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.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vision Raising Result 05

The following are from the "Equip and Support" forms turned in on October 19. Next we need to look at the sheets turned in after the discussion. Sorry it is taking so long to get this information out!

We support the ministry and ministry of our church through
l. Council & Committees/Teams
m. Church Office
n. Finance
o. PoWeR SuRGe
p. Prayer for CELC
q. Property

1. How are these functioning well?
  • We pray for our young families who are doing a good work.
  • Through commitment of those on the committees
  • Very good
  • I really like that tour church has this as another way for people to share ideas, feelings and a way to help.
  • Great job Pastor Steve & all helpers to make this possible.
  • Addressing needs and balancing wants.
  • Good job looking toward the future.
  • The flow of information through Pr. Thorson’s blog is very good.
  • I feel the “Power Surge” has really been at the basis of our church growing and uniting. Everything else falls into place. The office and committees appear to be operating fluently. The office setup now is good!
  • We have a dedicated staff who serve faithfully.
  • We have many faithful volunteers.
  • Keep on, keeping on
  • Function well – a lot of great people serve in their various roles.
2. What ideas do you have to better equip and support our church's mission & ministries?
  • Prayer before meetings & after
  • We need a ministry group to visit members who do not attend services. Also to reach out to those who have visited our beautiful church.
  • Help lost
  • Do we need a Christian day care to open?
  • I don’t know a lot about them to say at this time.
  • Continue the enthusiasm
  • Perhaps we could collect food for the food shelf on a more regular basis (i.e. at Alpha, at church gatherings, in attendance at certain events)
  • Give members the opportunity to debit their checking accounts so they can commit to an amount to give each week or month (even if they are out of town).
  • Focus on local missions more & world missions second. We need to focus on local issues – get our “house in order” before we can impact the world in some ways.
  • We need a website to share with the community all of the ministries of ELC. Internet is a main vehicle of communication and we need to use it.
  • Men’s (Club) “Prayer Partners” Praying for each other
More to come! You can still share your thoughts and ideas. Write a note, call, or turn in a form. Go to the vision raising link at top right.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hands Against Hunger

At noon on December 7, right after the Sunday School Christmas program, we're hoping to line up more than 100 men, youth, women and children from the church and pass food and other items, hand to hand, from the church to the Cokato Food Shelf about 2 1/2 blocks away. The social ministry committee will begin collecting for those in need on Sunday, November 23. We'll collect until the 7th when we'll symbolically pass the items in a long line.

According to Russ Irvin and Isabelle Mattson, the items especially needed are unopened, not outdated foods such as
+ canned vegetables (beans, peas, corn)
+ canned soups (tomato, chicken noodle, vegetable)
+ canned fruits
+ ramen noodles
+ macaroni & cheese
+ soda crackers
+ canned meat such as spam
+ cereal
+ boxed mashed potatoes
+ pancake mix & syrup.
Also needed are other personal care products such as toilet paper, hand soap, diapers (size 2, 3, 4), and, of course cash for vouchers providing dairy, meat, fresh fruit & veggies. Not needed at the present time are canned "spaghetti o's," canned ravioli and similar canned pasta dishes -- the food shelf has a large supply of those.

The food shelf is serving many large families each week. We anticipate a greater need this winter due to the economic downturn.

Thanks to the Social Ministry committee for making these plans, and, of course, to the wonderful food shelf volunteers!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Leading Youth to Jesus

Last week at YDT our youth heard the confirmands statements of faith. Tomorrow evening we'll get back on track with our 7th - 9th graders with learning faith basics. We're focusing this year on Christian teachings summarized in the Apostles' Creed. More about our teaching plan can be found here.

Since beginning in mid-September, we have discussed the value of life as created by God, our responsibility to care for creation and life itself, God's gift of work, and, finally how the devil tempts us away from God's loving ways.

Because we sin, we need a savior. That's the section we will start tomorrow night - moving from the first part of the creed about God the creator to the second part of the creed about Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from Eternity, and true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature...

Do we know we are lost and condemned? Without Jesus, that's what we are. In order to make sure we know our need for a savior, we'll take a look tomorrow night at the commandments, what Rolf Jacobson calls the "unchanging and enduring heart of God's Law."

I wrote about Law and Gospel a few days ago. The commandments tell us how to love God and others ("our neighbors"). The law of God as outlined in the commandments is intended to keep evil and chaos from totally taking over the world. That is the "civil use" of the law. The law's other undisputed purpose is to convict us of sin. The law says "DO THIS" but it is NEVER done.

If we look honestly at the commandments and at the New Testament interpretation of them (for example in Matthew 5-7 and parallel passages in Luke) we will realize how much we need a savior. And that's why God came in the person of Jesus Christ.

As usual, I'll need to find a creative way of presenting this. Please put it on your prayer list. We never want to give youth, or anyone else, the impression they can earn their way to God's good love and "heaven" by doing good.

We need a Savior. Fortunately, He comes to us!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Cross For Now

Back on October 19, I heard a radio program that called into question how much clarity any of us can have about the experience of other people. When we see someone who seems unkind or cold, who is to say what is going on in their hearts and minds? When someone acts in a way that makes no sense to us, we are quick to judge.

Like most people, we Christ-followers want clarity. But, for now, our spiritual vision is muddied with sin and tears. For now we stumble through, doing the best we can. For now, all we have is God's self-giving love for sinners and the command that we love God and others in return. Sometimes we don't know what is best - except the cross.

I think that's especially true as we look forward to November 4. I hope we'll keep this in mind as we vote. It is our patriotic and civic duty to vote, so we do. But don't look for clarity in politics. Politics is necessary and important, but it's always the color of mud... whether thrown or not.

When we want clarity, we look to Jesus. When we look to Jesus, we see the cross. We see the place where God gave his life in return for ours. We see love for sinners. There we find our confidence. There we see clearly. Everything else may fade, but God's Word of Self-giving Love for Sinners endures and shines from the cross every day.

I'm thinking of this partly because someone sent me a link to a fire-and-brimstone sermon. As I listened to Paul Washer preach, I heard him say that we can see or know from the outside who is a "true" Christian or not. You know them, he says, they come to [church] but in their hearts they're as wicked as wicked can be. Well, no matter how wicked I, or they, may be, we still, always, need the cross. My spiritual vision is clear only for that.

Paul Washer is preaching something that has been labeled "Lordship Salvation." Instead of questioning whether people are saved based on their actions or attitudes, I prefer to challenge people about whether or not they are living as disciples. The only place we have to go as regards being saved is to the cross, where Jesus love is poured out for all, no matter how confused their lives may look to me.

For now, that's all we have.

We have a promise, however, that all will become clear someday. In November, as the northern hemisphere slips into cold and darkness, we point ahead to that wonderful future. Through the prophets, God gives us a glimpse of glory beyond the cross. We'll take a look that direction next month. I'd encourage you to look ahead at the coming weeks scriptures to be printed on upcoming weeks bulletins:

God will wipe away every tear from our eyes!
November 02 - Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10,22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Keep awake... for you know neither the day nor the hour.
November 09 - Amos 5:18-24; Psalm 70; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Enter into the joy of your master
November 16 - Zephaniah 1:7,12-18; Psalm 90:1-8[9-11]12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Just as you did it to the one of the least of these, you did it to me
November 23 - Ezekiel 24:11-16,20-24; Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

Hope shines from beyond the cross. But don't expect clarity there either. We are given just enough hope, just enough light, for those who live today in the shadow of the cross.

One of those promises we read on November 2 goes like this:
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and people and lanuages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands... saying "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (The "Lamb" is Jesus, who takes away our sin.) "They have come out of great suffering*... but they will hunger no more, and thirst no more... the Lamb... will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
What a great promise. But that's about as much clarity as we get. Poetic language of a wonderful future. For now, we have the cross. Then, goodness and glory and praise to God!

* "great suffering" is my translation of τῆς θλίψεως τῆς μεγάλης.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Vision Raising Result 04

Because of my schedule this week I did not yet review the "Equip and Support" responses or discussion results from October 19. I will be posting them as soon as practical. Please stay tuned.

ALSO: Please pray for our confirmands and their families. At the mid-point of Youth Discipleship Training, we recognize the growing independence of youth and share faith with them in a special way.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Gift of Faith

From First John 4:18, and from the example of our Lord Jesus' life, we know we do not need to be afraid. ἡ τελεία ἀγάπη ἔξω βάλλει τὸν φόβον ... True self-giving love drives out fear.

On Wednesday evening I showed a clip from the Luther movie. Martin's spiritual father, Johann von Staupitz, comes to the monastery cell of the newly ordained priest who is battling fears, real and imaginary. It seems that Martin has lost his faith and even his mind. But Johann enters with calm counsel and the cross of Jesus, assuring Martin that God's love is stronger than any of Martin's sins.

Faith is a gift that we receive from the Lord himself, but it comes indirectly through imperfect people who are courageous enough to stand with us in time of need.

Parents do this for their children. Parents sit by bedsides and put themselves in financial jeopardy out of love for their kids. We are blessed by the faith of soldiers who "more than self their country love" and risk everything for us. Missionaries and relief workers step unarmed into relationship with strangers suffering from poverty and disease and superstition. Teachers invest themselves in the lives of young people--some of whom need a warm heart as much as intellectual challenge. Befriender volunteers spend time with people whose lives in this world just isn't going to improve.

Who are those who gave you the gift of faith? Who were those in your childhood... who in your life today helps you walk through the "valley of the shadow" of fear and death? Praise God for them, and praise God for Jesus, who carried every sorrow and every sin so we can know we are never alone.

Sunday is Reformation Sunday*, when we remember the life of courageous Martin Luther and his companions. Sunday is also Confirmation Day, when we stand beside the young people of today. Pray for each one as they stand before us, that they might continue to receive, and share, the gift of faith.

*The actual "Reformation Day" is October 31, the day when Martin Luther tacked 95 arguments to the door of a church.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Law and Gospel

THIS IS THE LAW: It should be obvious that we are never righteous. We should know this from our experience and from the Bible, such as from Romans 3:
10 As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”

THIS IS THE GOSPEL: But God, through the work of Jesus Christ, has transformed the worthless into precious daughters and sons of God. As it says in First John 3:
1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
FOR NOW, those who trust Jesus are both SAINT and SINNER. For now, the battle rages. But, when the last day comes, only the good in us will remain.

The first Sunday of November is All Saints Sunday. We remember those who have finished their race and have gone to be with the Lord. Not because they are good, but because our Savior, Jesus, is wonderful.

See you in church! If you can't come on Sundays come on Fridays at 10 a.m. to one of our community worship opportunities in town. Check the Pulse newsletter for locations. If neither of those work for you, let us know and we'll come to you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Not On "You Tube"

At lunch today I met two other Lutheran pastors in our SW MN synod who blog. Eric Hullstrom from Jackson writes "The Heart of a Pastor" (click colored words for the link). Corey Bjertness of New London wrote a blog called "The Online Chaplain" when he served in Iraq -- he plans to begin blogging again. There are probably a dozen pastors from our synod who do "blog," but they didn't all show up at the table. I happen to know that another pastor, Steve King from Maple Lake, writes at Lutheran CORE but he wasn't at our table for lunch either.

The "table" was in St. Cloud, where I've been since since Sunday evening. There is an annual theological conference that pastors like me are expected to attend. I'm glad, because it's good to learn and be connected with others beyond our DC area. We've worshiped together, learned from professors Rolf Jacobson and Jim Boyce and from the Augsburg-Fortress CEO Beth Lewis, saw the film Yesterday.

I wish all of the things we have experienced here at the Southwestern Minnesota Synod Theological Conference would be on line. I've been pushing the idea that more and more should be put up on the internet so people can take a look at things at home or wherever. But, on the other hand, on "You Tube" you can't get together with people for lunch. By the way, I see that "You Tube" has a limit of 10 minutes to videos (though longer ones can be uploaded in parts). God Tube allows longer ones.

Continuing education for Christian adults is extremely important. It's very important that we not get swayed by every "wind of doctrine" Ephesians 4:12. Lutheran teaching keeps us focused on Jesus Christ and his work in our lives. I really appreciate events like this one where we do get good Lutheran teaching.

Click here for my unedited notes from the Rolf Jacobson presentation. It was about the Old Testament and how we find both LAW and GOSPEL in that part of the Bible. Eric Hullstrom posted a few notes on his blog. James Boyce's presentation "The Shaping of an Evangelical Christian" focused on the book of Romans and emphasized how God sets us free as we hear and trust the Gospel. He provided helpful notes that you can access here. This paragraph revised Thursday, Oct. 23.

The SW MN Synod has a program called "Faith Builders" for "people who simply love to learn and grow. Here are some of the upcoming Faith-Builder courses that are being planned. If you are interested in any of them please let me know.
  1. An Overview of the Old Testament, Friday evening through Sunday noon, March 13-15 at Shalom Hill Farm, taught by Dr. Richard Bowman.
  2. "They Did What?..." - a lively look at the Old Testament, a four session course, Feb. 7 & 21, Mar. 7 & 21 at Glenwood Lutheran Church, taught by Pastor Randy Chrissis.
  3. The Spirituality of Personal Finance, one day presentation, date & place to be announced, taught by John Rehl.
  4. Foundations for God-Centered Youth Ministry - a one day workshop for adults seeking to improve youth ministry - to be held at a rural church, date & place to be announced.
  5. Money Leadership for Individuals and Congregations - an overnight retreat helps individuals and groups look at their own views of money and become equipped as personal and congregational stewards. Dates & locations to be announced.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Vision Raising Result 03

Half as many people turned in Vision Raising forms in regard to our call out in the world than did the week before for our call at church. I think that has more to do with how folks get tired of filling out forms than it does with whether people care about our church's work in the world.

Jesus calls his church into a world of need. We then invite others to the banquet of God's love. In the world, our church invites through
Befriending - caring by listening & being a friend to those with chronic illnesses, weakness or other needs
Corn Carnival - outreach and fund-raising event (proceeds go beyond our church budget)
Global Mission
Outreach - inviting and sharing God's good news with our local area
Social Ministry - reach out to those in poverty or short term needs
Wider Church - knowing about and influencing what our ELCA is doing in the Southwestern Minnesota Synod and beyond

Here are some of the things people wrote on the forms in regard to what we appreciate about the ministry our local church beyond our church building out in the world:
  • As a member of the corn carnival committee it is satisfying to know that we are helping people in need
  • Especially during these troubled times in feels good to be part of the corn carnival ministry. The places we are able to donate to because of this help many people throughout our community & beyond.
  • Following God’s commandment
  • Food shelf, thrift store and programs in community.
  • Get to know members of church body
  • Getting to know people by working with them in a different setting
  • Helping others who are in need through social ministry.
  • I appreciate there are several ministries to be involved in & with
  • I like being a befriender
  • I like how we are continually looking abroad outside of our own church here in Cokato, but more emphasis needs to be put on helping members of our own church
  • Identifying the need for Christ beyond our church walls
  • Inviting people to church
  • Making people feel welcome in our church family
  • Reaches outside our building walls
  • That we are given a choice to serve and not just assigned without being asked like they do with ushering and/or serving groups
  • The corn-carnival stand works really well – all seems to go so smoothly
  • The giving of ourselves to the community
  • The radio broadcast is so important
  • They are all important
  • Things that (except for Corn Carnival) need to be done without too much effort on the part of volunteers
  • We are reaching out to the unchurched
  • We are there for others
  • Working at the Corn Carnival

Here are some ideas people wrote on the forms for mission and ministry beyond our church building out in the world:
  • Disaster relief care packages
  • Financial counseling
  • Getting youth group more involved in these for service projects!!
  • Helping people recover from emergencies and disasters
  • Identifying additional concerts/retreats/conferences in the area – Revolve tour, Women of Faith conference, Casting Crowns concert, etc.
  • Internet – online – podcast sermons
  • Keep it more local during these economic times
  • More prayer – at every meeting and at other time
  • New program called “Girlfriends Unlimited” could be an outreach to mothers throughout the community.
  • Spring/summer/fall worship at apartments/parks
  • Use the chapel more
  • Young adult Bible Study (20s – 30s)
None of these things happen, of course, until someone hears God's call to do them! Pray that the Lord will lead you and that you will be given the grace to obey.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Community of Sufferers

It was a beautiful day today. That's often true in the fall. Most of the bugs are gone and there are so many nice, bright days.

But then there are gloomy days too.

Fall is an honest season. I much prefer spring because, for me, it seems that time of the year gets better as it goes along. Fall just gets colder and darker. Kind of like life.

Depressing? Maybe, but it's true. All of us eventually go downhill. Quickly or slowly our little lives come to their earthly end. We are like the grass of the field. Grown and soon gone. I'm reminded of that often in my work as I spend time with those who are suffering for one reason or another.

I know we don't like to think of it that way, but it's good for us to remember this truth: We are a community of sufferers. All of us are bound for suffering. As I spend time with those who are aware of their mortality, whether it's because of physical illness or depression or fear, it helps me to remember I am no different. At the moment, things might be better for me, but I am brother to those who suffer today. And someday, I will be in their shoes.

Can this make us more compassionate? It can if we remember our Lord Jesus, who came to share our suffering and who, in the end, promises us a forever springtime. We may not see it in this lifetime, but we know the promise of Jesus resurrected life! It will be ours because of His love!

May the Lord bless us as we care for one another in our suffering tonight. I hope no one feels they are all alone. And may we look forward to the joys beyond compare in the world to come. In the meantime, don't forget to spend some time caring and listening and just being with your brothers and sisters who suffer now.
Added Friday afternoon: "Being with" our brother and sisters is done in many ways, but particularly through befriending.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Community Chest

Before I came to Cokato, the only thing I knew about "Community Chest" was the spaces and yellow cards in the Monopoly board game. Now I know it's similar to (but independent from) what I've known before as the United Way.

Here's what I found on the organizations page of the Enterprise-Dispatch website:
The Cokato Community Chest was founded in 1954 to be a team of representatives of city organizations that conducts one city-wide fundraiser per year. The board of directors then divides the funds among the social agencies, local, state and national, who have requested funds. Because there is an organization such as the community chest, there is only one door-to-door campaign per year in October.

The organizers meet at the Cokato City Hall in the spring and fall. Officers include Butch Paulson, president; John Bergmann, vice president; Margaret Salo, Secretary; and Susie Keskey, treasurer. If anyone is interested in joining they are to contact any of the officers listed.
Many folks from our church help out with this fund drive. Last year it supported a long list of organizations. You can download a one page report (pdf) by clicking here.

Tonight I decided to help out. I went door to door, introducing myself and the Community Chest. Four of the 15 homes I visited were ready to give a donation. Young people came to the door of a few homes - I left information with them for their parents. Others seemed about as knowledgeable as I was when I came to town. Some seemed interested and wanted time to think. I gave them the P.O. Box number and some information so they could think about it.

Hats off to the many volunteers in our community who are ready, willing and able to do this work. If you want to help next year, they usually do the Community Chest fund drive on Columbus Day (the second Monday of October). If you don't know where else to call, just let us know at church.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Uncomfortable Privilege

Yesterday evening I had the privilege of seeing the musical Little House on the Prairie at the Guthrie with my wife and daughter (Naomi). The weather was beautiful so, before the show, we took time to walk across the stone arch bridge in Minneapolis, had dinner at Pracna on Main (outdoors until a few raindrops chased us in), and then returned via the 3rd Ave. bridge and a walk along the river. It was fun for us to be tourists in our own state.

As I write this I'm aware that so many will, for one reason or another, never have an experience like that. Maybe because they can't afford it financially. Maybe because family life is to difficult or complicated. I feel almost ashamed to mention these pleasures on my blog.

My life is saturated with sin. I do not love my neighbor as myself. I am not willing to give up my privileges so the joys of life will be equally distributed to all. I hope I can use my privileges to bless more than to curse, but, if I am truthful about it, I can't be sure at all.

That's why the greatest privilege is knowing our Savior. He does take our sin away (Psalm 103:12). And he can use all the circumstances of our lives to bring blessing (Romans 8:28). At the same time, however, through his example and his teachings, Jesus challenges us to live for others instead of for ourselves.

I, for one, will always be living, I think, in this uncomfortable, privileged place. Even if I were to lose my salary or pension in these troubled economic times, I would still be better off than so many because of the solid foundation I have in my family's love and in my faith. I think my task needs to be to share as much of that "faith privilege" as I can.

But, as long as I have some material privileges too, my Lord will always be pushing me uncomfortably in the area of economics. I should be thankful for that because it brings me to my knees in confession every day. I pray I will be open also to change as He pushes me to share.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What about Evangelism?

On Wednesday, at suppertime, a "sister" in Christ emailed me a comment about the draft of this coming Sunday's Vision Raising response form. (You can get a download a copy (2 pages, pdf), by clicking here.) She wondered where "Evangelism" was. After all, it wasn't listed with the other ways we work in the world. We listed the following, but not "Evangelism."
+ Global Mission +
+ Outreach +
+ Social Ministry+
I responded to that note by giving an example of Evangelism in action, about how one woman has invited people from her business to Alpha. I've been giving it more thought since then, and I realize that all of the things in the list above are actually ways of Evangelizing, that is, helping people to know Jesus and thereby be saved.

Under the category of "outreach," for example, we INVITE people to church events. When we do that, we are doing what Jesus tells us to do in the gospel for this coming Sunday: Go therefore into the streets and invite everyone you find... Matthew 22:9

Last Sunday we looked at what God calls us to do "AT CHURCH," that is, on the piece of ground donated to us by our spiritual ancestors here in Cokato.On our piece of ground we learn and grow through
+ Alpha & Sunday School +
+ Fellowship +
+ Men's & Women's Programs +
+ Worship & Music+
+ Youth Ministry+
This weekend, on Sunday, we will hear God's call to go out from here through (and I repeat!)
+ Global Mission +
+ Outreach +
+ Social Ministry+
I believe each and every one of those is evangelism. Yes, we also talk with our friends and neighbors about Jesus out there, in our neighborhoods. But that, I think, is just part of being an every day Christ follower. Unless we keep silent, each and every one of our activities will help people get to know Jesus Christ.

There's an interesting discussion/article on "Evangelism" on Wikipedia.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Respect and Care

On Tuesday evening we hosted a Smart Discipline seminar with Dr. Larry Koenig. I was only able to sit in on part of it but I had seen the whole program earlier on the internet. I'm thankful to our Sunday school superintendent and Christian education committee for sponsoring this excellent, common sense event. Parents, grandparents and others learned a common-sense strategy to help children and youth with issues of respect and self-esteem. Parents are encouraged to be in charge and to have consequences ready for continued disrespect.

Dr. Koenig had a great plan for putting a chart up on the fridge that would allow several chances before the temporary removal of privileges. (Privileges are restored the next day for young children, and the next week for children who are older.) I encourage you to get the Smart Discipline materials (look on the website) and not just go it on your own. Note added Thursday, October 16: SINCE I WROTE THIS I FOUND OUT THAT THE SERIES HAS BEEN PURCHASED AND IS IN OUR CHURCH LIBRARY.

The next morning (Wednesday) our church building was busy again. I heard part of a presentation about mental illness. An expert (Karen Finck) was here to help the staff of the "Mykkanen homes" know how to better serve men and women with developmental disabilities. About half of those with "developmental disabilities" (what we might call "mental retardation") also suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar and other serious illnesses such as schizophrenia.

One of the things I learned from Karen was this: Whereas a "consequences" based program (like Smart Discipline) is helpful for most people, those suffering from mental illness need a different approach. When we suffer from these issues we need an "ABC" approach, with more emphasis on the A and the B. Karen called "A" the "antecedent," that is, the event or atmosphere that comes before "B," that is, the behavior that needs changing. Those with mental illness have a hard time thinking ahead to the "C" (consequences), so a "Smart Discipline" approach doesn't necessarily work in these cases. In those cases we work especially hard on creating a helpful environment (including following doctor's orders regarding medication, etc.) and deal with the behavior as it occurs.

It's all a challenge. Raising children--dealing with disabilities--they are sometimes very difficult. But we can't throw in the towel. Last night, in teaching youth at YDT, we focused on the fact that we are all created in God's image. Looking at Psalm 139 and Matthew 5, we we learned again about the amazing value of every person. Whether someone is young or old, strong or disabled, well adjusted or not, everyone is absolutely precious in God's sight.

So I'm thankful we have good advice from experts to help us treat others with respect and appropriate care.

How will this affect the way we treat one another today?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Creation Difference

Tonight I plan to give a message to our youth about how knowing we are created instead of “evolved” by chance makes a difference in our lives. I’ll be giving this message between 7:45 and 8:15. We’ll have small groups before that. You are invited to join us.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Vision Raising Result 02


On Sunday over 200 members and friends of our church returned forms related to our Vision Raising program. Many filled out the "time and talent" section on the back. Special thanks to the 60-70 who included answers to the questions on the front of the form...

Here are answers to the first question: What do you appreciate about our "at church" ministries. These include + ALPHA, SUNDAY SCHOOL AND OTHER EDUCATION, + FELLOWSHIP, + MEN'S & WOMEN'S PROGRAMS, + WORSHIP & MUSIC, and + YOUTH MINISTRY. We'll be considering outreach ministries beyond our church building on Oct. 12.
  • Alpha - a closer relationship with our Lord & family & friends
  • Alpha - appreciated videps & small groups & getting to know those small group members on a deeper closer level
  • Alpha - Awesome
  • Alpha - the community building
  • Alpha and other programs help us understand and grow as persons & congregationAlpha led me to become a Christian
  • Alpha showed me many ways to talk & pray to God. I learned a lot about myself & what type of relationship I want with God.
  • Our "at church" ministries provide, and I appreciate... an opportunity to work with others for the glory of God.
  • Availability for generations - youth to elderly
  • Bible study
  • Brings people together
  • broad availability of different opportunities
  • Chances for parents of young children to worship as a family and get support from other families.
  • Choir - All Music - 1st & 2nd services
  • Choirs & music at all services
  • Christian friends worshiping, singing, praying, working
  • Coffee Hour
  • Easter & Christmas fruit baskets - touching lives
  • everything (x2)
  • Fellowship
  • God's call to those of us that serve in those areas - I say Praise Him!
  • growing as a Christian
  • Growing in faith by plugging in and letting the Holy Spirit flow through the work
  • Helps me grow spiritually
  • I appreciate WELCA - the care packages they send college students are a wonderful idea!
  • I am grateful for our youth ministry - our youth is our future
  • I appreciate music through singing in choirI appreciate that there are many/varied ministries available
  • I appreciate the women's work - quilters
  • I especially enjoy the 2nd service worship service with all the music
  • I have seen growth both personally and in congregation with the programs when we seemed stagnant for awhile
  • I love Alpha!
  • I love proclaim - they add a lot to our worship service
  • I love the worship & music.
  • I really enjoy the energy that is being put into our youth program. The 11:00 service is wonderful, open, friendly and full of fellowship!
  • If everyone would do one thing listed on the other side, it would be wonderful and not a burden to any one person.
  • It is important to act intentionally & purposefully to mentor youth, worship & welcome new members to our church. These ministries are good vehicles to practice these actions.
  • Listening to music at 2nd service - worship team
  • many opportunities
  • many opportunities for all
  • many opportunities to be involved
  • Meeting new people
  • Men's & Women's programs keep the glue together
  • Music - music is like a thread that weaves us all together as a body - brings us closer together
  • Music is the breath of God's Soul
  • Music is uplifting.
  • Nate is doing a great job
  • Nate's work with youth
  • nothing is forced
  • Open to new ideas, new people
  • Opportunities for all ages/talents
  • Opportunity to stay closer to members.
  • Our children are our future. The more we can encourage and mentor them the stronger they will be.
  • Provides and education for our children
  • Quilting - meeting the needs of others
  • something in my life seems to fit with it
  • Sunday School & other education is vital
  • Sunday worship to recharge energy & interest in projects.
  • That the kids are very encouraged to bring friends for all the events, not just the "fun nights"
  • that the people learn about God
  • The fellowship of other Christians
  • The reach we obtain through these programs
  • The refreshing of common place Bible scriptures in a weekly venue.
  • The worship & music
  • The youth ministry has helped lead our children to God and Jesus Christ
  • There is something for nearly everyone. They all enhance our walk with God and our worship experience.
  • There is variety. I appreciate the people who continue to be involved and keep these programs energized
  • they all add spiritual growth to our church family
  • They all help with the community
  • They are all needed.
  • they help bring us closer to God
  • they help us when in need
  • They include everyone of all ages
  • They reach out to our church family
  • Together these ministries help each individual member grow spiritually
  • Volunteerism and devotion of our members
  • We appreciate each one and will uphold them in prayer...
  • Well run, organized, uplifting
  • Worship - great - love the proclaim band.
  • 11:00 worship - Proclaim, sermon. I feel this service is more closeness to others. Fellowship afterward. Feel more united with others.
  • a good variety offered to fit many needs/schedules
  • Youth Ministry involved & love it
  • youth ministry is strong, always been important to our church
  • Youth programs get young people involved in church programs.
YOU CAN STILL TURN IN YOUR VISION RAISING FORM for Oct. 5 related to our "IN CHURCH" ministries. Pick one up from the church office or click here to download it (2 pages, pdf file). See the "Vision Raising" link at the top right of this blog under "More Stuff and Announcements" to see what we're doing this week and next. Thanks!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Our Job and God's

(picture added Tuesday afternoon)
I've been reading through the gospel for this coming Sunday. There's a troubling section at the end of it where one of the guests rebels against the host (God) and is therefore damned.

We shouldn't read parables in a direct, word for word sense. They are metaphors and can be misused. Still, it's clear to me that in this parable we are both the invited guests and the "slaves" or "servants" who go out to invite anyone who will come.

As servants, our job is to go out and invite and bring as many as possible to the Christian community, and, specifically to worship, which is rehearsal for heaven. We can't, however, control the response of those we invite. Some will not come. Others will come but will not be submissive to the Lord. It's God's job to be the judge. We invite any and all.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Vision Raising Result 01

Today we had our first Vision Raising event. Today we focused on what happens AT CHURCH. Next Sunday we look at our work as a church in the WORLD beyond our church family & building.

The clearest finding today is 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.

Stay tuned for more.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Truth In Advertising

It's been about 3 years since my family and I moved to Cokato from Taylors Falls. When we moved, we became members of Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato. Last weekend, and this coming weekend, I'm teaching classes for others who are moving to our church.

During the first hour we cover the main teachings of our church according to our church's constitution. "This congregation confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe." We unpack that sentence and go through other aspects of what God does for us.

At the second class hour, to be held the day after tomorrow, we will look at the effect of God's love in our lives. During that hour, I teach and encourage the PoWeR SuRGe commitment to pray, worship, read scripture, serve, relate & give. By doing so, we admit our need and ask God to continue working in and among us. We'll share more about that this coming Sunday, 9:45-10:45 in our church's choir room.

Maybe you'll choose to come this Sunday! It's an important way to learn about what it is to be a "member" of our church. We video taped the first session last week so you can see that if you missed it.

One of the reasons I really want people to attend these sessions is to learn the truth. Sometimes we get the idea that church people should somehow be "better" than others. Inevitably, all of us, at one time or another, end up being disappointed or even angry when they don't live up to expectations. Being together with others who are learning about the faith helps us remember that we're all the same. We're all, always, sinners who are in need of God's grace. We never outgrow our need for forgiveness and unconditional love.

I once went to a seminar where the leader had us make up slogans that would truthfully fit the churches we were part of at the time. Someone came up with the following as a sign to be posted outside his church: TIRED OF YOUR DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY? TRY OURS!

If you come to our church, you will meet friendly and unfriendly people. You will find things to be somewhat organized and chaotic at the same time. If you become a member, at some point you will wonder why.

The only thing that sets us apart from any other dysfunctional organization is our Savior Jesus. The only thing different about the sinners who are part of the church is that they are constantly being pushed by God's Word. Hopefully, we church members will, every day, one day at a time, allow ourselves to be transformed. Hopefully we won't hide from the truth that we are always both saved and sinful at the same time.

So, come and learn about church membership, both the gifts we receive from God and the response that God stirs in us through his Holy Spirit. But don't expect us to be all cleaned up.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Few Words About Prayer

The tile pictured at left can be found on the plaza outside the Cathedral in Vilnius, Lithuania. The word on it begins and ends with "s." It means "miracle" in the Lithuanian language.

I've set the picture of this tile as my computer desktop. It reminds me to pray.

The subject of prayer comes up every day. Just now I got off the phone with a woman asking prayer for a friend. In the afternoon I bicycled to Howard Lake Good Samaritan Center for worship and prayer. We pray at every family meal, every church meeting, every crisis. My favorite book about prayer (translated from the Norwegian) is by Ole Hallesby. He says "to pray is to let Jesus come into our hearts." When we pray we admit our weakness and explicitly rely on God's strength.

Becky and Diann from our church are attending a prayer school this week in Hutchinson. (You can learn more about the prayer school they are attending by downloading a brochure here.) Their hope is to grow a prayer ministry that will, among other things, focus on praying for our church's life and work. Many in our church and community, have been pray-ers for a long time. Experience has shown, however, that prayer seems to be more powerful as people gather together and agree together in regard to their intercessions. (See Matthew 18:19 and notice that the promise is for "two of you," that is, two who are believers and followers of Jesus.)

Prayer remains a mystery. We do not control God with our prayers. God will only answer as and when He sees best. Still, God has commanded us to pray, so we do.

Please pray for the future prayer ministry of our church.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Back in May I preached at the high school baccalaureate. It seems to have been an effective event (see Blessed By Absence for a note received afterward). My message that night was perhaps strange for a high school graduation event. I quoted First Peter 5:8 - Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour - and warned the graduates not to let the devil get them alone.

Like prey in the wild, it's the loner that gets picked off. The protection comes, however, not just by being with others, but by being with them AND Jesus Christ.

Christ followers are in danger when we become disconnected from one another. That's why we make commitments to worship together, to serve together, and to stay in Christian relationships. (See PoWeR SuRGe for more on that). Many years ago I thought I could be a Christian alone. My life was nearly destroyed as a result.

The church, therefore, works hard to help people see the value of being with other Christians in situations where Jesus' name is honored. Where two or three are gathered IN MY NAME, says Jesus, there I am with them. When we do not gather with others to honor Jesus and hear His Word, we put ourselves in danger.

Do you believe this? If not, let me know so we can talk! If so, do all you can to invite and bring others with you to events and gatherings where Jesus is honored. And please do not shy away from making public commitments to be a church together.
Added late night: I'm thinking about this again as we near confirmation day. Tonight I pleaded with the 10th graders to stay connected with each other and to the church as a whole.