Blessed to be a Blessing

“…All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.  Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go…” (Genesis 28:14b-15a)


I was struck this morning as I read the assigned text from Bread for the Day by the courage that God gives to Jacob in his dream of the ladder.  I’ve read this passage many, many times yet today the section above jumped off the page.  Maybe this is what they say happens when you prayerfully read scripture instead of just reading it to read it.  Perhaps the reason this section was so bold for me this morning as I sat in my office looking outside at the wonderful snow cover is because I am so inundated right now with the idea that God is calling us at Advent to do something amazing for the work of the Kingdom.  I hesitate to even write that- because I fear it sounds arrogant and maybe even off putting to some, but I truly believe it to be true.  But, not just for Advent.  For all of us.  I believe, at the core of who I am that we, as humans, have the power to change the world for good.  Maybe, I am naïve.  Maybe I am stuck in fantasy.  But I don’t think so.  I don’t think so at all.

 As I read the Genesis story and the narrative between God and Jacob I see a calling for all of us to realize that God has blessed each and everyone one of us to be a blessing.  Sure, the calling in this case is directed at Jacob and his offspring- but this is a calling that entangles all of us as children that belong to God.  With Christ we have been adopted into the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  We now are the ones who are sent with this blessed mission.  To bless the world.  To make the world a better place.  The best news in all of that is we do it not alone.  We have each other.  We have the body.  We have God who reminds us, “Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go!”

 Good news indeed.  Shine on dear friends.  Shine one.  Let’s get to work.  Check this song out- by May Erlewine- a rallying cry perhaps.


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“Trust Me” ~ God


I am going to try and write more this year.  Not really for anyone.  More for myself.  It seems that so often my own study of scripture is spent in preparing for sermons or Bible Study and each year I try to start over and find a new avenue to get at this.  Daily devotions emailed to me have helped a ton.  My hope for this year is that the use of Bread for the Day, a resource by Augsburg Fortress can assist me in a more prayer-filled study.  I will write daily about things that jump out.  I won’t always put on this blog, but on occasion will.  Feel free to read, or not- and engage as you wish!

I did want to share some reflections today.  The reality is that with the dawn of a new beginning for Advent Lutheran Church my own emotions are all across the board.  Excited and anxious to see what God will continue to do and also a bit overwhelmed by the fact that we now have this building to use.  What will we do?  How does my role as pastor change in the midst of crazy growth?  These questions, among others, to me are healthy to wonder about.  I don’t think I will ever have an answer to them but I do look forward to working through them with the amazing people who surround me at Advent.  Moreover, I know that God is with me and with us in this ministry and in this time.  Today, one of the assigned readings in the Bread for the Day was the story of Abram and Sarai and their call.  Very clearly the Lord speaks in the twelfth chapter of Genesis to Abram and says Go!  As I was reading that passage this afternoon and spending some time in prayer my mind went back to August 31st, 2005.  That as the day I was ordained at my home church of Trinity Lutheran in Madison, South Dakota.  It was also right around the time of the levees breaking in New Orleans.  A day I will never forget.

My mind and my spirit went back there this afternoon because Pastor Roger Hardy, who was my internship supervisor in North Minneapolis preached using this passage as part of his message.  He noted, I recall that Abram and Sarai were sent to a place away from their land- to a place that was new and a place that was different.  He noted too that they probably were a bit unsure but God had called them and sent them.  And they went.  At that time, Anna and I were just a month or so into our new life in Michigan and had recently left our place, our land and went with our 2 year old to a new place that was different.  Now, don’t think for a minute I am saying our story is anywhere near the story of Abram and Sarai- for that would be foolish.  But, what I am saying is that the message that day from Roger was for us to turn to our God and trust.  For the call had come to us, sending us, and we went.  Finally, we went not alone but with God with us.  That word that night gave me incredible hope and courage and again today I find the same hope and courage as God speaks clearly once again into my sometimes dense head- I am God Justin.  You are not.

 That’s my thought and prayer for the day- trusting in God even more.  Realizing that this is a different time for Advent than what has been before.  But the same God- the God that called Abram and Sarai to go, the God that called Anna and Justin to go, now calls Advent to go- in a different way with God beside us all along.

 I can’t wait.


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Now What?


Now what?  Have you ever seen the movie Finding Nemo?  At the end of the movie, the fish escape the tank in the dentist office and manage to roll across the highway into the ocean to freedom.  Only problem is that they are all in plastic bags, floating on the top of the water.  One of the fish, Bloat, looks around and says, “uhh, now what?” In some ways that is exactly the feeling I have today.  Let me explain.

On Christmas Eve, the church that I serve, Advent Lutheran Church, opened the doors of its new building for the first time.  Advent started in 2005 as a Mission Start congregation of the ELCA.  A goal from day one was to have our own building- not just to have a building- but to have a center for ministry and mission n the community.  For the last eight years we have operated out of a town hall and a renovated fire garage that was way too small.  The vision of a new home for our ministry began to take serious shape last year when we completed a campaign and had enough resources to move forward.  However, the building committee has been active for over five years planning, modeling, and dreaming.  All the hours, prayers, conversations, and etc led to what happened Tuesday night.  The doors opened and people came.  To say, “people came” is an understatement really.  By 4:40 for a 5PM service we ran out room- all the chairs were taken and the parking lot full.  People were parking up and down the road and bulletins- well, they were gone too.  Poor planning?  Maybe- but I think it was more of God blessing us in crazy ways.  Over 300 people (115) kids worshiped with us at that service- and more came at 8 and more at 11 leaving me to wonder, “now what?”

You see the people that came- weren’t’ just our normal people.  They weren’t even our normal Christmas visitors.  No, these were folks from the community that I have been praying may show up some day.  People that I have invited and that others in our church have invited.  And they came.  They came to find a beautiful building for sure.  But more than that they came to find a church full of people trying to figure it out.  Trying to find hope in the midst of a dark world.  My prayer is that they found just that.

But now the work begins.  The work for me as pastor of this amazing community and the work for those that call Advent home.  Build it…and they will come.  Apparently.  But will they keep coming?  Will they come back?  Will more show up?  What do we do?  In my humble opinion we have an amazing opportunity to grow this church in this community in a way that brings the light of Christ into world- that’s our calling any way.

So I don’t know “now what”, but thanks be to God- God does.  Over the last eight years as the highs and lows have been extreme I have often come back to Jeremiah 29:11 where the word of God speaks, “For surely I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not harm, to give you a future with hope.”   So there it is.  The now what- trusting even more in the steady and faithful hand of God.


Man, I love this calling.


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Community….CamUnity…power to change the world


I think a lot about community.  It’s part of my nature I think, and part of the work that I get to do.  As a pastor you dream of community working together for the greater good, helping brothers and sisters out when they are in need, crying together when one is hurting, and celebrating together when one has joy.  Of course there are other things that you dream of too and to be fair other things that community is.  But lately, at least at my core, there has been a focus for me as community equating solidarity as described above.

Yesterday, I was part of an event that epitomized community as I have been thinking about it.  An event called CamUnity– because it revolved around a community coming together around a boy named Cam and his family as they journey through the ups and downs of his battle with LCH.  A group of people that I am forever indebted to joined me in planning an event that was nothing less than absolutely amazing.  About six months ago I talked to Cam’s dad about supporting them in a big way- I made a few phone calls and a planning team was put together.  What ensued was an entire community- literally- stepping up, rallying together, donating items, money, time, energy, love and so much more to pull off a 5 hour day that really was about love- loving Cam and his family and saying together we got your back little man.  And have his back this community did- cold weather and rain could not keep this movement down!

As I sit today on the other side of this event.  I am humbled, honored, overjoyed and so much more to have witnessed the goodness of people rise up.  Today the national news of a gunman in Washington DC was a harsh reminder that evil and darkness continue to be real.  Yet for a moment yesterday, while sitting atop a dunk tank in 48 degree weather- the grins I saw on the children’s faces, the laughter I heard from the adults, the pure joy that I felt reverberating the grounds behind Moomers quieted the darkness and the evil that is reality.  I am thankful today.  I am filled with hope today.  I am touched today and I thank all of you that made this happen.

Check out this video and story of the day!

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Beers, Hymns, Community Together

Last night we hosted our first Beers and Hymns at Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City.  This was by no means an original idea as other churches and bodies have done this in various places across the country and even the world.  In Lutheran circles, Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado and Pastor Jodi Hogue at Humble Walk in St. Paul have been doing it for a while with others popping up here and there.  However for our community it was the first of its kind.  I was intrigued as I read other stories of this kind of gathering and upon some conversation decided I wanted to try to make it happen.  I approached the owner of Right Brain and pitched it and immediately he was down.  As the planning unfolded it was clear that there was some concern that it not be too over the top “churchy”, (people handing out tracks for conversion, altar calls, and the like) and that it not offend the average pub visitor who did not want to sing.  To that end we made clear that our mission was simple; drink beer, sing hymns, nothing churchy.  Interesting that as that tag-line found its way onto our posters and facebook pages that some in the church struggled with the nothing-churchy line!  However those that were not part of a church community loved it and even said that made them feel it was a safe place to come and be.  So we did it.  We launched it last night and the evening was nothing short of amazing.

What happened was community of all ages forming, re-forming, and being.  There was an infant and many other children present and there was woman that proudly proclaimed to me, “I am in my eighties and I love this!”.  And every age in between.  Men, women, Lutheran, Reformed, non-denominational, non-churched and the like came together so drink beer, sing hymns, and that was it.  Well, that was really not it.  Community came together and some relationships were strengthened while new relationships were formed.  The church was public in a very non-churchy kind of way.  People that were at the pub just to be started singing with us and participating in the life of the evening.   To me the biggest thing that needs to happen more in our world is for people to come together to be…to be community that can support one another through ups and downs and last night that happened because of some beer and some hymns.  Now, quickly, it should be noted that beer is optional as we have folks in our community who are recovering and want to respect that very much.  But some of them came to, and they, like the rest of us, loved the community, the singing and their own drink of choice.  It was more than I could have ever imagined it would be and am so thankful that Right Brain allowed us to do it and more thankful that people came out.  We will do it again for sure and hope to see some of you there!

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Holy Moments in Holy Week




My week has been filled with amazing moments of grace…I wanted to share a little.

It was one of those things- those things that will never ever leave me.  Sunday night, at the end of our Palm Sunday night service to kick off our Holy Week we had a time for people to come forward and be prayed for by myself or our intern pastor.  This is not a new thing for us- we sometimes hold prayer services and healing services believing very much that prayer is integral to our life of faith.  But this night something happened that filled me with life and holiness at a whole new level.  My daughter Payton decided to come forward and to pray with me.  A little guy in her class (1st grade) is going through a cancer-like illness and Payton was moved to come and pray for him.  As I got on my knees to put my hands on her shoulders, and anoint her with oil I said, “what do you want to pray for?”  She responded, “For C, that he gets better and knows God loves him.”  My heart melted.  My eyes welled with tears as I realized that she gets it…my little seven year old baby girl gets it.  She gets the power of community coming together in prayer and she gets the idea of love and grace and how important that is for us to have for others.  A holy moment, in the midst of a holy week.

Another moment…today.  I was blessed to have a meeting with a colleague over coffee at one of my favorite coffee places.  As we sat and enjoyed our lattes I was privileged enough to hear her story of the things she is going through.  Sometimes I think we forget that pastors too struggle.  I listened, I talked, we laughed and we lamented the reality of this work being what it is.  We celebrated the love that we both have for our calling and I was able to see grace in her, and I hope her in me.  A holy moment, in the midst of a holy week.

And still another moment…today.  Lunch with a member of our community.  As we broke bread together we shared simple conversation and then some not so simple conversation.  She shared with me the hard things she and her loved ones are facing- things that eat her up, that she battles with, that hurt- and I got to listen, to offer some words of something I hope, and the promise that I will pray and will continue to walk with her through this.  A holy moment in the realization that I have the best “job” in the world.  A holy moment , in the midst of a holy week.

And still…one more.  On my way back to my car I decided to stop in to one of my favorite coffee shops for  a little more coffee.  (Yes, I know that is too much coffee for one day).  As I was there I noticed one of the people that works there had a tattoo on her arm. Being a lover of tattoos and always trying to find inspiration for my next one I asked her what it said.  She told me, and then told me what the other ones on her arms said too.  A moment of grace for me- a moment of hearing a bit of who she was.  A moment of realizing the power of story- of conversation- of wanting to know more about what makes people tick.  A moment of realizing how important it is to connect with people rather than push people away and focus inward.  For me, that was holy.  A holy moment, in the midst of a holy week.

I thank God tonight for every breath I get and I thank God for these moments that speak holiness to me.  I pray that you, wherever you are can find those moments as well.


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A Week in this Life


Recently, Clint Schnekloth posted the challenge to clergy colleagues to blog their week.  I decided that this week would be just as good as any to document and think about what goes on in this vocation as well as in the normal routine of life.  I appreciated the challenge and noticed that it forced me to really look at all the things that go on every week.  I was reminded about why I feel so blessed to be a pastor and continue to find great joy in this calling.  Here, is my week in a snapshot: It is long…sorry…but it was good to write.

Sunday, January 13th

This day was supposed to be spent in Mount Pleasant Michigan where I would preach to one of our Mission Partner Congregations.  Recently they took an offering to support our ministry here in honor of their anniversary.  However, Mother Nature had other plans and an Ice Storm forced us to change.  I preached my sermon Saturday night in my office at home to my iPad and hosted it on YouTube where they were able to project it from on  Sunday.  I received a text from the pastor there and she said, “You are Ginormous”  I guess I can cross that goal off the list!  Since I was home, I did help lead worship at Advent– our intern preached and I presided.  In addition I participated in the Spanish Class we are offering in preparation for our Vision Trip to Guatemala in a few weeks.  After a long day I went home, spent some quality time with the family and tried to stay away from work-related things as best as I could.


Monday, January 14th

Monday came and looking back it was a very, very full day.  It began with my regular visit to the Chiropractor to be straightened out!  After that I went from meeting to meeting.  First was a meeting to plan for an upcoming retreat with a staff member that lead to some dreaming about the future of the work Advent is called to live into.  After that I was blessed to sit with our intern for a short meeting to catch up a bit on her plan for the week and to go through her Sunday experience and her preaching that day.  From the intern meeting to catching up with a gentleman who does not actively worship with us.  His family experienced an unimaginable crisis a couple summers ago and I love to be able to connect with him.  He is an explorer of sorts- into discovering ship-wrecks and I always walk away from our coffee time learning much more about him, his family, and myself.  We talked about the hope of a regular gathering for folks “outside” the church at a local pub to talk theology and faith and life…the beginning I hope of a great plan for a new outreach.  I was forced to end our meeting early as I had to get to my son’s school to coach his fourth grade basketball team- something I consider very much an outreach in itself.  We are 4-0…but it’s not about winning J.  In the midst of that I received a facebook message from someone I grew up with…wondering a bit about faith and life…searching and longing…I responded and a conversation continues to today.  After Basketball I ran my son home and came back to the church for our Building Committee meeting where we decided to go to bit March 1st for our new home for the church!  Around 9 I made it home, shared a cold beer with my wife and wound down before heading to bed.


Tuesday, January 15th

I started Tuesday by going to the gym to get a little exercise- this was a good decision.  After the gym  I met a gentleman for lunch who I coached football with and then headed to the Hospice House to visit a 33 year old man from our congregation who is facing the end of his days due to an illness called Devic’s Syndrome.  We prayed for him and his family and we decided that Saturday his wife and he would renew their wedding vows.  I left thinking, “this is the most special vocation in the world.”  On my way back to the office to meet a person who I mentor for our Synod’s SAM program I get a text from a member that her husband is back in the hospital. He is battling cancer and is in due to an infection and low blood counts.  She asks for no visitors yet but promises to keep me posted.  After finishing the mentor session I put a call into our bishop to connect on a few things related to the conference (I serve as Dean) and give him an update on a few things.  This was a blessed time.  I finish the weekly email feed for the next morning and write the Bible Study for Wednesday on the Gospel of John and connect via a actual snail mail letter with a person serving time in prison who writes regularly.   At 6 the financial secretary comes in for a meeting to update some information on our new software and then around 8 I head home for the evening.  I kiss my kids goodnight and the wife and I wait eagerly for our favorite show to come on…I kill the time with mindless video games.


Wednesday, January 16th

Wednesday finds me in Staff Meeting to start the day where we plan for our Lenten Wednesday night gatherings.  This is followed by Bible Study and catching up with small tasks that need my attention.  I drive to town for a late lunch with a friend who does not attend church…invite him to come as I always do…I think I am wearing him down J.  I get an update via text of the gentlemen fighting cancer who is the hospital and his wife let’s me know that he would love to see me.  I head to Munson Hospital for what turns into a very life-giving visit for me.  D is a retired Pastor who simply is an amazing man that I consider a huge blessing personally.  Our visit is too short, but I am forced to leave to get the kids from school.  After my wife gets home from work I go and play basketball with a group of guys in town.  A good night for sure.


Thursday, January 17th

Thursday is my day to connect with retired pastors apparently.  I have coffee with one like I do most weeks and we talk about ministry, life, books and all things good at a local coffee shop.  After that I travel to the East Side of Traverse city to go on the Vic McCarty radio show as I do each month for an hour.  This hour proves to be exciting as always!  Following the radio spot I head out to Honor Michigan to catch up with another retired pastor and to listen to him and the struggles he is currently facing in his life.  He worships with us on occasion and just like the other two retired pastors I am blessed to have around- he blesses me again and again.  I spend the afternoon in the office, catching up, thinking on my sermon, emailing and facebooking back people and then decided to email our sheriff who made a statement about the Gun Control Debate that troubled me.  We are now set to have coffee soon to discuss this further.  My son had a basketball game that night and after that I went home and enjoyed the time with my family- and getting ready for my daughter’s 7th birthday on Friday!

Friday, January 18th

Friday is my Sabbath- normally.  This day lent itself to a little Sabbath and a little work.  It began with a little birthday celebration and gift opening for my daughter!  After the kids headed to school and my wife to work, I met a member at a local retreat facility to get the lay of the land for our retreat for council next weekend.  I then went to my kids’ school to deliver flowers to my daughter in honor of her birthday.  I also ate lunch with her, was able to read with her and a buddy and have lunch with my son among other things! This was awesome!  After school the kids and I picked up some friends and headed to Right Brain Brewery where my wife was working.  This is one of my favorite pubs and is owned by dear friends.  Now, normally we would not take a seven year old to a pub for her birthday…but mom was working and kids are more than welcome at this place.  We ordered pizza, kids played games, drank rootbeer and mom got done early so we had fun!  Then we went home and watched the video surround the birth of P!

 Saturday, January 19th

Saturday was  an early morning with Men’s group at 7 AM- fourteen men came this month as we ate breakfast, prayed together and studied a little of the book of Acts.  I darted out early to pick up my son and take him to his basketball game- we won!  Today was the day for the renewal of vows for the man in hospice and his wife.  This was probably one of the most difficult and amazing things I have ever been blessed to do.  We gathered (myself, a few folks from Advent, the man and his wife, their three young kids, and another friend, plus Jetty Rae came with her husband and sang a special private concert).  We did the renewal, we cried…a lot…we prayed, we came together…we all grew – something happened.  Cake followed and then I met my family at home and we headed to Crystal Mountain for some swimming to celebrate that 7 year old in our house.  Home, more cake, dinner and then to the office to write the sermon for today!  Blessed while writing sermon for a random visit from a neighbor.  The interruption proved again that it was not an interruption at all but a time to connect and to be.

Sunday, January 20th

That brings me to today.  Church, an amazing day of worship- new families visiting at both services and the chance to baptize the baby of one of the first young ladies we confirmed at Advent.  In almost 8 years I have been blessed to do 90+ baptisms…this one was special in so many ways.  Wow!  What a day.

 This is what I do, I love it…every bit of it.  There is so much missing in this quick snapshot…but this is it…I love it…all of it, and I continue to thank God that I get to do this for a living. 

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