Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What You Do

I know it's time to write my annual report for the church's records. Every year it's a challenge for me to get to that because of the press of every day ministry needs and the need to prepare for what's coming next. Looking back is necessary, I guess, but usually not something for which I have a lot of energy. In fact, just keeping up with current programs & those in need of care leaves little time to think beyond this week.

How then, do innovations happen? How have Alpha, the thrift store, the new food shelf and the upcoming Truth Project and so many more exciting ministry and mission opportunities come into being? Not through central planning! Not from this desk or this office! Most of the good things that have happened are due to the Holy Spirit stirring in the hearts and minds of people like you.

My job, as I see it, is to keep preaching and teaching the Word of God and to keep us focused on the CENTER of God's Word -- the life, love, death and resurrection of Jesus. Your job is to step out in faith. Innovations, mostly, are in your job description, not mine...

Don't forget -- your job, as non-clergy, is as big as the world. Don't wait for me! Y'all are way bigger, and much faster, than me. 2008 proves it. I'm sure 2009 will do the same.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Still Waiting

I got up early today, as is common on Sundays, and listened to The Lutheran Hour (actually a half hour) on WCCO while making breakfast. The speaker talked about how God chose a specific time, the best time, to come to earth and be born as a human child - a time when political and spiritual conditions were right and proper. He, Jesus, grew as any child, and, as we explored in today's worship, eventually suffered and died for sinners like me, rising triumphant and sending his Holy Spirit which lives in those who trust him. Because Jesus was born when and where he was, the good news of his victory over death could travel the Roman roads to the dispersed Jewish community. It wasn't long before people thousands of miles away came to know the Lord.

2,000 years later, we still wait for the final fulfillment of God's plan. Next Sunday we'll hear the good news that another "fullness of time" will come. At that time all those who mourn will dance and sing for joy. But we're still waiting. During these holidays a church member languishes in the hospital, another is in hospice care, and a third was suddenly taken from us by death. Others suffer in less public ways. For so many life is so hard.

What do we do when we wait? Two things. (1) We keep going back to the promises of God, fulfilled and waiting to be fulfilled, sharing those promises with others as we have opportunity. (2) We care for and pray for those who are suffering, expressing the agape love of God the best we can. There's plenty to do while we wait.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

God's Timing

My daughter bought The Shack as a birthday gift for one of her brothers. I took time to read almost all of it last night. It made me cry.

In the book there is an imaginary meeting between God and a man named Mackenzie at the "shack" where his youngest daughter had been murdered four years earlier. In the conversation, God the Father (known as both Elousia and Papa), God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit (Sarayu) reveal that God will, in the end, work out all things for good. In one conversation, Papa says this:
"...The real underlying flaw in your life, Mackenzie, is that you don't think that I am good. If you knew I was good and that everything--the means, the ends, and all the processes of individual lives--is all covered by my goodness, then while you might not always understand what I am doing, you would trust me. But you don't..." p. 126
I have a hard time trusting God sometimes. Like Mackenzie, I rage against the darkness and sin that seem to be in control of the world and of so many lives. But, as the book illustrates, and as the Bible teaches, the time will come when everything will be made right. It's just a matter of trusting that God is indeed all powerful and that He is working things out according to his plan. See, for example, Romans 8 and Second Corinthians 4:8-18,

God will remember his people! God will never abandon or forsake us, even when, from our perspective, it seems that he doesn't remember us at all. One of the wonders of Christmas is remembering how long the people of Israel had to wait for a Savior, and all the sufferings they went through until that glorious night.

Lord, grant me the faith to see you at work, even when it seems that you take so long! As we wait, help us to see your eternal purposes. Teach us to follow you, to only do what you ask us to, and then to be patient as you work all things out for good.


Here are some other quotes from The Shack. You can also read my daughter's comments about it on her blog.
"...Adam chose to go it on his own, as we knew he would, and everything got messed up. But instead of scrapping the whole Creation we rolled up our sleeves and entered into the middle of the mess--that's what we have done in Jesus." p. 99

"...I want you to know there is even more going on than you could imagine or understand, even if I told you..." p. 102

" didn't matter whose fault it was... what was truly important here was the love they had for one another and the fullness it brought them." p. 105

"...Relationships are never about power..." p. 106

"...I just can't imagine any final outcome that would justify all this." ... "We're not justifying it. We are redeeming it." p. 127

" must gift up your right to decide what is good and evil on your own terms. That is a hard pill to swallow; choosing only to live in me. To do that you must know me enough to trust me and learn to rest in my inherent goodness." p. 136

Friday, December 19, 2008

To Make A Soldier Sing

What does it take to make a soldier sing? I've never been in the armed forces, but I am engaged in a battle, in the same battle that's been going on since evil and sin and suffering and death came into the world. I wasn't the first soldier in the spiritual battle, and, unless the Lord returns tonight, I won't be the last. But what does it take to make a soldier sing?

The Litchfield Male Chorus had a concert scheduled last night at Stockholm Lutheran Church. There are many veterans in that chorus. I suppose I could ask them what it takes to make them sing. Sometimes I suppose it is the love of singing itself. But at other times it is victory that brings forth music!

When the angels sang at Christmas, it was an army singing, an army of God's chosen spiritual warriors. They sang and sang, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased." The singing came because God had come to earth, a divine invasion of goodness into a hopeless and helpless world... finally, after ages of ages, the Lord chose to act decisively against the enemy. What a relief for the eternal angels! What joy!

We were out singing tonight in the cold, a family of warriors ourselves, battling with our own sinful tendencies but still ready to bring the joy and peace of God's victory to those around us. We sing because we have seen the truth, that God has not abandoned us in our darkness, but has acted, and will act, decisively, finally, to bring a new world, to bring fresh and eternal joy. The invasion started at Christmas, and would be completed at the cross, and at the empty tomb.

What Joy! Worth a song! Enough to make a soldier sing!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

God's Smart Discipline

Last night at our church council meeting a parent told me that she and her family are using the Advent for Children devotions (SEE LINK AT RIGHT) that I've been preparing each day since the beginning of the month. I was glad to know that someone is making use of them! It gives me more energy to keep doing things when I know someone is making use of what I do.

This morning I began writing the Wake Up to Joy children's devotion for tomorrow. Tomorrow's scripture thought, based on Psalm 30:4-5, is called A Lifetime of Favor. (If you don't have a Advent devotion book, we still have a few here at church.)

In any case, it reminded me of the Smart Discipline seminar we hosted here back in October. I wrote about it then - see Respect and Care. We have the seminar available on video here in our church library.

One of the keys to Smart Discipline is the short term removal of privileges. From what I understood, he wisely advises that parents restore privileges to young people every Monday morning.

I could be wrong about this, because I haven't studied the materials in depth, but I don't think there is any "earning privileges back" in Smart Discipline. The privileges are restored each Monday no matter how life has gone the previous week.

There may be cases when that isn't wise, but from what I read in Psalm 30:4-5 it would seem that short term consequences are best. Our Lord, it says, is angry only for a moment but "his favor is for a lifetime."

I am thankful for my Lord's smart discipline. I'm thankful he doesn't hold my past sins over me. All my guilt was removed at the cross. Now my Lord simply uses consequences to firmly guide me into his path. God's discipline is always a part of his love. He will not stand in judgment over me for long. Because of what Jesus has done for me, when he sees me, he sees his beloved son.

This promise can be for you too, when you come to the Lord, confessing and repenting of your sins, and humbly asking that he take your guilt away. He will do it immediately. And he will let you begin again right now.

Now that's smart.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Puppets Anyone?

My brother wants to GIVE AWAY for FREE this PUPPET THEATER with puppets. If you know someone who would want it, give me a call or click here to email me.

Do you have a hidden interest or talent? Almost everything can be used for God and good. Think about what you like to do. Your favorite activities can most likely be used to serve God in your home, your neighborhood, community and church. We can help you learn how.


Isaiah 60: "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you... Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn."

Malachi 6: "But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings."

Those are God's promises. Yet, we wait. When we are honest, we see and experience continuing pain. We open our eyes and see the darkness.

Romans 8: "We who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait for adoption."

So how are we to wait with courage and joy?

Romans 8: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

The only thing I can do is to look for the signs of God's light and life. I look to the Word of God. I look to Jesus and his promises. I long for the Lord's table, where I can receive a little taste of God's kingdom with my brothers and sisters. I look for God's love.

And, if I look, I will see it. Whoever seeks will find.

Luke 11 “...everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Come, Lord Jesus! Come through the gift of your Spirit and give light in our darkness. Give hope and peace and love and joy. Enough so we can continue to wait, until all your promises come true.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

God's Word in Song

Tell me the story of Jesus; write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.
Tell how the angels in chorus sang as they welcomed His birth,
"Glory to God in the highest! Peace and good tidings to earth."

This morning our church choirs, adults and children, will preach God's Word in song. Angels sang the story and through the ages choirs have joined the chorus. No matter what the style of the message, classical or contemporary, the message of God's love draws us to him so we can be saved.

What music do you fill your ears and mind with? Let's allow God's Word to come to us and to our families in song. Tune into KTIS, put on a Christian CD, and listen for God's Word in the music at church. Bring a friend!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Wycliffe Thank You

We received a thank you from one of our missionaries today:

Eloise Ponsford serves through Wycliffe Bible Translators, an organization"dedicated to seeing God's Word become accessible to all people in the language that speaks to their heart." Wycliffe’s website says "Today about 200 million people do not have the Bible in their own language. Wycliffe’s vision is to see the Bible accessible to all people in the language they understand best. To make this vision a reality, Wycliffe also focuses on literacy development, community development and church partnerships."

You can sponsor Eloise for one week for about $30. Contact the church office.

Friday, December 12, 2008


After a day and a half spent mostly with individuals and families battling illnesses of various kinds (in person and on the phone), I'm back in the office today. In the kitchen here at church Ruth, George, Diann and others are getting fruit baskets ready for our befrienders' "special friends" and a few others. There's even a basket sitting in my office ready for me to bring home. I always say, every year, that it's totally unnecessary--but it's very kind of them to remember me and my family.

Over at the food shelf today, before the 9:00 opening time, Isabelle said it was "bedlam." It didn't look that bad to me but I don't volunteer there like she and Russ do. There certainly were a lot of people! This week Isabelle & Russ and friends packed special Christmas boxes for those in need. Pastor Wally Glucklich said in a note earlier this week that there are more than 50 families coming to pick up boxes today and tomorrow. I plan on being there tomorrow morning at 9. It seemed this morning that they had plenty of help, but we want to be available as pastors.

Tomorrow our church will host a Swedish festival known around here as "Lucia" but pronounced "Lu-sha". I'm not Swedish but I do appreciate the care our church members put into honoring the many guests who will come tomorrow. Glowing candles, sweet breads and hot coffee will greet any who wish to come and celebrate this gentle event - 9-11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 13.

The combination of serving the needy and the "not so needy" is a Christmas tradition. Everyone, however, no matter what their financial situation, needs to know they are cared for, prayed for and loved. All of this makes me think of one of the Spanish words that are a part of the Via de Cristo or "Cursillo" movement. The word is "palanca" and I've been told that it means "lever" in the Spanish language. A "lever" is a little thing that makes a big difference.

The main "palanca" is PRAYER. As we admit our weakness before God in prayer, we somehow tap into God's great strength. The tradition of giving a small gift as a sign of love and prayer pre-dates the Cursillo movement, but that's where I learned of it. It's a good thing.

Everyone needs love. Yesterday I picked up a multiple copies of a pamphlet with 150 Ways to Show Kids You Care from the Search Institute (printer friendly here). The video mentioned in my previous post is a great reminder of this too.

As we minister to kids, to the poor, to the elderly, to Swedes and our friends this Christmas, don't forget to be in prayer for them too. You can request prayer for yourself and others by using the "prayer requests" link at the top right of this page.
** FYI - at the moment the Hands Against Hunger event is on the front page of the Enterprise-Dispatch site --

Advent Conspiracy

A dear friend sent a link to a really cool and thought provoking video. Click on the picture below to access it. It's only two and a half minutes long.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Who Accepts Who?

The title of tomorrow's scripture based thought in the family devotion book Wake Up to Joy is "Accepting the Lord." I was talking with someone yesterday about my strategy, as a pastor, as I minister to people who are suffering or near death. Many times I work with people who may or may not have "accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior" in a clear, unambiguous way. What is my responsibility?

I've always believe that the most important duty is always to proclaim good news, that is, that Jesus accepts sinners. I hope and pray that people will accept Jesus, but I'm concerned about pushing for a "decision." Sometimes I think pushing for that can turn good news into a hurdle to be jumped. "Just pray these words," we might say "and you'll be saved." Doesn't that somehow make Jesus' love too dependent on the psychological condition of a suffering soul? Or on a witnessing technique?

When I visit with people who are suffering, nor near death, I hold out, in as clear a way as I can, the good news that Jesus loves them. I do my best to tell them that Jesus accepts sinners, that Jesus gave his life for them and he loves them no matter what. I try to make that love as unconditional as possible so my suffering brothers and sisters won't turn it down. I offer to pray with them and for them. But I try not to make salvation into a sale.

The actual devotion from the Advent booklet warns us against criticizing various strategies of bringing salvation. It begins with a prayer that says "help us to accept you as our Savior," which is wonderful, but then it goes on to quote Matthew 11:16-19. In this part of Matthew's gospel Jesus is teaching about people who scoff at Jesus' love no matter what strategy is used--John the Baptist's sternness or Jesus' acceptance. Some, it seems are so hardened that even Jesus himself can't melt their hearts.

So what I do is try to show love, and, at the same time, I am never shy about speaking Jesus' name, telling about his love. I can't guarantee any kind of "success," and I'm not going to use "techniques" in order to drag a one time decision out of people who are trapped in their suffering. Maybe I should be more pushy. I ask you to pray for me and share your feelings on this.

What I focus on is speaking Jesus' name and telling of his amazing grace. Because he's the only one who can save. Jesus accepts and saves me and every sinner. I want people to know that so they can quietly, or loudly, from a broken heart, cry out to him for help. Our job as believers, who have been given the gift of faith is, I think, mostly to let people know he is near.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Memory Care

Tomorrow evening I'm planning on giving a test or quiz during our Youth YDT. I'm hoping our youth have learned something so far this school year. (**See bottom of this post.)

Does God give quizzes? Some folks joke about questions people need to answer before getting to heaven. (Like this clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.) Christians sometimes imagine that too, saying that we need to give the right answer...

The trouble with quizzes and tests is that sometimes I'm forgetful. Sometimes I'm distracted. Sometimes I'm rebellious. If I need to give a right answer, and if everything is riding on it, that leaves me in a very rough spot.

I was thinking of this yesterday when I was at Lakeview Ranch to share the Word of God and the Lord's Supper. Does God's grace really depend on my intellectual ability to understand and remember it? If so, those with memory loss or dementia are in trouble!

Instead of judging those are forgetful, distracted or rebellious, God comes to love them and to do everything possible to help them know they are loved. That's why we celebrate Christmas. At Christmas, God's Word reminds that God remembered us sent his Son to love us. Truth be told, we are never forgotten. We may forget the Lord, but he never forgets us.

So, when it comes to teaching, I try to do it in a way that gives youth and adults a reason to trust God. Nothing we do as a church is done to somehow scare people into God's kingdom. It's good for youth to remember the Lord, but we want to have them remember God as he remembers us, with love and ready to free us from the terrors of our enemies.

When we share the Lord's Supper, we do so to can remember what God has done for us. Communion is a powerful reminder of our Lord's love--see this comment for a testimony on that. For those who have shared it often, it can break through the haze of memory loss or pain to make sure we know God's love in much the same a way as did the thief on the cross. That's where the emphasis needs to be.

Yes, we will have a quiz tomorrow night. But its purpose, instead of getting kids and their parents to give right answers as if somehow God loves them more that way--the quiz's purpose is to give them another opportunity to remember the mercies of God.
** ADDED WEDNESDAY EVENING... The actual quiz was open book. They could use their Bible and Catechism. So for those who looked at the preview and thought it was too tough... it wasn't... and the kids got plenty of clues... If you want to see the actual quiz itself, it's available as a pdf here. You can also see all of the home Bible studies on this page.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hands Against Hunger - success!

After the Children's Christmas program yesterday we bundled up and passed food & other necessities, hand to hand, from our church to the food shelf. A good time was had by all. We pray that those in need will receive these gifts as signs of God's love. Please continue to pray for those in need.

Thanks to our social ministry committee, the Food Shelf volunteers, and Elim Mission Church! Elim sent an email to their members and quite a few from their church came to help on Broadway!

Click on the pictures for a bigger and better view!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Eggshells and Elephants

When was the last time you walked on eggshells? Are you walking on eggshells today? Is there truth to be told, dangerous truth, truth that might spoil a relationship if it were to get out?

Is there an elephant in the room? Is there a big problem everyone knows about but that we avoid, like a big centerpiece at the dinner table… people leaning one way or the other to get around it?

Good news is coming!

Someday the eggshells will be gone! Someday the elephant will be dead! There will be a time when you will be able to speak the truth without fear.
That was the beginning of this morning's 8:30 a.m. sermon entitled "No Fear." You can listen to it as an mp3 here (just over 15 minutes long), but I encourage you to read these scripture lessons first. We had a wonderful children's Christmas program today, but that means many missed the sermon. I think there are some important thoughts in it, so feel free to listen.

Let me know how it turns out. This is my first attempt posting sounds to the internet.

First Peter 3:15

14 ...Do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.

A member of our church gave me a slip of paper after church today. On it he had written "I Peter 3:15." He had been listening to the sermon and thought of that verse.

Audio of the sermon is posted above at Eggshells and Elephants. Now it's time for the children's Christmas program, then, after that, Hands Against Hunger.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Edward and/or Elliott

Christ in our Home (CIOH) is a "devotional" booklet of scripture based thoughts and prayers. It comes out four times a year. There's one for October, November and December and another one for January, February and March. We have multiple copies here at church. Pick one up if you like. If you can't find one, let the office know.

Many people from our church use this booklet as a way of connecting with God's Word on a daily basis. Another popular day-by-day devotional is Our Daily Bread. That one is available online.
Added Saturday:
A third is Portals of Prayer, also online.

The CIOH daily scriptural thoughts and prayers are based on the scriptures we read at church the next Sunday. For example, this week's devotions are based on the scriptures for the Second Sunday in Advent.

I was having breakfast today with a member of our church and the reading for today came up in our conversation. Since CIOH is not available online, I'm reproducing today's devotional below following the internet posting guidelines of the publisher, Augsburg-Fortress. Today's specific thoughts come from the Psalm assigned for this Sunday, Psalm 85:1-2,8:13.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other (Psalm 85:10).

Edward would rather be right than be liked. He was concerned for truth, even at the expense of other people's feelings. Edward didn't waste time with niceties. He was honest, even blunt, with others. He never considered compromising "just to be nice," because it would not be truthful or fair.

For his brother, Elliott, honoring other people's feelings was more important than proving himself right. Elliott, who would rather be friends than fight, often conceded an argument he was winning.

Their parents admired both Elliott's compassion and Edward's devotion to justice. They also wished that Elliott would be able to stand up for himself, and feared that Edward's relentless pursuit of truth would keep him from having lasting friendships. Their parents hoped their sons' qualities would "rub off" on one another.

Psalm 85:10 envisions the day when righteousness and peace are no longer in competition, when steadfast love and faithfulness embrace. The psalm hopes that God's vision for the world, linking justice and compassion, will "rub off" on us.
CHRIST IN OUR HOME is published quarterly by Augsburg Fortress,
copyright 2008. This specific day's devotion was written by Pastor
Julie A. Kanarr, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church,
Port Angeles, Washington
The prayer concern at the bottom of the CIOH page is for "your families." Let's pray that we will be both truthful and kind in all of our families, and in the family of the church. Our Lord's way of forgiveness, coupled with total honesty, shows us how to do both.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bible on a Page

I received an email just now with a link to the whole Bible on one web page. It looks great! Take a look!

Thanks for your partnership in the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

No Fear

One of the biggest fears, besides public speaking, is, I think, having to admit when you are wrong.

I guess I should make that more personal. I should say, it's hard for me to admit when I'm wrong. So often when I'm confronted about something, I get defensive. Ask my wife... she'll say it's true!

It's too bad that's true because sometimes admitting fault, even partial fault, can give new life to a dead or dying relationship. At Sunday evening's healing worship, someone came and said "hatred had been turned to love." That's what can happen when we say "I'm sorry" and then do what we can to change.

One of the reasons admitting fault and asking forgiveness is hard is because sometimes we don't know if our confession will be accepted. Sometimes we human beings have a really hard time letting go of how we have been hurt. Sometimes it take a long time for trust to be rebuilt.

Fortunately, in our relationship with God, there is no need to wonder about that. God does accept our repentance. God does let us start over. That's why, at the very beginning of Mark's gospel, before we hear about repentance, we hear "the beginning of the good news." There is no doubt what God will do with our sin. He will take it away.

So, preaching to myself, there is no need to be fearfully defensive. I hope I can remember that next time I'm confronted with something that's even partly my fault. And I hope I will remember to forgive as I have first been forgiven. (And I hope you will do the same.)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Holiday Befriending

If you have a friend who is handicapped or ill during this Advent and Christmas season, consider visiting them soon.
  • Ask them about how they have enjoyed Christmas during their lives. Reminiscing is a great way for people to share life together.

  • Invite them to worship and the Lord's Supper! Help them come to church, or, if you live in the Dassel-Cokato area, help them attend one of our community worship opportunities.

  • If you discover a need of any kind, let the church office know. For example, we may need to gather with them in their home for communion--don't assume we know of this need!

  • If your special friend is a member of Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato, help them be part of our new church photo directory.

  • Befrienders will be asked to help deliver fruit baskets soon!
Click the colored words in this post for more information or to contact the church office.