s harder for me to ignore her charms than on others.  Sadly, I feel certain that as long as I am a part of this world, the siren song of “cha-ching” will continue to enchant me.

When I was younger–a teenager for sure, maybe even younger than that–if someone were to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my response was:


Yep–not much clarification needed there on where my heart and mind were focused.

When reminded that money would not buy me happiness, I would respond immediately:

“Well, it may not buy happiness but it sure as hell makes being miserable a lot better.”

(Sometimes I miss the days when my thoughts were simpler–black and white–and the unquestioning confidence I had that I was right.  It was a lot easier than living in the ambiguous gray area I find myself in today.  Of course, with few exceptions, when does anything great come without any effort?)


It’s at this point in this writing where I expect some people to start thinking, “OK, great.  Now he’s going to start spouting off about how bad it is to have money, how terrible I am for not giving to every request for funds that comes via the mail, a phone call, a GoFundMe page, or the church.  Doesn’t he understand that people also have a responsibility to be self-sufficient?  Doesn’t he recognize the value of working hard?  Shouldn’t I feel just fine about using what I have acquired in whatever way I see fit?  And if that means I keep it for myself, that’s my perogative?”

Yep!  That’s where I’m going!  But not like that–please stay with me for just a little bit further!


Christ’s followers live in “two worlds” at the same time:  the world we live in every day, and the world to come where all is perfect according to God’s will.  I realize this can sound a little metaphysical or illogical (or just plain weird). (See John 17:619 and 1 John 2:15-16.)

Here’s a simple example of what this means:  I’m an American.  When I meet someone, I reach out to shake their hand.  In Japan, instead of shaking hands, they exchange respectful bows.  If I were to visit Japan, would I continue to try to shake hands with people I meet or would I bow?  While I am not “of Japan,” I am “in Japan” visiting, so I would adjust to the customs and norms of their culture in order to operate within it.  It doesn’t mean that I forget about shaking hands and that when I’m back home I’ll continue to bow when I meet people.  (This is sometimes summarized in the expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”)

Yes, principles such as hard work, self-sufficiency, and enjoying your blessings is fine, as is having money.  Hard work and self-sufficiency are valued traits It’s alright to celebrate a job well done.  It would be largely impossible to survive in this world without any money at all.


The problem is when the pursuit of money, when our own greed and desire for more in “this world” outweighs what we know is good and right about the “world to come.”  This fault, this greed exists in all of us.

So many things happen in this world due to human greed.  In the quest for more money, we destroy the environment, treat others as less-than-human, lie, cheat, steal, and even kill.

Take hydraulic fracking, for example.  In the quest for more natural gas to sell, companies willingly ruin the water supplies that communities rely on.  Sometimes its to the point where the water is so polluted that people can set their tap water on fire.

Or on a larger scale, take world hunger.  It’s been shown that we produce enough food that no person on earth should go hungry.  Yet how many people (even in our own backyards) are either starving or suffering from food insecurity (i.e. not being sure when they’ll have their next meal and where it will come from)? More than the populations of the United States, Canada, and the European Union–combined.


The next thing that I’m often told after pointing this out is, “Well, what?  Am I just supposed to give up everything I have?  I can’t fix this!  I don’t see you giving every dollar you earn away!”

And that’s correct–you cannot fix this alone. We don’t have to give up everything we have.  (Although, Jesus might disagree with me because that is exactly what he tells us to do.)

But just as a single drop of water does not a flood make, if every drop of water refused to fall out of belief that it would not make a difference, there would be no flood.

It only works when we all do our part.  When we are all willing to consider the well-being of others above our own selfish desires, we are on the right path.  When we give even though the other “doesn’t deserve it” we’re on the right path.  When we give not only of our excess, but even when it hurts, we’re on the right path.

And if we each make it our responsibility to do our share, it would be phenomenal what we could all accomplish together.


Fight the love of money and greed with generosity.  God loves a cheerful giver.  I’ve personally found that sometimes, the cheerfulness comes not only when I’m giving, but after I have given and I know that I’m making the world a better place for someone besides me.