Bruce Gunderson: The Passing of a Pentecostal Preacher

I have gone back and forth about writing up a blog post about the passing of my father-in-law, Bruce William Gunderson (Nov. 17, 1948-Dec. 16, 2018), who died at home Sunday morning. I had been by his side for nearly two weeks, but had returned home briefly Saturday evening to be with my four kids and preach in the morning before heading back to his bed-side. He passed before I could return. I received the call shortly before preaching. I write what follows simply as a reflection on a number of the ways in which his life and ministry were a shining example to me (and many others) of a faithful Spirit-filled preacher (not to mention the other relationships in his life).

I first met Bruce a little over 22 years ago while working at Lakewood Park Bible Camp. His daughter, Jenn, was also working for the camp on a ministry scholarship that the two of us had received. Bruce started up a conversation asking me about my calling to the ministry. I shared my heart for missions, Muslims, and Iran. Bruce took it all in with numerous questions (as was typical I would find), but eventually was satisfied by my answers sufficiently to meander elsewhere at the camp. I later discovered he had determined I would be a good fit for his daughter (without telling me this). We were not dating at the time, but it would be less than a year later that we would be married. Bruce welcomed me into his family of what would be seven girls and two boys.

Bruce was one of my all time favorite preachers to listen to: the power of his booming baritone voice, his cadence as he broke into an old hymn as he preached, his pointed prophetic calls to hear the word and offer obedience. Scripture would flow from his heart where he had committed it to memory. I have often found myself reflecting him in my own preaching and teaching ministry. He was persuaded of the simplicity of the good news making it accessible to all ages, but offering depth of thought and insight to fire up the imaginations of those willing to dig deeper.

Bruce had felt a call to ministry while a Catholic, but found few answers to the many questions he was asking. While he initially trained as a science teacher in Bismarck he would actually receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit by simply reading the book of Acts and asking the Lord to do for him what he read. It would be a while before he would have some Church of God folks speak to him about “tongues” to which he replied had already been doing in his prayer life. Bruce eventually graduated from the Church of God Bible college located in Minot, ND. He would eventually take his first pastorate at a non-denominational Pentecostal church in Watford City, ND. When he led this church into a merger with the local Assembly of God he ended up joining the A/G and pastoring several more congregations across ND (Golden Valley, Halliday, and Carrington). Bruce would hold revival services in several states, speak for a number of camps across the region, and serve on multiple ministry boards (such as Lakewood Park Bible Camp and Teen Challenge in ND). His commitment to rural Pentecostal ministry has been a remarkable demonstration of the faithfulness of the Lord. Many have come to know Jesus, to be healed, delivered, and baptized in water and the Spirit through Bruce’s faithful service.

Bruce inspired me to pastor. When I was unsure of myself to take a church, it was Bruce who prophetically drew the pastoral gifts out of me. He spoke confidently that the Lord had indeed called and gifted me to pastor. I took my first church the day after graduating Bible college because of his inspiring words over me. And when I faced difficulties and had questions, I knew I could call Bruce and he would offer wisdom that I simply did not hear elsewhere. I even remember once having my own dad (himself a pastor) call me asking for advice on some pastoral issue, and I told him, “Call Bruce. He will tell you things others won’t and even if you don’t agree with him, he will have provoked such new thoughts that you will be able to discern what you are supposed to do.” And that was exactly what my dad did. Dad called me later to say I was spot on about Bruce’s wisdom. I always knew if I asked Bruce about any passage of Scripture, theological or pastoral issue, that he would offer insights one did not find in books and commentaries. He always seemed to have a way of seeing things slant in a way that was both uplifting and positive toward a solution.

Bruce was passionate about living the kingdom of God in the power of the Spirit. He loved people and he loved telling people about the goodness of God and about life in Jesus. I can remember his ministry to Nicaragua where he looked to bring many dozens of glasses for those lacking proper vision care. I think of his making many (MANY) dozens of pizzas for a missions fund-raiser for his church in Halliday, ND (this may have been one of the reasons he was elected mayor as a write-in against an incumbent because some folks wanted him to run). Just about six weeks ago he returned from ministry in India where he was able to help train pastors, build a church building, and minister in preaching. He had been having great difficulty walking as he prepared to leave for this ministry trip enough that I worried how he might do. I asked him how it went when he returned and he told me he felt greater strength and health than he had in years in those two weeks of ministry. He was persuaded the Spirit had enabled him to do the work Jesus had called him to do. The renal cancer that took his life these weeks later would not keep him from declaring Jesus as Lord in India. And I praise the Lord for his vision and passion and obedience.

Bruce has not simply been my father-in-law these last 21+ years … he has been my friend and mentor. I have loved him like a father. He has given me an example to follow in following Jesus. And I am blessed to have shared life with him, to have received teaching, preaching and prophetic words from him. To have been encouraged, challenged and comforted. I am ever grateful to have spent the last two weeks holding his hand, praying with him, reading Scripture, and singing over him. I carry his passion for Jesus and people in my heart! Thank you Bruce for loving Jesus and loving people well!!!

Thoughts in a Day: Some Reflections

It has been a full day (though many feel that way). It has also been a good day. I was just reflecting on some of the happenings of the day and the goodness of God through it all.

  • A video chat with a friend not seen nearly often enough who is ministering elsewhere in the world and just needing some encouragement, an ear to hear, and prayers shared.
  • Sitting with my daughter Abbi (who skipped a class at the high school) in chapel to hear a missionary testifying about their calling to share Jesus. And knowing that she is stirred (as I am) to share Jesus to the ends of the earth.
  • Running into a man who recognized me as the mission leader that brought a team of Americans to work in another country where he was an intern placed in my team. He shared the way that was a decisive time for him and how he has given the rest of his life to serving full-time in missions.
  • Intending to go to coffee only to discover a student waiting patiently for me at my office to discuss a Scripture that they are wrestling with and finding themselves overcome by this Word as we read, meditate, discuss, consider, and reflect on the text before us to hear what the Spirit is saying.
  • Making a new friend who also loves Muslim peoples and invited me to do some writing with him for others on this topic.
  • Interviewing a couple of ministerial students as they share their callings and journey toward vocational ministry where our Biblical and Theological Studies faculty speak prophetically over them and offer heart-felt prayers for them.
  • Discussing the traumas of specific people in a class on Jeremiah where words seemed to fail as we felt some manner of the weight of judgment, sorrows, and pain and the manner in which the LORD takes these up into himself in suffering alongside us and for us.
  • Participating in a faculty in-service meeting led by a great missionary leader who shared his own testimony of God’s calling for him to “stay” as a mobilizer of others and hearing my own journey in those words (even as we are both committed to “going”).
  • Hearing a student who was so moved by a sermon last year in chapel that they have been on a quest to become a voice for the voiceless and thus led a couple of hours of spirited discussion among faculty, staff, students and community members regarding our responsibilities to be just and live justly reflecting Jesus in all spheres of life.

I find my heart full and my thoughts tracing through this day. I’m grateful. And God is good.

Where He Leads I'll Follow

The Winding Path - Leiden, Zuid Holland
The Winding Path – Leiden, Zuid Holland

I never cease being surprised by the many places the Lord will take those who follow his calling. One could never conceive what such a journey might look like. Following Jesus is an adventure.
As a newborn I was prayed over in the Block Memorial Chapel of Trinity Bible Institute (now College and Graduate School). I had been born just a few blocks away in the old hospital in Ellendale, North Dakota. A visiting evangelist prayed blessings over me that someday I might preach Jesus to many around the world.
As a sixteen year old, I heard the voice of Jesus calling me in a church service in Omaha, Nebraska, to give my life for the ministry of sharing Jesus among Muslims. I intended to go straight upon graduation to some far off land and figure things out en-route. Instead, I heard the words of a district youth leader in the Assemblies of God of Nebraska (who went on to serve in missions full-time) addressing the need to commit to training because the cost of serving Jesus demanded that I demonstrate faithfulness to study and be discipled  into the man of God I was called to be. So I enrolled at Trinity Bible College for their Missions Major.
After Trinity I pastored several churches in rural North Dakota and Minnesota over the course of 14 years. This was the result of hearing the call of the Lord to preach followed immediately by an unquenchable passion to do just that. I had not intended to be a preacher (or a pastor).  But Jesus had other plans.
I found myself preaching for youth conferences, family and youth camps, special services, and missions conventions around the region. And I could not help but preach Jesus wherever I found an open invitation. It has led to ministry among German Lutherans and Mennonites, Swedish Baptists, Norwegian and Romanian Pentecostals, and African diaspora on three different continents. I have preached under trees, in soup kitchens, on streets, in stone churches, and private homes. I have witnessed Jesus healing and setting free. I have shared Jesus among the poor of central Mexico and on the streets of El Salvador. I have fed the hungry, clothed the naked and visited the sick. I have joined the chorus of saints gathered from across Europe and Africa worshiping Jesus in northern Italy.
I now write as one who has been training workers for the Lord of the Harvest for 4 years in two colleges, one graduate school and one seminary (between two countries). I write this as one about to preach on “prayer and action” for a series of meetings in an African church in western North Dakota. Who could have imagined such a thing?
I write this as one who sees the great harvest before me. I am moved to weeping. I am compelled to preach. I am enjoined to prayer. I hear Jesus calling…where it takes me before he comes again, I don’t know.
But I will follow! And I gaze longingly into the future before me!

Rediscovering the Mission of God in Scripture

Mission of GodThe following is what I will be presenting and handing out for a family camp I’m speaking at tomorrow morning. What would you say if you were asked to speak on the topic of giving a brief (hour and a half) interactive teaching on the mission of God in Scripture? I’m just tracing the threads through Scripture of God’s purpose to make for himself a people in His image and how this has cosmic reconciling intent. What might you add? What Scripture would you include and why?

Rediscovering the Mission of God in Scripture

Genesis 1:26-28

  • Who do we image and why were we made?

Genesis 12:1-3
Genesis 17:1-8

  • Abram (later Abraham) would be blessed in order to…?
  • Why was he chosen?

2 Samuel 7

  • What did the LORD promise David? Why?

Isaiah 16:5

  • What will the “son of David” be like?

Isaiah 55:1-5

  • What is the message to the nations?

Isaiah 56:6-7

  • What was the purpose of the temple according to this passage?

Matthew 12:18-21

  • What did Matthew understand the mission of Jesus to be in light of the Old Testament revelation?

Matthew 24:14
Matthew 25:31-46

  • How are these two passages about the “message” of the good news connected? What do they reveal about those who hold to this message, and what is the end result of response to this message?

Ephesians 2

  • For what end were we created? What is our message? How does it look?

Recommended Reading

Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006.
Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.
Wright, N. T. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. New York: HarperOne, 2012.