The Cops You Don’t Read About

This is a quote from Bob Schieffer, the former host of Face The Nation on CBS, who worked part of his career as a beat cop reporter.

I want to add a paragraph or two to the rash of stories lately about cops gone wrong. This is not about them. This is about all the cops you don’t read about. They deal much of the time with the dregs of our society. The schemers, the murderers, those who prey on the weak. And most of the time, the police deal with them humanely, and as they should.

“What we overlook is just how difficult that can be sometimes. It’s not easy to remain passive when a child-beater looks you in the eye and tells you–you have to understand, the kid was keeping him awake. It takes a lot of professional training and strong character not to respond in anger. I know, because I spent my early years [on the police beat] listening to some of these awful people. Sometimes I wanted to hit them myself. I didn’t, but it helped me understand how hard it is to do a cop’s job right. As hard as it is, the great majority of our cops still do just that.


I Am A Sheep First, A Sheepdog Second

I am 32 years old…or am I 33? I am at that point in life that I need to start doing the math to be certain. As I get older and the creases start to form on my face (my hair has already been intentionally removed with the help of Wahl) and the years pile on to years, things start to happen. Some things become more complicated for me. Things I thought of as clear cut and simple have different sides to them. Other things become more clear and I can feel my soul grip them tighter.

One thing that falls into the latter category of these two is the answer to the question Who am I? Plenty of toe crushing books have been written on the matter but the answer to that for me has become crystal clear and continues to give me rock solid confidence. That confidence is not in me but in Jesus Christ.

What I mean by this is that ultimately, decisively and most importantly my identity is found in being a follower of Jesus Christ. This takes priority over being a man, husband, dad, son, brother, elder, deputy sheriff, runner, photographer, or whatever other roles or interests I enjoy or do. At the center, I am his. Jesus Christ left heaven, became a man, lived the life I could never live, died the death I should have died, conquered death, rose again, and is now reigning as King of this universe. And he did that for me.

Identity is huge in America. We all shape our lives around what we think defines us. Identity is huge in law enforcement. Their are books, t-shirts, gear and pictures that tell us we are to be sheepdogs. Sheepdogs are those who have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens.” They are the ones who protect the sheep. The sheep are the ones who are productive members of society but do not have an ability to be violent. Sheepdogs are the ones who want to intimidate those who intimidate others, and the ones they want to intimidate are the wolves. The wolves are the ones who also have a capacity for violence yet use it against the sheep.

I do love this metaphor. I think of myself as a sheepdog and have seen sheep do nothing and have seen the wolves prey on the sheep. God has established government to have a monopoly on force and be the sword by which he avenges his wrath on the wolves (Romans 13). This is right and true, I believe. Yet, with any good thing, if it becomes the ultimate thing, it is a bad thing.

Before I am a sheepdog I am a sheep.

“My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27

I could never sheepdog my way out of my sin. I needed a shepherd who laid down his rights and went to the cross. While I think each night before my shift starts that I could be killed, laying down of my life could never save anyone from their sin. The shepherd willingly laid down his life and picked it back up. I have heard that voice and I follow it as a sheep. This is what defines me ultimately, decisively and most importantly.

And being a sheep first, makes me a better sheepdog in the end when it is all done for his glory.


A Confidently, Content Exhortation

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

This morning I would like to use this exhortation to not only remind us of our need for Jesus, but to pray for a family that has been very special to Grace Church. We have many new families that have come here over the past two years so a quick history lesson is in order.

Daniel Patz was the pastor of this church for ten years. He and his wife Molly labored faithfully here and their family grew to five kids during their time here. Daniel was a loving shepherd to this people. He left two years ago after we as elders confidently, yet with sadness, affirmed God’s leading of him and his family away from this church and to Northland International University in Dunbar, WI.

He has led the school for the last two years through some extremely difficult times. Their situation looked hopeful last year as they received the backing from another, larger institution that agreed to take them under their umbrella. Last week, abruptly, they received news that this larger institution was rescinding their support. No doubt this has created confusion, frustration and worry.

I bring this to our attention this morning because I want us, as a body of believers who love the Patz’s and are thankful for their work at this church, to pray for them. Let us pray that the students, staff and leadership would have wisdom for their future and trust for their provision. Let us pray that they would not be bitter as they experience feelings of hurt and betrayal. Let us pray that in their sorrow they would be rejoicing.

Our Fighter Verse this week is fitting for this. At its core is the command for us to be content with what we have and where we are. That core is bursting with the promise that God will never leave us and that he is our Helper. That promise is so massive that we do not need to fear anything that this world can throw at us.

The most powerful forces of this world have nothing on us as children of God, bought by the blood of Christ. The strongest man cannot ultimately overcome us. The most powerful ruler cannot definitely enslave us. The worst financial depression cannot ultimately bankrupt us.

Oh, we can indeed lose everything in this life Grace Church. Cancer can eat our body. A terrorist can take your life. A loss of a job could cause you to lose your house. Yet in all of this, the best is yet to come. Why?

Because God is our helper, we will not fear, what can man do to us? If God is for us, no one can be against us.

Let’s pray.


Cards, Math and 121 Holes

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Cancer is a pirate. In the waining days of my Grandpa’s life, bone cancer ravaged his body and turned him into the shell of a man he once was. A body that carried an extra 20 pounds was now depleted to mere skin and bones. A black tongue. A brain that was no longer present. The cancer took away the Grandpa I once knew and left us with six months a slow, life-draining death.

My Dad, Aunt, Uncle, their spouses, my brothers and sisters and our cousins, would take turns providing 24 hour care so that he could stay in his home and die surrounded by joyful memories. I remember him having dreams of being a young man still working at the paper mill he poured 30 years of his life into. His hands would make movements as if he were still operating the machines- the machines that nearly caused him to lose an arm once when it was sucked into a roller. I remember laying on top of him as he would weakly hit me and swear at me because he wanted to get out of his hospice bed; fully convinced he needed to go to work. I remember him snapping out of the hallucination and crying. I remember him asking me to forgive him for what he had just did and said. I remember crying.

Cancer is a pirate. Although these bitter memories are clearly lodged in my mind, the scales still weigh heavy in the balance of the joyful memories I have of my Grandpa. He was a generally happy man that loved his children and loved his grandchildren. His house was a hub of family gatherings in which coffee was always available, cribbage was just around the corner, laughing abounded, and love ran thick. I loved going to my grandparents house. Christmas was off the charts awesome.

His first day of retirement was marked by taking my brother and I to a Minnesota Twin’s game. He and Grandma never moved to warmer lands because to do so was to leave their grandkids and that was just out of the question. I remember their house being a crash site while going to college. Chocolate cake was always on standby as I walked through the door after a long day at work and long evening at school. These memories are the ones that rise to the surface. I remember hearing my Grandpa pray. The quiver in his voice only came on during prayer time and I imagined it was a result of a profound thankfulness to God for justifying him from his sins through the work of Jesus Christ at the cross.

Each year our extended family gathers to honor my Grandpa in a unique way. Our Grandpa gave us all a unique gift- he taught all of our cousins and myself how to play the game of cribbage. The memories abound surrounding this game of fifteen two, fifteen-four and a pair is six. Cutting, dealing and pegging were staples at my Grandpa’s house and he spread his love of Cribbage to us all.

Now, after his death, we gather once a year for a family tournament. It’s an excuse to get together. It’s a special way to remember my Grandpa and Grandma. I love how a simple game has been the catalyst for so much happiness among our family. I love that we serve a God who gives us simple gifts like cards, math and 121 holes as way to create that happiness and family unity. Cancer is a pirate but God is the giver of all good things that far outweigh any temporary pain that he experienced.

I’ll see you soon Grandpa. Not because sentiment says so but because you trusted in the rock solid, complete work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Thanks for pointing me to him.

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The Comfort of The Gospel

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom shall I see for myself and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Job 19:25-27

I read this passage during my devotional time this week and had a soul-satisfying time thinking about what it means for me. Grace Church, today, right now Jesus lives. We can know that our Redeemer lives and at the end of this story we are living in, he will stand up on the earth.

Often it doesn’t feel like that. Ten people die in an attack at the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, Libya. Two thousand people were killed by Boka Haram in Nigeria with most of the victims being women and children. Our sinful flesh persists as we do things we don’t want to do. Loved ones die. Sickness cripples. Our bodies are slowly wasting away. In the midst of all this tragedy and ongoing decay, where do we find comfort?

Where did you go for comfort this week when you chose to sin? Where did you go for comfort when you were blind-sided by depression or frustrated with a co-worker or angry at your spouse or just plain tired at the end of a long day? Did you find comfort in food or Netflix or exercise or sleep or anything else besides the gospel? If your soul first and foremost went to anything less than the truth and joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ, your soul was choosing to quench its thirst by drinking from a tobacco spitter instead of the clear and refreshing water that Jesus Christ offers. Anything less than Jesus cannot and will not satisfy because nothing is more real and more true than the fact that Jesus lives and he stands ready to forgive.

Come to Jesus this morning. Behold his face and not another. The only reason you can be acceptable to God this morning and removed from his wrath for your sin is by drinking from the water of Jesus Christ’s grace and mercy through the cross.


Running and The Glory of God

 

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Recently our family returned from a relaxing vacation in Destin, Florida. The warmth, the beach, the pounding surf, time with family and all the other ingredients that make an epic family vacation were stirred into the two weeks we had together, producing a cake of fine memories. We have too many pictures to prove it.

A top memory that I have from the trip was a run I went on in the early morning while we were there. I stepped out into the 67 degree morning thinking about the bone chilling cold that would have been greeting me back home in Minnesota. Instead, the air was slightly sticky, and a gentle breeze greeted my skin as my legs began churning underneath me. Take me places, Asics.

The first three miles were spent running down old Highway 98 which runs parallel to the shoreline on the Gulf Coast. The road is stuffed with high rise hotels and gaudy tourist attractions begging you to spend money at every turn. In a few hours the sidewalks, parking lots and buildings would be swollen with the bustling of people- but now now. Right now the only thing that was greeting me were the infrequent hand waves from a few other runners and the pounding music of Shai Linne in my ears as he sang about the glory of God.

After three miles I turned around and the darkness began giving away to tinges of light as the sun promised that it would be rising again. I ran across a boardwalk that perched me high above the beach and ocean which allowed a panoramic view. I saw a speck on the beach. Slightly bigger than a speck really, but very small set against the backdrop of a sprawling beach and expansive ocean. As I looked closer I saw that it was a single man sitting on a beach chair drinking in the view. He looked so small and what he was observing was so huge.

I shut my music off and began thinking and processing what I was seeing. This is a perfect picture of God and man. God is bigger than we could possibly imagine. More glorious than we could possibly imagine. As big as this ocean and beach is, we can only see a sliver of it. There are still hundreds of miles of this beach that I can’t see and not to mention the mysteries that I can’t see that lay beneath the surface of that blue, rolling expanse called the Gulf of Mexico.

I kept thinking. Not only did this moment remind me that God is bigger than I can possibly imagine but he is always there. The residents and tourists of Destin do not wake up in the morning and wonder, “Hmmm, I wonder if that ocean is still there. Let me go take a look.” No way. They walk out their front step with full confidence that the ocean will be there to greet them with its faithfully pounding surf. Time and time again. God is like that. He is always there, always working his will faithfully, even when we are not directly looking at it or able to see it.

Finally, I thought about God’s wrath. This ocean, given a little more water, a little more wind, could wipe out all that has been built up along this shoreline. Yet it is held at bay along the beach, occasionally reaching a little farther up with its ebbing tide. What looks so peaceful and glorious could swiftly be turned into something powerful, destructive, and fearful. God’s wrath is kept at bay because of what Jesus did at the cross. We all experience common grace each day as the sun comes up. Yet there is a final judgement coming where God’s fury will be unleashed like a hurricane that will bring his justice against those who have not banked on the security of his Son.

As I finished the last mile of my run on the beach I returned from the place I started. I stopped on that beach. My heart pounding, sweat rolling, mind thinking. I had met God that morning in the stillness of the Gulf of Mexico and was thankful for it. He wasn’t done. That day would be another cloud covered one in which the sun would be hidden from view, but I was to catch a glimpse of it. Between the ocean meeting the skyline there was a small gap of clearness and I could see the brilliant rays of orange and red bursting across the horizon. For one minute I saw the glory of the sun and my knees greeted the sugary sand and I worshiped the living, triune God. For sixty seconds a little bit of the veil that we live under had been pulled back.

I run for moments like that.
It’s seen in the stars
Seen in the galaxies, Seen in quasars
Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto and Jupiter,
Mercury, Saturn and Venus and mars
Back to the earth, it shows in the trees
Each of the leaves blows in the breeze
Locusts and bees, oceans and seas
All the result of Jehovah’s decrees
Observe the way his word creates
Preserves and shapes, determines fates
Reverberates at urgent rates
The earth it shakes with fervent quakes

Imagine it
I can’t explain the half of it
Our brains can’t even fathom it
And language is inadequate
To characterize the Lord on the throne
With spiritual eyes his story is known
From Him & Through Him & To Him is everything
Surely to God be the glory alone
From Him & Through Him & To Him is everything
Surely to God be the glory alone

Shai Linne- The Glory of God


Biblical Parties

My wife loves to host parties. For the last several years she has hosted a Christmas cookie exchange that brings women from far and wide to our house, bearing tins and tupperware containing six dozen cookies. The evening is filled with fun, laughter, sharing of cookies, and eating food.

Before we bought our house, we prayed that whichever house we did eventually buy, God would allow it to be a place for people to come and find joy in God. We wanted it to be a place for the weak to find rest, for the discouraged to be encouraged, for the lost to discover the joy of the gospel, and for the glory of God to be more fully known to those who would be our neighbors. He has answered that prayer in ways we could not have expected.

Thinking about my wife’s affinity for parties made me consider what the Bible has to say about parties or as it’s writers refer to it- festivals. Consider II Chronicles 30:22:

And Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who showed good skill in the service of the Lord. So they ate the food of the festival for seven days, sacrificing peace offerings and giving thanks to the Lord, the God of their fathers.

This festival was a result of the call of King Hezekiah to the nation of Israel and Judah. They had turned away from God and turned to idols and false gods. This was a call to gather together as a people and turn their hearts back towards God.

“For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him (II Chronicles 30:9).”

God was pleased to have his people come back to him with repentant hearts so that he may show them his grace and mercy. Mourning for sin and repentance from it are appropriate and right, but God also wanted them to rejoice in the grace and mercy that he promised to them for their return. A festival was an appropriate response to highlight the grace and mercy of God. The festival was supposed to last seven days but they extended it to 14 days and it involved thousands of animals for sacrifice to God.

Living on this side of the cross precludes our parties from filling our homes with burnt animal flesh, but all the aspects of our parties can remind us of the mercy and grace of God. Parties remind us that God wants us to rejoice in him. Cookies remind us that we are to taste and see that God is good. Friends remind us that because of the cross we can have fellowship with God. All aspects of parties are to point towards God.

I hope and pray that our parties are intentional in this way and remind the people that enter our door that God is to be seen and savored.


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