Monthly Archives: August 2021



In these COVID times, we are still seeing most churches offering a livestream version of their worship services. People continue to tune into church on their computers at the same time as those in-person at church to have the experience of worshipping God together simultaneously. Some churches post a recording of the livestreamed service on their websites or other video platforms for parishioners to watch at another time. But the livestream version still tends to receive the most viewers, church leaders are saying.

Why is that? I think it has something to do with the fact that even though we may be alone in our homes, we still like to feel like we are part of something that is currently happening. We enjoy being involved in a current event. Our lives are best lived when we are in the now and when we are with people, it appears. When we are alone and stuck in the past or worried about the future, we are not our best selves. I am always reminded about that quote from Jesus, “Do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings” (Matthew 6:34). In other words, live in the now. Be a part of your life today. Livestream it, if you will. Praise God now. Don’t wait until a later time. Be present in the lives of others now. Don’t procrastinate making that call or having that visit. Be live in the lives of others as much as you can. Stream your love to others in real time, even if it is through Facetime or Zoom.

Being in the company of others at the same time is extraordinarily powerful. Jesus knew that well. That is why he spent so much time in person with his disciples and in people’s homes and gathered on hillsides. People were moved by Christ’s presence in the moment. They could feel his authority and might and came to believe in him as a result.

There have been many movies made of the crucifixion of Jesus, which we have watched. But think of what it would have been like if we had been able to livestream the death of Christ on the cross. The experience would have been much more dramatic, much more stirring and much more impactful. There was one centurion who did see it all live, and his response should be the same as ours as we live out our days for Christ: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Our lives should reflect that truth every single day—in real and present ways.

Gravel Roads

gravel road

I took a vacation this summer to South Dakota, which I would recommend to anyone. There is a lot to see. From the Badlands to Mount Rushmore, the Corn Palace and Wall Drug, buffalo in Custer State Park and monolithic stones surrounding Sylvan Lake, there are plenty of things to fill your days and marvel upon.

I used the Google map app on my phone to direct me everywhere I went. And that experience was quite enlightening for me. For instance, the voice directing me would sometimes tell me to turn only moments before the intersection. And oftentimes I would hear nothing from the app for hundreds of miles because I was on the same road the whole time. The hardest thing to accept, though, was when the voice on the app told me to take gravel roads on the way home through Nebraska. “This can’t can’t be. There must be some mistake.” But then I would zoom out on my phone and see that the gravel road was the best and fastest way to get to my destination. So I would continue to bump along in my increasingly dusty car. And I got home fine.

I notice that the car is still a little dusty. And that reminds me of where I have been and how the voice of the Google app did not steer me wrong. This experience recalls for me that life takes us down gravel roads that we don’t think we should be going on. Maybe it is an illness, a death in the family, a rough spot in a relationship. “This can’t be right,” we say in the moment. But then if we take a step back, we can see that it was all part of a bigger road trip that is laid out for us. Think of God as that voice on my Google app that says, “Go straight” and keep listening to that voice that tells you where to go. He will take you safely home.

Ministry of Presence


The church is often (and rightfully so) portrayed as a body at work, doing things and laboring in love for the Lord in hands-on activities. But recently I was reminded that there is just as much value in what has come to be called the ministry of presence, the practice of just being there with someone in need, someone sick in the hospital, someone at home alone or someone recovering from loss. The greatest gift we can give someone sometimes is simply our physical presence. We don’t need to say a word, but we are there to talk if needed. We don’t need to busy ourselves with tasks, but we are available if a job happens to present itself.

I thought about something my uncle said about my aunt that her kids said in later years: “She was just always there.” It is a comfort to know that someone will be with you when you come home, when you encounter a difficulty and when you are seeking advice about something.

I also remember a couple from my parents’ church who sat in the waiting room with us while my dad was going through a complex surgery. We were not sure what the future held at that moment, but this couple remained there with us until we heard from the doctor that my dad was out of surgery and recovering. When I see this couple in church, I remember those hours they sat with us silently and also how they listened and responded to our fears and concerns. Their presence made an impact that will last in my memory as a ministry that got us through.

How can you take part in the ministry of presence in your life this week? Maybe it is asking someone, “How is it going?” and then really listening to the answer. Maybe it is watching TV with your mom while she watches her favorite show to share in that experience with her. Maybe it is sitting on the porch with your neighbor to listen to the birds and look at the trees and shoot the breeze. Perhaps there is a friend who hasn’t been out the house for awhile, so you can come to be with them where they are.

There’s no need to prepare for the time with someone. Just let it happen. Your presence alone points to the constant presence of our Immanuel, God with us, who said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He followed the ministry of presence perfectly.



I recently learned about the presence of glacial erratics in my home state of Iowa, but they exist other places as well. “What are glacial erratics?” you ask. They are rocks that are dropped by receding glaciers that differ from the size and type of rocks native to the area in which they rest. Scientists sometimes use erratics to determine the movement of ancient glaciers. Erratics can be large or small and can be carried for hundreds of miles by glaciers from their original source.

I found this interesting in light of where God places us. He sometimes places us far from where we started or where we thought or planned we would be. And that may make us stand out from our surroundings. We may not be very much like the elements around us. We are made up of different “stuff,” spiritually speaking. Our faith in Jesus may set us apart as unusual or even an eyesore to others who are not of the faith.

While where we end up sometimes seems erratic, the place where we have settled on this earth is exactly where God wants us to be. Our presence in a certain area at a particular time may be just the right opportunity for the love of Jesus to be planted and grow. Our ability to endure tough circumstances in a given location may provide strength for later times when suffering creeps across the landscape of our lives.

So much of life can be hard as a rock. But in the end, the enduring hope that we are still part of God’s creation, no matter where we are, brings us lasting peace and comfort. No place on earth is apart from God.

Minnesota Nice

Minnesota Nice

There is a term called Minnesota Nice, which refers to the kindness of those who live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Anyone who has met someone who comes from that state understands. Minnesota Nice people are friendly, welcoming, giving, easy to talk to, humble to a fault and willing to help with whatever you may need. I have encountered some Minnesota Nice people who took the time to take me on their boat, show me lighthouses in their area, and serve me a “hot dish” dinner. (A hot dish is what I would call a casserole.)

The idea of Minnesota Nice struck me as significant because it is an attribute that is so engrained in our society that it has been given a name. Would nice be the first word that comes to the minds of people in our society when they think about Christians? Maybe, but not necessarily. How much is our kindness and love toward others engrained in our community’s collective concept of the Christian person? Many other attributes may come to mind before nice when it comes to people’s perception of the quintessential Christian.

Which begs the question, “What should the Christian be known for?” The answer comes from St. Paul who said to the Ephesians, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). We as Christians are called to be beyond just nice.

We are to be tenderhearted as well, Paul says, which is translated from the Greek that means “well compassioned and sympathetic.” We should genuinely feel for others as Christ feels for us.

And we should be richly forgiving, not being judgmental in any way. People can tell if we are being phony. And showing forgiveness “from the heart,” as Christ did for us, cannot be faked.

Jesus told us, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). The things that we say and do should not be said and done so that others can say how nice we are, but they should be said and done to point others to God and to God in Christ. We are not put on this earth just to be nice, but to be a reflection of the heart and mind of Christ to all the world. So be Christian Compassionate as well as Minnesota Nice.

The Inner Circle

inner circle

The Gospels made it clear that Jesus had an inner circle of friends. Peter, James and John would gather with him when times were good (at the Mount of Transfiguration) and when times were bad (at the Garden of Gethsemane). This group of friends in no way takes away from the relationships that Jesus had with the other disciples and followers, but simply points to the fact that we as human beings need certain loved ones we can turn to when we are in desperate need of someone to lean on, vent to and share particular life moments with.

It is said that we are the average of our five best friends. So if that is so, what are the characteristics of your “inner circle” of friends that you have made a part of your own personality? Maybe it is a good listening ear, a heart for God’s Word, a welcoming nature, or a bringer of joy to any situation.

Christ should be at the heart of any Christian circle of friends. Think about ways in which Christ is made evident in your core group. Perhaps it is through prayer texts or times together at church or meals when grace is spoken. Ponder things that can make these friendships even more tied to Christ.

I think of the time on the cross when Jesus told John and his mother to care for one another. He built an inner circle there, and in that moment, the two of them became more than friends; they became family. The friends in my core group have taken to calling each other “frienily”—a melding of friends and family. That is what we are in Christ, after all, brothers and sisters in him and brothers and sisters to one another. And frienily does what a family does. They are there for one another, through thick and thin. Take a moment to thank God today for the family your friends have become for you through him.