Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Not Proud - Except of my Lord

Here is a part of our Ash Wednesday order of worship... You can listen to John's testimony and my message by clicking here.

Ephesians 6:10-13, Mark 13:1-13


“Near the Cross” (verses 1-2)
Jesus keep me near the cross—there a precious fountain,
Free to all, a healing stream, flows from Calvary's mountain.
In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever,
‘Til my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.

At the cross I stood one day. Love and mercy found me;

There the bright & morning star shed its beams around me.
In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever,
‘Til my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.
Galatians 6:14

What the Cross Means to Me – John ...
We recorded John's testimony and my message. John says that he hopes it helps someone out there. Listen by clicking here. John was born 1965 in Brevard, North Carolina. He served in the U.S. army and national guard for 23 years, including 3 years in Korea.

“Near the Cross” (verse 3)
Near the cross! O Lamb of God, bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day with its shadow o'er me.
In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever,
‘Til my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.
(by Fanny Crosby)

During these 40 days…
Pray for removal of barriers to God’s work in your life:
a. Sin—self-examination, repentance, receiving forgiveness
b. Forgiveness I’ve withheld from others
c. Hurts that need attention, broken relationships, loneliness
d. Trivia & busyness that keep me from God’s Word
e. Unwillingness to obey God (saying “no” to following/serving Jesus)
Ask God to work in your life during this season:
1. If you do not yet trust in Jesus to save and lead you, pray for faith—then talk to a trusted Christian who is wiser than you and ask questions, admit doubts, ask them to pray for you
2. If you are drifting or running from God in a part of your life, pray that the Holy Spirit would lead you home to God
3. If you know the Lord well, pray for the Holy Spirit’s conviction and courage to examine all areas of your life.

Psalm 51:1-18

Let us confess our sin in the presence of God and one another.

R/ is the response Lord, have mercy.
We have not loved you with our whole heart, mind and strength. R/
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. R/
We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven. R/
We have not obeyed your call to serve as Christ served us. R/
We confess unfaithfulness, pride, envy, hypocrisy and apathy. R/
…self-indulgence and exploitation of others… R/
…negligence in prayer and worship… R/
…unwillingness to share the faith…
...neglect of human need and suffering… R/
… indifference to injustice and cruelty… R/
…false judgments, uncharitable thoughts, prejudice and contempt… R/
…waste and pollution, lack of concern for those who come after us… R/

Restore us, O God, and let your anger depart from us.
Hear us, Father, for your mercy is great.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
The body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you.

The communion will be simple and quiet. After the Words of Institution and Lord’s Prayer, all who desire to receive the Lord Jesus in communion are invited to come up the center aisle. As you come forward, there will be a place for you to receive ashes on your forehead if you desire. Ashes show our broken, sinful, human condition. By being marked with ashes, we confess that we are completely dependent on the mercy of God. Being marked with ashes is optional. Whether or not you are marked with ashes, each person may receive the Lord’s Supper. Groups will be served while standing; each group will be dismissed after the whole group has received. We receive the Lord’s body and blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.

After all have received the gifts and have returned to their places all stand and continue.
Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation,
that we may show forth your glory in the world.
By the Cross and Passion of your Son Jesus, our Lord,
bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

How God Leads

Do you have a decision to make? Is today or tomorrow an important one in your life's journey? Every day that's true, but perhaps, like me, you have something important to decide soon.

God will guide us when we sincerely ask him, and when we are ready to listen, when we give up our stubbornness and are ready, no matter what, to do what God says.

God promises, when we want do do so, we will be able to hear his voice. God's voice is heard sometimes in preaching and teaching, but sometimes with a sort of spiritual sense. To know, however, what is God's voice and what is just our own idea, or the pressures of the world, we need help! And God is ready to help when we are ready to hear!

I'm downstairs at church listening to Nicky Gumbel teach on the topic of God's Guidance. Nicky is helpfully summarizing the way God guides us by five "C.S."s...** These are listed below in priority order. If you feel like doing something, for example, that in contradiction to God's clear commands in scripture, it is not God's Will.

How God Guides Us
The Five "C.S."s
  1. Commanding Scripture - some decisions are decided because of what we learn in the ten commandments and in the commandments of Jesus (see particularly the sermon on the mount). God will not guide you in contradiction to the core commands of his Word.
  2. Compelling Spirit - When we are in close contact with God's Word and God's People, the Lord will be at work within us and among us, pushing us, changing us so we desire to do what God wants.
  3. Common Sense - Think about it. Weigh positives and negatives. Don't be stupid. John Stott said "God's promises of guidance were not given to save us the trouble of thinking."
  4. Counsel of the Saints (that is, other Christians, especially those who are experienced, older or trusted with leadership) - The wise listen to advice from those they respect. We are almost never to make an important decision all alone, or with "God as one's only friend."
  5. Circumstantial Signs - the so called "coincidences" that God puts in our path. Examples in Acts 16:7 and 1 Cor 16:19. All things work together for good with those who love the Lord (Rom 8:28).
Please pray tonight and in the next few days that those facing significant choices will be led by the Lord, and will step out in faith to do what He wants.
**These five points are a very brief summary of Nicky's Bible based Christ-centered teaching. To learn more, come to Alpha, or ask to borrow an Alpha DVD or a book. You'll be glad you did.

Hope that Will Not Disappoint (Audio)

There's a lot more to worship than the preaching--but you can hear the 8:30 a.m. version of today's sermon by clicking here (mp3, 16 minutes).

Before the sermon we read from Second Kings 2:1-14, Psalm 50:1-6; 2nd Corinthians 4:3-7 and Mark 9:2-9.

We introduced the "Second Kings" reading by remembering how, at the end of January, I briefly mentioned the Old Testament prophet Elijah in a sermon. Elijah had been doing God’s work for a long time. He was lonely and tired. What we read today is Elijah’s retirement story. Elijah is carried to heaven in a whirlwind, leaving behind his "mantle" with which his apprentice and successor, Elisha takes on his ministry role. The "mantle" of Elijah was a hairy cloak, a "raw, undressed skin with wool and hairs" from a sheep or goat (see Hebrews 11:37). John the Baptist (Mk. 1:6: ἐνδεδυμένος τρίχας καμήλου) wore something similar. Theological dictionary of the New Testament

The point of this is that God does give rest to weary warriors and, second, that the work is picked up by the next generation, in this case, by Elijah’s apprentice, Elisha. You can listen to a commentary on this and the other texts assigned for the week at the Working Preacher website.

Coincidentally, the Second Corinthians reading includes the key verses of this year's in Lent series that begins this week on Wednesday. More info at Goofy and Cracked.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hope that Will Not Disappoint

"Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus." Mark 9:8
More than 100 men from the Dassel-Cokato area are up at Motley for a three day men's retreat. I went up earlier today and came back earlier this evening, bringing a friend who couldn't stay overnight. I'm getting ready to preach now and I'll share my prep below.

Tomorrow is a "mountaintop" Sunday called Transfiguration. We'll read Mark 9:2-9, the time when Jesus stepped out from behind his veil of ordinary humanity so the disciples could see who he really was.

Because life is hard for those who follow our Lord, he gives us experiences when we can, for a few moments, clearly know that it's all going to be okay in the end. Going on a Christ-centered retreat, summer camp, mission trip or even participating in worship can give us that clarity, if only for a short time. Those moments can help us when we go through the valley of pain and trouble once again.

Right after Transfiguration, we'll get ready for Ash Wednesday and Lent. From the high of seeing Christ in his glory we go to the cross. It's good to remember the joy and promise so when we suffer we know God is ultimately in control, and will work good for all who love him in the end.

Here's my preparation for tomorrow's sermon:

When you go with God, you don’t escape trouble. In fact, when you go with Jesus, you often find more trouble than you had before.

We’ve been following Jesus over the past few weeks. Beginning with that day in the synagogue where he met a demon possessed man, Jesus has been surrounded by sick people and lost people.

If you go past chapter 1—we’ve been following Jesus through Mark’s Gospel—if you go past chapter 1 you’ll see Jesus with more troubled people—and with some enemies too.

One day, in chapter 3, Jesus cured a man with a crippled hand… some powerful people were there to check up on him… they must have heard that Jesus didn’t care about the religious rules. So, right there in front of everyone, without hiding, he cured a man on the Sabbath day.

What happened because of that? Verse 6 of Mark 3 says that this was when they started their plan to get-rid-of-him. To have him legally, properly and oh-so-cruelly put to death.

When you go with God, don’t expect an easy life. Like Jesus, you will face trouble, pain, sickness and enemies, and some of those enemies will be very respectable.

On the other hand, when you go with God, people will be healed, rejected people will be welcomed, sinners will be forgiven and taught a new way of life. The hungry will be fed.

When you go with God, there will be such joy! People will discover there is a love that does not give up, a hope that does not disappoint. There will even be a time, like at the end of chapter 5, beginning with verse 35—there will be a time when the dead are brought back to life. Nothing can stop the unconditional love of God.

So, when we go with God, attracted by that absolutely persistent love, we find joy and hope and lifelong purpose—and almost unbearable pain. In the middle of Mark 6 you’ll find a sample – John the Baptist, Jesus’ pastor… the man who first saw Jesus for who he really is… John the Baptist was cruelly beheaded because he had told the truth about Herod’s family, that it was not right for Herod to take his brother’s wife.

Many times, when we get close to God, we will get close to the truth, and when we speak that truth, some will not want to hear.

The question is, then, which will win? Pain or purpose? Evil or Good? Healing love or rejecting hate? Sometimes, in this world, it is very hard to know.

Take, for example, the controversial issue that will be coming up very soon in our denomination, the question of homosexuality. How to love people unconditionally while at the same time believing that God made us male and female for a reason? How can we, like John the Baptist, speak the truth about family life while, at the same time, extending the amazing love of God in a way that won’t be rejected? Some of us are sure, others feel lost. Still others don’t even want to think about it.

But the creator of all, who came to earth to save sinful people like me, he does not back away from the struggle. He comes through his Word, and in him, in Jesus, love and truth meet. In Christ, we can always love, and always tell the truth.

This amazing combination of love and truth costs a lot. There is a high price to pay. For Jesus, and for us. In Mark 8, after telling his disciples that he would be rejected, killed and rise from the dead himself, because he was so uncompromisingly loving and truthful, he went on to tell them, this is right before our gospel today,
“If any of you want to be with me… if any of you want to share in the joy and love and power of God like I do, forget about going after what you think is easy, take up your cross—do whatever it is that I call you to do, no matter how hard it may seem. If you just do what seems easy, if you act from fear, you will lose yourself—but if you follow me, trusting me, believing and acting, following me in bringing the good news of God’s love to this broken world, if in acting bravely like that you suffer and even die, you will be my follower forever. You will be saved.”
When we follow our Lord, you see, it will sometimes seem too hard to bear. When we follow our Lord, and maybe this is even a test to see if we are following the Lord… if we are tempted to give up because it is so hard, then we could be very close to doing what God wants us to do in this life.

Christians—Christ followers—as long as we live, we will be right on the edge.

And because this is true, we need to come to places like this where we can hear God’s Word and know that the hope God has given us here (heart) and here (head) and here (arms), the signs of God’s love we have seen—as people are healed and forgiven and brought back together will someday be complete, that someday the edge will be gone and we can live in peace with no more fear.

That’s why Jesus brings his disciples, and through their testimony he brings us, up to a place where everything becomes clear, if only for a moment. He brings three followers up to a mountain and the earthly confusion is taken away, and Jesus is there with Moses the law-giver and Elijah the man who was taken to heaven in a whirlwind, and they hear a clear voice, telling them which of all voices they should be listening to, this one, Jesus, this one, my son, listen to HIM!

And what a glory and what a treasure that is. For all the righteousness of Moses, who tells us how to live, and for all the powerful testimony of Elijah, who called down fire and executed God's righteous anger on evildoers, we are given gentle, loving, bold, suffering Jesus, who would rather die for sinners than have them destroyed, who would rather welcome and transform those we reject instead of turning his back. This is my son, this Jesus, listen to HIM!

When everything is confused, when everything is gray, when we or our loved ones or anyone at all is suffering so [much] . . . We can look to our Lord Jesus, and listen and learn and follow without fear, for he conquered the grave and he shines like the sun. He, and he alone, is the hope that does not disappoint.

So, as we do battle in this world, as we work against unrighteousness and injustice and unforgiveness and pain, we can look to the one who loved and suffered and trust him to bring us through to a glorious future. Focused and looking and listening to Jesus, we can go to the valley of struggle, and pain, and yes, uncertainty and debate.

But staying close to our lord, coming to him in worship, sharing his Word and his love, we can come to a place frequently, where we can clearly see and believe a hope that will not disappoint.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Growing up in Crystal, everyone else in the neighborhood had their driveway tarred or paved with cement. We didn't. We always had gravel. My dad just didn't think it was worth the money.

We followed that example when we owned a home in Taylors Falls. For us at our home, paving was something we could could do without. Not that it wouldn't have been nice. Maybe not having good surface to dribble a basketball is one reason none of my kids got into that sport.

When the county decided to pave our road, however, we gladly paid the assessment. It was great! Our kids now had a good dead end road to ride on! I don't think paving is always bad. It's a matter of choosing where to spend our money. It's a matter of stewardship.

Good stewardship principals teach us that what we own doesn't belong to us. Everything belongs to God. We simply allocate what is on loan to us. Every dollar is a decision. How, heavenly Father, would you have me use this dollar? And this one? And that one...

I learned this from my parents. Their example was founded in scripture. Mom and dad taught me, from very early in my life, to divide my allowance or earnings into three areas: for the Lord first, then for savings, then for spending.

When we proportionally allocate our income and assets, we do well in so many ways. We are able to care for those in need. We are less likely to squander our money foolishly on short term pleasures or homes and cars that are just too expensive. And, especially apropos now, we are better prepared as individuals and as a community for hard economic times.

It's not always easy to change the way we give and spend and save, so beginning soon our church will offer a group study on the subject. I encourage you to bring a friend and come to an informational meeting in the church library Sunday, March 1st or 8th after our first hour of worship at 10:00 a.m. or after our second hour at about 12:10. You can also call or email Al Sorenson, a member of our church who will lead our class. He has experience coaching individuals and families using programs through Crown Financial Ministries.

There is no catch. Al has nothing to sell.

Note added Friday: Because Al will be on the men's retreat this Sunday, the informational meetings have been moved to the 1st and 8th of March.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Proposal from the ELCA

Our local church is and has been a member of a larger church body called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). A news item came out today in the StarTribune saying that an official task force of the ELCA has recommended a "compromise" on the issue of officially allowing men and women who are involved in gay/lesbian relationships to be pastors in our church. I am opposed to this not because I hate gay people -- I don't -- but because it is crystal clear to me that God's will is for sexual relationships to be reserved for men and women bound together in the covenant of marriage. I believe this ideal is etched into the framework of creation. I believe God's plan for marriage and sexuality is to support children and families with children who are dependent on them. Because I see this so clearly, I cannot support the idea that a man or woman who is homosexually involved with another, "committed" or not, should serve in a spiritual leadership role.

Spiritual leaders in the church are required, by scripture, to live "above accusation" (1 Timothy 3:2). To me that means that we need to live as an example for others to follow. You will never find a perfect pastor, but because the scriptures speak so clearly about the male-female bond, from Genesis to Revelation, I cannot support this move by our denomination.

It is, however, a proposal, not yet a decision. I encourage each of you to express your beliefs, whether they are different or the same as mine. I encourage you to learn more about the process that our denomination is following. Personally, I'm a member of WordAlone. You might want to check that out.

According to our church, the standard for right and wrong, the "source and norm" of our "proclamation, faith and life" are the Holy Scriptures. We need to begin our discussion there and allow ourselves to be ruled by what the scriptures say. The caution I would share, however, is that Jesus himself, who did live an irreprochable life, reached out generously to those who were considered outcasts. There is no permission given for us to hate those whose lifestyles fall short of God's ideal. For, truly, in various ways, we are all sinners and in need of the mighty grace of God.

I encourage you to comment, email, call, discuss and pray. If you believe there is something we should do or say as a local church, please do not leave it for someone else to do. We will not all agree on this or any other issue, but we can be called to be more and more ruled by the loving Spirit of Christ (that's always first) and also the standards that God himself has written into the creation.

P.S. -- you might want to take a look at a couple of other articles I wrote in 2008 about issues concerning sexuality. See "The Log in My Eye" and "An Interview on Sexuality" and "Don't Forget the Kids."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Gift in Time of Trouble

There are many times that I have turned to the wonderful prayer book of the Bible, the Psalms, for encouragement. Trouble is all around. I offer this psalm as God's gift if this is such a time for you.

Remember that "enemies" are not other people! They are the "spiritual forces of evil" that attack all of us every day. Truly, we are in this battle together.
Psalm 31
Prayer and Praise for Deliverance from Enemies
1 In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
do not let me ever be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me.
2 Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me.
3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.
6 You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
but I trust in the Lord.
7 I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have taken heed of my adversities,
8 and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.
9 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.
11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
17 Do not let me be put to shame, O Lord,
for I call on you;
let the wicked be put to shame;
let them go dumbfounded to Sheol.
18 Let the lying lips be stilled
that speak insolently against the righteous
with pride and contempt.
19 O how abundant is your goodness
that you have laid up for those who fear you,
and accomplished for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of everyone!
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from human plots;
you hold them safe under your shelter
from contentious tongues.
21 Blessed be the Lord,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was beset as a city under seige.
22 I had said in my alarm,
“I am driven far from your sight.”
But you heard my supplications
when I cried out to you for help.
23 Love the Lord, all you his saints.
The Lord preserves the faithful,
but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord.

Monday, February 16, 2009


On Wednesday of last week I met with my colleague Steve Olson, pastor at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Dassel and our church's youth director, Nate Bendorf, to talk about an agreement for Nate's contextual learning. Along with many other things, we talked about the need to take time off from work every week. Steve (Olson) is an advocate for a regular day off every week. I make sure I take time, but not always a whole 24 hour period in a row.

Toni and I took time for ourselves and family over the past three days, with a break in the middle for prep Saturday & worship leadership Sunday. I can feel how much more refreshed and clear-headed I feel.

One of my favorite books on "time off" is Keeping the Sabbath Wholly with the subtitle Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting. Taking time off is a must, not an option, if we are to be dependent on God's grace rather than our own work.

I'm one person who has to be reminded of that over and over again. I am so thankful for a loving wife & family, and for friends, who help me rest! And speaking of rest... time for bed soon!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Network (audio)

Here's the sermon for today from our first hour of worship -- click here for an mp3 (about 21 minutes including the gospel reading). In the message we particularly focus on Mark 1:21-39. The other assigned scriptures for the day are available here. It's a good idea to read them before or while listening to this sermon.

To prepare for next Sunday, you can read these scriptures. If you read them and have a thought you'd like to share, don't hesitate to call or email or comment!

This is the church season of Epiphany. On Feb. 25 we begin the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. On Wednesdays during Lent members of our church will share on the topic "What the Cross Means to Me." If you can speak, great! If you would just share a few words in writing, that's good too.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Love & Faith in Action

What can we do for one another during these days when some people are being laid off, some are having hours cut, and others aren't getting much work (sales people & self-employed). Certainly we can pray together. We can make wise adjustments to our personal budgets. We can listen to our elders, folks who went through hard times themselves and who helped one another. We don't want to isolate ourselves! Let's share our ideas. Please email, comment (below) or call us at church 320-286-5964. We'll find a way to share ideas and practical help.

Just Noise?

Note added Saturday noon: Yesterday someone asked what prompted me to be writing this post about Spiritual Gifts. Usually I let you know but this time I didn't. Here's the answer: We have our Alpha "Holy Spirit" retreat coming up soon, and I was also thinking about the Holy Spirit in connection with our Wednesday teaching of youth. My "introduction" got lost in the editing... Part of it ended up being put on a page dedicated to "Alpha" -- see link under church stuff at right. So it goes with blogging... I appreciate your comments, whether in person or otherwise.

Here's what I wrote Thursday -- with a few tweaks...


Speaking in Tongues!
Miraculous Healings!
Prophecies and "Words of Knowledge!"

What are these things? What are we to think about them? Are they gifts from God or emotions running wild? Many Christians have experienced the Lord's power in these ways. Are some of us missing out?

Some of the best teaching on the Holy Spirit that I've heard is from Nicky Gumbel. Nicky is the speaker for Alpha, "a practical introduction to the Christian faith." Alpha covers many topics (see link under "church stuff"...) that I appreciate. One of the things he does extremely well is to teach about the Holy Spirit. In those teachings he leads us from the Holy Spirit's work in creation, through Old Testament prophets to Jesus and the work of the Spirit in our lives today. It's in connection with those teachings that we encounter "speaking in tongues" and the rest.

Nicky has experienced the more miraculous "spiritual gifts" in his own life and ministry but he doesn't insist that we need to have those same experiences. I think he does a pretty good job--and his British accent, humor and stories keep us interested in what he has to say. On the retreat, however, I do find it good to tweak or nudge us back to what I think are the basics of the Spirit -- the simple faith, hope and love taught in First Corinthians 13.

Speaking in tongues, miraculous healings and prophetic "words of knowledge" haven't been on center stage for most Lutherans. In fact, as Nicky says, we (and his "Anglican" denomination) sometimes forget about the Holy Spirit. That doesn't mean the Holy Spirit isn't alive and active in our midst! Wherever people trust in Jesus for salvation, the Holy Spirit, in its full biblical sense, is at work! Nicky does a good job reminding us of that in his Alpha course.

At our church, many of us first learn about the Holy Spirit as young people. We're beginning a unit (with a long break for Lent) on the Holy Spirit in our grade 7-9 Youth Discipleship Training. Just like in Alpha, we are taught about the Holy Spirit's work in creation, in the prophets, in Jesus Christ and in our lives today. But we don't tend to put a lot of emphasis on things that will immediately seem supernatural. We do mention "gifts of the spirit," but we don't focus there for long.

Here are the basic teachings we learn about the Holy Spirit in Martin Luther's Small Catechism:
  1. The Holy Spirit calls us, one by one, to faith in Christ. He does this as the Love of God is expressed in the Gospel in Word and Sacraments. The Holy Spirit also uses the sufferings of this life, blessings and the example of others to get my attention. We respond, one by one, to the call of the Holy Spirit by repenting of sins and trusting Jesus as Savior.
  2. The Holy Spirit enlightens. Through hearing God's Word, the Holy Spirit helps me see my sinfulness and to believe that Jesus is my Savior. I need that enlightenment because by my own reason I am unable to truly know God or the things that He has done or said in his Word.
  3. The Holy Spirit gathers us into the whole Christian church when he calls us one by one into fellowship with Christ and makes us into one family before God. The "gifts of the Spirit" are given so that the members of the church, like the parts of a body, may work together for good.
  4. The Holy Spirit sanctifies, renewing me through the Word and Sacraments so I am follow Jesus as a disciple and live in the way God intended in the beginning. This life long process is shown as love grows for God and others, as I find myself wanting to live as God wants me to, striving against the devil, the world, and my own sinful human nature.
  5. The Holy Spirit preserves me when, through the Word of God and the Lord's Supper, He feeds and strengthens my spiritual life, giving me instruction, guidance, correction and comfort, keeping me in God's grace.
Why don't we have all our youth speaking in tongues, doing miraculous healings and giving prophetic "words of knowledge" to their friends? What we do might seem kind of boring! Are we missing something? Maybe so, but I will say this: It's in the practical every day lives of people who love and care for their neighbors that the most precious gifts are shared. Our church is amazing in practical and spiritual acts of love. I've never been part of a more caring and prayerful church.

Yes, the Holy Spirit is alive and well in our midst--and not only at Alpha! We can and will expand our understandings. We can and will learn, and experience, more of the supernatural--especially through PRAYER. Nicky Gumbel's faithful teachings can help us. But, the basics of the Holy Spirit's work is already here: faith, hope and love. And, without those, without love, any gifts, supernatural or not, are just noise.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Goofy & Cracked

A couple years ago, as a part of a youth teaching lesson, I bought and gave away cups with goofy faces on them. Today I was using a left over one as I was getting ready to teach.

We're moving from lessons about God the Father and God the Son to a focus on God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes into sinners and makes us valuable. So I hit the cup with a hammer, taped up the pieces, and put cash into it as illustration.

In just three weeks we'll invite imperfect, broken people to share their faith stories. We don't boast or brag about ourselves, but only of what God has done for us and in us, though in this fallen world we will always be sinners. As it says in Second Corinthians 4:5,7 --
...We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake... But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
God chooses to fill all sorts of people with his love. All he asks of us is to admit our unworthiness as we open ourselves to his Word and Spirit. It's my prayer that we would be honest before the Lord and allow him to make a difference in our lives.

Using cash as an analogy for Christ was a poor illustration. But the cracked and goofy cup is a very good picture of me and every one that the Lord chooses to bless in this life. As the Apostle Paul, who admitted to being the "worst of sinners" said, "I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me... for whenever I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:9-10) and "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord... I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Phil 3:8).

During the lesson tonight, I handed out little slips of paper. I asked the youth to write the name of an adult or older youth--someone they would like to hear share a faith story during Lent. I'll be asking the same of those who come to church this Sunday. I hope some of those who are asked will say yes to sharing their weak and vulnerable selves. In that way Christ, and Christ alone, will be glorified in our church.


to hear the testimonies that resulted go to

Monday, February 2, 2009


Wow. Two times in four days I received a response within 5 minutes that filled a need mentioned in an email. Two emails went out to a list of our local church folks and bam comes the answer!

Lots of things in scripture happen quickly because of relationship networks. This coming Sunday, for example, εὐθύς (euthys - Greek for "immediately") upon leaving the Capernaum synagogue Jesus goes with his disciples to one of their family's homes. Immediately (again εὐθύς -- it's one of Mark's favorite words) they tell him about Simon's mother-in-law who is ill. Wasting no time, Jesus takes her by the hand, lifts her up and "the fever left her." Right away word spreads and lots of people bring their friends and relatives to be healed.

As I was studying that Mark 1:29-39 text last night, I was thinking about how isolated some people are and how our American way of life exacerbates that isolation. We live in separate homes or behind the locked doors of apartments. We don't walk or ride public transportation. Our marketplaces are often impersonal. Entertainment soothes solitary hours with the push of a button on our remotes.

I imagine it was very different in Jesus' day. I imagine people walking, meeting, greeting, haggling... I imagine a world filled with voices--some joyous, some angry or sorrowful, but a world with much less loneliness. In Dassel or Cokato you need to go to Daniels or the Grounds to find a similar atmosphere. Some work places and schools are abuzz too. So different in most private homes.* In our homes, the most familiar voices come to us in the media!

So, I was very thankful when people responded so quickly to the needs that went out via email. Email and the internet can connect folks who might otherwise be isolated. Of course, not everyone is included in this electronic network. I only have a relatively small percentage of our church folks in that distribution list and many of our people don't use email much or at all. Still, it was heartening to see the quick response.

(I mentioned to a community member how "networking" through the church could help him find a job. A fax came in today to our church fax machine with a job application for him. Don't forget how the church can be helpful in all the areas of your life!)

God wants to use all of our relationships in his service, whether they are mediated through computers or telephones or, the best, face to face. I hope we'll never forget how important it is to meet one another across a table or at informal gatherings. And let's do our part to remember those who otherwise might be left out.

*It has been claimed, however, that people who live in generational poverty tend to put a higher priority on relationships than do middle class folks. See also Ruby Payne's somewhat controversial work in her book What Every Church Member Should Know About Poverty available in our church library.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Word Invades (audio)

You can listen to today's sermon by clicking here (mp3, about 17 minutes). It's totally raw - I haven't even listened to it yet!