Trials and Joy

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,

James 1:2

the-countLike most kids who grew up in the 1970’s, I watched a lot of Sesame Street. One of my favorite characters on that classic children’s television show was Count von Count. The Count loved counting things. Wikipedia says, “The Count loves counting so much that he will count anything and everything, regardless of size, amount, or how much annoyance he is causing the other characters. In Season 6, for instance, he once prevented Ernie from answering a telephone because he wanted to continue counting the number of times the telephone rang. Another time, while serving as an elevator operator, he refused to let Kermit the Frog get out at his selected floor so he could count every floor in the building.”

When I say that I watched a lot of Sesame Street, I’m talking an insane amount. I know . . . it’s a problem. I don’t remember Count von Count ever counting trials.

Can you picture it?

“One trial (My child just told me they hate me) . . . Two Trials (My work-life is falling apart) . . . Three trials (I have more bills than money at the end of the month) . . . Four trials (My parents are ill) . . . Five Trials (My car just broke down) . . . ah ah ah 5 wonderful trials!”

No, Count von Count never counted trials.

When James told his readers to “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” he wasn’t using the word that we think of as mathematical counting. Many Bible translations use the words, “Consider it joy,” at the beginning of the verse.

Do you consider your trials to be a joy?

I know that “joy” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when I have a trial.

But, when I see God work through my trials for His glory and my growth, I can truly be joyful – even in the midst of the struggle.

So many of the trials in my life have been the exact things that I needed in my life to become the man that God has made me today. James talked about the trials that God brings into our lives as “various trials.”

Can you relate?

Many are the types of trials that each one of us will face in life.

He also uses the tender term, “my brothers.” Aren’t you glad that we don’t have to go through trials alone? James could count his trials as joy, in part, because they helped him grow closer to God and others. When you live in community with other people, trials can truly be a blessing.

A 108 Day Journey Through The Book of James

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

Greetings.

James 1:1

Several years ago, I felt like the Lord was telling me to SLOW DOWN. Everything about my life was fast. I was a husband, a father to four incredibly active and sweet kids, a  youth pastor at a mega-church, a conference speaker, an author – and truth be told I felt out of balance – busy beyond belief. I had come to the point in my life where it was difficult for me to carve out the time that I needed to spend with God. While on a family vacation, I felt like I literally heard the voice of God tell me to take the next 176 days to meditate on a verse a day from the Bible’s longest chapter, Psalm 119.

So, I did. I meditated on just one verse a day. And, at the end of the 176 days, my life was radically changed. I left the church that I served for seven years. I left behind most of the speaking gigs and writing opportunities. I purposely devoted myself in new ways to Jesus and his church. That journey took place almost nine years ago.

familyRecently, I have felt like Jesus is calling me to do a similar thing. My wife and I are in a new season of life. Our oldest two kids are now married. We are thrilled with the wonderful people that God brought into their lives — a new son and daughter for us! We only have two kids left at home. One will graduate this year and go off to college, most likely many states away. That will leave us with one precious child left at home, and that is only for 2 1/2 more years. I am amazed when I look back and see how quickly life can change.

Earlier today, I read through James 1 with my wife. The book of James has been called the Proverbs of the New Testament. It is full of practical wisdom for living as a follower of Jesus. I love this book. Today, I felt like God was calling me to take another journey. This one will be for 108 days. There are 108 verses in the five chapters that make up the book of James. I’m not sensing that God is telling me to only read one verse a day, but I am sensing that I should meditate on one verse a day. So, for the next 108 days, I plan to meditate on a verse a day through the book of James and see what God does.

Truth be told, I’m a little bit afraid to do this. So much in my life changed the last time that I did this. But, I am also excited. For years, I updated my blog several times a week (sometimes several times a day). In recent years I have found myself too busy, too tired, and too distracted to write. Maybe, I need to slow down again. The last time that I did this, God changed me. Several people joined me on the journey by reading along with my blog. It may be that I am the only one who will read these words. That’s okay. I feel compelled to write what God is saying to me, and perhaps he will use these words to encourage you too.

Today’s verse is James 1:1.

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

Greetings.

Such a simple and yet profound statement!

James was the little half-brother of Jesus.Think about that for a second! Jesus was his big brother! How would you like to be compared to Jesus? I can hear it now. “James, why can’t you be more like your big brother, Jesus?”

I’m not sure why, but James didn’t follow Jesus at first. Maybe he was skeptical that Jesus was the Messiah. John 7:5 says, “5 For not even his brothers believed in him.”

In Mark 3:21, Jesus’ family was convinced the Lord was off of His rocker! “21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.'”

Something changed in James.

He was now the leader of the church at Jerusalem, and I love the title that this First Century preacher half-brother of Jesus gave to himself,  “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

That’s what I want to be known as. In a world that values titles, I want my title to be servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a husband, I want Cyndi to know me as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a dad, I want my kids to know me as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a son, I want my parents to know me as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a friend and neighbor, a co-worker and colleague, I want my people to know me as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a pastor, I want my congregation to know me as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a citizen of a very divided nation, where politics are dividing friends and family, I want my country to know me as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

What would the world look like if we all lived like James?

What would our lives look like if we truly were cognizant of the fact that Christians are called to die to self and live as servants? Like Jesus, our lives are meant to be given away.

James wrote to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion. He was, after all, a pastor to Jews, in the capital city. He was the pastor of the Jerusalem church, where Judaism reigned supreme, shepherding a flock who believed that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. James wanted all of Israel, all of the Jewish people, dispersed throughout the world, to know that Jesus was Lord. He was writing to share with the Jewish people what it meant to live as a follower of the Messiah. Jesus changes everything. He always has. Jesus had changed His little half-brother’s life. And, his little half-brother wanted everyone to know how Jesus could change them too!

Who would you write to, if God inspired you to write a letter about Him? Maybe there is someone that you need to write to. Maybe you need to encourage a brother or sister in Christ. Maybe you need to share your faith story. Maybe you need to write a thank you letter to God for all that He has blessed you with.

James ends verse one with the simple word, “Greetings.”

I love receiving greetings from people I have missed seeing. I bet the people who read James’ letter appreciated his letter too.

I don’t know if anyone is going to read the posts that I write over the next 108 days, but for those willing to take the journey with me, “Greetings . . .”

I can’t wait to see what God is going to do.

A Declaration of Dependence

a-declaration-of-dependence[1]It’s easy to look at today’s headlines and wonder, “What in the world is going on?” We are certainly living in times of change. Many believe that the moral compass of America and much of the world has been permanently reset. It would seem that God is nowhere to be found in the thoughts of much of the world’s population.

July 4 is the day that America celebrates her Independence Day. In recent days, upon voting to leave the EU, many pundits declared that June 23 was Great Brittan’s independence day.  Others said that Great Brittan’s voters made a huge mistake. Time will tell. What happens in today’s newscast will not surprise God. What happens in tomorrow’s newscast will not surprise Him either. God knows the future, He was there in the past, and He is right here with us in the present. Are you living in an awareness of God’s presence today?

As we celebrate America’s independence today, I want to encourage you to turn your thoughts towards God. Where does God fit in your life? Is He an afterthought, or is He the Lord of your life? Here’s another way to look at it – is your life one of dependence upon God or independence from God?

When it comes to our relationship with God, we either live lives of dependency or lives of independence. What does God want for us? He wants us to live lives of dependency. Look at some of what the Bible tells us about depending on God:

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

9 The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From where does my help come? 2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that doing things our own way will lead us to ultimate satisfaction. But a life that is lived in independence from God is really a lesson in missing the ultimate point of life. God calls us to love Him more than anything else that the world has to offer. So, in this month where we celebrate our nation’s independence, how about also making a vow of dependency to the Lord?

In The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote these words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I’m so glad that we have a God who gave us these rights. But, even our founding fathers recognized that these rights, lived without dependency upon God were not enough. The Declaration of Independence closes with these words:

“With a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

May we live with a firm reliance upon God this and every month. May we live lives of dependency! As you celebrate your independence this month, celebrate your dependency too!

I encouraged the congregation of Woodbury Community Church to take time this week to write out a Declaration of Dependence on the Lord. Then I shared with them the declaration of dependence that I wrote. Here it is:

“I hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

 But, God, I also hold to these truths. My life when lived apart from You is a disaster. I need You.

 I am a sinner, who desperately needs Your grace. I am hopelessly lost without the salvation that is offered through Your Son, Jesus Christ.

 I am a Christian, who has been saved by grace. I am dependent on Your Holy Spirit for guidance as to how I should live my life, for conviction of sin, and for the courage to live for You and Your glory in this generation.

 If you are the Creator, and I believe with all of my heart that you are, then it stands to reason that I am among the created. I need you to help me understand Your plan for my life. I am dependent upon the wisdom that comes from knowing You and seeking first Your kingdom and Your glory.

 I need your eyes to help me see the world as You see it. I need Your compassion to help me love the world as You love the world. I need your provision to help me provide for my family and to help me provide for the needs of others.

 I need you every second of every minute of every hour of every day. Lord, I declare my dependence upon You. May you help me to live with the joy that comes from living the life that You have called me to. I need Your strength to live that life. I am Yours. I pledge my allegiance and my love to You.”

Below is the sermon that I preached yesterday at Woodbury Community Church, where I spoke on Psalm 34:4-10 and six gifts that living lives of dependency upon God gives us. The sound on the video doesn’t work for the first 30 seconds. I hope that this sermon is a blessing to you.


 

Fitbit + Little Free Library = Literary Workout

About a month before Father’s Day my wife asked me what I might enjoy for a gift. Feeling as out of shape as I have ever been in my life, I asked her if she might consider buying me a Fitbit.

When Father’s Day came my family had indeed purchased me a Fitbit Charge HR. Like so many who have had this little device, I found myself motivated to get in my 10,000 steps a day. The first couple of days I got my 10,000 steps in before breakfast! According to my Fitbit, I had walked over 70 miles in the first two weeks of having the device! That is a huge accomplishment for me. I’ve walked most of those miles by combining my new love of my Fitbit with another love of mine — visiting Little Free Libraries.

IMG_2768Those of you who know me know that I love my Little Free Library.  I wrote about the process of building it last year. There is hardly a day that goes by where I am not adding new books to my library. Over the past several months I have discovered that within a few miles of my house are at least eight Little Free Libraries. (You can find out more about this awesome movement here).

So, my daily walk now consists of visiting anywhere between two and six libraries. Today, I visited six libraries and it took me just over 10,000 steps. If you live in the Eden Prairie area, you too can get in a fun literary workout. I usually begin my workout with 5-6 books in my hand. By the time my workout is over I have made quick stops at several libraries and dropped off a number of books. It’s fun to see which books are still there the next day or two, and which have been checked out. This fun workout helps get me in shape and also promotes literacy and community in my neighborhood.

Homeward Hills BarnIf you want to try my Little Free Library workout, park your car at Homeward Hills Park in Eden Prairie. There is a library located on the Homeward Hills Park Barn wall closest to the basketball courts. Then you can make your way through the trail through the east of the barn and walk into the neighborhood on the other side of the trail. If you take your first left, you’ll be on Tree Farm Road, where you’ll come upon a great library with lots of great books for people of all ages.

You’ll have to walk back through Homeward Hills Park and go west on Homeward Hills Drive to find your next three libraries. The first one that you’ll come upon is on Tanglewood Drive. Take a left on Tanglewood from Homeward Hills, and you’ll find the library located on the right side of the street, about halfway up. Tanglewood is a horseshoe-shaped street and ends up back on Homeward Hills. Take a left and proceed all the way to Riverview Road, one of the prettiest streets in Eden Prairie.

When you get to Riverview, take a left and then another left onto Purdey Road. Purdey is a circle road, and you’ll find a library on that street. Work you way back to Riverview and take a right. There is another Little Free Library located at the corner of Riverview and Homeward Hills. By now, you have visited five libraries!

The final library is located on Chesholm Lane. I recommend walking Riverview all the way to Mooer Lane. Take a right on Mooer Lane and then a right on Silverwood Drive. Then take a right onto Chesholm Lane and you’ll find the last of the Little Free Libraries in the Homeward Hills neighborhood. From Chesholm it is a short walk back to Homeward Hills Park. See the map below, which is from the Little Free Library’s site.

For a longer workout, you could walk to the Little Free Library at the Staring Lake Park Outdoor Center, or to another Little Free Library located on Mount Curve Road near the Olympic Hills Golf Course Clubhouse. Visit all of these and you will have been to eight libraries within three miles of Homeward Hills Park.

To create a Little Free Library workout in your neck of the woods, visit the Little Free Library’s World Map and see what is near you! Happy walking and happy reading!

Little Free Library Map

 

 

 

 

A Country Life: A Collection of Poetry

A Country Life Front Cover ArtBack in August I published my Grandpa’s book of poetry entitled, A Country Life: A Collection of Poems. It’s a project that I’ve been working on for about a year. My Grandpa loved writing poems. He intended to someday publish his poetry, but he died before realizing that dream. I found a collection of his poems in an old file cabinet at my parent’s home. One folder contained several poems centered around the theme of country living. Grandpa had titled the folder, “A Country Life.”

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Grandpa wrote thousands of poems, including poems for two of our Presidents (Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter). One of his poems, celebrating Gerald Ford’s inauguration is located at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

For the next three days you can download his book for free for Kindle. Please take a moment to download the book as my gift to you. If you get a chance to read it, please consider leaving feedback on Amazon.

Here is the introduction that I wrote for the book. I hope this gives you a better idea of who my Grandpa was.

INTRODUCTION

Fishing with Grandpa and GrandmaIn many ways, I had an idyllic childhood. No child understands that when they are growing up. Idyllic doesn’t mean perfect, but I had a home that was surrounded with love. My parents celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary last year. They are very much in love, and never failed to demonstrate that love to my brothers, my sister and me. My grandparents on both sides lived near us. They loved their grandchildren, and poured that love into us with their time, their laughter, their gifts, and their stories.

As a child, my brothers and I spent a lot of time with my mother’s parents. Her mom, Helen, would eventually come to live with us when my Grandpa Art passed away. I was just a young boy when Grandpa died, but somehow I can’t get the memories out of my mind of afternoons spent around his television set watching the Chicago Cubs play baseball on WGN television. After the games we’d sit around his chair and listen to him tell us stories. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the afternoons spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Grandpa also loved the great outdoors. Feeding the ducks at the park and watching his grandsons fish were some of his favorite activities.

My Grandpa Art was a tool and die maker. He didn’t have much of an education. He earned his high school diploma as an adult, and went to night school to become a Doctor of Naprapathy, a system of treating disease that employed no medication but used the manipulation of muscles, joints and ligaments to stimulate the natural healing process. It was something in which he took a lot of pride. I think he loved helping others deal with pain, because he had so much of it in his life.

When he was just ten years old, my Grandpa’s mother died. Grandpa’s dad would marry again. He found a sweet woman who loved Grandpa and his siblings like they were her own. I’m not sure Grandpa ever got over losing his mother, but he loved his stepmother.

The pain in his life would come in waves. When he became a parent, before my mother was born, my grandparents lost their son, Teddy. It was during the Great Depression. My grandparents opened up their home to a family in need. The child in that family had meningitis. Soon, Teddy caught meningitis. He was just a little boy, so full of life, the apple of his parents’ eyes. He died in the hospital in just a few days.  Our English language has no words for a parent who has lost a child. It’s just too painful. It’s not the natural order of things. When a spouse dies we are a widow or widower. When a parent dies we are an orphan. But, when our children die we just grieve, and grieve and grieve. Teddy was my grandparents’ only child at the time.

Grandma and Grandpa with Mom and Aunt Marlene 2The Lord would see fit to give my grandparents two little girls in the convening years. Art’s daughters, Beatrice and Marlene were now his great delight. Eventually two young men, Gordon and Larry, stole his daughters’ hearts. God would also bless Grandpa with seven grandsons (Mark, Randy, Brian and Kevin Schulenburg and Steve, Dan and Andy Pearson) in whom he took great delight, and a granddaughter (Jenny Schulenburg) who was born after he died, and whom he will meet in heaven. I know he is going to love meeting Jenny in heaven someday. She shares many of his same passions and is quite a poet herself! One of the poems Grandpa wrote is called “Jennie.” Even though the poem “Jennie” is about his pet rabbit, I like to think it is a special gift from the Lord for a girl that never got to meet her Grandpa.

In his later years, Grandpa developed severe diabetes. He lost some toes and eventually a leg to the disease. Through all the pain he still had a twinkle in his eyes and a story on his tongue. A relative of mine recently saw some old family photos that I posted on Facebook. She commented, “I don’t ever remember a time that your grandpa wasn’t smiling. And, your grandma was just the sweetest! Loved them both so much.”

n514316325_715930_3287I don’t know when my Grandpa Art started writing poetry. It could be that he wrote poetry throughout his entire life. I think Grandpa’s poetry became a sort of therapy for him. Like me, he remembered his childhood as being idyllic. It was a simpler time. He grew up on a farm in Michigan with parents, brothers and sisters, and grandparents who loved him. This book is a compilation of poems that he wrote, intending to someday publish. I found the poems in a folder while preparing to move my parents out of my boyhood home and into their retirement home. He had put a title on the folder that contained the poetry – A Country Life.

In the pages that follow, you will see the memories of a boy growing up on a Michigan farm from around 1906-1926. I hope that Grandpa’s poems will inspire and encourage you. Beyond that, I hope that you will take delight in Grandpa’s God. He was above all things a man of faith. He loved Jesus with all of his heart. He loved his wife. He loved his daughters. He loved his sons-in-law. And he loved his grandchildren. It was his faith in Christ that was his beacon of light in the darkest of days, his compass on the journey of life, and his hope for eternity.

n514316325_715928_2035The pages herein contain the poems of a man who was continually in awe of the creative genius of God. The poems cover the beautiful themes of family, faith, discovery, nature, scrumptious food, boyhood adventures, busy towns, and sleepy meadows. Farmers, their wives, rascally sons, a hermit, pet rabbits and trusty horses all play prominent roles in the narrative of the poetry. Each poem tells a story of a time when the pace of life was simpler. Families were in tune with each other; not continually connected to electronic devices. Relationships with friends and neighbors mattered. Shared meals, piping hot coffee, hard work, and prayer were part of everyday life for the Swedish immigrants living on a farm near Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Some of Grandpa’s poems share the same title. Apparently, he wasn’t real creative when it came to titling his poems. So, if you see duplicate titles on poems, don’t fret, the content is different.

I hope that you will enjoy A Country Life, as much as I have. These poems have made a Grandpa, who passed away when I was just eleven years old, come back alive to me. The time that I have spent typing his poetry on my computer’s keyboard has felt like a gift to me. I feel like I have received a few more hours of Grandpa’s time, mixed with practical bits of homespun wisdom, charm, and delightful stories.

Enjoy . . . A Country Life.

Sincerely,

Brian Schulenburg

Art’s Third Grandson

24 Years Ago

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24 years ago today, I married my best friend.

She was then, and is today, my world.

24 years ago today, I married my best friend.

She was then, and is today, the most beautiful woman I know.

24 years ago today, I married my best friend.

She was then, and is today, patient, kind, and oh so wise.

24 years ago today, I married my best friend.

She was then, and is today, my favorite person to be around.

24 years ago today, I married my best friend.

She was then, and is today, a competitor who hates to lose.

24 years ago today, I married my best friend.

She was then, and is today, artistic, brilliant, creative, and fun.

24 years go today, I married my best friend.

And, today, I love her more than ever.

Happy Anniversary, to the love of my life. Cyndi, you have blessed me beyond measure, and I thank our God, who blessed me with you. You are a great wife, a fantastic mom, and my best friend always.

I love you!

A Time for Rest

In Ecclesiastes 3:1, King Solomon wrote:

1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

He then takes the next seven verses to talk about different seasons in our lives. As I write today, I find myself in a unique season of life. I am living in an intentional time of rest. And, I have to admit, I am not used to that. Woodbury Community Church, where I am blessed to serve as Senior Pastor, allows their pastor to take a three-month sabbatical every seven years. My sabbatical began on July 1st. The first month of my sabbatical is all about connecting with family, connecting with the Lord, experiencing rest, and trying new things. It’s also been a time of focusing on my health. A few weeks before my sabbatical began I started the online Bible Study course, The Lord’s Table at the Setting Captives Free’s web site. It’s been a great journey and I’ve lost 25 pounds so far. I took a break from my iPad, from social media, and other things that tend to take away from time doing the most important things. Our family spent time together in beautiful Colorado and at our home in Minnesota. I tried my hand at fly fishing, got rained out of a camping trip – and instead enjoyed a “camp-in,” went to a Colorado Rockies game, played a ton of mini-golf, connected with a cousin I hadn’t seen in years, went thrifting, ate out, climbed some beautiful rocks at a park in Colorado Springs, played some disc golf at a Colorado disc golf course, discovered the World Famous Penny Arcade – an incredible retro arcade in Manitou Springs, and I read paperback books – you know the kind with paper and binding and compelling covers with words that aren’t being read on a screen. I have also ridden lots of miles on bikes in Colorado and Minnesota.

Vintage Raleigh bike ride in Colorado Springs with Pike's Peak in background.

Vintage Raleigh bike ride in Colorado Springs with Pike’s Peak in background.

It’s been a relaxing, rejuvenating, and renewing month. 11659372_10153422110744293_2763759449985939105_nBy far, my favorite activity has been building a Little Free Library with my father-in-law. He did most of the work, using the skills that God gave him as a wonderful craftsman. The hours spent in his garage working with him on that project will forever be some of my favorite memories of life. That project has led to hours of painting and then a fun gardening project in our front yard with my precious wife. I have always wanted a Little Free Library. Now I go outside daily to see if anyone has visited our little library.

Our Little Free Library with landscaping

Our Little Free Library with landscaping

Back side of Little Free Library.

Back side of Little Free Library.

Side View of Little Free Library

Side View of Little Free Library

There is a time for everything. This month has allowed me to rest. There have been sweet conversations, devotional times, reconnecting with friends, Chicago Style Pizza at Minneapolis’ new Giordano’s Restaurant, and dates with my wife. Over the course of the next couple of months the rest will continue, but there will be visits to multiple churches in Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Illinois and Minnesota. I’m looking forward to the next two months, but relishing in the season I am in right now.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, my family is calling me to play a game, and then I think I’ll start reading another paperback book.