Thursday, December 26, 2013


My New/Old/Same as always resolution...

I started several years ago making the same resolution every year.  I stole it from the Apostle Paul.  And actually I try to make it my every New Day resolution.

I want to know Christ.

That's it.  I want to know Jesus better.  The better I know him... the more I can be like him.

But this year I have been reading what comes next in Philippians 3.

I want to know the power of his resurrection.  I want to live the powerful life of a dead man who is alive.  Dead to my sin and alive to Jesus.  Not Steve, but Jesus.

I want to share in his suffering.  So I will not be shocked -- or even surprised -- when I face persecution.  I should expect it.

I want to become like him in his death.  He gave up heaven to find lost people.  To find me.  I want that to be my driving passion again this year.  And I want to be so like him in his death that I realize even more that this world is not my home.

To attain the resurrection of the dead.  Maybe it will be this year.  Maybe tomorrow.  Or maybe in 30 years.  But to live every day with the awareness that someday soon I will die... and then be raised to live forever.

Dead man walking.  Walking in new life.

I started that journey over 40 years ago when I was baptized into his death and raised to a new life.

I am resolved to finish that journey.

I am resolved to finish strong.

For whatever God plans for me this year.

And if He wills, I will make this resolution each and every year until I am home forever.  Alive forever.

I want to know Christ.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Will my kids get confused about God and Santa Claus?

If we pretend there is a Santa Claus, will that lead my kids to think God is pretend also?

I have to admit I never thought much about this when our kids were growing up.  But as an elder, I have had to answer this question several times from concerned parents.

So here are my thoughts on not confusing Santa and God.

You can keep Christmas a religious event and never allow any "Santa" stuff near your kids.
You can keep Christmas a Santa event and not allow any Jesus stuff to get in the mix.

And I have known families who tried each of these approaches. But here are some things that may help for the rest of us.

Here is what we did about Santa Claus.  We never intentionally taught anything.  He was the character who checked the naughty and nice list and gave out presents accordingly.  But mostly he was a gift giver and he had reindeer and a sleigh and they ate all the snacks left out.  It was always sort of a fun game.

But God was a whole different story.  Very intentional teaching and very real.  Our family believes in a God who acts to forgive your "naughties".  And a God who enables you to become nice.  God changes the list based on whether we believe.  God was a year long reality, not a seasonal thing.

I never remember talking about whether Santa Claus loves us.  We always talked about how God loves us.  Our kids wrote Santa one letter.  We talked to God every day.

We spent a lot of time talking about the God who gives because he is good, not because we are good.

But a word of warning.  If you only talk about God during Christmas, it might be confusing.  If you believe that God is mostly about judgement and keeping a record of right and wrong, he might sound a little like Santa.  And if you think getting to heaven is about what we do and not what God does... then your kids may be confused.

Of course, I think that kind of God is a whole lot like Santa.  And just about as real.

So if there is confusion in your family about God and Santa, it may be because we treat them just about the same.  And the problem may not be what we say about Santa.  It may be what we are teaching our kids about God.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Why I Like Advent... and why I don't


It is historically been a spiritual discipline in the Catholic church during the four weeks leading up to Christmas.  However, it has recently become popular among many Evangelical churches.

The basic premise of Advent is that joy, hope, peace, and love are coming into this world thru Jesus.

Most churches use it as an appeal to spend less on ourselves at Christmas and instead spend more on others.

Churches celebrating Advent use color, art, singing, sermons, candles, etc. during worship times to highlight the event.

Here is why I like Advent.  Actually, I probably like advent more than Advent.  How can a Christian not like seeing an emphasis on hope, peace, joy, and love?  I appreciate the call to remember that Jesus coming to earth was -- and is -- a big deal.  I like the sense that we should be going into the world to announce this good news.  Spend more on others, less on ourselves.  That is always good advice.

Here is why I don't like Advent.

It sure is easy to get caught up ceremony and miss the real purpose.

Shouldn't advent be all year long and not just Christmas?  Maybe we should talk about using money for kingdom purposes all year long.  What if instead of less Christmas, we talked about less housing, cars, or clothing?

The other thing I struggle with is that most of the Advent talk I have heard is about making people's life here on earth better.  Lots of less for us so we can do more for those who do not have adequate shelter or clean drinking water.  And most of it for people we will never see.

What if advent was really about the people in our lives?  What if it was spending less time on ourselves and more on others?  What if it was about cooking more so you could invite people over to share a meal? Buying gifts for others and having them into our homes to share them?

And God help us not to get so concerned about clean water we forget about living water.  Clean water will not change a life... not the real life.  But it is hard for people to hear about real life if they are dying for lack of clean water.  Maybe that's why the ministry of Jesus had two parts:  healing and preaching about the kingdom.

Water wells as part of an intentional church planting effort.  

It seems to me that announcing the kingdom of God in this world is about people I interact with.  Doing a good deed in their lives, getting to know them, caring for them.  Sharing the story of Jesus.

That is much harder than writing a check for something or someone I will never see.

And ceremony is always easier than real service.

And Satan will may be able to put up with us doing this for one month a year.  He just does not want us to do it 365 days a year.

So should a church practice Advent?  You can find the practices of Advent in the same place in your Bible as Lent, church buildings, and budgets.  So I don't know if it makes much difference in terms of the ceremony.

But advent is everywhere.

So how about we worry less about the mechanics of Advent and let's just go be advent in a world that is dying.

Hope, joy, peace and love.  It is not a season or a church practice.

It is Jesus.  And he is life.


Thursday, December 12, 2013


Happy birthday to my other Dad, Don Herttenberger

Grandpa turned 86 a couple of days ago.  He is Marsha's Dad, my father-in-law.  Here is why I love him.

He is what a Christian man looks like.  He loves God and Jesus.  He loves his family.  He loves his church. He loves this world and wants them to know about Jesus.

He loves the farm.  He can't work it anymore.  He can't even drive to it anymore.  So I take him.  I have learned to love it too.  Been in the family 110 years.  There is something about farming, faith, and family that is special.

He raised Marsha.  He passed his faith on to her.  Then he gave her to me.  I am forever thankful for that.

He is a generous man.  Gives to church.  Helps people in need.  They have fed many people over the years.

But here is why I love him most of all.

He is my Dad too.

My Dad has Alzheimers.  So I really can't ask his advice or counsel anymore.

But for the last several years, Don has been my Dad.  He is the one I talk sports with.  He is the one I gripe to about church.  He is the who I listen to.

He would never serve Southern Hills as an elder.  They asked him to many times.  But I share elder stuff with him.  I ask his advice.  It is always sound, spiritual, and practical. He is my shepherd and I am one of the elders, so... maybe he really is an elder at Southern Hills.

Lots of people at church talk about me and my Dad.  They know he is Marsha's Dad but lots of people talk about us like we were father and son.

Nicest compliment I could have.

So thanks Grandpa for still raising me.  I would happy to be the half the man you are.

Love you.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Happy birthday to my Mom

My Mom turned 83 a couple of weeks ago.  I know you are not supposed to tell a woman's age but that's pretty impressive.  More impressive are the reasons I am so proud of her and why I love her so much.

She has been faithful to Jesus and to her church community as long as I can remember.  She has read her Bible, prayed, served, taught, and encouraged others for all of her life.

She has always supported me, encouraged me, loved me, and believed in me.  Probably even during some times when others were ready to give up.  I am sure some of that is because I am her baby... but a lot of that is because she believes in the power of grace, love, and redemption.

She is very interested in my ministry.  She wants to know about our projects at Herald of Truth and Hope for Life.  She asks about people I am studying with and about people at Southern Hills that she knows.

She really keeps up with her five grandkids and her six great-grandkids.  She prays for them and encourages them.

But I think at this time I am most proud of her for the way she is faithfully caring for my Dad.  Most days he cannot carry on a conversation.  He requires a great deal of care.  It is physically and emotionally exhausting for my Mom.

And she gets up every day and takes care of him.  Because she loves him.  Because it is what she committed to do over sixty five years ago.  Because it is what Jesus would do.

My Mom is smart, committed, and faithful.

So Mom ... thanks for showing your family -- and your church family -- what love really is.

Proud of you and love you.

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