Decals, Detractors and Discipleship

“You are a pastor.  Why don’t you have Christian decals on your truck?”


I was taken aback by the question.  I had finished officiating at a funeral and committal service at a local cemetery and was getting ready to enter my truck for the ride home.  Earlier that morning, the young man who asked this of me had already identified himself as a born again Christian from Texas.  He was a nephew of the man whose funeral had just ended.   Before I could answer his question, he added:

“Are you ashamed of Jesus?  Those who are ashamed of Jesus will be shamed by the Lord when he comes again.”

So as we stood there in the parking area, I did my best to explain my choice of decals to him.  I have nothing against symbols and signs on cars or trucks that represent the Christian faith.  Many of my church members have such emblems on their vehicles. 

It has been my experience, however, that such decals do not result in any opportunity to share my faith with others.  Years ago when I had a Christian decal on my vehicle, not once did anyone ask me about it.  Not once.

When I acquired my truck, I put no decals on it for at least a year.  Then I decided to apply two simple white decals.  One says “Bowhunter” and the other is the symbol of the Minnesota Vikings.   These two images have generated lots of conversation over the years…and not just from zealous young men who scold me for not having a Christian symbol.

Time and time again someone will call out to me in the parking lot at the grocery store, the movie theatre, the sporting goods store and the gym.  “Hey, buddy, did you draw for anything this year?”  “Hey, what kind of bow do you shoot?” “Did you have any luck last year?”  “You think the Vikings will have a good season this year?”  “Skol Vikings!”  “Hey, Minnesota, Vikings rule!”

Mind you, I do not start these conversations.  People see my decals and they start talking to me.  And as we engage in conversation about hunting with a bow or the Vikings football team, sooner or later the person talking with me says, “So what do you do for a living?”


It is at that moment that I have an opportunity not only to tell them about the awesome congregation I serve as senior pastor, but my faith as a follower of Jesus Christ.  More than a few times people have responded by asking me to pray for them or telling me about a recent loss or painful experience. 

On many occasions, folks will tell me they used to go to church, but the pastor/board/organist/youth director/secretary/teacher where they used to worship did/said/inferred/suggested something that angered/disappointed/alienated/ them…so they stopped participating in the life of the congregation.  This, too, becomes an opportunity for conversation.  I tell them that I have not always had a positive experience with my doctor/dentist/grocer/mechanic/plumber but I didn’t quit getting my annual physical exam/teeth cleaning/food/engine tune-ups/repairs.  I invite them to worship at Faith and give them one of my cards that I keep in my truck.  If they aren’t ready for worship, I let them know that I am up for a cup of coffee if they would like to get together and talk some more. 

Do I always see these people in worship or wind up having that cup of coffee?  Of course not…but some have responded favorably.  Through the years, a few people have wound up joining our congregation and participating in our many ministries and missions. 

Do you suppose this would have happened if I did not have the hunting or football decals on my truck?

I am not ashamed of Jesus…and I pray that He will not be ashamed of my life and witness when He returns in glory.  Yet after thirty years of ministry, I have learned that we Christians should not be afraid to rethink the way in which we reach out to others with the Good News.  I’m not trying to build a theology of evangelism around car decals, I assure you.  Perhaps someone has asked you to share your faith with them in a parking lot because you have an ixthus symbol or cross on your rear window.  That’s great.  It just never worked that way for me.


As a disciple of Christ, I am in the world but not of it.  Yet while I am in the world, I will hunt and I will hope that the Vikings make it to the Super Bowl again before I am laid to rest.   That said, I will keep shooting my bow even when I am not drawn for a big game hunt here in New Mexico…there’s always next year.  I will keep cheering for the Vikings, even when they finish far from the playoffs.  And I will do my best to share my faith with people I’ve never met before who call out to me because they like my decals.

God gives us countless ways in which to demonstrate our faith each and every day.  Taking the time to talk with someone who notices the decals on my truck is just one of them. 

By the way, I’ve had a few anti-hunters shout at me in the parking lot too.  ”Bambi killer!”  Once in a while, someone will yell “Go Packers!” as I get out of my truck.  Even then, there is a opportunity to talk with these people…and that’s a story for another day.


I must tell you, however, that I am looking for a third decal to put on my truck.  It’s a Christian symbol….but of an altogether different kind.  Read more to learn about it:



Writing about Hunting

God blessed my wife, Kirsten, and me with four beautiful, talented and intelligent daughters. Having lived in a household of five women, I have watched many movies that my friends without daughters may have never heard of or seen.  I’m talking “chick flicks.”  I am not ashamed to admit that I have watched these movies.  Some of them reminded me that I really do prefer films like “Braveheart” and “300.”  That said, I actually enjoyed watching “A Walk to Remember” and “The Notebook.”  If you need to stop reading now, go ahead…I won’t be offended.

To my surprise, a few of those movies provided me with memorable quotes such as “talking about love is like dancing about architecture.”  For those of you without daughters, this line was spoken by Joan in “Playing by Heart.”


To some, writing about hunting makes as much sense as dancing about architecture.  You see no reason to do so.  Those who hunt should hunt.  Those who design buildings should design buildings.  Leave the writing and dancing out of it.

Yet I am compelled to write about the hunt.  Long before I began this blog, I started a journal.  In it, I write down as much as I can about each deer, elk or turkey that I have taken home from the forests or mountains.  I hope my grandchildren will enjoy reading what I recorded, but even if they do not I am drawn to put my thoughts and feelings into writing…to express what each and every hunt was like.

Perhaps it is my way of honoring the life of each animal that died as a result of my bullet or arrow finding its mark.  It may be my way of giving thanks for the meat they provided for my family.  All I know is this, hunting fills me with emotion, anticipation, excitement, wonder and exhilaration. Basketball and football never did this.  When I take to the mountains or go into the wilderness, I am tested in ways that nothing else can do…and for some reason, it causes me to sit down and write.


Fred Bear once said, “I have always tempered my killing with respect for the game pursued. I see the animal not only as a target, but as a living creature with more freedom than I will ever have. I take that life if I can, with regret as well as joy, and the sure knowledge that nature’s ways of fang and claw or exposure and starvation are a far crueler fate than I bestow.”  Those who have never hunted and actually harvested an animal may not understand this “regret as well as joy.”  I have experienced this each and every time I have killed a deer or elk.  It is so powerful that I must write about it.

St  Hubert Stained Glass

Mitch Ballard puts it this way in his reflections on St. Hubert, the Patron Saint of Hunters:  

Regardless, giving thanks to the dead animal, and to God, for the resulting nourishment must be what it’s all about.  Respect for the fallen, and seeking a blessing for the meat, and honoring the death of one of God’s creatures must be the catalyst for these traditions.  Of course tagging fresh venison is the object, but preparing for and participating in the hunt is almost as rewarding.  Activities surrounding the hunt as well as the camaraderie involved with the “tribe” provide untold pleasure as it creates lasting memories. Domesticated animals provide suitable protein but they don’t enjoy the freedom of the wildness experienced by game animals during their lives in the forests and fields.  Our teeth and stomachs convert that deer’s living energy into our own and we owe it much deserved respect.  So, if you wish, say a prayer of thanksgiving when you kill your next deer or elk; just remember to honor the death of the wild animal and utilize the meat with respect. It died so that you might live.


By the way, those of you who enjoy an adult drink called Jägermeister may not realize the connection with St. Hubert.  According to Roman Catholic tradition, he was pursuing a magnificent stag and in a clearing in the forest, the animal stopped and turned.  Hubert was astounded at perceiving a crucifix suspended between its antlers, while he heard a voice from the figure of Christ say, “Hubert, unless you turn to the Lord, and lead a holy life, you shall quickly fall into the abyss of Hell!”

You can read about Hubert’s life thereafter by going online and using your preferred internet search engine.  His is a remarkable story.

Back to dancing about architecture….I mean, writing about hunting.  Some of you understand exactly what I am trying to say here.  The hunt….from start to finish…from forest to feast…moves you deeply and profoundly.  Others of you may never hunt…and have no desire to do so.  I understand. I have zero interest in joining a bowling league and working on my technique…yet thousands of people find this downright exciting and satisfying.  Same with needlepoint and mountain biking.  To this I say…suum cuique.

Even now, as I get up at 430AM most mornings to run or hike in the mountains as part of my training for this fall’s hunts for ibex, deer and elk and hit the gym five days a week to strengthen my muscles for the rigors of the chase, I have started a personal journal.  The hunt has not even begun really, and yet I am drawn to write down my thoughts and feelings in anticipation of what the autumn months will bring.  

I hope for plenty of wild game in my freezer.  I look forward to sharing this meat with family and friends.  Let me know if you are heading this way.  I’ll put some venison on the grill for us.






It Seems like Yesterday…


Grown-ups used to say this all the time when I was a boy. I never understood what they meant. They would talk about events from ten to twenty years in the past and say, “It seems like yesterday.”

As a child, yesterday seemed like yesterday to me. Last year seemed like…well…last year. Things from ten to twenty years beforehand were ancient history in my opinion.


This week I am marking the 30th anniversary of my ordination. It took place on Sunday, July 8, 1984, at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Fairfax, Virginia. After finishing my undergraduate studies at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, then going on for another four years in order to earn my Master of Divinity degree at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, I received a call to serve Christ the King Lutheran Church in Richmond, Virginia. In order to become their pastor, I had to be ordained. Now I find myself saying, “It seems like yesterday.”


I was twenty-six years of age. You can do the math…and many of you are right there with me. We were teenagers together in junior high and high school. Some of us were college classmates in Decorah. A few of you went to seminary with me. All of us are closing in on 60. How did this happen?

I hope the next thirty years do not go by as quickly…but I remember those same grown-ups way back when saying “time goes by so fast these days.” They were right about so many things. I guess they were right about the passing of time as well.

Let’s get together soon…deal? Before you know it, we will be eighty-six.


Training for the Hunt


Most people have a stereotypic image of a hunter…and it is not favorable.  He (never she) is overweight, smokes cigarettes, wears blaze orange clothing several sizes too small, drinks Budweiser (before, during and after the hunt) and shoots his rifle at anything that moves.  He rarely gets out of his truck and usually fires his weapon while seated behind the wheel with his barrel sticking out the window.  If this hunter does use his legs, it is only when he walks a few steps to his deer stand…where he sits all day long taking naps.


For the record, I have never known a hunter who fits this image.   The men…and women…who are my fellow hunters take personal training seriously and would never think of shooting at anything that moves.  These hunters go after their quarry on foot, climbing up mountains and going down canyons, often hiking many miles at high elevations.  While I have hunted with a muzzleloader, rifle and shotgun, my preferred method of hunting is with bow and arrow.  Rarely have I taken a deer or elk beyond 40 yards with my bow.  Many were taken between 10 and 20 yards.  To do this, you must be able to get close enough without being detected by animals that are always on high alert for danger…usually in the form of a predator.  This is no easy task.  Once the big game animal is down, then it must be quartered out and carried back to a truck or base camp that could be several miles away.  If you’ve never done this, then you have no idea how physically demanding it can be.


Training for the hunt has become a year round discipline for me…and a growing number of both male and female hunters across the country.  Today’s serious bowhunter is really a hunter-athlete who knows that legs and lungs must be in top shape if one is to go far into the woods or high upon the mountain without growing weary…or just plain quitting. 

I spend 45 minutes, five days a week, doing intense weight training at the local gym.  I do not lift for bulk…and at my age, certainly not for looks.  I lift for overall strength and functionality. 


I wake up every morning no later than 4:30 a.m. and hike in the mountains behind my house for at least 1.5 hours…often wearing my backpack loaded with 50 lbs.  It is dark on this side of the mountains, so I start out with my headlamp as I await the rising of the sun. The only day I do not work out is Sunday when I am busy with my duties as senior pastor of Faith Lutheran Church. 

This weight and cardio training regimen prepares me for the challenges of pursuing animals that never take a “day off” and can climb mountains with ease.  Organizations such as Train to Hunt ( and individuals such as Cameron Hanes ( and Zac Griffith ( provide the advice and encouragement that many hunter athletes desire these days.  That said, it is ultimately up to the individual hunter to get out of bed when most are still asleep and do the work required to be in top physical shape.  True discipline is self discipline.


Some credit the movie “Hunger Games” with the recent increase of female hunters.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 11 percent of U.S. hunters were female in 2011…the latest year for which statistics are available. That represents an increase over the 9 percent reported in 2005.   Manufacturers are now producing bows and camo clothing designed specifically for women.  My daughter, Melinda, hunted with me in 2012 when we successfully harvested an elk.  She carried over 120 lbs of meat in her pack as we hiked back to my truck that was parked over three miles away (read “Why Do You Hunt” posted on June 28).


Stereotypes are one thing…reality is another.  There may be a few people who take to the woods or mountains shooting at anything that moves while seated in their vehicles. If you see or know of someone who does this, then every responsible hunter I know joins me in encouraging you to call the game and fish department in your state and turn them in.  Doing this is illegal…and does not deserve to be called hunting.  Here in New Mexico, you can contact the Department of Game and Fish to turn in those who are breaking the law (


The fact of the matter is this: The majority of hunters…both male and female…do not take short cuts and do not break the law when they take to the fields, forests and mountains.  They train year round…they are committed to fair chase ethics…and they respect the big game animals they pursue.

And when everything falls together and an elk or deer is successfully harvested, these hunters enjoy the original organic, free-range meat all winter long.  They delight in sharing this bounty with their friends as well.

Befriend a hunter if you want to partake of this feast.  Better yet….become a hunter yourself!

Surviving the Perfect Storm


So it was a “perfect storm” of two illnesses at once…severe influenza and fifth disease…that attacked my immune system and left me temporarily unable to use my legs. The intense pain, frustration and uncertainty of those winter months seem like a bad dream now that summer is once again here in the high desert and I am able to walk again.

Looking back, I realize I have learned some very important lessons as a result of being in the middle of this personal storm:


Some doctors make diagnoses and offer prognoses only within their narrow field of study, training and expertise. I respect the time and effort required to be accepted into medical school…let alone complete the rigorous program of study and training. I admire those who go on to focus on one particular area of medicine and devote their life’s work to that specialization. That said, it was my experience that some doctors cannot see beyond the parameters of their area of knowledge.

I understand this insofar that my worldview is informed and influenced by my Lutheran theology. I look at life, events, relationships, problems, situations, challenges and questions from my confessional Lutheran perspective. For example, Luther’s theology of the two kingdoms makes perfect sense to me. I believe it is based on the truth of God’s Word and does not contradict my experience of reality. However, I have learned through the years that there is much to be gained by giving honest and open consideration to the doctrines and practices of other Christian traditions. I learned to appreciate the blessing and holiness of the Sacraments (Holy Baptism and Holy Communion) not only by reading Lutheran theology and history, but by studying the sacramental theology of the Orthodox Church. I am not a Baptist, but the autobiography of Billy Graham taught me much about some important “do’s and don’ts” when it comes to the daily ministry of a church leader.

This is why I have come to value and appreciate the doctor that finally was able to bring some hope and healing to my situation. She is a renowned neurologist. She is widely respected by her colleagues. At the same time, she was willing to look outside the parameters of western medicine and learn from those who have different approaches to the causes and treatments of many illnesses. I am currently taking herbal formulas for detoxification and microbial defense immune support. Many friends have told me that such formulas do nothing and cannot be trusted. I beg to differ. I can walk again. Not only can I walk, I can hike into the mountains with 50 lbs in my backpack. I go farther and faster on my training hikes for archery hunting than ever before. Trails that used to leave me gasping for air now feel like a walk in the park.

The gluten-sugar-soy-dairy free regimen she recommended for me seemed odd and extreme…at first. Now it is my way of life. Again, many friends said all this talk about gluten, sugar, soy and dairy is a bunch of hype: “just the latest craze.” All I can say is that I am back to my college weight, my legs are strong and pain free and I have never felt better in my life.

Do I miss my green chile, double cheeseburgers from MacDonald’s? Do I crave a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream at night? Don’t I want a stack of pancakes from Denny’s swimming in butter and syrup? The honest answer is “no.” At first I wondered if I could do this without feeling deprived. My health, strength and vitality today mean more to me than any food or treat I once enjoyed. My blood pressure is 111/62. My resting pulse is 58. My waist has gone from nearly 39” to 35”. I have lost 45 pounds without being hungry. So I am sticking with this new way of being, eating and exercising. It is for everyone? Of course not…but it is working great for me.


I learned more about marriage throughout this ordeal as well. When Kirsten and I were married and promised to care for each other “for better, for worse…in sickness and in health,” we were only 22 years old. We were healthy and strong. We did not know then what the past two years would bring our way. Kirsten was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before Christmas of 2013. She has gone through surgery and treatment…and is doing great! Even so, there were times of great pain and sadness. I did my best to be there for her. I didn’t have answers to many questions. I often didn’t know what to say. I simply loved her and stayed by her side. When I was unable to walk and the pain was beyond description, Kirsten did the same for me. We prayed “not as we ought, but as we were able” while taking great comfort in the Lord’s promise that “the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).


My heart is now attuned to those who suffer with chronic illness and pain as well as those who provide loving care for those so afflicted. Until January, I didn’t know much about real physical pain. I’ve had my share of bumps, bruises, broken bones and sports injuries, but nothing like the pain that had me bedridden or in a wheelchair. I am in awe of those who move forward in faith while suffering with bodily pain and chronic illness… and I remember them in prayer each day.

During one of the many medical examinations and tests that were done, I was slowly making my way from the parking garage to the hospital. It was all I could do to put one foot painfully in front of the other as I shuffled along with my cane. It took me over half an hour to cover the distance that would have been a matter of minutes prior to my illness. As I was almost to the door, a car pulled up and I watched as a woman with both legs amputated above the knee was helped into her wheelchair. She looked at me and smiled. As her family wheeled her into the hospital, I turned away and wept. The “old Bruce” would have been in and out of the hospital before she arrived. The “new Bruce” was forced to slow down… and in so doing, received the blessing of her kindness and smiling face.

I am feeling stronger and better with each passing day. My beloved wife, Kirsten, prayed with me and for me each step of this journey. She cared for me twenty-four hours a day. When we were married in 1980, we had no idea what would unfold in our lives thirty-four years later.

Isn’t that true for all of us? We move forward, not knowing what the future may hold for us, in the promise that our gracious God goes before us and will be with us not only on the joyful mountain tops, but even in the darkest valleys.