Monday, June 29, 2009

Starting with Thanks

The first topic at family camp is about giving thanks. How are YOU teaching your children to give thanks? When do you pray out loud so your kids can hear you say thank you to God?

Too many families these days never teach their children or talk to their children about God's ways. At the end of our morning session today our speaker's wife, originally from Australia, says that familes today hardly do anything together at home anymore! This has led to devastating consequences to our faith lives. Our speaker (Reid Matthias) told us in a recent Barna survey that 65% of Christians born before 1940 could tell you the basics of the Christian faith.* Since that time Christian families have delegated Christian education to church, Sunday school and confirmation. Christian families don't talk about Jesus at home anymore. As a conequence, only 25% of my generation can tell you those basics and only 4% of Christians in my children's generation can do the same. So sad.

So how can a family start sharing the Christian faith with their children? The first thing might to just start saying "thank you" to God, out loud, in the presence of children. Praying "thanks" before every meal, saying "thanks" in prayer before bed, and, in every situation that comes upon us with little blessings, giving credit to God out loud. This isn't hard, but it might be a good first step in recovering faith life in your home.

Here are some Bible verses as reminders. Reid challenged us to memorize them:
1 Chronicles 16:8,34 "O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples... O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever."

Psalm 92:1-4 "It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy."

1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil."
Start simple with thanks. We can all begin today.**

* The basics of the Christian faith might be summarized in that we have particular things we believe: (1) God created the world. (2) Sin entered. (3) We need to be saved. (4) Christ came to save us. It's not just "being a good person." None of us are good. We are all sinners, grateful for the wonderful salvation we have in Jesus Christ.

**He also suggested learning a longer verse, Ephesians 1:15-23.

Family Camp

We're at Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp for the 16th summer in a row. At least that's what my son Dan said last night as he introduced us. Dan is on staff here this year. It's good to have some time with him. Son Jon is here too. He drove down on his own from Rochester where he and his band "Lift the Burden" had a concert Saturday night.

Daughter Naomi isn't here. She's a Bethel University senior majoring in journalism and reconciliation studies. She's at my brother's family home until they drive her to the airport at noon. Naomi is heading for South Africa today. Thank you to all of you for the ways you have supported her and please keep her in your prayers as she learns and serves in another part of the world. She has posted her itinerary on her blog.

So the rest of us are at Family Camp is at Lake Okoboji in northwest Iowa. We've been coming here for 15 years or more. (I wrote about this last year too.) I'm usually very interested in the speaker for the week. This year's speaker is Reid Matthias. He's telling part of his life story at the moment.

I thought I might let y'all know what happens at family camp. I just wrote a note to a family friend letting her know about it. Here it is:
Every morning after breakfast at camp there is chapel time with lots of Christian camp songs usually with lots of actions and a skit on the theme of the day. Then there is a "sharing" (where one of the camp staff talks personally about how the theme verse... today one of the counselors confessed that she put college ahead of God). In a few minutes we break into age groups where there is a learning time for each group. The college age counselors meet with the kids and a pastor does teaching and discussion with the adults.

After lunch there is "family time" when we talk as families about what we learned in the morning and have some Bible study and prayer. Then there's free time with a variety of activities (swimming, crafts, sports, games, or just talking, reading, napping). Each late afternoon (except Wednesday p.m. which is unscheduled) there is an all camp, all ages game.

After supper there is a special spiritual event each day - a program put on by the staff. Before bed there's a campfire and more free time before bed. Lots of good conversations. Lots of food.
There are about 150 people here including staff. Parents and kids and grandparents and grandkids learning about God, experiencing Christian community, having fun together. When we first came here our kids were very young and really got into the counselors and fun. They still do but it's different now that we don't need to lead them around by the hand. Now we get into some good talks with them.

God is good. It's good to have some time away. I believe God will use this time well.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Praise Forward

Mark 5:35-43 While he (Jesus) was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,”* which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
That's part of what we'll read tomorrow in church. Mark chapter 5 is full of wonderful miracles, dreams come true. A man and a woman who had suffered for years are released from their suffering (Mk 5:18-20, 29, 34) and a girl is raised from the dead.

I can't imagine the joy. Jesus told them not to tell anyone because he had a bigger purpose in mind than to just raise one girl, but, if that was your child, it would be the best day of your life.

Sometimes, it's like that. Sometimes we experience amazing gifts--a release from bondage, a miraculous healing, a rescue from certain death. That's wonderful when it happens! Praise God!

But much of the time we are waiting. This morning at men's Bible study we read:
"...with the Lord one day is like a thousand years,
and a thousand years are like one day." (2nd Peter 3:8)
It feels like that when we wait. The world and we ourselves are damaged, diseased, headed toward death and grief. That's true at home, across the street and around the world. There are moments of joy. There are wonderful times like this afternoon... the weather was just perfect and Toni and I went to a couple of parties. Then a storm blows up or relationships blow up. Often we don't handle this life very well. We become cynical. We drink. We hide how we really feel.

Many times when we try to do good, or when things go well for a short time, we feel stabbed in the back.

It's hard.

How can we handle that?

Three things.

First, it's not strange.

It's the same world, with the same suffering, and the same imperfect people that Jesus came to save. When Jesus was on earth in the flesh, some people, many people, they experienced wonderful gifts of God's grace. Many people today have those same experiences... people are released from demonic, evil powers that seem to run and ruin their lives. People are miraculously healed. And, as far as being raised from the dead, I've heard stories, reports, that people have actually been revived. But just like in Jesus time, those experiences are temporary, seeming like just moments of light in an otherwise dark world. Some, many, may experience tremendous moments of God's grace, but then, in the end, death takes them all. And the church, which has been given by God to bring the best news of all to the world, the church is infected by sin, selfishness and doubt.

Secondly, this is precisely the situation and the world and the church Jesus came to save.

God knows what he is doing. It was no mistake that got God involved in the lives of people back then, and it's no mistake today when you receive a little blessing, or a BIG MIRACLE, from the Lord. Those blessings--the breaths you take, the food you taste, the friendship and love you experience, the ways that your body works well--some parts do work well or you wouldn't be here today--those gifts of life are not mistakes. And neither are you. It's not a worthless little flash of hope. Instead, these blessings are signs that God does love you, and that God will save you in the end.

That's the third thing that can help us through this inconsistent life. God is going to save us in the end, and these miracles, and every little blessings, they are merely little signs of what will happen then in an amazingly magnificent way.

Those miracles in Mark, chapter 5, they are unbelieveably wonderful. Jesus took a little girl by the hand--not just any girl, but someone's daughter--a 12 year old girl who had died. Nothing more precious. And Jesus said "Talitha cum." "Little girl, get up!" And immediately that girl came back to life. Do you know what that was? It was a sign that Jesus someday is going to defeat death itself.

And when that woman dared to touch Jesus, and she was healed, that's a sign of what happens when we reach out to our Lord with our needs, daring to come out with them, not hiding them away. Healing often comes when we lower our defenses and cry out to God without caring who else hears or sees! But even our own healings, temporary as they are, they are signs of the new bodies God promises for us in the life to come.

Last week's stories too--the calming of the sea and the rescuing of the demon possessed man. The time will come when God will make everything right. We don't know when. And it's very hard to wait. But God IS going to win the battle in the end.

We always have the choice to turn God down, to remain hardened and hidden with our needs, but our Lord wants us to trust him that in the end he will work it out, and, as it says in one of my favorite Bible passages,
Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. (2nd Corinthians 4:16-18)
Every blessing we receive in this life: food and clothing, home and family, daily work, all we need from day to day... every consolation we've received in time of sorrow, every mercy, every little or big healing, and every time evil is even temporarily defeated in our lives... when we overcome despair, cynicism, drunkenness or depression EVEN FOR A BRIEF TIME... THOSE MOMENTS are signs of the WONDERFUL FUTURE God has for us when we trust in him.

So, when we praise our Lord, we don't just give thanks for the little blessings or the BIG MIRACLES we experience here and now, we give thanks that they are signs that God will work it all for good in the end (Romans 8:28). And when we have the opportunity to share a blessing or a prayer or even be used by God to bring deliverance or healing, we thank God, but we don't point them out too much... The real treasure is what is still waiting--ahead--tomorrow, or the day after, or in a thousand years, when our Lord comes again.

We praise FORWARD to God's GLORIOUS future, when every barrier between ourselves and the greatest blessings God has for us will be gone, sin totally wiped away, death defeated, and love will last... forever.

Here and now we do all we can to spread that praise around, being generous with God's love, working for justice, protecting the weak, but also not begrudging those times when it doesn't work out as we planned. When things don't work out temporarily, because we know how it will be in the end, because JESUS DEFEATED DEATH when he DIED and ROSE AGAIN, we don't let temporary defeats destroy our hope. In fact, if we read our Bibles, we will anticipate and expect them!

Again, as it says in 2nd Corinthians 4, this time verses 8-11:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.
As Jesus suffered defeat, so will we. It will happen. We will not always be healed in this life. We will suffer pain--sometimes there will be healing, sometimes there will be peace, sometimes love will win out over hate and sin and death in this life... not always, however, and sometime it will seem so rare, so deceptive... But we turn our attention to Jesus Christ. He defeated death! And when we are linked to him in faith and in baptism and at the Lord's Table, even when things are not going well, we look forward to the glorious everlasting life God had in store for Jesus, and, when we trust him, for us.

When things go well, we thank God, but also remember to praise forward. We don't only thank God that this or that person was healed, or this or that disaster averted, but praise God for the perfect future he has planned for us. Like Jesus said to the disciples when they had been out on an incredibly successful mission...
"I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:17-20)
Everything we do in Christ's name, all we do in our families, in our work and in this church in Christ's name, and all the unasked for blessings God sends to us, they are just little signs, little down-payments, on the glorious future he has for us. Every bit of praise, every word of thanks, looks forward to that.

All he asks is that we trust him in return.

*"Talitha cum" is from the language Jesus himself spoke, Aramaic.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Living Bible

Going through stacks of email and paper, ran into this sent by a friend.

Could this happen at ELC?
His name is Bill. He has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans, and no shoes. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college.

He is brilliant. Kind of profound and very, very bright. He became a Christian while attending college.

Across the street from the campus is a well-dressed, very conservative church. They want to develop a ministry to the students but are not sure how to go about it.

One day Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt, and wild hair. The service has already started and so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat.

The church is completely packed and he can't find a seat. By now, people are really looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything.

Bill gets closer and closer and closer to the pulpit, and when he realizes there are no seats, he just squats down right on the carpet.

By now the people are really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick.

About this time, the minister realizes that from way at the back of the church, a deacon is slowly making his way toward Bill.

Now the deacon is in his eighties, has silver-gray hair, and a three-piece suit.. A godly man, very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and, as he starts walking toward this boy, everyone is saying to themselves that you can't blame him for what he's going to do.

How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor?

It takes a long time for the man to reach the boy.

The church is utterly silent except for the clicking of the man's cane.

All eyes are focused on him. You can't even hear anyone breathing. The minister can't even preach the sermon until the deacon does what he has to do.

And now they see this elderly man drop his cane on the floor. With great difficulty, he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and worships with him so he won't be alone.

Everyone chokes up with emotion.

When the minister gains control, he says,

'What I'm about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget.'

Hope to see you, and Bill, and the deacon, very soon!

And thanks to the friend who sent this to me last month.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Stepping Out In Faith

Anyone have suggestions or want to help in any way (with worship or prayer care on call) during times when I'll be away... send me a note or give me a call. We're at Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp next week with family & friends. Sundays I'll be gone include August 2 and September 6.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Onward, part 4

Here's an audio version of the message (preached yesterday) that you may have been reading over the past few days (click this link to listen to the mp3, about 14 minutes). Some of the scriptures we read in worship connect with this message: the story of David and Goliath, part of Psalm 9 (verses 9-20), 2nd Corinthians 6:1-13, and Mark 4:25-5:20.

Thanks to youth director and seminarian, Nate Bendorf, for his insights on the gospel lesson that really helped bring these scriptures to life for me. Thank you also to Lutheran Hour speaker Ken Klaus for the statistics on the importance of fathers. You can read Pastor Ken's message, and his statistics, here.

Many fathers are among those who are lost and who God wants to be found. Men, I especially pray that you would be in prayer for them, and, when the Lord leads you, share with them, man to man, father to father, the amazing love of God, which always allows us to begin again. Receiving that love, we can pass it on to our families and the other kids God loves so much.

If you know a father who seems, for one reason or another, lost or alone, don't forget about him. And stay connected to the Christian community yourself, through Sunday worship and Bible studies. There's a men's Bible study that meets regularly at the Morris Excavating shop on Tuesday evenings (8:00 in the summer). Another meets at 7:00 a.m. Saturdays here at church.

Also - I added a link to audio of part of the June 14 "Lay Led" worship (beginning with his children's message and the scripture readings)... just look at the end of the June 14 Lay-led Worship item posted June 1 to find the link. If you haven't heard Tim Robbins sermon, I'd encourage you to listen. Tim (and his late wife Dell) have taught youth Sunday school at our church for years. Tim's sermon itself begins about 10 minutes into the mp3.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Onward, part 3

Jesus is asleep as he is crossing the lake. He is on his way to a confrontation with a demon possessed man, a storm is lashing the boat, the disciples are terrified. And Jesus is asleep. When the disciples wake him up, what does he do? "Peace," he says, "be still." It says he's talking to the wind and water. But he might have been talking to us.

We normally seek peace by avoiding confrontations, by backing off, by turning our heads and looking away, by entertaining ourselves with gossip or sports or the weather. But Jesus does something different. "Peace," he says, "be still..." and they keep going. They cross the lake; they cross the border from safety to a place and a person who is anything but safe--and while the disciples look on Jesus defeats evil, frees the possessed man, and tells him to go and tell all his friends and family about the wonderful, powerful mercy of God.

Usually, you and I, we do one of two things. Either we leave evil alone, seeking peace, or we think we need to somehow charge in under our own foolish power. Either we decide it's not our problem or we decide we've got to take care of things on our own.

But God has another way. Like Moses at the Red Sea, seeing the attacking Egyptian army, saying " The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still." Or, like David standing with stone and sling against Goliath, saying "You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord."

Neither backing down nor attacking, just trusting and praying and waiting for the Lord to do his work. That's God's way. Remaining steadfast in prayer for those who are lost. Never forgetting them, even when it seems totally beyond our power to help, but waiting for that time when God will act, and making ourselves available for the time of his choosing. And remembering that we too are sinners, totally dependent on the grace of God.

Who are those who seem to be beyond help? Alcoholics or drug addicts who have been through treatment multiple times? Those who are mentally ill? Or perhaps a family member or even a father who has lost his way? I've been one of those that others may have thought were lost. I am evidence, and perhaps you are too, that God can, and God does, to amazing, miraculous things. And God may choose even you and empower you to do his work. Nothing is too hard for God.

My son Jon is part of a Christian band that God seems to be using to reach kids who wouldn't come to church. Some churches and preachers regularly confront evil in a way that seems crude to me. Women in our community are praying that the Lord would guide them to reach out to people we usually forget. And in the ELCA, our church is daring to deal with complex, controversial issues that make me very uncomfortable.

What will we do? Leave well enough alone? Attack? Or pray for the Lord's peace and keep moving onward to do his work, allowing him to lead us even to places and people that we would just as soon avoid. I pray that will be our answer.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Onward, part 2

Through His Word, God pushes us out into the world. It's not the first thing God does. Before pushing, He embraces us, assuring us of his undying love. Then he sends us out to do the same.

We'll see this on Sunday, as we learn about the time when Jesus pushed his disciples out onto the "Sea of Galilee."

On the west side was Jesus' home territory. The east was the "other" side--a place where Jesus' people didn't go. The people "over there" were under the domination of demonic powers - Semitic and Roman. Even fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James and John would stay away from the eastern shore.

So when Jesus said "let's go over to the other side of the lake" the disciples may have wondered what was going on. Then, when a storm came up, it may have been obvious to them that going "over there" was a really bad idea. What good would it do to go over to those people? There's enough to do close to home.

But Jesus is never satisfied with leaving people lost. After all, the disciples' own people and their religious leaders were lost too. So, after he saves them, he pushes them to out "there," to those who are lost. In this case, to meet just one man.

Who is it that God might be pushing you out to visit or care about this weekend? Will you follow God's call?

More tomorrow...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Onward, part 1

The family of Eldon Peterson was here this afternoon to begin planning for Eldon's funeral. If you know Eldon, Helen, or anyone in that big family, please extend the love of our Lord to them. It's always a rough time when we say goodbye to loved ones, even when they are getting on in years.

When you think someone is may be in need; when you think someone may be having a rough time--what do you do? We have a wonderful church community here in the DC area and it's not unusual at all for friends to reach out to strangers, being concerned, lending an ear or a hand.

When someone dies, the people of our community usually respond quickly. Many families that have lost loves say they never knew they had so many friends. Phones ring, people stop over, and food is delivered. Often, there is lots of food to spare--hot dishes, baked goods and sandwiches flow with love like a river!

Sometimes, however, we don't take the opportunity to reach out. Tonight as I was out mowing I saw a couple of neighbors I don't even know. I kept mowing. I didn't stop until the DC High School Marching Band came by. (They had traveled to Milaca for a parade which was canceled because of a tornado warning, so came back and marched down the streets of Cokato! Fun!) I followed and ended up down at Parkview, visiting with some folks I haven't seen for awhile. I guess it took a marching band to get me out of my routine. What does it take to get you out into the world?

I believe the Lord is constantly pushing us. He does that through the circumstances of our lives, putting people in our path who need a conversation or a smile, and he does it through his Word. More tomorrow... If you wish, you can prepare by reading Mark 4:35-5:20.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Horizontal or Vertical?

The following devotion, by Os Hillman, was shared tonight by one of our church council members. Thank you!

It shares some things that are good for us to think about as we face challenges, whether in the church or out in the world. Will we pray and act in faith? Or will we take matters into our own hands?
"Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight" (Isaiah 5:21).

Many of us have been trained to make decisions and respond to problems in a horizontal way instead of vertical. Operating from a horizontal basis means we try to fix the problem through our own self-efforts by bringing greater pressure upon it through our reasoning or our natural skills. Operating from a vertical position means we are seeking God for the answer and waiting for him to impact the problem. Perhaps it is a spouse who fails to put their clothes away, or a boss who is overly critical, or an employee that you clash with. When we operate horizontally we attempt to shame or coerce the other to change their ways.

God knows the solution to the problem before it ever exists. Our responsibility is to ask God for help to solve the problem and to rely on Him for the outcome. The minute we take on the responsibility, God quietly stands by to let us experience failure until we decide to seek Him for the answer.

One of the best examples of the contrast between a vertical and horizontal dimension in scripture is that of King Saul and David (see 1 Samuel 25). King Saul thought the way to preserve his kingdom was to kill David. While in pursuit of him there were several occasions when David had the opportunity to kill Saul, but David chose to wait upon God's timing and await his own deliverance because he understood authority. David had such respect for those who had been put in authority by God over him that he would not take matters into his own hands.

Saul represents the exact opposite of this principle. He thought David was the problem and sought to get rid of him through force. As a result, he lost his kingdom because he chose to rule horizontally instead of vertically under God's rule in his life.

No matter what problem you face today, stay vertical with God.

Synod Assembly

A moment ago I emailed Tammy Sather at the SW MN Synod to check on when a report or summary of what happened at the Synod Assembly might be available. As soon as I get that official "word" I'll post or link to it.

Besides just getting together for Bible study, worship and prayer with other members of ELCA from our area we heard reports from leaders, testimonies of how people see God at work in their lives, voted on candidates and made decisions on some "resolutions."*

There was quite a bit of debate on some issues that will come before the ELCA "churchwide assembly" (CWA) this summer:
  • Resolution 09.02 encouraged the CWA to reject the ELCA's proposed "social statement" on sexuality. That resolution failed 275-338.
  • Resolution 09.03 asked the CWA to reject changes that would allow men or women who are in "committed same sex unions" to be official leaders & pastors in some local ELCA churches. That resolution passed 303-279.
  • Resolution 09.04 was an attempt to require 2/3 vote (instead of a simple majority) at the CWA on the "Report and Recommendations on Ministry Policies." It failed 262-275.
I was personally surprised and dismayed that 09.04 failed.** The SW MN Synod is one of the more conservative in the ELCA. If it could not push to require a supermajority on such a contentious issue, it seems to me that the CWA will probably pass the changes. Of course, we won't know until the CWA meets in Minneapolis August 17-23.

There is much more to be said and prayed about, but for now I just ask your prayers and your wise counsel. Please pray that the Lord would direct me as to how much time or energy I should spend on this. There are a lot of other things to do. But please do let me know your thoughts.


*A "resolution" is a formal statement agreed to by a group.
**As a pastor, I am committed to the understanding, codified in our church constitution, that the Bible is "the authoritative source and norm of [our] proclamation, faith, and life" including our view of sexuality. Those of us with this traditional view look at to scriptures (such as Matthew19:4-6) and, secondarily, to what we see as the male-female design in nature and say it's obvious that male-female marriage is the God-blessed form for full sexual expression. On the other hand, those with a "revisionist" viewpoint believe that those who wrote the scriptures were unaware of homosexual orientation and, therefore, the Bible cannot be the final word in this discussion. In my opinion, this critique has been successfully refuted, for example, by Joel Berthelsen in his book length paper A Welcoming Community of Grace: A Law and Gospel Approach to the Sexuality Debate--see the section on The Big Tent - “the majority and minority experience.”

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Beyond Cokato ELC

Photo by Daniel G DeBlock - Leiturgia Communications Inc.
for more photos go to

We just finished electing Pastor Jon Anderson to another six year term as "bishop" of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I thought I'd try to say something about this, but then realized that some folks couldn't care less. I mean, what is a "bishop" and what is a "synod" and why are Nate, Sarah, John, Nancy and I doing sitting in a room with a few hundred people down here in St. Peter on this beautiful day in June? Shouldn't we be doing something more productive or at least more fun?

Actually, I think this is important... but it will take a while to explain...
As I write, I'm imagining that I'm talking with someone in my town who, like most of us, doesn't know or care much about "bishops" or "church politics." I conclude that knowing about the church beyond our local area is a way of caring for our children and generations to come.
All the churches in Cokato are members of some church association. These "associations" are many times known as denominations. There are hundreds of these associations. There are differences and similarities between them. All of them are dedicated to Jesus Christ, click here for an explanation of Christianity. (The colored words in this blog are links.)

If you are a Christian, chances are that some Christian group that your local church and pastor is a part of counts you as a member* of their denomination. Many of us don't think much about denominations. Most times, we have other reasons for joining a church. Often it's because friends, or family, or friendly neighbors go to that church. Sometimes it's because we have looked around and found a church where we feel a they are blessed. Sometimes it's because the Lord Jesus found us there with his love. Less often, though still very common in our area, we are Lutheran (or Assembly/Baptist/Catholic/E. Free/Methodist... whatever...) because we grew up that way.

What we're doing here at this meeting in St. Peter is "denominational" work--and one of the things we've done so far is to choose, by voting, to invite Pastor Jon Anderson to continue his service to us as a key leader, or a "bishop" of the ELCA, our particular Lutheran denomination.

As I wrote last week, I'm a Lutheran, and glad of it. But our denomination isn't simply identified by the "Lutheran" name. There are varieties of Lutheran church bodies. In and around our town in Minnesota for example, we have the ELCA (which our church is a part of), the AFLC (Good Shepherd belongs to it), the rural Apostolic and Laestadian Lutheran congregations, and, over in Howard Lake LCMS congregation St. James'. Also in that town, St. John's Lutheran is both ELCA and LCMC.

Re-elected Bishop Jon Anderson is an officer and lead pastor in one of these Lutheran denominations, the ELCA. For those of us who are members of local churches that happen to be affiliated with the ELCA, the people, like Jon, who are called as leaders do matter. This is true even though few of us have met him or know his name. The denomination matters too, even though few of us know or care much about it.

But why? It used to be that denominations were the main way that local churches would do things beyond their local area. They would band together to send missionaries and train pastors, produce educational material, feed the poor, etc. And that still happens. At this meeting in St. Peter, we are are being encouraged to learn about, participate in and encourage others be involved in lots of "denominational activities." Many of them are really good, for example, the Book of Faith initiative. You can see other things the denomination does through the Southwestern MN Synod of the ELCA website.

So? Aren't there lots of Christian organizations? Aren't there lots of ways Christians cooperate to do good things? Absolutely! In fact, Christians today cooperate with people of other denominations much more than they used to. Informal networks and friendships in the Dassel-Cokato area often seem more important than these often historic denominations. Lots of our most active Christians don't know much about the "denomination" they are supposedly a part of. Knowing about the denomination seems to be an optional add-on to the normal Christian life.

There is one thing, however, that every active Christian in a local church should know about the "denomination" you're part of--the denomination is the place where church leaders are trained, authorized, supported and held accountable. More than anything else, that's why the denomination matters. Church leaders, including pastors of local churches are enormously influential in the faith-life of the people of the local church and community, and because pastors are influential, so is the organization they are a part of that is beyond your home church.

If you wonder whether learning about the denomination is worth your time or energy, think about how pastors, youth leaders and other church leaders affect your life and faith. Then think about the next generation and the pastors that are being trained in the future. If our children are important, so is the denomination (or whatever professional association "certifies" or "rosters" your pastor.) Changes in church doctrine or leaders that are voted on in large organizations beyond the local church will eventually bring changes in the preaching and worship at church and in what is taught in Sunday school.

So I encourage every active Christian to spend at least a little time getting to know their denomination. It's not always easy, and not always fun, but, like raising kids, it's too important to leave to chance. Too important to ignore.

Jon Anderson is a good man with a great pastor's heart. I'm glad he is our bishop. But still, I ask you to join me in paying attention to what's going on in the wider church, beyond ELC**.

*That is, unless you're part of a house church or a totally independent local church.
**ELC is one of the acronymns for our home church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Not-So-Near Neighbors

On any given day, many of us spend our time with a limited number of people. Families. Friends. Co-workers, customers, those who serve us, those we serve. Some of us encounter crowds of strangers but really only talk with a few. The people we meet regularly we might call our neighbors. Even if they don't live next door, they're the ones who we interact with. Its those "near neighbors" who see us and hear us. They're the ones we usually think of, pray for, know by name and care about. When we don't see them for awhile, we notice that they're not around.

Tomorrow Nate & Sarah Bendorf, John & Nancy Buschel and I will go to Gustavus Adolphus College for a gathering of "not-so-near neighbors" at the ELCA's Southwestern Minnesota Synod Assembly. When we arrive we'll register, get nametags, and be with lots of people we haven't met before. We have some things in common--all being members of the ELCA in Southwestern Minnesota... but, chances are, some of those we meet we'll not see again in this life.

So why go? Why care? The amount of actual influence that any one person, or our group of 5, can actually have is quite small in that large gathering. It is good, however, for us to pay attention to what goes on in the wider world. As I wrote last year when I went to the, what happens in the "big church" does influence us. One of the big reasons to go to the assembly is to learn what is going on and how that might affect us, our near neighbors, and the rest of the world Jesus died to save.

Fear Not

After a pre-baptism session here at church last night I biked out to the St. John's Catholic Education Center. Over 200 kids plus adults are getting together each evening this week for Vacation Bible School. (Thanks to the VBS photographer I've got lots more pictures to share... let me know and I'll get you a CD. The dates on the photos are incorrect.)
  • On Monday the kids learned the story of Moses at the burning bush. God's people (the Israelites) were suffering and God sent Moses to lead them from slavery to the freedom of the promised land. Moses was afraid. So God said, "I will be with you" (Exodus 3:12). At VBS, each time the leader said "God is with us," the children would shout "Fear Not!"

  • Tuesday evening they learned about the ten plagues. The Egyptian slave-owners refused to obey God, so God sent terrible calamities--including death. It's good to know that God does not ignore sin and evil. "I will show you," said God, "that I am the Lord" (Exodus 7:17). The VBS leader said "God is powerful" and the kids shouted "Fear Not!"
  • Last night the story was of the passover, the wonderful foreshadowing of what God was going to do in the future. The Israelite slaves were not innocent participants in the story of the Exodus. Everyone falls short of God's glory and is under the wrath of God. But, God provides pours out is wrath, not on us, but instead, takes the punishment on himself when Jesus suffers and dies on the cross. In the passover, an innocent animal was sacrificed and the blood sprinkled on the doorposts of the Israelite homes so the last plague, death would not come to them. "God always keeps his promises" (Psalm 145:136). God does what he says he will do! Fear Not.

  • Tonight's scripture leaps ahead to what the passover foreshadowed, the death and resurrection of Jesus! Because Jesus died in our place, and because he rose again, we have good reason to "Fear Not!" He promises to give us life too, even though we do not deserve it.

  • On the last evening (tomorrow) of VBS the kids will hear how the Israelites passed through the Red Sea. Even though we have great and precious promises from God, we are still tempted to be afraid. But, God says "Don't be afraid" (Exodus 14:13)! The VBS leader will say "God cares for us!" and the kids will echo "Fear Not!"
When we say "fear not" we're not saying that there is no punishment for sin and the evil things we do. Instead, God has provided a way (Jesus Christ) for the final punishment to be taken away. When we trust Jesus as our Savior, we can live without fear.

That's why we get together for VBS, and for church each week - to help one another trust our Lord.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

An Ounce of Prevention

Last fall, in A Community of Sufferers, I wrote this:
All of us are bound for suffering. As I spend time with those who are aware of their mortality, whether it's because of physical illness or depression or fear, it helps me to remember I am no different. At the moment, things might be better for me, but I am brother to those who suffer today. And someday, I will be in their shoes.

Can this make us more compassionate? It can if we remember our Lord Jesus, who came to share our suffering and who, in the end, promises us a forever springtime. We may not see it in this lifetime, but we know the promise of Jesus resurrected life! It will be ours because of His love!
One kind of suffering that is especially hard for us to deal with is what we often call "mental illness." Not only is mental illness difficult to deal with in ourselves or others, it's also difficult to know how to help those who are afflicted in this way. There are so many different ways people can suffer psychologically. How can help be found?

In recent weeks I've been doing some fairly in depth study. I've been looking at the three volume Clinical Handbook of Pastoral Counseling. Whew. It's very complex. There are a multitude of problems and symptoms and a boat load of theoretical and practical approaches to helping people. The whole thing makes me very thankful for loving care and prayer! For without direct supernatural, godly help, I think there is little hope of becoming whole and healed.

As I've been reading this evening, however, I found something that makes me think that there is something we can all do to help prevent one another from falling into deep psychological distress. In the section on "Christotherapy," Dr. Bernard Tyrrell claims that "the root source" of many mental and emotional troubles is a deep sense of being (1) utterly rejected or (2) being only partly loved, that is, being loved only when we do well. It would seem obvious then that we can at least sometimes be kept from falling into the psychological depths through consistently caring for one another as Jesus does, with patience, forgiveness and self-giving love.

Can love alone can bring health and healing to those who are already suffering deep psychological problems? Perhaps, at times, with lots of prayer and care, someone can be healed in this way. Others will need consistent medical and psychiatric care. All of us, however, can help one another, including our loved ones, from falling into despair. We can do this by looking to Jesus and how he loves and forgives us, and by reflect that love in our every day lives.

This kind of love does not just turn a blind eye toward irresponsible or evil behavior (in ourselves or others!)--but it does make a distinction--rejecting the sin but not the one who sins. For all of us are alike. All of us are deeply in need of the grace and mercy of God, and of that love reflected in our personal relationships. Having these needs met in our families and friendships will make us all more joyful and much healthier in every way.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Why Be Lutheran?

A few weeks ago I went to St. Paul with Naomi, and, while there, we came across this marquee: Minnesota! It's not just for Lutherans anymore...

I haven't been to the Brave New Workshop for about 40 years (wow) and it's obvious that Minnesota has never been for Lutherans only, but we certainly do have more diversity in our state than in the past.

In God's Path to Us I mentioned Pastor John Spaulding and his organization "Christians Meeting Muslims." We'll be working out a time to have Pastor Spaulding come out and speak with us about Islam.

Are there other "not Lutheran" teachings that you would like to learn about? One place you can look is at the "Dare2Share" Worldviews site. If you know someone who has a gospel centered outlook on any non-Lutheran religions, sects or denominations and who might be available to make a presentation, please let me know.

As I understand it, Lutheranism is centered in the free gift of God's love that was given for us in Jesus Christ, especially at the cross. I am a Lutheran because I believe Lutheranism speaks most clearly about grace - God's saving love that was paid for by Jesus. There is nothing we can do to add to what Jesus has already done for us. All we do is allow the Holy Spirit, speaking to us through God's Word, to empower and direct us in lives of love. It's all grace. That's what I look for, that's what I need, and that's why I'm Lutheran.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Today's 10:30 Sermon

Today our gospel was from John 3, that famous conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, a religious leader who, presumably, had grown up in a good religious family. No matter how God he or his family were, however, without a new spiritual birth, he would never connect with God. As Isaiah said in today's first reading, meeting God without being born again, we are lost. We need to be adopted as God's children. You can read these scriptures here.

In today's message, I looked at a Biblical parable from Ezekiel 16. In this passage, God shows us who we really are, not religiously smart, as Nicodemus pretended to be, but, instead, people who are abandoned, lost and full of sin--until we are born again. You can read Ezekiel 16, a hard hitting parable about how we "play the whore" in our unfaithfulness to God, by clicking here.

The message changed quite a bit from the first hour of worship to the second. I'm thankful that my congregation is so forgiving. You can listen to the sermon from 10:30 here (but the first part was cut off the recording).

Saturday, June 6, 2009

God's Path to Us

Here's a second draft of the message for tomorrow's worship... some preliminary thoughts we shared last Sunday at Outside In. You are invited to come and share worship with us at 8:30 or 10:30 a.m.

I wonder how the message will look by tomorrow morning... it's really still incomplete!

Yesterday we stopped at the Northwestern Bookstore to pick up some cards for graduates, and while I was there I happened to see a book called They Like Jesus But Not the Church. I paged through it, saw there was a DVD that went with it, liked some parts and almost went to buy it, but then I saw something that made me put it back on the rack.

One of the chapters talked about how different religions like Islam, Christianity, Buddhism… how different religions would have people get to God. The illustration in the book showed how many people think that religions are paths that lead to God, and the paths, in the pictures, were labeled with the different religions, and the paths were shown as going up a mountain.

Many people think that different religions are just different paths that bring you to the same God… that if you follow the Muslim path, or the Buddhist path, or the Christian path, that you will eventually get to the same place.

By the way, I’m in the process of inviting an old friend, Pastor John Spaulding, to come and make a presentation to us this fall about Islam. Pastor John is from Alexandria, MN, and is director of an organization dedicated to help Christians communicate with the thousands of new immigrant Muslims in the twin cities.

So—do all religions lead to the same place? In the bookstore, the book I was paging through showed that, no, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam do not lead to the same place. Instead of different paths going up to the top of the same mountain, the book showed how Christianity, Buddhism and Islam are actually paths on DIFFERENT mountains…

But when I saw that was as far as the book went, that the illustration of paths on different mountains was the conclusion of that section of the book, I put the book back on the shelf and walked away.

Christianity, you see… Christianity is NOT a path to God at all! Christianity is not a way that we walk or progress or move toward God. Christianity is a description of how God comes to us, about how God comes from outside our world, not just from a lofty mountain peak, but from outside of creation itself, and how God comes to us.

That’s what Jesus says in John 3:13, when he says, No one as ascended—gone up—into heaven—that’s a code word for where God is outside of his creation—No one has gone up to God except for the one who has come down from God—the Son of Man—who is Jesus Christ himself.

Christianity is not a path that brings us closer to God or a way for us to get in good with God. Christianity is not a way for us to somehow drum up enough goodness and purity so we can get better and little by little climb a ladder or a mountain up to God. Other religions might do that and if you want to get in good with God maybe you should try one of those other religions.

There is no “path” in the Christian life except the path that Jesus took when he came to us, down from the “mountain,” in to us from the outside of creation, when he came to us from where no one can go—not Buddha, not Mohammed, not Nicodemus or St. Peter himself.

No one can climb up to God. God has to come to us. And all we can do is to receive him, as a pure and perfect gift. If you or I or anyone else somehow climbed up to be close to God, we would be lost like Isaiah, who was given a special vision or dream of God and was so overpowered by God’s holiness that he felt like he was going to die.

God BURNS with holiness. Without grace and mercy and love from God that comes through Jesus, those of us who want to come close to God are done for. Destroyed.

It’s like Jesus explains to Nicodemus in our gospel: NO ONE can come close to God—this is verse 3 of John 3—no one can even SEE the kingdom of God without being born ἄνωθεν -- the word “anothen” comes from a root word meaning “up.”

You can’t go UP to God as you are—you need a new beginning, to start all over again and verse 8—“flesh” – human nature – we are what we are, children of our very imperfect and broken human parents… the very best we can do is to do as good as they have done… and as we grow we come to learn that our parents are very broken and sinful… we need something new and fresh and powerful, something that comes from the one who made us in the beginning. We need a new beginning from God, something that we can’t earn—how can you deserve a new start? You can’t. It needs to be given to you as a gift.

You cannot climb up to God. God has to come to you with mercy, like the angel with the symbolic burning coal in Isaiah’s dream… good that it was a dream!... God has to come to you like God will come next week to Gracie—Gracie will be drowned—not really—it’s a symbolic drowning—the amount of water or the age of the person don’t matter… but baptism is a wonderful picture of God’s grace, as we are totally dependent on God for a new beginning.

The path doesn't go "up" to God. We cannot make God love us. God has to come to us. He did that first in his Son Jesus Christ, as he came to us from eternity to be born and to suffer and to die and to rise again, to give himself for us, and to extend his hand to us and to carry us now, carry us to be with God… only Jesus can do it, we can only depend on him.

And that’s true not only for new believers, for new Christians, it’s true for each of us, no matter how long it is that we have been a part of the church.

The only way we are going to grow spiritually is to become more and more dependent, more and more open to being a child with our Lord, remembering that we are first, before anything else, God’s adopted children…

There’s a wonderful and terrible parable in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, in the 16th chapter, a parable that really shows who we are… it’s a bit hard to read—it’s not a “G” rated part of the Bible… But I’d encourage you to read Ezekiel 16—in that chapter we are the child who is abandoned and is given God’s grace and mercy to live on. In that chapter we, you and I, you and I are pictured as young woman who grows and who is dearly loved but who is unfaithful and who suffers because of it.

But then, at the end of this parable story, we have these words of grace and love, totally not deserved… verse 60… God says that, in the end, he will “remember my covenant” and “establish with you an everlasting covenant.”

The incredible thing about God’s way with us is, when he comes to us from BEYOND, when God comes to us with his grace, he never turns around. When Jesus Christ gave his life—FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD, THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON… when Jesus came to us so we could TRUST and BELIEVE that we are loved… WHOSOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT PERISH BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE… when Jesus comes to us he does not change his mind!

We are so often unfaithful like the whore in Ezekiel 16, ungrateful, unloving, looking for selfish, short term pleasure for ourselves and the ones who are like US… but still, God continues to come to us, to come to us, taking whatever path is necessary to find us and to claim us as His own once again.

Ezekiel 16, beginning with verse 62, says this about God’s amazing and forgiving grace… when we come to know it… God says:
… you shall know that I am the Lord! You will remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again (in self-defense) because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God.
God comes to us from the outside of our abilities and our strength. God comes to us with his word, in baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, to share his grace with us… and we receive it for what it is, a totally undeserved gift.

That's all I've got time for writing now. I'm heading out to a couple of graduation parties... big weekend here in Cokato, MN.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Gideon Bible Time

When I visit people in hospitals, or when I'm in a hotel, I often look for a "Gideon Bible." In the front of those Bible's there is a section called Help In Time of Need.

Many times our mental picture of someone reading a Gideon Bible is of someone reading alone. I'd like to have us consider, however, that perhaps you and I, as representatives of Jesus, might be more helpful to people if we were to use that Gideon Bible and read something with or for someone we care for. When two or more are gathered in my name, says our Lord Jesus, I am there among them.

Let's consider how God wants to use us when we go visiting or when we are with our families away from church. Don't leave the Bible to be used only by people alone. If you don't know what to read, just look in the section "Help In Time of Need" where you'll find appropriate verses for:

* The Way of Salvation
* Comfort in Time of Loneliness
* Comfort in Time of Sorrow
* Relief in Time of Suffering
* Guidance in Time of Decision
* Protection in Time of Danger
* Courage in Time of Fear
* Peace in Time of Turmoil
* Rest in Time of Weariness
* Strength in Time of Temptation
* Warning in Time of Indifference
* Forgiveness in Time of Conviction

Just read a few verses, take a moment for silence or conversation or questions, allow God's Word to work in your heart, then PRAY - Praising (thanking) God, Repenting (not covering up) our Sinfulness, Asking for what you and your friend/family need and Yielding--allowing for God to direct and guide.

A moment together with a loved one, sharing God's Word, can lead us back to God's loving arms, or to, perhaps for the first time, to the assurance of Jesus' saving love.

If you don't find a Gideon Bible, perhaps you could mention something to the hospital administration or the hotel manager. Or, speak with a representative of the Gideons -- in our area I know of Dan Lemke, who spoke at our church in March.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Economic Justice

Someone called me from another state yesterday and asked about what responsibility we, and our government, have in connection with those who are most vulnerable to hardship. I've also been concerned about the fate of our elders (such as nursing home residents) and others needing health care people in the face of budget cuts. Does the Bible have anything to say?

Certainly, as individuals and families, God commands us to care and to share (for example, see Ephesians 4:28). That's taught from every Christian perspective. But what isn't always acknowledged is that the scriptures also speak to us about "economic justice." But is "economic justice" is the job of the government? Whew--now there's a can of worms! I think that the the scriptures do give government a role (though not the only role) in making sure that everyone has a chance to "make it" in our society.

Some scripture verses, for example, focus on the role of the king, who is commanded to be the champion of the poor and oppressed. The question is, then, in our country, what the role of the government is when there is no "king," when, instead, we have a government "of... by... and for the people." In such a case as that, what is our responsibility as citizens, voters and taxpayers?

Jim Jordal, a member of First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Taylors Falls, put together a list of some verses related to economic justice a few years ago. You can retrieve it in pdf format by clicking here. He is part of a group called A Minnesota Without Poverty.

Here are a couple of examples of some places that I think the Bible talks about economic justice:

Psalm 72...
Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy...
And here's part of Psalm 113...
Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high,
who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
To go a bit deeper into this, I'd like to share a section of a commentary from the book There Shall Be No Poor Among You: Poverty in the Bible by Leslie J. Hoppe.
"Psalm 72:2, as it is prays for the king to be endowed with God’s justice, speaks of 'your [God’s] poor.' The king is the protector of the poor because he stands in God’s place... The Psalms in general consistently portrays God as the protector of the poor. Psalm 113 calls Israel to praise God precisely because the one who is “high above all nations” (v.4) uses the divine power to reverse the fortunes of the poor, who are forced to scavenge for food among the garbage (v.7) The person who had no social standing now has access to the places of power.

"The psalm, then, lends divine authority to every attempt to halt and reverse the process whereby Israel becomes a nation permanently divided into two economic classes. The psalm makes sense only against the backdrop of the real social conflict that Israel’s prophets railed against. The psalm asserts that in this conflict God will take the side of the poor.

"Psalm 72 presents the king as the instrument by which God’s justice and righteousness come to the people, especially the poor (vv. 1-2). The very basis of the king’s legitimacy rests on his taking the side of the poor as the instrument of divine justice (vv. 12-16). The psalm concludes by acknowledging that God is the source of justice no matter who the human agent may be (vv. 17-19). There is no spiritualization of the poor here. When Ps 72 speaks about the poor and needy, it is speaking about those people whose lack of material resources makes their exploitation a simple matter..."
Now this doesn't tell us how we ought to vote or how the issue of poverty should be addressed, but it does say that we need to care. We can't ignore the responsibilities we all have, collectively, as a nation, as well as individually, as citizens, to those vulnerable and poor.

What do you think? As always, I'd love to hear or read what you have to say!

Monday, June 1, 2009

June 14 Lay-led Worship

Our church has a tradition of having pastors lead worship. It's the job of pastors to keep us focused, always, on the good news of God's love for sinners through Jesus Christ.

On June 14, however, most of the "ELCA" Lutheran pastors in our area will be out of town at the "synod assembly." So on that Sunday, we'll have a "lay led" hour of worship.

The gospel reading for June 14 is particularly appropriate for this Sunday. ...The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed... Sometimes we don't think much of ourselves as believers. But, as the parable of the "mustard seed" tells us, those that seem insignificant can become very important, providing safety, health and grace to all.

You can read the gospel and the other scriptures for June 14 here -- we'll be reading Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17 and Mark 4:26-34.

What is the Lord saying to you as you read the scriptures? Perhaps there is something you would like to share? If so, or if you think you might like to be a part of this lay-led worship experience, talk with me, with Gary Lankki (our council president), or come to a meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, 7:00 in the church library.

And, please, ask the Lord to be merciful on us and to provide what we need for both spiritual growth and for the creation around us. We need rain!
Added June 22 - Thank you to Tim Robbins for preaching on June 14, and thanks to Joe, MaryKay, Joel and Deb for leading worship and to Paul Thostenson for reading scripture. If you haven't heard Tim Robbins sermon, I'd encourage you to listen. Tim (and his late wife Dell) have taught youth Sunday school at our church for years. Tim's sermon itself begins about 10 minutes into the mp3. Listen by clicking here.

P.S. The Lord has provided rain! Give thanks for all good things!