Monday, November 30, 2009

Together Under God

The Gospel for the next two Sundays tell Luke's account of the ministry of John the Baptist (Luke 3:1-20).  The last two verses aren't actually included in the assigned reading. Those verses are:
Herod the tetrarch*, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Eventually John the Baptist was killed.  He was executed by Herod. Why?  Because Herod just didn't like the things John was saying.  For one thing, John accused Herod of a personal sin--something connected with Herod's sexual and family life. He and his sister-in-law Herodias had divorced their spouses and married each other.

I'm sure Herod was offended in other ways too.  As a wealthy and powerful man, Herod would feel threatened by many other things John said--for example "Whoever has two coats must share with him who has none" (Luke 3:11).

That's what God's Word does, when we let it.  It offends us.  Look at Jesus' teaching in Luke 6:17-49. If that doesn't offend you either you're very poor--because the poor come out very well in Jesus' economy--or you're just not paying attention.  If you do pay attention, taking Jesus and John seriously, it will cost you a lot.

On Sunday night we'll be getting together to listen to each other and to vote on The Common Confession. Most of the attention has been on point 6 about marriage and family. That point was included because the Bible's teaching about this particular area of life has been seriously challenged in our denomination.  But that does not mean that those of us who have more-or-less intact families--with a father and mother who have remained faithful to each other--the specific inclusion of point 6 does not excuse us from our other responsibilities under God's law.

The Common Confession lifts up all of scripture as "the final authority for us in all matters of our faith and life." The strong teachings of the prophets** come at us from both left and right.  That's one reason that Hebrews 4:12-13 says God's Word is a TWO-EDGED Sword.  Yes--God's Word does limit God's blessing on sexual activity to "the biblical boundaries of a faithful marriage between one man and one woman."  But every middle class American comes under God's wrath as we refuse to share our goods freely and do not love our enemies.

Sin is sin no matter what kind it is. Sin is damnable and horrific whether it is personal or social, whether it's related to our family relationships or self-centered political goals.  One thing I've always appreciated about the Roman Catholic Church is that they seem to put equal emphasis on sins related to sexuality and sins related to other issues like war and poverty and environmental exploitation.  The ELCA has, in my opinion, become too "liberal" in the areas of sexual ethics, but, on the other hand, many of its social agendas seem well founded on scriptural norms.

Of course, that's too uncomfortable for us, so, unless we know the amazing love of Jesus, who died for the adulterer and people like me who have way more than two coats, we will ignore the part of God's law that makes us most uncomfortable. We will hate and discriminate against certain kinds of people or else we will accept every kind of behavior--at least those behaviors we're most closely connected to. Unless we know the amazing love of Jesus, who died for sinners of all kinds, we will not be able to make a community of people, depending on God's grace alone, who are together under God. 

But when we do know Jesus' love we can let the Word of God come at us with full force from both sides, from right and from left. It will convict us and push us and bring us to our knees, alongside every other sinner, and we, like Jesus, will not be ashamed to call all struggling and suffering people our brothers and sisters (See Hebrews 2:10-18), each of us equally in need of the grace and mercy of God.

Knowing that Word from both sides will bring us together under God--under God's law, yes, that will continue to convict us and push us to be more and more like Jesus--but especially under God's grace--and his amazing love--for you and for every other sinner here--and all around this big world.
* an ancient Roman term for "ruler of a quarter"
** "There is a tendency in a number of languages to translate προφήτης only in the sense of ‘one who foretells the future,’ but foretelling the future was only a relatively minor aspect of the prophet’s function, though gradually it became more important. Patristic authors defined the function of a prophet mainly in terms of foretelling the future. In New Testament times, however, the focus was upon the inspired utterance proclaimed on behalf of and on the authority of God. Accordingly, in a number of languages it is more appropriate to translate προφήτης as ‘one who speaks for God.’ (from The Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains, edited by Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida,1989).

Strength to Accompany

At Christmas we remember how God came as "Emmanuel."  "Emmanuel" means "God with us" and we celebrate how God came to be with us at a particular time in human history in human flesh.  But our Lord also comes to be with us as the Holy Spirit empowers us to walk beside others in their lives today.

The following is a from a chapter of a book by Gary Gunderson entitled Deeply Woven Roots. Youth director and seminarian Nate Bendorf shared it at our staff meeting today. Though the first example Gunderson uses in this chapter is of a pastor's visit, Christian visits and friendships normally occur between non-professionals, when a caring Christ-follower reaches out to someone in need.  And though the example here is of accompanying an older person, we are also called by God to befriend those whose pain and "incapacity" is less a matter of public knowledge.

I am thankful for those who have "accompanied" me with their time, their conversations, and their prayers during many stressful moments.  I've done what I have been able to do in walking beside others too.  I hope we will all be open to giving and receiving in such caring relationships.
It was just a business card next to my mother's bed, but I could recognize the Methodist logo from across the room, the one with the flame wrapping the cross. I didn't recognize the name, but that didn't matter. Fulfilling the most basic expectation of the congregation, the pastor had come by to see Mom, say a brief prayer, and leave a church bulletin.

She had spent a lifetime on the other end of such visits in other cities, even working for a while as the coordinator of visitation at our Methodist church back in Baltimore. I remember how she would pick me up from school, then stop by three or four homes on the way back to ours. The suburbs were quickly sprawling across former fields, and the visitation teams followed just behind the pavers. I had no idea then why we were visiting, what difference it made, or who noticed; it was just something the church did...

...My mom is still of the faith even though she can't get to the church building or hear the sermons or songs. It even hurts her to read much, so she is unable to read Scripture or discuss it in groups as she did for decades. In fact, she can barely hear it when read aloud, picking up mostly the rhythm and accents of familiar verses. But she is still quite literally and physically part of a congregation--they come to her. They accompany her.

For any one person, accompaniment means life itself in many dimensions, even amid frailty. It does not "fix things;' but it allows for continued connection, coherence, context in which meaning and value are still possible. For a: community, accompaniment also means life, the most tangible way that we are held up by and connected to others.

...Wendy Lustbader doses her book Counting on Kindness with a paragraph that gets to the heart of the issue:
The expectation that we will be able to count, on kindness during our time of need becomes one of life's most sustaining convictions. We hope that if we become incapacitated, our friends and relatives will stand by us. We hope that their help will arise out of affection rather than out of pity, and that we will bear our difficulties gracefully enough to keep on inspiring their loyalty. We suspect that the measure of good life is how we are treated at the end.
I suspect that the measure of a community is how we and those we love expect to be treated during the times of incapacity that we will surely experience. Will I be accompanied at all? Will I be surrounded only by those I can pay as long I have the money or insurance to pay them? Will I be alone when I have no power to compel others to help me? Will those I love be alone when I cannot care for them or protect them?
Read Acts 2:37-47 to see how powerful the Christian community was in "accompanying" one another when the Holy Spirit first came upon them.  We are NOT to be alone!

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Love Side of Faith

As we move into the next church year* on Sunday, we continue in the same direction as we have been going during the last weeks of the previous church year.  We look ahead to the time when this old world will come to an end.  Sin and death and the power of evil have been in power for thousands of years.  But, just as the Lord Jesus rose from the dead after confronting the very worst, so there will be new life in store for us as we trust in Him.

But how are we to survive and stay in the faith through all the terrors that evil brings our way.  The gospel lesson for Sunday lays out both hope and danger.  Sometimes we drift into "dissipation and drunkeness" or get weighed down by worry.  How can faith survive?

The reading from First Thessalonians for Sunday, together with the rest of that wonderful letter from Paul the apostle gives us the help we need.  We are maintained in faith and avoid despair, drunkeness and worry as we care for each other in the community of faith, as we gather to hear God's Word and be assured of His love.  Come to church this Sunday and be refreshed in the Love Side of Faith.
You can listen to how this sermon turned out
at the 11:00 hour on Sunday by clicking here.

*The church year begins on the First Sunday in Advent, four Sundays before Christmas which falls on Nov. 29 this year.

Monday, November 23, 2009

For the Beauty of the Earth

This is my preparation for  preaching at Wednesday's THANKSGIVING worship.  Come if you can at 7:00 p.m.  After worship we'll share some pie.

The scripture I'll be reading just before preaching is from Matthew 6:25-33.
..."Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you--you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

What God put in the Bible is there because someone needed it.  What we read in scripture Wednesday night someone will need to hear.  We needed to know that God is the creator of the earth.  We need to know that so we have someone to thank for all the blessings we enjoy.  And we need to know there is another kingdom--a kingdom not from this world--because though this world is beautiful in many ways, this world has lots about it that make us worry every day.

But under the troubles--under the ambiguities and pains we suffer here--under it all there is beauty--surprising, perfect beauty--beauty that we get glimpses of in this life--beauty that I hope and pray you will be able to get a glimpse of tonight.

Tonight, let's take time for some beauty!  Think about the literal beauty of the earth--but also the beauty of the gifts God has given, the bodies and experiences and talents--the beauty of loving relationships--the wondrous beauty of God's forgiveness...  As we do that we can see and experience how God lifts us from our worries and gives us thankful hearts.

In order to see those things, especially when we are worried, we often need to see them through other people's eyes--so, I'm going to ask some questions tonight... Where have you seen beauty?  Can you share so that others will know that even in ordinary people there is wonderful hope?  You hear enough from me every Sunday.  It's good for us to speak with one another... and we're NOT on the radio! So--get ready...!!! Here comes the microphone!   
  1. Who dares say a few words about something on this earth that you've experienced as just beautiful?  First, let's just focus in on God's good creation!  What beautiful places or have made your heart sing?  .  .  .  .  .  .  BEAUTIFUL! 

  2. Now--what about us... what about you and me?  When have YOU amazed YOU?  We give God credit when we say what we're thankful for in ourselves... What have you can do or what have you done that we might not be aware of?  Who has met a goal?  Who has accomplished something?  Who dares say a few words about yourself as a way of praising and thanking God?  We'll get to others in a minute... I'll start... now it's your turn...   .  .  .  .  .  .  BEAUTIFUL! 

  3. You'll see that we're following the order of worship... Beautiful Earth, Marvelous Me, now Wonderful Love.  What have you experienced among friends, family, people who have helped you and cared about you?   Loving and being loved is so important!  We are made to be in relationship with one another--it is not good that we be alone.  Do you know someone that was clearly brought to you by God?  How has caring love been something beautiful in your life?  (Time for sharing...)   .  .  .  .  .  .  BEAUTIFUL! 

  4.  In some of what we've shared we've already hard of God's amazing and forgiving love--God's amazing grace.  Can someone share briefly about how you've seen the beauty of God's grace in your life or in someone else's life?  These things touch very close to our hearts so sometimes we want more time to prepare--but if someone would like to...    .  .  .  .  .  .  BEAUTIFUL!  
So we are very thankful for the beauty of this earth... the beautiful creation of bodies and minds and talents, the wonderful gift of caring relationships--but what really makes it all beautiful, and not just a deceptive promise, is the amazing grace of God.  Because of God's total forgiveness, given at Jesus' cross, we can know there is a kingdom to come when all things will be made new.  Without that, all beautiful things fade.

Here's the truth: the beauty of this earth--the beauty we've shared here tonight--it's all just a little taste--a little taste of what God has for us in his kingdom.  You can know that grace by getting to know Jesus.  He is the one who is truly beautiful--his scared hands and feet, his pierced side--given for you so all your worries will be taken care of--his beauty, someday, will be given to you.

Let's share as much of that beauty as we can here in this life!  Let's not keep it to ourselves!  It will lift many hearts to know that there is beauty--sometimes beauty from ashes.  Because God's new kingdom is coming--and someday God will open the doors and welcome us to his kingdom, where we will share his beauty... and every worry, and every tear will be gone.

It's about Truth (not Power)

Someone asked if I could publish my sermon from yesterday.  Here are my notes.  Much of this is a repetition of what I wrote earlier last week.  You can listen to the sermon by clicking here (mp3, about 17 minutes).

What kind of king is Jesus?

Hauled to trial, he stands under the judgment of a small time governor! Later that day he is tortured and killed.

What kind of king is this? 

Would you want to be one of his people? This world, you see, is NOT God’s kingdom and it will never be.

Crusades and inquisitions, going to war like Christian soldiers, voting for Christian leaders…
—none of that will change this world.

The world has another king… this world has a powerful, fearful king who can’t be overcome by human beings.

Back in the beginning we human beings turned this world over to the devil… God gave us responsibility for this world but we rebelled… and this world has been under the devil’s authority ever since… as it says in the hymn: The old Satanic foe has sworn to work us woe… No strength of ours can match his might. We would be lost, rejected. This world’s ruler is the master of sin, and because you & I sin, we’re rebels and on the devil’s side.

There is no way to change the kingdom of this world—the kingdom of the devil—there’s no way to change this world into the kingdom of God. We can’t even change ourselves. What that means is that those of us who want to be with Jesus are going to be on the losing side! We are not going to win in this world. Signs of his power, yes. But victory? No. Jesus was brought to trial and killed. Do you think his followers can expect any less?

So what can we do? Really, there is only one thing. It’s the same thing Jesus did in his trial. We can tell the truth—we can admit that we’re rebels—we can hear, and believe and speak the Word of God which convicts us of our sin and raises us up with new lfie.

What should we do? Turn with me for to Ephesians 6. In this chapter we hear about the “armor of God.” In another place (First Corinthians 10) it talks about the “weapons of our warfare” in this world.

Eph 6:10 -- “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” We can’t do it on our own. Verse 12: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh”—it may seem like some people are bad and others are good—but that’s not true. Instead our struggle is “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

The spiritual forces of evil have the high ground in this world and we will not be beating them back… we will not win—not in here (heart), and not out there.

“Therefore,” verse 13, “take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” and then it goes on to list armor… the belt of TRUTH, the breastplate of RIGHTEOUSNESS, shoes to bring GOOD NEWS…, (verse 16) the shield of FAITH, the helmet of SALVATION and, finally, after all the defensive armor, ONE OFFENSIVE WEAPON—only one—the sword of the Holy Spirit—and what is that? The WORD of GOD.

The Word of God is the ONLY weapon you and I can use in this world if we’re going to follow Jesus. The rest is all defensive stuff—holding our ground so we’re not completely overwhelmed.

The Word of God is the ONLY offensive weapon we have. It’s like in our gospel—in John 18:33-37 Jesus comes face to face with a representative of evil—governor Pontius Pilate. And what weapon does Jesus use?—look at John 18:37—half way through that verse it says “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, TO TESTIFY TO THE TRUTH. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

What does Jesus use as a weapon when he comes face to face with evil? He TESTIFIES TO THE TRUTH—he SPEAKS with his VOICE—and, because, as we have been learning in our Bible study these days—because Jesus came into this world from God in a totally unique way—Jesus speaks not only with his WORDS—no red letter edition when it comes to Jesus—Jesus speaks with his LIFE and his LOVE even more.

Jesus speaks as he brings love to the loveless and hope to the hopeless, healing to the broken and belonging to the rejected. Jesus speaks as he refuses to take up any other sword—at the beginning of this chapter, at the beginning of John 18—Jesus does not let his followers fight for him. Put away your sword he says—put it away. That’s not the way my kingdom is going to come.

The only weapon he has—and all we have… all we have is the Word of God. It convicts us of our sin and raises us up with the news that he paid the penalty for us on the cross!

That’s why some of us are so concerned about the some recent decisions of our church body, the ELCA.

No one who knows Jesus can hate or reject or discriminate against anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation. We need to be totally open to having people of all kinds come to the Lord here… But, because, from the Word of God—and from the testimony of God’s creation, we see that God has blessed the bond of one man and one woman as the way life comes into the world we cannot say that same sex marriage is the same.

It’s just not according to the Word of God. It’s because we can’t find scripture to bless same sex marriage that we cannot support this move. It’s not because we want to discriminate or because we’re homophobic or hate gays. If that’s why we have a problem with gay marriage we must repent. The love of God for all people is not up for debate. But neither is the truth of God’s Word.

That’s what the Common Confession is about. Look at the seven points… The Lord Jesus Christ, the Gospel of Salvation, the Authority of Scripture, a Common Confession of Faith, the Priesthood of All Believers, Marriage and Family, the Mission and Ministry of the Congregation. Please spend some time studying this and the commentary that goes with it.

This is not about power. You may like Lutheran CORE and the 16 other groups who have proposed this statement-- Mount Carmel Ministries, World Mission Prayer League, the WordAlone Network, the Fellowship of Confessing Lutherans, Youth Encounter. Or, on the other hand, you may consider those groups to be troublemakers and fear mongers…

But please do NOT think of this as about power or politics. We can adopt this Common Confession and NOT become a part of CORE or make any other changes to our church affiliation—honestly—this isn’t about that.

What is important is that the Word of God be proclaimed and that the truth be made known—that’s what the Common Confession tries to do. That’s what the Bible study we’re doing at 10:00 is trying to do also—to focus on the truth—truth that centers in love.

We’re never going to take this world and make it into God’s kingdom. Those who are with Jesus will never really be in control. We will always be, in some sense, on the losing side. Sometimes, all we can do is stand.

Oh yes, there will be signs of God’s kingdom. As you and I reject other loyalties and receive God as our Father, Jesus as our King, and the Holy Spirit as our only power, as we take up the sword of the God’s Word—we will share God’s love with the lost and they will be found, we will pray for the sick and they will recover, we will stand with the oppressed and they will be set free.

When we dare give up our old life and receive Jesus as our king his authority will be ours—together with his sufferings. We will have some victories—and praise God for that—but, like our King, we will be mis-understood, we will be rejected. We may DIE in his service. But someday the true King will take up his authority, all evil will be done, truth will be revealed, and God’s people will gain a share in God’s wonderful kingdom—God’s kingdom—Jesus’ kingdom that is not from this world—His kingdom that will never end.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Common Confession

"You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
Those words of Jesus come from John 18:37 and will be read in church Nov. 22.  Jesus is at his trial before the governor, Pontius Pilate.  He has just been asked if he is a king.  Jesus, however, is not interested in political power.  He is interested in the truth.

"For this I was born," says Jesus, "and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth."  Read through Ephesians 6:10-17 and you'll see that truth is the only real weapon God puts at our disposal.

At the time of Jesus' arrest one of his followers drew a sword to defend Jesus, but he wanted no part of it.  Jesus simply came to speak the truth with his Words and with his Life.  The truth is that Jesus' love would not allow him to take power in this world.  Power in this world is always corrupted.  It's necessary, to keep sin and evil from destroying everything, but the Kingdom of God will never come by force.

It's in the spirit of truth telling that our church council and I are recommending that our congregation accept The Common Confession.  Speaking the truth does not change any relationships in the "power structure" of church life.  Such changes, if any, will be later guided by the truth we proclaim.  And that truth, of course, has at its very center the sacrificial love of Jesus for all.

So what is The Common Confession?  The Common Confession is a seven-part statement of faith, highlighting some of the important biblical and confessional doctrines of traditional Lutheran theology. This common confession has been officially adopted by Lutheran CORE and 16 other groups including Mount Carmel Ministries, World Mission Prayer League, the WordAlone Network, the Fellowship of Confessing Lutherans, and Youth Encounter.  Copies will be distributed in the December Parish Pulse newsletter, are available from the church office or from the Lutheran Core website.

Adopting the Common Confession will make it clear how we will be teaching the truth of God here at our local church. This is necessary because the ELCA “brand” has become officially ambiguous, especially in regard to whether heterosexual marriage is or is not the one “institution created and blessed by God” for sexual intimacy.*

The seven parts of the Common Confession cover: (1) how we speak of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), that (2) we are saved by faith in Christ, that (3) the Bible is God's revealed Word, that we (4) uphold the Lutheran Confessions, that (5) God gives spiritual gifts to all Christians (not just to pastors), that (6) marriage is between one man and one woman, and (7) that the mission of the church is carried out in individual congregations that can work together.

The Common Confession simply states what Lutheran Christians have always believed.  By accepting the common confession, nothing changes.  If we do not accept the Common Confession or something similar and take a stand, then we probably will change more and more along with the rest of the ELCA.

More information about why each of the seven points are necessary has been prepared in a commentary and introduction that is available at church or at the Lutheran CORE website.  Authors of the commentary include Pastors Mark Graham (Roanoke, VA), Kenneth Kimball (Waukon, IA), Scott Grorud (Hutchinson, MN), Erma Wolf (Brandon, SD), W. Steven Shipman (Watsontown, PA), Paull Spring (State College, PA) and Paul Ulring (Columbus, OH).

It's in the spirit of truth telling that adopting the Common Confession comes before any discussion of denominational affiliation.  It simply lets people know where we stand and what we will teach.

Accepting the Common Confession leaves us with many options going forward.
  • The congregation could choose to accept the Common Confession on Dec. 6 and, in the future, and remain members of the ELCA.  People, however, who come to this ELCA congregation will know where we stand as a church.
  • We can accept the Common Confession and, at a later date, declare our intention to become members of Lutheran CORE or another reform group (such as the Lighthouse Covenant) and still remain a part of the ELCA.  
  • Should the congregation decide to change denominational affiliation in the future, the Common Confession will keep us rooted to what Lutheran Christians have always believed.

So far our church council has sponsored three denominational forums.   The first, on September 20, provided an opportunity for church members to speak and ask questions.  For the second and third forums (Nov. 8 & 15) the church council invited representatives of Lutheran CORE (Pastor Scott Grorud) and our Southwestern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA (Pastor Linda Pedersen).  They made presentations and asnwered questions. Video recordings were made of the last two forums and can be borrowed at the church office.

The council is now preparing the outline of the December 6 congregation meeting.  As I understand it, we will gather at 6:30 in the church fellowship hall.  After an introduction and prayer, there will time for people to speak (perhaps having people sign up in advance for two minute time slots) or to have written comments read.  Then at 7:30, we will vote on whether to accept the Common Confession as a congregation.  For more information contact the church office.

As we move toward this truth telling action, let's pray and continue walking together, listening to the Lord and to one another, “bearing with each other in love” and “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:2, 15 -- I’ve had Ephesians 4 posted on my office "equipment room" door since I arrived here in 2005.  It's very important now.) Also, look to the great guidance from God in Matthew 18:15 about speaking directly to one another instead of indirectly about others. Avoiding one another out of fear is not a good idea.  In fact, the Bible calls it sin (see Romans 14:23).

In the midst of this, please remember, God will take care of us!  Jesus was not afraid at his trial and we do not need to be as we go through this relatively minor one.  Let's put our anxiety aside!  Philippians 4:4-7 speaks to us now: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  

Please read and study the Common Confession and come prepared to discuss and vote December 6.
* For more background please go to ELCA Sexuality Business, Why Not?, and What's Happening at ELC.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Not From This World

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2
This coming Sunday is called "Christ the King."  It's the last of the church year.  If you have been following this blog or coming on Sundays, you know that last Sunday there was an emphasis what God will do at the end of time.  And that theme is picked up next Sunday in scripture from Daniel 7 and Revelation 1. Someday "every eye will see him" (Jesus) "coming with the clouds."

Oh how we long for that day when God will put all things right!

In the meantime, as we wait for God's timing, we are tempted to despair or, on the other hand, to take matters into our own hands.  Men and women who are in leadership positions or who have some power over others often fall into sin as they do what they think is best for their people.  Like Castro in Cuba or Mugabe in Zimbabwe, many leaders (including me) are tempted sometimes to think we save the day on our own. Sometimes we try to save ourselves or others from difficult circumstances and end up trying to force things to go our way, Many times this is not because we want to hurt or manipulate others.  Often it's because we're so desperate we don't know what to do.

The gospel reading for Christ the King Sunday points us to God's way of putting things right.  God's way seems foolish, because it works through sacrifice, apparent weakness and, most importantly, unrelenting, unyielding, confident truth telling.  As Jesus says, "for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth."

Here's the complete reading from John 18:33-37 for Sunday, November 22.  It's part of the trial of our Lord before Pontius Pilate.
...Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him,
"Are you the King of the Jews?"
Jesus answered,
"Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?"
Pilate replied,
"I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?"
Jesus answered,
"My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."
Pilate asked him,
"So you are a king?"
Jesus answered,
"You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
Will we listen to Jesus' voice?  Will we belong to the truth even when things are hard to bear?  We can when we remember that Jesus "voice" has not been silenced!  His truth goes on because, after he was crucified for his truth telling, he was shown to be right and true and victorious on the day he rose from the dead.

Someday, Jesus will return in power and the world will know all the truth.  Until then, we simply speak as Jesus did, not holding back on truth, and rely on him to give us the victory.

This is not a normal "earthly" way of handling hard times.  Normally, we do not want to wait until God saves us.  We want to save ourselves.  So we "look to the hills" instead of to God. In the quote from Psalm 121 above there is a temptation to look to the armies on the high ground as the ones who will win the day.  We think of earthly powers with fear or hope.  But the fact is that neither the "hills" no any earthly powers who may be camped there will truly save or destroy us in the end. 

Though the help of people and earthly power are necessary in this world to hold back chaos until Jesus returns, when we trust too fully in them we will be disappointed. Every earthly help fails and falls at some point--including me.

So what do we do?  As the Psalm says, our help, and our hope, comes from the Lord.  His power does not come from this sin-filled and broken world and it does not use this world's sin-filled tacticsThe only real help and hope we can trust comes straight from the one who created us and will be here when life ends.  It comes straight from God--and from the one who he has sent--Jesus Christ.  He will rule, he will reign, and truth will win... for now, we trust.  Then we will see the excellent victory of our God.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Advantage of Faith

Over on facebook a friend commented on The Worse Things Get from Tuesday and drew attention to Mark 13:19-20.
"For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved*. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them."
My friend said that the thought of the end being near makes him "sad almost depressed."  "I would think," he continued, "I should be joyful."  I wrote back:
"It is sad to think of the end if you or I are doing more-or-less okay. Life on this broken planet is good for those of us who are loved and active and healthy. But when we consider how the majority of people in the world are suffering terribly: desperately impoverished, addicted or abused or whose bodies or minds aren't functioning well... that puts another light on it. Perhaps the "elect" are not those who are doing well now..."
I've been thinking about this all day since I wrote that.

(1) Who are these "elect" for whom God has "shortened the days?"  Jesus' famous sermon in Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6 certainly make it seem that God has a bigger love for "those who aren't doing well." But does that mean I should seek suffering in order to get into God's good graces?  I don't think so.  We know God wants abundant life for us, not unrelenting pain.(See John 10:10.)

(2) Does the idea of God "electing" some mean God loves some people more than he loves others? That can't be!**  In Luke 6:34 the Bible says "God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked." In Romans 5:8*** we hear that God puts infinite value on lost sinners.  And in Second Corinthians 5:19 we read: "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us."

So who are the "elect" and how can I get into that group?  As I have studied this in the light of the Cross of Jesus, it has come clear that the "elect" are the ones who have come to faith in Jesus Christ.  It's when we come into a trusting relationship with God that we find ourselves to be among God's chosen.  When we claim and trust the promises of God we are lifted up and over the pain to a new life, a life that begins in now and is "brought to perfection" in the future fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.

That trusting, chosen, "elected" relationship with God is not limited by God.  It's as if God is a marriage partner who offers faithful love to all who would receive it.  God's love is not different for one than for another.  Sadly, however, some of us don't receive it.  Some of us are getting along so well that we don't think we need it.  Others are so beaten down that we don't think we could ever deserve it.  Our job, as a church, is to do all we can to show one another how much we need God's love and, by his Word, to proclaim his love for each and every lost sinner.

This Sunday morning at 11:00 worship a couple from our church will celebrate a renewal of marriage vows.**** Can this be a time when you and I accept the wonderful love of God and obtain the advantage of faith?  A faith relationship with our Heavenly Father is such a precious gift that he will "shorten the days" of our suffering so we will not lose it.  All it takes is a willingness to take God at his Word. 

* For some reason the NRSV uses the word "would survive" for the original Greek ἐσώθη.  Most times this word would be translated "be saved."

** This is one of the examples where Christians must read all scripture through the lens of Jesus' love. When, for example, Romans 9:13 (following Malachi 1:2f) says that God "hated" someone we need to view that while at the same time knowing that Jesus PROVED God's love for all on the cross.  The "hatred" of God is against sin, not the sinner--though on a feeling level sinners are going to feel hated until they know Jesus' unconditional love.  As Martin Luther said: Anyone who regards [God] as angry is not seeing Him correctly, but has pulled down a curtain and cover, more, a dark cloud over His face. But in Scriptural language “to see [God's] face” means to recognize Him correctly as a gracious and faithful Father, on whom you can depend for every good thing. This happens only through faith in Christ.  (click here for the reference and a video clip).

*** Romans 5:8 reads: "...God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us."

**** There are many places in scripture where our relationship with God is compared to a marriage.  For example see Isa. 54:5; 62:4-5; Jer. 3:14; 31:32; Hos. 1:2; 2:19, 20; Eph. 5:30–32; Rev. 19:7–9, also parables in Matt. 22:2; 25:1–10.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Worse Things Get

I'm still puzzling over Mark 13 (gospel reading for Nov. 15) and how it applies to life today. Like I wrote yesterday in Trust to the End, I'm not convinced that it's possible, or even honest, to try to teach people specifics about just what the Bible teaches will happen at the time when the world ends.
  • Too many people have been wrong in the past.  Martin Luther is one of the many who was convinced that he was living in the very last days. 
  • There are too many possible interpretations of the Bible on this.  See the section "Schools of Prophetic Interpretation" article in Wikipedia for the variety of irreconcilable views.
It is good for us, however, to always keep alert and watching, knowing that the end of the world could very well be very near. But what if it's not?  Can Mark 13 still teach us something?

For me, one thing stands above all others.  Mark 13, and all of the other apocalyptic parts of the Bible (Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation and other smaller sections) teach us this: the worse things get the closer we are to the promises of God coming true

Can I apply that to my life tonight?  Tomorrow?  If I do trust God that much, what joy there will be!

The sad thing is that not everyone knows God's promises.  Letting others know that, in a way they can trust, sharing the Word with Love... that needs to be job one in every time and every age.

It call comes back to what Jesus showed us on the cross.  It was only a short time from "My God My God Why Have You Forgotten Me" to the wondrous resurrection!  Let's let everyone know--with lots of love.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Trust to the End

Right after Jesus admires the widow who put everything in the offering (yesterday's gospel), and immediately after the disciples admire the building in which the offering was given:
Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings! (Mark 13:1)
Jesus says:
Do you see these great buildings?
Not one stone will be left here upon another;
all will be thrown down. (Mark 13:2)
Jesus then goes over to the Mount of Olives, the easternmost of the three main hills in Jerusalem, across the valley and about three hundred feet higher than the hill where the Jerusalem temple was being reconstructed at the time.  At that point, most likely among gravestones*, Jesus gives a special teaching there to a few of his disciples.  You'll find it recorded, with slight variations, in all three of the "Synoptic Gospels," in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.

This special teaching is called the "Olivet Discourse" or "The Little Apocalypse." We'll read the first part of it next Sunday. In this section Jesus reveals what will happen in in the future.  Jesus has already told them that the temple will be destroyed--this happened about 40 years later in 70 A.D.  Now he goes on to tell them about other future events--events that some present day Bible teachers seem to understand down to the last detail.

Most of the events described in Mark 13 and parallels in Matthew and Luke are horrible.  So much the better for preachers and authors who like to scare people.  It's great material for best selling books and profitable movies.  I remember being very interested when The Late, Great Planet Earth came out in 1970 from author Hal Lindsay and publisher Zondervan. More recently I've read through the Left Behind series of books.

Personally, after some study, I'm not much impressed with that sort of thing. When I look at the Bible for details about the future I get lost. Trying to stitch together chapters and verses from parts of the Bible that are the very hardest to interpret** seems a losing game to me.  It's way over my head.  If you want a pastor to go into detail about the end of the world, you'll need to find someone else.

So what do I think about Mark 13 and the other end of the world parts of the Bible?  My thoughts are very simple. These simple thoughts just make me want to trust God and keep on living and loving God's way as long as I can.  Here are a few things that have been helpful to me.:
  1. There will be an end!  We don't know when, but we shouldn't pretend that things will go on as they are forever.  If we're not "ready" to meet the Lord by knowing him personally through Jesus Christ, we ought to seek him now.  Come and talk with me or with someone else who does know the Lord so you can come to trust his amazing love.
  2. God will bring the end. Though I can't understand all the details, God is the Alpha and the Omega.  Just as God is the creator God is also the one who will bring everything to an end.  
  3. I can trust that the end will be under God's control.  It's good to know that so I do not panic when things look bad. Someday, when things can not get worse, it is God who will intervene and bring the painful history of this world to an end.  And if things don't get that bad in my lifetime, if the world continues past my 60, 80 or 100 years of life, the "end" will be at my physical death.  I can trust God for that too.
  4. Until the end, as long as can, we keep helping other people trust God though Jesus Christ.  Instead of getting too wrapped up in speculations--not even Jesus knows when it will all end--it's better to focus on doing what God's people have always done--trusting God's gift of love through Jesus Christ and letting others in on that same gift.  As it says in Mark 13:10 -- the good news of Jesus will be made known until the very end!
  5. Finally, we can trust that the end God brings will be a very good thing!  Here are some clues:
verse 8: ...This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
verse 10: ...the good news will (or must) first be proclaimed...
verse 11: not worry beforehand about what you are to say...
verse 13: ...the one who endures to the end will be saved.
verse 20: ...he has cut short those days (of suffering)...
verse 21: ...I [says Jesus] have already told you everything.
verse 26: ...Jesus (a.k.a. "the son of man") will be coming in clouds with great power and glory
verse 27: ...he will... gather his people (his elect)...
verse 31: ...heaven and earth will pass away, but my [Jesus'] words will not pass away.

Last week we talked about a widow who gave everything to her Lord. This week a couple from our church will renew their wedding vows, pledging their all to each other. These are signs and symbols of the trust and commitment God desires of us. We don't need to stop doing these things when things seem to be crashing down on us, or when things seem to be getting worse and worse.  Jesus assures us, in the end he will be in control. So get to know him well, and then trust him for all things.


* The Mount of Olives was a graveyard even in Jesus' day--today there are thousands of graves on that site.
** These parts of the Bible that I find the most difficult to understand are parts that fall under the heading of apocalyptic literature.  These parts are found in places like the Little Apocalypse (in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21), in books like Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation and passages from other places in the New Testament like First Thessalonians.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Word on Waiting

A friend (actually not sure of who it is...) has been forwarding the KTIS Daily Bible Verse to me and to a list of others.

Today's verse is:
Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. (Ephesians 3:17)
As a middle class citizen of the United States who was raised in a loving (and God loving!) family, I've never had a reason to get very tough.  Oh, there have been some difficult times, but my foundation has always been strong.  In some ways I haven't had to develop the inner strength that people do who grow up in poverty or in broken families.  An MMPI I took 20 years ago shows that is true.

So, as I am dealing with some challenges these days, the that Bible verse about "growing down into God's love" is particularly important.  If all happens quickly and easily in my life the roots of my faith will not need to go deep.  I think that because so much of my life has been relatively easy, God sees that it's good for me to go through some waiting and even some suffering.  This will help me be more compassionate to others and stronger in my faith--a faith that waits for what we do not yet see.

Sometimes I wonder why I need to wait. I want to say to God: "Why not accomplish your purposes NOW. You have the power! You are able! Why the delay?"  Ephesians 3:16, together with the preceding verses (such as verse 13), gives the reassuring message that God is working his purposes out through the waiting time.   

I want to trust what God is doing.  I want to believe that through my circumstances God wants to teach me!  God will work things out in his time.  To rush is to lose faith and trust.  God wants to strengthen my faith.  God says, do not lose heart in the suffering.  This is for God's Glory (that's Ephesians 3:13).

Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief.  Help me to trust.

God's Word becomes precious through the waiting. First Corinthians 10:13 says:
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
How will I know that is true if I never am tested?

Please pray that I, and all who wait, would let our faith to grow down deep in God's love, and in God's precious word.

All praise to God!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Come Lay 'em Down

As we get ready for worship tomorrow, here's a lyric for a song by the group NEED TO BREATHE that's worth listening to--help you get ready to lay all your burdens and gifts at the feet of the Master.

You can listen to the music by clicking here.
Come down to the river
Come and let yourself in
Make good on a promise
To never hurt again
If you're lost and lonely
Broken down
Bring all of your troubles
And come lay 'em down

All you sinners
And the weak at heart
All the helpless
On the boulevards
Wherever you are now
Whatever evil you've found
Bring all of your troubles
And come lay 'em down

We're all tied to the same old failings
Finding shelter in things we know
We're all dirty like corrupted small towns
We'll bring our troubles
We'll bring our troubles
Come lay 'em down

All you rich men
And the high above
All those with
And without love
All you burdened
And turned around
Bring all of your troubles
Come lay 'em down

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Worship Note Questions -- with Some Answers

I'm getting ready to teach our youth tonight and part of that is getting feedback to them on their work. I ask that they complete "confirmation worship notes" based on some prepared by Pastor Steve King of Maple Lake, MN. I ask them to write a question or comment on the back.

Tonight I'll give these answers back to the kids. They are from questions the kids asked just this fall! It's good to get in the habit of asking questions and seeking answers. Too many of us just cruise along not thinking at all. What questions do you have? Perhaps you don't like some of my answers... let's talk! Email me at or comment below.


September 20 - MN Teen Challenge presentation during worship
What is the range of ages in Teen Challenge?
Ages 13 through adult. Teen Challenge started out as a program for just teenagers but has expanded to adults too.
September 27
Questions about Baptism:
So, by baptism, is it welcoming a newborn into God's life? Some people are baptized as children, some are baptized when they are older. When parents bring their children for baptism they are wanting to share a special gift of God's love with their child. The gift they want to share is (1) forgiveness of sins, (2) freedom from death and the devil, and (3) eternal life. The gift is given by God's Word and our trust in God's Word. God's Word tells us to be baptized. God's Word connects baptism with gifts (1), (2) and (3), so, by bringing their children for baptism parents want to give God's life to them. But that's not the whole story. "God's life" is something that needs to be given to us over and over again, so, as Matthew 28:19-20 says, there is both baptism and "teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded." So, actually, everything we do in connection with the church is a continual welcome into God's life.

If you weren't baptized can you still be just as close to God? After Jesus died and rose again, he went back to God in his body. Then, 50 days later, the Holy Spirit came. The Holy Spirit is the power and love of God in our lives. The Holy Spirit gave Jesus' followers the ability to do all kinds of amazing things, but, especially, the Holy Spirit helped Jesus' followers to bring other people to Jesus by preaching and telling other people about him. The very first time that happened, and every time after that, the command from God was that, if you had come to believe and trust Jesus, that you would then go and be baptized. In Acts 2:37-39 it says this: Now when they heard this [preaching], they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” So, from that passage and others, we understand that Jesus wants us to be baptized, and if we don't do that, we are being disobedient to God. And, when we are disobedient, we can't be as close to God. (I hope all of this makes sense.)

Or is baptism giving yourself to God? When an older young person or an adult asks to be baptized, I think there is a sense that is what we are doing... but what we "give" to God is our broken lives and our sins...

Is there a difference between being baptized as a newborn or at age 2? Parents bring their children to get baptized at different ages for many reasons. It's clear to me from the Bible that God doesn't love baptized children more than he loves un-baptized children. So, I guess the answer is no... but many Christian parents want to share God's gifts (1, 2 & 3 above) in this special way as soon as they can.

Do you use holy water? Some people use holy water, but is it just water? What's "holy" about it? Do they just believe it's holy water or think that? It's just plain water. Any water will do, even Cokato city water! :-) There is no such thing as "holy water" in the Bible, so I don't believe it exists. Water is just water. Or, if it's mixed with flavoring and sugar, it's koolaid! :-)
So words are mistranslated in the Bible?
If you ever learn another language, you will learn how hard it is to translate things exactly, to get the same meaning and the same emotion into the new language. Yes, sometimes things are translated in Bible versions a way that I think is a mistake. For example, this coming Sunday (Nov. 8) has a verse that says that a poor widow put "everything she had to live on" in the offering. But the original word in Mark 12:44 means more like she put her whole LIFE (bios) in the offering, that she was giving her whole SELF. Maybe someday you will learn Greek or Hebrew and be able to understand God's Word even better without always relying on someone like me to tell you about it. I know it's hard to understand sometimes. The Bible was written a long time ago and it needs to be understood carefully so we don't get the wrong idea about what it is saying. But don't despair, though it's challenging, we can learn a lot from reading the Bible as it has been translated into English. It's good to have study notes, though, and that's why we recommend that people use the Concordia Study Bible or something like that with good notes at the bottom in our church.
Why do you wear your robe at first service and not second?
At our church we try to make one worship hour more formal and more like people at this church have been used to for a long time, and the people here have been used to pastors wearing robes. At the second worship hour we are more informal and relaxed. Personally, I like to not have pastors dressed different than the other people. I do tend to wear a "clergy shirt" with the funny collar so people know I work here as a pastor, but I wouldn't need to do that either. It's all optional.
Why is the Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness close to the beginning?
At the traditional hour of worship (8:30) we follow the Lutheran Book of Worship. So the short answer is because that's where it is in the book--at the beginning of worship. I don't think it's always best to have it at the beginning. Sometimes I think it would be better to have confession and forgiveness after the preaching (sermon) because sometimes we learn about things in the sermon that we realize are wrong in our lives and need to ask forgiveness for!
October 4
Why does God hate divorce so much?
God is a promise keeper and he wants us to keep our promises too. Also, when mothers and fathers don't get along the children get so hurt. The best thing is when husbands and wives take their promises seriously and get help to make things better when they get hard.
October 11
Why in the gospel does God want us to sell our possessions?
Jesus saw that the man in Mark 10:17-31 thought that he was a perfect person who didn't need a savior. He thought he had kept all the commandments. But Jesus knew that he was too attached to his possessions and money so he told him that he needed to fully obey God by loving his poor neighbors as much as he loved himself. That's why he said: "Sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." The man chose to leave instead of obey and follow... so sad... When it comes to you and me the question God asks us is "are you willing to love me above everything else and to love others as much as you love yourself"? I have to admit that I fall way short of this command and, even as I keep learning to obey more and more, I reach out to Jesus who welcomes sinners. If the man would have just admitted that he was a sinner he could have been with the Lord! So, do we need to always sell every possession to follow Jesus? No, but we need to know that God could ask us to give things up so we can help others at any time.
Why would it be hard to get into heaven when you're rich?
Our possessions can be substitutes for God. We can think we've got all we need without God if we've got lots of wealth. It's good to know that, really, deep down, we're poor and need God desperately every day!
October 18
Why are you a pastor?
Someone had to do this job! Seriously... When I was about 24 years old I came to believe God was calling me to do this. This was even though the Lutheran church is far from perfect and there are parts of me that really don't like "church" (though I totally love Jesus and the people He wants me to serve). It's a wonderful life!
Why does Jesus in the gospel ask if his followers are able to drink "the cup that I drink" or "be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with"?
The "cup" is picture/poetry language for Jesus' suffering and the "baptism" is picture/poetry language for Jesus death. His followers are thinking that following Jesus is going to make them important and powerful. Jesus reminds them that the man reason he came to earth was to suffer and die for our sins. He asks he they are ready to suffer and die too. The thing is, that they do suffer and die also... later on... as faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Every follower of Jesus today finds out that being his follower means that we will suffer in some ways and maybe even die for him. But it's okay because Jesus rose from the dead we will too!
October 26 - Reformation Sunday
What does the word "Reformation" mean?
The Reformation was the time when people like Martin Luther rebelled against false teachings in the Catholic church. The Reformation was the time when the Lutheran church began You can learn more by reading about Martin Luther or watching the "Luther" movie that we have in our church library.
Will you be lighting candles for All Saints Day next Sunday?
Yes--except I won't--someone else will! :-) We work as a team.
Why do we do 2 readings instead of one?
We read two or more readings from the Bible because we need to what the Bible has to say to us and have others hear too! The Bible is really important and God uses its message to come into our hearts.
November 1 - All Saints Sunday
Why do we do All Saints Sunday?
I think for 3 reasons. One: its a good way for us to remember that those who have died are really alive with God, partly because that gives us courage when death comes near for us and those we love. Two: It's good to remember those who have gone before us because we can learn from good things in their lives. Three: It's a tradition--something the church has done for hundreds of years.
Why are there 21 candles and not more or less?
There were about 12 candles for each of the members of our church who died since last All Saints Sunday plus about nine others for other people whose loved ones let us know they wanted to add. The candles are symbols that, because of Jesus, life doesn't end when we die trusting Jesus but we are simply moved to heaven.
How do you choose what color to wear?
Are you asking about the cloth I wear around my shoulders at 8:30 worship? There are "seasons" in the church year and each "season," plus some special days, have colors assigned to them. I don't need to think very hard about that because there's a committee at our church that puts colors on the altar and I just match it! The colors have meanings. Right now, for example, we're in the "green" season and green means "growth." Last week it was red for "Holy Spirit" and this week was white for "heaven" or "God" or "pure." If you're asking what color shirt I wear otherwise, well, it's just the color that I find in my closet that day!
What is your favorite Bible verse?
One verse that has been important to me is from Romans 12:1-2. I learned this at the Houston Texas "All Lutheran Youth Gathering" in 1973 from the Phillips Translation of the Bible: "With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity."
Who do you call to have prayer ministry?
Our prayer ministry leader is Becky Sorenson. I'll give you her phone number if you ask.
So Muslims think that Christians don't really follow Jesus, or follow him just when it's easy?
That's one of the things Pastor John Spaulding of Christians Meeting Muslims said! He said that many Christians just want Jesus to forgive their sins but that they aren't very interested in really learning about him and copying him with their lives. You can listen to part of Pastor John's sermon by clicking here. Do you agree?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hope and Strength in Time of Devastating Loss

Here are some notes from today's funeral for Kaden, a 3 month old infant who died from SIDS last week.

Please pray for the Ogaard and Proctor families. Is there anything worse than losing a child?

Pray that they might be drawn near to the Lord through His Love and the Word that was shared today.


How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent Word! What more can He say than to you He has said, to you who to Jesus for refuge have fled.

Fear not, I am with you, oh be not dismayed, for I am your God and will still give you aid. I'll rescue you, help you, and cause you to stand, upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand.
We come to Jesus today. We come to Jesus who promises that one day all tears will be gone and we who trust him will be given total joy. But it’s hard to trust God. This world is such a battlefield, a painful place where terrible things happen. Still, we come to Jesus because Jesus came to this world to save us from sin, from the devil, and from death itself.

Because Jesus suffered and died for us, and because Jesus rose from the dead, we can trust him for Kaden, and for ourselves. And there is nothing we can do to gain Jesus’ love. He already loves us with a love that will not stop.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of all mercy and the God of all consolation. He comforts us in all our sorrows so we can comfort others in their sorrows with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
Thanks be to God.

Hymn #532 “How Great Thou Art”

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Let us pray. . . . O God our Father, your beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them. Give us grace, we pray, that we may entrust Kaden to your never-failing care and love, and bring us all to your heavenly kingdom; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Special Music . . . . . I Will Remember You . . . . . Sara McLaughlin

Scripture Readings
First Peter 2
2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 Come to the Lord, a living stone. Though that stone was rejected by men, it is chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

First Peter 4
8 Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. 10 For
“Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; 11 let us turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil...
18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God…
Sharing of Remembrances

Kaden Jonathon Ogaard was born on July 8, 2009, at Litchfield, Minnesota to Heather Ogaard and Andrew Proctor. His life ended on October 29, 2009, at Litchfield. He had reached the age of 3 months and 21 days.

Kaden is survived by his parents, brother Tanner and sister Kylee. By grandparents Kory Heller of Maple Lake, Jeff Proctor of Ogilvie, Anne Peterson of Ogilvie, John and Lisa Janiak of Cokato, Goffery and Susan Ogaard of Litchfield.

He was preceded in death by great-great-grandparents Maurice and Doris Ogaard, Shirley Benson and Clarence Wiler.

We then offered an opportunity for friends and family to share words of comfort and care. Quite a few spoke. It was a sweet, bitter, loving, painful time.

Special Music . . . . In the Arms of the Angels . . . . Sara McLaughlin

Scripture Readings
Mark 5
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly,

“My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.

Then Jesus stops to heal a sick woman… in the meantime
35 … some people came from Jairus’ 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.”

He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house […], 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.”

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 […] 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.

John 20 (this is when Mary is at the empty grave of our Lord Jesus)
11 Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”

18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The gospel of the Lord
Pastor’s Message

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jesus has been raised from the dead. And because he lives, and because he died to take away our sin, and because he defeated the power of death, we can know God’s love and we can trust all our loved ones to Jesus’ amazing grace.

There is nothing we can ever do that will make God love us less. That’s the promise we have because of Jesus. He didn’t wait for us to get things ready for him, he didn’t come only to the religious people or the righteous people. If he had done that, I would be lost.

No, Jesus comes to us when we are at our weakest, when our faith is gone and we are weeping. That’s when he comes to save us and to help us to trust, even just a little bit.

In John 14 Jesus says:

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you”

As long as we live in this world we will have our doubts and our questions and our pain. This world is a very painful place to live in. This world is a battleground between good and evil… our own lives are caught here—none of us is good enough—all of us suffer from sin.

But a champion fighter has come—his name is Jesus Christ and he has everything to save Kaden and to save us from all the pain and trouble of this world, and to bring us to himself in the Kingdom of God.

And nothing you can ever do will make God love you less. God has decided how he feels about you when he came to this pain filled world in Jesus Christ—to rescue us. Though the suffering goes on, and the grief goes on until Jesus comes again, we have a wonderful word of hope.

In Romans 8 it says:

18the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. …

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Sometimes not so much patience...., but someday, trusting in God, we will see Kaden with a new body—rescued from the trouble of this world. This death is a terrible thing—don’t let anyone tell you otherwise—but we do have the promise of Jesus to bring us through… even in these hardest times…

Romans 8 goes on…
26 The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit prays for us with sighs too deep for words

Heather, A.J., Tanner & Kylie… all you grandparents… let me encourage you not to keep your pain and sorrow to yourselves.

Bring it to Jesus in prayer.

Come to him.

Let him carry you.

Pray with each other and for each other.

Read and trust his wonderful Word.

You are not abandoned and you are not lost.

Jesus loves you and he will carry you through when you let him… when you are weak He is strong for you… and he will carry you through to his kingdom—to heaven—to the kingdom of God.

Confession of Faith
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
The Prayers
Let us pray…

Almighty God, you bring us together today to hear your wonderful promises. Help us to trust you. Lord, in your mercy
, hear our prayer.

You see, heavenly Father, that we are so torn apart by this terrible thing that has happened. Come to us and help us. Especially be close to Heather and Andrew and this family. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Help us to trust your promises for Kaden and for ourselves. Help us to rest him, and ourselves, into your merciful and immortal care, trusting that you care for him and for us. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of all grace, you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to bring life and immortality to light. We give you thanks because by his death Jesus destroyed the power of death and by his resurrection has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Make us certain that because he lives we shall live also, and that neither death nor life, nor things present nor things to come shall be able to separate us from your love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven, holy be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen
Hymn #448 “Amazing Grace”


Again, I would ask your prayers for this family and for all who are going through the valley of the shadow of death and/or loss. Let us trust the Lord and his promises no matter what.

Monday, November 2, 2009

One Way to Joy

This Sunday we'll hear Jesus call attention to a poor widow who gives everything to God (Mark 12:41-44). She came to worship and put every cent into the offering. Perhaps she had learned that she only had one real hope in life. Perhaps the sorrows had multiplied to the point where there was no sense having any hope any more in her own resources. She was releasing every last hope to God. That's such a wise thing to do. It's really the only way to joy.

I heard the same thing from two friends recently.

The first, quoting a devotion written in God's voice, said:
"I would have you know this, that from the moment you placed all in my hands, and sought no other aid, from that moment I have taken the quickest way possible to work out your salvation, and to free you."
The other wrote to a friend who was hurting:
"People are going to fail you. Trust me, I keep learning this the hard way. That's why you don't fully trust people and you just turn your eyes upon Jesus, because he will not fail you. Just think about what I said because it is so true... I am guessing your status has something to do with someone promising you something. It hurts I know. But let go of them for awhile and focus on God. It works!"
I was thinking of this earlier today as I was visiting older folks who are losing everything on their way to death. And I'm thinking about these things now as I'm getting ready to preach at a really sad funeral tomorrow. A little 3 month old baby died. It has hit the family really hard. The mother and father, the grandparents, friends... So sad. So hard. So terrible.

Terrible things do happen. People we trust abandon us. Death looms. Disaster hits us out of nowhere and for no reason. When these things happen it can make us wonder if there is really much goodness in life at all. Without hope in God this life is a pain pit with a few quickly vanishing joys thrown in before--AHA!--cruel fate throws in the next wave of suffocating suffering.

Without God, someone said recently, this world is hell. You and I might be able to push that out of our minds by keeping ourselves busy or entertained or drugged, but sooner or later the cold hard reality of life will catch us up. Sooner or later, we will fall.

As I'm thinking about these things, I realize that it's no wonder that those who have not grown up with a solid trust in God have a hard time believing in him or trusting him. Even those of us who have known God's love find our faith shaking under us! How can we accept a good God when so many people's days and nights are filled with unrelenting suffering?

There's really only one way. It's by getting to know Jesus and by giving all of our hope to him.

Jesus is God. He came to live among us in this broken, sinful world. He didn't need to. Jesus was equal with God. He lived outside this broken creation. But he saw our suffering and, full of mercy and abundant love for sinners, Jesus came down to us from heaven, immersed himself in our pain, experienced total rejection and died in order to set us free from hopelessness.

How did that happen? Somehow, when Jesus died as an innocent man for us, and when he defeated death and rose again, Jesus destroyed the power of death and sin and hell--whether in this life or the next. And when we place our hope in him, we can experience his joy, amid the suffering, in this life now--and forever in the new world God has promised.

That's what I hope to share tomorrow. Jesus love is beyond question. Nothing can separate us from it. He doesn't force us to accept it, however. We can turn away. But the powerful Word of God can break the hardest of hearts, plant itself deep in our souls, and bring life and love no matter what our present or past life is or has been like. And then when we can just accept it, just let it come in, we can have joy--joy that is not just for this life only--but joy that abounds and overflows to a future without tears, without death, without pain--in heaven--in the wonderful kingdom of God.

Please pray that hearts and minds will be open to hearing a bit of this hope tomorrow, and that we will abandon all else, putting all our hope in God.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Why God Gave Us Muslim Neighbors

Today we had the privilege of hearing Pastor John Spaulding as our guest preacher. A former missionary in Senegal, West Africa, Pastor John now serves in the Twin Cities. He gave a great sermon and a very helpful seminar on how we can share the Christian faith with Muslims.

Did you know there are about 100,000 Muslims living in the Twin Cities and 100 mosques there? God knows about that, and God is not surprised! In fact, if John is right, God may very well have had a hand in bringing them here! We are called to love these new neighbors as we love ourselves, to not bear false witness against them,* and to share with them, as we are able, the good news of God's love in Christ.
*There are two senses in which we can violate the commandment about "not bearing false witness" in regard to our Muslim neighbors. We can spread rumors about them and assume every Muslim is allied with terrorism, or, on the other hand, we can deny or ignore the real differences between our communities and resist the idea that Christians have a message that Muslims need to hear.
If you would like to hear Pastor John's entire sermon, contact the church office at 320-286-5964 or email me at Or, you can listen to part of it by clicking here.

Here is some information from the organization that Pastor John directs:
Christians Meeting Muslims seeks to promote relationships of understanding, respect and friendship between Christian and Muslim people, and to encourage and
equip Christian congregations and individuals to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ to their Muslim neighbors.

Rev. John Spaulding served as a pastor in Senegal, a predominantly Muslim West
African country, and has an M.Th. degree in Islamic Studies from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.

He is able to serve your group or organization as a resource in a variety of ways:
  • Introduction to Islam and Christian Witness to Muslims
  • Presentations on “Islam as a Challenge to Christian Faith, Hope and Love”
  • Specially-tailored presentations on Christian-Muslim topics
  • Longer courses on Islam, Muslims and Christian Witness
  • Facilitating mosque visits or other dialogue opportunities
  • Small-group mentoring / training
Call or e-mail for details, references, suggestions for your situation: 612-669-1058, email

Tax-deductible gifts to this ministry may be made to: St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1901 Portland Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55404. Please note “Christians Meeting Muslims” or “CMM” on the memo line.