Thursday, October 29, 2009

Held By Truth

God is trying to teach me patience these days, but I'm not a very good student. With all the rain we've been having, farmers teach me patience as they calmly wait for dry, sunny, windy weather to bring in their crops. In my head, I know, like farmers know, that God is in control. But oftentimes I am so anxious. I lack faith and trust in times of trial.

Yesterday just before a meeting of the local pastors, I found a little booklet "Anchors in the Storm: Truths that Hold Us Steady." Condensed from John Stowell's The Upside of Down: Finding Hope When It Hurts, the little booklet was just what the doctor ordered for me.

Here's a sample:
Part of the process of working through pain is to learn to hang onto what we have from the neck up. When our hearts are broken and hurt, there doesn't seem to be a pipeline from the brain to the emotions. That's okay. Just don't let go of what you know...

What can we know in the midst of trials? One thing is this: The testing of faith produces endurance. God says, in James 1:3-4, that the pain process has a purpose. It will, in the end, result in stronger faith, more stability, and, finally, joy.

James writes: My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
Today I will trust God to bring good even from pain. Let's pray for one another and encourage each other, and be thankful, so thankful, for the faithfulness of God, who will work all things for good according to his purposes, even when the Holy Spirit must interceed for us with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26-28). In the end, God is in control. I'm so glad I'm not.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Written on our Hearts

"If you continue in my Word," said Jesus, "you are truly my disciples, and you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31)

"The days are surely coming, says the LORD... I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts." (Jeremiah 31:31a,33b)
The truth is that God loves us no matter what. He has proved this by coming to live as a human being, coming at one moment in our world's history, and by giving his own life like lost sinners like me. This truth sets us free from our sins, free from our fears, free from any past of broken promises or broken lives.

But, in this world, for the meantime, that truth needs to be written, and re-written, over and over again on our very human and very broken hearts. The days are coming when God's love will be written on our hearts in a way that can't fade. That will happen in God's Kingdom, in heaven when the woes but because our lives are so up and down, the promise needs to be written on our hearts over and over again.

As we work with youth and families, our goal is to have God's promise be written until it makes a significant difference in our lives and in the lives of those around us. We come alongside young people and their families in prayer and worship and reading the Bible, through serving others, building relationships and giving--through this Christian lifestyle the promise of God gets written on our hearts over and over again until it can stand up under the stresses and pains of life.

One of the best things that happens in our Youth Discipleship Program is when young people come to the point of sharing their personal statements of faith. I'm going to read parts of them tomorrow morning in my sermon. Here are some words from each of them now. Read them as examples of how God's promise is written on our hearts.
  1. When I was in the fifth grade, I started going to church youth group. I had a lot of fun hanging out with my friends and playing games there. But when it came to the Bible study, I was lost. I never really understood who this "God" person was. When I finally did, I immediately asked myself, "now what?" I had an idea of who God was but I still hesitated. How could God be so great if he lets so many bad things happen in the world? That question troubled me for two years. Then, at a retreat, we were listening to a pastor speak. I wasn't really paying much attention until I heard him say that the world is our fault. It really is--God gave us free will and we just abused it... So now I had my answer. I had to decide what to do. Later that night, we were praying for someone with an inoperable tumor. As I stood in the circle, hearing someone pray, I felt God's presence. That was the moment I decided to let God into my heart.

  2. When I was eight years old I first heard about Jesus from my grandparents. Later I started to attend church regularly with people who cared about me too. My life is different now. I have come to know the Lord better. The verse I have chosen is Isaiah 26:3-4 "You keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever for the Lord is the Rock eternal." I chose this verse because I know I can trust in the Lord and that the Lord trusts in me.

  3. With all the events that I took part in at church I found that God is always there for me and he is my one and only Savior. Without the Lord I would not be the person I am today. In middle and high school years my faith grew and grew as I begin to possess things and understand things in much more depth. None of that would have been done if I didn't go to confirmation, youth group, youth trips and have the support from people... We have so much and I love coming together and just having fun and growing in faith together. Nate your amazing!!! I also plan on attending church like I do now with my family. Right now I believe that God is calling me to help children and work with children and help people in need. I plan on sticking with the calling and becoming a teacher.

  4. Even though I know God has always been in my life, he has become more than a Bible story. The Bible camps I got to experience such as Green Lake and Ingham helped me build my faith. Through confirmation, and the homework that came along with it, my knowledge of Christ started to expand drastically. Yet my life wasn’t committed to him... Last year was a year that I think changed my life... I had to do somethings that were the most difficult my 15 year old self had ever done. My friends and family knew that something was wrong. I just wasn’t myself but I couldn't talk about it. Somehow, someone somewhat knew what was going on. He encouraged me with God’s words and reminded me of what I had told others when they went through hard times, but never really listened myself. It eventually clicked that it was out of my power. I slowly let go of all the worry and handed it to God. I felt relief. I prayed almost constantly while my life turned back around. I started to smile and laugh again. Christ cleaned up the mess that had previously been created in my life. My Savior now really feels like a savior.

  5. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8). I've come to realize that Jesus is the one constant in my life. While so many things around me are changing Jesus will always stay the same, and will always be right beside me... I've heard Nate say “don't let your confirmation be a graduation, but just another step in your life as a Christian”. As it says in the catechism “remember the sabbath day by keeping it holy”. I use this to remind myself that I need to work on attending Sunday church services and praising the Lord. As is stated in Exodus 23:21 “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong” I think this verse affects everyone somehow. To me it is saying don't do the wrong thing just because everyone else is... In Mrs. Schultz's communications class we read a story about a cross country runner that gave up his place as state champion to help an injured runner he didn't even know. When I finished reading this story I realized that this runner, and the good deed that he did, is very similar to what Jesus did to save us. Jesus has saved me and will give me eternal life. This thought makes me so happy to know...

  6. God is a big part of my life. He has helped me through some extremely hard times. God has shown me the correct path to take. When I was going through those hard times, I had some people help me out. I might have been really mad at them then but now I know they wanted to help me out and to have a good life. These days, they are really close to me, and I do not want to ever lose them. Some people may think that people who believe in God think they are all that and know everything, that we are pretty much perfect, but we are just the same as everyone else. We make just as many stupid mistakes and choices. I think that there was a really big reason why these hard times have happened in my life: to show me how big and strong god is. I still have hard times, but I know that I can look to God to guide me though it all. He is the one that is the most helpful in my life.

  7. Since I’ve started confirmation my relationship with God has been closer than it has ever been before. I have started praying and reading the Bible more. Before confirmation I didn’t put my trust in Christ and I didn’t really know much about Christ, the bible, the church, or really anything about Christianity. I just went to church because my parents made me I never wanted to go, and never really paid attention while I was there. Now I believe... I can put my trust in Jesus Christ because of what I have learned during confirmation, going to church and paying attention, and all the people that surround me. God blessed me with a wonderful community to grow up in, a wonderful family that loves me and trust in Christ, and a great group of friends. I can put my trust in Christ because of all the things he has done for me, he has answered most of my prayers and helped me with the troubles I have had in my life.

  8. On June 26, 1994 I would imagine it was a cool day. I was getting baptized. I didn’t know exactly what happened on that day, but I think it was a great experience. I believe that my parents taught me in a way that Jesus would want me to go. Like it says in Proverbs 22:6 "Train a child in a way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." I believe that this verse is very true. Many bible verses and discussion have helped me trust in Jesus. When I feel nothing is going right, I can pray or talk with God. Prayer plays a big role in my life. I feel that prayers can be answered even if it’s not answered right away. ...The other week all of us 10th graders went to a retreat. We learned about Luther and the way he changed the Catholic Church. In our small group we talked about God's grace, and how its given to you. Ephesians 2:8 says "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." In the future I plan to get involved in Church on Sundays. During the rest of High school I will attend to youth group on Sunday nights. We have great discussions there.

  9. I have learned something that changed my life. All I need to do to receive eternal life is, believe in God and put my trust in him. The verse John 3:16 – for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, so that who ever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life – confirms that all I need is to trust in Him. Before 8th and 9th grade I went to Ingham Bible camp in Iowa. Yes, I was going to camp to have a good time and build relationships, but the main reason was to strengthen my faith. It was the little things like daily devotions, and quiet time, that really showed me who God was. And it was there, my first year at Ingham, that I knew I needed to do more with my faith, and it was then that I built a friendship that I will have forever. Later I went to the Dare 2 Share conference in Lincoln, Nebraska. At the conference Greg Steir spoke, he said the best thing that you can share with anyone, is God’s unconditional love. The first night he asked the crowd, “If you were to die right now, do you know where you are going?” That question has stuck with me, and driven me to make sure that if other people were to be asked that same question, they would be able to answer “yes, I am going to heaven." Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior; he is the friend that I made at Ingham Bible Camp several summers ago. My faith continues to grow because of what I have learned from the bible, my parents, pastors, youth directors and friends. I chose 1st Timothy 4:12 as my confirmation verse, this verse states – Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young but be an example for believers in speech, life, love, faith and in purity. I like this verse because it tells you that even though you are young your decisions and actions make a difference in the life of others.

  10. This whole summer I was with a friend. Instead of just hanging out at his house we would mostly go to church at the Word of Life in Hutch. Normally I don’t really want to come to church, since I always believed that it was boring, but when I went with him to Hutch. I actually got into the sermon and listened to it word for word. Normally I trail off and start daydreaming, or start to fall asleep since its in the morning. Sorry Pastor Steve. I still listen to your sermon though, but what I’m trying to get is that people that start at a young age does believe in God. Then they get to an age where they start to doubt. Maybe until they are adults. This is where others come in. They help you lead you back to God. This is what my friend did. I mentioned to him that I was starting to have my doubts. And he started to help me get back on track with believing in God. And I am still good friends with him, and I hope that I can still go to church here and at The Word of Life.
The days are coming, says the LORD, when those promises will be written on our hearts in a way that cannot be taken away. Until that day we gather to hear God's Word and share his Love, so that God's promises can be written on our hearts over and over again.

God is patient and will never cast you aside. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. When our feelings are up and down, we can always trust the promises of our Lord.

See you in church.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Who We Can Trust

"Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand." - Isaiah 41:10
With everything that is going on in our personal lives, in our nation and world, and among us at church, it's so good to know that we can absolutely trust God to lead us into His future.

God leads us through His Word as we share it together with others
who are also desperate enough to need Him.

It's time for us to deepen our study and reading of God's Word together. In my council report (reproduced here after the devotion below) I make reference to a specific Bible study that I am distributing to people at our church -- "Rightly Explaining the Word of Truth: A Bible Study on the Authority and Interpretation of Scripture." Copies are available from the church office.

In the meantime, here is a scriptural meditation from The Power of a Praying Woman that will be printed in the November issue of the Parish Pulse newsletter. It came from a church council member’s devotion at the October council meeting,
When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

Read and Consider Numbers 11:10-17
"I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone." (Numbers 11:17)
Have you ever been asked to take on a job that you knew was much too big or too difficult for you, possibly one that did not involve any kind of tangible reward?

Perhaps it’s a volunteer position at a church or in your community, or you may have even found yourself in the position of raising someone else’s child.

The Israelites were wallowing in the darkness of bitterness, casting blame upon God and His chosen leader. Instead of choosing to see God’s hand in the moment, they blamed Moses and God for everything that disappointed them. As a result, their suffering was prolonged.

There is a crucial difference between the complaining that the Israelites did in the desert and the complaints Moses expressed: The people groused to one another, but Moses took his concerns to the only One who could do something about them – God.

As a result of Moses’ plea for help, God promised to send additional leaders who would help Moses carry the burden of the needs of the people.

Never hesitate to take your troubles to God when you are feeling overwhelmed; He has promised that you do not have to carry them alone.

God, I lift up to You the areas of my life that are overwhelming and burdensome. I have not come to You to complain, but rather to seek Your help. Where I have tried to handle everything in my own strength instead of depending on You, I ask Your forgiveness. I pray You will take each burden of my heart and enable me to rise above every challenging situation in my life. In Jesus’ name we pray.

What follows is from my report given at the council meeting when that devotion was shared. One good thing that times of stress can bring to us is a deepened dependence on God and His Word. Even stress in our church body can lead us to depend on God more. That can be a very good thing.
From Pastor’s Report to the church council, October 20, 2009

...Those of us who have been profoundly troubled by the ELCA’s churchwide assembly actions are continuing to work through our feelings and discern the path ahead. God’s Word is a light to our path – God’s Word shines especially and most clearly in Jesus. He is the Word of God—the Word of God alive and crucified and risen from the dead. It is in Jesus Christ that we know God most clearly, so whatever we do in relation to our church needs to be done in the spirit of Jesus’ love. I find myself closely allied with Lutheran CORE in terms of CORE’s teaching, including the brief summary of that teaching that we find in the “Common Confession” which you have already seen. I have recommended that our congregation adopt the Common Confession and join Lutheran CORE “as a sign of solidarity with the many who are dismayed at the ELCA’s move away from Biblical teachings.” I have not made any further recommendations. I hope we can stay together as a congregation as we learn and pray. At the time I made that recommendation, CORE was “a confessing and confessional movement within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, … seek[ing] reform of our church according to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.” At CORE’s Convocation in September the CORE changed from the “COalition for REform” to the “COalition for REnewal” and voted to create “a free-standing synod for all faithful Lutherans” and to work with “other compatible churchly organizations leading toward a possible reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism.” I, and other ELCA pastors are working through what all this means. Some of us know right now what we ought to do. Others are weighing options. I am in the latter group. Personally, I am in a period of discernment. I am consulting other pastors who I trust in terms of their faithfulness to God’s Word in Jesus, in law and gospel, and in the Scriptures. I recommend that the congregation likewise take time for consideration. This does not mean doing nothing! Time for consideration means doing some homework, looking at options, and praying for one another in love. As a part of that consideration I would like the people of our church to use the Bible study guide “Rightly Explaining the Word of Truth: A Bible Study on the Authority and Interpretation of Scripture.” I will have copies of this available ... This was written and edited by pastors associated with Lutheran CORE in 2007, before the current kerfuffle. I plan to do this study myself, with as many people from our church as we can convince to do it. Others may choose to study it on their own or with their own groups.
I hope everyone will take time to study the Word of God together with others. As we learn the Word of God--centered in Jesus, proclaimed to sinners for salvation, and written in the Bible--as we learn the Word of God together God will be with us and we do not need to be afraid.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Love Song to Jesus

Here's are lyrics and a link to a wonderful Christian song from Norway - in English. It's a beautiful love song to Jesus. He is always there to rescue those who are lost--and sends us as His servants to do that too.

Look after the lyrics for the link to the music video. It's great!

If you are ever in need of help, don't hesitate to contact a caring Christian friend--or feel free to email me.

God's glory is seen as people are rescued from despair and raised to praise! Whenever you are in need of a spiritual lift, get together with a friend and pray for someone in need. God does amazing things!

"Tune of His Glory"

When the lights were almost gone
Where dreams started fading
When I couldn't find home
You looked for me.

When my praise was empty words
And I didn't see it
When my prayers were lifeless
You still listened.

Now that I'm next to you
I realize
That I can't live
Without you.

No I won't live
Without you.

And I can't help
Loving you back.

Sing songs to the tune of His glory
Set glory to the Rhythms of His praise.

Nothing else could satisfy.


Click here for the YouTube music video.

The song "Tune of His Glory" is from the album "Radiate" by Pinsekirken Ungdom. The lyrics are by Stian Kervell, music by Joel Berge and Andrè Hagen. The group is from a Pentecostal church (Tabernaklet) in Bergen, Norway.

For more on the group go to Pinsekirken Ungdom's MySpace webpage.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Campus Ministry Question

Growing up in Crystal, MN, my family and I were active members of St. James Lutheran church. I remember several high points from those years including a trip to the "All Lutheran Youth Gathering" in the summer of 1973. It wasn't until I had made a mess of my life that I was willing to surrender my all to God. That happened in the summer of 1980. But that doesn't mean God wasn't alive and active in my life before then.

During my first year of college (1974-75) a friend invited me to Bible studies in connection with Lutheran Youth Encounter (LYE).* In the fall of 1975 I joined an LYE "weekend team." The team, seven college students, met weekly for Bible study, singing, prayer and group building. Our team would then go out from campus on some weekends to lead youth retreats and Sunday worship. Also, the whole group of people involved with LYE at the college, about 5-6 teams as I recall, would get together also for worship and for learning from the then LYE co-directors Loren Teig and Larry Johnson. My experience through LYE is that solid Lutheran theology was coupled with a desire that people grow in their personal relationships with the Lord Jesus.

It was in connection with LYE that my personal faith began to deepen. LYE was just what was needed in my life at the time. Even though my college (Augsburg in Minneapolis) was part of the Lutheran church in a historic and institutional way, I don't remember that the college or their official campus ministry had a goal to help people come to Jesus or to grow in their personal faith.

In connection with the official campus ministry organization there was a deep concern accepting people as they are. Peace and justice were always front and center. Nothing wrong with that--in fact some ministries that focus on a "personal relationship with Jesus" don't put enough emphasis on the call of prophets to "do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God" (Micah 6:8). Augsburg's Wednesday evening "Eucharist" (communion) services, hosted by the campus pastor, helped me grow in God's grace and that was good. Still, at some point I came to believe that the official campus ministry wasn't putting enough emphasis on a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.**

The same was true of the academics at this Lutheran college. It seemed to me that some professors wanted to shake students "personal faith" instead of encouraging or reinforcing it.***

So it was in the face-to-face small group Bible studies and ministry opportunities provided by LYE and groups like Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship that helped me continue to grow in my personal relationship with the Lord. I still hadn't surrendered to the Lord in some areas of my life, but those ministries were so important. They nurtured and helped faith grow through those tumultuous years.

I'm writing about this today because, yesterday, as I was sorting through piles of paper on my desk, I uncovered a letter announcing a fundraiser for campus ministry at St. Cloud State. They are having an education event and quilt auction called "Quilts for Freedom, Threads of Justice" on November 1. As I read that mailing, I started wondering about the experience of our college students or parents or anyone else in connection with Lutheran Campus Ministry or other campus ministry groups.
  • What has your experience been like in connection with campus ministry at your current or former school?
  • Has it been anything like my old-time experience that I've shared above?
  • Do you see these two aspects of faith life on your campus -- (1) an emphasis on a "personal relationship with Jesus" and (2) emphasis on "peace and justice" concerns?
  • What do you think the balance of growing in "personal faith" and "accepting people as they are" is or should be in campus ministry settings?
  • Does the debate on sexual relationships connect with this?
  • How has the experience of academic study affected your faith?
  • Have you found professors or campus pastors to be helpful to you?
Even if you've been out of college for awhile, or have just heard from others, please let me know by commenting below (on this blog or facebook), by talking in person or on the phone, or through email. (Sorry, I'm still really bad at texting....) I'm contacting a couple of campus ministry organizations to get their take on this too.

There's no "deadline" on sharing your feelings, thoughts, questions or comments. Some of comments that have come in months after the original post have been very helpful in the past and I'm sure that will be true for the comments you have now. Please don't hesitate to share!

*"Lutheran Youth Encounter" or "L.Y.E." was renamed "Youth Encounter" back in the 1990s.
**A "personal relationship with Jesus" or "personal piety" emphasizes personal and group prayer, heart-felt worship, personal and group Bible study, acts of service done specifically in Jesus' name, the importance of relationships with other believers and giving. We emphasize these things in our current church home but not without a concern for issues of peace and justice in the wider community and world.
***This wasn't true for all professors. I remember several that were deeply faith-filled and were open about their personal commitment to the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus and wanted their students to share that faith.
***I think it's good to challenge the faith of students to make it stronger. But because some students came to college with a shaky or unexamined faith to begin with, their faith was shaken so much that it failed. Even today, when students are confronted with the challenges of biblical criticism and a, at times, cynical attitude toward personal faith in a risen and living Lord, some students didn't pursue their questions to their satisfaction. I wish our Lutheran institutions would have as a goal that their students get to know the Lord Jesus in a personal way.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Adults of God

Back in January I wrote this in a piece called "On Being a Son of God":
"...Because my parents did a great job of teaching and leading me to God's love, and thanks to the many other adults who came alongside to help me trust God, there has never been a time in my life when I did not understand that I was loved as a child of God. As time went on that understanding was deepened. I learned I was more than just a 'child' in the sense of a helpless or needy person. I learned that God had given me, my his grace, the title or position 'son,' that is 'son' as in a authoritative position in God's household. In the ancient world, the 'son' would inherit the father's authority. As 'sons of God' both men and women are given this honor. It's a truly amazing thing..."
Here at church on Sundays, as we've been following Jesus through The Gospel According To Mark, Jesus has been working with us, as he worked with his original disciples. He wants us to know that we are loved no matter what, but then he wants us to grow up and be like him. He wants us to take on the responsibilities of being adults of God, not just "children," not just kids.

What does it mean to be an adult? This morning on Minnesota Public Radio I heard part of a program called "The Myth of the Teen Mind" and an interview with psychologist Robert Epstein. Being an adult it's not about age. "Set aside young versus old," he says. Don't think about adulthood as something connected with being 18 or 21. It has more to do with how we take responsibility.

He continues:
"We spent years trying to find out what does it mean to be an adult in terms of actual abilities and competencies. I've been looking at data from tens of thousands of people and all I can say is, 'It's fascinating. It's not what you think.' There are teens that are every bit as competent and mature as adults are, and there are people at fifty years old who are as incompetent as the most incompetent teen.'"
That's true also in terms of being an adult Christian. Being an "adult of God" is not about age. Being an "adult of God" is about living as disciples (followers, imitators)--people who want to live like Jesus and not as greedy, self-centered receivers, just grabbing more and more goodies from God.

Here at church since the fall began Jesus has been pushing us to grow up. On Rally Sunday we heard Jesus predict his death (click here to read the Sep. 13 gospel). Ever since then he has been more like a coach than a friend. Jesus knows he will soon be rejected and executed. At the time of Jesus' earthly ministry, he was working with his disciples to be ready to carry his ministry forward once he would no longer be with them physically. And as we read the Word of God in the Gospels, we are prepared and coached as well.

Adults of God are particular kinds of adults. This week's gospel reading lets us know that the disciples haven't yet understood this. They are still thinking that being a follower of Jesus is going to somehow make things better for them. They are thinking, "We've been with Jesus all this time. Certainly we must get benefits of some kind." James and John came to Jesus with the question, but every follower of Jesus needs to hear Jesus' stern lecture:
“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45 - NLT. Note: "Son of man" was a polite way that men in Jesus' day would refer to themselves)
Jesus showed it what it is to be an adult of God. Living as an adult of God means living for others as Jesus did. Jesus lived and died to set other people free. He did not live for his own benefit. He served others, not himself.

Ultimately, as we read in Mark 10:45, Jesus would give his life as a "ransom." To live and die as a "ransom" means to give one's life to set people free from "the constellations of social and political power that human beings concoct to control each other," " from demonic powers that enslave the world and resist God's purposes (see Mark 1:23-24; 3:27)" and in his death and resurrection, being a ransom means setting us free from the power death itself.*

Being an adult of God means taking up and carrying out the responsibilities of humble service in Jesus' name. While letting people know we are serving because of Jesus, we give without receiving in return, care for others without demanding rewards, and obey God's way of love even at the cost of our fortunes, our reputations, and our lives. (It's important that we let others know we're doing this because of Jesus. Otherwise we point to our own goodness, and that is not helpful at all.)

Being an adult of God means pointing people to Jesus and living in a way that honors Jesus by imitating Jesus' powerful, persistent servanthood every day.

How do we become adults of God? Like he worked with his first disciples, through his Word and Holy Spirit, and in community with other Christ followers, Jesus continues to work with every one who claims to be Christian. He works with us through all our ups and downs, coaching us, pushing us, day by day. As we share life with one another, praying with and for each other, hearing God's Word, worshiping, receiving his forgiveness, serving, giving, we grow.

And this process continues long as we live. As long as we live we continue to grow up as Christ followers, willing to serve, willing to give, willing to suffer like the one we follow--like the one who gave us life for us on the cross. You and I will so often fail as Christ followers. So often we will fall back and become self-centered children once again. But, as Jesus was patient with his disciples on the road to the cross, so he is patient with us. We continue to benefit from his grace as we grow in his teaching. And, someday, in God's kingdom, there will be joy.

What's the reward in this life? Are there no benefits? More than anything else, we benefit as seeing others set free from whatever binds them and as we watch them become adults of God too. We share the joy of our Lord. As we live to follow our Lord, we give him joy, and as we see our children and others growing to be adults of God, we get a taste of that as well. The final joy, however, is not here. It's in heaven--in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

Note: This is a first attempt to get ready for preaching this coming Sunday. Please comment or email and let me know what you think, or if you see anything I missed.
*See Matt Skinner's commentary on the gospel text at "Working Preacher" by clicking here.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

God's Good Word

Here are my notes for tomorrow's preaching. To see the scripture's it's based on see Tuesday's post God Is Not Nice. I will split the preaching time with Eloise Ponsford, a member of our church who works with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

It is so good that things are not as they seem. If things were as they seem to be, death would have the last word and the strong and the rich would always win.

But we have a different Word, a Truth—The Truth which has come to us—the Truth that pushes us to a higher law—a law of justice and kindness—and a good news Word of saving grace.

This Word of God is not something that has been invented by people.
  • What is it that would drive Amos to leave home and put himself in danger, standing in plain view and threatening the powerful people of his time with the destruction of God? They were sinning against God by not caring for the poor. Amos dared to say that in their faces out loud. What would bring him to do that? It’s God at Work through His Word.
  • What is it that would bring Jesus to point out the one weakness of the man in our gospel lesson… verse 21… “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing. Go, sell what you own, give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me.”

    Verse 22: “When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”
What we have in the Bible is NOT a human Word—it has been written down by humans—but it’s not from us.

This is GOD’s Word.

It comes straight from God’s own heart to our hearts
—it is a love letter from God
—but not a love letter that lets us be.

God’s Word pushes us, challenges us,
—last week about family life
—this week about wealth and poverty…

God’s Word makes us debate and question things,
and, in the end, it drives us to the Living Word, to Jesus Christ his glorious cross—where he makes a way, where he makes impossible salvation available for free.

We who are part of the Lutheran family uphold God’s Word as the authoritative source of our faith and our life.
When we debate things in church we go back to the Bible.

We don’t simply look for verses here and there—the Bible is complicated and it argues with itself.
As Lutherans we are taught to go first to the New Testament—even more specifically, we go to the cross, to what Jesus has done for sinners, making it possible for sinners to get through the eye of that needle—making it possible for we who ARE rich…
and if your family owns a car you’re in the top 10 percent of the world’s wealthy…
through Jesus sacrifice on the cross even me, and you, can enter that wonderful promised kingdom of God.

This is neither wishful thinking nor something that comes naturally. It’s God’s Word, so, the it is challenging and sharp…
…but guide a child or a spiritual seeker to the gospel story,
guide them to how Jesus welcomed the weak and shamed the powerful,
and these ancient words ring true.
They speak with God’s own heart.
Indeed, the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any sword, piercing until it judges the thoughts and intentions of our hearts—and we are laid bare to the eyes of God.

Professional religious people like me, however, we sometimes take away the sharp edge of God’s Word.
Sometimes we are afraid…
sometimes we are afraid that letting God’s Word shock the people…
sometimes we might be afraid that those who pay our salaries will go away like he did…
That’s one reason that for many years we clergy made it illegal to translate the Bible… better keep it in Latin and just give it to the professionals… too complex… too dangerous if you can read it for yourself…

So, today, you should thank God for Bible translators and support their work.

One champion of Bible translation was John Wycliffe. He came from a big family, left home at 15 and became a Christian radical.

He used scriptures like Amos and teachings like Jesus to say that the church shouldn’t be in control of the government and that Christians should usually be poor.

You can’t trust professional religious people to teach you the truth… that was Wycliffe’s belief… they are too connected with the rich and powerful people to be that honest…

so, he said, we need to go back to the Bible…

But in order for the God’s Word to work on your minds and hearts, it needs to be in your own language—the language of your heart…

That was dangerous, of course, because the Bible is always a threat to those of us in power. In 1408 the church and state made it illegal to translate the Bible…

Wycliffe was declared “a stiff-necked heretic and under the ban of the Church.” His books were burned and, after John Wycliffe died, his his body was dug up in 1428, burned, and the ashes thrown away.

The Word of God, however, translated so you can read it for yourself—so the good news of Jesus can speak to your sinful heart—the Word of God continues to be translated into your language.

That way you don’t need to depend on me.

…Here's where I'll turn it over to Eloise... Come to church at 8:30 or 11:00 so you can hear what she has to say! If you miss that, she'll also be with us at church on Wednesday evening...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Good for the Heart

During trying times, it's good to know we are not alone. We need one another, and, in our midst, we find the Lord Jesus praying for us. Though we pass through the darkest valley, the Lord is our shepherd. He shall not leave us or forsake us. He is good to all. Whatever your need today, bring it to a friend, and then, together, go to the Lord.*

Hebrews 4:12-16
4:12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

4:13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

4:14 Since, then, we* have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us* hold fast to our confession.

4:15 For we* do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our* weaknesses, but we* have one who in every respect has been tested as we* are, yet without sin.

4:16 Let us* therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we* may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
*It's good to note the plural - when the Lord is our shepherd, we do not walk beside him alone. We become part of the Lord's flock, and together, with our Christian brothers and sisters around us, we approach the throne of grace. Please don't go it alone.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

God Is Not Nice

Looking ahead to next Sunday, we have scriptures from Amos, Hebrews and Gospel of Mark. The Mark reading (10:9-31) is the story of a rich man's encounter with the Lord. Click the colored words above for the assigned readings. This story comes right after Jesus has talked about marriage and divorce and has blessed the children. Immediately afterward Jesus is headed for Jerusalem, predicting his own death.

The scriptures are not nice. And, frankly, neither is God. I don't think anyone who strictly regulates our sexual lives (see last week's sermon) and our financial lives (this week) can be considered "nice." Niceness implies good feelings. There's nothing particularly nice about someone who makes people like the rich man in Mk 10:9ff feel guilty. Jesus is continually driving people beyond what they can tolerate.
God is not nice, but he is good. Better than we can imagine. The law of God continually drives us to the end of our own resources so we know we cannot be saved, except when we surrender to him. As Jesus says this week (I paraphrase here):
People can't be saved. It's true. There's no way that sinful human beings can get into God's good graces. Except and unless, however, when and how God chooses to do so. Only with God's mercy, only because of what I'm going to do on the cross soon (referring to what happens next in the story), only with God's action on your behalf do you have any hope at all. (Mk 10:27, 32-34)
The wages of sin is death. One of God's main purposes in scripture is to force us to recognize our sinfulness and God's righteous penalty for sin. And then God, when we're on our knees, shows us unequaled mercy. That's not nice, but it is so good -- because, from our knees, we can get up and follow our Lord to a life filled with his light.

Psalm 90, also assigned for Sunday, Oct. 11, summarizes this in such a good way:
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”

For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.

You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning;

in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed.

You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh.

The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.

Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants!

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.

Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands— O prosper the work of our hands!
May we all live and preach in such a way that God's love is always lifted up, while we are humbled by his perfect, holy, awesome power. All praises are due to God, and none at all to us.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

For the Children

This is my attempt to get ready to preach tomorrow. Please share your comments below or contact me by email or however you desire.

God has a thing for kids.

In tomorrow's gospel Jesus says that the only way you and I are going to be part of God's kingdom is as a child.

That doesn't mean we need to be baptized as little children or get to know Jesus when we're young, though we want our kids to know Jesus as soon as possible. What Jesus says here is that to be with him, to be part of his kingdom, we need to be like children.
  • Children don't have rights.
  • They aren't independent.
  • They know they can't get by on their own.
Jesus is calling us to realize we're really the same as kids.

Back in Mark 9:35-37, which is near the beginning of this section of Mark's Gospel,
Jesus sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Children need to be welcomed. And if we're going to be part of God's family, we need to recognize that we are weak, that we are poor, that no matter how long we've been part of the church we don't have any rights either--except the rights that are given to us by the grace and mercy of God. And one of the places where we realize that the most is in our marriages, as we are loved and tolerated by someone "until death do us part." We are always people who need the grace and forgiveness of God.
Last Sunday afternoon, as I spent time beside Jack ____'s bed, I said to him, "You and I are brothers." Neither of us has got it in with God any better than the other. No matter how many times we've succeeded or failed, it's all level ground at the foot of the cross. We come as beggars. We come as children. We come as people who need to let down our guard, let down our pretend goodness, and just let ourselves be welcomed by the one who knows absolutely everything about us from beginning to end and who gave his life for sinners. For sinners like me.

That's what it takes to be welcomed into the kingdom of God. Knowing we have nothing to brag about. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones, you and me... to him we belong, we are weak, but he is strong.

We want our kids to know that. We want them to know Jesus' love. That's what we hope for. We want them to be secure in Jesus' love. We want them to trust God like Timothy trusted God in the Bible, so when Paul wrote to him, he just said, stay with the faith and with the scriptures that you've known since you were young. You learned them from your mother and your grandmother. Stick with them. Remember you are a son, a daughter, a child... of God.

But some kids live with pain. Some children live in situations that make it very hard for them to trust. Someone wrote me a note like this:
I have been in tears most of the evening thinking how adult selfishness and selfcenteredness (?) can tear a marriage apart. Today's society has become so "fix me quick" so I am happy...
This friend of mine was writing and saying that what we do in our marriages affects children so much... She went on:
We are all 100% responsible for our half of a relationship and because we want what we want NOW many times the big picture gets overlooked. Children are the ones who get uprooted and thrown into chaos with the opinion that they will bounce back, they are good at adapting... but why should they have to? It is soooo hard to watch fun loving happy joyous children turn into hard hearted rebellious beings who are afraid of getting hurt again... afraid that daddy or mommy might forget them when one of them is asked to move out...

What has happened to good family values, is it old fashioned or passe'...

God's purpose for marriage--this connects us with the first part of our gospel reading and God's original plan in creation--God's purpose in pushing us to work on our marriages--God's purpose in commanding men to love their wives like Jesus loves us and in commanding women to do their best to respect their testosterone driven husbands--God's purpose in bonding men and women together for life in marriage is to make a good, safe, loving, nurturing place for children to grow up.

Not only is this clear from God's plan for marriage in the Bible--the Bible has always connected marriage and sexuality with children and family life--sex--hear me now--sex is never just about two people!--whenever we think about sex we should be connecting that with our future or current family... Not only is it clear that sex and marriage in the Bible is connected with children and family--but it's also obvious to people who work with children--teachers, pastors, youth directors, counselors, mental health professionals, police officers and juvenile workers--it's obvious to us that children suffer so much when mom and dad aren't getting along.

I'm not meaning that there is such a thing as a perfect marriage--there isn't--but when mom and dad aren't doing their very best to be kind to each other and to stay together, the ones who suffer the most are the kids.

Children who live with brokenness in their home life feel much more insecure, have a hard time trusting, and are more likely to have problems of every kind. So the message is, for you and me who are sinners by nature, is that we are called, by God, to do everything we can to keep our marriages strong, to work on them, to seek help when things are hard, and to do all we can to avoid divorce.

Sometimes staying together requires separation--sometimes long term separation--but when the man and woman in the separation understand that they are still married and are working toward reconciliation--even if it takes years and years that is better than just moving on.

One reason that God makes us one in the sexual act, connecting us to our husband or wife physically, emotionally, spiritually and in every other way--it's to make of that union of male and female a place where new life can be brought into the world and cared for with love. And that's why God calls sex outside of marriage adultery and sin. And that's why God hates divorce.

Here's what the prophet Malachi says in chapter 2 of his Old Testament book:
13 ... You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. 14You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. 16For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.
Now this should not be interpreted to mean that we should just put up with harshness or cruelty or abuse or yelling or constant pain in our homes. Whenever we see our marriages falling apart--whenever there is more pain than joy in the relationship, we have a responsibility to take it as seriously. When we are tempted to throw in the towel and go off with someone else--or when we think we're going to hook up sexually with someone who is not our husband or our wife--our Lord would have us remember that his commands about marriage and his commandments against divorce connect so intimately with the good of the children, the ones who need us and our love.

Is there forgiveness available for those who have failed in marriage? Do you really need to ask? Hasn't Jesus made clear that he has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west? He did that on the cross! But this does not mean that we should bless or encourage failed relationships. We are commanded to love one another in our church family no matter what our failings are. We just cannot teach others to do what scripture clearly tells us is wrong--even though there is forgiveness available--and unconditional love from the cross as wide and as deep as the sea.

If you and your wife or your husband are having a hard time in your marriage, please don't wait too long to get help. Come and talk with me or with a Christian friend who will be kind and who will care. If you have begun again in a new marriage, make it the best it can be. We are sinners, and we need to admit our failings every day, admit our weaknesses, and always, always come to him for forgiveness and new life. Not because we deserve it, not because we can somehow justify our sins and errors, but because Jesus died and rose again to give sinners new life. Like I said to Jack - we are brothers - on level ground at the foot of the cross, covered by his blood, covered by his sacrificial love.

We come to Jesus always like children, with no rights at all, and he welcomes us, takes us in his arms, and blesses us, no matter who or what we are.

When my friend wrote to me about the pain that so many kids suffer, I wrote this back to her:
I grieve so many times just as you are grieving now. Marriage is a calling to look beyond one's own self to the good of others. It is so tragic when people look at marriage as just another "kick" to make them personally happy. Marriage IS for the protection of children. That's why it's there. Working at a marriage for the sake of the children is noble, good, and so important for kids. There are ways to make any marriage better if there's a willingness to work at it and get help. But it does take that willingness, and God is the only one who can give it.
The willingness to work at marriage, or any difficult relationship, including the difficult relationships that we experience in the church, is to realize how much we owe to the gracious love and mercy of God. And then we can share it, with our wives, with our husbands, and with the children God loves so much.

Friday, October 2, 2009

God's Sure Promise for You

I'm back in the office after Betty Dahlin's funeral, thinking about the second coming of Jesus. Betty is my wife Toni's dad's cousin's wife. Try to untangle that relationship! But, mostly, Betty and Toni are sisters in Jesus, even through they are part of different church families. (the funeral was over at Elim Mission Church, a couple blocks from here.)

In the end, what matters is our Lord's love for us and our need to receive that love. Those who have come to know the goodness of God through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord can trust Jesus to meet us at the end, whether at the end of our own personal life, or at the end of time. If you do not yet know our Lord personally, speak with him in prayer and ask him to come and give you the assurance of his love.

If you have questions about the truth of God's Word, do some investigating. One way to do that is through Alpha. Come to Alpha this weekend on Sunday evening. This season of Alpha is open to whoever wants to attend on a week by week basis. We will meet for potluck at 5:00, see the teaching video – this week “Who is Jesus?” – and then have a flexible time of conversation and prayer. We’ll be done by about 7:30. Whether or not you have attended Alpha in the past, this season of Alpha is open for you. If you have questions or comments, please call me 763-291-3499.

Jesus died for you on the cross and rose to give you hope. Don't let Jesus' work for you go to waste. Receive him today in prayer. Come Sunday morning to celebrate his love--or come Sunday evening to get some questions answered.

Just like the scriptures foretold the first coming of the Lord Jesus, so we can trust them as they tell us of his coming in glory. God's promises are sure. When we know them, we can live securely and without fear.

Here's a scripture from First Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 that was used today at Betty's funeral:
4:13And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. 17Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18So encourage each other with these words.

Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. 2For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. 3When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.

4But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. 5For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. 6So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. 7Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. 8But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

9For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. (New Living Translation)
In the end, the king -- King Jesus -- he will come! Praise God! He's coming for me -- and for you.