• August 31, 2015


    Those of us who are Christians have a hard time not thinking of heaven as someplace up. Jesus Christ “ascended,” after all. Jacob saw a vision of a ladder descending, and Elijah boarded a chariot that left this earthly station for all points upward, right? This upward proclivity of ours results, at least in part I suppose, from some ancient Platonism in early Christian thought, the idea that this world is somehow less than sweet, that we’ve got to leave it behind like our old natures before we can "ascend" to something, well, heavenly...

  • August 17, 2015


    My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. (Psalm 57) I need to thank Garrison Keilor for drawing my attention to this verse of Psalm 57—not in so many words, but in spirit. I need to thank him for reminding me in an interview in Christian Century that the Christian life begins in gratitude. The source of faith itself is certainly elsewhere and mysterious beyond my ken, but gratitude is the starting block for what ye olde’ theologians called sanctification...

  • August 14, 2015

    When Helping Hurts Training in Soroti

    As I noted at the beginning we had some heavy but gentle discussions about missionary / Ugandan interactions and frustrations on both sides. This was the last lesson of the manual but it relates to all the complications about how to best help the poor, how to work together, and money issues that we dealt with in the rest of the training. I was very happy that we had several missionaries taking part in the small group conversations about this. I was also happy to see that the conversations were done gently and with love. I did not detect anyone feeling uncomfortable or tense.

  • August 8, 2015

    Hallowed Ground for Humble People

    Three months on from the deaths of my parents, a week out from my daughter’s wedding, I finally get back to this cloth tote bag, thoughtfully provided by the funeral home, emblazoned with its logo. I tossed into it, weeks ago, funeral materials, death certificates, a folder of hospice papers, and two big bundles of sympathy cards. About a third of them were never opened. So I start opening them now. Most of them are cards for my mom, expressing sympathy over the loss of her husband.

  • August 6, 2015

    World Renew Work in Kabale

    I recently had the opportunity to visit a very different part of the country - Kabale. I was there with World Renew staff to do an evaluation of the projects World Renew supports in that region. Taking part in evaluations is part of my job here. Basically, a group of people both from World Renew Uganda and from outside Uganda or outside World Renew, go and visit the actual participants/beneficiaries involved in projects, asking questions about how they have been affected by the programs and seeing what exists on the ground...

  • August 4, 2015

    Why University Students Should Know: The Value of Good Books

    I recently came across this interesting quote from Matthew Poole, an English nonconformist theologian, of the 17th Century: “Ministers are living books, and books are dead ministers; and yet though dead, they speak. When you cannot hear the one, you may read the other.” This quote does well to highlight the role of books in our lives; for recreation, for stimulation, and edification. Through God’s common grace, there have been a plethora of gifted writers who have entertained us, helped us better understand our culture, and challenged us in our thinking and doing...

  • July 22, 2015

    Great Pain & Great Grace

    I have begun reading through the Bible again and I am amazed at how it speaks so powerfully each time. I have had the privilege of hearing the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, and Abraham since I was a child, but I love how the Holy Spirit speaks new truths through it again and again. They are not just nice stories we tell our children. In fact the more I read them the more I feel we have watered down these great truths into cute kid stories...

  • July 13, 2015

    In Celebration of Marriage as Covenant

    My daughter’s wedding is today. At last, the day has arrived! As you might expect, at my house we have been thinking of nothing but wedding wedding wedding for at least the past two weeks, and before that wedding business occupied a goodly share of our thoughts and energies for the past year. As everyone warns—and they’re absolutely right, I can attest—it’s easy to focus far more on place cards and bridesmaids’ gifts than on the momentous reason for the big party.

  • July 2, 2015

    Time's Signatures

    It's as if she's in another world. She is. She's in her teens. Just last week or so, her great-grandpa had to give up his car, his mobility, a bit of whatever little independence he still had. His eyes, at best, are uncertain, his hearing is long gone, his reactions are painfully slow. We didn't have to argue.  Even though he had it figured that driving to our place could require no left turns and mostly gravel roads where he'd meet no traffic and the only pedestrians were mourning doves and red-wing blackbirds, he understood driving was over. He had to hand over the keys...

  • July 2, 2015

    Theological Famine Relief

    I have a great program to recommend to other missionaries and to short term trips from churches back in the USA and Canada. It is called "Theological Famine Relief" and it is a program from one of my favorite organizations, "The Gospel Coalition." The Gospel Coalition (TGC) publishes insightful articles all the time that you probably see me sharing on facebook. This program is not to provide food for real famines, but to provide theology books for those places in which there is a scarcity of books and theological training...

  • June 29, 2015

    Bringing Down the Flag

    It seems to me that the Confederate flag should have been ceremony-ed to a significant place in a thousand Dixie museums long, long ago. My family has been Yankee for as long as they've been citizens of these United States, so I don't really fully understand the till-death-do-us-part commitment to keep that thing flying over state houses.

  • June 29, 2015

    Slow Knowledge

    Before the terrible shooting in Charleston on June 17, there was no Wikipedia page for the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Over the next 36 hours, 44 different editors made 152 edits to create a “solid” page, according to a fascinating blog post by librarian/blogger Peter Murray. Murray created an animation of that Wikipedia page so we can see it grow from “stub” to full page, complete with references. Rarely do we get to visualize knowledge building like this. In fact, rarely do we think about knowledge building. When we suddenly want to know things, where do we go? 

  • June 17, 2015

    Stories, Soccer, and My 1970s Childhood

    The women’s soccer World Cup and Elisabeth Elliot’s death on Monday. Two things that don’t really seem to go together. Except if you’re a child of the ‘70s like I am. More particularly, if you’re a girl child of the ‘70s. And even more so, a girl child with serious evangelical roots. Thinking about Elisabeth Elliot and watching women playing soccer on television this week made me think back to my upbringing, paradoxes and all. Looking back, the ‘70s were such an odd time to grow up. Fabulous in some very real ways, too. Maybe contradictory is a better word...

  • June 16, 2015

    The Dilemma of the Fourth of July

    The other day I was eating dinner with my wife in a restaurant located in Gallup New Mexico, a border town to the Navajo reservation. Gallup was recently named "Most Patriotic Small Town in America" in a nationwide contest. Soon after sitting down I noticed that we were seated at a table directly facing a framed poster of the Declaration of Independence. The irony almost made me laugh. When our server, who was also native, came to the table, I asked if I could show him something.

  • June 16, 2015

    Summer Camps I'd Like to See

    I remember music camp (which I did attend) and sports camps (which I did not), as well as your traditional quasi-Native-American-themed, lanyard-crafting-type camps. These days, however, kids can spend a week or two at camps for every possible sport as well as chemistry, chess, computer programming, SAT-prep, and rock climbing. There are probably camps for knitting and trampoline jumping. As much choice as we now enjoy, however, I believe I can identify some important market niches left uncultivated. So here are the camps I would like to see...

  • June 16, 2015

    Kaberamaido TLT - Preaching

    Last week I finished manual 4, "Biblical Preaching", in Kaberamaido. It proved to be the most difficult week of TLT I have had yet, both because it is the most difficult manual to teach, and because we had a very large group. But it was very successful and meaningful. I was exhausted by the end after going non-stop from 7:30am to nearly 8:00pm each day! But I am so thankful that God was with us that week and helped all us to grow and learn together. It was a week of worship and preaching to one another...

  • June 4, 2015

    A Royal Day

    Just Sunday--I'm not making this up--just Sunday, Diet Eman, a 95-year-old woman, a decorated Resistance fighter originally from the Netherlands, was looking forward to Tuesday, yesterday, when the King and Queen of the Netherlands were going to be stopping in her adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She hoped she could meet him and give him a copy of her book, Things We Couldn't Say.

  • June 1, 2015

    Reaching the Mountain Top Villages with Help and Hope

    As I write this second blog, another aftershock makes me pick up my bag to head out the door, but it is over in two seconds, so I stand wondering and chatting with Annie, my World Renew colleague, trying to decide whether or not to leave the building  for safety. We decide to stay but unlock the front door in case we need a quick exit. On Friday the 22nd I took a three hour drive out of the capital, Kathmandu, to our target location in the district of Nowekot. The first two hours were on a great highway.

  • June 1, 2015

    Grow Strong in the Lord

    What would you think if your parents said they wanted you to be like a carp? It might seem strange, but that’s what parents in Japan want. On Children’s Day, they fly carp streamers. Carp are strong fish—they spend their lives swimming against the current. The flying streamers show Japanese parents’ hope for their children to grow strong like carp. Most Japanese parents are thinking of strength to study hard for exams and succeed in life...

  • May 14, 2015

    Amuria TLT - Biblical Preaching

    I just finished a very tiring but wonderful week in Amuria for Timothy Leadership Training. We went through the Biblical Preaching manual.  Before I get into the details, I want to give you some encouraging reports from the last manual ("Overcoming Violence in the Family"), about how God used the pastors in their action plans. Part of the family violence manual was about the dangers of pornography. While giving reports, Pastor Andrew confessed that he had been looking at pornography but quit doing so after that TLT week. This confession got another pastor to open up...

  • May 13, 2015

    Discipleship as the Key to Growth

    What was the most important element of discipleship in my life? People spent intentional time with me. It was friendship, but also more. It was two people learning how to follow Jesus together. It was beautiful in its simplicity. It was natural. It also helped me grow deeper in the faith than I would have imagined. So, why does the Church at large not make discipleship our priority? We prefer planned and scheduled Bible study classes. We prefer fancy and attractive worship services. We prefer putting people to work within the Church and in building the Kingdom through occupations.

  • May 12, 2015

    I Prayed

    New York City may not be the most secular city around but like lots of this world’s larger cities, neither does it bristle with religious fervor. Bow your head to pray over your meal at Gramercy Tavern and you may find some fellow diners furtively glancing over at so curious a site. That’s why something my wife and I experienced a month ago was so striking. But first a little background. I visited Ground Zero along with my wife in mid-March 2002 on a Sunday morning. Just six months after the terrorist attack on 9/11, it was amazing how much of the site was cleared of debris.

  • May 12, 2015

    The Care Centre: What Am I Going to Say

    It is wonderful to be invited into people’s lives and their stories. I get to hear the challenges that they are facing and how they are facing them. I get to hear the joys of their lives and be there at precious moments. It is a privilege. But it’s not always clear, especially in times of suffering, what I should say. What will I say when I get to the hospital, the nursing home, the living room. Caring for others in these times can make us feel inadequate and I think that’s a good thing. Not knowing what to say is a good thing. Not knowing how this suffering might feel is a good thing.

  • May 11, 2015


    When was the last time you were bored? Not just starting the slide but well and truly tumbling down the boredom hill? The average cell phone user checks his or her phone 150 times a day. Average smartphone users spend 195 minutes a day on their device. Scientists and psychologists have released studies stating that our brains are actually undergoing transformation as a result of living in a time and society in which people have any number of distractions that keep them from having to rely on internal resources, devise their own activities...

  • May 11, 2015

    Keeping Silence

    I listen to books during my half-hour daily workout—and I love it.  A while ago it was Population 485, by Michael Perry, whose stories of small-town Wisconsin ring especially clear to those of us who grew up in Dairyland.  It’s a meditation, part Thoreau and part John Donne, even though Perry never talks much about his own practice of faith. One morning not long ago my t-shirt only half-soaked, Perry’s voice was rudely interrupted when another exerciser tuned the radio to Christian praise music—and cranked it way up, assuming we were all devotees...

  • May 11, 2015

    Why the Golden Rule is both Dysfunctional Tyranny and Invitation to Joy

    Every few months a friend of mine invites me to present Christianity in his class “Myth, Ritual and Magic” at the Art Institute of Sacramento. I love presenting in that context. The classes are filled with wonderful, interesting and diverse students. The student body is in fact so diverse there is little I can assume in terms of background knowledge. Most of the students in the class have little or no knowledge of the Bible. A highlight of the presentation for me each time is telling this group of people the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15.

  • May 11, 2015

    I Forget

    As human beings, we need to remember. It’s sometimes a matter of survival (like remembering that, yes, the stove is hot or don’t get too close to the bears at Yellowstone). I’ve been reading through the Old Testament a lot lately. One thing God keeps calling on His people to do is to remember. He wants them to not only remember His mighty acts of deliverance and rescuing them, He also wants them to remember how He is the one who provides for them as well...

  • May 11, 2015

    Unseen - But Very Real

    It seems to me that more of us are living for the “right here and right now” than used to be the case. Or maybe I’m just noticing it more. But chores around the house, carting kids to soccer, catching up on facebook seem to dominate many of our lives to the point where time cultivating a relationship with our unseen, but very present Father in heaven, gets relegated to tomorrow, which – as they say – never comes.

  • May 11, 2015

    Steps Towards Spiritual Growth? Try Again

    Ten steps towards spiritual growth.  A program of discipleship.  The sinner's prayer. I could go on and on. A model for church growth. Tell me how to inherit eternal life, the rich young ruler said to Jesus (Mark 10:17). A natural question, really. Isn't that what we want? Instructions!  Steps. A formula to follow. The older I get, the more I encounter the utter failure of programs and steps and models.  The world is so much more complicated, isn't it? Nothing works as it's supposed to. You try the steps and realize the heart of what you're after is still missing... 

  • May 6, 2015

    Why We Lead the Nation

    Yesterday, when we walked out of a room where my 95-year-old father-in-law had just had an eye exam, he wheeled his walker into a waiting-room area. To say the least, he's not quick on his feet. What's more, he needs at least four. But here's the point. When we got to the waiting area, a circle of other patients were already seated, leaving just a few open chairs. "Well, Jim," he said, "where would you like to sit?" It was a chore for him to get to the room, but when we got there the first thing he thought of was my convenience...

  • May 6, 2015

    Zoo Church Homework (and Stories)

    “Ask the animals what they think—let them teach you; let the birds tell you what’s going on. Put your ear to the earth—learn the basics. Listen—the fish in the ocean will tell you their stories. Isn’t it clear that they all know and agree that God is sovereign, that he holds all things in his hand—Every living soul, yes, every breathing creature?” (Job 12:7-10, MSG) Every animal that you’ve ever seen was held, sustained and designed by God. And they had stories to tell...

  • May 6, 2015

    The Transforming Effects of Jesus' Lordship

    Colossians is about one thing: the lordship and supremacy of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In Christ is All David Bryant suggests that the current malaise in the American church is a crisis of supremacy.  Folks, including most Christians, simply don’t appreciate Jesus for who he is and for all he is. His book is essentially a doxology to Jesus, urging Christians to rediscover the glory, majesty, authority, power, centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ. In our current sermon series on Colossians, we’re discovering this glorious Lord and Savior.

  • May 6, 2015

    The Care Center: What's in a Name?

    Think about it. God knows your name. Jesus knows your name—Jesus knows you. When Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine at the last supper you were in his mind—This is my blood, this is my body given for you Anna, Joshua, Michael, Jacqueline and the list goes on and on. This gives us a glimpse into the depth of God’s great care and comfort for us in and through Jesus, and it reveals to us the ways we are to care for one another— to know each other’s names. When we meet each other with the knowledge of who each other is we bring profound care and comfort.

  • May 5, 2015

    What Does Grace Look Like?

    When I read through Scripture, grace shows up as the big theme of God's relationship with us: forgiveness that we don't deserve and cannot earn, along with adoption into a world and life changing family. Yet as I read through Facebook, many Christian magazines and blogs, I wonder why grace is so often missing in our relationships with the world around us and with each other in the Christian family. What worries me the most is how ungracious behaviour within the church is justified...

  • May 4, 2015


    Moses tells the people, “Re-orient your lives one day a week in order to remember. Remember what you were. Remember that you are so no longer. Remember what God has done.” But the people forgot to remember. Paul writes, at a much later date to a much similar people. People who also forget to remember. Paul writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free! Stand firm then and do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Paul tells the people, “Re-orient your lives by the grace Christ has offered. Remember that you are set free in Christ.

  • May 4, 2015

    She's Not a Real Person

    I’ve met a number of women over the years that just don’t like Mother’s Day. I know that some look forward to it. Many have had great moms and to them it’s a day to honor them. And that’s awesome. I just know that for some it’s to them a reminder of their infertility, a day that tells them they are less than a woman because they don’t have children. It’s a day for children to relive bad memories of bad moms. It’s a day where moms miss their children gone too soon.

  • May 4, 2015

    Servant Speaking

    Throughout my life, I have heard many people offer speeches. I’ve heard good and bad, interesting, funny, too long, and too short speeches. I’ve heard skilled people speak and those who sounded like they had never spoken before. I remember the great speeches. They seemed well planned with little error or disruption. But I wonder if the speaker, while preparing his or her speech, ever thought: “I have to be the best servant speaker that I can be.” Yes, I said servant speaking. The phrase “servant speaking”, in my opinion, sums up the purpose of speaking.

  • April 30, 2015

    The Care Center: Steaming Cups of Chai

    I was a recent seminary graduate steeped in Biblical languages, systematic theology, and family systems theory. And here I was, visiting a family I who was working on learning survival English for shopping, transportation, and work. I couldn’t communicate all those things I had learned to them. At times it was frustrating to make awkward, sometimes mostly silent, visits over cups of steaming chai. But the smiles and hug the next time I saw the matriarch at church told me that my presence in her home was important to her...

  • April 28, 2015

    Church Cases

    We are near the end of the semester and my students in the Capstone Integrative Seminar are finishing their Case Study Portfolios–indeed, today I will be sending around these Portfolios to the panelists who will review them ahead of interviewing the students about their work. Each student received a ministry Case Study scenario at the end of March. Since then they have been analyzing the case from every possible biblical, theological, historical, and practical angle in order to come up with a wise, discerning pastoral approach to the situation.

  • April 28, 2015

    Book Review--Prairie, by Walter J. Muilenburg

    This year--this school year--three boys from Palo Alto High School, one of the nation's best secondary schools--walked across the street to the railroad tracks and stood in front of passing trains. Three kids, in Silicon Valley, where the average home is worth three million. Such suicide clusters are real, and they don't happen only where the pressures to succeed are mammoth...On one hand parents claim they're allowing their kids to just be kids, while on the other they hold relentless expectations...

  • April 27, 2015


    “Moses said to them, ‘This is what the Lord commanded: “Tomorrow is to be a day of Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.”’ This is the first use of the word “Sabbath” in Scripture. It’s a whole new concept for Israel–for a people who have been barely even rescued from generations of slavery, for a people whose captivity has taught them the narrative, “you’ve got to scrabble for everything you’re going to get.”...

  • April 22, 2015

    Conventionality Is not Morality

    For Brontë, Austen essentially lacked passion. And though I think Brontë did not accurately assess the level of Austen’s critique, I can also understand why Brontë—raised on the wildly emotive Romantic literature of Byron and Coleridge—might have undervalued Austen’s more decorous barbs. More than that, I want to suggest that it might come down to a difference in the sense of being a Christian writer. Although both were daughters of clergymen, only Brontë explicitly saw herself speaking out of a prophetic tradition...

  • April 22, 2015

    The Care Center: A Sense of Eternity

    Before my wife and I partnered with CRWM and moved to Vienna I spent a little more than a year serving as a hospital chaplain. Most of this time I worked in the ICU and was an intimate witness to death most days of the week. It may sound strange to some, but it’s indeed a profound privilege to be an intimate witness to the death of a human being...

  • April 21, 2015

    "The Loss of Turtle Island"

    Last Sunday at a local church we learned something about Native American history in a simulation titled "The Loss of Turtle Island." As everyone knows, the winners gain the rights to tell the story. Most Minnesotans probably knew very little about the Dakota War of 1862 until the 150th anniversary just a few years ago, even though the massive bloodshed on both sides of that conflict created an event staggeringly important in the state's early history. Most of us would rather not know those things...

  • April 21, 2015

    Participating, not Initiating

    When it comes to sharing the Good News, I’m tempted to think that I’m the one who’s supposed to make people interested in Jesus and matters of faith. Believing that, however, betrays how I think I’m more important than I really am! Yes, God uses me and you to do important work in his Kingdom, but he’s always a step ahead of us – getting us ready and preparing situations for our arrival on the scene... 

  • April 20, 2015


    “God saw all that he had made and it was very good.” God is on a roll. God is on a six-day winning streak. Firing on all cylinders. Making this. It’s good. Making that. It’s good. Boom, boom, boom. I can’t speak for you but when I’m (very rarely) in that kind of space, in the middle of good work, my impulse is to keep going. Why would I rest if I’m not burned out? Why would I rest if I’m not tired. Why would I rest if I have strength and power and ingenuity to keep going? So then why did God stop? Why did God survey a six-day marathon of epic goodness and go, “Yup. That’s good.

  • April 20, 2015

    Marriage is Business!

    Life is always an adventure here and I'm often perplexed by the ministries God calls me to be a part of in Soroti.  On Saturday I was asked to come and guide a church on Biblical Business and Marriage.  At first I was confused about how those two things go together, but it was so cool to see how God orchestrated a one day marriage seminar, under the guise of Biblical Business. We began the day by looking at people who are successful in business. And why?! And then we discussed people who are successful in marriage and why. Businesses need good foundations...

  • April 17, 2015


    What she told me--and what I never forgot--was how what she was taught affected what she was. Her parents were pure Zuni, in thought and culture and religious practice. Therefore, going to a Christian school meant she had to unlearn almost forcibly what her Christian teachers taught her. And that was difficult. It was, in fact, traumatic, not because she had to shift priorities and allegiances (that too!), but because she simply loved her parents...


  • April 15, 2015


    So I don't know Gunter Grass or his work, despite my Ph.D., in English, despite teaching lit for forty years, despite being surrounded this morning and every morning by books. What I know of him is his name, his Nobel prize, and the incredible scandal of his 2006 confession that he--Germany's most prophetic voice--was a member of the SS during WWII. He was among Hitler's most loyal beasts, a fact he'd tried for most of his life to keep buried. Coming clean just about ruined him, as well it should have...

  • April 15, 2015

    Trusting vs Glory-Seeking

    How many times do we try to seek glory but hedge our bets because we’re not willing to fully trust in God? How many times do we try to hedge our bets instead of using what we’re given to serve God? We’ll do something if we think we can succeed, but we’re not willing to put all we have on the line to serve God. There are many times where we hold back (me included) in fully giving ourselves to serving God. We wonder what others might think. We wonder what will happen if we fail. We get afraid and hedge our bets...