Together in Blood


A word of caution to my tender-hearted animal loving friends: pictures of chicken butchery will be found below. (Although there’s a good deal more pictures that can’t be shown.)

A quick peek into my human resume before this weekend would have revealed a distinct lack of experience in butchery of anything but fish. That changed on my first full day as pastor of Woodland Community Church, even before I’d set foot in the church building.

It was “meat bird” day at Mike’s, a church member. Forty birds awaited quick and humane sacrifice for the good of the human community. I’d known the plan for months and asked to be included.

Chickens had to be snatched from the pen, arranged on a stump, so that two nails would hold the head, quickly dispatched with a buck knife or machete, hung to bleed, submerged in boiling water, then run through the electric plucker that made feathers fly.

Nothing flippant or disrespectful about it. All serious, interesting, but very curious work. Fight revulsion by grabbing your first bird without thinking about it. Let your new friends teach you. Today’s the day for that. Tomorrow you’ll preach, but this bond in blood must first be entered.


When I’d severed the head from my first animal, my new friend Mike grew suddenly serious. “Gives you a new understanding of what Old Testament sacrifice must have been like, doesn’t it?”

I stood with my bloody knife still in hand … It did. Blood had been spilled, and, as life is in the blood, life had been sacrificed for a higher cause.

We worked quickly then. Not much skill needed out in the yard. More skilled workers (than I) dressed and bagged the birds in the garage. I took a short turn there as well, so as to share in every part of the operation. A kind of joyful, serious fellowship grew throughout the afternoon. We shared lunch (chili, not chicken). I was, and remain, the stranger, then not yet two days in town. But, we’d shared something. They told me of the twenty acres down the road, for sale. “Maybe, you ought to look at it,” they said. Were they serious? I’m not sure …

As much as Saturday helped me know my Old Testament better, there’s New Testament truth here as well. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).

There’s a fellowship for all who know Christ and His Gospel work. 

This bond includes knowledge of Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross, carried out in blood and toward the higher purposes of the Father. For those united under Christ’s blood, there is serious but joyful work. Table fellowship will be found here. New members will join those who have grown up in the fellowship. There’s learning here, and humility.

And, for me, a new community. Sunday turned out to be good too, but Saturday made for a really grand start.


Intangibles …


Unthinkable! … Like shootin’ Ol’ Yeller.

Last week we sold the Growing Up House, as we call it—the place we about promised (okay, planned) for our kids to grow up in. Still sorting out the emotions as I am, I’ll only recount the process.

Negotiations took place over three days. Our buyer started low, then showed earnestness as we went along. Finally, we were down to the last move. We weren’t where we’d thought we’d be. Not a bad deal, but not where people had told us we’d be. We held our ground. “Let him suck up the last thousand …”

Then, after our final counter-offer had been called in, but before it had been signed, a bubbling thought broke the surface: There’s intangibles at play here … like being together sooner in our rental up North … like having this business behind us before I move (solo) and begin pastoring Woodland Community Church … like not having to negotiate another deal while Amanda and I are six hours apart … like not contending with cell phones that barely work out in the woods … like not dragging Woodland through the winter with a pastor who has a house to sell … like joining my kids as we swim and fish and run wild in the North Woods …

Enough already! Let’s all pray about something else.

We were in the van just minutes before the deadline. I called it in … deal done.Then I texted in the final terms while sitting at my own, old wooden desk, now in the church library. Finally, I had myself a little cry …

The Christian life is filled with intangibles. Jesus said as much, Luke 16:9: ” … make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteousness wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” 

That passage is worthy of further study. Jesus isn’t being a push-over, a sucker. He’s not giving away the farm. In fact, He’s being shrewd, but in a currency that counts for eternity. Jesus is talking about the intangibles that can’t be bought, sold, measured or valued in our everyday economy. An earthly fortune won’t get you to the table in a deal for the intangibles.

We won’t be richer over this deal. Oh, but, the more I think about this, the more I think we made out like bandits, in what really matters.

Assuming this deal goes through, we’ve cut the flotsam and gotten back to people. Sunday, I’ll worship with our new church family. Amanda will pack up the house and join me in October. The kids are aufgepumpt (all pumped up) about life in our delightful snowbird-family rental on Rib Lake.

It’s all eyes forward. It’s life lived in the intangibles.


Grace for the Next Thing


Sunday we said good-bye.

That’s farewell to Faith Bible Church, the church that found us nine years ago when we were younger and vulnerable and looked terrible on paper. (At our first contact with Pastor Steve and Faith, Amanda had taken the two babies and gone to her mother in Wisconsin. I’d remained in Germany to finish the mission work and was sleeping nights in my tent—just for fun, but also because students filled the mission building.) Other churches thought us missionary burn-outs, I’m sure.

Faith found us. Now, after nine years have passed like the sucking sound of the midnight express, it’s time to say good-bye.

I expected seventy-five people to turn up for our potluck. But, our church family filled the place. I’d planned a little speech of gratitude. But, I got overwhelmed and forgot most of it. Amanda too. It was just too much love and gratitude … Probably best. It was about the nine years, and not to be a swan song. And, it wasn’t about us at all, not really.

Here’s what I meant in my teary-eyed little speech:

The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 1:21-24, shows his heart to the Philippians—For to me is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 

Lots about this doesn’t apply to me, right now—not contemplating dying, at the moment, and not staying, to name two. But, something strikes me here, something that ties me to the Apostle:

We both know what it is to want more than one thing.

In a profound way, we don’t want to depart Iowa and Faith Bible. We love the church that has grieved and celebrated with us, watched us bring home babies, and shared our personal tragedies and joys. We like our solid little Craftsman home and will dearly miss our walks and our life in our charming and historic neighborhood.

But, we want something else. We want to follow the Lord’s leading to our new church family in Westboro/Rib Lake, Wisconsin. We want to add the family of Woodland Community Church to the big, joyful, collective family made up of all those we’ve known and loved.

But, right now, between the two, this death and rebirth feels like grief.

And that’s life between Christ’s two comings. Someone dies, a baby is born. In order to arrive, we have to leave. We can’t have everything, and we can’t even have more than one thing, sometimes.

But, we can have grace for the next thing. The present thing. But, to know that grace there has to be a giving up. Paul said as much, in Acts 20:24, as the Ephesian elders wept at his parting—But, I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course in the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 

There’s single-mindedness there. And, if I’ve learned anything from my Faith Bible family, there is joy in the doing of it. And, in the doing of it, there’s a longing for Christ’s coming when all our desires will be joined.





Made by Hands

Second Corinthians 5:21 promises that, for those in Christ, this life leads to another. In that time and place, we’ll be housed in a dwelling of God’s creation, “… a house not made with hands.”

Deep thoughts for Labor Day! A time usually set aside from thinking of sweat and toil.

There’s refreshing implications here—for my hope beyond this life, for the security I find in the stuff and matter of this earth. But, there’s a flip-side implication as well: While we’re in this life, handwork (together with its grit and grime) does matter.


In several of my former lives (being figurative here) I did not believe this. In my liberal arts past, loving the iron of English and the stuff of great thoughts, I thought that real work, my work at least, should involve nothing practical. I was young then. Later, in my work in New Testament, same thing. I grew a little less young …

Since, I’ve found that the closer I read Scripture the more God’s Word and God’s world merge in this life. 

Living life in relationship helps. A dirty deck becomes a journey of discovery with my nine year-old son, Jack, and I. A faulty sump pump switch, then a clogged evacuation line, becomes opportunity for humility in asking for help from church member and manual arts mentor friend, Greig. (There’s others in Greig’s mold, Ed, Steve, Larry. I call them my “mighty men,” those further along in the manual arts and, thus, able to teach me.) Discipleship is the word I’m looking for here.

In the end, there is a kind of preparation for the next life that takes place when we work with our hands, particularly with others. We find it with those we help, and those who help us. And we learn … that while God prepares our future without hands, He meets our needs in this life with hands—our own and, frequently, the hands of others.

There’s another verse that comes to mind. Psalm 90:17 reads, Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands. 

And so, while we travel this life with others, God’s Word and world form a pleasant marriage. And, we work.

Version 2