Monday, July 28, 2008

Adults - and Kids - at Camp

Toni and I are at "family camp" with friends this week. Craig Nissen finished his first presentation - he's trying to help us talk and think about what "Godly Living" is in the real world - what it means to both accept the unlimited grace and mercy of God - that God accepts us just as we are - and, at the same time, allow God's Word to push us toward living in a way that brings blessing to the world.

I've put a couple of Craig's book recommendations on my Books Recommended to Me blog. Of course, reading is different than being at family camp. If you'd like to come in a future year, let me know. We've been coming here for 15 years. Incredible. The program for adults is inspiring, there's time for relaxation and friendship, and the kids have college age counselors to relate with for at least part of each day.

I might add more to this today. Now it's time for lunch!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Not Done Being Born Again

This week I've been getting some things ready for this fall's Youth Discipleship Training. As I've been preparing, a couple of comments from last year's YDT Guides or parents keep coming to mind. One is that some would prefer more learning direct from the catechism. The other is that at least one of our guides wants me to be clearer as to whether we need to be "born again."

I tend to focus more on the Bible than on the catechism in my teaching. That's true. And I don't try to push every adult and child to a decision for the Lord. I'm more into the process, more into what God does in our lives over the long haul.

This week's gospel lesson contains five parables from Matthew 13. Jesus tells us of his kingdom. He says it's like a mustard seed or yeast, tiny yet full of transformative power. Like a hidden treasure or a most valuable pearl, the kingdom of heaven worth giving everything else up to get it. And, strangely, it's like a net full of... well... full of whatever. Just think of what a net might find after having been dragged along. It still needs to be sorted out.

If I "fudge" on the need to be "born again" it's because, when we push it, it can make it seem everyone is ready to be sorted now. But how can we know for sure now whether the mustard seed or yeast of faith is at work? Can we be sure the kingdom of heaven isn't hidden in this person or that? I think we need to always rely on the amazing grace of God, whether it's at the hour we first believe or during the long life of faith.

I prefer to think of being born again as a lifelong process. It's like Martin Luther said in his catechism: the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Sure, there are critical moments along the way, but to push someone to "accept Jesus" now seems like unnecessary violence. When people continue to have the word planted, they will discover its value and they will be transformed to be a blessing -- even if they still look pretty rough to us.

In February I preached on this topic. You can find it in my miscellaneous resources.

Beginning tomorrow evening Toni and I, our boys and a couple of teens from church will be at Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp. The topic of study will be Biblical Faith. In the adult sessions we'll be contrasting (a) the passionate devotion of hymnwriters like Frances Ridley Havergal, whose hymns such as “Take My Life that I May Be” long for deep intimacy with God and (b) the “antidote” for spiritual perfectionism that Mike Yaconelli advocates in Messy Spirituality.

I hope to share more during the week. But, in any case, it seems that I'm still not done being born again.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Everyone needs Christian friends, people who care, who love, who pray, who help us find joy and meaningful ways to serve even in the difficult times of our lives.

Some Christian friendship happens spontaneously, such as through the visits and calls of family, neighbors and long time friends. Friends and family, for example, help their loved ones participate in opportunities for worship and the Lord’s supper. They also notify the pastor or church office when special needs arise.

Much of the same kind of care happens through the Befriender I Ministry, a cooperative program of ministry to and with our elders and those dealing with handicaps. About 20 people are now serving as befriender volunteers — about 20 more are needed.

The befriender volunteers make contact with one or more of our people who need or appreciate visitors and/or are unable to attend regular worship. Some of the people who are served by this program are nursing home residents. Others live more independently but face various challenges. Others just need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ in a personal way.

Befriender ministry helps us reach out. Because of befriender volunteers, more people receive the tender loving care they need. Through this program, church members reach out in spiritually meaningful ways, allowing them to grow in their own faith.

Befriending (level I) is usually done through monthly visits and daily prayer. When special needs arise, those participating in the “Befriender I” program help as they can and notify the pastor or the church office about the need.

Sometimes, for example, a befriender learns that their adopted friend has not able to get to worship. The befriender contacts the pastor or the church office to discuss how that need can best be provided for. Sometimes it’s transportation that’s needed. Sometimes it’s a special worship opportunity in an accessible location. Sometimes the befriender shares the Lord’s Supper with their special friend and family members and/or the pastor.

The goal is to assign a befriender to each of those we discover who might benefit. There are still quite a few people who need a befriender. If you think you might be interested in learning more, contact parish nurse Nancy Anderson or Pastor Thorson.

Training and instruction is being done on an individual or small group basis here at the church. More in depth and formal teaching is offered by the “BeFriender Ministry” (also known in our church as “Befriender II”). This is a national, ecumenical program that provides leadership training and program support. Nancy Anderson, Becky Sorenson and Pastor Thorson were trained at the BeFriender Foundations Workshops in early 2006. For more information go to or call 866-468-8708.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fill in the _____

"I don't know if I can stay in this church," she said.
"Why not?" the council member asked.
"Well, I have a hard time accepting that our church allows each person to make their own decision on _____."

In Mike Foss' book PoWeR SuRGe: Six Marks of Discipleship for a Changing Church, the blank is filled in with a particular hot-button issue. How would you fill in the blank?

Some churches try to spell out just what their members should think about everything. One of my favorite Christian teachers, Marva Dawn, in her article Pastors and Power, says church leaders are often tempted to control others instead of following the example of Jesus, who taught forcefully but did not force his way.

Professor Dawn says: Though [God] is sovereign, the LORD never messes with human free will. God desires glad obedience, not forced compliance. God courts instead of compels.

Jesus says, in the gospel assigned for this coming Sunday, that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed or yeast that grows and changes things from the inside out. As we Pray every day, Worship every week, Read the Bible, Serve, Relate with others for spiritual growth and Give generously as God has given to us, and as we encourage others to do the same, all of our _____s will, bit by bit, be filled by the love and truth of God.

Tonight some of us are getting together to talk about one of the _____s. Will we allow God to gently work among us rather than forcing others to agree?

Monday, July 21, 2008

An Interview on Sexuality

A college student interviewed me by email on sexuality. Here is the complete text of what I wrote back on February 24, 2003. I've done a bit of editing on it. I'm sharing this to let you know where I stand personally as we prepare for a conversation on the ELCA's proposed statement on sexuality.

What are your views on premarital sexual intercourse?
Premarital sexual intercourse is forbidden by God and therefore should be avoided, like all sin, not just because it’s "sin," but because it’s harmful. This is clear to me
  • a) from personal and pastoral counseling experience. Sexual fulfillment (even if it doesn’t include intercourse!) outside of marriage begins to "seal" or "addict" one person to another. Great emotional and spiritual turmoil is caused by relational breakups and from the deep relationship problems that are often caused when people get too intimate too quickly.
  • b) from the Scriptures, such as from Genesis 1 & 2 & Jesus’ teachings ("the two shall become one") and from other NT scriptures (such as 1 Corinthians 6:9 & 6:18 which, in the Greek, refer to "pornos" meaning "fornication." "Fornication" means having sex outside of marriage).
    The following is from the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: "The New Testament is characterized by an unconditional repudiation of all extra-marital and unnatural intercourse. In this respect it follows to a large degree the judgment of Old Testament and Israelite preaching and transcends the legalistic practice of later Judaism, which is shown to be inadequate by the Word of Jesus. Jesus can and does effect this radicalizing because the Gospel as saving forgiveness manifests the divine dynamic in this age. A further result of this is a basically new attitude to woman. She is no longer man’s chattel but a partner of equal dignity before both man and God."
    The emotional and spiritual pain that happens during breakups (in a above) comes from the "two becoming one."
  • c) from collateral effects such as Sexually Transmitted Diseases, the breakdown of the protective "covering" intended by God for children (i.e. a man and woman publicly committed to one another for life to provide for families) and even the burgeoning social service & "welfare" costs to society (a two parent household is more stable & better able to provide for itself & therefore not as dependent on government or charitable social services).
Premarital sexual intercourse is harmful to the "partners" involved, to the future husbands and wives of both partners, and to society as a whole.

What are your views on homosexuality?
See the quote above from The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Also see Dr. Merton Strommen's Resources. I believe homosexual behavior steps outside the design of God for sex, namely we are made physically for one another, woman for man and man for woman. But Jesus gives us an attitude of love toward all people, including those involved in homosexual relationships, so we never reject homosexuals as people. There are some myths that surround homosexuality and the debate about its causes, etc. is not finished.

There have been debates on whether or not to have condom machines in high school bathrooms – do you believe this is a good idea? Why or why not?
I do not believe this is a good idea. I think it promotes pre-marital intercourse.

Do you believe in the use of contraception methods (the pill, condoms, etc.), why or why not?
I have no moral objection to couples using contraception during some of the childbearing years in the context of marriage.

Do you believe in the use of induced abortion on any account (i.e. girl was raped, domestic abuse)?
I am not in favor of abortion. I am in favor of legislation that would require waiting periods and pre-abortion counseling to share abortion alternatives and the giving of information (including pictures) of the stage at which the baby is already formed. I am not in favor of an absolute prohibition of abortion. It should be a tragic last alternative.

What are your views on masturbation?
It’s not that big a deal, in my opinion, unless, being addictive, it gets in the way of healthy relationships. On the other hand, pornography and phone/internet sex involve clear violations of God's will. God's plan is that sex would bind husbands and wives together and focusing on others, emotionally or physically, is not helpful. Pornography or unreal relationships (such as phone sex, internet sex, and "emotional affairs") make people less satisfied and less willing to work on their marriages.

I see nothing in the Bible that prohibits masturbation. The fact is that in our culture we delay marriage for very good reasons. And males (especially) are created with biological needs for sexual release. There's a website on this subject that I have recommended from time to time.

I'd be glad to talk with anyone who is sexually addicted and I will not condemn you. Having "filters" or accountability computer programs such as the one offered by xxxchurch is helpful.

Do you believe individuals are born homosexual/bisexual, or do you believe it is the pressures and acceptances of society?
Probably a combination. Lutheran Psychologist Merton Strommen, founder of the Augsburg Youth and Family Institute has written a book called The Church & Homosexuality: Searching for a Middle Ground. In this book Dr. Strommen demonstrates that there is a pro-homosexual political movement that has influenced psychological research into the causes of homosexuality. In my less informed opinion, I think it’s probably a combination of both, that it’s not a simple situation. Many people can be attracted to people of the same sex in certain circumstances, and if that attraction is reinforced by sexual fulfillment or pornography or continued fantasies and "flirting" one can come to the conclusion that he or she "is" homosexual.

Do you believe a same-sex couple should be allowed to adopt children or receive in-vitro fertilization?
I suppose you’re asking whether someone should be allowed by the government to do this… I’m generally not in favor of limiting rights, even when I disagree with people’s lifestyles.

At what age do you believe children should be taught about sex? By who?
Very young children should learn about sex, that it is a gift of God, that boys and girls are different, etc. Concordia Publishing has a great sex ed. series called The New Learning About Sex that begins with children who are very young and continues through the late teen years (We have this in our library here in Cokato.)

What are your views on late night "chat lines" that are advertised on TV? Do you see harm in people calling these lines as long as they are not physically acting upon their desires? Aren’t they basically advertising "phone sex"? See the section on masturbation above.

If a human is raped, do you believe in the fight for earthly justice? In other words, do you believe they should be taken to court and put in jail, or do you believe it should be left alone because "we will all be judged by God?"
YES! EARTHLY JUSTICE! A rapist should be persecuted just like any other criminal, and even more, because they have violated someone down to the depths of their soul and body.

Do you believe media shows such as "Blind Date" and other dating shows, which are reality shows largely based around sexual activity, are healthy for the younger generation to watch?
No. They set up people for unrealistic expectations and for promiscuous behavior, which can lead to unhappy marriages later on.

Do you believe everyone will find "true love," or do you believe some people are meant to remain alone throughout their lives? No, not everyone is meant to be married. But no one is meant to be without close and personal friendships. It is not good to be alone.

If a couple has been to committed to one another for many years, but are not married, do you believe in this form of premarital sex?
Marriage is a protection ("umbrella") that protects the rights of partners (see First Corinthians 7:3-4) and especially protects the children. I think couples like this should be encouraged to move toward getting married. During the premarital process, however, I think a time of abstinence from sex would be helpful (see First Corinthians 7:5).

What would your advice be to the younger generation in regards to sexual activity?
Always think of sex in relation to God’s gift of FAMILY. Sex is the cement that bonds a couple together to form a family. Look before you leap. Don’t accept a hurried "I Love You" or a private promise. Accept the advice and counsel of godly parents and pastors in moving toward marriage. Also, if you have already "lost your virginity" before marriage, please know that you can be made NEW again through the confession and forgiveness of sins. Don’t accept just anyone’s advice. Check to see if counselors accept the authority of scripture before putting yourself under their care. Sex is a great thing, a wonderful gift, and, as all good gifts, something to be treasured. Don’t just give it away.
That's the end of my answer to the college student asking about sexuality.

I don't expect all of us will agree on all these subjects. It's not required that Christians agree on everything. The main thing is (1) we are created by God, (2) we are sinners, including in the area of sexuality, and need a savior, (3) Jesus loves and saves sinners, and (4) anyone can receive that saving gift. That's the Christian position. There are lots of things we will not agree about... and we should expect this disagreement, since we're sinners!

But that doesn't mean I'll keep quiet about what I believe!

For more on the issue of sexuality, see Don't Forget the Kids. I don't expect we'll all agree... for more on that read Fill in the ___.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Beef on the Grill

I'd like to recommend Jerry Seehusen's blog at I know him slightly through a Tuesday evening men's Bible study that he has led here in Cokato, and, from what I know of him, there's a lot to like and respect. A couple of guys have referred me to his stuff from time to time and I've looked, but today I started reading, starting with the oldest posts, and made a couple of comments. He says his site is for "demonstrating how Jesus Christ is real in our every day lives." How much I'll keep reading, I'm not sure, but it would be good for me to read something instead of just writing! And he's got lots of scripture in there!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Any Ideas?

If there are topics you'd like to see mentioned on this blog, please comment, email or phone.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tolerance & Discipline

I want to thank you for putting up with me. Every pastor has their interests, strengths and weaknesses. I've put some of mine on display in this blog. Amazingly, several people have let me know they are actually reading it. Thank you so much!

I'm thinking about a variety of things today, all of them vaguely tied in with Jesus teaching in the "Parable of the Weeds" Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, our gospel text for this coming Sunday. It can be found here.

This parable of Jesus points both to the severity and mercy of God. It tells us to be patient, to not rush to judgment. But it tells us that there will indeed be judgment! I've been reading it alongside First Corinthians 5. That passage calls for discipline in the church. It quotes a harsh Old Testament principle: Purge the evil - don't associate with sinful church members. Wow - what do we do?

Bible interpretation is challenging! Fortunately, we do have a guide. When it doubt, we look to Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God. We read and teach everything in connection with what God has done in Jesus Christ through his incarnation & birth, life & love, teachings & suffering, death & resurrection. Get away from Jesus and we get off track.

So then, as we try to interpret, we read in the light of Jesus. And what did Jesus do with the wicked? Yes, he spoke harshly at times, even to his closest followers. But he did not reject them. It seems to me there was a lot of tolerance. Tolerance which, in the end, caused his death as Judas betrayed him and the rest of his followers ran.

This is the big Lutheran debate. The ELCA tends to be extremely tolerant. In our church constitution we do have a section on "Discipline of Members and Adjudication" which does allow for "exclusion from membership" in cases of "denial of the Christian faith as described in this constitution, conduct grossly unbecoming a member of the Church of Christ, or persistent trouble-making." But in all my years of association with the ELCA, I've never seen anyone excluded from membership for any of those reasons.

Other Lutheran denominations run tighter ships. This item, for example from the Wisconsin Synod, talks about how our tolerant attitude "leads to loss of more and more truth in each generation."

There are times when I want to be tougher. I am concerned that truth seems to be lost in our families, for example, as only a certain select few seem to be regular in worship year round. I know sexual immorality, drunkenness, harsh words, greed and selfishness exists among us. Someone came in today with sadness and helplessness about what is going on in their extended family. Are we too tolerant?

It seems that local churches and denominations tend to lean one way or the other, toward tolerance or discipline. As I prepare to preach this Sunday about the "Parable of the Weeds" I ask your prayers. Mostly, I pray we would follow Jesus and his example in everything we do.

Monday, July 14, 2008


A parent recently told a teenage son or daughter not to tell about some of the unfortunate things that happen in the family. Our family is just "different" than others, said the parent, not worse. Everyone isn't the same.

The same thing happens among nations. And in business. And, sometimes even at church. People try to say that the circumstances warrant an exception. Those in power want to keep their power, so they bend what is good and justify evil. Everything ends up in shades of grey.

But, with God, good is good. Love is love, hate is hate, and evil is evil. There is an objective standard, a standard we see as we look at Jesus, whose life shows us what "good" really is. They tried to kill good when they killed Jesus. They tried to bury truth. But resurrection came!

No matter how the powerful try to twist things, truth and love will win. Not because of some Shakespearean wisdom, but because God sees. No oppressor can keep the truth under wraps forever. In the end, in the judgment, the truth will out. And we will only find mercy at the cross.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Liturgical Dance

Last week I was meeting with Paul and Nate and they called my attention to the WordAlone Network News article Lutheran Worship: liturgical or confessional? That article, in the July-August 2008 issue, speaks in favor of stability in the order of worship from week to week. "The freshness of the service," it says, "should come from the sermon, not the liturgy." (Liturgy means the "order of worship.") The author, Robert Benne, even quotes one of my favorite theologians, C.S. Lewis, who says that prayer or worship should be like a dance that "he wasn't doing so long as he was counting one, two, three, four."

I think that means if you're feeling awkward during worship, you don't end up worshiping at all. I can understand that. And its true, as Benne writes, that some pastors "spend all kinds of time trying to write fresh liturgies for every Sunday, and putting tomes of material in the bulletin so people can read along." I don't do that, for either contemporary or traditional worship, but I know it happens.

(You can pick up a copy of that Network News issue at church. Perhaps later this month you can click here to download a pdf file. It's not available yet online but should be soon.)

There are, however, different kinds of dances and different kinds of liturgies. Some are formal. Others are not. Some don't even have "steps." Sometimes we just get up on the crowded floor and move.

Our contemporary worship is like that, and it won't be comfortable for all. Some of us are just more formal by nature. And some of us, including myself, really like the depth of hymn lyrics (words) more than the repetition of praise music.

I believe both formality and informality are important. Formal worship highlights the dignity and order which are important aspects of God's character. It's just that I think spontaneity and freedom, within the bounds of God's Word, are a part of God's character too.

** I wrote a bit about liturgy before. After I wrote that piece, I ended up changing my mind. We've been omitting the kyrie and hymn of praise from our traditional worship order for more than a month and no one has said anything yet. Now that I've called attention to it, someone probably will! ;-)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

D-C* Cares

*[Our area is known as "D-C" or Dassel-Cokato - Dassel is 5 miles west of Cokato on U.S. 12.)

On Friday morning I talked with someone about the identity of our town. I suppose you could say "Corn-ka-to" but somehow "Cokato Cares" seemed to fit better. (If I knew how to put phonetic symbols here, I'd put a line over the "o," "a," and "o." All the vowels in Cokato are long. And the "c" is like the "c" in cares. You could write it Koe-Kay-Toe or something like that. This town isn't so well known--I tell people it's between Mankato and Cloquet.)

We are are caring community. My kids noticed, right away, that there was a difference. Yes, it has to do with "courtesy and respect," but those qualities only keep things from getting worse. Caring is what marks Christians more than anything else. If you don't love your "brother" who you have seen, you can't love God who you haven't seen.

Thank God that caring isn't reserved for pastors. Thank God that his church has many members of many denominations. Thank God for befrienders, official and unofficial, who grace our area with visits, prayers and consistent love.

Pat Kiefert of Luther Seminary and Church Innovations tells about someone who was hospitalized. People from her church visited her and prayed for her. She returned to health and home but was depressed. Someone asked her why. She said "my church doesn't care about me." Somehow, she had come to equate the church with the pastor. Thank God the church is bigger than one person. Thank God it's not that small.

D-C Cares. Through its eldercare, schools, professionals, neighbors and churches. We don't all run away. God has visited us, and God's love has grown in our midst.

See you tomorrow in church!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Discipleship Training

Nate and many of our youth are leaving early Sunday morning to go to Benton Harbor, Michigan for a YouthWorks Mission Trip. Mission Trips are a part of Discipleship Training.
  • Do you think of the church as a place where people learn to be disciples?
  • Do you know what a disciple is?
  • What's easier to understand: "confirmation" or "discipleship training"?
Nate and I use the words "Discipleship Training" for many aspects of our church's youth program.
  • Does the choice of words make a difference?
Under the "demographics" section of the YouthWorks Benton Harbor webpage, you'll find out why our youth are going to that town: Today, with few job opportunities available, nearly 40 percent of families in [Benton Harbor] live in poverty, including over half of the town’s children. This is a stark contrast to its sister city across the river, St. Joseph, where less than five percent of families live in poverty. During the past several years, the government has offered an incentive program to lure businesses back to Benton Harbor. Your ministry will help revitalize this town and encourage its struggling residents.

Thank you for supporting Jesus' disciples in training as they travel, serve, play and learn together.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

And the Point?

P asked, in regard to the proposed discussion of the ELCA's proposed statement on sexuality, why it is that we should bother. What's the point of the conversation?

1. Though I have personal and pastoral positions on issues such as (1) unconditional love for sinners of all kinds and (2) upholding God's created sexual standards, the way the "Big Church" deals with issues affects us in because we are part of the ELCA. Read my "Big Church" and "Bridge Inspection" posts for more on that.

2. The Bible speaks highly of Christians who "examined the scriptures every day" to see whether they were getting the right message from their church preachers and leader (Acts 17:11). We need to be discerning when we hear rumors. We need to check things out.

3. Though we feel uncomfortable with this topic, when society and families are endangered, many times through the misuse of sex, love commands us to be informed, to pray, repent, forgive, and do all we can to share unconditional love in a sometimes messy world.

4. Many folks from our church are interested in talking about this.

5. We can have influence, however small, in what the Big Church ELCA comes up with in their statement and their future policies as regards leadership and teaching.

Let me know, P, if I've stated "the point" in a helpful way.

Note added July 24, 2008: Some of my personal convictions on sexuality can be found in an Interview on Sexuality. I don't expect we'll all agree... for more on that read Fill in the ___.

Help Wanted

REVISED 1:00 p.m.
This morning I posted the following: I would like to put some things on the internet that are more permanent than what is appropriate for a blog. If you can help me know how to do this, please let me know.

Someone suggested using a "google" page and that's what I've done. You can find it here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Living with Thorns

...the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word... Matthew 13:22

On Monday I ran some errands and on my way stopped in at the future Cokato Food Shelf building. W, T, and Pastor R were chatting in the front room. How big will the sign be? Should we be guided by Matthew 5:14-16 (let your light shine) or by Matthew 6:1-4 (keep it secret)? And what will we do with the front room when the food shelf isn’t open? How will God’s kingdom be expanded through this place?

Two single working mothers asked for help today. How wonderful it was that I could refer them to the food shelf at Elim Mission Church and the “Save and Share Thrift Store” in the building behind “The Grounds” coffee shop. How excellent that generous people give to the ministerial association and our own church’s discretionary fund so we could help buy $4/gallon gas.

Later I shared worship with Cokato Manor residents, men and women who benefit from the care of an excellent staff. Every day I am thankful for this community. Every day I see how the Word of God is at work in many lives.

But what would happen if the Manor staff decided to get work based on how much it paid? And what if the volunteers and donors spent their time and money gambling or vacationing? It’s good to take some time off to rest and recharge, that’s true. But what if all the able bodied and secure went north in the summer and south in the winter? Tempting, isn’t it?

Chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel, which we will read in church on Sunday, July 13, talks about the Word of God as a seed intended “produce a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times” what was planted. But there’s fierce competition! The Bible talks about two kinds: “the cares of the world” and “the lure of wealth.” Wealth isn’t just money. It’s the relaxation and escape money can buy.

The Word can be overgrown also with the “cares” or “worries” or “troubles” of this world. With food and fuel getting so expensive, low income people are especially overcome. One of the women today expressed lots of skepticism about the church. Are we really as caring as God says? Or is the church overrun with judgmental attitudes? I had to admit that yes, thorny sinners abound even at church.

So, seeing that the thorns are there, and, being aware of them, will we continue to bear fruit just the same? Jesus worked among people no better and no worse than we. And he was tempted, it says, just as we are! Yet he was willing to do whatever was needed. Are Christians thankful, generous followers of that Lord?

In this world, we will always live with thorns of fear and thorns of greed. But as we open our hearts to our precious Lord, who promises us security in God’s Kingdom, we can continue to share, burdens and resources, and many can be saved.

Please be in prayer for the weak, the ill, and for all single mothers and fathers. And pray that all Christian hearts would stay open and soft to what God wants to be doing in our midst.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Internet First

Our church office manager sent me an email last week reminding me about the August Pulse* deadline. Well, this is my Pulse article for August. But I'm putting it up on the internet first.

Those of you who are reading this on paper that has been printed and mailed from the office are receiving this at least 23 days after it was written. I'm asking our church office staff to simply copy these words from my blog and put them in the Pulse. Those of you who are reading this on line will notice I am writing this mainly for those who rely on the mailed newsletter.

When pastors write, we hearken back to a tradition that began in Bible times. I think particularly of the Apostle Paul. In Ephesians 3, he said that reading what he had written would make it possible to understand his "insight into the mystery of Christ" (v. 4). In another place, Paul commands that his letters be read (Colossians 4:16).

What I write isn't the Word of God, so I won't make demands. But I do hope you won't ignore what I write. I do have a key role in this congregation and community, and hopefully, at least part of what I write is worth reading.

The amazing thing about the inter-net is that it is inter-active. The Pulse might be helpful, but responding or replying is so easy on the internet. At least that's true for those who use email and etc. But THERE IS NO REQUIREMENT to use the internet! Everything on the internet can be printed on paper for you to read.

I am, however, writing on the internet first. So far I have published 40 articles on all kinds of subjects, some short, some longer. We're printing them out and putting them in a notebook here at church. I've written about the synod assembly, mental health, liturgy, social ministry, the Apostolic Lutheran church, sexuality, climate change, prayer, how God provides for our needs and many other topics. If you want to get these articles mailed to you, just ask!

I foresee that more and more, we'll be putting things on the internet first. But, as long as I am pastor here, we will always provide them on paper upon request.

The internet, however, can never replace human community. So we gather for worship, every week, to learn God's love and share that love with one another. If you cannot gather, let us know and we will come to you.

Sincerely, in Jesus,

Pastor Steve Thorson
Evangelical Lutheran Church
Cokato, MN

*The Parish Pulse is our church's newsletter. This post is written to be printed there.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Big Sort

I've often said one of the reasons I love living in smaller towns like Cokato is that we have, in church and community, more diversity than what one might first expect. A book by Bill Bishop called _The Big Sort_ talks about how how people cluster into communities of like mindedness. I think our church has quite a bit of diversity in it, and I find that quite invigorating. A question, however, is whether can talk together about important things? I found an NPR radio show on this subject fascinating. A link is here.

ELCA Sexuality Discussion

If you would like to discuss the ELCA's Proposed Statement on Human Sexuality on Sunday mornings, 9:40-10:20, let Nate, Paul or myself know. I've written a brief comment on this subject in Don't Forget the Kids.

See an announcement on this by clicking here.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fifty to Five-thousand

Maybe there were a few more than 50 worshiping at 8:30 at our church this morning. Maybe there were slightly fewer than 5,000 at the Laestadian Lutheran "Summer Services." But I had to park a long way from the door and had a hard time finding a seat in the quadruple size high school gym where the "Summer Services" were being held -- and lots more people were milling about and gathering in other rooms where video feeds were playing the same sermons. I left intern Paul Gustafson to lead our 10:30 contemporary worship and went to what must be described as a cross-cultural experience.

I heard three sermons and four hymns between 10:30 and 1:00 at the "summer services." The sermons were based on the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), Jesus coming to the disciples in the storm (Matthew 14:22-34) and God's providing for Elijah when he was ready to give up (First Kings 19). I'd guess the sermons lasted 45 minutes and the hymns (except the last one) had about 10 verses each.

At the Laestadian summer services, there was a great emphasis faith and on God's grace for sinners. The huge emphasis seemed to be on staying together in God's kingdom. God's kingdom was described as a congregation where at least 2-3 of "God's children" are gathered to hear and believe God's Word. The final preacher wept as he said how he knew some would drift away before the 2009 "summer services." The people were warned against listening to the preaching of the "threefold enemy"--our sinful self, the "world," and the devil.

A lot more could be said about the "Apostolic" or "Laestadian" Lutherans. All this is pretty new to me as I've only been in the Cokato area for 3 years. There was a pretty good article you could access by clicking here (on Wikipedia). "Apostolic" Lutherans are those who follow the teachings and belief of Lars Levi Laestadius, a pastor who served on the border of Sweden and Finland in the mid 1800s.

So why so few at our church and so many at the Laestadian "Summer Services"? What do you think? Let me know by emailing me at or by making a "comment" below. Thanks.

* corrected email address as of April 9, 2012
From the article on the Apostolic Lutherans in America on Wikipedia, retrieved today.
I have replaced the term "Laestadian" with Apostolic Lutheran in italics because in the Cokato area that is more commonly used. In our area "Laestadian" is used only for certain Apostolic Lutherans that are members of a particular local Apostolic Lutheran congregation.
Beliefs and Characteristics
American Apostolic Lutherans practice varied degrees of fundamentalist Christian belief. Most avoid alcohol; varying numbers of adherents avoid a number of "worldly" practices, including dancing, card-playing, cinema, television, high-school sports, popular music, and the performing arts (listed in approximate order of avoidance). However, caffeine is widely consumed and tobacco is generally tolerated. Family size tends to be large compared to the American average; most families in non-urban congregations have between 4 and 10 children, while most churches have a few families with 12 or 15 children. Birth control is generally not practiced, and some consider it a sin (although as on most issues, urbanites tend to be more liberal than rural adherents).
Apostolic Lutheran asceticism is distinguished from other American fundamentalist Christians in that none of the above-mentioned pastimes is officially proscribed; rather, Apostolic Lutherans counsel each other and employ a reinforcing system of social feedback to encourage abstention. Active congregations provide social outlets in keeping with the beliefs of the church; nearly every weekend evening will find Apostolic Lutheran teenagers congregating at one or another's home (get-together).
Apostolic Lutheran churches teach that every human is a sinner and that every sin can be forgiven; forgiveness stems from the hearts of Apostolic Lutherans, not from ceremony or hierarchy. Some Apostolic Lutherans practice lay confession whereby a member confesses to another member; in the Heidemanian** tradition, some vestige of this practice remains in the liturgy but confession is not widely practiced.
Some Apostolic Lutheran congregations consider themselves the one, true Christian church, and preach that all other Christian churches (including other branches of the Apostolic Lutheran tradition) are not true Christians.

Ceremony and Service in the Heidemanian** tradition
American Apostolic Lutheran churches provide services in Finnish to varying degrees; in some churches circa 2000, every service is bilingual, while in others only special occasions merit translation, and in yet others all preaching is done in English. In any case, an Apostolic Lutheran
may request to receive Communion in Finnish; another lay member of the congregation can deliver Communion if the pastor is not fluent. Communion is the only regularly practiced ceremony (performed once or twice a month, or every week, depending on congregation), and consists of unleavened wafers and wine (sometimes grape juice), delivered assembly-line fashion at a communion rail at the conclusion of Sunday services.
Teenagers undergo Confirmation around age 13 to 15, after which they are eligible for communion. Other significant life ceremonies are baptism (performed during the first months of life, and rarely for adult converts) and marriage.
...Apostolic Lutheran bodies hold "big services," in which members of multiple congregations gather in one location to hear speakers from the United States and from Scandinavia (if they have a cooperating European counterpart).
The Laestadian church arrived in North America with Nordic (especially Finnish) immigrants in the latter half of the 19th century, many of whom arrived to work in the copper mines of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Some of these new immigrants found themselves in conflict with older, established immigrants from the same countries, being generally poorer and less established, and hewing to the new, fundamentalist teachings of Lars Levi Laestadius. As a result, Apostolic Lutheran congregations separate from the extant Scandinavian Lutheran churches were formed in Cokato, Minnesota, in 1872 and in Calumet, Michigan, in 1873.
As of 2000, the following Apostolic Lutheran church bodies are believed to be active in the United States: First Apostolic Lutheran Church, Laestadian Lutheran Church, Apostolic Lutheran Church of America, Old Apostolic Lutheran Church, Finnish Apostolic-Lutheran Congregation, Independent Apostolic Lutheran Church.
**What is the
Heidemanian tradition?
The following quote is from a paper on Disputes and Divisions (page 50) among Apostolic Lutherans. The article talks about how strict obedience to the decisions of its meetings as the “decisions of the Holy Spirit" is demanded by Apostolic Lutherans known as "Heidemanians."
"...The humility of children is the acceptance of all things from the hand of God, who in the fellowship of His kingdom cares for His own. The humility of a child of God is total acceptance of the voice of His Spirit, which speaks through the mouths of the previously believing. ‘He that heareth thee, heareth me.’ The true humility of a child is realized obedience to the voice of the congregation, the kingdom, and ‘Mother’ of us all. ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God among men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God’ Rev. 21:3. This is why Paul calls the kingdom, the congregation, ‘the ground and pillar of truth.’ The Spirit of God, which dwells in the kingdom, the communion of saints, the holy congregation, is an unerring, infallible Teacher; for Jesus says: ‘It shall lead you unto all truth.’"
Revised Monday, 9:30 a.m.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Change? Me?

Almost time to go home. Having these days with family has been great. A lovely time of renewing relationships and sharing. Songs and prayers blend seamlessly with fun and relaxation. Unforgettable.

Tonight on our way home we'll see "The Singing Revolution" a film showing how freedom came to the Baltic countries after years of Soviet domination. It's at the Lagoon Theater near Hennepin and Lake in "uptown" Minneapolis for a week or so.

I had the opportunity to visit the southernmost of the Baltics in May. Lithuania is pressed up against repressive Belarus and the Kaliningrad region of Russia. Until the early 1990s it was behind the "iron curtain." It's better there now, but the people know what it is like to suffer and live in fear.

While there I spent some extraordinary days with my daughter Naomi. She had just finished a semester studying at LCC International University, one of the positive agents of change in the former Soviet bloc. During her time at LCC she was part of a group Bible study. The topic: Matthew 5-7, Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount."

Click here and you'll go to the part of Naomi's blog where she quotes her Bible study leader who said: "I hope this study of Matthew changes your life... it's well and good to read the Bible for knowledge, but that's not enough..." I'd encourage you to read that blog entry, and other parts of her amazing experience in that far "corner" of the world.

Travel, like reading and studying the scriptures is intended to bring change to our lives. It's not just tourism or recreation. God continues to change me and I hope you'll allow him to do the same.

Naomi writes: What is the Sermon on the Mount all about anyway? It's about the Kingdom of God, and bringing it to earth. The Kingdom of God is full of "the least of these," the untouchables, the forgotten, the poor and the meek, the mourning and the persecuted...

As you read through Matthew's gospel, pray and ask God to make an impact on you through his Word. As Christ was not a mere tourist in this world, God calls us through this Sermon to truly notice those around us, especially the least of these, and to notice how it is we live in relationship with them, near and far. Even in small places like Dassel, Cokato, and Lithuania.

Friday, July 4, 2008

God's Blessed Boundaries

There's nothing like early morning at the lake. I didn't plan on getting up at 5, but now that I'm up I'm thankful. I'm also trying to be as quiet as I can so the other 15 people (and 1 dog) can sleep. I went out on the dock awhile ago to watch the mist rise and now am sitting where I can see the pale pinkish orange sheen on the water. The sun will be up soon.

Before bed I looked at Matthew 4. It reminds me of other verses. From Hebrews 4, Jesus was tempted as we are, yet without sin and from Psalm 19 my boundaries enclose a pleasant land.

I remember years ago someone asked whether it's harder to know God's will or to do it. The devil can work either way, confusing us as to what God wants _and_ at the same time, telling us it's okay to get more. And there is no area of life that the devil doesn't attack.

(The sun has just poked over the horizon - 5:33 a.m. - what a transformation!)

The three temptations might be summarized as "appetite," "fear," and "power." The first is physical desires that go beyond God's good plan - it was God's plan to provide for Jesus' time in the wilderness. Fear makes us unwilling to trust God. The devil would have us only trust those promises we ourselves have already tested. The third temptation would bypass God's glorious way of saving sinners - a plan that would first lead to humiliation and the cross.

In so many ways I am tempted every day. I want to go beyond the boundaries God has set. My appetites know no natural limit - if I conquer one another rises. Instead of accepting the quiet assurances that God will never leave nor forsake me in the next days and years, I retreat to the familar past. And I do not want humiliation or suffering even when I preach the outcome of faith - resurrection and blessing forevermore.

We're approaching a boundary - the end of vacation will come in about 24 hours. I pray that we might all trust that even that boundary is set by the Lord, and that He wants to bless us as we live within his plan.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Healing Scummy Relationships

It's a beautiful day at Durphee Lake. In the shiny screen reflection of Daniel's notebook computer screen I see the sky and trees. I spent part of this morning hauling waterweed up from the beach where it washed up. Good exercise!

The lake is quite calm and the water is nice and clear. Probably a bit more than a half mile long and wide, it's not a lake for powerboats. There is a nice sand bottom and the weeds aren't rooted here. They just blew over yesterday when we had some high wind. They'll be gone soon.

The Dahlins tell of a time, many years ago, when they thought the lake was done for. There were cranberries being raised on farms at both ends of the lake. One of the farms used to pump water from the lake to flood the bogs to protect them from frost. The excess water, full of fertilizers, would drain back. Toni's dad says that the whole lake was covered with "solid scum" in the summer of 1965, a couple of years after they bought the cabin.

You might imagine that lake cabin owners, including my in laws, were quite unhappy. Fortunately, the cranberry farm family saw what it was doing to the lake and stopped the pumping. Over a period of years, the lake healed. Now, 40 years later, hard feelings between farmer and cabin owners are gone.

The health of this lake today is a wonderful reminder of the power of repentance. It takes recognizing error and living a new way. Because of the Lamb of God, Jesus, who takes away our sin, everything can be clean. Even scummy human relationships can begin to heal.

It's good when people realize what they are doing and repent. Repentance means admiting the wrong and changing one's way of life. It's repentance that John the Baptist calls for in Matthew 3. As we read Matthew this month, let's consider what God wants to heal in our lives, our relationships, and in the world God loves so much.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Love & Duty

The first chapters of the New Testament tell how God came into this broken and suffering world. God came through, and in spite of, an ancient family. God chooses to bless right in the midst of sin, taking our flesh upon himself through the virgin Mary. The fullfillment of God's plan in Jesus Christ is the main point.

As as sidelight, I find it interesting that Matthew's Gospel begins with the focus on Joseph. Jesus' step-father does his duty and loves his wife and child. Joseph remained faithful to his wife and her son, doing what he needed to do to keep them safe. Of course, the Lord guided him, but he had to be willing to accept the Lord's will.

In a very human way, this is amazing because it says that Joseph waited to have intimate sexual relations with Mary until a time after Jesus was born. Maybe it was different in those days, but because men are pretty much the same biologically now as ever, it's my guess that sexual fulfillment was just as important for Joseph as it is for men today. The book His Needs, Her Needs claims that its a top "need" for men in marriage - but somehow Joseph was willing to wait.

The Lord commands men to "love their wives." This "love" is to be a self-giving love instead of a way that men get what they want from women. Joseph can be an example for us because sometimes there are long periods of waiting--and not only for sexual fulfillment. Men and women often need to wait and continue to love their mates through periods when we are less than fulfilled. In this way we can be a blessing to our children and beyond.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

How It's Supposed to Be

Those who were in church on Sunday heard the challenge to read the book of Matthew during July. I encouraged people not to ignore the difficult parts. Chapter 1 has its geneology, and that's one of those spots not to skip.

Though I'm not a total literalist when it comes to the Bible, I do believe everything in the Bible is there for a reason, because the creator of all things, God Himself, wants it that way. But it does take some work to understand things, and Matthew 1 is a perfect example. If we really want to know what's going on, we need to know who those people are who are listed in that geneology.

Joanna, my niece, asked me this morning if I was familar with a "Chronological Bible." Yes, I've heard of them, but never looked at one. It's been put together as a way of helping people understand, for example, what the connections are between prophets like Amos and Jeremiah and the particular historical and political situation that are recorded in historical books like First and Second Kings. Where biblical historians an interpreters differ, she says the chronological Bible notes this somewhere.

But the Bible itself is put together more like a library. It's not wholly chronological. Matthew doesn't happen before Mark. Some of the books (like the prophets and Paul's letters) are simply put in the order they are because they are longer or shorter than the ones before and after.

God wants us to use our brains to do our best to discern what God is doing and what He is saying to us as we read along. That does mean, however, that we need to reference various parts to understand, instead of just skipping over what's not so easy to understand. As we use our brains, and talk together with scholars and teachers, we will learn more of what God wants us to learn, as we grow closer to our Lord Jesus Christ.