Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Christian Sub-Culture

A few of us are sitting in my office watching the last session of the Truth Project produced by Focus on the Family. It's a wonderful series and I highly recommend it with one caution. It's the same caution I would bring to church leaders who endorse candidates or political parties. (There was a movement among some to do that last Sunday in a push for "pulpit freedom.")

It seems to me that the call to transform the culture, espoused by the Truth Project, is dangerously close to the thought that we ought to reestablish "Christendom."
The term Christendom has been used to refer to the medieval and renaissance notion of the Christian world as a sort of social and political polity. In essence, the vision of Christendom is a vision of a Christian theocracy, a government devoted to the enforcement of Christian values, whose institutions are suffused with Christian doctrine. In this vision, members of the Christian clergy wield political authority. The specific relationship between the political leaders and the clergy can vary but, in theory, national or political divisions are subsumed under the leadership of a church institution. This vision would tempt Church leaders and political leaders alike throughout European history.
I believe God calls us, as a church body, to form a Christian sub-culture. God will call individuals to work in the political and secular world. We ought to use the values we understand to be from the heart of God to vote, campaign and even run for office. But politics, the government, the society or the CULTURE of the world (as the truth project talks about) will never be "Christian." It will always be dominated by sin.

Martin Luther made a helpful distinction between the kingdom on the left (where the law rules) and the kingdom on the right (where the gospel is king). We ought not confuse them. When we do, we try to enforce Christian values and end up, perhaps, with a mild form of the inquisition. Understanding Luther's teaching about the two kingdoms is helpful as Christians are tempted to control the culture around us.

So then, we do our best to build a Christian Sub-Culture in our church, in our families, and in the personal relationships we hold dear.

See you in church!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fear, Faith, Prayer and Love

Franklin Roosevelt said "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Christians can claim this because Jesus Christ, God the Son, has won the victory. When we pray, we simply return to that promise and claim it for others. Ultimately, God is in control, through, for awhile, all of us on this battlefield called "earth" endure various trials. And we love one another, and help one another, along the way.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Cornerstone

Early in the week, on an evening when I was feeling powerless to help someone in need, I was drawn to Psalm 118. I got there by means of the bulletin cover for next Sunday: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone."
"The cornerstone (or foundation stone) concept is derived from the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure." Wikipedia
Psalm 118 is a wonderful testimony of Gods eternal love when enemies swarm "like bees." "I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation!" "Give thanks to the Lord," it says "for he is good and his love endures forever." Because this Psalm was last one used at the Jewish Passover celebration, it may have been the last song sung by Jesus and his disciples. "I shall not die, but LIVE, and proclaim what the Lord has done!" It was also Martin Luther's favorite.

This was a very full week. Late this afternoon our youth director, three adult "guides" and I returned with a busload of sophomores from a confirmation retreat. The goal of the retreat was to help the youth appreciate what it means to be Lutheran. Pastors from Gethsemane and North Crow (Triune) Lutheran churches and I did some teaching, and the youth saw most of a movie about the life of Martin Luther. Preparing for the retreat and seeing the movie made me realize why "Brother Martin" needed the consolation of victorious Psalm 118.

What do you do when you feel down? Where do you turn? There is great power and comfort in God's Word. Start with the Gospels, and let them lead you to the rest.

In his commentary on Psalm 118, written while he was waiting for the "Augsburg Confession" to be presented to Emperor Charles V, Luther wrote:
The neglect of Scripture, even by spiritual leaders, is one of the greatest evils in the world. Everything else, arts or literature, is pursued and practiced day and night, and there is no end of labor and effort; but Holy Scripture is neglected as though there were no need of it. Those who condescend to read it want to absorb everything at once. There has never been an art or a book on earth that everyone has so quickly mastered as the Holy Scriptures. But its words are not, as some think, mere literature, they are words of life, intended not for speculation and fancy but for life and action. By why complain? No one pays any attention to our lament. May Christ our Lord help us by His Spirit to love and honor His holy Word with all our hearts. Amen
Taking time to watch the Luther movie isn't a bad idea either.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Equip and Support

Since the office opened yesterday morning we have had at least four phone calls from women seeking financial assistance. Our usual policy is to have them stop in the office and talk with them and have them fill out a "request for assistance" form. We help with financial needs on a one time basis by referring them to the Cokato Ministerial fund or by providing help from our church's "Pastor's Discretionary Fund."

We do not give cash or checks directly to the person. If, for example, a person needs gas to get to work, we arrange payment to a gas station for a certain amount. The person in need then goes to that gas station to get the $20 or $30 in gas.

We are thankful for those who donate to the Pastor's Discretionary Fund. This allows us to respond in a compassionate way. We are thankful to those who give generously so our office staff is here to respond. When an individual needs more than just a tank of gas, or if the person returns for financial help a second time, I spend more time with the person, trying to understand the situation and encouraging them to build a relationship with the church. Because you give generously, a pastor is here to help.

We do need to be accountable for the funds that are given to the mission and ministry of the local church. If you have other questions about your giving or our stewardship of those funds, please don't hesitate to ask.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Made for Work

The bulletin cover picture for this coming Sunday shows a man bringing in a harvest. It looks like hard work! But look at the results!

Example #1: Most of those who came to my my adult class yesterday were members of the MN Teen Challenge* choir. They are looking forward to how God will be working in their lives in the months and years to come. Are we looking forward to God's work in OUR lives?

Example #2: At an evangelism event in the afternoon a pastor from New London who had served in Iraq as a chaplain talked about how he had shared the good news of Jesus by smoking an occasional cigar. He would offer one to a soldier, visit awhile and then start talking about Jesus. Several were baptized and others returned to the Lord. Are we willing to risk health and reputation for God's work?

Example #3: This morning at our church staff meeting our office manager shared an Enterprise Dispatch piece written by by Dassel Pastor Steve Olson back in 2006. Jesus wasn't the "good little rabbi" he wrote, who "played it safe." Jesus sought out the crooks in the government, drunks on the street, gluttons and all manner of sinners. Wherever there was a heart broken by sin, he was there. Pastor Steve continued:
"Do we have the guts to be a friend of sinners, like Jesus? Are we willing to let people look down on us because we run with the wrong people?"
I do not know specifically how God is calling YOU. I don't even know who you are as you read this! But God knows you and God made you, not for a life of ease, but for his work. Part of that work is done in our homes, part in our employment, part in our civic life, and part in the church. Sometimes we're called as leaders, sometimes as helpers and followers. But, unless we're severely disabled or sick or oppressed, we're not called to stand idle.

As I consider the many people who are part of our church here in Cokato, it's my guess that some would be glad to serve more fully if they could only hear God's call more clearly and "picture" how they might serve with their unique identity. As in the assigned gospel reading for yesterday, some need to be specifically invited. And those who have said "no" in the past need to have a chance to change their minds (as in the gospel for next Sunday).

Therefore, I hope you will choose to participate in the upcoming "Vision Raising" process. You can start participating now by clicking here.
*Here is the history of Teen Challenge, click the colored words to learn about it. God called David Wilkerson, Rich Scherber and others to lead and many others to participate in the work of rescuing lost souls.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Exodus = Freedom

The most important event in the New Testament is the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. The most important event in the Old Testament is the exodus. Both set people free.

The Exodus (Hebrew: יציאת מצרים), is the term used for the escape, departure and emancipation of the enslaved Children of Israel freed from Ancient Egypt as described in the Hebrew Bible, mainly in the Book of Exodus.

The Israelites were led by Moses and Aaron, the goal was to return to the Land of Israel where their forefathers had lived and which they had been promised by God. The Exodus forms the basis of the Jewish holiday of Passover.

The work of the church is to follow Jesus in announcing God's love and in working to bring the oppressed out of bondage. Whether that bondage is their own sin or the sin of others, we are called to do all we can to set people free.

Today at worship we will celebrate the exodus of people who have been in bondage to alcohol and drugs.

Who else needs to be set free?

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Real Challenge

On Sunday a 50 member Minnesota Teen Challenge Choir will be at our church. I've always treasured these opportunities to worship with my brothers and sisters in recovery. You can learn more about the program they are involved in by clicking here.

As we worship with these folks, and as we hear their testimonies, it's important that we not think of them as unlike us. We all stand "in the need of prayer" every day. No one better, no one worse.

Jerry Seehusen reminded me of that as I was reading one of his old blog posts this morning. Here it is from "Beef on the Grill," Sunday, August 13, 2006.

Friday I attended a memorial service for my 101 year old Uncle Francis who died in Arizona last winter.

The memorial service was not the great event I’m talking about. The great event was at the memorial service when a woman proclaimed an end to the wretchedness of man. No, she didn’t stride to the front of church and make a formal announcement; no, she just slid it in John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace”. She changed the line “Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me” to “Amazing grace that saved a soul like me.”

Now I realize John Newton’s Amazing Grace is not the inspired word of God but its timeless message is true. Oh, Old Beef here doesn’t like being called a wretch either. I mean, on the whole, I’m a good ol’ soul, not too threatening. Oh, I tell a lie now and then, and I lust after my neighbors wife, but at least I’m not a wretched drunk like Bubba and I have not had an abortion like that woman who lives on Highway 71 while all the time I denying I’m a glutton…

As she sang, we cows and bulls of Bashon (read Amos Chapter 4) didn’t even squirm in the pews. We didn’t even belch or much less chew our cud. No, we all just sat there and went on being our “good ol’ soul” selves.

God help us. God doesn’t grade on a curve. All sin is sin to a Holy God. Denying the truth doesn’t make it go away. We are all wretches at the foot of the cross. We should all be found face first in blood stained dust at the foot of the cross not changing words to timeless hymns to make ourselves feel better. The only way we will be found clean is by the shed blood of Jesus Christ and that alone. God help us wretches. We need your help Lord now, more than ever. We hear the hoof beats on the horizon but we are not about to listen or change (Isaiah 66:4).
May we always allow the Lord to remind us who we are. Please pray for the choir and the rest of us who gather this Sunday. We won't be able to broadcast the choir, so you'll need to come at 8:30 or 11:00.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Worthy of the Call

In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul writes, "I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

Impatience is tempting, but not attractive. When I consider Jesus' life, his impatience was directed at the religious authorities, not at the common people. The Lord is so patient with us! Because God is patient with me, I hope I will always be patient with you.

A prayer attributed to Mother Teresa says: "Sweetest Lord, make me appreciative of the dignity of my high vocation, and its many responsibilities. Never permit me to disgrace it by giving way to coldness, unkindness, or impatience."

Whether I am exercising the high vocation of being a pastor or being a father, I pray that when I speak or act with impatience, that I will quickly repent. And if I have been impatient with you, I hope you will let me know. Sometimes I'm not even aware of my own actions and their effect on others. Please, speaking the truth in love, help keep me and others on track by confronting us when we are wrong.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Called to Write?

There's a lot I could be writing about today. Many needs and situations have arisen that cause me to pray and seek God's guidance in God's Word. It seems a larger number of people than usual are coming forward with illnesses and troubles.

Tonight, however, there are important events involving our youth and their families, and these things require preparation. So I won't be writing much. This makes me wonder if there are more people who would like to share in this writing experiment. Two people made suggestions yesterday, and I tried to answer them briefly, but I was wondering if there are people from our church or among my friends and acquaintences who would like to submit their thoughts for this blog.

You could submit something to me and I could post it. Of course, I will maintain editorial rights, but I would not make changes to what you submit unless you agree to them. Also, I am willing to put things up from "anonymous" writers as long as we can be in conversation with each other. Perhaps a staff member or member of our church would like to share something. Perhaps someone a friend or family member would like to submit something.

Send me a note or make a comment and let me know. I wrote some basic guidelines about the purpose of this blog in my post entitled "welcome." You won't write, of course, as pastor of this church, but from your own point of view, from your particular role or position in the church, in your family, in the society, or from your work.

Are you called to write?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Any Ideas?

If there are topics you'd like to see mentioned on this blog, please comment, email or phone.
Two suggestions received during the day today - I got an email from someone asking about the upcoming Alpha program; and Mike asked about the Truth Project in a comment. Our church's Alpha begins with a Celebration Dinner on Sunday, September 28. I'll try to get more info and put it in my announcements (see link at right). For more on the Truth Project, see my reply to Mike in the comments. (This paragraph added 10:30 p.m.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Absolutely Worth It

Some friends invited us to Lake Carlos State Park for the weekend. We went up late yesterday afternoon, talked into the night, went hiking in the drizzle this morning, and right after lunch drove back to Cokato. A two hour drive each way, but absolutely worth it.

Our friends' son wondered why we were going so soon. "Can't you get a substitute?" he asked. Actually, I wanted to go. Not that I don't like camping. But the work of the church is wonderful, and important to be a part of as often as I can.

Now, there's nothing I'm saying here that's intended to guilt anyone who isn't getting together with us at Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato tomorrow. When I push the PoWeR SuRGe commitment to "Worship Every Week" I try to make sure people know they can gather with others for worship wherever they are. There is worship at the Lake Carlos campground tomorrow. Still, there's something absolutely important about the ongoing work of a group of Christians who know one another well -- something you can't get by bopping from one worshipping community to another week after week.

As I'm preparing to preach tomorrow, I'm thinking I need to CONVINCE people that the work of the church is worth their trouble. I think of all the PROGRAMS of the church from Sunday school to Befrienders to Marriage Education to grief work to prayer and worship. I think of the CULTURAL difference that Christians bring when they live according to God's Word. There's more honesty, more energy, more willingness to sacrifice for others. I think of the difference that loving Christian PARENTS make in their children's lives and in the lives of their neighborhoods. The preaching and teaching and COMMUNION among Christians makes a difference you can't easily describe until you experience the opposite.

Why do I think I need to do this convincing? Partly it's because I think people see only a little bit of the church's work on a week by week basis. Partly because some think the church exists for its own glory, for its own good. But mostly, I think, because being part of a somewhat disorganized religious organization seems to be, at times, more trouble than its worth. After all, we have a deficit of $33,500 so far this year and are always on the lookout for volunteers to be involved in many ways. And then, besides all that, there are all those people - people who we just get to know too well.

Church people, like all people, are interesting, fun sometimes, but also full of trouble! Church people sin and annoy and hurt each other. They do! That's our nature! We all sin every day and fall short of God's plan! And our expectations are so high - after all, aren't religious people supposed to be GOOD? You might think so, but when you get to know us, you'll discover that though Christ's love does flow well sometimes in our lives, sometimes we're just a pain. And then, to make things worse, instead of following God's plan for reconciliation (Matthew 18:15) and forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22) we avoid each other. We even avoid worshiping together!

Sometimes, I think, people go camping over Sunday mornings, not just for the great out of doors, but to get away from the troubles at church! When we do this too often, it handicaps the church -- and the church is, according to scripture, the Body of Christ on this earth. Handicapped by too many of us AWOL, we neglect the works of God. We stop seeking and saving the lost and turn on ourselves and then go away to lick our wounds. People give up and scatter like lost sheep.

Amazingly, however, it's just for this situation that Jesus came. Jesus chose to come, not just back from a camping trip to a comfortable home, but from heavenly glory to a world full of distrust and hate. He chose to come from perfect peace to a lost world full of failed God-followers. He chose to come from his perfect kingdom to live and suffer in our neighborhoods, among people who hurt and malign others while insulating themselves. He chose to pay our debt, to sacrifice himself in our place, to pay our penalty, so he could be our Lord and we could be his forever. He thinks we, the church, are worth every drop of his blood and every ounce of his tortured body and soul. He gave it all for people just like you and me.

So, tomorrow, we gather. We gather with people some of whom we like, some of whom we don't know well, and some we wish we could avoid. We gather under the sign of the cross, where Jesus died for sinners like me and like you. And we bring other lost souls who are sinners so they can rest in the presence of the Lord too. And then together we do God's work: bringing friends to Alpha, to youth group, to give children a good start in our homes, to bless the world God loves so much. To bless it especially with forgiveness and never ending love.

Together, we can do quite a bit. And it's worth it. No doubt.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Exercising Cooperation

In the morning I like to get my blood moving. Three days a week I go over to "Snap Fitness" to use the circuit training equipment. The other days I still get out. This morning I walked a few miles with Toni.

I'm glad I did that because now I'm sitting. I'm in a meeting with area ELCA pastors at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Maple Lake. We're learning about the "Crop Walk." It is one way to help people to share and to learn. C.R.O.P. began after WWII with grain collections as "Christian Rural Oversees Program." In 1969 a Lutheran church youth group sponsored a "walk" to raise funds and help the world's poor. This tradition continues with a 2-3 mile "Crop Walk" in Hutchinson on Sunday, September 28.

A Crop Walk is one way of exercising together. Someone at today's meeting said "It feels like you are walking with the rest of the world." After all, most of the world's people walk instead of ride. "We walk because they walk" is one of the themes. The funds raised are channelled through agencies in the countries where there is need. The Crop Walk website says the funds "help empower people to meet their own needs. From seeds and tools, to wells and water systems, to technical training and micro-enterprise loans, the key is people working together to identify their own development priorities, their strengths and their needs -- something Church World Service has learned through some 61 years of working in partnership around the world."

If you want more info on the local crop walk happening in Hutchinson later this month, email Pastor Mark Little of Stockholm Lutheran Church. Just click that link or use this address: stocklc@xtratyme.com Mark says:
The walk begins at 4:00 pm on Sunday, September 28 in Hutchinson. We gather in South Park, just west and north of Faith Lutheran Church on Main Street.

On another "cooperative" subject...

On Tuesday Sam Clark from First Baptist Church stopped in to ask that I promote the movie "Fireproof." It's by the same people who made "Facing the Giants" which was shown at a local church in 2007. Sam says his goal, as a youth group leader, is to "encourage the youth to stay pure and follow Jesus Christ." One way to do that is to cooperate so good wholesome entertainment is provided. Families and youth are going to go to movies, whether they're good or not, so we may as well help good ones get shown.

Sam says that if 1,000 people commit to buying a movie ticket, it can be shown in our area at a Hutchinson Theater. It looks like a good story - about a fire captain who "lives by the fire-fighters creed: Never leave your partner behind" but "at home he lives by his own rules." A life changing commitment to the love of God through Christ changes his life. Then he goes to work to save his family.

If you are willing to give this movie a try, commit to buying a ticket by emailing Sam Clark. Just click that link or use this address: tyezen_kun@hotmail.com

As we exercise our faith together, cooperatively ministering to body and soul, the body of Christ will stay strong.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Used for Good

In a meeting last week, one of our church leaders led a devotion and prayer connected with the story of Joseph and his brothers from Genesis 50:15-21. Joseph's brothers did him wrong. Later Joseph was accused of a crime he did not commit. But God used it all for good.

Can we trust that our Lord will use all the circumstances of our lives to do his work? As we will read in Romans 14, verses 7-8, every thing in the life of a Christ follower is wrapped up in God's plan. No matter what, we belong to the Lord. For the moment, our lives are caught up in the battles of this world. But because Jesus died and rose again for us, God has the final victory in his hands!

Sometimes, in the battle, whether it's disease, injury, slander, violence or failure coming against us, all we can do is cling to the promise that God is good. And that is a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Church Family Business

At 9:00 a.m. I was voter #30 in the primary election. The election judges were chatting and "bonding" as one of them said. They'll be there until 8:00 tonight. Not a real busy day. It'll be different in November.

One of the judges made a link between my sermon last Sunday and what was going on there at city hall. On the cover of that bulletin we had a cute picture of a girl and her parents, holding hands at the dinner table with Matthew 18:20 quoted there, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." It's good to work on "relationships." It's good to learn to get along.

There is, however, a difference between chatting with acquaintances over coffee or having dinner with your family and what Matthew 18 is talking about. Jesus concern here isn't just for friendly relations with our "fellow man." Though Romans 12:18 tells us to "live peaceably with all" as much as we can, the main concern is for the health of the church.

In Matthew 18 and in other places, New Revised Standard version of the Bible uses "member of the church" when the original uses the Greek word for "brother." It's a fair translation because "brother" in the New Testament doesn't just mean a blood or adopted sibling. Nor does it mean simply other people in general. It means someone who has also had a new birth and therefore is part of a new family. That "new family" is called the "church."

The church family has important business to do. We go out into the world to serve in our community, for example, as election judges. We serve in our families and in our workplaces. But once we are born again, the church is our home, not the church "building," but the assembly of God's people. And, as a church, we do God's work in Jesus' name.
If you do something in Jesus’ name it means that you do it with the authority He gave you and not on your own authority, and that you act within the limits of your authorization, whatever those limits may be. You act as His agent, in His stead, to His credit and for His benefit. You have no benefit from your deeds except His thanks and whatever reward He chooses to give you. (Ken Collins)
And because what we do in the "church" is done in Jesus' name, the church family relationships are especially important. Our unity is one way that people in general are convinced that we are connected with Jesus (John 17:23). When we are fighting with each other, our witness to Jesus is compromised and the lost are not found with Jesus' tender love. That's why Jesus focuses on church family relationships in Matthew 18. Working things through and forgiving each other needs to be done so we can do the work God has called us to, to seek and save the lost.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Equipping Example

Beginning October 5, we'll begin our Vision Raising project. That day we'll look at what is going on "at church," that is, in our building and youth "sheep shack." We'll look at worship, education, caring ministry and everything else we do as disciples at 280 3rd St. SE, Cokato, MN. We'll share scripture, pray, have an offering of ideas and prayerfully how each of us is called by God to be involved, either in what is happening now or in new ventures "at church." The next week we'll do something similar with how we are called in community, world mission, social ministry, and evangelism. Then, on October 19th, we'll focus on how we can support and equip those who are called, coming alongside them and providing what they need.

What's "equip" mean in this sense? On the door of my office it says "Equipment Room." This comes from the scriptures in Ephesians 4:11-13 where we're told to "equip" God's people "for the work of ministry." As a pastor, I help equip people for their work, and, in turn, the congregation equips me and our staff through salaries, building, utilities, supplies and lots of prayer.

Yesterday we prayed for Amanda Carlson, a young adult member of our congregation who is soon on her way to Ndola, Zambia In an email today, she told us that she and the other "Spark Interns" have started a blog. You can read it at http://sparkglobalinterns.blogspot.com/. But we not only prayed for her. We also helped equip her with funds which will help her on her mission journey.

Every part of God's mission needs equipping prayer and support. I hope you'll be a part of "equipping" God's people for their work wherever you are.

Here's a the letter from Amanda:

Muli Shani Friends and Family!

I hope this email finds you well! As you know I am about to embark on my internship in Zambia this upcoming Wednesday and I thoroughly appreciate all your support and encouragement of my participation in this internship! I am extremely excited to see how God will use me in Ndola and to be involved and active in one of my passions! Just to remind you of my responsibilities while there, I will be a Teacher's Associate at the Hope Community school. This entails several different responsibilities, but mainly teaching English courses to the students, particularly the seventh graders who are preparing to take a test to get into the government school, tutoring students, and helping the teachers advance their English proficiency. In addition to these responsibilities I will also be working with the orphanage in various activities, such as after school programs and further tutoring, and also building relationships with the people in Ndola.

I will be gone for six months and want to do my best to stay in touch and share my experiences with you! I will have internet access and would thoroughly love to hear from you! The other interns and I have also created a blog that will be updated hopefully quite frequently. That address is http://sparkglobalinterns.blogspot.com so feel free to check that for updates and to leave comments! Also I will be able to receive mail. International postage is required for letters, but if you are interested in sending things via packages it is encouraged to do so through DHL or FedEx. That mailing address is:

Amanda Carlson
Hope Fellowship Ministries
Insurance House
Room 201-203
Maina Soko Rd.
P.O. Box 71480

I am very thankful for your support and feel blessed to be able to share this experience with you. I ask for your continued prayer support as this experience begins, for the safety and health of all the interns, and for our willingness to allow God to use us in the ways in which He has intended.

May God's peace continue to be with you.

Lesa ami pale! (God Bless you!)


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Conversational Goal

Toni and I were out walking at Collinwood this afternoon. Among other things we were talking about how God wants us to go to others to let them know when we feel they have "sinned against us." That was the gospel for today.

I've often thought that the hardest part was to actually do that, but Toni had another take on it. She talked about how it's incomplete without a focus on forgiveness. That needs to be the goal of those hard conversations: forgiveness and reconciliation.

How true! And, in God's wisdom, the next scripture passage in Matthew 18 is all about forgiveness - how often someone can sin and ask for forgiveness before we give up on that person. Jesus answer is that there's never an end.

Sometimes there does need to be separation for awhile. Nevertheless, the final goal is always the renewal of the relationship. Sometimes that can't happen in this life. But too often we give up too soon.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Rally Day

The conventions, Democrat and Republican, are over. What are they for? Rallying and getting people together to act. How is that like church? Gathering and rallying to action are important to the Lord. Where two or more are gathered in his name, he is with us, and he will act through us (Matthew 18:19-20). That's more than happened in St. Paul or Denver.

Don't neglect to gather this Sunday. Let the Lord call you together to act with others in his name.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Our Rut

It's good to be together. That's what all the Bible's talk about "love" and "forgiveness" is about. Sin and misunderstandings drive us apart. In C. S. Lewis' fantasy The Great Divorce sinful, selfish quarrels have people moving farther and father apart until neighbors are just specks on the horizon. Our Lord's teachings about love and forgiveness, and his sacrificial example of dying for sinful neighbors, is intended to keep us from abandoning each other.

That's all well and good. But, when people are together for awhile, we begin labeling and putting one another in boxes. We get stuck in a rut, doing the same things, year after year. If we're a cook, we cook. If we usher, we're an usher. Conflicts arise if and when we step outside of the pattern others have set for us. We begin to consider whether the group we're in will allow us to follow God's call to us as individuals. We don't want to be trapped.

There's another consequence too. Newcomers have a hard time feeling welcome. There's no room, sometimes, for another person. The circle is full.

So, from time to time, it's good to take a careful and prayerful look at our own place and at group activities, projects and events. Is God calling you to something new? Can your group open itself to the talents and ideas of new "members"? Can we walk with each other through the inevitable conflicts that arise when change occurs? See Matthew 18:15-20 for a clue on how to do that.

It may be more comfortable in the rut, but what about God's call?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


A month ago I sent an email to the Enterprise-Dispatch just to let them know I was blogging. Now the newspaper is doing an article complete with the blog address. Though I see they put a slash instead of a dot between equalsharing and blogspot, expect a few new visitors. (Our church's intern, Paul Gustafson, procured the domain www.equalsharing.com for me, so that's another way in.)

What is "Sharing Ministry and Faith" about?
  • It's a way for me to explore thoughts and topics that come up during typical days as a pastor.
  • I use it to do some preliminary work on what I'll be preaching about soon.
  • Mainly, and this is my real hope, it's a way to get feedback and comments from you.
I believe ministry is shared equally among hired hands such as myself and the great group of so-called "lay people" out in the community. No one is "above" another. We simply have different roles.

My role, as a pastor, as I see it, is mainly to equip people for ministry. One way to do that is to help people think and talk more about Christ-centered topics. Maybe sharing in this way, on the internet, will allow that to happen more often.

I hope, if I say something you appreciate, you'll let me know. Or, if I say something you think is crazy or not in line with God's truth, please come at me with how you see things.

I hope we will look to God's Word, centered in the Living Word, Jesus Christ, as the final arbiter and judge of all that is said. I will make mistakes. I hope we can continue to live together as brothers and sisters in Christ, forgiving each other and challenging each other, as equals under one Master and Lord.

I think it would be great if others in the Dassel-Cokato area would begin to "blog" in regard to the Christian life. God speaks to each of us through His Word and through His Spirit. Let's share!

  • In "Council Report" I listed some of the topics I've addressed over the past few months.
  • There's more about why I write and why I think the internet is a good place to do it in "Internet First."

Monday, September 1, 2008

Not Typical Kids

The following is by Jaynan Clark Egland, President of the Word Alone Network.


"This summer I heard a judge in family court say that children raised in a religious home are not your typical children. He added that sometimes you see in kids raised to be believers a more black and white view of the world and life. This is difficult for children of any age today because we know the world is more gray. There is uncertainty and change and one needs to be able to adapt to that.

"I am quite certain that my paraphrase of the judge's comments is very close to what was being communicated. Absolutes, certainty, distinctions and clarity of right and wrong are no longer considered healthy or preferable. One could go further to say that what the judge was communicating was that we in some way handicap our children in today's world if we teach them such beliefs and convictions, and life will be more difficult for those who are raised in such a manner. (I would have to agree with his prediction, yet difficulty for faithful followers should never be a surprise.)

"Who knows all the factors that have played into the re-creation of the world into the gray one in which we all now find ourselves? This groaning, changing world and reconfigured society with revised values, ethics, families, education and order is 'progressing' to such a degree, and with such an alarming pace, that it seems to be meandering and spinning out of control. (See for example the Barna report, Young Adults and Liberals Struggle with Morality.) More and more people are heard murmuring utterances that are nearing despair as the economy falters and the high of their day is the price at the pump.

"What is going on? Is it all a result of the Enlightenment and people getting so enamored with themselves they outgrew God? Or perhaps the seeds of the 1960's truly took root and the harvest is coming in? Maybe all the efforts directed toward the pursuit of equality and justice with the added benefit of life, liberty and happiness has functioned to set us all in a tailspin that now resembles the circling, spiraling flow of an unholy flush of our basic values and beliefs. Perhaps we have in effect--with all our good intentions of honoring the individual, upholding personal rights above community, teaching self-actualization, building up false self-esteem and advocating for everyone's voice to have equal weight and a fair hearing--'paved the road to hell.' The old adage did point out the inevitable destination in spite of all our individual good intentions. The road to hell is apparently not a yellow brick road but paved in gray."

You can read the rest of Jaynan's article by clicking here.

I think Jaynan says it very well. When we raise kids, teaching them right and wrong and loving them well, they aren't typical at all. But I want all of our kids to know the Lord, his love and his leading.

What do you think?