Sunday, August 31, 2008

Nice and Chicken

Should a pastor be judgmental? You'd think not, perhaps, but perhaps that's because we're Lutherans from Minnesota.

Many years ago I fell into a terrible pattern of life. I made bad decisions because I was not willing to submit to God's Word. I suffered because of what I did, but I stayed in the bad situation until things really began to fall apart.

The one who brought the toughest blow to me was a pastor. He helped me face the reality of my life. He was very judgmental at that moment, and I hated him for it.

I hated him then, for a very short time. But I realized somehow that what he said was true. Eventually I was broken enough to make changes and to allow my life to be changed. Now I am thankful.

No matter how long I live, and no matter how long I've been a Christ follower and a pastor, I still need people to correct me and hold me accountable. But, I believe that there are times when I am required, by my call from God, as a pastor, to speak truth (as I see it) to someone who may not want to hear it, truth that may be needed to break a hard heart.

See the example in Ezekiel 33:7-11.

The problem is, sometimes I'm too "nice." Or maybe just chicken. Or I doubt myself too long. I know there are times when I don't do as the gospel for September 7 says soon enough.

In this passage from Matthew 18, Jesus teaches that when someone* does a Christ-follower wrong, that man or woman ought to go to the one who he or she thinks has sinned against him or her and "point out the fault" in private, with just you and that other person there.

The purpose of this is so the person can admit their fault and the friendship can be healed. Sometimes, of course, you learn it's a misunderstanding or that there are two sides to the issue. Sometimes the one who brings the problem in the first place needs to apologize as well. Sometimes the process continues with other people getting involved. Sometimes it get hard.

But the point is that we ought not wait too long. When we do, problems swell like infected wounds.

We ought to be able to go to our pastors and elders like that, to point out their faults and hold them accountable. But, yes, I believe there are times when pastors, in view of their office, needs to speak words that are hard to hear. Words that sound judgmental to us.

I'm glad that pastor spoke out back in 1980. I'm glad he didn't wait any longer than he did. Can we allow our spiritual leaders to speak hard truth to us?

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*actually, this applies only when the two people share the same value system, that is, they both acknowledge the same Lord and are "brothers" (or "sisters") in Christ.

Friday, August 29, 2008

God's Promise in Suffering

Because we are not greater than our master we will suffer when we follow Jesus. That's a promise. Suffering isn't proof of discipleship, but we shouldn't be surprised when we suffer while being obedient to our Lord.

With school just around the corner, I'm thinking about how often young people suffer from bullying and backbiting. Adults suffer too when they are defamed.

This Sunday's Jeremiah 15 reading (verses 15-21) speaks clearly about what we should do when that happens. "I will make you... a fortified wall of bronze... for I am with you, to save you and deliver you."

God's promise is to save us "from the hand of the wicked" and rescue us "from the grasp of the ruthless." It might not happen right away, but victory will come.

We know this because of the one we follow, who suffered for our sake, and who was and will be victorious over the enemy in the end. Praise the Lord when you are considered worthy to suffer for doing God's will as Jesus' follower, because his victory will be yours.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Log in My Eye

Yesterday evening church member gave me a page from the September 2008 issue of Decision magazine. The article, not on line yet, is entitled "Christians to Be Salt and Light: Standing up for truth in a confused world." It profiles Dennis Agajanian, who "stood alone outside a county office building in San Diego June 17 to try to persuade homosexuals not to go through with same-sex wedding ceremonies."

He held a large sign but "didn't go to argue or to engage in name calling." The sign said simply "JESUS CHRIST IS THE HOPE OF THE WORLD!" and "Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. Isaiah 55:6" Decision magazine said he told couples "the Bible says it is wrong for a man to marry a man or a woman to marry a woman, adding, 'I'm a sinner, and the only difference between you and me is that I've accepted Christ into my life. And I want you to do that.'"

Though I agree that sexual relations are reserved, by God, for heterosexual marriage, I've never stood up with a sign or aimed messages at homosexuals. I guess I'm part of the group that Decision magazine criticizes as absent, and, by implication hiding the light of God from "lost, confused people."

I favor a slow, careful approach that puts the emphasis on God's unconditional love for sinners of all kinds first. Then we can begin to teach, on the basis of Scripture, and allow the Word to do its work. We will have differences of opinion all along the way. But as we look closely at the scriptures, we will see God's standards and commands for life. And we will be convicted, each and every one of us, of sinning against God. And against our neighbors.

Last night a group met at church to look at the ELCA's draft sexuality statement. At the same time, in another part of the building, another complex issue was being discussed. Can we continue to love each other as we walk through confusion? Can we broadcast God's love in a way that does not single out any particular group as worse than others? For God said that "all have sinned and fall short" of God's standards.

First, we look at our own issues, our own sins, the "log" in my own eye (Mt. 7:5). That will keep us busy. Occasionally, God will call us to "stand up for truth" in respect to other people's sins. But we do that with much fear and trembling, always being ready to ask forgiveness for harsh words or any incidents of looking down on others as if they were more in need of God's grace than we ourselves. “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).

So how can sinners proclaim God's love boldy, being ready to rescue and confront sin in whatever form it takes? Whatever we do, we need to make sure the message of God's love gets through. This will lead to the humble love I see in our Lord Jesus Christ. As I remember it, the sins Jesus confronted most were of the people who thought they had it all correct, all right. When I start to think or act as if I know it all, please confront me in love so I can look for that log.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New Direction

There's been a big change in the weather the last few days. Not that we've gotten the rain we need so badly. It's just cooler. 50 degrees or lower the last two mornings.

Those who have followed this blog from the beginning know there's been a change in its focus too. During the less scheduled days of summer I felt free enough to write on a wide variety of topics. Now I'm mostly focused on what is coming up this fall.

I don't know what will become of this effort in days and weeks to come. I doubt if I'll stop because I have found it helpful to be writing. Later today, for example, I plan to do some writing in connection with my upcoming sermon series on "Call."

That's what I plan to do, but I can't guarantee I'll get to it later, so here's a preview:

The gospel text assigned for this Sunday talks about "taking up" one's cross. Some people look at carrying one's "cross" as meaning handling the suffering we can't avoid in this life, whether it's a difficult family or job situation or health. But I think it's more accurate to say that when Jesus' refers to his cross (and ours) he's really talking about his purpose, to seek and save the lost (Lk 19:10), a purpose which led to suffering.

When we follow our Lord and the call he puts into our life, it will lead to suffering. Not because we seek suffering, but because the purpose God has put into our hearts through his Word and Holy Spirit inevitably leads to conflict with the powers of this present darkness (Ephes. 6:12).

So, fall brings a new direction. It's my prayer that we would all follow our Lord's call without fear.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Dedication

Tonight I was able to spend a short time at Peterson Park for the dedication of the new food shelf building. The real dedication, however, comes from those who have used the energy the Lord has given for good. Food shelf volunteers and those willing to step out in faith to make the new building a reality inspire all of us. And Minnesota Disaster Relief is now housed in that building as well. Let's all support these valiant efforts on behalf of those in need.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Call

Inside every one of us there is a place where only God can go. It's a broken place, because the "image of God" in us is afflicted by sin. But God, with His healing grace, comes to us and fills us with his love. When that love begins to take shape in us, it begins to push out toward others. It becomes, as Jeremiah experienced, like a burning fire, a passion to do God's will. That passion, whether it is to speak or to act, is a call from God.

The heart at left* is the heart of every Christian believer. God renews his image within us, and with that image renewal comes God's call to live for Him.

But because we are are each unique creations of God, God, in his love, gives each one a unique "call." When we discern that individual call, we can live for the Lord in the most joyful and productive way. When we follow that call, we can do more than just live according to other people's expectations and or our limitless hunger for pleasure. We can connect with God's wonderful plan for our lives.

God made each of us unique. We have different bodies and minds. Since conception, we have had varieties of experiences which make for a range of personalities, abilities and disabilities. According to scripture believers are given "spiritual gifts" and those gifts vary from person to person. And, we are all at a certain stage of life depending on age, family role, health, job responsibilities.

Because God knows all of this even better than we ourselves, his call on our lives is always a perfect fit.

The call will determine the major focus of the time of life we are in. Yes, we will do other things as well, but when we know who God created us to be and what God is calling us to do, we will find more joy in obeying our Lord and following him each day.

I believe some of us will discern God's call this fall in a way we haven't done before. I will begin preaching on this topic on Labor Day weekend. For those who desire, I will make a reflection guide available. We'll have a couple of Sunday morning sessions between hours of worship too.

As we get in touch more clearly with God's call, while following God's commands, joy and love will flow even more strongly through our church.

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* the "heart" with the "call" from God is a piece of the diagram from the "vision raising" post. What I have written here tonight comes in response to a staff member's comment about whether people will really understand what a "call" is. More on this to come in future posts.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Not Scripture

Last night one of our council members asked me about a reading cited on a recent bulletin cover. (We purchase them pre-printed from Augsburg-Fortress). This reading was from a book called "The Wisdom of Solomon."

What's that? In one of my Study Bibles, this book is part of the "Apocrypha." What is that? We haven't read from the Apocrypha in worship. Why not?

As much as we like to keep things simple, some things just aren't so easy to understand. In my Oxford Annotated Bible there is a 9 page introduction to the "Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books." As in some Protestant Bibles, the Apocrypha is found between the Old and New Testaments in this edition.

So where does the Apocrypha come from? Martin Luther's 1534 Bible was one of the first to remove these books from the Roman Catholic's Old Testament because they were not a part of the Jewish Bible. In his Luther's 1534 Bible, some of the Apocryphal books are included, but under this heading:
"These are books not regarded equal to Holy Scripture and yet useful and good to read.”
That's a short answer and I can't do any better right now. I never studied these books in seminary. They were not considered to be scripture.

A full discussion of how things became "scripture" needs to be left for another time. For now, it's enough to say that the closer something is connected with the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, the more important it is that we know it well. That's why I always encourage people to get to know the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) and the rest of the New Testament first, and then go on to the other parts of the Bible. Eventually, you might get to know something about these other books Luther says "are useful and good to read."

www.equalsharing.com

Vision Raising

Last night at council I introduced the idea of Vision Raising and gave credit to my friend, Wendy Berthelsen who wrote
God is not calling just pastors, missionaries and professional church workers. God is calling EVERYONE and, more importantly, God is calling YOU! God has custom designed you for your call, and your unique call will form and shape your life -- your work, family, church, neighborhood, community and world.
Vision Raising is a way of helping individual Christian believers use their time and energy in ways that are effective and joyful. I'm thinking about preaching on the concept of "Call" and then, soon after, have three vision raising events, one focused on Discipleship (making disciples and living as disciples of Jesus), the second on Outreach (world & local) and a third on Leadership & Support (to help give success to the activities, projects and events that people are called to do).
At each vision raising event we will gather for scriptural teaching on the designated focus, prayers, an offering of ideas (such as in a brainstorming session) and finally, the asking of an important question "How would you like to be involved in making one or more of these ideas a reality." Those attending the event would then indicate their own specific desires and those desires would then be recorded. Some people will want to continue in the ways they are currently involved. Others will want to switch to another existing activity or to something new.

At a vision raising event (quoting Wendy's book The Custom Designed Church):

What is done or not done is based upon people's calls and desire to make something happen. It is critical that no pressure be applied for people to do something. If no one feels inspired to do a certain thing, then an idea is dropped and not pursued now. If one idea becomes a real vision, then the process has been a success.
Please bring questions or comments about this plan to my attention.

Thanks!

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As of September 22, you can begin participating in Vision Raising. Please read Made for Work and follow the links.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Council Report

At our church's new member classes I explain that the local church is three things.
  • The church is a spiritual community, where we trust in the same Lord.
  • A local church is made of people who know each other. It is relational.
  • A local church exists in the world as a business entity.
As a business it has a board of directors. Our board of directors is called a "church council." As a lead employee of this church business, I make monthly reports to the council. I'm preparing part of my report this time on the internet in preparation for tonight's council meeting.
  1. According to my records, I work about 55 hours a week in church related service.*

  2. During the summer part of that time has been spent in continuing education at Bible Camp, continuing a review of the Truth Project with Paul & Nate, and doing other reading and study especially in relation to education and long-range planning. I am allocated two weeks per year for continuing ed.

  3. As a way of doing what is central to my personal call to the ministry, that is, to "equip" the people of the church for God's mission, I have been writing and publishing on many topics including worship, prayer, Christian education, lay ministry, mid-life changes, ministry with elders & others in need, God's name, family, children & home life, sexuality, our relationship with the ELCA & synod, mental health issues, action on behalf of the abused, the importance of fact checking and open discussion of issues, global warming, temptation & imperfections, youth ministry, being "born again," accountability, international issues, the Apostolic Lutheran denomination, diversity & uniformity of opinion in communities, the value of the internet, truth vs. relativity, forgiveness and the healing of relationships, and a bit about long range planning. All of these things are on the internet and are available in print for those who need to see them that way.

  4. I'm revising my views of "long range planning," moving to a more prayerful approach that comes out of my friend Wendy Berthelsen's work at her organization Call Inc. To pursue the "God-Designed Church" we would have "Vision Raising Events." We would gather for scripture teaching, prayer, brainstorming and, importantly, to see which of us would like to be involved in making one or more of the brainstormed ideas into a reality.

    Wendy Berthelsen has described "Vision Raising" as a Spirit-led brainstorming-type process. It trusts that people will hear and obey God's call to use part of their energy, time and passion to advance the work of the church. Because the church is a group of God-called individuals, the key is to ask what God is doing in our lives together, to listen for God's answer as he speaks through his Word and the energy of his people.

    "Mission and vision" then become descriptive rather than prescriptive. It is a way of looking out into the community and reflecting upon life at church with thankfulness for what is already happening. It asks people who are not currently involved to consider how God might be calling them in the days and years to come, during the particular season of life in which they find themselves. This keeps the leaders from trying to push people into doing things and it allows people to do things to which they feel truly called.

  5. Tomorrow night we'll try again to have a discussion on the ELCA's proposed statement on sexuality.

  6. Much planning and preparation is underway for this fall's program.

  7. Please continue to share questions, information and comments.
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*I share a more information about my hours with the council. Others may see them upon request. My church related service is governed by a "letter of call" (click here to download - pdf file, one page). A "mutual ministry committee" has met with me in the past so certain "emphases" for each year's work can be developed and approved by the council. Three of the emphases that were agreed to for the year beginning June 2007 were stewardship (goal = 300 PoWeR SuRGe commitments), prayer (goal = gather a prayer team for church in mission), and planning (goal = work with leadership toward setting congregational goals).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Big Mess

In yesterday's post I talked about how God's love shines through an impossible situation. Situations like that are going on all the time in people's little lives, and in the big world.

The Olympics are going on this week. I am having fun watching some of the competition. It's very inspiring. I got out for a long bike ride on Saturday that I probably wouldn't have done otherwise.

But there's tragedy mixed in. There was the deadly knife attack on relatives of an olympic coach and wars are going on in and among some of the countries. One that has grabbed headlines lately is between Georgia and Russia. What a mess.

I don't pretend to know much about that situation. I learned some things that relate to it, however, when I spent time in Lithuania in May.

I've mentioned my trip to Lithuania before.* It comes to mind because I got an email yesterday from someone involved with the East European Missions Network and because my daughter mentioned it in her blog on Tuesday.

Both Georgia and Lithuania are former "republics" of the Soviet Union. Both have Russian minority populations.

In May, during my time abroad, I had a very interesting dinner conversation with Naomi's Lithuania roommates.** One of the roommates was Russian. She and her parents live in Klaipėda, Lithuania, the city where Naomi spent her spring semester.

Though they live in Lithuania, they identify themselves as Russian. From what I understand, the same is true for many ethnic Russians living in the country of Georgia and the area of "South Ossetia." Russians moved from the motherland to the "republics" during the Soviet era.

At some point the parents of Mila (Naomi's Russian roommate) moved from Russia to Kaliningrad. Then Mila's dad's work transfered him to Klaipėda. Like thousands of others who moved during the Soviet era, they made the new place their home.

Everything changed in 1990, when Lithuania became independent along with the other 15 Soviet republics. Mila's family, which had enjoyed privileges during the Soviet period of Russification, now found themselves as foreigners. Lithuania declared, for example, that all business needed to be transacted in Lithuanian. Mila's parents did not know that language. There were also complications for her dad because, as I understand it, he was held in foreign ports without pay for long periods of time because he worked for the Soviet merchant marine.

Mila's family was very poor, even going without food at times, until her parents learned Lithuanian and became more integrated into that society. Even so, still today they consider themselves Russian... and if they had the opportunity to reunite with mother Russia? I don't know them at all, but I can understand why they might think of it as a good idea. And I think that's how Russian people in Georgia might feel.

It is a big mess and very complex. Not easy to see who is in the right. But it is good for us to care. I know God cares. God never shies away from a mess. We know that because of Jesus, who came down into a very messy political situation when Rome was occupying Israel. In fact, it's right there in those big messes that God seems to be obviously at work.
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*If you're really interested you can read my journal. Click here to download the 12 pages.
**You can see a picture of Naomi's Lithuanian roommates ("Russian and Belarusian") on her post from Tuesday (the second to last picture).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

God's Messy Love

I'm not going down to the Corn Carnival right now. I am signed up to help at the stand but I haven't spent much time at my desk today. I asked Toni to call me if I'm needed. Life does go on beyond the Corn Carnival! Some prayer & care needs we're aware of and there is personal & family stuff to deal with. I plan to be out of town tomorrow so won't do much here then. So I'm thinking ahead a bit to Sunday's sermon.

One of the most difficult incidents from Jesus' life is where he says "It's not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." He says that when a woman comes to him to get help for her daughter. You can read the story by clicking here - start at Matthew 15:22.

To be fair, you need to know the rest of the story. The woman's response to Jesus' rude remark is "'Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.' Jesus answered, 'Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.' And her daughter was healed instantly."

I hope Jesus knew that the woman would not be deterred by his rude remark. I am thankful for the woman's bold reply. I'm thankful that the incident ended well. Because it did, we can use it as a lesson to help anyone who feels worthless, ignored or abused. It's good to be bold even in the face of negative authority--even when it seems God is not on your side.

These difficult passages in the Bible help us, I think, in dealing with what seems to be a messy world. Things aren't so nice all the time. Sometimes God seems to be against us. Martin Luther said, in a 1525 sermon, that "the heart has to turn away from its feelings and must comprehend and hold fast the deep, secret yes that is under and above the 'no' with solid faith in God’s word, as this simple woman does."

In this difficult passage, this woman knows the REAL truth. She, and all people, are worthy of grace, no matter what anyone says. Even God may say you are a sinner and deserving of nothing but hell. But amazingly, God takes the penalty on himself! He is the one who becomes worse than a dog for you and me. That truth comes clear only on the cross, when Jesus dies for all the sinful and unworthy of the world.

I don't always like how the Bible is put together, but even in the hard, messy parts, God's love shines through.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Corn Carnival

For those who are not in our beautiful area, you may not know about the Cokato Corn Carnival. That's where we are this week. Sad thing is, unlike the picture above, there is no ferris wheel this year. :-(

This event is like many town festivals, but unique in that it begins Monday evening and continues through Wednesday. There's free corn 4-9 tonight and tomorrow. Our church has a stand where we raise funds for causes and charities outside our regular church budget.

Added November 2008: You can download a one page pdf summary of where the 2008 church food stand proceeds went by clicking here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Many Paths?

Take a look at what Cal Thomas wrote in this article (click on the word "article").

One paragraph says:
If there are many paths to heaven, Jesus suffered and died for nothing. He could have stayed in heaven, sent down a book of sayings and avoided crucifixion. Orthodox Christians have always believed -- and their Bible teaches them -- there is only one path to heaven and it is through Jesus Christ and him alone.

The good news is that the one through whom we are saved is supremely loving, marvelously forgiving, and immensely generous to sinners like me and you. So we come to him with great joy!

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By the way, the word "orthodox" has two meanings. Above, Cal Thomas uses "orthodox" as a synonym for "real," saying that Christians who don't believe that "there is only one path to heaven" aren't believing according to "real" Christianity. Below, when I'm talking about my visit to Russian Orthodox churches, I'm referring to a particular church denomination.

Accountability for Pews and Pastors

When I traveled to Lithuania in May, I visited two Russian Orthodox churches. Neither had pews, chairs or anywhere to sit except a couple of benches along the wall for the infirm. I stood through more than an hour of worship one Friday evening with everyone else.

Normally, here in the USA, we want to sit during at least part of our worship time. We have "pews" or benches because they are traditional, you can squeeze lots of people in, and they can be cheaper and quieter than lots of chairs. Because, in our culture, we need to sit down, I think pews are great because they promote a sense of community. In my opinion, there is too much individualism in our society. Let pews stand against that trend.

But obviously, pews aren't essential. In 1984 I went with my then internship supervisor, Pastor Walter Dörr to homes (without pews) in Brazil to lead worship. I've led worship in many kind places since then, including in local apartment buildings and nursing homes. I've even thought it might be good to have a place, away from the church building here in Cokato where people who are uncomfortable with our beautiful sanctuary might gather for worship. Even some of our long time members are uncomfortable sitting in pews.

What about the pastor? Do you need one of those? Some acquaintances of mine publish a magazine called Searching Together. Its goal is to "speak the truth in love" Ephesians 4:15. The editors are part of what might be called a "house church." They challenge the idea of pastors, pews and the need to pay for them.

Those folks challenge me! The most recent issue of their magazine is an attack on tithing! The lead article critically reviews a book called Pastor Driven Stewardship. The review deals with "two huge unsubstantiated assumptions" that pastors use to "drive" their flocks to give money. Quoting the review, those assumptions are (1) "that today's institutional 'church' is a model of church life spoken of the the New Testament" and (2) "that giving money to support the institutional 'church' is the same as 'giving to God.'" There is also an excerpt from the book Pagan Christianity called "Tithing and Clergy Salaries: Sore Spots on the Wallet." OUCH! **

Our tradition is to call and support pastors who are freed up from the normal responsibilities of life so they can dedicate time to equipping YOU for the work of ministry (also Ephesians 4). We do this by preaching and teaching and leading worship.

There are, however, other ways of being the church. You can gather with others at home around the scriptures. There's not even anything biblical about our Lutheran tradition that only pastors can celebrate communion! In the Lutheran tradition, we even don't try to justify "clergy" biblically. We say we have them for "good order" and to "represent the divine initiative and express the connection of the local community with other local communities in the universal Church."

That's what we say. But, because we can't justify it scripturally, we need to argue for pastors in the same way we do for pews. We need to make sure pastors are helpful and worth the price. In the wider Christian community, we'll continue to debate this until our Lord returns.

Until then, as a pastor of the "institutional church," I am accountable to the Lord--but I'm also accountable the local church, and to those in the wider church. That's one reason I started this blog.

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**Take a look at Searching Together's articles for lots more provocative material.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Against the Wind

In The Madeline I imagined myself in a sailboat with Jesus in the wind. Wind is a symbol for spirit, as when the Holy Spirit blew through the upper room at Pentecost, bringing the power of Jesus to the disciples. Every day I listen for the voice of God in the scriptures and seek where God is at work among those with whom I work. It's like a sailor testing the wind.

But not every wind is a good wind. In the gospel for Sunday we see the disciples in a boat where the "wind was against them." "The boat," says Matthew 14:24 was "battered by the waves... far from the land." Jesus came to the disciples in that wind, not as the cause of the wind, but "walking on the sea." And with Jesus finally in the boat, "the wind ceased" (v. 32).

It's good to know that not everything that happens comes direct from God. As a child, I learned from Rocket J. Squirrel to ask if "spirits" are friendly. So it is with things that happen to us and those around us. Some things are just plain wrong. Some spirits are evil. Some changes are bad. Some times we shouldn't just give in.

Sometimes God works against the wind. That's what we're doing as we call our members to worship every week. I learned how much "against the wind" of the times this is last Sunday when I skipped church and drove with mom and dad from the cities to Duluth. We stopped at Toby's in Hinckley for a cup of coffee and the crowds amazed me. When I was a kid growing up in Crystal almost everyone went to church on Sunday (or, for the catholics, on Saturday night). Today, those who worship every week are a minority to be sure.

Let's stand against this wind. Let's gather to hear the Word each week. Let's share in the Lord's Supper. When you can't gather at our church on Sunday, worship at another church, or get together with your family and friends to hear the Word of God, which brings God's wind, God's will.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Event of the Week


There hasn't been a lot of quiet time since returning from Duluth. The "event" of the week so far was the National Night Out event at Parkview. Thanks to the Social Ministry committee, youth and others for making it a success. The goal was simply to give an opportunity for the folks at Parkview to get to know each other a little better. I talked with many people last night for the first time. One man has been a resident of those apartments for 14 years, another for 13. We brought food and invited people from the neighborhood. 92 year old Glenna came over, escorted by Cokato Corn Carnival royalty and candidates. We met a Vietnamese woman who speaks hardly any English and a Grenada veteran who wants to do some visiting at Cokato Manor. Thanks again to all who helped out. And thanks to Becky Sorenson for the pictures!




Monday, August 4, 2008

The Madeline

It's Monday morning in Duluth. I'm up here with mom and dad. I walked down this morning to Canal Park and saw the "Madeline" motor under the lift bridge. She was under sail but didn't cut the engine until she was out of the harbor. The Madeline is a reconstruction of a mid-19th century schooner, "typical of the trading schooners that once sailed the Upper Great Lakes."

During one of last week's presentation to adults at family camp, Craig Nissen asked us to imagine a boat on the water. Then he asked each of us to imagine where we were and where Jesus is. In my mind I was in a sailboat and Jesus was in the wind.

Where is the wind of Jesus blowing in your life? Will we look for the signs and let the Lord give us the energy we need? Will we look for where God is active in our lives and in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ? Or will we try to motor under our own power? See Letting God do the Work and stay tuned for more on this subject.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Hold On!

When I cry unto the Lord "No More Pain Can I Afford!" and I know that what is happening is real - I will pour out my complaint, 'cause my soul is growing faint, and I'm certain that the Lord knows how I feel!

Those may or may not be the exact words I learned back in 1976 at Central Lutheran's Camp Amnicon, but they are with me, deep in my soul, from that summer and from years after, when I sang them through some of my own dark days.

Then I cry unto the Lord: "Bring me from this prison ward! Those who persecute me want to take my soul! If you rescue me O Lord, I'll give thanks forevermore, for your mercy always seems to overflow."

At camp last week, and since, I've been plunged into the midst of pain. Not my own pain, but the pain of others that the Lord has put in my life. Some of the pain is caused by people. Other pain comes from illness and other dark forces that afflict body and soul.

In a hospital visit tonight the words of that old Negro Spiritual came back to me. Kneeling at the bedside, I sang those words and the chorus as we waited for the pain medication to work:

Hold on!
Hold on!
Soon God's love will surround you!
Hold on!

A few minutes later, the priceless soul in the hospital bed was giving thanks and expressing concern for others. But sometimes the pain doesn't give up so easily.

In the path where I must flee, there's a hidden trap for me, and I keep a watch on both sides of the road. There is none to rescue me, and no refuge do I see, for nobody cares what happens I am told.

Some suffering goes on and on. The devil, sinful people, our own sinful selves and sometimes even the world itself seems to conspire against us. And some would tell others there is no hope.

So, THERFORE, you and I, who have SOME moments of light in the darkness, and because we know the promise of God's wonderful love that WILL win in the end... You and I have the RESPONSIBILITY to stand with and sit beside those who are suffering and do all we can to help.

We can't just pretend it's all okay. For some, tonight, it's REALLY hard. For those who are suffering deeply it's almost impossible, sometimes, to believe light and love and hope are on their way.

So, those of us who have come to believe the promise of goodness and love and joy through the death and resurrection of Christ--we enter those places of pain WITH those who suffer, and, with them, watch and wait, and love and serve. And yes, look for signs of God's grace which WILL come.

And we don't go all alone. We keep one hand firmly in the grip of other brothers and sisters in Christ, getting strength and prayer and the rest that is needed by every warrior.

We can trust the promise of the resurrection! We can be bold in the hope that never dies. The time will come when we will joyfully sing:

Glory to the Father, Son, and the Spirit, three in One! I will offer praise again and again! As it was when life began, it WILL be as it was planned, in a world without end! Amen!

Until then, we hold on! Soon God's love will surround us!

Family Blessing


We came home from camp yesterday. Today I'm heading in to Minneapolis. I'll visit a couple of people at Abbott-Northwestern hospital and then go to mom and dad's.

Last time I saw mom and dad was at my dad's birthday party. Actually, it was our annual Thorson July birthday party for Daniel, Naomi, my dad's sister Betty, her husband Glen, and dad. (Betty and Glen are my baptism sponsors - I'll need to write about them sometime.)

For dad's birthday I gave him a card and an invitation to go to the Duluth "Tall Ships" event this weekend. Tomorrow we'll be up there, dad, mom and I, to see and tour those magnificent sailing vessels. Should be a good time.

Family is such a blessing, and it should never be taken for granted. That's one of the reasons our discussion on sexuality is so important. You're invited to join us Wednesday evening in the church fellowship hall for the discussion - please see the announcement about this - I try to keep a link to a few announcements more or less current under "more stuff" at the top right of this blog page.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Fun!

Last night my friend Joel quoted Psalm 145 through tears. God has been faithful, generation to generation. Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp has helped us, and many other families, pass on the faith in a joyful way.

The picture shows Amara Berthelsen, daughter of our friends Wendy and Joel, on the shoulders of our boys, Daniel and Jonathan, with Amara's brother Stefan in the front. It was taken on Tuesday at the beach by the Okoboji staff. You can see more highlights of our week at camp by clicking here.

How do you use your fun time? Do you use your vacation to build joy into the next generation? Sure, we have Bible studies at camp and a speaker for the adults, but just spending time together is the greatest. Praise the Lord!
Psalm 145
The Greatness and the Goodness of God
Praise. Of David.
1 I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall praise your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
and I will declare your greatness.
7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
and all your faithful shall bless you.
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
and tell of your power,
12 to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
The Lord is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.
14 The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;
he also hears their cry, and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

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We signed up to return to Okoboji next year, June 28-July 3. Why not join us? If you can't afford it, let us know and we'll find a way to help!

Here's a pic of my nephew and friends on "stage" at camp!