In Memory of God’s Servant

Grandpa 7

I want to tell you one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. His name was Elmer Steenbock, my grandfather. His story might sound similar to many of his generation – born and raised in the Midwest, fought and was wounded in WWII, married his highschool sweetheart, farmed for a time and then entered the ministry. After twenty five years as a parish pastor he retired to start a mission in eastern Russia, which he worked at over the next twenty years. He fathered seven children, and from them came twenty one grandchildren and twenty seven great-grandchildren. At the age of ninety, full of years, he passed away quietly in his sleep.

These are the facts of his biography, but they don’t tell you who he was. He was a man who knew full well his need for a Savior, who understood the forgiveness and grace he had received from God, and lived fully in the joy of that understanding. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” I believe that Elmer had the as full a life as any man on earth can have.

I have a treasury overflowing with memories of time spent with him and his wife. Sitting on his lap as he drove the tractor around his hobby farm. Singing “Good morning to you” (to the tune of Happy Birthday) over and over again as my siblings and cousins came to the breakfast table, and many other Gospel songs. Helping him light he fire in the fireplace on a cold December evening. Getting scolded firmly for breaking a door latch inside his camper, but then later that same day being invited up to his lap while he read a devotion to the family.

Grandpa 2
Reading to his great-grandsons a book about pirates and potty training.

He had an abundant well of patient love for his grandchildren, a face inclined to smiling, and a pleasant laugh that he let loose freely. It was as natural as breathing for him to connect an event of the day or a news item to spiritual matters. He took his role of patriarch very seriously, always ready and eager to share a prayer or some thought about Scripture. He loved his ale, always had at least one or two cans in the evening, but never once did I see him drunk.

There was a year when I was young that we were selling our house to move to a newer one the next town over. Grandpa came and helped us paint the outside of the old house to help us make a good sale. I didn’t understand then what it meant for him to make that time commitment, but being in ministry now myself, I see now that it was no small thing. But this wasn’t an anomaly; I don’t know how many times over my childhood he and Grandma came to visit, but in my mind’s eye I can see his face smiling in the congregation during the Children’s Christmas program or year-end plays.

For being a pastor, when we visited he wasn’t busy over at church while the rest of the family spent time together. I remember him being around when we were there, and if I knew he went over to church, usually it was early in the morning before we’d get out of bed that I’d hear his truck pull out of the driveway. Yet, by breakfast time or soon after he’d be back.

I remember a conversation when I was teenager about one of my girlfriends. I’d been dating a Mormon girl, and I think he must have met her once or twice. I went down and visited Grandma and Grandpa, and sitting at the table at dinner he asked me about the relationship, how things were going, how the differences in beliefs were impacting the situation. He cared, and he wasn’t afraid to ask. That made it all the more precious when years later I was able to introduce him to the woman I now call my wife.

That particular trip, my wife and I were about to be married and we had just bought a car together – a ’93 Buick LeSabre. We drove it out to Washington to pick up some of my belongings and we decided to go down and visit my grandparents, especially since my mom’s mom had not met my bride-to-be yet. When we got to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, the first thing he talked about was how proud he was of me for buying that Buick, how safe and solid a car it was and how much I’d enjoy having it. “This is a good car,” he kept saying, patting it with his knuckles, his face beaming. After he finished talking about the car, he got a twinkle in his eye and said, “Say, are you a thirsty guy? I bet you’d like a beer, wouldn’t you?” It was the first time I’d visited his house after I came of age. We went inside, had ale and dinner, and then the four of us did devotion together.

A few years ago I was preparing for our annual Premarriage Seminar, and I called him and asked him what he would say is the most important lesson about marriage that he would want to communicate to young couples. He and Grandma had just celebrated sixty three years together. He said, “Let me get back to you on that.” Later that evening he sent me an email with a one page document on forgiveness. He said that if a husband and wife can remember daily that they are forgiven in Jesus, and that if they would show Christ-like forgiveness to each other every day, that there is no more sure recipe for a lifelong and happy marriage.

Grandpa 1

The last time I spoke to him on the phone was about a year ago. He’d had a stroke, and dementia was starting to show itself. But as I talked with him and Grandma, told them about my family and my ministry, he kept repeating things like, “If you just keep speaking the Gospel, that’s what counts,” and “Just keep raising those kids to know Jesus, that’s the only thing that really matters.”

There is no better summary for Elmer’s life than that. “Know Jesus. That’s the only thing that really matters.” That was the core of his life, and it was evident by the peace, joy, and love that flowed out of him. I owe so much of who I am to him and his influence.

He passed away this week. As I write these words, I’m on the way to his funeral. I already miss him so much. But I have taken to heart the lessons he taught in life, and I know I’ll see him again. I know he has gone home, and I will join him there someday.

Thank you, Grandpa, for living your life to God’s glory, and for teaching me to do the same. I hope and pray I can do it even half as well as you.

Laughing with my kids (21 Day Dad’s Challenge)


Today I began the 21 Day Dad’s Challenge. Carey Casey talked about the value of being funny with our kids, sharing jokes and good humor with them, and even being silly to the point of embarrassment with them. The challenge was to find something my kids find funny and share in it with them.

I asked my boys to go to the book shelf and each pick out one book they found especially funny. My Elder Son pulled down a book called Born Yesterday: the Diary of a Young Journalist. The Younger Son grabbed Dooby Dooby Moo (which I think we got for free from Chick-fil-a in a kids meal). Even though they’ve both read these two books probably a few dozen times, when I read them to the boys they just laughed and laughed. Big bursting belly laughs. I don’t know if it was because they expected them to be funny, or if it was just that they really liked that I was asking them to share something funny. Either way, they loved it.

Then I queued up a couple funny Youtube videos that I knew they would like and we watched them together, laughing at the “How it Should Have Ended – Man of Steel” and Batman’s “I’m rich Batman!”, and at a video of the fish vendors in Pike’s Place Market (Seattle) throwing the fish around.

A little bit later in the night Elder Son was having some stress. His video game had hit a glitch, and the time he spent on it was “wasted” (that is, he would have to replay the level). He was upset and wanted to do something else screen related to recover the time. I told him he needed to get ready for bed. He was not happy. But it only took a couple comments about rich Batman and a couple references to the Born Yesterday book to get him laughing all over again, and a few minutes later they were ready for bed and in their room and I was up there with them showing them a card trick.

Humor is powerful. We think of it as entertainment, but it can be so much more. It forms bonds and gives people something to refer to, and it overcomes sadness and frustration. I think it really is a blessing from God, and an essential part of father-child interaction.


The 21 Day Dad’s Challenge is a book edited by Carey Casey, published by Focus on the Family. It contains 21 days worth of Biblical motivations for dads, including a challenge each day intended to help dads grow their relationships with their kids. 

“Women: Be Strong, Be Yourselves, but Don’t You Dare Be Traditional!”

The message of today’s powerful and influential women is this: “Girls, you can do anything! You can accomplish your dreams! Go out there and make your mark on the world! But if you choose to do so by suggesting that being a wife and a mother is a good thing, we’ll call you nasty names and tell everyone that they shouldn’t listen to you!”

This is reality for actress Kirsten Dunst right now, whose recent remarks about gender roles have landed her in some hot water with the feminist elite. Now, I’m not saying that Kirsten Dunst is necessarily the authority on how women should live; I wouldn’t call her the ideal role model. I think she’s a good actress, and I’ve enjoyed watching her when I’ve seen her movies. She has also made some mistakes.

But what she had to say was pretty good:

Continue reading ““Women: Be Strong, Be Yourselves, but Don’t You Dare Be Traditional!””

My Child Listens to My Spouse and Not Me

Parenting is tough work, and sometimes nothing can be more frustrating than to feel like you’re trying your hardest to make it work and it’s just not working and then your spouse walks in and five minutes later the kids are right in line. What are you doing wrong?! Well, Kirk Martin suggested some ideas in his email newsletter today, and I’m providing that for your reading pleasure and benefit. If you want to know more about Kirk Martin and his excellent parenting advice, visit Also note that Kirk Martin will be speaking at St. Paul’s in New Ulm on Sunday, Nov. 3rd from 3-5 pm and on Monday, Nov. 4th from 9:30-11:30 am.

Here’s what Kirk has to say:

Continue reading “My Child Listens to My Spouse and Not Me”

“This is, like, so unfair!”

How many times have you experienced this:

You fall into sin. Bad stuff happens as a result of your sin. You get angry, upset, depressed. You get mad at God – “God, why is this happening to me? I don’t deserve this!” You get angry at other people – “Why can’t you all just be more forgiving!” Maybe you try and sanctify it a little – “It isn’t God, it’s the devil. He’s so awful. He just makes life so tough!” Or it’s other people – “Everyone is out to get me. At least I have God.”

Then again, maybe you don’t know how many times you’ve experienced this because you don’t see the connection. So, let’s try this instead. How many times have you experienced this:

Your child – or a younger sibling, nephew or niece, or a child you care for – does something foolish and wrong. You enforce a consequence, or allow the child to experience the natural consequences. They get mad at you – “This is, like, so unfair!” They get mad at others – “Just leave me alone! You’re all so annoying!” Maybe they try and sanctify it – “The toy is naughty! The devil made me do it!” Or they blame – “It’s just that my brother was being so mean!”

Continue reading ““This is, like, so unfair!””

Call Your Child’s Bluff

Since I get his stuff in an email newsletter format, I don’t really have a good way to link or reblog what he posts. But Kirk Martin has some really great parenting advice and I always appreciate his emails. I decided to share today’s email, because I thought it was especially good, not to mention the fact that I think he was specifically targeting me with this advice. So, what follows is Kirk’s hard-earned parenting wisdom for when a child decides he’s just not going to do his part:

(You can find more of Kirk’s stuff and information about his materials at

Call Your Child’s Bluff

Calm is not a doormat. We don’t let kids “get away” with anything. Quite to the contrary. When you are in control of yourself, you can see clearly and discipline effectively. When you are yelling and upset, your kids are actually in control of you. And that never works well. Here’s a tough discipline tool.

When kids declare, “I don’t have to do my chores,” our typical response is to rationally point out how much we do for our kids, how we need to work together as a family, how important it is to learn the value of a good work ethic for future success. Blah blah blah. Your kids don’t care. So here’s what I did with Casey when he was younger.

Continue reading “Call Your Child’s Bluff”

A Paper About Prayer

This summer I had the privilege of taking a course through Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary called The Principles and Practice of Prayer, taught by Prof. John Brug. Excellent course. Lots of work, but it included good discussions and I feel I learned a lot about prayer. Which seems weird to think about when I say that, because shouldn’t prayer be simple? Yet we, in our foolish sinfulness, tend to complicate what God has made so simple.

As part of the course we were asked to write a paper, either on one of the topics the professor lined out or on our own topic. Of course, I’m always one to strike out on my own, so I came up with my own topic. And have been regretting it for the last few weeks. I probably bit off more than I could chew. But as of tonight it is done!

I post this paper here for your reading pleasure, in the hopes that you might find it of benefit. I’ll make two warnings: 1) it is a bit academic, since it was written for a master’s level course, but it really isn’t too dense, and 2) it hasn’t been graded yet, so it is of “untested quality.”

So, the paper: A Father Leads His Family In Prayer – Brandon Steenbock