Loving The “Other”

Ernst_Barlach_Barmherziger_Samariter
“Good Samaritan” by Ernst Barlach
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Click here to read the rest of the parable.

 

Growing up I thought “scandal” and “Scandinavian” came from the same root word because of the scandal it was when a Scandinavian entered our predominately German American culture.

Ok, that isn’t exactly true, but what is true is that my parents spoke exclusively German as young children and didn’t learn English until starting school even though they were both second or third generation American citizens.  In addition, everyone in my church, my school, and among my friend group all looked pretty much the same.  Because when you grow up in south-central North Dakota, everybody looks pretty much the same.

The “other” — except for the occasional stray Scandinavian — was a distant concept for me, and because of this I didn’t have to think about my personal response to those who had a different skin color, or had a different religion, or spoke a different language.  I was ignorant to the struggles and difficulties as well as the hopes and joys of those who were different from me.

And though my circumstances changed after I left the farm for college and there was greater diversity around me, I never gave much thought to my changing surroundings.

Without my knowing, I turned in my ignorance for apathy.

I fear that this progression, at least for me, would have been from ignorance to apathy and then onto animosity.  It seems to me that this progression gets played out too often throughout human history.  I was fortunate, however, in that this progression was halted (or at least put in check on my best days) because of the influence of people who challenged me through their words and their lives.

There are a number of people who come to mind when I think about those who have helped me consider the “other.”  There is one in particular to whom I want to say “thank you” as I thank the women who have influenced me in this series.

Marilyn Gardner, along with her husband Cliff, led a college ministry along with my wife, myself, and a few other people while I was attending Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the late 90s.  Marilyn was and continues to be a passionate and compassionate person.  Evident in her life was a deep love for international students and the “other” whoever they were or from wherever they came.  As I had the privilege of ministering alongside of her to college students, she ministered to me — not just her words to me or her hospitality to our entire family — she ministered to me as I learned from her strength and compassion.  Her Christianity and love — at least in my eyes — was not hindered by the ignorance or apathy that I had towards the “other.”  In my eyes, she balanced a family (she had five lovely young children at the time — they are all grown now) and work outside of the home all the while demonstrating God’s love for the “other” without appearing frantic.  I am sure there were frantic moments — with five children I can imagine there were more than Marilyn would care to admit.  The point, however, is that to those of us to whom she ministered, she didn’t seem frantic or too busy.  She never “crossed to the other side of the road” or “hurried along her way” but rather stooped down to the one in need, bound up their “wounds,” and cared for the “other.”

She is one of those people that years later — after you have moved far away — you think to yourself, “Self, you should have been more intentional about learning from that person!”

Fortunately, at least in the case of Marilyn, that wish has been granted.  I continue to learn from her through her blog, Communicating Across Boundaries (click on the title to read her blog).  And I am looking forward to reading her most recently published book Passages through Pakistan (click on the title to read an excerpt).

She continues to minister to me; she continues to challenge my apathy towards the “other.”  Most importantly ,she reminds me in her writings  that I am the “other” more often than I think.

“Other” can often be seen as pejorative.  Every time I wrote it in this post, I cringed a bit — I hope you cringed a bit reading it.  But God sent Christ for the “other.”  Christ died for the “other.”  And God commands us to care for the “other.”

Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook a quote that anyone who doesn’t learn English should be sent back to their country of origin — I think learning English is a good thing, something we should with compassion help others to do.  I did not get the sense, however, that this was the tone of the post.

This post reminded me once again that my parents were the “other” in this country.  My friend’s post would suggest that my family should have been sent back to the persecution from which they fled Russia (my heritage is Germans from Russia an interesting history and a blog post for another day).

I am thankful that my family was able to stay in a country where they were once the “other.”  More importantly I am thankful that Christ came for me, the “other.”  And I am thankful to the many marvelous people, especially Marilyn, who remind me of my call to love, care, and minister to the “other.”

Tomorrow’s post will be written by Marilyn Gardner!  Thanks, Marilyn.

March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

Legacy of Childhood Friendship

There is a reason that our childhood is referred to as our formative years.  Although we grow physically during this time, it is not just our bodies that are taking form.  Our personality and our character begin to take shape as well.  It is during this time that what is right and what is wrong begins to take shape in our minds, in our hearts, and in our lives.

Some of this formation is intentional.  The adults in our lives teach us right from wrong, and I was fortunate during this time to have adults of sound moral character speaking into my life — intentionally informing and forming the person that I was becoming.  Much, however, of what forms us during this time is learned unintentionally — by observation and mimicking of what we see around us.

Because of this, many times the greatest “formers” of our character are our friends.

I was fortunate to have many childhood friends.  I would be remiss to try to thank them all by name, but they all deserve my thanks.  But my first friend, the person who formed what the concept of “friendship” has meant for me for over 40 years now, deserves special mention during this month of celebrating the women who formed my character.

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Heidi and me the night of our baptism at Venturia Baptist Church.

Heidi (Tschetter) Olson was my first friend.  She taught me the importance of friendship and what it means to be a friend.

In the midst of all that she taught me about friendship, one characteristic in particular stands out — faithfulness.

Heidi was a friend even when I didn’t deserve friendship; she was relentlessly faithful.

The writer of the Old Testament book Proverbs put it like this, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (18:24).

You see, if we don’t have friends who stick by us, if we don’t have friends who teach us the importance of faithfulness, if we don’t have someone to form our character in the area of reliability, well then ruin will find us quickly.  And in the most formative time of my life, during a time of learning through observation and mimicking, I was fortunate to have Heidi by my side.

Since college, Heidi and I hardly see each other.  She is married a wonderful man, and they have two beautiful daughters.  She along with her husband and me along with my wife stay in contact via Facebook, and we occasionally see each other, but the lasting impact of a childhood friend is still there in my life.  It has impacted every friendship that I’ve had since.

The characteristic of faithfulness that she taught me, however, transcends just friendship. The faithfulness that she demonstrated in our friendship has influenced my devotion to God, my love for my wife, my care for my children, and the list could go on.

I am thrilled that Heidi has agreed to write tomorrow’s post concerning the importance of childhood friends and the impact they can have on us.  I hope that you will gain insight from her wisdom as I have.  She is truly one of the women whom I thank and celebrate during this month long celebration of women.

March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

Dare to be…

Not all of our heroes are people we have met.  Some of them lived long before us, lived in a place for away, died long before we were born.  We know about them through books, movies, or songs.  And though we did not know them personally, their stories have shaped us.

Growing up going to church, many of the stories that shaped my world were the biblical stories.  I heard my parents read them to me, I was taught them in church, and I remember singing about them in Sunday School.  I wanted to “Dare to Be a Daniel.”  I want a sling that went “round, and round, and round, and round” until that smooth stone released from my sling struck down Goliath.  I wanted to be one of the men that made a difference.

In 1979, I would have been five years old, and the movie “The Thirteenth Day: The Story of Esther” was broadcast on ABC.  I remember where I was sitting when I watched it.  We were at our neighbor’s home, Paul and Mary Schumacher.  I still remember that house, the pattern on the kitchen floor where I sat, my parents sitting in the dining room talking with Paul and Mary.

As my parents sat in the next room talking and laughing, I remember watching with horror as Haman plotted to kill the Jews.  I can still feel the overwhelming feeling that I can now identify as injustice at the possible genocide of whole people group.  I remember watching with anxiety as Esther, who was so afraid, bravely put into motion a plot that would save her people.  That night, I didn’t want to dare to be Daniel, or to slay Goliath, I wanted to be Esther.  I wanted to save my people.  I wanted to be made for such a time as this!

The power of story — of narrative — is tremendous.  The stories that we tell our children through books, movies, and songs shape their world.  It informs them of what is important and what type of people we hope them to be.  We can never be too careful in the powerful art of storytelling with our children — or for that matter in choosing the stories that continue to shape us.

Because of this, I fear that we do a tremendous disservice at times within our churches and our homes.  I don’t remember singing about Esther, or Ruth, or Rahab, or even Mary for that matter.  I don’t remember celebrating the stories of the women in the Bible– yes, Sunday School talked about these women from time to time, but we didn’t celebrate them through songs, we too often saw them simply as supporting characters in the stories of men.

I fear that this is a disservice not only to our daughters, but to our sons as well.  They — we need to know of the tremendous influence and power that women have had throughout the history of God’s people.  That without them the Gospel often would have fell on deaf years.  That without them the people of God could have faced annihilation.  That without them the stories of our lives would not be as rich or as full as they can be.

God has blessed me with a son and a daughter.  My daughter, Elizabeth, will be writing one of the posts for this series, and I am so looking forward to it.  I want her to dare to be Daniel.  I want her to have the courage to slay the giants in her life.  But I want her and her brother, Josiah, to be Esther.  To be people of unbelievable to courage in the face of unbelievable fear.  I want them to be people that are made for such a time as this!

March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

Seeking Stillness

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

Earlier this week, it would have been my mom’s 67th birthday.  I say “would have” because she passed away 14 years ago just as she and I had become adult friends.  She loved my husband, and we all had eased into being adults together well.

I was only 21 when our daughter was born.  My mom had raised me to be a woman who could do anything she pursued; however, her most important role in my life as I moved into mommy-hood was to ensure that I believed in myself as a mother.  She treated me as if I were the best mother she had ever met who had the best children she had ever met (even when my son had colic for several months and did his best to prove her wrong).  The four generation photo above is from the day when Kerry and I graduated from college;  she and I stand together while Grandma Lois holds my daughter.

Several years later, just eight months prior to her death, my husband (host of this blog series) took his first senior pastor position at Faith Baptist Church in North Minneapolis.  My mom was so proud!

Within two months of Kerry starting the position at FBC, my mom was diagnosed with a rare and terminal cancer.  Although she tried a brief course of a trial drug, it became clear quite quickly that she would not benefit from that treatment.  The last three month of her life were a quick decline from high energy woman to a woman who spoke nonsense because the pain medications interfered with clarity of thought.

My mom’s life had not been easy.  Various circumstances, choices made both by her and by others, and being self-employed created a bit of chaos.  She worked hard, loved intensely, and championed her children as they became adults, the spouses as we married, and our children as we had them.

As the pain medications slowed her thinking, a different kind of chaos began.  Decisions had to be made, her businesses need attention, and everyone she loved and whom she loved tried to understand what it meant for her to be dying.

In the midst of all of this chaos, my mom stood firmly on the promise that the chaos around her did not determine her destiny after her death, nor did it steal the assurance she knew she could find in the knowledge of who God was, His love for her, and His redemptive plan for her life and the world as a whole.

My mom’s favorite verse, Psalm 46:10, comes in the of a psalm in which David first describes the truth that God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble and then continues to discuss a whole lot of chaos.  Natural events like the ones in the psalm continue to cause fear for us: rising flood waters threaten much of North Dakota again this year, and several earthquakes have devastated entire cities recently.  These “forces of nature” cannot be stopped even with all of our modern technology.

In the midst of it all, the psalmist encourages us to be still and know that God is God.  He is with us in our fears and in the scary and unfortunate circumstances to which no one seems immune.

Through it all, God is with us.  Through it all, God is our refuge.

We can stop letting the chaos pull us toward feeling chaotic.  Our refuge – the Creator of all that is, that was, and that will be provides a peace that cannot be understand simply because He is peace.

During my mom’s last week alive, many people visited her.  Some came with offers to pray for her – healing, comfort, and strength.  Most people left her presence in awe of her assurance that she was not alone and that God had not abandoned her.

Though her death was clearly imminent, she would not allow others simply to minister to her.  She wanted to minister to them.  As she sought to live the mandate to be still and know that God is God, she encouraged others to reflect on their situations and to live in that truth as well.

It is hard to believe that she has been gone for nearly 14 years now.  Though I am not good about always putting this lesson into practice, I do count myself as one of those who benefited from her attitude as she was dying.  Once in a while, when I am in a chaotic time and wish that I could call her, I realize that she would tell me to step back, to get still, and to focus on the truth that God is God.

Regardless of the circumstances around me and the view I have of how those things will go, the truth is that there is no chaos to God.  He is God.  He is my refuge.  I can seek stillness and be reassured that He is with me. Because of that, chaos cannot consume me.

Yvonne “Von” Schreier could have founded the blogging movement.  Prior to her death in 2003, Von had devoted her life to God’s service, her family, and the pursuit of lifelong learning.  For several years, Von had written a daily devotional and emailed it to an ever-growing list of readers. Stacy Bender, Von’s daughter, is married with two adult children and is the online programming director for a small hybrid online school in Minnesota.  Inspired in part by her mom’s writings as well as the encouragement of mentors and friends, Stacy embarked on a daily blog project on August 1, 2011, and continues – though not always daily or even monthly – into the present.

March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

My Barnabas Was a Woman

“…Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”  -Acts 4:36-37

Barnabas was an amazing individual in the Bible.  He stood out not because of his preaching, or miracles, or even because of the numbers whom he converted — Barnabas stood out because he encouraged others.

Encouragement is a neglected spiritual gift!

Barnabas was the apostle who took Paul under his wing and encouraged him — and encouraged a frightened Church to welcome Paul, who was a recent and previously violent convert. Who knows, without Barnabas there may have not been a “Paul.”  In addition, though Barnabas was Paul’s encourager, he wasn’t afraid to stand up to Paul when another young man of God, John Mark, needed an encourager whom Paul had “written off” because of a previous “transgression.”  Paul would later recognize John Mark as vital to his ministry and would request his presence.  Without Barnabas as an encourager, Paul and John Mark may have remained estranged, and they would have been the worse for it — and so would have the Church.

We all need a Barnabas in our lives!  We need an encourager — someone who encourages us but isn’t afraid to stand up to us and for someone else that needs to be encouraged as well.  I have been blessed with several encouragers through the years, but there has been one that comes to mind as my Barnabas — a woman, one of my heroes, my mother-in-law, Von Schreier.

Von would have been 67 yesterday, March 9th.  I say “would have” because she died at 53.  It is one of the most tragic losses in my life because she was one of the greatest blessings.

Von was amazing!  She encouraged individuals that many would have ignored.  And she wasn’t afraid to stand up to others to remind them of their own responsibility to be an encourager.

When I think of Von, Barnabas isn’t the only image that comes to my mind — the other image I have is of a cheerleader.  I mean no offense to cheerleaders, but I’ve never really been a fan.

The unbridled enthusiasm.

The optimism in the face of unspeakable odds.

The unconditional devotion and admiration.

But that’s who Von was for me, and I loved every minute of it.

When she came to Boston, MA, to visit us while I attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, she came to classes with me.

It was fantastic.

Yes, I took my mother-in-law to school with me.  She loved it.  She and Rick, my father-in-law (a man who deserves his own blog post, but my wife wrote that one already), supported us, loved us, and encouraged us through courtship, going to school, and having our children.

And amazingly, they expected nothing in return.

Von continues to encourage me beyond the grave.

NO! She doesn’t talk to me, but her legacy is a legacy of encouragement.  Without her, there is no doubt that I would not be the man, the husband, or the person that I am.

Tomorrow, I’ve asked my wife, Stacy to write a blog on behalf of Von.  I know you will be blessed by my wife’s words and the lesson that she and I both learned from her mother, my mother-in-law, my Barnabas.

March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

More Than a List

I am strange.  Those of you who know me well won’t argue.  Part of my strangeness is that I really like listening to sermons!  One of my all-time favorite sermons is by a man named Fred Craddock who passed away in 2015.  He was a gifted preacher, a devoted professor, and a passionate and compassionate Christian.

The title of the sermon was “When the Roll is Called Down Here,” (you can read the sermon at “Preaching Today” by clicking on the title of the sermon). The text for his sermon was Romans 16.  It’s an unusual text for a sermon.  The text is basically a list of names.  A list of names of Paul’s ministry partners.  A list of fellow believers.  A list of those who made Paul who he was.

Craddock brings home the fact that this was more than a list — “Don’t call that a list.  It’s not a list.”  For Paul, this was more than a list of names.  For Paul, it was the Church.  For Paul, it was the fiber of who he was.

As I read this list again recently, I remembered the sermon with fondness, but I was surprised again by Paul’s list that is more than a list.  What surprised me was the number of women on Paul’s “list.”

He calls these women sisters, saints, and workers in the LORD, fellow prisoners; even one woman receives the title “mother.”  The affection, the respect, and the recognition of these women by Paul is obvious yet too often forgotten.

One can argue about Paul’s theology of women in ministry, but his practice is clear.  By his own words, his own admission, and his own list, Paul recognises that he couldn’t have done it without them.

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The Fabric of Who I Am

As I thought about Paul’s list again, I took Craddock’s sermon to heart once again and began to think about my own list.  That list is sprinkled liberally with women — peers, friends, mentors — a list that made me who I am, a list that influences me everyday, and a list that is more than a simply list.

Therefore, beginning on March 8th which is recognized as International Women’s Day, and continuing to the end of March.  I want to honor these women by sharing a few of them with anybody that reads this blog.  The series will consist of twenty-four daily posts — some posts written by me sharing the impact that these women have had on my life, but, more importantly, some of the posts will be written by these women themselves.

 

I hope that this month you will join me in remembering the women on your list, honoring the women in your life, and celebrating women!