Monday, June 30, 2008

No Discussion?

Good morning from Durphee Lake! Toni and the kids and I are up at the Dahlin cabin until Saturday. After talking and praying last night, and after a good sleep, I am full of gratitude for this amazing place and this amazing family. I'm even thankful for the new bathroom reading material someone provided (too private? naw, not really...).

One of the new magazines is _Discovery: Science, Technology and the Future_. I haven't read much, but something on the book review section caught my eye: The proponents of intelligent design seek nothing less than a true scientific revolution, an uprising of the first order that would do a great deal more than just displace Darwin from our textbooks and curricula. They seek the undoing of four centuries of Western science, and that surely should be enough to make anone sit up and pay attention.**

Call me simple, but that's not what I think of when I think of "intelligent design." Like I said in Christians and Climate, I'm not a scientist. I'm also not someone who understands the creation stories in Genesis to be literal history. The main thing, I think, is that God is the designer and we are responsible for this earth. It's like in Jeremiah where the Lord says "I am the potter. You are the clay." It's true, but not literal.

I'll probably take a lot of guff for writing this on a Monday morning at the cabin. It's not like I'm absolutely clear about evidence or that I'm prepared to defend my position. Since my youth I've seen, in Genesis, a succession and order to the way God created things, a pattern that seemed to me to be similar (though not the same) to what some discern as evolution. I know it's probably more complex than that, but that's where I start.

My concern is the polarization. Can't there be more discussion? Are Christians somehow forced, because of fear or loyalty, to dismiss every scientific advance that is vaguely connected with Darwin? Is the pattern revealed in Genesis totally different from evolution?

Now, it's true that a person cannot believe in "unguided" or "mindless" evolution and be a God-fearer. But if theists see intelligence and design in the cosmos, does that really mean we "seek the undoing of four centuries of Western science"?

Maybe I'll read Miller's book. Or maybe I'll relax and enjoy the creation God loves so much, however it is He chose to create.

**Discovery magazine review of _Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul_ by Kenneth R. Miller, 2008, Viking Press

For more, see my 2001 post "A Trip to the Zoo."

Saturday, June 28, 2008


When I got up yesterday morning, the first voice I heard was a friend saying, "What's on your radar?" What he meant was "what's your plan for the day? Who are you thinking of? Who needs care?" He then reminded me of a couple living in a condemned building in town, where the water is being turned off at the end of the month. Then a call came about a lady with a heart issue. And a young person who needed a calm place to spend the day.

I'll ask that question now. On whatever day you're reading this, "What or who is on your radar today?" Look, listen, ask what and who the Lord wants to put on your heart.

Sad thing is, sometimes we're like the three monkeys "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil." Or we can like Alfred E. Newman, the fictional mascot of Mad Magazine, who always says "What Me Worry?" Sometimes our pain threshold, for others or ourselves, is so high that our "radar" doesn't function -- neither for ourselves nor for the church.

How thankful I am for the sensitive, caring folks who don't turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, or a silent voice toward the evil nearby or around the world. Most of the radar work in Cokato is done as sensitive, caring Christians look out for one another, hear the "news" about someone, and speak, letting others know that they or another are in need.

Only then can we pray. Only then can we respond.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Reality Therapy

Thursday evening at ZB's Eagle Scout ceremony there was a slide show with songs in the background. (Cue the country music...) One song was "Summertime Blues."
"Well my mom n papa told me, son, you gotta make some money
if you wanna use the car to go ridin' next Sunday.
Well I didn't go to work, told the boss I was sick."
"Now you can't use the car cause you didn't work a lick."

I'm thinking about this and getting ready to preach Sunday. Are we ready for reality? Do we encourage it in others? Or do we just give in when people ask or demand generosity? The picture on this week's bulletin cover, and the words, might give you the impression that we always need to say yes. There's a photo of white cup being held out by a smiling friend. And the words of Jesus "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me."

Christ followers who don't walk carefully through the Bible can get the impression that we need to go around doing all kinds of good things for whoever asks. But as we read the whole story of Jesus, we see that even Jesus didn't do that. There were times when, by his actions, he said "no." And the quoted verse from Matthew 10:40 isn't about welcoming just anyone. It's about welcoming servants of God.

No one is called to passivity. All but the bedridden are to take care of themselves, as best they can, so they can bless others. There's a part in Second Thessalonians that says "Anyone unwilling to work should not eat." God calls all who are able to "labor and work honestly... so as to have something to share with the needy." Ephesians 4:28

But sometimes, when we are faced with a person who has wants (as opposed to needs), we are tempted to just go along with their requests. Sometimes we are afraid to say "no." There have been times when I've done too much, especially when that person is dear or when the person is coming out of an especially painful situation. Certain people tug at heartstrings and we say a reluctant "okay" instead of helping them stand strong.

That's when I'm thankful for professionals. Yesterday, one of them said something like this. (She works with adults who have special needs.) When working with people in need over a longer period of time, try to keep their daily life as normal and realistic as possible. For example, people don’t get rides to go up to St. Cloud to go shopping twice in the same week or buy four pairs of shoes within a week and a half. If people keep coming out of the woodwork and invite the needy person to do fun things all the time it can become unreal. Our goal needs to be to try to help people function in real life, and not partying all the time. They may try to get people to do things for them, but with professional encouragement and friendly prodding, they can do more for themselves and live more normally. They can earn more fun times by possibly getting a job, or volunteering, or keeping their household in order. They must continue to be held accountable and be responsible, just like the rest of us are. It's our job to assist them and to encourage them and compliment their efforts.

Christians aren't called to unlimited acts of kindness. Wives are not called to bow to every whim of their husbands. Parents who love their children need to give them unconditional love and the necessities AND help them stand on their own two feet. Even the handicapped can be spoiled.

What's going on in Matthew 10:40-42 is purposeful kindness. The kindness in Matthew 10:40-42 is extended to those who are doing God's work. On the other hand, when we aren't doing what God asks of us, we can be spoiled. This can make us lazy, demanding and unhelpful. Liberality can breed dependence, as every wife, mother, social worker and pastor knows.

Are we to be generous, and help those in need? Yes. When someone is hungry, in prison, sick, or abused, we must help. But, beyond that, God's wisdom, and true kindness, demands that we teach "scouts" young and old to grow and get ready to take their place as full fledged disciples, eagles of the Lord.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Parkview Plunge

Last year, during breakfast with W, I got to know someone who said their neighbors had been involved in last year's bank robbery. The individual said of Parkview, a local subsidized apartment & condominium complex, that "you don't know who you can trust" and that people there, moving in and out, just don't know each other.

This reminded me of the "neighborhood watch" program in Taylors Falls and how the Baptist church had helped facilitate community among the neighbors by hosting monthly potluck dinners. So, inspired by that example, and together with a couple of other members of our Cokato church's social ministry committee, we had a meeting at Parkview yesterday. Together, we're looking to co-host "National Night Out" there on August 5.

Lots of folks in Cokato neighborhoods don't know each other well, and that's especially true where there are more rental units. So our committee is plunging into off-site social ministry. We'll help host this event, and perhaps more of the "rental property" folks will get to know each other and perhaps not feel as afraid of their neighbors.

The literal plunge? It was a warm day, and, seeing adults and children in plastic pools outside a couple of the condo units, I handed my phone to B and jumped in. If we are going to minister among people, I rationalized, we need to be seen as not so "high and mighty." Was it worth it? I cooled off, and there were smiles and laughs... but maybe it was just being dumb. We'll see as time goes by.

Helping someone in need last month in a related subsidized apartment complex (Golf View), we offered to start a Bible study there too. Being on site, taking the plunge to work with folks who aren't middle class, is a part of what God is calling us to do in Cokato. I hope many from our church will rejoice and share in the opportunity. And may these times be ways the good news and guidance of God are shared.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Christians & Climate

It's a beautiful day in Cokato! A bit warm, but, after all, it's summer!

This morning I drove out to a country church to meet with other pastors for morning prayer. I had the radio on and heard a report saying that "U.S. intelligence agencies have produced a classified assessment of the implications of climate change for U.S. national security." As I approached the church, a highway worker stopped me so trucks hauling 50 foot oil pipes could turn and back into a farm field. The MinnCan Project is cutting through the corner of Wright County, a part of the remedy for the "crude oil supply crunch."

Those of you who know me well may be aware of my longtime environmental concerns. I was very much impacted by the first "Earth Day" back in 1969. I was 13 years old. My concern even came to the attention of a family friend, who named an environmentalist character for me in her book Out There.

Up until quite recently I served as chair of the now defunct Southwestern Minnesota Synod ELCA Church in Society Committee. In that capacity I led a workshop called "Getting Warm Yet: A Conversation on Climate Change and What to Do About It." My goal was to help people of various perspectives on the issue to respect each other enough to listen without dismissing the opposing position as ridiculous. I asked two questions: Is climate change a moral issue? Is it urgent?

Personally, I'm convinced that protecting the environment is a moral issue. Some people, including some of the pastors I pray with on Wednesday mornings, have other opinions, considering "moral" issues to be only things that impact personal decisions. Sometimes Christians are tempted to confine morality even closer to home, to say that what is "moral" is really only things that impact families and sexuality. But I read Genesis 1:26 (for example) as a moral imperative to take care of God's creation. (Lots more Bible verses are here.)

I'm not a scientist. So the question about whether it's urgent is really beyond me. However, the radio report I heard this morning was one more warning, I think, that many people do consider this to be serious. The radio report said: "There have been many reports on climate change, but this is the first time U.S intelligence agencies have weighed in. The 58 page classified report titled The National Security Implications of Global Climate Change to 2030 was quietly delivered to congress two weeks ago."

That "National Intelligence Assessment" does NOT say that climate change IS happening but instead focuses on what might happen IF "global warming" and other climate change occurs in coming years. There must be a large degree of concern, however, and that's something we need to pay attention to.

I've heard it said by some skeptics that the costs of acting as if climate change is happening is very high. That may be true. But what if the scientists are right? Implications are staggering, and apply to much more than national security.

We can't ignore this. If we do, I believe we are being disobedient to God.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cabin Brownies

As Jesus was training people to do God's work, he said "Go to the lost... proclaim the good news, 'The Kingdom of Heaven has come near...' Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me..." Matthew 10:6-7,22

At Toni's family cabin, her mom and dad often welcome us with "cabin brownies," one of the super-sweet northwoods traditions in the Dahlin family. I think we're okay guests. I try to wash some dishes. It's the least I can do -- and the least is often what I try to do up there ! ;-) It's a great place to relax. And there's always lots of great food - for us, and for whoever else might happen by.

Yesterday we welcomed a street preacher - yes, he was on vacation, an old friend of the Dahlins, and we weren't the "lost" he was seeking, nor were we on the street, but we still heard a LOT from him... He talked and talked about his work doing Christian evangelism, about his main "target" group (Jewish people), about his methods and experiences. He told us how he doesn't just push "broadsides" into people's hands on the streets (like others do), but, instead, tries to talk with people instead. He showed us his "bait" - a silver star of David hung on a chain around his neck along with a silver cross. I asked one question and he talked for maybe 30 minutes without a break.

What would it have been like if we were part of his target group? What would it have taken to offer him cabin brownies instead of just saying "no thank you" to his explanations about how Jesus is the Son of God? How was it for the Jews of Jesus time, being told they should welcome Jesus' trainees when they came preaching? Would I have listened?

I can see how big of a deal it would be to welcome such a man into my home. I can see how even offering "a cup of cold water" to one of those evangelists would have been a sign that I was ready to listen. And that would have been a miracle!

And the whole thing is a reminder to me too, who has a tendency to talk a lot, to sometimes perhaps just listen awhile and eat.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Checking the Facts

This is a follow up to last week's "mental health" post. I contacted the presenter who had given the statistic about the percent of people suffering depression, and got this note back today:

The information that I quoted was from the University Of Illinois at Chicago on a brochure they sent advertising an educational event. I actually misquoted what they said, sorry about that. Here is the quote:” Nearly 90% of all Americans will contend with at least one significant mental health problem during their adult lives.” “Religion and Health” by Koenig does an in-depth piece on depression. He also wrote “Faith and Mental Health.” A couple of quotes. “Depression is the most common and treatable of all mental health disorders. Approximately 330 million people around the world suffer from depression and unfortunately only 10% receive adequate treatment. At least 800,000 suicides occur each year as a result of depression…” “According to Christopher Murray, head of epidemiology at the World Health Organization, by the year 2020 unipolar major depression will be the world’s second most debilitating disease, surpassed only by cardiovascular disease.”

I guess the next step toward "checking facts" would be to actually ferret out who said that at the University of Chicago. I'd also want to know whether that person's research was well done, whether it was peer-reviewed, and whether others disagree.

Why is this important? The presenter shared the "80%" statistic to let us know that we're not alone when we're depressed. That's a noble goal. But when we share unverified truths to help people, we're guiding them to build on shaky ground. And people in trouble need solid guidance, not broken promises. Those who help people need to be skeptical, and demand the closest thing we can get to "proof."

Fortunately, our faith (which helps with depression) is not based on one person's opinion. There are good reasons for believing that Jesus is God in human flesh, who died to take away our sins and defeated death to bring hope for a bright future. If you have doubts or questions, good! Check it out! Do some research. That way your faith will stand stronger and that can help no matter what your mental or emotional health situation may be.

Friday, June 20, 2008


When people come to church on Sunday, they'll see this picture. A wonderful, touching shot of a girl resting securely on her father's shoulder. And the scripture - so comforting: "Even the hairs of your head are all numbered."

But up against that, right in that same chapter, within a few verses, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace... one's foes will be the members of one's own household." Matthew 10:34,36

Peace, loyalty, even affection can mask ugly truth. Cruelty or at least indifference can lurk under the surface. Peace can be passive acquiescence. Loyalty can be forced. And we all know how to fake affection.

But God's loyalty is fierce. God knows what we hide. God knows if peace, loyalty and affection are the real thing. And if they are not, if all looks calm because no one dares to cry out, God will not hesitate to break the peace, loosen ties, and let the prisoners go free.

Warfare, usually spiritual, sometimes personal, rarely, I think, a physically violent war... but "war" in the sense of fighting for good against evil... sometimes warfare is to be preferred. Peace at any price can be cruel to those who suffer.

Sadly, this is even sometimes true in families. When children cower instead of cuddle, we cannot stand by passively--someone needs to FIGHT for them! Sometimes a mother or father needs to do battle on behalf of their children. And sometimes indeed "one's foes will be the members of one's own family" precisely because God cares so much that "even the hairs of your head are all numbered."

And sometimes this is a task people need to take up who are not related by blood - other than by the blood of our Savior, who was willing to suffer and die so sinners might be saved and so evil might be unmasked.

Jesus shows us, in his words and in his deeds, how loyalty to the ways of God must be above all, including above loyalty to the family name. For sometimes nice homes and scrubbed faces hide broken or breaking hearts - or broken or breaking bodies, souls, personalities, spirits. But God is not fooled. God sent Jesus and God sends us, when necessary, to point the finger and raise the voice and shake the status quo. Sometimes we will suffer as Jesus did, because we are loyal to no one except the Lord God

Jesus shows us. On earth he was loyal to God, not to "them" whoever "they" may be. The people of those days were loyal to their religion, to their leaders, and even to the Roman oppressors - as least on the surface. And we can be loyal to the wrong things too.

So then, loyalty to God, and to God's kingdom, and to God's rule of LOVE, of caring, of protecting the innocent, that must come before anything else - even family. Only as we seek that kingdom first will anything else be given in a way that will last, in a way that will be good.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Help from a Christian Counselor

An experienced professional I have appreciated recently shared the following about depression:

First and foremost in coming alongside someone with depression, chronic or episodic, is to acknowledge the potential need for both medication and understanding. Too many Christians are opposed to antidepressant meds saying I just need to pray about my depression more.

A great percentage of folks experiencing depression have a biochemical imbalance of serotonin and/or other brain chemicals. "Talk therapy" isn't enough for these folks. Often it's trial and error regarding whether medication is needed. If we try it and the affect [feelings] is [are] getting better after around 3 weeks (which is the time many of the meds take to build up a effective blood level), then it biochemical.

That doesn't mean that there aren't circumstances that need to be dealt with also. Depression is often "anger turned inward." Depressed people need to be encouraged to "express" themselves.

I have an older book, _30 Days to Beating Depression_, that's a good one for identifying all the avenues that need to be explored to get to the root of the depression.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is usually helpful for the depressed. (Changing how we think can change how we feel and behave). What is the person's belief system? How do their beliefs about themselves, others and the world interfering with the well-being?

Two other books that might be helpful which are written from a Christian worldview are: _The Freedom from Depression Workbook_ by Les Carter and Frank Minwirth and _Why Do I Feel This Way? What every woman needs to know about depression_ by Brenda Poinsett*.

Depression needs to be viewed as a physical condition as much as high blood pressure. There are things that cause it; there are things we can do to help keep it down; but we ought not be shunned or ashamed if we need medication.

Depression often runs in families and therefore does have a genetic component.

Depressed individuals need an encouraging support system so they don't isolate themselves which can exacerbate the depression. I'm heading to Rochester tomorrow for a couple of days, but will check my bookshelf at the office to see if I've missed any other good resources.

*Brenda Poinsett addresses what triggers depression quite well in her book. She covers stressful events, loss, chronic stress, overload, pursuit of thinness, unrealistic expectations, lack of meaning, unexpressed emotions and loss of control.

We mustn't forget also that "all our behavior has a purpose" so for the chronically depressed we may want to ascertain "what are they getting out of being depressed."

Regarding prayer for and with the depressed individual: I focus on asking the Lord to reveal any false beliefs they are continuing to labor under about themselves, their worth, who they are in Christ, etc.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I never had to worry whether my home was secure. During my growing up years there was fear of nuclear war, but at least I knew I could trust my faithful father and mother. Because of that experience, it was easy for me to trust God.

Those who grow up with uncertain love have a hard time learning to trust. It's an alien thing for them. When those who children naturally trust are untrustworthy it shakes them to the core. And how hard it is later on for them to have faith, whether it's in God or in a faithful friend.

Whenever you have a chance to share faithful friendship or unconditional love, do it. And be patient! In your steadfast friendship, you might be the face of Jesus for someone whose life is shaken. You might be the way they come to trust the Lord.

BUT don't forget your own weakness! Don't trust your own strength in the process of helping or befriending someone in need. Stay connected with those who bring the love and life of God to you. (added 10:45 p.m.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mental Health

80% of Americans suffer from a depressive episode at some point in their lives.**

That's one of the memorable learnings from "Caring for the Mind in Health Ministry," an event I attended in St. Cloud before the synod assembly. I can hardly believe it's true, so I'm calling one of the presenters to see where he got the statistic from. I'll revise this post if I find otherwise.**

Knowing so many suffer from depression might help us not be afraid to seek help. Depression is still very serious. It's called one of the big risk factors for suicide.

Please, if you are suffering, mentally or spiritually or in any other way, don't suffer in silence. Let a caring someone know.
**See Checking the Facts on Monday, June 23, 2008 for correction.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Bridge Inspection

(Revised Tuesday, 9 a.m.)

There's a lot of focus on gusset plates these days. It's the gusset plates that failed on the I35 bridge. Those connecting points are important.

But what about the column supports? A church member who understands these things took time to talk with me recently. He pointed out that, no matter how strong a structure is, it needs to rest on supports that are well designed and strongly built.

On what does the church rest? Can the denomination or "big church" be compared to the columns on which the local church stands? Ultimately, no, because we rest on God's Word. But, in a sense, yes, and that's because of me.

If the church is like a bridge, each of us is a structural member (though not bolted in place!). Each of us is equally important. Pastors, however, play an especially critical role. Pastors are usually the connecting point between pillar and beam, connecting denomination and member. The number of church members who are in regular every day connection with the "Big Church" is very small. The connection is mostly through the pastor.

In our church, the pastor has a relationship with the denomination before they come to the church. Pastors have strong loyalties to their church bodies. Sometimes it's a happy relationship, sometimes it's more ambivalent. But the pastor-denomination relationship is almost always older than the pastor-local church relationship. And some pastors will fiercely defend their denomination - to the end.

I encourage you to do a bridge inspection. Don't only look at the beams and gusset plates of the local church. Learn about the "big church," in our case the ELCA and the Southwestern Minnesota Synod. Check out those pillars. Make sure they're strong, sure, and standing on solid rock.

Otherwise, you'll always be at the mercy of your pastor.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Big Church

Photo by Daniel G DeBlock - Leiturgia Communications Inc.

The Southwestern Minnesota Synod Assembly has been going on for 24 plus hours now. Our Cokato church could have had several people here as "voting members" and others could have come as visitors. But I'm the only one here. The "only one" that is, among about 6-700 others who did take time to come.

Every time at these events I think about why people could, or should, come to these things. And I think about why they don't. Sure, we've had folks down through the years volunteer their time to come, and, yes, most times they're glad they did, but the numbers are always small.

Why "should" people come? It has to do with a wider and deeper and longer vision of the Christian community. Usually we think in terms of what we can see and relate to day in and day out. But we're affected by things beyond our local place and immediate time.

The sexuality study, for example, will affect us in the future. Today I got up at a hearing and said some of the things I wrote about in my previous post. The decisions our "big church," the ELCA, makes will affect us in the future. The decisions we make influence what is taught at the seminaries (where pastors are trained) and at the colleges. They influence the worship materials produced by our church body. What the church decides about a specific issue may not change my mind or yours, but it does have influence.

More later.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Don't Forget the Kids

Revised at 9:30 p.m.

I met with a counselor/consultant yesterday to get help with a particular situation. She recommended a book Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse. It is so sad when family breaks down. Children suffer the most, and they carry scars all their lives.

What is more important than family? Other than our relationship with the Lord, family relationships are first. When I deal with troubled people, almost always family has broken down in one way or another, usually when the troubled person was a child. Families need to be taught how important their relationships are! Not first in importance, but in second place.

The Lutheran Book of Worship's now old-fashioned statement on marriage says: "The Lord God in his goodness created us male and female, and by the gift of marriage founded human community in a joy that begins now and is brought to perfection in the life to come" (LBW p. 203).

The assumption in the LBW, and for most of human society, present and past is that male+female sexual attraction leads to marriage which makes family which in turn blesses children and present and future community. It's also assumed there that sexual intercourse is intended, by God, to be confined to the marriage bed. Sex in marriage binds male and female together so children, family and society can be healthy (see Genesis 1 and Matthew 19).

It is such a tragedy when this divine pattern is not followed! God have mercy on us all.

This weekend at the Synod Assembly, we will learn more about the ELCA's Draft Social Statement on Sexuality. I've been looking the statement in preparation for the assembly. Not surprisingly, considering the more "liberal" bent of the ELCA, the Draft Social Statement does not mention family until page 13. Children are not mentioned until page 16.

To be fair, it's not until page 15 that a section begins on "...God's creative activity." The pages before that are introductory and theological. Still, I think they children and family should be more up front. After all, who are the "neighbors" most affected by proper and improper use of our sexuality and our willingness or unwillingness to be faithful in marriage? It's the kids - both ours personally and those around us.

When I read the Bible, Old and New Testaments, sexuality is connected with family as the second most important of all relationships. Why is it that it's not the same with our church's statement? Is it because the scriptures are not really "the authoritative source and norm of [the ELCA's] proclamation, faith, and life."

I've done some homework, reading through and commenting on the "Draft Statement." It will be interesting to see what comes up at the assembly.

Here is a link to the ELCA's Proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality.
Look for the "Draft Statement" link on that page.

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


Who pushes the local church forward? I don't do much of this. Things happen anyway and for that I'm thankful.

But am I failing? Should I be more pushy? We've talked about "long range planning." I did a survey of the council (about half participated). But nothing since.

What is my role in the push forward? I'm praying this summer for the Lord's inspiration on this. If you by chance are reading this, please pray with me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pray Y'all

Since when did prayer become a private thing? The disciples saw Jesus praying and could ask him "Lord, teach us to pray." When do others see us praying?

When I was considering a move from Taylors Falls to Cokato, it was the group prayer life of the call committee that touched my heart. Prayer is about relationships. We shouldn't let the ambiguity of the English language make us think that praying is a singular sort of thing. When we let Jesus come into our hearts in prayer, he longs for us to experience spiritual intimacy with others. I think that touches his heart too.

I think I understand some things about prayer. Prayer is about our (plural) relationship with our heavenly Father. It's not about approaching the heavenly vending machine. God really hears us and responds in our midst. Prayer is about being humble, vulnerable, childlike and even foolish (First Corinthians 1:25 and context) before God. He longs to build a relationship with each one and to help us in our relationship with one another.

The family that prays together stays together. So with churches. When we pray together we will learn one another's heart-cries and become more compassionate. The concerns of others become our own. And we will find ourselves being the answer to other people's prayers.

B has a calling from God to start a prayer ministry. Pray that she would be guided by the Lord in community with the church.

Monday, June 9, 2008

God's Scandalous Name

This weekend I'm going to the "synod assembly." It's a gathering of pastors and other representatives from ELCA* churches in the southwest MN area.

Because the assembly continues through Sunday morning, the synod leadership sent us an order of worship for the laypeople to use in their pastors' absence. It follows one of the new ELCA worship book options and begins "Blessed be the Holy Trinity, one God..." instead of "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

I have no objection to the theological term "trinity." But "trinity" seems to be a "what" instead of a "who." Do we want to become a more impersonal church?

"Father" is very personal. Jesus called God "Abba" and told us to do the same. "Abba" is an informal yet respectful way of saying "Father." Christians have addressed God as "Father" ever since, even though saying that can be scandalous. It sometimes reminds us of imperfect or even cruel men.

I'll stick with the name Jesus used in prayer, risking the scandal. After all, God is messed up with the human enterprise, being our creator and savior. And if that name is good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me.

*Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

God Provides

We have been so lucky/blessed as a family. For example, during the past few years we were given two cars - one from my dad's sister Betty and her husband Glen and one from David, dad's brother.

We've been a four car family because of these gifts. Having four cars means we've not needed to think very hard about who gets a car when.

The 1990 Oldsmobile died last night. Bolts and the frame under the front end gave way. It was all very public - right after the opening night of Bible school. Joel, our financial adviser, happened to be first on the scene.

So now we need to choose. How much money for cars? How much for other things? Such is the "real" world.

Jesus said, "Whoever loves father or mother... son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." We want to make things "good" for our kids. We want them to be able to come and see us often and in our society that means having cars.

This, then, is a moment to choose. It's a time when decisions about giving, saving, spending meet reality. I will be meeting with our financial adviser to get advice, but, in the end, we will need to choose.

And these "little" choices do impact our witness for the Lord and our willingness to depend on what He provides.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Thank God for Friday mornings!

Most every Friday I get together with mostly older people at the various senior apartment buildings around town. We share the Word of God, a message and the Lord's Supper.

You'd think I'd be doing this, as a pastor, for the ladies and gentlemen who gather. But really, it's for me. I get a chance to practice my preaching for Sunday. And I get a chance to gather with these dear long-suffering Christians who long for the Lord.

It's very inspiring for me. One of the great things, a great luxury, is that I don't come with anything written out. Sure, I've been thinking about my theme or message since Monday, but Friday is the first time I get to share.

My work goes so much better when I share. Sitting in a room writing is so often hard. But, gathered with others, I seem to be able to share more easily what the Lord has to say in a somewhat intelligible way. I suppose it goes with my extrovert personality. But, for me, I think it's in the sharing with others that the Holy Spirit works with me the best.

Today, as I had thought of doing many times before, I brought a recorder with me. I taped my message and transcribed it as a way of preparing for Sunday. Hopefully it will go okay. One of the pastor I worked on many years ago said the problem with not writing out sermons is that they all start sounding the same from week to week. It will be good to seek some feedback on that.

Anyway, thanks to the ladies who listened this morning, and thank you who are reading this for sharing with me today!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Letting God Do the Work

This morning a few local pastors and I went out to Stockholm Lutheran Church out in the country southwest of Cokato. I was blessed back in the '70s by knowing Greg, the son of the then pastor of the church. He was the first person to pray with me as a young adult and to lead me to Bible study. The Holy Spirit continues to work through his dad's former church as in all churches where the Word of God is. Imperfectly to be sure.

Today after our regular weekly prayer time, the local pastors decided to follow that church's lead in a project to feed the hungry. It had been proposed to get this project going through the clergy group, but the energy for the project resides in that particular rural church. So we gave up our idea of doing it through the clergy group and will support Stockholm. Better to follow that lead than to work hard drumming up something in our own churches.

God works when people are in relationship with one another, especially in local congregations. We ought to be aware of this and share and rejoice in what God is doing among us already! I think that's part of what it means to "not worry" and instead "seek y'all first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." GOD's kingdom and GOD's righteousness. When we try to do it on our own it's not God's.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Got an email from W asking me who I might recommend to receive recognition as a "Super Volunteer." I spoke to CL today who has put herself out over and over again on behalf of KA. I stopped by the new food shelf and saw WM & the M brothers and others working. WM is an entrepreneur for the Lord. The brothers M host the Bible study & donate so much of their time and resources. AS serves as a financial coach for several people. Then there is the Alpha crew, the Quilting group, Parish Nurse, befrienders (official and unofficial), kitchen volunteers, worship & music volunteers, church council & committees, office/mailing/compiling volunteers, youth and children's ministry volunteers. And that's just those who volunteer through our church ministries. We could look at community too! How do I pick? We have a wonderful church! Maybe someone should be recognized who NEEDS recognition! I hear there is a scholarship attached!

Monday, June 2, 2008

What's Next?

"He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead... No distrust made him waver... being fully convinced God was able to do what he had promised" Rm 4.

Those words are about Abraham and will hopefully be true of me as I move forward. Last evening, being worn out from the previous night's short sleep, I was flipping channels between The Simpsons and what seemed to be a remake of the classic Ten Commandments film. Saw part of it - the plagues and the sea crossing (overly dramatic, of course) and heard Moses push the people forward. "Don't look back."

If we do look back, it should be to gain thankful inspiration for today and tomorrow. Fear, regret or "longing for the good old days" isn't usually helpful. Older people need Abraham's example.

Toni and I are moving on to a different future. No longer focused on kids at home. Now two are officially launched. What does God want to do with us next? It's a new day!

We will, however, bring lots of wonderful people with us. A great blessing was having so many at our open house, including some special ones from the Taylors Falls area. "Not looking back" does not mean burning bridges. Relationships are SO important!

Sunday, June 1, 2008


We had a great time with friends and family yesterday and today. I've been too tired to think clearly most of the day. But I am VERY proud of our son (and our other wonderful kids). Now Daniel is off on a camping trip with friends, Naomi is back to Bible camp work, and we are a three person household for awhile. We thank God for the protection and blessing we've been given. May the Lord grant us the love to share those blessings with others. That's what graduation is for!