Thursday, April 30, 2009

In This World

On Wednesday April 22, I happened to be at the Cokato Manor to hear one of our high school seniors speak about how the Lord has worked in her life. The Lord has used her family, church and others to help her know the love of God, love that she passes on to others in her work at the Manor. I asked if she would be willing to share the same talk at Sunday worship. Janna's testimony is embedded in my sermon, about 11 minutes in. You can hear it by clicking here... it will make more sense if you read More than Spiritual Care first.

I am so thankful for what the Lord has done in Janna's life and in so many others. Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cokato is filled with people who are excellent examples of what God can do when the Holy Spirit gets a hold of us. We don't sit idly by. We get involved, reaching out and doing what we can.

Last night about 25 people came to a "Faith in Action" event sponsored by our Social Ministry Committee. God is calling people to be involved in caring for the handicapped and elderly who just need a little help to get by. You can get involved by calling our church or Faith in Action of Wright County.

Tonight I was invited (between pre-wedding sessions) to a meeting of the Cokato Police Advisory commission. I missed hearing the Wright County Juvenile Probation presentation. We then heard from one of the Wright County sheriff deputies who is assigned to our town. I don't have the statistics here, but certain kinds of crime are up and the seriousness of crime is also up in our town. God is calling the Christians of our town to be involved in crime prevention. How do we do this? First of all, we use these warmer months to get to know our neighbors! We do what we can to provide positive activities, especially for youth at risk. And, of course, we take common sense precautions and supporting the work of law enforcement. But we can't just leave it to the government!

We may wish we could just sit behind stained glass, but God calls us beyond to do what we can in every area of life. Thank God for how so many respond!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

From Fear to Prayer

Philippians 4:6-7 "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Toni and I returned an hour ago from northern Minnesota where we had been over a couple of days with friends. We've been hearing the national news about so called "swine flu" (actually has very little to do with pigs--you can't get it from pigs or pork). Click the link (the colored words "swine flu" above) for what I think is reliable information.

What do we do when news comes that might make us afraid? First, we remember that God promises to work good through all circumstances--any suffering in this life will seem small when we are given new life in the Kingdom of God. Instead of being fearful, our motivation is always love, and love makes fear disappear (1 John 4:17).

Secondly, we pray. A daughter of one of our church members suggested that this might be an appropriate time to gather people for more intentional prayer. And the scriptures teach us to bring all of our concerns to the Lord, who promises us, in exchange, to give us his peace (Philippians 4:4-7).

Because we are human beings, however, and because we live with one another in a world that makes many of us afraid, and because God command us to pray, we will take a few minutes today at 6:30, during the supper hour here at church, to ask the Lord to protect the weak, to calm the fearful, and to move us to do what is necessary, spiritually and physically, to prevent the spread both of flu and fear.

Come and join us for supper here at church today or on another Wednesday evening--we serve any and all in the church fellowship hall between 5:45 and 6:45. At about 6:30 we'll take a few moments together for prayer.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Faithful Concert

We had the privilege, this evening, of having Matt Maher and Shane & Shane here in concert. A great message and wonderful praise.

When it comes to Christian music, I listen carefully to the message. For others, it's the music that's key. Here's one of Matt Maher's lyrics that really touched me tonight:

Empty And Beautiful
My past won't stop haunting me
In this prison there's a fight between
Who I am and who I used to be

This thorn in my side is a grace
For because of it the flesh and blood of God
Was offered in my place, my place

You fought the fight in me
You chased me down and finished the race
I was blind but now I see
Jesus You kept the faith in me

Where did my best friends go?
In my defense they disappeared
Just like Your friends did to You, oh Lord

But You were there, You gave me strength
So this little one might come to know
The glory of Your name, Your name

You fought the fight in me
You chased me down and finished the race
I was blind but now I see
Jesus You kept the faith in me

Awaiting, set apart like incense to Your heart
A libation I'm pouring out
Empty and beautiful, beautiful, beautiful

You fought the fight in me
You chased me down and finished the race
I was blind but now I see
Jesus You kept the faith in me

You fought the fight in me
You chased me down and finished the race
I was blind but now I see
Jesus You kept the faith in me
Jesus You kept the faith in me
Savior, You kept the faith in me

I love how both of these artists, Shane & Shane as well as Matt Maher, put the emphasis on God's action in our lives. As one of them said, even faith is a gift to us. It is Jesus who keeps the faith in us. We can't do it on our own.

A review of Matt Maher's album "Empty and Beautiful" says this:
"Since Matt Maher's Welcome to My Life was a 5-star winner in my book, I had high hopes for his Essential Records debut release, Empty and Beautiful. Matt didn't let me down. His musical skills have stayed at their high level of excellence and his voice, if it's possible, has actually gotten better over the past couple of years. Another favorite aspect of Matt Maher is the fact that he uses Biblical passages as the foundation for his lyrics instead of generic sentiment. I guess it's no small wonder that Chris Tomlin has released one of Matt's songs since Chris isn't into generic either." (from a review by Kim Jones)
I'm very thankful, if a bit deafened (wink), after tonight's concert! Thanks to all who made it happen! And, even more, for the work of God who does keep the faith in me even when I am weak and ornery. Praise God!

Nothing to Prove

A recent conversation helped me understand one objection that some people have to the idea of "going to church." I've honestly never considered this as a real possibility, but evidently some people consider church involvement to be something that is done to "prove" or "demonstrate" one's goodness or faith. I believe we go to church because we believe it's good for us and others, not because we think we look good when we do it! Being part of a church community, praying, worshiping, reading scripture, serving and relating with others and giving are done because we gain more than we give through our participation. But those who haven't yet sensed the love of God through the church can't fathom this. That's one reason those of us who do receive through the ministry of the church are called to energetically reach out with God's love, so skeptics can be drawn to God's church too.

What do you think? Click "comment" below!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More than Spiritual Care

In the gospel for this coming Sunday (from Luke 24), Jesus, after he rose from the dead, "came and stood among [the disciples]." The disciples "were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a spirit." Having been reassured that he was really there in the flesh, they were given instructions about what to do next. (1) Wait for the Holy Spirit and (2) then go to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit comes in Acts chapter 2, and the new life of God bursts with power, forming a new community that always acts with love.

Part of that loving, powerful action is shown in Acts 3. We'll read part of that on Sunday too. Having been empowered by the Holy Spirit, the disciples made a huge difference in a poor man's life. The man was begging for coins because he had been "lame from birth." But the disciples gave him far more than coins. One of them said to the man: "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk!"

The work of God's people is not only to give spiritual care and consolation to those in distress. God would have us use whatever we have in his service. If we can just listen and pray and care, we do that. But, if we have healing abilities, natural or "supernatural," we use them. If we can give refuge or safety to the distressed, we do so. If we can help the weak with visits or chores, we do that. If we can confront sin and the powers of this world that keep people in bondage, God calls us to action.

Sometimes we think our job is to help people be content no matter what their circumstances. If this was true, Christ and his disciples would not be out giving people hope through healing and releasing people from evil powers. There are times when spiritual solace is the only thing we can offer, but it's only an interim, temporary measure. The time will come when God's love will burst through and everyone will be released. Spiritual care points troubled people to that promise, letting them know that all God's enemies will someday be defeated. Sin, illness, handicaps, troubled spirits and even death will end and God will reign supreme with his amazing love.

So, during these troubled days, we pray and offer spiritual care, but we also lift up hope and take action to show that God's not dead. We feed the hungry, clothe the poor, provide healthy, positive activities, and bring sinners to repentance. We follow the example of Jesus and the disciples by not staying "quiet" or leaving "well enough alone." That boldness brought opposition for Jesus and for the disciples. In Acts 4 the disciples were arrested. There are "powers and authorities" that resist the proclamation of hope and new life. But as we continue to learn from God's Word, receiving the Holy Spirit's empowerment, we will not give in but will continue to be witnesses of God's powerful love.

The people of this church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cokato, are in the front lines of both prayer and action. Prayer ministry is being strengthened here. We are offering people the opportunity to have individual, couple or family prayer during the Lord's Supper on Sundays. We are busy beyond the walls of this church, strengthening ministries such as the food shelf, the thrift store, providing help for the handicapped, even beginning a community garden project during these challenging economic times. Youth ministry touches many lives and encourages boldness in faith among the young.

We will keep doing these things, not backing down, until the kingdom of God comes in its fullness. We will pray and act with boldness, doing all we can do to give signs of God's love. Invite a friend and come anytime during the week, and on Sundays when we worship our awesome God.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Like Susan

Those who come to a living faith in Jesus are often surprised. Life changes is unexpected ways. In a small way, this reminds me of how so many felt as they watched Susan Boyle, a contestant on Britain's Got Talent. A feature story in USA Today explains:
Susan, for those who have been unconscious lately, is the middle-aged woman with frizzy hair who has been all over TV and computer screens for days, singing a Broadway show tune while millions wept and shouted and applauded wildly.
Susan is a great singer. But we are drawn to her for deeper reasons.

Quoting again from USA Today:
• It's the vindication. "When they were making fun of her, I was getting annoyed," [says Julie Carrigan, 47, a mother of five in Hemet, Calif.]. "And inside I'm thinking, 'I hope she blows them away.' I was so happy when she just let them have it."

• It's the surprise. "If you have expectations of someone, you need to be prepared to be surprised by them," says Paul Potts, the chunky former cellphone salesman who was the Susan Boyle of Britain's Got Talent in 2007 and has since sold millions of records as an opera-and-standards singer. His second album, Passione, arrives in the USA May 5. "It's part of human nature to make judgments based on first impressions, but sometimes we allow ourselves to be misguided by first impressions."

• It's the guilt. Why the surprise? There's no correlation between appearance and talent, says Scott Grantham, 35, a financial analyst in Atlanta. "If she didn't look the way she did, would there be the same reaction? I don't think so," he says. "We make snap judgments based on appearance, and when we see those judgments were premature, we overcompensate by going so far in the other direction."

• It's the shame. Boyle forced people to recognize how often they dismiss or ignore people because of their looks. "Is Susan Boyle ugly? Or are we?" asked essayist Tanya Gold in Britain's The Guardian.

• It's the psychology. "There's an emotional state called elevation, characterized by a warm, glowing feeling, that we get when someone transcends our expectations," says Lynn Johnson, a psychologist in Salt Lake City. Boyle is "an elevator — we want to believe in something higher, that there's meaning in life and that the ugly duckling can become the beautiful swan."

• It's the hope. "She has truly touched my heart and soul and lifted my spirits," says Anne Jolley of San Jose, who describes herself as 47, unemployed, frumpy and "disheartened, disenfranchised, disillusioned and dis-just-about-everything-else in these bleak times." The messages of Boyle, she says, are that "there is hope still in this world; that dreams really can come true; that cynical people can be turned around; that maybe my best years are not behind me after all."

• It's the distraction. With everything going on in the world, "our economy in the tank, my husband and I worried that we will lose our jobs — this was a feel-good/underdog story, and I ate it up," says Lisa Sweetnich, 40, a CPA in Massillon, Ohio.

• It's empowerment. "What are we all crying about?" asked writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin, founding editor of Ms. magazine, in her Huffington Post blog. "Partly, I think it's that a woman closing in on 50 had the courage to compete with the kids — and blew them out of the water."

• It's the authenticity. Unlike most of the contestants on, say, American Idol, Boyle clearly has not been groomed to be a pop star, so she is perceived as the real deal, says Ken Tucker, editor at large of Entertainment Weekly. "People want their idols to be authentic."

• It's the spiritual solace. "We're responding to someone who does not have the packaging expected of us, especially women, and in that moment of recognition, people got in touch with something so soulful and spiritual," says Laurie Sue Brockway, inspiration and family editor of "People felt blessed by that."

For many, it all comes down to ancient wisdom. Rahn Hasbargen, an accountant in St. Paul, cites John 7:24: "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."

"Never has that verse been explained more dramatically than in the case of Susan Boyle," Hasbargen says.
The church is something like Susan. Until we come to believe and trust in Jesus, until the power of the Lord is let loose in us, the church is "unglamorous, unfashionable" and "unknown" as far as popular culture is concerned. (See 2 Corinthians 6:8b-10.)

But when, through the Holy Spirit, the risen Jesus Christ comes to live in us, all kinds of unexpected things happen. We might not sing like Susan, but we, and the world, can be very surprised in what happens when we shake off our fear and come out on the world's stage with the love and power of God.

Get ready! You will be surprised too!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

More than a Spark

Tomorrow morning we have the privilege of hearing from another of our young adult inspirations, Amanda Carlson, a "Spark Global Intern" from our church who served for six months in Ndola, Zambia. Her message title is "Thoughts of Hope." If you're interested in reading more about her time there, you can look on the Spark Global Interns blog.

Our local church is able to support ministries like Amanda's because, believe it or not, we are somewhat organized. Tomorrow we have two events at 9:45 that showcase that organization. In the church fellowship hall we'll have our "quarterly financial forum." In the church choir room I'll meet with people who are not yet official "members" of our local church but who might consider becoming members.

It's good that we are organized as a church body. Being somewhat organized that lets us do good things in the world. It's good to be organized as a business--to have a budget, to have a building to meet in and staff to help us stay together. Being part of a church body keeps faith, hope and love burning bright over the long term. Though a young "spark" might get a fire going, to keep it burning someone needs to keep adding fuel.

Spiritual hermits find their faith soon dies out. Like burning pieces of wood go dark when separated out from a camp fire, so we quickly fall into cynicism and despair when we go it alone. Today, for example, I heard a piece on the radio called "This I Used to Believe." So much in our world stands against faith, hope and love. So, it's good have churches--more or less "organized" religion, people who get together, care for each other, help each other with our doubts and questions, make some decisions, hear God's word regularly, and spread the good news.

You can learn what we'll be learning in our new member class tomorrow by downloading a pdf file (12 pages)--just click here.

We shouldn't be surprised that it takes more than a one time experience to stay in the faith. The Bible, including John's story of the resurrection of Jesus that we'll continue reading tomorrow, makes it clear how faith isn't so easy. At the empty tomb of Jesus, for example, Mary Magdalene doesn't recognize Jesus, Peter doesn't get it, the "beloved disciple" (presumably the author of this gospel) believes something but really doesn't understand. And Thomas, the most honest of the bunch, realistically admits that he just won't believe unless he sees for himself.

But then Jesus talks with each one personally. Mary hears her name. The disciples hear Jesus say "peace be with you." And Jesus loves Thomas enough to answer his questions. That's what we try to do in the church too. With the Holy Spirit at work among us, we care, we share, and we don't reject those who Jesus loves. And the fire of God's love continues to burn bright, spreading even to Ndola, and, hopefully to your heart.

See you in church!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An Honest Day

On Monday evenings Toni and I are taking a Crown Financial Bible study class. So far we've talked about God's role as owner of all and what the Bible has to say about debt, counsel and honesty. In regard to honesty, the book we're reading has this summary:
Truthfulness is one of God's attributes. He is repeatedly identified as the God of truth. "I am... the truth" (John 14:6). And he commands us to reflect His honest and holy character...
Today is tax day. A good day to check up on our honesty. Honesty is important in all areas of life, of course, but we can't leave out financial honesty! The current world economic crisis is closely related to dishonesty.

What do we do if we discover we have been dishonest? As we read in this coming Sunday's scripture reading from First John, confessing our sins is always the best thing to do. We confess to God first. Then we talk honestly with those we trust. With their help and advice, we talk with those who are less forgiving--even to the IRS.

God will always forgive. He paid the price for our forgiveness. In the Christian church, forgiveness flows freely also. In the world, it's harder. In the cold, hard world, it's a matter of negotiation and submission, not forgiveness! Because we do live in this world, subject to its laws, taxes and other bills must be paid.

If you're in trouble financially, let us know. Someone who is a part of our church family may be able to help. Some of our church members have expertise. One thing is sure, however, if you aren't ready with your tax form today, go to this federal IRS webpage and this MN Revenue webpage and file for an extension. Don't wait! Do it today!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I'm thankful for a little slower pace in these days immediately after Easter. During Holy Week I actually spent no more time than usual working, but with 16 worship & prayer events from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, it's nice to have all that "on stage" time done for awhile.

There's less preparation too. This week our the local youth directors are sponsoring a "DC United" event on Wednesday evening and Sunday worship will be blessed with a message from another of our outstanding young adults. So I can work on some things that get left behind most of the time.

There are lots of exciting things happening among us in the Dassel-Cokato area. I'm hoping that, in the future, we'll all be able to be more connected and know what's going on. Our church council approved funds to get a website going for our church -- hopefully more information on all kinds of things will be available at -- for now you can see announcements from April 12 (Easter Sunday) by clicking here (6 pages, PDF).

Also, look back at Victory Garden and Faith in Action. And, coming up at 7:30 on Friday evening, April 24 at the DC High school PAC, Shane & Shane will be in concert with Matt Maher -- a one page PDF brochure is available here with info -- if you want to go and can't afford tickets, let me know.

Please feel free to use the "comments" section below to let people know about what's going on, or send an email my way so I can put it up on this blog.

It's good for all of us to be aware of the things that are going on in the body of Christ in our area. After all, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead demonstrates that it is what we do for and with Jesus that endures. Everything else fades away.

See you in church if not elsewhere!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Not Quite Empty

There were a few people here for Good Friday evening worship - not many... and a just a few worshiped this morning at 6:30. It wasn't quite empty--but close. Last night I went over to St. John's Catholic Church in Darwin for part of their Easter Vigil--that church was packed... I could only find a spot by the door.

Jesus' tomb wasn't quite empty on the first Easter morning either. The linens his body had been wrapped in were still there. A mysterious young man--or an angel--was there too, telling the good news that Jesus had risen from the dead and would be meeting his followers later. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

You can listen to the following 6:30 a.m. sermon "What's Resurrection For" by clicking here.


Gospel – John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
“Christ is Risen!” “He is Risen Indeed”

This is Easter.
A day we call “The Resurrection Day of our Lord.”

What is resurrection? When we need the answer for any big Questions, we look to Jesus Christ.

Resurrection is what happened to Jesus, after he had been dead three days. Sin and death could not hold him, the devil could not defeat him. Jesus was raised from the dead, hundreds of people saw him alive. And today, because Jesus was raised, if you trust in him, resurrection is what will happen to you, in the end, after you die.

After we die, trusting in our Lord Jesus, we have a promise. We go to be with God; then there will be a last day, a day known as “the day of the Lord,” a day of resurrection.

John 5 says “the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, 29 and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to judgment.”

First Corinthians 15…“ 51 …Let me tell you a wonderful secret God has revealed to us. …We will… be transformed. 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet call. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised… And those who are living will be transformed so that we will never die.”

Resurrection is coming back to life. It’s not resuscitation, as if we got life back into these old bodies. No. Resurrection means having a new body!

First Corinthians 15:42-44 “Our earthly bodies, which die and decay, will be different when they are resurrected, for they will never die. 43 Our bodies now disappoint us, but when they are raised, they will be full of glory. They are weak now, but when they are raised, they will be full of power. 44 They are natural human bodies now, but when they are raised, they will be spiritual bodies…” then verse 53 “our… earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die.”

Resurrection is waking up with a new body. When you trust in Jesus, just trust him: not only will you receive a new body, but you will rise from the dead without your sin, without any of the things that hold you back. When you are raised, you will be all God calls you to be.

Philippians 3:20-21 20 …We are really citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take these weak mortal bodies of ours and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same mighty power that he will use to conquer everything, everywhere.”

First John 1:3 says “we are already God’s children, and we can’t even imagine what we will be like when Christ returns. But we do know that when he comes we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.”

If you want to know what resurrection is like, look at Jesus, study the word of God. The mighty power shown in Jesus’ life, in his love, in his forgiveness, and in his rising from the dead, that’s what we have to look forward to when resurrection comes.

But what’s resurrection for?

We don’t automatically know. The women at the tomb were afraid at first. Their first reaction when they saw Jesus was to run away.

We might be afraid when we think of resurrection. We might think it would be nicer to think of an end to life. But there is no end, just a change.

Instead of being afraid, some might think of death and resurrection as an escape, a way to leave the problems of this life… Unfortunately, some people have even believed this resurrection to the point that they take their own lives, thinking that things will be better, somehow, on the other side…

But that’s not the point of resurrection. Resurrection, rightly understood, makes us better followers of Jesus here and now, not just then and there.

The key is to rightly understand what resurrection is for. We can’t go by what we think or by what we guess. Our lives, our spiritual lives, our immortal souls, our bodies, it’s all too precious to be dealt with on the basis of half baked opinions.

What do we need? We need INSTRUCTION! Like it said in the old musical “Sound of Music,” we need someone, older and wiser, telling us what to do…

The resurrection is like a great big stimulus package that is held in reserve for the future. According to the scriptures, resurrection is like a great store of treasure that allows us to spend ourselves without limit--not to go into debt--the spiritual DEBT was PAID by Christ on the cross... but we can now CONFIDENTLY to SPEND OURSELVES in service to God and our our neighbors without fear of loss because of the GREAT FUTURE that's ahead! The resurrection is intended to give us courage, to allow us to do everything God gives us to do with joy.

Resurrection takes away our fear!

Romans 8
15 …Don’t be like cowering, fearful slaves. …Behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family—calling him “Father, dear Father.” … 17 And since we are his children, we will share his treasures—for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

We are called by God, by the power of the resurrection, to spend ourselves—to not hold back—to serve God and to love our neighbors and to give up any idea of protecting or securing our own futures.

Suffering for the sake of helping others, serving others, helping others get to know the love of God, that’s part of what it means to follow Jesus; giving without thought of receiving anything anytime soon.

Knowing there is a resurrection day allows us to serve with JOY!

Colossians 3: Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power. 2 Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth. 3 For you died when Christ died, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your real life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. and then… 23 Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 24 Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and the Master you are serving is Christ.

And in Ephesians 6: 6 As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. 7 Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 8 Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free.

So, one of the main purposes of resurrection is to help us move forward with what God calls us to do in this life, confident that he holds the future, and that he will make it all worthwhile.

And we do that without anxiety, without fear.

Of all the other things resurrection is for in this life, one of the most important is that it allows us to relax, to take away our need to be so worried all the time, to take away our need to always be in control.

This verse is from Galatians 2:19 and 20
…I have been crucified with Christ. 20 I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by TRUSTING in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The vast majority of people in this world are burdened with fear… and for many that fear causes many other problems. Wouldn’t it be great to get free?

We can get free if we know about the resurrection of the dead! If we know the kingdom of heaven is coming, and if we know we’re going there, we can allow our anxieties to melt away.

My favorite verse on this is from Second Corinthians 4 where Paul is speaking so well about a Christian’s attitude toward this life:
18 We don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.

And the words of Jesus from Matthew 6:

25 “So I tell you, don’t worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not.
28 “And why worry about your clothes? Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you? You have so little faith!
31 “So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. 32 Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, 33 and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.

So, what is resurrection for?

It’s for giving us courage, and for taking away our worries, so we can serve God with all we have, and all we are.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Not the End

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. For many of us in the Lutheran Church, this holiday is synonymous with this hymn much more than with Easter bunnies and chocolate.
Jesus Christ is Risen today, alleluia!
Our triumphant, holy day, alleluia!
...(click here for the music!)...
I'm beginning to write this at 3:00 a.m. on Holy Saturday. It's quiet here at home except for the sounds of the online radio show Sing for Joy. A moment ago I heard the program's host talk about how some holidays, Easter among them, demand music and art and liturgy more than just preaching. (The episode I was listening to can be found here.)

No one can truly appreciate the resurrection of our Lord alone! Please make every effort to gather with others to celebrate this highest and most holy of celebrations. Our Lord has conquered every enemy, including death itself, and has risen from the dead. Alleluia!

I will be preaching two different messages tomorrow. At 6:30 a.m. I'll bring a version of a sermon first preached in 2003 entitled "What's Resurrection for?" At 8:30 and 10:30 I'll share something like this (below) after reading scripture from Mark 16:1-8 which concludes with women running away from Jesus' empty tomb, too afraid to say anything at all.

8:30 & 10:30 a.m.
April 12, 2009

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! The last enemy, death itself, has been defeated so we can, from the depths of our souls and hearts, sing Alleluia! Praise the Lord for rescuing us! Someday, like the Israelites stepping out from slavery and through the Red Sea, so we will confidently follow our Lord to the promised land!

This is a FESTIVAL day. Every nightmare, every fear, every oppression is wiped away.

Fear is not the end. Because of Jesus' victory over death, fear is never the end. You can see that in the lives of people who have been touched by God's grace. And you can read it in the scriptures. Look closely at chapters such as Romans 8, First Corinthians 15, Second Corinthians 4 and 5 and Revelation 21. They are full of God's promises that connect with this resurrection day.

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

Because Jesus has risen from the dead, the sufferings we have here are tiny compared to what God is going to give us in the life to come. The troubles of this life are preparing us, the Bible says, for wonders and joys that we can't imagine. No matter what we face here, even when we go down to the valley of the shadow of death, even when we feel afraid, no matter what--we can be confident, for the Lord is with us to rescue and release and resurrect us and our loved ones again.

Nothing can take away God's love. Nothing can take away his promise of life for those who want to trust in him.

So what's with Mark? In the original Greek, the final undisputed words in his gospel are these: ...καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν· ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ. I'll say one word at a time... try to repeat...

That's it: "...they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."

Obviously, that's not the end. If it had ended that way, if no one had told anyone anything about what they had seen and heard at the tomb, we wouldn't know anything about it, would we?

Somehow, the truth was told! Somehow the women got over their fear and did what the angel told them to do--they told his disciples--and especially Peter who had denied his Lord.

We read about this in Matthew, Luke and John. The disciples ran to the tomb, found it empty, and then saw the Lord Jesus with their own eyes. Christ is risen from the dead! Our reading from First Corinthians 15 lists some of the times people saw our risen Lord.

So what's with Mark? Probably the original ending of Mark's gospel was lost, like the ragged last page of a book.

That that happened isn't strange at all. All of the New Testament was written during hard times. Few could read or write. Writing materials were rare and, besides all that, the early Christian believers were often on the run or in hiding.

It's not strange that, in moving from one place to another, or in passing Mark's precious gospel book from one person to another, that the last page was lost. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit another ending was added, and most Bibles continue with verses 9-20.

But I don't think anything in the Bible is there by accident.

Even its ragged edges are there for a reason. God can use this ending--and God can use your ragged edges too.

Like those women at the end of Mark's gospel, silent and afraid, and like Mark's gospel itself, it's last page missing, we live on that ragged edge.
  • On the one hand, we have heard wonderful, glorious, excellent news--news that should bring light and life to every dark moment. Our loving Lord Jesus, who came to this suffering world from God the Father Almighty, showing us God's heart, giving signs of the Almighty God's purpose, to banish suffering and slavery and to forgive sinners, has defeated death, the last enemy. This glorious news should bring light and joy to every dark moment. In our Lord's care, as it says in the Psalm 30, verse 5: We might cry for awhile, even all night long sometimes, but joy will come in the morning--joy has the last word.
We ought to be telling everyone we know that wonderful truth. We ought to be following Jesus every minute, showing God's love, bringing his peace, letting Jesus' kind of love flow through our words and our actions every day.
  • But, often, we are afraid. We're afraid usually to SPEAK of Jesus and what he has done for us. We wonder...
    • Do we know enough about Jesus to tell others about him?
    • Are we secure enough in our own faith?
    • Will we come off as judgmental or hypocritical? After all, other people know we're not all that... we are like this cup cracked and stuck together with tape.
    • And will our friends still be friends with us, will our family members still accept us if we sometimes actually talk about Jesus?
Now, as long as that's not the end, it's okay to have questions like that.

It's good to ask questions. To ask questions about our faith, to do what we can to know what we're talking about, to check to see how our lives line up with what Jesus taught, to make sure we have a good strong base of Christ-loving friends who will back us up in case others let us down. It's good to check those things out.

But it can't end there. If we stay silent, if we never move past our fear, hundreds, thousands, MILLIONS will think Jesus is only for religious people, only to be talked about in church, not relevant or important to their daily lives. Because your ragged edge will minister to someone else if you will only let someone know what the Lord means to you.

The cool thing about those women, when they eventually did tell what they knew about Jesus, is that they were such unlikely messengers--if you think sexism is bad today--if you think you have a hard time being taken seriously as a woman now--in those days a woman was considered little more than property and her testimony wasn't accepted in a court of law.

But the very fact that they were unlikely truth tellers makes the whole story seem that much more believable. I mean, who would concoct a lie where the main characters are thought of as totally unreliable?

Friends--all of you who are gathered here today--each and every one of you has a Jesus story to tell, or you are right in the middle of living your Jesus story. This isn't the end. It can't be. Each of you, when you come to know the Lord personally, the Lord Jesus will minister to you and give you healing and strength and new purpose for your lives, and that story, about how the LIVING Lord Jesus has made a difference for you, that story needs to be told.

We had a great Lenten season here at our church. Fifteen members and friends of our church got up to tell a part of their faith story, what the cross means to each one. John, Veda, Randy, Wayne, Denise, Mike, Ann, Steve, Jerry, Norma Jean, Mark, Phil, Lindsay, Tom, Barb and Becky. Each one a broken patched up vessel for the Lord's treasure. Each one with a ragged edge that meets up with someone else's story.

But it can't end... We don't just tell our Jesus story during lent and not just here at church!

Maybe you still need to get questions answered. Good! Ask your questions and seek answers. Maybe you are still wounded and sick at heart. Ask someone to pray for you, share your heart, everyone needs healing and forgiveness. Immerse yourself deeper into a family of faith, here at this church or elsewhere. Don't just come once a week to church and then be silent about your faith elsewhere.

God wants to do a great work of transformation in many lives! God wants to work though you and me to set the captives free. We do that as we boldly care and love, and as we let others know from where we get the little bit of strength, the little bit of faith that keeps us going from day to day.

In the next days and weeks, God calls each of us to pray and be alert for opportunities to share your faith story, not harshly, but gently, in the spirit of Jesus, always looking out for the good of others.

But how important it is that we don't stay silent! God has blessed us! Let's pray and ask our Lord to work in our lives, so it won't end--not with us... for many more need to be set free... many more need to come out of their tombs.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The "Seven Last Words"

This afternoon nine local congregations gathered for Good Friday worship at First Baptist Church in Cokato. Seven messages were shared based on the "last words" of Christ.

I have the messages available in mp3 format. They are worth listening to. If anyone would like to hear them, please comment (click "comments" below), email me or give me a call and I'll put them up online. It's not hard to do. I can give them to you on a CD also if you'd prefer.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Love for One Another

This was written yesterday in preparation for tonight's Maundy Thursday worship. On Maundy Thursday we hear Jesus commandment to "love one another as I have loved you" after he washes his disciples feet.

I've never had trouble believing that God forgives. From early on in my life my parents made it very clear there was nothing I could ever do that would take their love, or God's love, away. The love of God for me has been a firm foundation that I've always been able to trust.

But that is not true for all. Some people struggle with guilt and shame all their lives--some guilt that is connected with real sins, some "false guilt" where we blame ourselves for something that wasn't our fault, or perhaps sometimes we feel guilty for something that is not actually wrong.

That's why it's good to have times like Maundy Thursday. "Maundy" is an old word meaning "commandment." Jesus gives us a new commandment, to love one another just as he has loved us. Tonight we hear about Jesus' amazing and humble love. The night before he died on the cross, he got down on the floor and washed his disciples' feet. All of their feet.

You might remember that Simon Peter didn't want to have his feet washed. In verse 8 he says "you will NEVER wash my feet." But when Jesus explained that it was something he needed to say "yes" to, he said "if that's the case, wash my head and my hands too!"

Some churches have the tradition where the pastor washes the feet of people in the church. We've tried that from time to time but frankly it doesn't work very well. Back in time there was a reason to wash feet. People went barefoot or wore sandals. It as a common thing to wash your own feet when you came inside. But now, it's just strange.

But there's another Maundy Thursday tradition that we will follow tonight. Tonight we ALL have the opportunity to hear words of forgiveness in a special, personal way. For some of us, this may not be anything important. Like for me, as I said, I don't really doubt that God can forgive me no matter what. For someone else, however, hearing personal words of forgiveness from God might be very important.

So, in a few minutes, after we speak our confession and hear general words of forgiveness, we'll invite everyone to come and hear those words personally. You might come to the front and kneel. You might go to one of the other leaders and have them put their hand on your head or on your shoulder. Tonight, individually, we're asking that each of us come and receive individual assurance that we are forgiven by God.

Why do we do this? Why do we take the time?

Because there might just be one person who needs to hear those words. Perhaps there is one person, burdened by their past, frustrated in their present, or worried about their future, for whom it's not enough to have those words spoken from the front of the church. Perhaps, like for the paralyzed man who was brought to Jesus through the roof in the middle of a crowd, you need to hear the words spoken directly to you.

You could come and talk with me personally. You could go to any one of your Christian friends and share your heart. But perhaps you are shy. Or maybe you are afraid. Perhaps the most frightening thing for you is to say "YES! I'm needing to know I am forgiven! I need to know it now."

So, tonight, you can come and find out the answer to your prayer even before you ask. We don't want your shyness or your fear to stand in the way. We don't want to oppress the oppressed. When you come and hear these words tonight "In obedience to Christ's command, I forgive you all your sins," you'll know exactly what will happen when and if you do come and share your burden. Because Jesus died and shed his blood and offered his body for you. You will be forgiven.

Because we want to make it as comfortable as we can for that one who needs to hear, I'm asking that all of us, each one, that all of us come to hear those words personally. And if you're the one who really needs to hear, you can just blend in with the crowd.

If only one person is in need of that reassurance tonight, it will be worth the time. You are worth it. You are precious in the sight of God.

For the rest of us, who may not feel that we need that assurance tonight, please remember that, when it comes to our relationship with God, we are all equal. Each one of us is really constantly in need of forgiveness, every day. Each one of us is constantly, desperately, in need of God's merciful love. If we have more secure personalities, it might not seem like we need to be reassured as much as some others. It's possible to think, well, I'll let others be reassured of forgiveness. I don't need it as much as they.

I think that's like Simon Peter, not wanting to get his feet washed. God wants to wash us all, so we are fresh and cleansed anew. And it might just be that there is something lurking in the corner of your soul too that is in need.

So, together, we come to the cross of Jesus, we lay down our burdens, together, we hear the words of forgiveness, and then we share the peace in the most sincere way we can.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More Than Words

On Good Friday we in and around Cokato get together from noon to three o'clock in the afternoon to meditate on the "Seven Last Words" of Jesus Christ. I have been assigned to preach this year on John 19:26-27 where Jesus sees his mother and the beloved disciple and gives her into his care. Here are some advance notes I've prepared for my message.

I don't know much about crucifixion, except what I have read, but it must have been a terribly painful way to die. Jonathan Reed (University of La Verne, California) says: "Roman crucifixion sort of hits the fine balance between maximum pain and maximum length of time that you endure that pain." (PR Newswire, March 17, 2005).

Some would hang on a cross for days before dying. Jesus was on the cross for only 6 hours before he died. Perhaps that was because of the severe flogging he had endured. Or perhaps because he was carrying the weight of the world's sins.

Crucifixion was intended to inflict not only physical suffering, but ridicule as well. A person crucified was to be an example of what happens to those who disobey authority. It was considered good form to make fun of someone hung out to die on a cross. The person suffered painfully but not so painfully as to become unconscious. A person dying in this way could hear and see what was going on around him, and, indeed, could speak until he became too weak.

At some moment during the first half of his time on the cross, Jesus saw his mother. We have few details about this encounter, but we do know that Jesus showed love to her and entrusted her to his most beloved friend. He knew she would need someone to support and help her in the days ahead.

In the midst of his suffering, while he was being abused with words and physical pain, he gave blessing and kindness to those who had hurt him, asking that God would forgive. But he does not forget those who had been supportive to him during his earthly life.

Jesus honors his mother. We assume that by this time his father had died. In his time of suffering, Jesus honors the very human family relationship that had brought him into this world. By implication, he lifts up the importance of family, honoring our own efforts to help and comfort and protect our parents and elders when they are vulnerable.

But perhaps even more importantly, Jesus also honors friendship, specifically he honors the the spiritual friendship of those who follow Jesus as their Lord. Jesus entrusts his mother to someone who is related to him spiritually rather than by human birth. This is consistent with what Jesus says about spiritual birth in John 3 and with Matthew 12:50 where Jesus says: "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." Our spiritual family, and the friendships we have among one another, are according to Jesus, even more precious than human family ties.

How great the love of Jesus. He thinks of and cares for those who will be left behind, for those who are not suffering physically. He recognizes all kinds of pain. He sees the emotional need too. He realizes, because he has lived among us, that we need more than mere words of wisdom and spiritual guidance. We need practical support as well, even down to friends and family who care for us and the need to have a roof over our heads.

As we care for the poor, for those who are alone, for our elders, and as we care for one another in the Christian family, befriending one another, weeping with those who weep, we truly follow our Lord.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Testify to the Lord

I am thankful for how the Lord has stirred in the hearts of so many people to have them speak publicly during Lent on "What the Cross Means to Me." This morning at 7:00 a.m. Tom Morris spoke. Tomorrow Barb Yeager is planning to share. Wednesday is still open, but our prayer leader, Becky Sorenson, offered that perhaps it would be time for her to share her story.

None of these people are all "put together." We are all earthen vessels, imperfect containers for the Lord's treasure. I hope, little by little, we will all be willing to testify, each in our own way, what the Lord has done for us and is continuing to do, one day at a time.

If you want to listen to any of the talks that have been shared during Lent so far (except on these early mornings which are not being recorded) you can find them by clicking the links below:

Ash Wednesday - John

Second Wednesday in Lent - Veda, Randy, Wayne

Third Wednesday in Lent - Denise, Mike, Ann

Fourth Wednesday in Lent - Steve, Jerry

Fifth Wednesday in Lent - "Christ in the Passover" presentation available on DVD ...thanks to Connie Isaacson and family!

Sixth Wednesday in Lent - here are those talks for the first time - click each name for the audio
Norma Jean



Hope to see you at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow!

Friday, April 3, 2009


I'm up at the University of Minnesota Morris supposedly "chaperoning" the youth who are here as a part of the Dassel-Cokato High School Jazz Band. I haven't been given any responsibilities, other than just to be here with the kids, and the director seems to have things well in hand, so it's more of an enjoyable trip for me.

We're up here for the 31st annual UMM Jazz Festival. Many years ago I was part of a jazz band under the direction of James "Doc" Carlson, who is retiring this year after 31 years at UMM. He's bald now, and obviously older, but he still has the same fire, the same zest, the same passion for jazz that he always has. It's a joy to watch him work, encouraging and pushing the students to do their best.

God is passionate for us too, but in a way that goes way beyond anything any of us can ever fully appreciate. He is willing to give himself for us, for all of us, even for those of us who don't usually pay any attention. He gave himself as a human being, living among us for 33 years, inspiring and pushing his student disciples beyond the normal limits of self-giving love. And he did it, not only for those who happened to be alive then and there, but also for us.

Next week we have the opportunity be immersed in our Lord's work on our behalf. During the rest of the year we focus on the results of what God has done for us. Those who participate in "Holy Week" go behind the scenes to the messy and painful time and place of Christ's passion, to the time when he gave himself for sinners. Those who plunge in will "see" and hear how great God's love is and will be inspired to give themselves passionately for the world.

Come each day next week:
  • Palm/Passion Sunday with our choir, 8:30 & 11:00 a.m.
  • 7:00 a.m. half hour Morning Prayer, Mon., Tue., Wed. April 6-8 at ELC church
  • 10 a.m. half hour Morning Prayer, Mon., Tue., Wed, at various locations in town
    * Monday - Cokato Apartments Building I (back of Cokato Manor)
    * Tuesday – Cokato Apartments Building IV (Broadway south of Casey’s)
    * Wednesday – Edgewood Gables
  • April 9 – Holy Communion Thursday -- a celebration of God's Love in Action, 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. (5:30 meal for all) at ELC church
  • April 10 – Good Friday Communion (half hour) 10:00 a.m. at Cokato Apartments Building III
  • Good Friday all community worship Noon to 3 p.m., Friday, April 10 at First Baptist Church. Come for the full three hours or for one of the “7 Last Words of Christ” (20 minutes each with various local pastors speaking)
  • Good Friday evening worship, 6:30 p.m. at ELC church
  • April 12 – RESURRECTION DAY Easter worship: 6:30, 8:30, 10:30 a.m. at ELC church
The benefits of what God has done for us are not limited to those who participate in Holy Week. Those, however, who can spend the time will more deeply appreciate the passionate love God has for each of us, and, knowing what it cost Him, we will be more willing to give ourselves in love to and for others.

See you at church or at any of the above events. If you or those you know can't come, let us know and we'll do our best to come to you.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Victory Garden

We don't have the details yet, but a plan is beginning to have community vegetable garden plots available beginning in mid May here in Cokato near our church's cemetery on Johnson Avenue North (across from New Life Assembly of God). One section will be available for families or individuals, the other will be planted by volunteers and maintained and harvested by those in our community who may be out of work. Talk with Tom Morris for more information. Please pray that the Lord would inspire our community to provide the coordination, labor and materials.

Faith In Action

If you couldn't drive, and if you didn't have family nearby, how would you live? You might be able to depend on a friend or neighbor, but some people's circle of more-or-less healthy friends is quite small. What if you were handicapped or not very strong due to advanced age? How would you get groceries or go to the post office or drug store?

If you had sufficient cash and lots of connections, you probably could hire someone to do these things, but many of our independent senior citizens and disabled persons can't afford that. They just need a little help.

On Tuesday evening about 10 members of the ELC church "social ministry" committee met at the Food Shelf to make plans for how we can better meet these needs. We've arranged for Allison Loser of Faith in Action to come to Cokato on Tuesday evening, April 28 at to lead a volunteer information & training session at 7:00 in the community room at Cokato Apartments Building IV (a block south of Casey's on Broadway).

More info to come.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Christus Consolator

Covered by layers of discolored varnish and mold, this painting was found a couple of years ago in a church janitor's closet. Valued at $35,000, insurance and security for the painting were too expensive, so Gethsemane Lutheran Church, our neighbor in Dassel, donated it to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It is now restored and framed as you see above. You can read the StarTribune story here.

This beautiful piece of art was painted in 1851. It depicts Jesus Christ comforting oppressed people including Greek and Polish freedom fighters, homeless peasants, impoverished women and a black slave in chains.

Our Lord continues to comfort those in trouble and danger, often inspiring us to reach out in his name. We need never be alone with our sorrows. Like in the painting, our Lord invites all who are sorrowing or carrying heavy burdens to come to him. We gather with all those in need, letting others know we are their brothers and sisters, each one equal before our Lord.

Tonight four more witnesses will humbly share at worship "What the Cross means to me." Certainly, he has borne our sorrows. As Isaiah says:
"He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed." Isaiah 53:3-5
Come to the Lord and know his consolation--given for you!