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Do less, do more

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2013 by scottsund

Dear friends of this blog:
After 161 posts and 33, 750 views over the last 3 years its time to end Look to the North. 

I’m slowly learning that I would rather do less things but do them with more intentionality and follow-through.  In recent months the mix of involvements in my life has kept me running at too busy a pace.  The result is less blogging than I want but also a chance to look over my life and say “what if I do less, could I really do more?”

Answer is yes.  I want to say no to more things, in order to have more time for my wife and kids.  More time to read and relax.  More time to take care of my body and enjoy nature.  Time to worry about less things.

This is a small step but alas, all small steps are the beginning of longer journeys.  

Thanks for stopping by- thanks for being a fan- on Jan. 1 the blog will be taken down.  Until then…look to the north.  May God bless you in this special time of the year,
Scott

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“You’re doing a good job here”

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2013 by scottsund Tagged:

ImageWe’re at the tail end of a vacation in Hawaii.  We pooled together a year’s worth of frequent flier miles and were fortunate enough to stay in the ocean side condo of a family friend.  We’ve had an amazing 7 days of rest and relaxation, swimming and dinners on the front lawn watching the sunset.  

But no matter the escape, vacation is also real life too.  And real life means someone has an earache on day 4 and so we take 2 busses into town and end up walking for a mile trying to find medicine.  Its hot, the kids are complaining, the earache is pounding.  It’s still real life…even on vacation.  I stopped an older gentleman riding a cruiser bike with nothing but shorts on and asked directions.  His long gray hair pulled back in a ponytail.  He pointed us to where we needed to go and his eyes were full of kindness.  I asked him, “How long you been in Maui?” because anyone that visits like me always has a piece within ourselves asking, ‘could I stay forever?’And then from the seat of his cruiser he tells me his story.  “The wife and I came 45 years ago, she’s passed on now.  The kids are all scattered from New Mexico and other places.  Enjoy it while you can- before you know it the kids will be all gone and will move away.  It goes fast.”  His face was kind and understanding, sad from the distance from his own kids.Later at Cheeseburgers in Paradise in Lahaina, Heather makes this startling revelation.  If we go on a vacation every few years, we’ll only take 4 more before Avery goes to college.”  I feel my heart swell into my throat and it gets hard to breathe.  Really?  4 more vacations?  That seems impossible that time is moving this fast.  That my little girl is now a few weeks from 9, halfway done with living under my roof before ending high school.  I have this haunting thought sit in my mind for a minute: we’re halfway done parenting her in our home.  Have we done a good job?  Have we done enough?  For most of us parents, most days we don’t think we’ve done a very good job.  

Maybe parenting is full of so many questions is because we take too much credit upon ourselves.   I know this is true for me, I worry about my own actions all the time.  But then I open the Psalms, and the very first Psalm has this promise:

“How blessed is the man who does not
walk in the counsel of the wick,  (choose wisely whom you listen to)
Nor stand in the path of sinners,  (keep your choices clean)
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!   (don’t ridicule others)
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,    (read your bible)
And in His law he meditates day and night.   (seriously, read your bible)
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,   (you’ll have strength)
Which yields its fruit in its season  (the things you love will grow)
And its leaf does not wither;   (and grow)
And in whatever he does, he prospers.   (and your life will be made whole)

Parenting is a funny journey, at times revealing the very best and very worst of our own characters.  At one moment, I’m the involved father playing for hours in the pool or on the beach.  At another moment, I’m losing my temper at my 3 year old for her temper tantrum about shoes.  Its funny isn’t it?  When we lose our tempers because of the emotional reaction of a child?  It’s like a temper tantrum in reverse.  But anyone that has parented knows they are capable of this.  Parenting is hard at times. 

At the end of a characteristically loud lunch Heather took the littler kids to the bathroom while I sat and held my baby son.  I sat thinking about all these things.  About the man on the bike, about time going fast, about parenting, about the promise of the bible that our fruit will be good if we anchor our lives to Christ.  As I sat and thought, an older man sitting a few feet away (who hadn’t seemed to say a word to his party he was sitting with the entire meal) came over and bent close to me and squeezed my shoulder.  “You’re doing a good job here.” He looked at the baby and then waved towards the stairs all the family had just descended, “with them all.”

 We all need words of encouragement at times to know we’re doing okay.  And the truth is, through the challenges of parenting, we’re doing okay.  Because we are planting ourselves near streams of water.  We read the bible with the kids in the morning.  We pray at night.  We go to church together.  We’re anchoring ourselves to God and trusting Him with making our fruit good.  Making our lives enough.  And I can picture him walking around the busy restaurant of our lives, standing behind us, wanting to squeeze our shoulders and tell us all: “you’re doing a good job here.” 

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The Story of Randall

In Hurt,Questions,Struggles with faith,Uncategorized on May 18, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , ,

If you were at church last week you heard a moving story about Randall Cunningham and Psalm 126.  Psalm 126 teaches us that God is faithful to us, even in the midst of great struggles and heart aches.  The psalmist promises, “Those who sow in tears, will reap in joy.”  The exegesis here is overly simplistic, but the gist is this: take your hurts to God.  Take your pain to God.  Reinvest our seeds of discontent in the soil of God Himself, and He will work with us to make us new.

We discussed Randall Cunningham, who went from NFL hero to despair when he was benched.  He found Christ and returned to the NFL to a record season and a place of joy he hadn’t known before.  And then instead of winning the NFC championship and playing in his first Super Bowl, his team lost on the last second.  He returned to Las Vegas where he had grown up and started a church and started baptizing people in his hot tub at his home.  A year later he returned to Philly to be inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame and brought his son Christian with him (picture below).  Not long after, Randall returned home to find police cars and ambulances waiting for him.  His beloved son Christian had drowned- in the same hot tub.

The pain of a parent who has lost a child is unspeakable.  Let us just pause and sit with that for a while.  I can’t offer any quick and easy explanations.  But the Psalm is an encouragement here…it doesn’t explain away suffering, but offers a hope that can sustain us in our present pain.

How do we hope in Christ no matter the circumstance?  How do we find solace in God’s plan when the current season is difficult and confusing?  Psalm 126 teaches that God has been faithful before, and no matter our current pain, He will be faithful again.  The psalm is hope, like God is saying, “Just stay with me and let Me carry you for a while when you hurt.”  We don’t always know WHY things happen in life, but we can know WHO will be with us when we hurt:  God.  Scripture doesn’t promise a pain-free life, but it does promise a Father who will always be near to us and that a future harvest of joy awaits.  The Psalm promises, “We shall come again with shouts of joy.”  The best example of this?  Randall’s story.  Check it out below…its worth 11 minutes of your time.

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Cisterns

In Keeping it Real,Spiritual Practices,Struggles with faith,The Journey,Uncategorized on March 3, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , , ,

cis·tern [sis-tern]  noun

1.a reservoir, tank, or container for storing or holding water or other liquid.

I was meeting with a friend in Portland a while back when he quoted Jeremiah on me.  Keep in mind, not many people are prone to quote Jeremiah.  But this man, my mentor and one of my best friends, has a way of challenging me to my core.  He said:

Jeremiah 2:13

13“My people have done two things wrong.
They have abandoned me,
the fountain of life-giving water.
They have also dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that can’t hold water.

In the context of the moment, he was addressing one of my other friends who has been having a hard time connecting with God lately.  My buddy, the one being quoted to, opened the conversation by saying that because of the challenges in his life lately, he was having a very hard time remembering that God loves him, and thus, a very hard time remembering that God is real and alive in the world.  That’s when my mentor dropped Jeremiah on him, challenging the situation of distance from God with the talk of cisterns.

I’ve reflected a lot over the last month on this notion of “cisterns”, things that collect water.  The prophet Jeremiah (above) looks at the situation in Israel when people were far from God and labels “two things wrong” whereas I normally just see one.  I look at my own life at times of distance and realize I have had moments where I abandon God, who the prophet calls “the fountain of life-giving water.”  I do this.  Many other people do this.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to abandon God.  I just stop hanging out with Him.  I stop searching for Him in the world.  And then like a relationship once the dating and romance has ended, all that is left is the formal ties of allegiance.  In our daily lives, we can abandon the fountain of real life and then wonder why our life feels devoid of God’s life-giving and life-altering power.  We feel as dry as an ancient riverbed and so we stop going to God, the fountain of this life-giving water.  Those things we seek define us and ultimately fill us.

The second part of Jeremiah’s lament here struck me as convicting.  The Lord says, “They have also dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that can’t hold water.”  In a place like ancient Israel, without literal water you will literally die.  This isn’t just a metaphor.  And because of the arid climate, you either found a way to live near the source of water or you developed containers and reservoirs to contain water for the dryer days and weeks of your life.

Spiritually, how often do we do the same thing?  We go out to “build cisterns” to contain God in and do the good things of our Christian faith.  We get busy in church or in service or get busy trying to do good things for the Kingdom or get busy in a small group or just plain get busy in life.  All the while, if we’re not careful, we’re building cisterns that can’t hold water.  Because at the end of the day, it is the substance of our spiritual life that counts, and not the things we do for God.  What is our life actually “full of”?  What do we actually contain?  What are we spilling out in our actions and deeds?  If we don’t live near the source, our lives will become arid in no time at all.  But if we seek God and fill our life with a fullness of spirit of Jesus, I’m inclined to think it is Him that our lives will speak of.

Paul speaks in Corinthians about our life becoming so full of Christ that like an aroma, we will reek of God to the world around us.  Like the sweet perfume of a blooming jasmine or the robust and flavorful whiff of an Italian kitchen, our very lives will start to smell like Jesus when we drink of Him daily.  Paul writes, “In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent (or odorous) with life.”

What does your life smell like right now?  What is it full of?  I am challenged in this season to dwell on the power of Jesus to fill me up, so that I would be full of His spirit, and not rely on my own cisterns.  From my Lenten journal this week I have written it over and over, “Come and fill me up Lord.  Come and fill me up.”

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Our Night at Arden

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2011 by scottsund

I will confess something to you that I’m ashamed of: old people make me a bit uncomfortable.  I’m not talking grandparents and folks that are highly functioning and in their senior years.  I’m talking about people in the twilight years of their life, living in assisted living or dependent on others to care for them.  I’m not proud of this fact, but I realize it all the same.  Caring for the very elderly is a struggle for me.  This is a weakness of mine.

So last night when our church descended on Arden Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center for an evening of caroling and fellowship I wasn’t sure what to expect.  And more than just apprehensive, I was actually nervous a bit.

The group from our church was quite large and so we started off singing in the dining room to the residents who were finishing dinner.  We crowded in and as our guitarist started playing and kids shouted out the songs they wanted, the group of Arden residents curiously observed us.  Several of the residents were quite happy to have the company and immediately started singing along or quietly clapping.  Many more just sat there at first, eyes glazed a bit and not showing much emotion.  After each song the residents mostly sat there quietly and an awkward silence filled the space.  Then one resident started yelling at the attendants, “HEY!” “HEY!”  It wasn’t immediately clear what he wanted but he wasn’t happy.  And the yelling must be fairly common because the attendants mostly ignored him.  The silence at the end of the songs, plus the yelling resident in the wheel chair, all added up to a bit of uneasiness for me.  ‘Perhaps we shouldn’t be here,’ I thought at one point.  One of our leaders even went over to say hello to the yelling man.  “Do you enjoy the Christmas carols?” she joyfully asked.

“No,” he waved his head.  He didn’t like them at all.

But we continued to sing and more and more folks from our church continued to join us till the room was bursting with people and slowly more and more residents began to warm up.  Some of the older ladies were even clapping and a third of the room was singing along.  Most of them seemed quite happy we were there.  We then split into two groups and moved down each of the two main halls, singing and visiting with residents who were in their rooms.

As our group of parents and kids moved through the hallway singing it was a quite a sight.  Kids banged drums and shook tambourines and we sang our way through the Christmas carols.  Many adults can get so used to singing Christmas carols that they are devoid of much real significance.  But in that crowded hallway, singing to people who had been living in the Arden Rehab Center for weeks or years, the words carried new meaning.  We were singing in a place that doesn’t get much song, and the words had a presence to them beyond what was written in the page.  We were singing about the joy of Christ’s birth to a people who needed a bright light on this dark night.

As we reached the room of one resident named Ron, I looked in through his open door to see if he wanted some company.  We had just started in on the song “What Child Is This?” and Ron was lying in his bed, eyes closed, and he was singing along.  His arms swayed back and forth like he was conducting a huge orchestra from a time in his past.  He was literally consuming the music- it was feeding him.  He continued to sing with a huge smile on his face.  We introduced our kids and ourselves and spoke with him a bit.  His smile said it all: he was so blessed by the voices of the children and the songs about Jesus’ birth.

After everyone had departed and we loaded up the car, we asked the kids what they thought.  My son said:  “The bathroom kind of smelled like old people.”  ‘Yes, the bathroom did smell a bit,’ we said, but what else did you think?  My oldest confessed she was a bit uncomfortable at first but then she said, “In the end I really liked it guys.  We should do it again.”  Yes we should do it again.   In this time of busyness and consumption, it was neat as a church to step into the lives of others and spend a few hours blessing them.  And it meant a lot for me to meet some of the residents, hear their stories, and care for them.  I think I grew a bit tonight, and realize the only way to get over my stupid uneasiness is to spend more time with these wonderful people.  The book of Acts tells us, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”  Yes it is more blessed to give.  Tonight I was reminded of that.  God took my awkward clumsiness and apprehension of the most aged and blessed us with an incredible night.  It won’t be our last time at the Arden Center.  God has more to teach me there.

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Breaking up with God

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2011 by scottsund

This weekend was wild.  On Saturday at 8:30am I sat for 4 hours being interviewed (interrogated? J) on my Christian doctrine.  Before  I could finally be called a Pastor at my church, I had to defend my theology.  This was after turning in a written treatise on almost 60 theological questions.  These weren’t simple questions either.

Sample #1)  What is God like?  What attributed do you ascribe him, and how do they relate to one another?
Sample #2)  How are personal sanctification, the Christian community, and God’s purposes in creation related to one another?

And they go on from there!  So after typing out 20 pages of “answers” on what I believe and why, I had to sit and be able to defend these same beliefs in front of a panel of 3 people.  This was challenging, but also very worthwhile.  Something good always comes out of having to think about what you believe.  Being able to articulate your beliefs is something we should all be able to do.   At its most simple function, if you can’t clearly define what you believe, what will you have to offer others hoping to understand more?

During the panel interview, one of the panelists asked “what is the significance of Jesus earthly ministry?”  I stammered a somewhat un-intelligent response that incorporated “kingdom of God” and “new way of living” and “reorientate people on Gods love”.  Basically I answered a bunch of candy corn fluff that was heavily weighted in the foreign language we throw around in the church of “Christianese.”  Like other foreign languages, for people not well versed in the words and phrases of the church, sometimes theologians throw around “Christianese” instead of actually saying something powerful and true.

Then his follow-up question almost crushed me: “But what does the life of Christ matter to those who have walked away from the faith?  Why does it still ring true?”  He went on to describe one of his favorite artists, a man who had worshipped at our church before, and how he had wrestled with his faith and eventually walked away.  And it hit me then, the importance of knowing what we believe.  In the past, perhaps I was sold a lie that we could hold our beliefs strongly enough in order to hide away behind the invisible fence of fear and self-denial.  Knowing what I believe was really more about memorizing the rule book and trying to follow it perfectly. But in actuality, we are called to know what we believe in order to share God’s love more fully with people who have been burned by people of faith in the past.

We know what we believe, and we can explain it, so that we can be better witnesses of Christ’s love here on earth.

David Bazan, who previously fronted the indie Christian band Pedro the Lion, released an album called “Curse Your Branches” that raises serious doubts and questions on the Christian faith.  Some call it his ‘breakup album with God.’  Bazan himself actually says, “It’s a breakup letter to one particular narrative about God.”  You can watch a clip on 20 minutes here on where Bazan stood with God during the fall of 2009 during this interview.  In the interview with 20 minutes, the interviewer asks “Are you a Christian?”  Without pause, Bazan says, “No.”  Even if you’re not a fan, watch the clip.  It is moving.

But this isn’t so strange is it?  I mean, his honestly and candor is a bit unusual, but refreshingly so.  His story seems to be a common one in so many people who I meet.  So many people get tired of a particular narrative about God, one that discusses God’s great love without people actually being transformed by this great love, and people just walk away.  But let’s be clear, more times than not people are walking away from the Christian church, and not for problems with God Himself.  And it breaks my heart.  It…just…breaks…my…heart.

This stuff matters.  Our faith matters.  It should transform us from the inside out, grabbing our hearts and our minds and spilling out onto all those we come across.  So that we can offer something to all those who are searching for God.  And something to offer to all those that have walked away.

What do we have to offer?  Will perfect doctrine somehow convince those walking away?  No, I don’t mean to say that.  Its not perfectly-perfected theological answers in well rehearsed tones that will make a difference.  But an education of God’s great love story as told by His son Jesus Christ who came to earth so that we could be transformed by this great love.  Thats the only story we need to tell.

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The Weight (and Waiting) of Glory

In Uncategorized on February 16, 2011 by scottsund

A friend of mine is going through a tough time.  See, they are up to their elbows in struggle and frustration and they can’t seem to climb their way out.  What makes it worse is that they continue to pray…and so far God has been silent.  And he turned to me last time we were together and asked, “Why does life have to be so hard?”

Why does life have to be so hard?  Man, that is a question that is on my heart lately with several friends in the midst of struggles.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that: “We are afflicted but not crushed.”  But why you ask?  Paul answers,  “So that we may bear witness to the life of Jesus.”  Wait, wait, wait, wait.  We are afflicted so that we can represent Jesus better?  Does Jesus have something to do with my suffering?

Well, yes and no.  We are told that God only works for the good of his people, but His heart for transformation allows us to be shaped by outside influences on our journey towards Him.  So God doesn’t “cause” bad things to happen but he can still use these events to shape us for His good.  Sound tricky?  You bet.  This same problem of cause and effect and struggling to understand why things happen plagues me as I read through Job.  Job was a man after God’s own heart, but when Satan proposes a test for Job to see if Job could still praise God when his life was turned upside down, God says okay.  The message says it like this:  “Go ahead- do what you with all that is his (Job’s).  Just don’t hurt him.”

Seems like a cruel game right?  Seems like somehow God should protect Job more.  And yet, listen again to what God says, “Just don’t hurt him.”  Job’s possessions, material wealth, physical health, and yes, even his family are fair game for Satan’s test… but not Job’s inner self.

Does God delight in suffering?  No, not the God of the bible revealed in Jesus Christ.  What we learn of God from Jesus shows that God only wants to love us and draw us closer to His heart and His purposes.  And yet, we live in a world where bad things happen, where children die, where sickness spreads and takes thousands of children in parts of Africa each day, where governments of oppression subdue people with force.  And yet, the God of the bible tells us He will protect us.  Maybe not our stuff, or even our physical situations, but he will protect our heart and our inner self.

So as Paul says, “therefore we do not lose heart.”  Though we toil and get battered in this life, there is a deeper hope that we are children of a God who loves and protects us.  Paul writes, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  CS Lewis called this “the weight of glory.”

Through trouble befalls us, we are being renewed not just when we die, but DAY BY DAY.  Every single day we have the chance to draw closer to the Lord, to know this Love firsthand in our lives and use it as our strength.  Though we are on a journey through life where we have real troubles that hurt and confound us, we are to have hope that our lives are building something beautiful, something that is measurable and true.  The eternal glory that far outweighs all the struggles.  And so while we have hope in this weight of glory, we have to wait for glory to be revealed.  It is the waiting for the weight that is so hard.  But our hope lies in the fact that as we live out God’s love with our life, God promises to renew us day by day.  Take heart, in the midst of difficulties, and know your Father in heaven is proud of you and that someday, you will meet Him and know the depth of the eternal glory of Heaven.  This is why we wait and seek Him day after day after day in our lives.  In the end, it will all be worth it.  I promise you.