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.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wake Up to Joy - note to families

In church today we distributed a booklet of "Family Devotions for Advent" called "Wake Up to Joy."
  • "Advent" is a season of preparation for Christmas.
  • "Devotions" are scripture based thoughts and prayers.
If you did not receive yours in church today, give us a call at church. We'll also be mailing some to families that weren't here to pick them up.

As I looked at the family devotions, I realized they were perhaps a bit complicated for families with young children. I impetuously said in church that I would prepare a variation on what was handed out and make it available on the internet. Click here to find the result.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Tomorrow evening there will be an opportunity for people to receive the love of God through personal prayer for healing. Everyone is invited. Christian healing is intimately connected with the forgiveness of sins. The road to healing often passes through repentance, so come ready for self-examination. We pray to allow our Lord to give the kind of healing He chooses, whether it is physical or in terms of relationships, and how he chooses, whether directly through a miracle or indirectly through medicine, counseling or whatever. We hope to be submissive to what the Lord wants to do in our lives as leaders or attenders. This special time of worship with a focus on healing is sponsored by Alpha.

What Happens At Church

Thankfully, I get a Sunday off from preaching this week. Intern Paul Gustafson will bring a message. I look forward to hearing, not the "quality" of his preaching, but to being confronted and convicted, myself, by God's powerful and unrelenting Word.

As we move into December we will bear from John the Baptist who preached "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin" (Mark 1:4). Do we remember that's what worship is always supposed to do? Do our every Sunday habits of worship and Bible reading focus enough on the need for continual conversion? Do we come to church expecting to be changed?

Any time we are addressed by God's word something should happen. Something should happen in each person who hears. We should feel uncomfortable. We should be convicted of our sin. We should hear God's amazing word of forgiveness. We should be thankful. We should be changed.

Worship is intended to bring about change. I encourage you to do whatever is needed to make that happen. Study the scriptures in the days or hours or minutes before worship. Pay attention to what goes on in worship and, if it helps, take notes. If you'll do that, you'll be a great example for our youth -- young disciples in training.

Thanks to Pastor Steve King (see we've had more interesting ways of helping our youth pay attention during church since the fall of 2007. I've adapted about 20 of Steve's various worship note sheets and our Grade 7-9 have turned in an average of four each this fall. Sometimes they ask great questions and I try to get back to them with answers. We're trying to make that process go better and quicker this year.

Youth are asked to pay attention to lots of things, including the sermon. Our hope and belief is that as youth and adults pay attention, the Word of God will make a difference in their lives.

This morning at men's Bible study we spent a good deal of time talking worship. Specifically, we discussed the Lord's Supper and the command to "examine yourselves" and only then go to the Lord's Table (First Corinthians 15:29). We talked about how tempting it is to just go through the motions instead of allowing God to break our heart with his Word. We always remember the promise of forgiveness, but do we remember our need for repentance?

Tomorrow, and every Sunday, come to church ready to recognize your sin and your rebellion against God. When we do so, we know that Jesus died in place of each and every one of us as individuals, that our own personal sin caused our Lord to die. And then, out of gratitude, we allow our Lord to make the changes that are needed in our everyday lives.

See you in church!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


This morning many pastors from the Dassel-Cokato community met for breakfast. Our guests were from the local funeral homes. I have always appreciated the funeral directors who help people through the hours and days following a loved one's death. When we have a memorial service and there is no other professional there, it's a lot harder. Thank you, Mark and Greg, for the times we have worked together here.

Now I'm getting ready to preach at tonight's Thanksgiving Eve worship. I'm thinking especially of two Bible verses, one from Philippians 3:8 "I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" and 1st Corinthians 15:19 "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."

Tonight's worship is full of praise for many things. We'll sing "Come, you thankful people, come; raise the song of harvest home." The last verse goes like this:
Even so, Lord, quickly come to your final harvest home;
Gather all your people in,
free from sorrow, free from sin,
There forever purified, in your garner to abide.
Come, with all your angels come,
raise the glorious harvest home.
It's for the wonderful love of God that NEVER abandons us that we are TRULY thankful. Everything else is just that -- "everything else." Sometimes receive the gifts of God thankfully; sometimes we horde and misuse them. But everything besides the surpassing and eternal love of God will be gone someday. We bring nothing into the world, and we leave with nothing except our relationship with our Lord. Our Lord has done everything needed to make our "leaving" good.

That's what I am really thankful for as we come to Thanksgiving. Not so much the stuff, as needed as it all is. It's the eternal love of God, given to me though I don't deserve it, and given to you and me to share. That's what makes me sing!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A New Record

I'm sitting at a meeting with our church's social ministry committee. We just heard information that made us all sit up and take notice. It was reported that the Cokato food shelf's former record of sixteen families served in one week has been SMASHED. Twenty-nine families were served last week. A typical situation is a parent being laid off, the car is broken down, medical conditions... What to do? At least we can help a little. Bring bags of food and other items to the Thanksgiving worship or on Sunday. A list of needed items is at the Hands Against Hunger post.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Baptisms at Alpha

"Repent and be baptized" is the outline in the book of Acts. "Baptize and teach" is found in Matthew 28. Last night we baptized a child and three adults. Now we, as a church, have the responsibility and the delight of helping these four grow and be fruitful in faith. Please contact me if you are willing to pray for one or more of those who were baptized last night. Each has a baptism sponsor or sponsors who promised to nurture them in the faith, but they can use all the help they can get!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Wedding, Marriage, Family

I'm sitting in the church sanctuary while Tammi (our wedding coordinator) has fun helping a couple and their family and friends rehearse. My main job tomorrow is to share a brief message. The messages are similar, one wedding to another, because marriage is God's idea, not ours. God made us male and female and established marriage as a way of raising, guiding and protecting the generations to come. A side benefit is that couples enjoy each other and support each other throughout life.

The couple to be married tomorrow is very fortunate. Both bride and groom come from families where mom and dad are still together. I'm sure things aren't perfect - they never are - but they seem to be basically relaxed with one another. That's the goal.

Please pray for healthy marriages. Pay attention to God's plan. "A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one." From the two together, under God's plan and protection, children grow and are blessed with love. The whole community is blessed with strong families.

When challenges come, don't despair, and don't wait too long to seek help. Too many families and children suffer. If there isn't more joy at home than out in the world, it's time to make things better. Don't settle for ongoing strife. Marriage, as God planned it, is a place for safety, a refuge from the life's trouble, not the source of it. Talk with a trusted friend, pastor or counselor when things are hard -- ask them to help you work with your spouse. Marriage is too precious to keep silent as it goes bad.

We, as a church, are always here when there is a need. We can sit with you, listen to you, and help you find a better way. We will also help you seek protection if needed.

I'm on my way out to the rehearsal dinner now. I'm looking forward to it. Then I'll go spend some time with my own family. What a blessing!


In the Lutheran church, we use "communion" as shorthand for what is also known as the Lord's Supper. It is our obedient response to what Jesus commanded the night before he died.

I believe communion is something we participate in, not something we "take" or "have." It's not something people can "bring" to someone who is absent from worship. We have a responsibility to gather with those who are in need and to share the Lord's Supper with them. We can't delegate "communion" duties to professionals or certain trained volunteers. Communion, as the word suggests, is the responsibility of the whole community of believers.

If you know of someone who is cannot come to worship here at church, I encourage you to bring them to one of the times and places where we regularly share the Lord's Supper in the community. Click this community worship link for information. If those times and places don't work for you, I am available to gather with you if that is your desire.

Let's not leave people isolated from the Christian community God desires for each of us. Don't assume it's none of your business! As I learned this morning at Edgewood Gables, when I went from door to door inviting people to worship there, an invitation is usually much appreciated.

No Democracy

What follows are notes for a sermon to be preached on Sunday, November 23. The scriptures assigned for the day include Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 95:1-7a, Ephesians 1:15-23 and Matthew 25:31-46. The pre-printed bulletin cover is a drawing of Jesus holding a bowl of soup. The Sunday is called "Christ the King, the last Sunday of the church year. Advent begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

How would you run the world? A friend who works with painful situations most every day started a sentence recently with If I was in charge... but then stopped because both of us knew what was meant. It's hard to understand why God lets pain go on and on.

I've heard there was a television special earlier this month on the subject. It was called God On Trial. It imagines how prisoners in a concentration camp debating whether a good and powerful God could rightfully allow so much pain and evil to flourish in the world.

I think we debate these questions in our own heart and mind regularly. And sometimes we shake our fist at God or curl up and cry. Page through the Psalms and you will discover that it's okay to ask questions, cry, and even be angry with God.

How does God answer? At times, God intervenes to make sure we do not despair. At times, there are miracles and cures and amazing grace is poured out on us. God's final answer, however, is found at the cross, where God comes to suffer with us and for us, and in the resurrection, when he gives victory. And then he gives us one another, telling us to love, to feed, welcome, clothe, care and visit those in need until the end.

More than anything else God seems to value love -- not just any kind of love, but a giving sort of love, a love that is willing to hang in there with those who suffer, and who will not turn away. In that way, God wants us to be like Jesus. We may not like it, but, to make up for suffering now, he promises a marvelous reward in the end.

We can't elect, choose or appoint a God. We are his people and the sheep of his his pasture (Psalm 100). We don't choose. He makes, and chooses, us. We belong to him. Because of that, it's important that we get to know him better. We do that as we walk beside one another, and as we get to know Him through His Word.

See you in church!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Beauty and Joy in the Real World

It's been awhile since I've written!
  • On Thursday evening of last week we went to the dress rehearsal of the musical "Honk!" "Honk!" is the story of the ugly duckling. Though the focus is on outward beauty, I couldn't help but think about how often we all go along with the crowd to lable and misjudge those who are different. The story is from Hans Christian Anderson and may be autobiographical.
  • On Friday I heard a wonderful sermon from Craig Lundstad-Vogt at a funeral for James Goetz, former pastor of the church in Taylors Falls. Pastor Craig's message was based on the scripture from Romans 10:8b-17. He said Pastor Jim had "beautiful feet" because he brought the message of salvation from God's word to help people trust in the one Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. Though Jim's physical feet may have been ugly, and though he was a sinner through and through (just like me), bringing the good news of Jesus' love made his life beautiful.
  • I spent Friday evening and most of Saturday with gorgeous people (in the sense of the above) at the Alpha retreat at Green Lake Bible Camp. About 20 first time participants joined about 10 leaders and helpers in sharing the beauty of God's Word and the healing Joy of the Holy Spirit. I am very thankful for Alpha and all those who make it possible in our church. Lives have been, and are being, transformed.
  • On Sunday I shared two versions of a sermon I called "God is in Business" based on readings from Zephaniah, First Thessalonians and Matthew. God promises joy when we use everything God has given us for his saving purpose, multiplying God's investment in each of us to bring many others to the Lord. This in spite of the fact that God speaks harshly when we try to keep God out of what we think of as "our" business. God meddles in every part of our lives because of his great love. He wants us to share his joy!
  • On Monday we met for our so called "large staff meeting." We always begin with a scripture based thoughts and prayer. This week intern Paul Gustafson read an item from the Lutheran Digest called "Welcoming the 'Strangers' In Your Life." In the article Jan Johnson mentioned a "three minute guideline": For three minutes after worship we were asked to talk to people we didn't know. Jan concludes her article by saying: "No doubt Jesus knew how awkward [paying attention to others] would be for us, so He gave us this tip, to see Him in the eyes of every stranger... (Matthew 25:31-35)." That's beautiful too!
Here's how I'd summarize the last few days: If we're looking for beauty and joy in this challenging life, we will find it as we follow our Lord!

I hope to see many of you in the coming days. Tonight our church council meets. Tomorrow evening at YDT we'll learn the amazing risk God took to save sinners by coming to live with them. We have a wedding at church on Saturday. Sunday we celebrate Christ the King. It's all challenging yes, but, as we follow our Lord each day, joy and beauty will be ours.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Christians and Government Social Services

On Wednesday mornings I usually get together with other pastors for prayer. Last week, however, I got an invitation from the "Dassel Ministerial" saying that they were going to meet today with a representative of Meeker County Social Services to talk about "available aid for people in crisis." Though we are located in Wright County, we have many members in Meeker, so I thought it would be good to go along.

The woman who met with us was Jan Schlack, the Meeker County Social Services financial services supervisor. Jan is also an active member of the social ministry committee at Zion Lutheran Church in Litchfield. She filled us in on one of the really great things they do at her church -- they have trained volunteers to help people fill out the voluminous applications for public assistance programs. Let me know if you'd like to learn more about that.

Jan had many interesting and informative things to say. Many of the programs provided by Meeker county are the same as in any Minnesota county, including Wright, although, Jan says, the Wright County Social Services case load is much heavier. She stated that about 80% of social service costs are connected with Medical Assistance, with the rest going to Food Support and extremely limited cash assitance. A single parent and child, for example, are limited to $437 per month cash assistance.

Some Christians are opposed to using government social services. On Veterans' Day at the Dassel-Cokato High School we heard our state senator, David Dille, talk about helping a Vietnamese family settle in the United States after the war. He highlighted the fact that they had done that without government welfare. I think his suggestion was that we do the same, that is, avoid using government social service programs. Jan Schlack, on the other hand, stated that many families (I assume many of them Christian) try to make sure that their elder relatives assets are spent down or given to family members so the elders don't need to pay for nursing home services.

What do you think? The chairperson of the Dassel Ministerial, Pastor Douglas Pierce, said this as a prelude to this morning's meeting: "As a society we have chosen to use the government to provide certain services." He then talked about how hospitals and nursing homes, for example, that were originally founded by Christians, are now dependent on government funded Medical Assistance and etc. If that is true, what is our responsibility as regards social service programs?

I don't think this is a simple issue...

Sharing Community Worship

Back in June I wrote "Thank God for Friday Mornings." Those mornings are a highlight for me because I get out in the community to share worship with people in several apartment buildings in town who otherwise don't get to church very often. There's also a couple of other opportunities I share with other pastors at the Cokato Manor - the first Thursday of the month at 9:45 a.m. and each Wednesday at 2:45 p.m.

I would like to share these Fridays (and/or Thursdays) with you! Today I posted a schedule of our community worship opportunities. If you can come once, please do so! If you can come a half hour early or so, let me know and you can help gather the people and get to know these wonderful elder saints. But don't worry about that - just your presence would be a present -- for them, and for me.

Just an FYI -- because many of these opportunities are co-sponsored, other pastors sometimes lead these times of worship. If you want to make sure I'll be there, please call or email.

Another FYI -- during the month of November our church is responsible for 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning worship at the Cokato Manor.

Corn Carnival Disbursments

Thanks again to all the volunteers who helped in any way with the 2008 Corn Carnival church food stand. You can download a one page pdf summary of where the proceeds went by clicking here.

Vision Raising Result 07

Earlier this week an office volunteer (thanks Elsie!) compiled what members of our church marked on the back of the "Our Call 'In World'" forms. It's encouraging to know that many of our church members and friends are interested in serving the Lord through the church and its existing programs. Yesterday another volunteer (thanks Laverne!) did the same with the items marked on the back of "Equip and Support." The "Our Call 'At Church'" forms are going to need to wait for our staff -- there are so many of them!

Today I talked over the 'In World' results with the chair of our social ministry committee. Other results will be sent to our church office and council. That way the various interested people can be informed and helped to serve through our church.

If you have not yet filled out a form, please go to the Vision Raising "forms" page, download whatever forms you missed, and return it to church.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Taking Risks for God

People go to our former hometown, Taylors Falls, to enjoy the state parks on both sides of the river. Hiking and rock climbing are popular. The government, however, has put up signs that try to keep people from doing one of the most exciting activities - jumping from the 50 foot high cliffs into the water below.

For a long time, the only thing that was against the law was the actual jumping. But, at some point in the past 15 years or so, the authorities got smart and decided to come out with a new law: Swimming is prohibited in the St. Croix River downstream from the Highway 8 bridge to the public boat launch at Wisconsin Interstate State Park.

It's a lot easier to catch people swimming than jumping. It's sort of like the Dassel-Cokato School Board's policy #564 against students attending parties where "alcoholic beverages and/or illegal drugs as defined by State Law are illegally present and/or illegally used." If merely getting caught attending such a party means an activity suspension, it should make kids and adults look for other kinds of parties.

There is a problem, though, when we make "safety" an overly important ideal. For one thing, it's boring. I enjoy this blog for the same reason I enjoy preaching -- partly because it's a risk to say things about important subjects. "Blogging" and preaching make life interesting. I loved my trip to Lithuania and my 18 months in Brazil partly for the excitement and newness. I wasn't completely safe in either case. My wife recently started a new profession and went into business for herself. That was a risk too!

Somehow we need to allow our youth the freedom to take risks.
Could one of the reasons kids like to cliff jump and take risks at illegal parties be that their regular life is so safe? Maybe we keep our kids under our roofs for too long! Or maybe we need to encourage risks that aren't stupid. Of course, the line between non-stupid and really dumb isn't always easy to draw.

I believe God wants us to take risks.
The gospel for this coming Sunday, for example, has a story from Jesus where a business man entrusts large sums of money to three slaves. Two of the slaves multiplied their millions -- the original trusts would amount to millions of dollars each in today's money. The other slave safely buries his million in the ground. When the master finally returns "after a long time" the first two are congratulated and receive more and better responsibilities. The cautious slave is condemned.

There are plenty of other examples in the Bible where God encourages risk taking. God took a huge risk when he made me and you and set us free in this amazing world. Even more risky, God himself came to be one of us. He risked himself physically and in every other way. (I wonder if Jesus ever had an adrenline rush? Think about it... what an amazing life he lived!)

Because our Lord expects us to act in a way that is in harmony with his character, we can know he wants us to take some risks. We are made for a certain amount of dangerous behavior. Someone once said: A ship is safe in a harbor, but that's not what ships are made for. Our bodies and minds are made to react very quickly when necessary. A slow and careful life isn't God's plan for healthy people made in the image of God.

On the other hand, those risks are supposed to be taken for a purpose. The risk taking in the "parable of the talents" needs to be understood in connection with the purposes of God in Jesus' whole life and God's purposes as revealed in God's Word. If what we risk is not honoring to God or caring toward others, near and far, then it's just stupid, or worse. A commentary on the gospel for Sunday says:
The parable of the talents is theologically true only when it speaks of the God of Jesus Christ, who loves people in such a way that they are indebted to him for everything that they are and that they can achieve. It is theologically true only when it speaks of his commission to love and of the gifts that are used for that purpose and not for just any human activities. It is theologically true only when it is related to the community of love that Jesus wanted. When it does not speak of these things, it is merely an empty shell of words with which every human activity can be legitimized.
So, you can't use this parable, or the life of Christ, to go wild with crazy behavior. On the other hand, God is calling us to take leaps for him. But those leaps need to be taken out of brave, caring obedience to God.

Are you being too safe, or are you taking stupid risks? What risks is God calling you to take to do good in this world, to bring others to faith in Jesus? I hope to share more about this in coming days, or, if not before, on Sunday in church.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Do Not Run

In church last week we focused in on two verses - 1 John 3:1-2, where it says our true identity is hidden now and Matthew 5:3-4 where Jesus blesses those who are hurting now. Someday our true identity will be known. Then we will "shine like the sun" in the kingdom of our Father.

In this life, however, for now, we cry out for goodness and grace that seems far away, and, many times, we are hurt for doing what is right. Not only that, when we preach and hear rightly, we will feel like we are under attack.

In the scripture for this coming Sunday, we learn how meeting the Lord is often "darkness, not light." It is...
as if someone fled from a lion and was met by a bear.
And then, finally arriving at home...
went into the house, rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Amos 5:19
Let the Lion and Bear symbolize whatever it is we are afraid of outside of ourselves, and let the snake stand for our own sin - sin that is revealed by the Word of God. Or perhaps the Lion is the Lord who we run from at our own peril. Perhaps we should just let him come at us and do his worst.

When we come to church, God reveals the goodness that is hidden most of the time. He reveals it through his Word. But when that goodness is revealed, it shows us what we want to hide - our rebellion, our brokenness, our treason against God, our sin.

Sometimes we go to church and try to stay in hiding. Sometimes we put on a happy face. Sometimes we think by maintaining a tradition or by singing new songs, we are doing something good to impress others or to impress God himself. But if what happens there is a show, or if we hear or study God's Word and leave the same way we came in, God is not fooled.

The Lord says:
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen...

Instead, let justice roll down like waters,
and right-living like an ever-flowing stream.
The scriptures are filled with warnings about what will happen when we live hypocritically. In the Matthew 25:1-13 gospel for November 9, there is a story of ten bridesmaids. Half are sincerely ready to meet the groom. The others are pretending. When the groom comes -- when the Lord comes -- the truth will be known, much to the sorrow of pretending, hypocritical fools.

Like in many "parables" of Jesus, the story ends with a warning. The pretending bridesmaids come too late, asking to come in, but the groom says...
Truly I tell you, I do not know you.
Then the narrator returns saying...
Keep awake! For you know neither the day nor the hour!
"Keeping awake" here means "pay attention!" Don't just pretend. Let the Lord do his work, even if it hurts. As we read in Hosea 6:
Come, let us return to the Lord;
for it is he who has torn,
and he will heal us;
he has struck down,
and he will bind us up.

After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live with him.
There is no escape except through the cross. That's what Hosea points to in his prophecy. Jesus died for sinners, for hypocritical ones too. He laid in the grave for two, three days (depending on how you count them). The same promise is given to us.

So, how do we get ready? Don't run from the Lord. Allow Him to show you how bad you really are. (How bad I really am.) No matter how long you may have lived pretending to be good, as long as you have life, it's not too late.

Come and be broken this Sunday, so you can be healed--and saved. And bring someone else too.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Day After...

Are these fair statements?
  • The problem with ******* is that they sometimes put too much faith in government, believing it can do more than it is really able to do in a good way.
  • The trouble with ******* is that they sometimes put too much faith in the ability of broken & sinful individuals to make their own way and influence the world for good.
Put in the party or political philosophy names of your choice.

We've had an historic election. Pray that the Lord would guide us as we stumble along through the challenges of life together. Pray that the Lord would make us humble, loving and brave. Pray for our men & women in uniform. Pray for all who love and serve in this great land called the United States of America. Pray for our teachers and parents who love and guide the young. Pray for all who work and all who cannot work. Pray for the "least" and the "lost" in the world. Pray that we would each follow our Lord's call.

Relying on the promises and love of our Lord we live today as best we can. Until our Lord returns with power and great glory, we have lots to do in His name. We cannot delegate our responsibilities to the government, but neither can we focus only on our own personal circle of influence. So we learn to work together, even with those who are *******. (Put the other party or philosophy in the blank.) God loves and works through them too.

Pastor Mark Hanson, who serves as presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has made a statement on the 2008 election. What do you think? Should the church be making statements like that? What do you agree with? What do you think was left out?

Monday, November 3, 2008

No Substitute

The only representative we have, spiritually speaking, is Jesus Christ First Timothy 2:5. In our everyday lives, however, we can't depend on someone else to serve or love or live or "shine the light" for us. We can't "hire" or "elect" someone else to fulfill our calling. As parents, for example, it's each of our responsibilities to teach and guide our children and growing youth. Sending them to church or to a youth retreat is helpful, but only insofar as it is an extension of the spiritual life and conversations in our homes.

There's an interesting conversation going on which is connected with my visit to the Laestadian "Summer Services" back on July 6. Leaving aside our differences for the moment, the Laestadian member I'm talking with makes a great point that we can learn from in our church:
As to the teaching of the youth, it starts at home; each parent assumes an essentially sacred duty. That duty is taken seriously and with joy. The parents regularly discuss, advise, admonish, and direct their kids as to the fundamentals of living as “believers.”
Our Laestadian brothers and sisters understand that they can't hire someone to teach the faith to their children. Do we?


Added 12:30 p.m. -- Our towns, schools, counties, state and nation is served by a representative democracy. This is different than the way we relate spiritually. In the U.S.A. we have a duty to debate the issues and then elect representatives who then govern for us.

Martin Luther wrote this in his book On Secular Authority:
God has ordained the two governments: the spiritual, which by the Holy Spirit under Christ makes Christians and pious people; and the secular, which restrains the unchristian and wicked so that they are obliged to keep the peace outwardly...
Since it's election day in the secular realm tomorrow, I thought some in our area might appreciate a link to our local newspaper's "Voters Guide." Click the colored print for the link, then click your county. The candidates for various offices submitted items to the paper and the newspaper put them on their website.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Promise for Dry Bones

Earlier today I was looking at an old magazine... it happened to be the March 2008 issue of The Lutheran magazine. I came across this award winning sermon. Because it's All Saints Day, a day to remember that what is now hidden will someday be revealed, I thought I'd share it here.

Oftentimes we put on smiles to get through our days. But often there is a story underneath. May the Lord bless us as we walk through our lives together in compassionate love.

Dry Bones Can Live Again -- a sermon by Dana Nelson based on Ezekiel 37:1-14

In Nicaragua, in a small pueblo, a group of women got together regularly to study the Bible and have discussion and pray together. Over time their level of trust in one another grew deep, and they talked openly in their Bible study group about their daily joys and their struggles. They found that among their group, some of them had a similar problem in common- domestic violence- reoccurring incidents of abuse in their home. One woman said that for a long time she had felt too ashamed to tell anyone about the abuse in her home, but now she realized that she was not alone.

Incidentally, a man in their little pueblo was abusing his son. The small houses were close together and at times it was possible for the neighbors to hear the angry father shouting at his son, and beating him with his belt. So the women’s Bible study group made a plan. One evening when the beating started, the women quickly gathered together and went to the house of this man. They came with pots and pans and metal spoons. And surrounded the violence in this little house and all together in unison they started clanking on their pots and pans. CLANK CLANK CLANK, Clanking the metal pans together and making a big racket, so that the man came out of his house, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?” And one of the women in the group spoke up, “Stop beating your son!” The man slammed his door closed again, went back into his house of dry bones, even more angry and defensive, picked up his belt again to hit his son. CLANK! CLANK! CLANK! Again went their metal pots and pans. A Holy noise. A RATTLING, like a rattling of dry bones assembling. The man opened the door again, face flushed, belt in hand, he shouted, “Get out of here, this is my son!”- but the women stood firm and answered back, “This is our community.”

Here in our community, Minnesota, at least 14 women and 10 children were murdered in 2003 as the result of domestic violence. Nationally, in the whole United States more than 3 women are killed every day by their husbands, ex-husbands or boyfriends. ...Each year millions of children are exposed to violence by family members. Violence doesn’t discriminate... Domestic violence affects over 20% of all marriages.

Domestic abuse wears people down. It wears us down to the bone. It is corrosive. Victims, abusers and concerned friends alike, it wears us down to the bone. Sucks the life out of us. Until we find ourselves in the middle of the valley, a valley that is very, very dry, and it’s full of bones.

Oh mortal, can these bones live? Listen to the writing of the prophet Ezekiel: Oh dry bones! Hear the Word of the Lord! And suddenly, there was a noise. Can you hear it? A rattling, and the bones came together. Bone to its bone. And the Lord laid sinews on them and caused flesh to come upon them, and covered them with skin, and put breath in them and they stood on their feet! A vast multitude. An army of the Lord.

Elie Wiesel, who wrote the book Night about Nazi concentration camps, and received a Nobel peace prize. Elie Wiesel, who is a survivor of the Holocaust, said that Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones bears no date, because every generation needs to hear it in its own time, to hear that these bones can live again.

For a year, I worked at a safe home for battered women and their children. It was, still is, a small house in St. Paul, where women can stay, for a few days, or up to a month, to escape domestic violence. In some cases, the women have endured emotional or physical abuse for many years, and it has gotten to the point where they could not longer endure it, and so they leave. I answered the crisis line, I helped women get settled in, and while they stayed there, they had to make some giant adjustments in their lives of finding an apartment to move into, of finding a job that paid enough to support her and her children on her own, and so on. Some, in that short month, had to get their own car, or learn to drive, to acquire furniture. It was very stressful, and to some it seemed impossible. Angry and sad, life was turned upside down. And women asked the question, “How can I make sense of this mess?”

I want to tell you about one woman who stayed there. I will call her Veronica. The day she and her children moved out of the safe home, we also got a call of another woman with children who urgently needed safety. So I went upstairs to Veronica’s old room to sweep it out, put clean sheets on the bed for the new family who would come. As I swept with a broom under the bed, found a notebook that Veronica had forgotten to pack. It was an old spiral notebook, with the cardboard cover ripped off from wear and tear. I stopped sweeping for a moment and I picked it up. I didn’t mean to read it, but there, on the page facing me, written in large, neat handwriting, in pencil, Veronica had written a prayer: “Look to the horizon. Thank you Our Father for food and air. Thank you Father for our life.”

Look to the horizon. Listen, Can you hear it? A rattling. Bones are coming together, and flesh comes upon them, and breath goes into them, and they stand in a vast multitude!

Domestic Violence is more than physical or sexual assault. It is about power and control over another person in a relationship, that can involve a whole pattern or cycle of behavior that is controlling- like using intimidating looks or gestures; blaming; putting a person down and making them feel bad about themselves. This is verbal abuse, and emotional abuse. Preventing the person from getting or keeping a job, forcing financial dependence; it can mean isolating a person from their family and friends, controlling where they can go, what they can do, who they can see.

My grandma Nelson lived in the country near Litchfield in Minnesota. She lived her entire life on a farm. She came to visit us here in the city, and I was telling her about domestic violence, about what I was learning in college, that not so many decades ago women were practically considered a man’s property, it wasn’t even against the law for a man to hit his wife! I told her I was working in the safe home, in the domestic violence shelter, where women could go for safety. And she said, “Oh good, honey.” She nodded knowingly, and her face was very serious, like she was remembering something. I didn’t know my grandma knew about domestic violence.

Grandma, from a little Scandinavian town of 300 people. “Oh, yes” she nodded. She knew of a lady in an isolated farmhouse, down the gravel road from her, whose husband would drink and then beat her, and grandma felt powerless to do anything about it. “Oh that’s so good you’re doing that work, dear.” Grandma knows it’s important.

Every generation needs to hear Ezekiel’s vision that the valley of dry bones can come to life. A vast multitude can assemble, and put an end to the isolation, and the fear, and the violence. Dry bones, listen to the Word of the Lord! We are born children of a fallen humanity. (Fallen). But through WATER, (not through dryness but through) the waters of baptism we are reborn children of God. We are God’s children! And joined to the death AND RESURECTION – to the rising up of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us full of grace and truth. The Word that causes new flesh to come upon our old bones, and breaths Spirit into us. The Spirit that frees us to live.

Fighting in families, name calling, intimidating or belittling the people we love, jealousy- it sucks the life out of us, it dries us up, corrodes away our flesh, until we are only bones. The whole valley of us suffer from this- because domestic abuse is common. – and it is hidden, so even here in our churches people are suffering from this ongoing reality in their homes, who are afraid to tell people about it, afraid to tell the church or even tell a friend, because it could put them in danger or because they are ashamed. Jesus Christ died for you! If you are hurting someone you love, you are strong enough to get help. Find someone who will help you by holding you accountable. If you are being abused, or if you suspect a friend or family member is being abused, use the telephone and call a domestic violence program to discuss how you can help them in the safest way possible. You don’t have to face this alone. Hope and change is on the horizon.

Oh Dry Bones! Let us come together in our brokenness, to hear the word of the LORD, to be set free from bondage of sin and death.

From Ezekiel 37: Thus says the Lord GOD: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”


This sermon is available at the Faith Trust Institute website for download in a print friendly PDF format by clicking here. The Faith Trust Institute is "an international, multifaith organization working to end sexual and domestic violence."

Friday, October 31, 2008

Vision Raising Result 06

At right you'll see a screen shot example of what we put up to spur discussion in the fellowship hall after worship a couple of Sundays in October. As you'll see in the ideas shared below, using the fellowship hall for these conversations isn't universally accepted. Though it's true that hardly anything is agreed to by everyone, I'd like to say I am thankful for the participation and patience of those whose fellowship was interrupted on those Sundays.

In any case, quite a few members of our church to share ideas for our work at church, our church's work out in the world, and what is necessary to equip and support that work. Council members and staff took notes as people shared freely. Some are ideas to expand current ministries, some are complaints, some are ideas for new mission and ministry.

Here are unedited ideas shared in the conversations after worship. They are pretty much listed as they were turned in after the Sunday discussions.

"At Church" - Alpha, Sunday School & other education, Fellowship, Men's & Women's Programs, Worship & Music, Youth Ministry (etc.)
  • There a desire among adult couples and singles for more consistent friendship and fellowship with others.
  • There's a desire for people to get together as Christians, especially among adults with children.
  • Singles group (2)
  • Couples group
  • Women's prayer group Saturday a.m.
  • More signs - lobby & outside (should be under equip and support with property, I think...)
  • Host/hostess a.m. - looking for new people
  • Not just the clean & saved
  • Consider participation from all different people
  • Alternate worship
  • Learning for adults between worship hours
  • Stay with existing programs and strengthen/continue those we offer - such as a focus on PoWeR SuRGe
  • Men's club (such as the Catholic have with Knights of Columbus)
  • Truth Project
  • Maintenance projects - bikes, car seats, oil changes
  • Bible studies - for all levels/ages, for all schedules [evenings, day w/daycare, for 20/30 year olds - singles]
  • Name tags - some way to keep at church
  • Holiday options for college kids (include high school seniors), for new marrieds, for those new to community with food - make it a tradition - advertise well in advance
  • For those alone during holidays - something in place for them to be in community
  • Holiday meals at church for elderly/alone
  • Financial Seminars - Crown Financial - Al Sorenson
  • Youth service projects
  • Help with quilting
  • Worship for handicapped worship with lunch - bring them to church once a year
  • Expand mentor program with youth beyond Lent, beyond Wednesday evenings
  • Consistency in youth mentors - continue through the years with same partners
  • Truth Project
  • Widows Club
  • Over age [insert number] club
  • Fall Festival (already doing this but we discussed is a good idea!!)
  • Apprenticeship program where an older member will pass on habits, methods, ideas to younger member
  • Spiritual gift testing
  • Gather former choir members to sing parts (informal, not up front but fun)
  • Bells
  • Greeters at doors - more welcoming
  • More opportunities for elder folks to get together
  • Coffee hour - birthday party scheduled - something else going on - coffee hour remain coffee hour/fellowship extra meetings in library, etc.
  • Morning coffee not the time or place for a forum, there is a time or place for certain things
  • Hard that things change so much
  • The liturgy doesn't flow like it used to
  • Filling out forms in church, especially at 8:30 - blank times on radio, maybe have choir sing
  • Kneeling at communion, altar railing
  • Church attendance is going down, why?
  • There's a division between the young & old people in our church. Has contemporary worship have something to do with this?
  • Attendance is down. How do we increase same? Reasons??
  • Why is church attendance down? Times too good? Should 11:00 be 10:30?
  • Small group ministries
  • Activities that bring people together
  • Do we need some kind of rally to increase attendance?
  • Are we helping new people fit in?
  • Adult teaching during Sunday School - will fellowship hour die?
  • Youth Ministry - Do others have responsibilities not just Nate? Past confirmation age do we have anything for this age kids to keep them coming to church?
  • Greeters at the door not at top of step
  • Thanksgiving meal
"In World" - Befriending, Corn Carnival, Global Mission, Outreach, Social Ministry, Wider Church
  • Short term befriender for those in hospital/recovery
  • What is in place for those that are ill & single
  • Ride program - drive to apartments
  • Visit with nursing home folks
  • Off-site worship
  • Pickup/delivery service with van
  • Neighborhood groups - activities, Bible studies, football games, etc. etc. etc...
  • Rough year financially - pay attention to the food shelf
  • Video of worship - bring to nursing homes, homebound, befrienders
  • Maintenance projects - bikes, car seats, oil changes
  • Casseroles - in freezer - delivered where needed - death in family, illness, recovery
  • Go-for ministries - helper to get mail, get groceries, drivers for apartments
  • Handy helpers - people to do fix-it jobs
  • Manor visiting
  • Driving for appointments, etc.
  • Couples Club - baseball game, play (Chanhassen or Old Log)
  • Ministry teams that go out to see inactives & visitors
  • More intentional with visitors & inactives
  • Prayer ministry for people not homebound, in nursing home, etc, - come to home, etc, between hours of worship on Sundays
  • Those ill from chemo - have meals provided
  • Taking care of local needs and people in our church is a priority over national or global needs
  • When people stop coming, do we follow up?
  • Faithful Hands serving the community
  • Church is intimidating for peopel to come to that need help
  • Befriending is a positive
"Equip & Support" - Church Council/Committees/Teams, Church Office, Finance, PoWeR SuRGe, Prayer, Property
  • More prayer
  • More signs - lobby & outside
  • List of all options for new members with names and faces - Sunday school, choirs, etc.
  • Reformat the PULSE - user friendly
  • Stay with existing programs and key in those we offer
  • Focus on power surge
  • Church "elders" - advisors for long term work of church
  • "Networking" to help support community organizations (C. Chest, others)
  • New choir Room
  • Purchasing homes adjacent to church property
  • Church decorate
  • More prayer ministry
  • Personal prayer ministry
  • Silent Auction to gather more funds/income
  • Bookstore (christian books)
  • Larger prayer focus (including in regard to finances)
  • Budget set up according to pledges?
  • Make a place to post ride sharing “Carpools”
  • Publish a "Classified" or "Services" list where people can trade what they need with one another
  • As needs change in the church - can there be noted that donations go to greatest need
  • Benevolence to synod? percentage? where to: Christian charities? our church? (Can we study/learn about this?)
  • Why do we borrow $ to pay our bills (for current expenses) - if we can't make our budget why do we increase it from year to year
  • Borrow operating funds from our own endowment fund, pay it back but at either no interest or a lesser rate
  • Too many designated funds of smaller amounts
  • Is it wise to pay 8% interest?
  • We need to feel it's important to give
  • Automated giving - auto withdraw
  • Keep people accountable in a way to come to the church and give
  • Parish Pulse - include laborers (phone number & specialties), babysitters, housesit, mowing, snow removal
The next big step? Who is the Lord calling to some of these? Which are good ideas that will wait or be done elsewhere? God knows we won't do them all!

As far as the "complaints" go, what ideas do we have to address them? How many are unavoidable? How many can be addressed by the ideas that were shared by others?

Please be in prayer and continue to share your ideas! A meeting is being held today at 1:00 to talk about an idea that came forth this week. The Lord is stirring our hearts! It's wonderful to see.