Sunday, March 29, 2009

Moved for Good

Today's Gospel reading was from John 12:20-26...
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor..."
My daughter Naomi spoke in church today, after my too long introduction. You can listen to the message by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Under the Influence

This morning the Dassel-Cokato pastors meet with Patty Sterner, a DC school employee and track coach who lost a step-daughter to alcohol poisoning and who is working to raise everyone's awareness of the DANGERS of DRUNKENNESS. You might know her personally or have read about her in the June 16, 2008 issue of the Enterprise-Dispatch newspaper.

Drunkenness is no joke. It is not a "rite of passage" that lets you know you are an adult. Drunkenness is a killer. We all know we shouldn't drive drunk. But doing anything while being under the influence of drugs or alcohol puts us at risk--it also encourages others to use alcohol and other chemicals get high, putting them at risk also. Many adults would never drive drunk, but often care for children when "under the influence." It doesn't make sense.

If we have a tendency to use alcohol or other drugs to the point where our inhibitions are lowered, it's too much. When our judgment is impaired, we are dangerous people.

Having fun, however, is SO important. We all need to take time off to relax, to laugh, to play, to do crazy fun things, to "chill." God wants us to have OVERFLOWING joy, something my younger son experienced this week at the International House of Prayer.

The Holy Spirit can and does fill us with his influence, which can make us silly and a lot of fun. The first time the Holy Spirit came down in the bible book of Acts, chapter 2, those who received the Spirit were so happy that people thought they were drunk. In Ephesians 5:18, we read something that seems to say the same: Do not be drunk, instead, be filled with the spirit.

We need to teach our children, and our youth, by our example, that good fun, crazy fun, is an important part of the Christian life. But we don't need chemicals or alcohol to loosen us up. Let's just live in God's grace. Let the music play! Dance! Sing! Love! Live life to the full! Have a beer if that isn't a problem for you or those you are around. But be aware of all those who are in danger of using to the point of being under the influence. When you start to feel it, it's time to stop.

Patty Sterner is convinced that peer pressure is the way to get things changed. And that begins with you and me. She has loaned me a power-point presentation that I can loan to you anytime. If you want something online, go to

Added Thursday 11:45 a.m. - I just got an email from Patty that says, in part,
"Thanks again getting people talking about this - it's important that adults bring up the conversation. Kids drinking habits now days are labeled a phenomena, the binge drinking and the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) levels are so very high that most parents who did drink as a teen and think they know what their kids are doing - really don't'. The whole situation is very sad. But all of us working on it will help bring about change. Thanks for helping! Patty"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Make a Friend

I got a letter today from John Spaulding, the director of "Christians Meeting Muslims," an organization based in Minneapolis. It begins:
" 'I’ll treasure that.' This was the response of a Muslim man to the handout for my presentation on 'How We Understand God' at the March 15 meeting of the Muslim-Christian dialogue group at the Islamic Center of Minnesota. I had outlined key aspects of the biblical picture of God and illustrated them with numerous Scripture references, cited in full. I expect this man was happy to have the material organized for him in this way; we who know the Bible well don’t perhaps realize how daunting a book it can be for those who are less familiar with it. Thanks for your prayers for that presentation. There was a bigger than usual attendance, and the afternoon went well, with Christian, Muslim and Jewish presentations on the topic, and lively discussion."
After some praises and petitions (click here for the full text of the letter, 1 page, pdf) John adds one more prayer:
"That more Christians will reach out in friendship to Muslim acquaintances, the essential step for making some space in which the Gospel can be shared. The man I mentioned at the beginning of this letter still remembers after many years the neighbors who brought cookies for his family, a day or two after they had moved in as new immigrants."
Making friends is key for all God's work in our community too. Last Friday at the food shelf I met a man who claimed to follow a "Norse" (pagan) religion. We talked for awhile about that and about his family. I got his name and phone number and am at the moment looking for the paper where I wrote it so I can call him, ask him more about his religion, and know how to pray for his needs.

There's always risk in friendship, but it's a step that can't be skipped. You can find numerous examples in Jesus ministry and in the work of the first followers of Christ. God's work is done in our friendships in the world. Yes, it's important to gather at church to hear God's Word and be strengthened in Christian community, but wherever you go, when we act as Christ's followers, we are his voice, his heart, his hands.

Pastor Spaulding's outline of the "biblical picture of God" is available here (4 pages, pdf).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thanks from the Nook

It's almost midnight here in our computer nook. Toni and I are sitting in what used to be the "breakfast nook" here at the 1922 parsonage that we are grateful to live in. It's late but we're sort of waiting for each other to be done with what we're doing before we hit the sack.

Speaking of sacks, our son Daniel, along with hundreds or maybe even thousands of others have been sandbagging near the Red River. He's a student at Concordia in Moorhead and most college and high school students in the area have put in long days. A group from Cokato's Minnesota Disaster Relief is up there too.

Our high school junior son Jonathan is coming back tomorrow from a spectacular long weekend at the "International House of Prayer" down in Kansas City. We're looking forward to having him home so he can fill us in on what the Lord has been doing in his life over the past few days.

Naomi, not to be outdone by her brothers, is planning to preach at our church this Sunday by special invitation of the pastor. She participated in "Sankofa" -- a tour of civil rights history and an encounter with the ongoing social movement of the church. She wrote:
We are experiencing some intense things. We are coming face to face with our history...and face to face with OURSELVES. Perhaps that is the most tumultuous part of it all--recognizing how racism is inside of us, whether we like it or not. It is a part of who we are, its perpetrators, its victims and its beneficiaries.
In the gospel for this coming Sunday, Jesus says:
"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor." John 12:23-26
I am so thankful that my kids are learning what it is to follow our Lord. I am thankful for this community, and other communities where we have lived, and for the many people who have helped them learn our Lord's love.

I'm also thankful for this night, and for the fact that I can go to sleep now! Peace to all of you! Time for bed!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Suffering Forgiveness

This was today's sermon - based on the scriptures assigned for the day. Click the colored words for link(s).

You can listen to the audio as it was preached today by clicking here.

John 3:21 Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

That line, the one from the end of today's gospel reading… it's is certainly true and wise. When I don't have anything to hide, when I am innocent, I don't mind being exposed. I like others to see. Like a child I say "Look how good!" and point at myself. But when I have done bad, I want to hide.

Nicodemus comes at the beginning of John chapter 3—but he comes at night… he has something to hide. He doesn’t want anyone to see.

And the people in our First Reading—in the Old Testament book called “Numbers.” Those people—they weren’t innocent either! They hated God.

They hated God even though he had saved them and brought them on their way thus far to the promised land.

Nicodemus and the people in Numbers 21—they weren’t innocent. They didn’t trust. Nicodemus came with his suspicions. And the Israelites were guilty as sin.

Why do we have such a hard time in our relationship with God? Why don’t we love and trust him easily? Why do we need to be told over and over again so we quit hiding our sin or trying to make ourselves look good?

Many of us, since we have been small, we have been taught, that God will love forever. But when we do wrong, or when we feel bad, what do we do? Sometimes we get angry at God—and at other times we hide our sins away.

Unless we’re reminded of God’s grace over and over again, we don’t bringing burdens, guilt, disappointments. We’re like people wandering in the wilderness, burdened with our past and afraid of the future.

That’s true unless we’re reminded and convinced, over and over again, that there is nothing we have ever done, and there’s nothing we can ever do that will make our God turn away from us… not because we’re good… because we’re not.

But the way of God, the way of love, joy and PEACE in our lives, is coming out into the open with our sin—just like on the cover of the bulletin where the people of Israel are pictured, coming out from hiding, out to where they would be reminded of their sin and its punishment, and there, out in the open, be healed.

I’ve got a little story that will help us understand, but before that I think it’s good to say a little bit more about that bronze metal snake. Because it’s pretty strange.

Hundreds of years after this event, in the Old Testament book of Second Kings—2nd Kings 18:3-4—it says there that a good King—a king named Hezekiah—that he took that bronze metal snake and broke it in pieces because people were worshipping it.

It might look like an idol of some kind, or some kind of good luck charm maybe, hanging up there on that pole, with all those people coming to be healed…

But the point of the snake wasn’t that it was some kind of good luck charm… now this is important… LIKE THE CROSS the metal snake was supposed to remind the people that we DO sin against God but that God still loves us and when we come clean we can be forgiven!

We don’t need to go searching for some kind of a guilt free religion that will let us go on sinning. We can face our guilt head on—all of our fears, all of our anger against God—we can bring it out and say “YES! IT’S TRUE! I AM a sinner doomed to suffer & die forever.”

God in his mercy provides a way for us to be forgiven. He takes the burden of the sin on himself.

The snake on a pole was a kind of FORECAST of what God was going to do later, taking the sin on himself, dying on the cross, being lifted up…

And we come like the people in the picture, and we bring everyone else so they too can be saved, so they too can be healed, so they know they are always loved.

Now it’s time for my little story.

Many years ago I lived in Brazil for a year and a half. When I first got to Brazil I lived in a house that was owned by a dentist. It was a very nice house, but it was very close to a slum where, I was told, many people lived who would rob you if you weren't careful.

I don’t know if that was true or if was just prejudice against the people in the slum. I got to know people in slums and they were just like anyone else. But, many people who were richer pretty much wanted those poor people to stay away.

Anyway, when I first came to Brazil I lived in a very nice house, and is true with almost every house in lots of countries, it was surrounded by a wall… this one that had to have been at least 10 or 12 feet tall—barb wire on top with glass bottles set into the cement, bottles that had been broken so the glass shards were sticking out.

There was one gate, and the gate was locked tight. I paid rent for a room in the house and was given a key.

Nothing bad happened when I was there, but I want you to use your imagination for a minute so I can let you know what a precious gift we have in God's forgiveness and how he SUFFERED for us.

Let's imagine I got tired of using my key to that front gate and decided just to leave it open when I left one day.

Or imagine that I lost my key and didn't want to admit it, so I took some duct tape or a piece of metal or something and fixed the gate so it wouldn't lock.

And let's imagine that one evening, after I jammed the lock open, that I left the house, and let's imagine that thieves got into the house when the father wasn't home, stole whatever they could find, terrorized and killed the family, trashed the house and, before leaving, set it on fire.

And let's imagine I came home and found the father weeping. Everything was lost.

Now that didn’t happen to the Wanderley’s house. As far as I know, Everualdo and his wife Cedinha are still living there today.

That didn’t happen to the Wanderley’s house. But it did happen to God’s world!

God made this beautiful world. He made it, he loves it, he owns it, and, back in the beginning, he gave it to us human beings to enjoy and take care of.

But we human beings, we did as I imagined I did in my pretend story. We let sin and death and destruction in. Because we didn’t want to obey God, we deliberately left the gate open let evil in and let it take control.

And ever since then there has been pain and sickness and treachery and death. And, the thing is… we’re not even innocent in our motives. Many times we are the thieves and murderers and terrorists in God’s world.

So what does God do?

I think I know what the dentist Evervaldo Wanderley would have done.

He would have killed me.

Or he would have sued me first and then killed me.

He would have made me pay.

He would have made me SUFFER.

But God loved us so much, that he chose to take the burden of our sin on himself!

Instead of getting revenge on us, and instead of making us pay the ultimate price of his wrath, he chose to pay the fearful price himself for what we have done.

He suffered in his body on the cross.

He suffered in his soul, mourning over the damage we have caused.

And he died in our place—he took upon himself the sufferings of hell--because we do deserve the worst punishment you can imagine.

He paid the suffering price of forgiveness for you… and for me.

If I didn’t know that, I would hide.

If I wasn’t sure God loved me forever and without question, I would not come home. Imagine what I would have done in the imaginary story…. Imagine if I hard heard that tragedy had struck that family because of me.

I very well could have carried that guilt to my grave.

If you or I had done something as bad as that, or if you or I have been a murderer or a thief or an adulterer or if we have to this point rejected God’s mercy, God has paid the price. Every kind of guilt was wiped away when Jesus died on the cross.

And we need to know that, and so does the world. So we can all come home. So we can all come clean.

When we come to God—when we come out with our sin into the light and quit hiding, we will find more love, not less! Look at that cross! Remember the price Jesus paid FOR YOU!

God came to this world, not to condemn us or make us hide, but God came to let us know that we are loved. This should make us willing to be honest and open in admitting our sin and allow the healing power of God to flow.

As I said on Wednesday, there is no reason to be afraid anymore. Many people have experienced this truth: When we stop hiding the pain and sin and wounds in our lives, so much can be healed--our minds, our bodies, our relationships and families, even our finances.

Please—come and let someone know how wounded and hurt and sinful you are. Here... and I hope this is true among the people of our church... here you will find understanding, companionship, forgiveness, freedom, and God's healing love.

You can bring it all. No matter what your burden, no matter what your guilt, no matter what your fear, you can be healed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What the Cross Means to Me - week 4

You can listen to Wednesday's talks from worship. Click on the names below.

Philippians 3:4b-11
Steve Thorson (6 minutes) grew up in Crystal, Minnesota, the oldest of four in the family. Cooper High School class of 1974, Augsburg College 1981, Luther Seminary 1986. Married Toni Dahlin 1984, 3 children. Served as pastor in Ladysmith & Glen Flora Wisconsin 1986-92, in Taylors Falls, MN 1992-2005 and since September 2005 here in Cokato.

Philippians 2:5-8
Jerry Seehusen (20 minutes), a former member of this church and leader of the Morris Garage Bible study, grew up in Danube, Minnesota. He is married to Judi Jacobsen (of Hutchinson), has a son Andy and a daughter Katie. He is a two time cancer survivor, has been a Christian since 1980 and often preaches as a “lay pastor” in Western Minnesota. He and Judy live on Jerry’s home place in Danube. He works in Minneapolis as part of a property management team. A favorite Bible verse is Zephaniah 3:17.

Content to Stay

Sometimes we feel bad when we can't do what others do. Some people have already had a spring break and have gone to warmer climates. It's easy for those of us "stuck" at home or in a windowless office to feel sorry for ourselves.

Then I went to the food shelf this morning. So many are without work. So many are in danger of losing their homes. So many are lost without the secure knowledge that the Lord is with them.

God calls us to love others and to share. That's what we do at the food shelf and in other social ministry opportunities. And if we have the basics, God can give us contentment, and thankfulness, if we ask.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Good Question!

"Why do we need to be quiet before the service?"

One of our young people wrote that question on the back of the worship notes he turned in last Wednesday. I encourage young and old to ask questions and make comments, give feedback, share complaints, etc. But because we've got a "worship note" system in place for our young people to share, I tend to get more from them. Some other questions and comments that came in from our youth this week were...
  • How does God hear every prayer when there's like a trillion?
  • I think we should have Sunday worship in the afternoon because I don't like getting up early on weekends.
  • What is "zeal"?
  • Has anyone found the slate where the ten commandments were written?
  • and a few more less serious comments and questions...
I try to answer each question and respond to each comment individually... I write notes to the kids and try to get my answers back to them promptly. Right now, I'm way behind, but I thought the first one I that came across my desk this week was especially pertinent.

"Why do we need to be quiet before the service?"

That question was asked in connection with a Wednesday evening worship in Lent. During the Lent season, which is not observed by every church or denomination, I have been reminding our Wednesday crowd to keep their voices down in the moments just before worship. Lent, and the upcoming Holy Week, are traditionally quieter times in church.

Why do I remind people of this? Mostly, I do it out of respect for those who appreciate a quiet and reverent atmosphere to prepare for worship. It is good, however, for chatty people to take some quiet time. Sometimes we get so busy with our other relationships that we don't allow God to make a difference deep in our hearts.

When you come to church on during Lent or Holy Week, or any time, do your best to be friendly, but also remember to respect those who want a little quiet before church. Take a few moments to read the scriptures, to pray, and to ask the Lord to speak to you in your heart.

But. if you're one of those who is accustomed to quiet, please don't be offended when others value that time for building the loving relationships that are so important to God.

See you in church!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pushed By God

This morning we heard from Dan Lemke, a member of the Gideons, an organization of businessmen and professionals dedicated to Bible distribution. Dan shared his faith story, which, with a song (led our worship band "Proclaim") and today's sermon (based partly on John 2:13-22)--total about a half hour of today's 11:00 worship--can be heard by clicking here. (The beginning of Dan's testimony was cut off the recording, sorry). To get a preview of today's topic read The Zeal of the Cross and Your Neighbor's Best Life Now.

God is calling men and women to be busy doing his work. God's free, unconditional, healing, forgiving love pushes us to action.
  • God pushes us to deeper love and more consistent care for our nearest neighbors--our families. In the church we help one another learn how to better love our husbands and wives and care for our children. God calls us to be responsible stewards of our finances (a class on this begins at our church tomorrow evening.)
  • God also pushes us out into the world. Some, like Dan Lemke, serve as Gideons. Some make quilts. Some distribute quilts and help those in need through participation with groups like Lutheran World Relief and Minnesota Disaster Relief. Some serve as missionaries and other full time Christian service. Many of us will be active in local service opportunities, praying and sharing and actively caring for neighbors in need.
None of us is called to do everything, but all of us are called, as long as strength and health persist, to be busy about the Lord's Work. We who have come to trust in our Lord, because of his great love for us, we're not to be idle.

If you don't know how God is calling you, let us know. We won't push you. But God--yes--God will.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Thanks, Paul

Paul Gustafson gave me a place to put the audio from those who spoke on Wednesday, March 11. Here are the "What the Cross Means to Me" talks -- click on the names to hear what they had to say:




Next Wednesday we hear from Jerry Seehusen, a former member of our church who has been very involved in men's ministry. He blogs at Beef on the Grill.

Hope to see you in church tomorrow morning!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Out of Space

I was hoping to post the audio of the March 11 "What the Cross Means to Me" talks but I've bumped up against the capacity of the free website I'm using to store audio and other helpful files. Our church is considering getting a website and, when that happens, we should be able to put the audio files there. If I find time, I'll rearrange things and see if I can squeeze the testimonies in. If you have appreciated being able to access sermons and our Wednesday Lenten talks on line, please let me or our church council members know. They'll be meeting about this on Tuesday evening March 17. Thanks.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Your Neighbor's Best Life Now

A conversation at between three professors at Luther Seminary begins something like this:

Karoline Lewis: "Who can go wrong with the Ten Commandments?"

David Lose: "Oh, my goodness! Did you ever see the movie Vision Quest? ...Matthew Modine plays a young wrestler who picks up Tai Chi and says to this kind of hard-boiled cook that he's working with, 'People do it in China. Can a billion people ever be wrong?' And the guy looks at him and says 'Frequently.' What I actually have in mind is this: Can people ever go wrong with the Ten Commandments? People do all the time! "

Ralph Jacobson: "The major way people people go wrong with the Ten Commandments is when they try to turn it into self-help religion. The basic distinction between law and gospel is essential here... All the adults should know the two uses of the law. God gives us the law 'civil-ly' that is, for our neighbor, and God gives the law theologically, that is, to remind us we are sinners... There is no use of the law to get to heaven! ...What the sinner always does it to turn God's Law into a personal improvement project. ...When I write my book on the Ten Commandments at least one chapter is going to be called Your Neighbor's Best Life Now. The reason God gives us the commandments is so our neighbor can have his and her best life now."

I have not read Joel Olsteen's book Your Best Life Now. If you have, let me know. Rolf Jacobsen, one of the professors above, who I respect, calls it a "really bad book" because, Rolf seems to think it's about having each individual person have their own personal best life without regard for the neighbor in need.

If you've read Olsteen's book, and if you have a different impression, let me know! Thanks!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Zeal of the Cross

This coming Sunday's scriptures (available by clicking here*) mention God's bold action in bringing slaves out of Egypt and, through Jesus, driving merchants out of the Jerusalem temple.

Praise God for these acts of God's powerful love! The exodus tells us that people shouldn't be enslaved. The cleansing of the temple shows that people shouldn't be taken advantage of by religion. The abolition of slavery and the reformation of the church** were, in part, inspired by these biblical events. Other scriptures, such as Psalm 72:12-14, proclaim God's concern for those who exploited and oppressed.

This is important! Those of us who know the Lord are called to act on behalf of justice and freedom for all. Though this world will never be the home of a complete or perfect "kingdom of God," there is no excuse for simply sitting back and letting people suffer. "Liberation Theology" and the "Social Gospel" movement do not have the whole truth, but they are correct in this: God does care for the well being of people in this life. Christians ought to care for and love those in need, doing what we can to remove the root causes of unjust suffering. We should not put all our focus on the life to come.

ON THE OTHER HAND, as we get busy fighting against what is wrong and for what is right in this world, we need to know that we, like Jesus, will be on the losing side. The zeal of God, burning in Jesus' soul, led to his death. Immediately after acting boldly in the temple in John 2, Jesus lets it be known that he expects to lose. His zeal, in terms of this world, is foolishness. It does not put an end to religious exploitation. His whole ministry does not shift the balance of good and evil in the world. Here, in this world, evil still wins. (It's only in the resurrection, beyond this world, that complete and final victory comes.)

So we have this paradox. God would have us do good. He would have us love and care and bring as much freedom and justice as possible. As we do this, however, we will be misunderstood and mistreated. In the end, when we follow our Lord, we will sometimes look like fools. People will often say, "why can't you just settle down?" Some Christ-followers will even follow their Lord to the death. In some parts of the world, and in some homes and neighborhoods in our country, martyrdom still occurs. We should never be surprised by this. Both Moses and Jesus were, after all, treated as criminals during their lifetimes, and Jesus, God in the flesh, died as one.

But, Jesus says, "Destroy this temple (meaning the "temple of his body"), and in three days I will raise it up." The resurrection of our Lord proves that God's way is right! Finally, in the end, it will be shown that doing good is not a lost cause.

God's message to us, then, is that EVEN when we are misunderstood, mistreated and end up being losers, godly courage ("zeal") can and will burn bright among us, both for the salvation of souls and the freedom of those oppressed. It may seem foolish, but "God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength." (First Corinthians 1:25)

One caution: Don't do this alone. We need our Lord and each other. It's in the community of the church that we can keep the balance between paying attention to the things of this earth and the things of heaven.

This is just the beginning of some thought's for this Sunday's message... more later! Time to to relax and hit the hay!

*Scriptures from the Revised Common Lectionary
**See the 95 theses of Martin Luther, especially #27, 28, 45, 51 and many more.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Capsized & Adrift but still loved (audio)

The pictures from Sunday Morning Preview are needed to understand this sermon (click here to listen). It would also be good to read the scriptures -- Genesis 17:1-7,15-17, Psalm 22:23-32, Romans 4:13-25 and Mark 8:31-38.

Even when we are weak in faith, even when we waver as Abraham did -- contrary to the common translation of Romans 4:20* -- in his feelings (see Gen 17:17), we can trust our Lord to love and rescue us.

That's the amazing good news of God.


*Note on Romans 4:20. In Greek (εἰς δὲ τὴν ἐπαγγελῒαν τοῦ θεοῦ οὐ διεκρίθη τῇ ἀπιστίᾳ ἀλλʼ ἐνεδυναμώθη τῇ πίστει, δοὺς δόξαν τῷ θεῷ) this verse includes the words οὐ διεκρίθη which are often translated "not waver" or "not doubt." "διεκρίθη," however, is better connected with the idea of "playing the judge." In the case of Romans 4:20, then, it would mean that Abraham didn't "judge" for himself that God couldn't keep his promises. Abraham, and every person of faith, does have feelings that waver, doubt and even despair from time to time. But faith says "even though I doubt you, God, even though all my feelings say I'm lost, your Word tells me that you can rescue and carry me anyway, so I wait for your promise to come true."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sunday Morning Preview

What is faith?

#1 - Nick Schuyler hanging on.

#2 - Nick Schuyler being lifted.

If it's #1, what happens when he just can't hang on anymore? If it's #2, how does that give you courage? More about this tomorrow.

See you in church! AND DON'T FORGET TO TURN YOUR CLOCKS AHEAD -- and check your smoke detector batteries while you're at it!

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Timothy Testimony

Was someone in your life a faithful anchor for your childhood? Have you been spared the "crash and burn" life disasters that you hear from in other people's faith stories? Have you ever thought, "I don't have a testimony" because your life isn't filled with drama? Perhaps you are like Timothy, whose mother and grandmother knew the Lord and taught Timothy the scriptures from his childhood.

As we move through Lent, I hope Timothy will speak! May the Lord grant us many Timothys, men and women who will speak and give thanks for God's consistent love. Please don't leave all the speaking to the Pauls and Prodigals! Your song might be "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" and your testimony Psalm 138. Praise God in the congregation for what He has done!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Scary Evangelism

I'm sitting here watching a DVD of "Heaven's Gates, Hell's Flames" that was loaned to me a long time ago by folks over at Good Shepherd Lutheran. The positive message is of God's love, and that through Jesus our sins are forgiven, our lives are changed, and when we quit fighting God's love, we will be accepted by Jesus, no questions asked.

But what about the flip side? In my opinion, "Heaven's Gates, Hell's Flames" uses a message of fear to get people to accept Jesus. On the one hand, the presentation says Jesus' love is the only way to God. On the other hand, it seems to limit that love to those who make a clear "choice" for Jesus. In the play those who have not made that choice are are taken by the devil. I think that makes salvation dependent on something we do. It also claims that the devil is somehow in charge of hell, which makes no sense to me at all.

Still, some people seem to need that strong fear-based message. Some folks perhaps need to be shaken up. But when I look at Jesus' ministry, and the ministry of the disciples in the New Testament, I don't see fear being used as a weapon to bring people to their knees. When Jesus talks about hellfire and damnation, it's usually as he is confronting self-righteous and self-confident religious people, not the common people who are twisted and turned by so many religious claims. I wonder if "Heaven's Gates, Hell's Flames" is true to the Spirit of Christ.

What do you think? Should we use fear as a way of presenting the good news of Jesus? Feel free to comment and share your heart. I can be wrong.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Touched by God's Grace

The three "clay pots" who shared tonight what the cross means to them all gave their permission to have their faith stories up on line. All of these are mp3 files. You can listen to my introduction to the evening by clicking here. To hear the individuals sharing, click on their names below.

Veda - about 6 minutes

Randy - about 11 minutes

Wayne - about 5 minutes

If you share in the future, don't worry, we don't need to put it up on line. Like the speaking itself, it's purely your choice what you want done. Also, you don't need to have a dramatic story. Our Lord protects and guides many who have known him since childhood. Praise God for every life story that has been touched by God's grace.

The Equipment Room

My daughter Naomi, a junior at Bethel University, made my day yesterday! She said she used last week's order of worship that I posted here with her "RA staff" and asked if I could share tonight's too. I'm sure she'll be disappointed, because there's not as much to it as on Ash Wednesday. You can download the pdf here.

In Lent this year we're having laypeople share "What the Cross Means to Me." It's our hope and prayer that those who worship tonight would see how "ordinary people" can "tell the love of Jesus, and say he died for all" (see the song There Is a Balm in Gilead). If we get permission, and if the technology works well, we might be able to share these testimonies on line. See "Touched By God's Grace" for that.

I am always encouraged when non-church-employees share their faith. As a pastor, I do have a role tonight--but it's mostly in the background. For the past few weeks I've been praying, encouraging and guiding these front-line Christians as they considered the opportunity, started to prepare, and as they are now in their last hour before they speak.

My hope is that we'll find out it's good to be bold with our faith and that we'll discover that the Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus works through many--not just pastors. It's a risk, but that's not something I'm usually afraid of.

One of our laypeople will share an anecdote from The Hammer of God, a book by Bo Giertz. He called me this morning and told me about it. It's about how Christians sometimes struggle against sin, but ends up discovering "the sinful corruption of our human nature." Comparing battling sin with "clearing stones" from the heart's field, Pastor Giertz says:
"...One day, when a man is battling sin and trying to clear the stones from the heart's field, sweating at the task yet hoping finally to get ride of the last ones so that he may really see the garden grow, his spade strikes solid rock. He digs and scrapes on every side; he tries again and again to budge the rock. Then the terrible realization dawns: It is stony ground through and through. ...He has laid bare a ledge of granite... the sinful depravity that remains even after a man has separated himself from all his conscious sins. It is this stony ground that explains why a man is just as great a sinner before God after he has offered God the best he is able to give of obedience and commitment."
The pastor's role is to help people remember that we never "make it" with God, that we are always in need of God's grace. As I put together tonight's worship, I hymns that swing the emphasis to the Cross of Jesus instead of our own righteousness. As it says in the old hymn "Beneath the Cross of Jesus," which ends tonight's worship:
Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.
Yes, Jesus did rise from the dead, and yes he does bless us and help us grow in faith, hope and love, but we never outgrow our need to humble ourselves at the cross.

Time to get ready for worship! Time to get out of the Equipment Room (my office) and out among the people. We'll have supper together and then worship. I hope you worship regularly all year long, and in this Lenten season, wherever you are.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Capsized and Adrift

The promise of God is bigger than our experience. The promise is good even when we don't think it is. God's promise does not depend on us.

This week we've been following the story of Nick Schuyler, who managed to cling the engine of his overturned fishing boat. He was rescued. But his three friends (Marquis Cooper, Will Bleakley & Corey Smith) were nowhere to be found.

On Sunday evening, in my absence, the Lord worked among the members of the Alpha leadership team to renew people's faith, hope and love. Email testimonies were shared yesterday. Other people in our church and community, however, are still feeling lost.

It's good to be rescued in this life. It's good to have our spiritual lives and "feelings" restored. But does God love us less when we are still lost or still down in the dumps?

The cross lets us know otherwise. Many times we do not feel like we are going to be safe or saved. Fortunately, however, God's promise does not depend on us. It is trustworthy forever.

Our Lord wants to gather, week after week, to remind us of his love so we do know ourselves to be loved and not forgotten. As God's love is shared in our midst, many of us will feel better... and that's good. But even if we still feel lost, God's promise is still good!

Sometimes, all we can do is cling to the promise. Sometimes that's all we've got.

Look at this wonderful blog post from Will Vaus (click colored words). He talks about how our spiritual life is like a train, with faith and feeling following the "engine," the great FACT of God's love.

I hope you'll read what he has to say. He concludes by saying:
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is unchanging, regardless of my faith or my feelings or even my knowledge about it. That Gospel is the engine which pulls my little life along, even when my faith is minuscule and my feelings constantly want to jump the track in one direction or another.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:8

Hallelujah! Amen.
I hope you will know God's love through the cross of Christ for you. I hope you will be lifted up through that great gift so you do not feel lost. But even if you do feel lost today or tonight, God will always be there for you. He will never abandon you.

The Psalm for this coming Sunday (Psalm 22) shows this very clearly. The cry of Jesus on the cross echoes the cries of so many in this world. But God's promise remains secure:
They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn
the saving deeds that he has done.
It's God's promise we can trust. We can rely on the fact that he died and rose again for sinners like you and me--even when our feelings and even our faith go up and down like a ship, capsized and adrift on a stormy sea.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Whom Shall I Fear?

Good morning! It's another cold morning. Zero degrees F. Hopefully the cold is coming to an end.

Looking ahead to this week's scriptures (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38) I see only ONE--God--whom we should fear.

What do you think? What are you afraid of? How can we help one another?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Together in the Wild

Here's the audio from this morning's 8:30 a.m. sermon. Click here for mp3 - about 20 minutes. I'm heading down to Hutchinson now for the Conference Assembly... no time to write more!