Shades of Blue Christmas

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For everyone having a wonderful Christmas, you may not want to read this. Because it speaks of an alternate Christmas reality. Elvis may not have been the first to do it, but he captured this alternate Christmas reality in the song Blue Christmas. Here’s a snippet

“And when those blue snowflakes start falling
That’s when those blue memories start calling“

There are people right now around you who have “blue memories calling” Blue memories of past Christmases:

  • With a beloved friend, dad, mom, husband, wife, and/or child who won’t be here this Christmas.
  • When paying Christmas bills was less stressful.
  • When we were consumed by the holiday rather than consumed with unresolved health issues.

And if we’re going to be perfectly honest, no one is immune to blue memories calling. If we’re going to be honest, every Christmas has the potential of being shades of blue.

There was another song writer who captured an alternate experience of facing blue memories calling with hope.  Listen to the psalmist’s mindful rhythm.

Psalm 85:1-3 God, you smiled on your good earth!  brought good times back to Jacob. You lifted the cloud of guilt from your people, you put their sins far out of sight. You took back your sin-provoked threats, you cooled your hot, righteous anger.

Remember! First, the Psalmist walks towards the memory of when God was good. He says without hesitation, “You smiled on us and bought the good times back! We remember!” God has been and God will be good to you and I. God was and will be with you and I when “blue memories start falling.”

Psalm 85:4-7 Help us again, God of our help; don’t hold a grudge against us forever. You aren’t going to keep this up, are you? scowling and angry, year after year? Why not help us make a fresh start—a resurrection life? Then your people will laugh and sing! Show us how much you love us, God! Give us the salvation we need!

Request! Then, in the middle of their “better time memory”, they ask, “God to do it again! Help us again!” I believe God the Father longs for moments when His children turn towards Him and demonstrate their need for him. God waits patiently for His Children to need Him.

Psalm 85:8-9 I can’t wait to hear what he’ll say. God’s about to pronounce his people well, The holy people he loves so much, so they’ll never again live like fools. See how close his salvation is to those who fear him? Our country is home base for Glory!

Rest! They rest in the confident hope that God will respond and pronounce His people well. Hope is not wishful thinking. Hope allows you and I to wait with a confident expectation of what God will do.

Psalm 85:10-13 Love and Truth meet in the street, Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss! Truth sprouts green from the ground, Right Living pours down from the skies! Oh yes! God gives Goodness and Beauty; our land responds with Bounty and Blessing. Right Living strides out before him, and clears a path for his passage.

Rejoice! Finallyfilled with hope; the confident expectation that their blue memory does not have the final say, they rejoice. They rejoiced. We rejoice even before God restores. We rejoice because we trust God is still good.

Whenever blue memories start calling, I invite you to model the mindful rhythm of the Psalmist:

  • Remember!
  • Request!
  • Rest!
  • Rejoice!


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Crucial Conversations



So I had the honor of spending the past two days with part of my staff at the 20th Willowcreek Global Leadership Summit up in Barrington, Illinois. Amazing people! Amazing time! And IMHO, an amazing future for Joy! Lutheran Church! Hoping that in 2015 the entire staff and even key leaders in our church can join us!

A friend texted me afterwards and asked me my Summit takeaways.

There was one phrase in one talk by bestselling author Joseph Grenny that I just can’t shake. I’ll get to it in just a minute. First some context.

Joseph was speaking about crucial conversations. Crucial conversations are the conversations we know we need to have but are afraid to have them. Why are we afraid to have them? Because at a remarkably young age we begin to believe a myth that we must choose between telling a friend the truth or keeping the friend. We believe in telling the truth we will hurt a friend’s feelings so badly they will choose to walk away from the relationship.

But, he suggests crucial conversations are catalysts for deeper intimacy and understanding. Crucial conversations actually, if done well and from a posture of humility, can actually strengthen relationships. I believe much of what Joseph says stems from something Jesus said to his disciples.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20

I used to believe Jesus meant that whenever two or more Christ followers get together, then Jesus is right next to them. That may be true BUT, the passage comes at the end of Jesus describing how to deal with sin and conflict in the church. It comes AFTER Jesus prescribes when and with who to have crucial conversations. Maybe Jesus’ primary intent is to let His followers know that anytime they humbly come together to have a difficult conversation … Jesus is right there with them! The one who reconciled the world will walk with us through crucial conversations meant to lead to reconciliation. 

The one phrase that stuck with me AND also summarizes Jesus’ entire teaching on how to deal with sin and controversy between Christ-followers is:

“There are only two responses when the times comes to have a crucial conversation. Talk it out. Or act it out!”

In others words, unless Christ-followers come together to “talk it out” … the unresolved tension and conflict will cause each other to “act it out.” So even though we may not tell someone what’s on our mind, our behaviour and actions will!

  • Passive aggressive comments says something!
  • Ignoring someone says something!
  • Withholding conversation and fellowship says something!

And when this happens, the myth becomes true … when we act out the crucial conversation, people are hurt and friendships dissolve.

People in the church, may we seize the opportunity to dispel the myth that truth share in love damages friendships. Let us demonstrate to the watching world crucial conversations will lead us to reconciled and stronger relationships! Not because of what we are doing. But because Jesus goes with us when we do it.

Amen? Amen!

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So, studying to be a doctor?


I remember walking into my office (aka Starbucks) and seeing a guy reading a book as thick as my thigh!

So I said to him, “So, studying to be a doctor?” (Yeah, I do stuff like that.)

He told me he was studying to be a certified car mechanic for major automobile manufacturing company and had to pass a pretty intense exam.

AND then he proceeded to tell me about his life. He told me EVERYTHING!

Now why would he do that? I was a stranger. This was the first time we met.

Maybe because I just stepped into a circumstance where God was already working.

Maybe because I pray that God will use me; equipping me to be His hope for others.

We became friends. I was given the privilege to speak hope into his life and paint a picture  of how God saw him. I wanted to make it clear that Jesus thought he was worth dying for.

He passed the exams with honors and secured one of the few coveted mechanic spots in the company. His integrity and drive blew me away! And I hope that when he looks in the mirror, he sees what God sees. Someone beautifully and wonderfully made!

I don’t know if he will ever join a church. Maybe. But maybe not. But then again … my friend was a person and not a project. My friend was someone who NEEDED someone to listen, to care, and after earning the privilege … to speak truth into his life.

I took a picture with him to remember him. Prayed for him. And then he moved on with his life. I miss seeing my friend.

I won’t share what he shared in our conversations. But I will share my humble opinion.  My friend needed someone to listen. My friend needed someone to listen and not judge. To really listen before even considering advice.

Listen up! There are people right under your noses that need you.

Your neighbors need you (e.g. the one who lost their job, the one who lost their spouse, the one who thinks they are losing their mind).

Your co workers need you. (e.g. the one who is struggling to balance work and life, the one who is afraid they will be fired)

The parents on your child’s soccer team need you. (e.g. the ones who have children into drugs, into lying, and struggle to know if they are good parents)

They need someone to listen!!!

They all need someone to bring good news in the middle of their bad news. They need someone to be Jesus to them.

I want to help “being needed” less intimidating for you.

I want to help people discover “being needed” is the new mission field for the church.

I invite you to be part of the GO! Intensive training starting August 3rd where you will learn how to enter the new mission field, caring for the people in your sphere of influence by praying for, eating with, and loving them in a way that brings hope.

Join Pastor Mark on Sundays August 3rd-31st at Joy! Lutheran Church in Gurnee Illinois to discover the church’s new mission field; anywhere you are needed.

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In the Word – How Many Baseball Teams Does Chicago Really Have?

Disclaimer: Free tickets to baseballs games in Chicago are the #1 factor determining whom I cheer for.


The Cubs won the World Series in 1907 and 1908 and haven’t won it since. The Cubs haven’t had a 100-win season since 1935 but hey’ve had three 100-loss seasons since then. And the Cubs game in dead last when it comes to salaries/spending vs winning. The Blackhawks came in 1st. Is that a surprise?

Even with these lackluster stats, aask Cubs fan if their team is truly a baseball team, and you will get a resounding YES! If you asked a Sox fan that question you might get punched!  Why? Simply because Cubs fans believe someday they will win a world series. This is the #1 belief. And their behaviors are a direct result of their beliefs. They show up to games. They buy and wear Cubs memorabilia. They do whatever it takes to support their team … period!

Depending on the year Cubs fans may not believe in the coaching staff, management, or even in the roster. But those are subordinate to their belief that one day their team will win a world series.

Primary beliefs vs subordinate beliefs … faith is not much different. Christ-followers have primary beliefs that shape their behaviors and subordinate (less important) beliefs that may not.

Think about the pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church. The following is from the Anti-Defamation League’s website

“The Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is a small virulently homophobic, anti-Semitic hate group that regularly stages protests around the country, often several times a week. The group pickets institutions and individuals they think support homosexuality or otherwise subvert what they believe is God’s law.”

This should come as NO surprise. Their behaviors were deplorable. Why? Because their behaviors were shaped by some very deep rooted primary beliefs. They could even quote the scripture verses that shaped their deplorable behavior.

Other churches, quite honestly, struggle with the same verses that the Westboro folks quote. But, the question comes down to, how do those verses shape their behaviors?

Heck, you may be wondering my thoughts on those exact same verses. All I will say is they are subordinate to my primary belief.

My primary belief (that hopefully shapes my behavior) comes directly from Jesus; the greatest commandment

Mark 12:30-31
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. ’There is no commandment greater than these.”

So whether you are married, single, divorced, unemployed, over-resourced, under-resourced, gay, straight, transgender, white, black, or any color in between, a Sox fan … AND EVEN A CUBS FAN … I am going to “love you the way I would like to be loved.” I will listen to your story. I hope you will listen to mine. I will serve you any way I can. And one day, when we have become friends, we can talk about my subordinate beliefs. Whether we agree or disagree, because I lead with the greatest commandment,  I am hopeful our relationship will remain intact.

And if you invite me to a Sox game or a Cubs game, I’ll be there.

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An Artist and an Actor

Peder Eide is a Christian Music Artist living in Minnesota and travels primarily to Lutheran Churches inspiring parents to be the faith center of their family.

Doug McDade, an actor from Gurnee whose two most recent edgy productions focused on sexual identity, faith, and spirituality.

What do they have in common? They are my friends.

So you could imagine my surprise when I saw the two posters on the community board in a local coffee shop..

What do they have in common? They are my friends and part of who I am today is because of the moments our lives intersected.

Peder Eide and I were roommates at a four-day communication workshop in Georgia. For four days we were challenged to write creative 12 minute messages that clearly articulated a point and inspired action. Peder is one of the most creative individuals I have ever met. He is a Godly man who loves Jesus. And I will never room with him again! Why? Because his creativity is simply intimidating! Where does the guy come up with this stuff! Truth be told. I would room with him again simply to learn from him and be inspired by the gifts God has given him.

Peder inspires me to communicate important truths in a compelling and engaging way. 

Doug McDade and I are newer friends. Another Godly man who loves Jesus. He is a member of the church I serve in Gurnee Illinois.  He invited me to attend his last theatrical production Doubting Thomas. Thomas – a passionate, born-again young Christian deeply in love with his fiancée, seeking answers over his conflict between his religion and his own sense of self and spirit. Oh yeah, Thomas was/is gay. His latest production Doug plays a hermaphrodite (go ahead! Stop right now and google hermaphrodite … I had to), who dances The Fine Line between being a man and a woman, joy and sorrow, acceptance and rejection. Hey Doug, what ever happened to productions like Oklahoma, The Music Man, and Guys and Dolls?  LOL!!!

Doug reminds me that the important truths I am communicating are being communicated to

  • real people with
  • real struggles who may be 
  • really different from anyone else I have ever met. And yet, they deserve the
  • real dignity of being known

 I thank God! Because knowing Peder and knowing Doug will help me know the people who I want to know God more.

Amen? Amen!


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In this house!

family picture v 2It has been a while since I posted here. I’ve been kind of busy finding a new rhythm to life at my new church; Joy! Lutheran Church in Gurnee, Illinois. And although our new church is in Gurnee, my family and I live 51 miles south in Naperville. We will eventually move after my son graduates in the Spring of 2015. In the mean time, we have lots of time to prepare our house before we put it on the market. We’ll need that time!

In a little over an hour, my friend Julie is stopping by to give my wife and I ideas on what needs to be done before the house goes on the market. She’s a realtor. She’s the expert. You never see how much work needs to be done on your house until you know someone like Julie is coming over to tell you how much work needs to be done on your house.

As I was dusting, making the beds, and straightening up I started to imagine what advice Julie may share:

  • “Probably should freshen the paint.”
  • “New carpets are a must.”
  • “Caulk around the kitchen sink backsplash.”
  • “Please clean the garage!”

And then I imagined her saying

  • “Take down all your family pictures so the new family can begin to picture themselves in this house.”

I was overwhelmed simultaneously with grief and gratitude. God been so good to us in this house. I love this house. My wife and I raised our kids in this house. We’ve laughed, cried, yelled, forgiven, and loved so much in this house.  And every picture on on every wall … in this house … brings back a memory.

  • The picture of the newspaper article in the Naperville Sun with a story about the 101 Dalmatians I painted in our twin’s nursery.
  • The picture of Alyssa and Cayla where grandma’s hand is just out of camera range holding Cayla up so she does not flop over on her sister Alyssa.
  • The picture of Adam on his two year old birthday with that smile that still turns my bad days into good days.
  • The picture of my athletic wife kickin butt in a triathlon.

I was overwhelmed with grief because we will leave … this house. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for how God blessed us with such wonderful memories … in this house.

But then I was overwhelmed with another emotion I did not expect. Honor.

  • What an honor my family and I have to prepare this house for the next family.
  • What an honor it will be to prepare the walls so new family pictures can be hung.
  • What an honor it will be to put new carpet down where new babies will learn to crawl.
  • What an honor it will be to sell this house so that some family can be blessed by the neighbors who have blessed us.

Proverbs 24:3-4 ESV  – By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.

The time is coming near for us to take our memories, our precious and pleasant riches with us so that God can fill this house with new precious and pleasant riches for the next family. What an honor it is to be part of God’s plan to bless the next family … in this house.

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“This is Going To Be A Bad Month”


“This is going to be a BAD month!” Three years ago, those were difficult words to hear from my wife because as soon as she said it I quietly asked myself, “When was it going to be a GOOD month?”

  • December was bad because we had to buy all the Christmas gifts.
  • January was bad because we were still reeling from paying the December credit card bill.
  • February was bad because the gas bill that month was higher then normal.
  • March was bad because registration fees were do for all the children’s spring soccer programs.
  • April was bad because we owed money for taxes.

You get the idea.  Every month had the potential to be a bad month! We both had good incomes. We drove used cars. Our mortgage was manageable. So why was every month a bad month.

One day that all changed. I remember that first Christmas my wife and I actually were able to spend the cash gifts we received from our parents on what we wanted and NOT on Christmas bills. December was a good month! But it did not stop there. January, February, and March were good months! When it came time to pay our taxes April was a good month because we had set aside the money we needed during the last three months. And June was a good month even though our 10-year-old van died and we had to buy a new car. It was a good month because our emergency fund had 2/3 of the cash we needed for the purchase.

Financial Peace University taught us how to manage money God’s way. It changed how we saved our money! It eventually even changed how much money we gave. And it’s even change how our children manage their money.

So, whether you are rich or poor, in debt or out of debt, have kids in college or getting ready to go to college, buying a house or renting, planning your retirement or already retired … PLEASE TAKE FINANCIAL PEACE UNIVERSITY! God loves us too much to see the spiritual life of our churches hijacked by financial burdens!

One of my greatest prayers for Joy! is for every member to participate in this class and experience the financial peace Caryn and I experienced. I pray we all have more GOOD months than BAD months. If you have any questions regarding my experience, please feel free to contact me at

Starting March 16th on Sunday nights 6:30-8:00pm. 
Joy! Lutheran Church
749 S. Hunt Club Rd. Gurnee IL 60031 (847) 362-4569


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In the Word – I’ll Be There For You



The sitcom Friends (1994-2004) captured the ideal lifestyle of a 20-something in the 90’s; hanging out in coffee shops with  friends.

Friends had many appealing qualities. I liked the show for two reasons. Ok, three if you include Jennifer Aniston.

First, Friends allowed guys like me to relive our 20’s as we slowly moved further into our 30’s.

Second appealing factor? The show’s theme song; I’ll Be There For You by the Rembrandts. 20-somethings becoming 30-somethings need this reminder. We needed to be reminded that the friends we made in our 20’s (while we were still single) would still be there in our 30’s (after we were married). We danced to I’ll Be There For You  at weddings. We sang it in the car with the windows down. Well, I did anyway. It was and continues to be one of my favorite all time songs.

Ok, let me digress. It’s the first century. A rabbi and his students are sitting around the table eating dinner. The rabbi makes a toast.

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15 

One disciple named Peter responds,

But of course rabbi. I’ll be there for you!

The rabbi pauses. The smile has left his face. His joy has been replaced with anguish. He puts his cup of wine down and looks squarely into Peter’s eyes and says,

“Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” Matthew 26:34

Before the night is over Jesus will have made it very clear he fully anticipates all his “friends” abandoning him.

How can Jesus bring himself to call his disciples friends knowing full well they will abandon him? Isn’t commitment one of the criteria before someone can truly be considered a friend. Maybe Jesus is redefining friendship. Maybe Jesus called his disciples friends NOT based on their commitment to Him, but his commitment to them!

  • His “friends” fell asleep after he asked then to say awake and keep watch. He still considered them friends.
  • His “friends” denied knowing him when the soldiers came to arrest him. He still considered  them friends.
  • His “friends” were no where to be found when he found himself dying on a cross. He still considered  them friends.


Now, in my 50’s. My 30’s are a distant memory. But much like the characters in Friends, I find myself hanging out in coffee shops. I hope I model the type of friendship to others Jesus modeled to us. Jesus demonstrated that friendship has nothing to do with “what can you do for me?” and everything to do with “what can I do for you?” A friend can sing, “I’ll be there for you, even when you are not there for me.”



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In the Word – Everyone Poops


Anyone who has ever changed diapers for a few years knows that when it comes time to potty train a child all options are on the table! Target practice with Cheerios. Plastic prizes for going in the potty. Even story books! I remember when we received this book to read to our children; “Everyone Poops“. My wife Caryn and I laughed until we cried! The story was funny. The story was true. And I think the story helped transform the way my children manage their bodily functions.

Stories have power! Good stories are game changers! What is it about a good story that captivates us? From the time we are born our ears seemed to be tuned to seek and listen to good stories. Stories …

  • teach children to give (The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein)
  • teach children the wonders of an adventure (Where the Wild Thing Are – Maurice Sendak )
  • teach children that change can be good (Green Eggs and Ham – Dr. Seuss)
  • teach children love can last forever (Love You Forever – Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw)
  • teach children how to manage their bodily functions – (Everyone Poops – Taro Gomi)

Jesus was a fan of telling stories. He was a good story teller.  He held people’s attention for hours. And just as they were about to fall of the edge of their seat, he would lean forward and hit them with a spiritual truth that rocked their lives. They would never be the same. We can clearly see why Jesus told so many stories, but his disciples were not so sure.

Matthew 13:10-17 The Message (MSG)
10 The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?” 11-15 He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight

MIND BLOWN!!! Stories create readiness? They create readiness to hear spiritual truths? So why don’t Christ follower tell more stories? Stories before and after encountering Jesus. Stories that paint a picture what it has been like never knowing a time when they were not following Jesus?

So ponder this. Maybe Christ has given each of his followers a story to tell. Stories that reveal spiritual truths about

  • Generosity (“10% – Discovering the Gift of Generosity”)
  • Adventure (“Humble Moments – Mission Trip Memoirs)
  • Change (“From Bed to Pew – Faith Journeys”)
  • Love (“Forgiven – A Love Story”)
  • Poop – (“Out of the Toilet – Walking the Road to Recovery”)

What if God has given you a story to share with people specifically placed in your path by God? And what if your story can lead them to hear the best story of all?

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 

May you know the story Jesus has given you and may Jesus use your story to draw people closer to Him.

Amen? Amen!

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In the Word – The Adventure Begins


Who in their right mind travels with babies 16 hours in the car? My daughters were 6 months old and we decided for Spring Break we would drive to Gulf Shores, Florida. 16 hours of country music all the way to the coast. What a crazy adventure that was.  Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. We went with two other couples who had babies the same age. So in a three bedroom condo were 6 adults and four babies under the age of 6 months!!! Once we actually arrived, every morning was spent transporting all the baby essentials to and from our room down to the pool/beach. And then at the end of the day, transport everything back up to the room. Believe it or not, we are still friends with those two others couples and the kids are all more like brothers and sisters than just friends. And when we get together, we still share stories from our spring break adventure.

Life is either a great adventure or nothing.” Hellen Keller

16 hours in a Dodge Caravan is nothing compared to the first trip Mary and Joseph took with their child.

Matthew 2:13-15  … an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.

Is it possible Joseph woke up the morning after the dream and prayed, “Seriously God! First you drag me to Bethlehem and now you’re dragging me to Egypt!” But in the end, they went went; a 200 mile journey on foot. 2000 years later we still tell their story because “life is either a great adventure or nothing.”. Any adventure God calls us to take is fueled by faith and trust. Their journey inspires us! It reminds us we CAN go where Christ calls us to go because Jesus goes with us just like he did on that first adventure with mom and dad.  Jesus was with them. Jesus goes with us!

January 1st at midnight (about 8 hours from now), I begin a new adventure. Traveling 51 miles north to serve and lead where God has called me to serve and lead; Joy Lutheran Church in Gurnee! Both humbled and excited to start. And as I go, I know Jesus goes with me. Just like he did on that first adventure with mom and dad.

Life is either a great adventure or nothing.

Let the adventure begin!!!



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