Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dona Nobis Pacem

I woke up at 2:00 a.m. on Monday morning thinking about members of the call committee that worked and prayed so hard during 2005 in the call process that led to my coming to serve as pastor here.  Some of them are still at ELC/Cokato and others are elsewhere.  I think of them and I pray for them and the peace that passes understanding. 

Today I was over at ELC/Cokato for my wife's great aunt's funeral.  ELC/Cokato is my father-in-law's home church.  The splintering and split of that church, and of so many others in the ELCA -- it hits close to home.

How do we walk through days like this?

A dear friend wrote this to me today:
"I believe that if we truly understood God's character... His immense love and concern for us and His power and sovereignty to act on our behalf, we would never fear anything again. That's probably my most consistent prayer for myself and others... that we would get that kind of revelation about Him."
As we get to know Jesus, that's what we come to know.  We do not need to be afraid.

Father God, I pray, in Jesus' name, that it may be so among and in us.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Unfailing Word

Two of the older members of Toni's extended family passed away in recent days.  Ruth Dahlin, who was like a second mother to Toni's dad, and Ellsworth Dahlin, who was as close as an older brother.  Ruth's funeral will be here in Cokato on Wednesday at 11:00 a.m.

Toni's dad is from Cokato.  The church he grew up in is the one I resigned from in August.  That church has splintered and split, as have many ELCA congregations.  Many church members are still feeling unsettled and wondering what the future will bring.  It's like the foundations of many lives are being shattered.

Whatever it is that we face, God's Word does not fail.  God's Word created the world and that Word does not change.  Even death itself cannot defeat it.  God's Word itself became human and lived among us.  He was crucified and all was lost.  But then He rose from the dead.  Death and destruction do not have the last word.  The first and last Word belongs to God--and that Word is Life.
John 1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
No local church and no "denomination" will stand forever.  When those shake and quake, we flee to the unfailing Word of God.  That Word, alone, will stand.  The Word of God will not fail.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Repentance at Christmas

  • On the phone this week I had a great conversation with Walt Sundberg, professor of church history at Luther Seminary.  One of the things we talked about what the importance of repentance, especially in connection with Baptism and Communion.
  • That evening our family went to see a movie based on C.S. Lewis' book Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  There's a story of transformation in the book (not depicted so well in the movie)--a boy named Eustance allows "Aslan" (=Jesus) to deal with his sin and he comes out clean and new.  
  • Yesterday evening, at Christmas Eve worship, Jerry Seehusen reminded us of the importance of self-examination as we prepared for communion.  
  • Then this evening (1) I read an article by Michael Bradley in the Master's Institute newsletter that talked about the cleansing power of God and (2) someone contacted me how to confront someone they were hurt by.  
It seems as though repentance is a theme that is coming up over and over again.

Here's what Mike Bradley wrote, as he recalled what Lee Grady shared at the Midwest Gathering for the Alliance of Renewal Churches about how our lives can be like the "gunk" that lies hidden behind a refrigerator that's been in its place for many years.
"Have you ever moved after many years and, in the process, pulled your refrigerator out?  When you did, were you shocked when you saw all that gunk back there?  I have, and yes, there was a lot of gunk... Our lives can be like [that]...

"There can be old emotional pus wounds that are influencing our present.  There can be old defense mechanisms that may have helped us survive but now need to be released.  There may be patterns of acting and reacting, strongholds that we run to when life gets stressful.  There may be unhelpful beliefs and lies we have rationalized and justified.  Whatever it is we need God's transforming power to clean it out..."
As we meditate on the newborn Jesus, God who came among us in such a vulnerable way, let us all likewise be willing to let the Lord deal with us as His own child.  Allow self-examination or even the criticisms of others do God's revealing work, humbling you and forcing you to look at some truth about yourself that you don't want to see. 

It will be okay.  Even on Christmas.  When we come to Jesus with our brokenness and sin, there is no harm in repenting.  When we come to a Christian brother or sister and seek reconciliation and forgiveness, it will be good. 

Every time, Jesus will give you new life.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Wrong Notes

Toni is directing the choir at the little Crossroads church for Christmas Eve and so I'm singing along.  I've sung in choirs for years though not recently, so I'm pretty confident.  There's one particular part of the song, however, that always sounded wrong to me... but tonight, after practicing for three weeks, I found out that I was the one who was wrong, not the other men.  Uff da. 

It's human nature to think "I" am right when I hear someone singing differently.  It's human nature to think I'm right in other situations too, to think I'm doing right nor not doing wrong.  I see or hear others doing differently and I think, they must be wrong.  But sometimes, they're not wrong.  Sometimes I am.  Sometimes I'm the one who needs to change my tune.

Who is to decide?  When we sing, we have notes written by the composer.  If I don't sing those notes, I'm wrong, no matter how good I think I sound.  When we live, we have the Word of God.  If I'm not following the Word of God, I'm wrong, no matter how at peace I may feel.  We do have an objective standard to which we can compare our living, our speaking, our life.

I need to correct those notes I am singing wrong before Christmas Eve.  I hope I will be as humble about all the areas of my life that might need to be corrected according to the composer of God's Word too.

Peace to you tonight in Jesus' name alone.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What We've Been Doing

"That's what we've been doing all these years."
                                    - Toni Thorson
The Nov/Dec 2010 issue of Connections magazine came to us recently as a gift from WordAlone.  Toni made the above comment while reading what Jaynan Clark wrote based on 2 Timothy 2:8-13 about the "re-evangelization of the church."

"Re-evangelization" is needed whenever we forget the basics of "law and gospel" which convicts us of sin and releases us through faith in Jesus Christ.  (Some have been led astray by a So-Called "Gospel" of Inclusion, where the message ends up being mainly about who the church includes or excludes.)  "Re-evangelization" means to bring people back to the truth of Jesus.  When Toni read the reference to this in Jaynan's article, she said that's what we've been doing for a long time. 

I think she's right.  At least in recent years we have indeed been standing against the dominant culture of our country and many in the church.  I can't say that I've always been effective in "doing" what the Jaynan writes of in her article, but part of what we've experienced has been a rejection of the "law and gospel" message we have been called to proclaim.

Here's part of Jaynan Clark's article from Connections:
...To stand in the midst of the present chaos, confusion, conflict and change and announce that God will not be mocked, that He sent His only Son Jesus to release us from our chains of sin and death--and in exchange we chained and killed Him for it--this is not a "popular" story.  It never has been.

We are living in a time that publicly despises such a proclamation.  We have denied our sinful state to the point of not even wanting to talk about "sin" anymore because it is such a "downer."  Our refusal to acknowledge its dominion over us has resulted in a context that inhales and exhales as hedonistic, narcissistic, defiant spoiled children.  Some of these "children" are in their sixties and seventies, and have never put the lessons of the 1960s into perspective.  The free love, self-gratification, "I'm OK--you're OK", so get out of my face, who are you to tell me how to live, slaves to the self and the pursuit of personal happiness folks are running the show.  They are in positions of leadership in government, business and denominational churches.  The "me" generation has not yet accepted that their "me-ness" is the ultimate First Commandment violation.  Putting oneself in the place of God has dire consequences for all.

This celebration of the self--belief in the divine spark of goodness within, rejection of absolute truth claims, belief in the Gospel without the law, refined freedom that applauds action without consequences, redefined love that is a tepid tolerance, and blind acceptance of everyone and everything--has led to this place and time when reevangelization is our primary calling.  It must begin in the very churches that pass out this other religion of "selfism"...

The greatest story ever told is the story of a God who is our Heavenly Father, who knows and loves His disobedient sinful children who just keep returning to the tree and listening to the whispers of the snake.  The story of our God--who will not disown himself, and so gives us Himself over to save us from ourselves for Himself--is a story at odds with the very fabric of our society.  It defies the cascading, current flow.  That which the world most needs to hear is what is being stifled, rejected, ridiculed, not tolerated or accepted, and even hated by this politically-correct, tolerant, accepting, loving world groaning in travail.  Jesus is the problem everywhere for everyone at all times--especially now, it seems.  He is also the answer--the One nobody wants or is able to "accept" on his or her own terms.
Let me know if you want to read the rest of the article and I'll give or send you a copy.  Or go to the Connections Magazine website.

I believe our call to "re-evangelize" the church continues... as we also turn our attention to the those who have never known Jesus or his amazing love.  As Jaynan says at the conclusion of her article:
We know that it is impossible for us--but nothing is impossible for God when He finds a few fools for Christ's sake.  We are willing to have our faces set forward with our hands on the plow, refusing to shrink back or fear failure.  To not engage in our primary calling to preach, teach and confess our Savior according to God's Word is to renounce our discipleship. 

When all is said and done, whether anyone notices or cares, though we may die despised and hated, He will recognize the good fruit that comes from His own hand.
Please continue to pray that Toni and I will soon know where we are to serve next. We truly want to do God's will and serve God's Word alone.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Worth Sharing

It's been a great time for the past couple days for the family down here in Northfield.  I thought I'd drive home today after preaching in Wisconsin, but decided to come back and spend some more time here.  I'm glad I did.  As I've said so many times, family is such a blessing.  A blessing that we need to share! And one way we do that, I think, is by reaching out through the internet.  Let's see if we can use this medium in a consistently good way.

On the way down here on Friday my daughter Naomi told me fascinating stories about refugees that she's been interviewing in connection with her AmeriCorps job.  (She's editing a book!)  One woman came to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area after finding someone who would help her via facebook.  She's still partially homeless, but she has a lot more hope than she did in her country of origin, where she was beaten and under threats of beheading.  Now, with the help of women at her church and at her homeless shelter, she's raising money to bring her teenage children and her husband to join her in the United States.

Later on Friday evening I met another young woman, also from Africa, who had been sponsored as a "Compassion" child.  When she was young her family had no mattress.  The parents would make a pillow out of clothing and all the children would lie with their heads on the pillow and their bodies on the hard ground.  She remembers the day she was selected to be sponsored by Compassion.  Because of generous sharing from her sponsors she had food, education and health care--blessings that continue today as she is in an advanced program for Spiritual Formation and Discipleship at Moody Theological Seminary.  She praises God every day for the gifts she's been given -- and she'll never forget how far the Lord has brought her and knows the Lord won't leave her now.  Listen to the song she sang for us - Can't Give Up Now.

I am thankful for my family, for the Lord Jesus who puts love in our hearts, and for my country.  If you are also thankful, how will you share those blessings in the days to come?  A young facebook friend of mine just posted this:
Every Christmas you always hear people saying what they want and bought. Well this is what I want, I want people who are sick with no cure to be able to be cured. I want children with no families, to be adopted, I want people to never have to worry about food and shelter and heat. Now, lets see how many people re-post this who actually care. I have a feeling I am gonna see almost no re-posts... prove me wrong!
Some things are worth sharing.  I hope I will keep sharing too.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bit Part

Tomorrow I'll be preaching at a little tiny church located outside of a small town in Wisconsin.  The building doesn't even have an indoor toilet.  A pretty insignificant place.

I'll be preaching on Isaiah 7 (as I mentioned in A Sign for Your Future) and Matthew 1:18-25, the lesser known of the two Biblical Christmas stories.  This particular story is from Joseph's point of view--the Joseph, that is, who was the step-father of Jesus.

There's a sense in which Joseph is just along for the ride.  He doesn't have anything to do with Jesus' being born.  Yes, he played his part; he obeyed when God told him not to divorce.  He hung in there and most likely made sure Mary and the baby were taken care of.  That was the best he could do.

Whenever you feel like you're only a bit player, consider that you may be doing what God is calling you to do.  I am praying you and I will do just that.

Friday, December 17, 2010

How Long?

What will it take to get you to release everything to God?  When will you surrender to the Love that comes with Jesus?  Tonight 15 people--men, women & children, family and friends--15 people were gathered in a living room with a dad of four who was willing to have us lay hands on him and pray.  We prayed for physical healing and the healing of any thing else that needed God's touch.  It was a sweet scene of tender loving care, straight from the Father-God's heart.

How long will you wait until you ask for prayer?  Let those who know Jesus and know what He can do... Let them know what's up with you, and let them pray, in Jesus' name.

What do you have to lose?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thrice Blessed

There are times in my life, many times actually, when I have good reason to believe I am being led and blessed by the Holy Spirit.  Today, for example, I was blessed, through no real planning or effort on my part, with an opportunity to pray with a group of men at Lutheran Church of the Master in Brooklyn Center.  One of the men in the prayer group, Pastor Morris Vaagenes, was involved in "evangelizations" here in Cokato many years ago.  So good to see and pray with him and others at his church.

Today was such a gift from God.  Once this morning, once at noon and once tonight I was given the opportunity to gather for others for prayer.  Thank you Jesus.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Sign For Your Future

I've been thinking about the preaching opportunity I have coming up Dec. 19 - looking ahead the weather looks favorable - so this time I think I will be able to drive to Wisconsin for my preaching gig.  Last Sunday's got snowed out.  I'm going to use one of the lectionary texts as a launching point - mainly the one from Isaiah 7:10-16 where the Lord commands King Ahaz to ask for a sign.  "Make it as difficult as you want," says the Lord.  "Make it as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead." (Isaiah 7:11 NLT).

God wants Ahaz to trust him.  But Ahaz just won't do that, even when God offers him the extraordinary favor of a sign.  Ahaz will not believe.  Ahaz continues to worry and think that he needs to make himself and his country secure by scheming and allying himself with ungodly nations, with nations who think they can make things go their ways with cruelty and manipulation, with nations who sacrifice to false gods. 

Since Ahaz won't trust him, God gives Ahaz a sign anyway: a child will be born--a special child who, in about 720 BC, would be born with a Hebrew name meaning "God Is With Us."  But because Ahaz would not trust God, the giving of that sign would mean that his reign would be spoiled and his country would be destroyed.

God want us to trust Him.  God wants us to understand that He is in control and that we can expect blessings from him.  And God has given us a sign like He gave Ahaz, a sign given whether or not we want it--a child is born--"Immanuel"--God Is With Us--a child born 700 years later named Jesus Christ.

Receive Jesus as a sign for your future.  Expect God to be with you in all things.  Trust Him.  Even ask for a sign that He is with you.  But the truth is that sign has already been given.  We expect to celebrate that sign again soon, at Christmas, when Jesus is born.

Because God has given us that great sign, I expect great things.  I will not worry.  I will trust.  I hope you will too.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What I Long For

At 9:00 I began writing this as I was listening to the church bell ring.  I long for my spiritual home. 

When we came to Cokato in September of 2005 there was a sense of excitement and a real sense of welcome at the church to which I was called as pastor.  We got to know great people and enjoyed the excitement of spiritual growth.  It wasn't perfect, but it was good. 

Toni and I will visit another church today.  The place where I hold official "membership" has canceled services because of yesterday's snowstorm.  But the formalities of "church" as we have known it are not really what I need, not what I long for.  What I long for is authentic partnership on this spiritual journey.  What I long for is a place where barriers are swept away because of what Jesus has done.

I know what I long for will probably not be fulfilled in this life.  Still, we'll go to a place that stands firm on the Word of God.  Because it's only in that Word that there is any hope of peace, any hope of a lasting spiritual home.

Don't go it alone.  Go and worship with friends or strangers.  Don't worry if it's not everything you hope for. After all, one day our longing will be fulfilled.  Jesus, the Word made flesh--He will take us home.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Living in a Snowstorm

Today is one of those days when a person needs to be in touch with reality.  I was out shoveling a few minutes ago and will be going again and again throughout the day.  Tomorrow I'm due at a church in Wisconsin but don't know, right now, if it will be smart to make that early morning drive.  We'll see.

I won't, of course, make my decision about going simply by looking out my door.  Even if I can get a car out of the driveway at 4 a.m. that doesn't necessarily mean I'll decide to go.  I'll pay attention to weather forecasts and road condition reports.  If I'm still in doubt before I go to bed tonight, I'll probably call a friend or two who lives on my route.  I won't just depend upon my eyes.

There are times when weather is more forgiving.  There are times when I can go out unprepared and get by just fine.  There are times when we can be more afraid than we ought to be.  Just because there is a there's a pile of snow in my driveway doesn't mean it's going to be bad all the way.  Maybe what I see is just a very localized disturbance.

Just like we need weather reports to keep from making stupid travel decisions, we need help making other decisions too.  God provides that help through His Word and through His Holy Spirit.  If you're snowed in today, spend some time reading scripture.  Spend some time in prayer.  Contact wise and experienced Christian friends who know God's Word.  Ask about what you don't understand.  Ask them to pray for you.  Don't try to do it on your own.

(Feel free to contact me if you want.  It looks like it's going to be a stay at home day!)

Friday, December 10, 2010

What We Celebrate

How great it is that God came to live among us.  How excellent that we can look to Jesus when we get confused.  Above all that God has done, His coming to live here on earth, and then His giving to us the gospels so we can know Him well--that is the treasure of treasures.  We can debate and discuss details as much as we like, but we have more than just our well-considered opinions to lean on.  We have the presence of God here on earth, born at a particular time and place, revealing truth and love, giving his life for sinful people like me, then rising from the dead to give us total hope and peace.  What a gift.  That's what we celebrate at Christmas!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Worth the Wait

Have you ever seen the musical "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat"? It's based on the Bible story of Joseph in the Old Testament. In the story Joseph has dreams where he is lifted up over his brothers and his parents. His brothers get jealous and sell Joseph as a slave... but many years later Joseph has risen to a position of glorious power and the brothers come to him, groveling for food.

The musical version includes a song that has these words about half way through.  The brothers are gathered before Joseph, the governor of Egypt:  --  [Watch this part of the movie on YouTube by clicking here]
"We are just eleven brothers,
Good men and true
Though we know we count for nothing
When up next to you.

"Honesty's our middle name...
Life is slowly ebbing from us,
Hope's almost gone.
It's getting very hard to see us
From sideways on.

"Grovel, grovel, cringe, bow, stoop, fall.
Worship, worship, beg, kneel, sponge, crawl."
Joseph responds:
"I rather like the way you're talking,
Astute and sincere.
Suddenly your tragic story
It gets me right here."
(With a sarcastic look on his face, he points to his heart.)

In the end the brothers get their food--and Joseph forgives them for all they have done wrong. In Genesis 50:19-21 Joseph says: “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.”

It's a wonderful story--a true story--a story that points forward to the excellent gift of God through Jesus Christ, where He forgives us for all the evil we ever have done and promises an "eternal weight of glory" beyond our wildest dreams (Second Corinthians 4:17).  God is finally in control and that's a very good thing.  Everything. in the end of all time, finally, eventually, it will be made right (Romans 8:28).

But we're not there yet!  In this life, we're in a position like Joseph's brothers.  So often we need to grovel and compromise.  We're even commanded to do it.  Honor your parents.  Work as to the Lord.  Obey those in authority.  Follow the rules.  I hate it.  I hate groveling.  I hate following other people's rules, especially rules that I don't think make any sense. 

As many of you know I'm now available for call to a different church or ministry.  I'm waiting to see where the Lord will call me to serve next.  And, I'm praying about it, a lot.  But I also find there's work to do.  I need to communicate.  I need to let people know who I am.  In a sense, I need to sell myself.

We all do that.  Whenever any of us are looking for a job that can feel like "groveling" as we fill out applications and wait for an interview.  And when we get the job we follow policies and procedures.  And we're never appreciated as much as we deserve, right?

Life in this world often means bowing to powerful people, hoping that things will turn out.  Sometimes, like for the brothers, it works out.  The brothers and their families moved to choice land in Egypt and were safe and well for quite some time after.  Maybe it's worked out for you so far.  Maybe not.  Or maybe you're like my wife and I, really not knowing what the next few months will bring.  But, whether it seems to be working or not, most of us continue to follow the ways of the world.  We are, in many ways, still like those old brothers of Joseph.  Grovel, grovel, cringe, bow, stoop, fall...

That's the kind of situation that Christian believers were living as a man named James wrote them a letter.  I'll be preaching on James 5:7-11 on Dec. 12.  This "James" was most likely a half-brother of Jesus and the leader of the church in Jerusalem.  He's writing to Christians who are living very much like we do.  Some are rich.  More are poor.  There is groveling, jealousy, complaining, anger and gossip.  They know what they need to do to get by.

In this letter (also called an "epistle") of James, God speaks against the normal ways of the world.  God warns arrogant and wealthy of His coming judgment.  He commands them to be generous and tells them not to worry about the loss.  And the Lord speaks against too much groveling.  In James 2 it says "Don't show favoritism" and then gives an example of how they are honoring those who are wealthy and powerful while dishonoring the poor.  But he also tells us not to complain and grumble.  Just be patient and pray.  Don't fight, don't worry.  God will work it out in the end.

Here's the passage I'll be preaching Dec. 12:
James 5
    7 Be patient, then, my brothers and sisters, until the Lord comes. See how patient a farmer is as he waits for his land to produce precious crops. He waits patiently for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You also must be patient. Keep your hopes high, for the day of the Lord’s coming is near.
    9 Do not complain against one another, my brothers and sisters, so that God will not judge you. The Judge is near, ready to appear. 10 My brothers and sisters, remember the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Take them as examples of patient endurance under suffering. 11 We call them happy [blessed] because they endured. You have heard of Job’s patience, and you know how the Lord provided for him in the end. For the Lord is full of mercy and compassion.
Am I willing to wait and allow the Lord to lift me up when he chooses? God promises glory beyond our wildest dreams.  All that's required of us is a little time.  For now, we follow along and do what we must.  We pray and humble ourselves under God's hand.  One day at a time. 

It may take quite awhile, but, trusting God's great promises, it's worth the wait.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Last Monday I went to Bible study at Mike L's house.  Tonight I went back.  Both times we focused on "God's Kind of Love" with scriptures mainly from First John 2-5 and First Corinthians 13, with a look at other verses including Galatians 5:22 where, in listing the "fruit of the Spirit" we hear about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness... etc., all things that we do not come up with ourselves but that come out of a saving and sanctifying relationship with God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Another word for "patience" (Greek makrothymeo) is "long-suffering."  As we discussed that, we encountered First Corinthians 15:8 where we read "Love never ends."  The sense of the Greek word for "ends" (pipto) means that it will not stop trying, it won't give up.  I've heard the verse translated "Love never fails," but that makes it sound like love always "succeeds."  And that, frankly, in this broken world, just isn't true.  There are many times when love, God's kind of love, is rejected and rejected and rejected, over and over and over again.

That's where I resonate with the word "long-suffering."  God's love for us, and the love he pours into our hearts, it does not always succeed in the short or long term.  It can be rejected.  But that same love, rejected or not, does not give up.  It keeps on going, even when it needs to suffer long.  That's the love we learn of in Jesus, who died for the worst of sinners.  Even for me.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Baptism and Salvation

I doubt if the church will ever agree on various things, one of them, unfortunately, being what the role of baptism is in the Christian life. Some, however, are absolutely certain that God never uses baptism as a way to bring us to saving faith.  I think that is very unfortunate.  How can you be so sure?  Read these verses and consider whether it's in the realm of possibility that perhaps God might choose to use baptism in a saving way:

In Matthew 28:18-20 our Lord Jesus Christ says: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

And in Mark 16:16 he says: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; but whoever does not believe will be condemned."

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:4 -- "We were buried therefore with Christ by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."

And, in Titus 3:4-8 he writes: "...When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure."

30 years ago God called me to serve as a pastor in the Lutheran church.  I believe God has blessed that ministry.  The Lutheran church's teaching on baptism is connected with verses like the ones above.  Now, I am the last one who would ever say that Lutherans get everything right, and I recognize that these verses can have a variety of interpretations, but to say, as some do, that God cannot use baptism as a "means of salvation" in anyone's life ever seems to contradict scriptures like these.

What do you think?  Can we really say that baptism is "not" a means of salvation?  Certainly baptism has been abused by those who look on it as a "magic" act of some sort, but does that truly and absolutely mean that God cannot use it in a saving way?

I really do want to know what you think.  Please write back!

Here's a question I'll answer for some of you:  Could I ever serve a church that was not Lutheran?  Yes, I think I could.  But I could not limit the power of God to do something in baptism (or in any other way) that seems possible according to the Word of God.

Friday, December 3, 2010

When God Breaks Me

"Repent!  The kingdom of heaven has come near!"  (Matthew 3:2)
What do I do when someone confronts me with the truth?  Am I willing to notice where and when I am wrong?  Will I repent?

To "repent" means to change my mind and, also, to change the way I am living.  It's probably the most difficult thing anyone can do.  But when the truth of God comes, then I must repent, even if I look like a fool for changing my mind.

It needs to be God's truth, however, that breaks me.  Otherwise I will stand firm.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Out of (my) Control Church

Today I was given a book that describes what has been going on in and around Cokato for the past who knows how many years.  The book speaks of groups of people, each about the size of an extended family, doing the mission of God together outside the regular confines of what we usually think of as "church."  These groups focus on (1) deep and connected relationships with God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, (2) constant investment in relationships and (3) active involvement in outreach to the broken of the world, outreach that actively looks for responses of faith.  Look at the Missional Communities article on Wikipedia to learn a bit more.

Let's pray that such Missional Communities will grow and multiply in the months and years to come.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Love Has Come!

Nancy Kruse was called home by her Father God in the late afternoon of November 30, 2010.  Nancy has been a great inspiration, a prayer and praise leader extraordinaire, bringing many into the throne room of God. 

A memorial service of praise and prayer for Nancy will be held at Oak Heights Covenant Church, 1398 South Grade Road, Hutchinson, MN 55350 (320.587.8483) on Friday, Dec. 10, 6:30 p.m. with visitation beginning at 5:30.  Nancy's funeral will be at Waverly Lutheran Church, 1333 220th Street, Trimont, MN 56176-1240 (507-776-4781) on Saturday, Dec. 11 at 11:30 a.m. with visitation beginning at 9:30. Karl's address is 6562 Kingfisher Lane, Eden Prairie, MN 55346.

The post below was written about 17 hours before Nancy passed from this life. 

Please click the link below and listen to this wonderful Mark Schultz Video in honor of Nancy and Karl Kruse.  Give thanks and praise to God.  Trust Him for Nancy, for Karl, for us all... Pray in Jesus' name.  Our Father welcomes us home!  Jesus loves you with a love that will never end. Thank you, Father God!  Thank you for the cross!
(There's a brief 15 second ad for a good cause before the video starts.)
Well, I know this life is filled with sorrow
And there are days when the pain just lasts and lasts
But I know there will come a day
When all our tears are washed away with a break in the clouds
His glory coming down and in that moment

Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess
That God is love and love has come for us all
Every heart set free, every one will see
That God is love and love has come for us all

For anybody who has ever lost a loved one
And you feel like you had to let go too soon
I know it hurts to say goodbye
But don't you know it's just a matter of time till the tears are gonna end
You'll see them once again and in that moment

Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess
That God is love and love has come for us all
Every heart set free, every one will see
That God is love and love has come for us all

Oh, and on that day we will stand amazed
At our Savior, God and King
Just to see the face of amazing grace
As our hearts rise up and sing

Glory, glory, hallelujah
Thank You for the cross
Singing glory, glory, hallelujah
Christ has paid the cost

Glory, glory, hallelujah
Thank You for the cross
Singing glory, glory
Christ has paid the cost
And every knee shall bow, every tongue confess
That God is love and love has come for us all
Every heart set free, every one will see
That God is love and love has come for us all

Love has come for us all
Love has come for us all

And every knee shall bow, every tongue confess
God is love and love has come for us all
Every heart set free, every one will see
God is love and love has come for us all

Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess
God is love and love has come for us all
Every heart set free, every one will see
God is love and love has come for us all

Monday, November 29, 2010

Signs and Warnings

Four weeks ago I had a car accident.  It still mystifies me how I could have not seen that stop sign.  I am so thankful that no one was seriously hurt.

On Saturday we were going out to get a Christmas tree and another of our cars, an old Previa van... one that I hadn't been driving recently because my daughter had it.... that van clunked and bumped in ways that could not have been good.  So I brought it to a local mechanic to see what's wrong.

When I was driving down Hwy 37 four weeks ago, I was feeling peaceful and I had no idea that a disaster was impending.  Likewise, my daughter has been driving the Previa in the cities where there are lots of potholes, so she might have thought the clunking and bumping was normal. 

This is a good lesson.  Just because something might feel peaceful or normal doesn't mean all is well.  Sometimes I need to be alerted by a sign, or by someone who might just know a bit more than I do.

Many times we're tempted to go it on our own and not pay attention to dangers.  Even if someone points out that we need help we're often tempted to ignore that warning.  We like to think we're doing just fine on our own.

Read the following scripture from Matthew 3 and ask: Who or what are the signs you need to pay attention today?  Who is calling your attention to them?  Don't just rely on your own strength or your own feelings.  Listen to the warnings and check it out.
Matthew 3:1-12
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,
    "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
    "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.' "
Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many [religious leaders] coming for baptism, he said to them,
    "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit worthy of repentance.  Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Who do you need to pay attention to today?  What in your life needs to be checked out?  Do you dare believe that someone just might speak for God?  It's good to pay attention because God always warns us for our own good.  He proved that by dying for sinners like me on the cross.

(That reminds me -- I need to make an eye-doctor appointment. I need to get the health of my eyes checked out...  I know I need to do that.  Ignoring it would be just dumb.)


* For more on this subject of "signs and warnings" click ►here◄ to see other posts related to "kairos" moments.  Kairos is the Greek word that the Bible uses for "time" in  Mark 1:15 - The time has come!  The kingdom of God is near!  Repent and believe the good news!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wisdom from McBee & Chambers

One of the things I'm enjoying most about this time between jobs is the time I've been given to deepen and broaden my spiritual life. Like so many things in the Christian life, however, being "deep" has its dangers. The devotion below reminds me of this.

None of us can save him or her self. We're always wrong -- either being too serious, too shallow, or, in my case, too silly. Praise God that he saves, and corrects, even "profound people" like me. The correction can even come in a single sentence:
"Beware of posing as a profound person— God became a baby."
My friend Stephen McBee put that as a status on his facebook wall early this week.  Steve served as youth director here in Cokato in the 1990s until 2000--and then, in 2002-2003 returned again when the church here was in need. I've enjoyed getting to know him a bit through his visits here and through connections by facebook and by phone. Steve has been--and is--a real blessing to many,  He has a great God given sense of humor and an incredible dedication to God's truth.

Here's the rest of the Oswald Chambers daily devotional that Steve quoted:
Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God— First Corinthians 10:31

Beware of allowing yourself to think that the shallow aspects of life are not ordained by God; they are ordained by Him equally as much as the profound. We sometimes refuse to be shallow, not out of our deep devotion to God but because we wish to impress other people with the fact that we are not shallow. This is a sure sign of spiritual pride. We must be careful, for this is how contempt for others is produced in our lives. And it causes us to be a walking rebuke to other people because they are more shallow than we are. Beware of posing as a profound person— God became a baby.

To be shallow is not a sign of being sinful, nor is shallowness an indication that there is no depth to your life at all— the ocean has a shore. Even the shallow things of life, such as eating and drinking, walking and talking, are ordained by God. These are all things our Lord did. He did them as the Son of God, and He said, “A disciple is not above his teacher . . .” (Matthew 10:24).

We are safeguarded by the shallow things of life. We have to live the surface, commonsense life in a commonsense way. Then when God gives us the deeper things, they are obviously separated from the shallow concerns. Never show the depth of your life to anyone but God. We are so nauseatingly serious, so desperately interested in our own character and reputation, we refuse to behave like Christians in the shallow concerns of life.

Make a determination to take no one seriously except God. You may find that the first person you must be the most critical with, as being the greatest fraud you have ever known, is yourself.
Such a good reminder. Thank you Oswald, and thank you Steve McB.  It's one of the most profound things I've ever read. ;-)

Friday, November 26, 2010


“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it... ” (Isaiah 2:2, ESV)
Watch out, as you go through these holidays, that the season does not make you even more rooted in "things" that can take you away from what will be far more important, far better, and much more lasting than the things of this earth.  Though the things of God be invisible for now, they will be the only thing that lasts.

We need to hear this word from God.  Today, as the world would keep you busy with shopping and decorating, stop and consider this truth.  Cry out to the Lord Jesus.  Ask Him to give you peace and perspective, so the devil, the world, and your sinful self will not triumph, even for a day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving As An Act of Faith

There are many things and many people for whom I will be thanking God this year, but there's a sense that, this year, we are experiencing this holiday in a way that is, perhaps, more true, more honest, more connected with real life.

The first American Thankgiving and the various thanksgivings in the Bible (including one in Deuteronomy 26) occur when something good has happened, that's true, but while the future is in doubt. 

In a minor way, we can resonate with that this year.  Last year I celebrated Thanksgiving as pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cokato.  I had no idea that I would be unemployed this year and living thanks to a transitional support agreement.  We have food, shelter, and everything else we need, but we don't know how things will be tomorrow.  It's uncertain.  But still, we will give thanks.

Always and everywhere, Thanksgiving is truly an act of faith.  It's an act of faith because we give thanks to the God whom we cannot see.  And it's an act of faith because we don't know, except through faith, that things will turn out, in the end, in a way that are worth giving thanks for.

Because of Jesus, and his death and resurrection for us, we know that someday, all will be well.  We will keep that in mind as we celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

Deuteronomy 26
    “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. 3 And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’ 4 Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God.
    5 “And you shall make response before the LORD your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6 And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. 7 Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. 9 And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O LORD, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the LORD your God and worship before the LORD your God. 11 And you shall rejoice in all the good that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A House Of Prayer

This morning I heard a sermon by Karl Kruse.  I got to know Karl, but not well, as he was pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Hutchinson.  In recent months however, through this year's spiritual storms, many of us here in the Dassel-Cokato area have gotten to know and love Karl and his wife Nancy through a series of events that I can only call miraculous--all in response to prayer.  I'll never forget the Thursday evening in April when, after the prayer team had met, God arranged for a "Prayer School" with Bjorn Peterson and Prayer Watch International to be hosted here in Cokato.  It was amazing grace--grace that continued today.

Karl sent me the notes he followed during his sermon.  You can access them here.  You can listen to Karl's sermon by going to this Sermon Network link.  He plans to be back in Cokato on January 7-8 for a Friday evening through Saturday afternoon introduction to "The Exciting World of Prayer.  Learn more by contacting Pastor Karl at 951-378-3479 or

Here are some of Karl's key points from my very sketchy notes:
  • God is doing cleansing work so his church will be a House of Prayer (Matthew 21:12ff).
  • Start with prayer (First Timothy 2:1-4) in everything you do as a church.  
  • Prayer is how we seek God's Kingdom and His Righteousness.  It isn't just one program (or "silo") among many others (Matthew 6:33).
  • God wants His Holy Spirit of Grace and Prayer to flow over the church (Zechariah 12:10).
  • Dependent prayer produces a deep relationship with God.
  • A wise builder will carefully check the prayer foundation before beginning (Matthew 7:24-29).
  • Storms expose the foundation of our lives--and of churches.
  • A strong foundation comes from a life of prayer.
  • Prayer involves listening (Luke 24:32) and acting in obedience (James 1:22).
  • Prayer is the place of beginning.  Without it growth and revival will not occur.
  • When we work, we work.  When we pray, God works.
  • Much of a foundation is not seen--prayer also is often not seen.
Please pray for Karl and his wife Nancy.  Nancy will be going to her Father God's home soon.  She's in what seems to be the end stages of a battle with cancer.  Pray that Karl and Nancy would know the peace of God that passes all understanding.  It's available to us all when we pray in Jesus' name.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Place to be Real

Yesterday at Edgewood Gables I had my chance to preach on the parts of the Bible that many of you will hear preached about on Sunday--Luke 23:32-43.

The scene is a placed called "The Skull," where a condemned criminal yells at Jesus--Jesus is also condemned--they're both being executed.  The first criminal yells at Jesus--"Aren't you the savior?  Why don't you save yourself and us?"  The story goes on to tell about a third man who defends Jesus and asks Jesus to remember him--and Jesus says: "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."  Soon thereafter, Jesus dies.  Praise God he doesn't stay dead--after Jesus is buried he rises from the dead.  From there we have the promise of our own resurrection when we trust our Lord.

I'd like to think I'd be like the second criminal--the one who defends Jesus and humbly asks to be remembered, but, honestly, I think I'm sometimes screaming at the Lord:
DO something! 
Make things better!  Enough already! 
Are you just going to leave me hanging? 
Aren't you my SAVIOR?
Am I always pious and polite?  No.  Sometimes I'm pretty raw.  Sometimes the Law of God comes down on me in the words of the second criminal: "Don't you fear God?  You are being punished as you deserve."

Deep down inside, I am a sinful man who thinks he has some sort of "rights" before God.  But what rights does a criminal have other than to be punished?  My sinful attitudes, words and actions "entitle" me only to be rejected by God!  Instead of screaming insults at the Lord; instead of thinking about how unfair God is--I should be grateful for every smallest little tiny blessing that I've ever enjoyed.  Praise God for his mercy--even if this present time is full of pain.

When I come to the cross in total honesty, that's what I learn.  That's what I learn when I'm honest and real before God.  And I need a place that will let me be real.  I need a place where I can be confronted with the evil that lurks within me.  I need a place to be knocked to my knees.

But in order for this to work, in order for me to allow God's Word to hit me hard, I need to know that the messengers of God's Word are not "all that."  Pharisees make poor preachers.  Self-righteous leaders leave me cold and hard.  And I need Christian friends too, Christian friends who "walk with a limp," people who have wrestled with God and who have, in the end, been humbled by him.

I need to hear God's Word alongside other human sinners--not with people who seem to have it all together.  I need a place where people won't talk down to me as if they are better than me.  I need a community of saints who know they are sinners, a community of people who have experienced the wrath of the God who takes all of our sins on himself.  I need a place where people won't excuse my bad attitudes and bad behavior and evil words, but will deal with me as one sinner to another.

Through Christian family and friends like that--and through a church like that--I can hear God's Word.  I need to hear this message: You're not okay and neither am I--BUT there is someone almighty powerful who is okay with that.  His name is Jesus Christ, and he died to forgive you, you greedy, self centered, unsatisfied, unfaithful sinner!  He has taken my burden of sin, and he will take yours too as we come to him.  Over and over again.

That's what I hope church can be.  A Place to Be Real.  That's what I'm waiting for.  I am confident that God will give us this.  In his time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Faith In Action

Please help Faith in Action of Wright County!  Here's an email received this morning about "GIVE TO THE MAX DAY" - tomorrow, November 16.  I am a prospective member of the Faith In Action board.  Learn more about how Faith In Action helps our elders and our handicapped brothers and sisters at Honestly, I don't think you need to wait until tomorrow!
Hello friends and family!

I want to take this opportunity to let you know how your small donation to our program can be maximized this coming Tuesday, November 16th.  That day is Give to the Max Day.  Any donations given on our secure website on that day will allow us to continue to provide our care receivers (clients) with the much needed services they so desperately need assistance with.

Faith in Action of Wright County’s mission is to help the elderly and disabled in Wright County maintain their independence at home.  We accomplish this by providing volunteer assistance for everyday activities such as:  grocery shopping; transportation to medical, dental and therapy appointments; respite; visitation; light housekeeping and seasonal yard work. Our Faith in Action volunteers are family to some of our care receivers (clients) that actually have none or no one that live near them.  Here is your chance to be part of our family, too!

Go to:  any time on November 16th and click on our Donate Now button.  Every hour a program will be chosen to receive an additional $1,000 if they have a donation coming in at that time. Any donation, any time of the day, is much appreciated! 

Thanks for making the difference in the lives of those we serve!  Thanks, too, for making a difference in the lives of those you encounter everyday!

Blessings to you today and everyday--

Allison Moser
Program Director, Faith in Action of Wright County
PO Box 613
Buffalo, MN  55313

Feel free to forward this on to anyone you feel may be interested in our mission!  Thanks!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On the Other Hand

For quite some time a particular Bible verse has been important to me.  It's from John 3:30 where John the Baptist says "He (Jesus) must become more, I must become less."  It's been a kind of theme or principle of life--a way of understanding how God is at work, humbling me and bringing me through a long period of testing.  It's also been a way of coping with what has seemed to be a journey toward insignificance.  Other scriptures reinforce this theme, including Philippians 2:3 "Do nothing with a spirit of competition or because you think you are so good or perfect, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves."

On the other hand, there are times when boldness is required.  Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians was written at such a time.  Paul becomes bold to the point where he knows he will come off as foolish (2 Cor 11:1).  Paul defends his authority as the Corinthian church's spiritual father, pleading with them out of love to not disrespect or forget what God had done through his work in their midst.  Even though he knows that he might seem childish or prideful or jealous, he says it's God's will for the people to learn what he has to say.  Read the book of Second Corinthians and see for yourself - especially see chapters 10-13.

Which should we be emphasizing now?  Should we slip away and let things take their course, or should we boldly assert ourselves according to God's will?  There is a time for each.  Please pray that the Lord would grant the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to me and Toni as we discern how he would have us proceed from here.

Father God, grant your measure of boldness and humility, and help us know when and how to act according to each in their time.  In Jesus' name.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Don't Forget

As we follow God into the future, let us consider how God desires us to carry forward how God has blessed us thus far.  Let us not despise the work our Lord has done in past years.  Who has blessed you?  Who has the Lord used to bring you to faith?  How have you seen the Lord at work?  What is God calling us to remember?

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” (Isaiah 51:1)

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” (2 Timothy 1:5)

(For more on this, see Tracing New History.)

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Lost the Game

There's a game my kids taught me some time ago.  I can't give you any more details in this public forum.  Make a commitment to play it for life and I'll let you in on what it's all about.  My Lithuanian friend Gintare reminded me of the game via facebook -- and now I lost again.  Thanks a lot, Gintare.  As taip pat pralosiau zaidima.

God wants us to lose.  On and off over the past few months I've meditated on a verse from Romans 3:4 - "Let God be true and everyone else a liar" - together with First Corinthians 1:19 where God destroys human wisdom and rejects our feeble attempts to understand what he's up to.  God wants to bring us to a place where we give up and give him complete control.

Have you realized yet how wrong you are?  This doesn't happen just once.  God wants to be boss always, and when we think we know too much, God brings us down.  God brings us through times when knowing we are fools is the most important thing.  During this season of my life, I pray God will give me the grace to be thankful when I lose to Him.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Peace Beyond Understanding

Last night at Northwestern College I sat in on a part of a class in apologetics.  The professor started with by sharing some thoughts and a prayer time based on Bible verses like these from Isaiah, where God says:
"I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things." (Isaiah 45:4b-7)
This portion of scripture is an example of what is called the "Sovereignty of God."  Because God is the creator of all things, God is ultimately in control--even of those things that are evil.  In the past, I've seen this as something terrible.  Now, however, I find it comforting.  Ultimately, in the end, we can trust that God has everything in his hands.  We know that's good because God is most clearly known in Jesus Christ, who gave his life for sinners like me.  What peace!  Even when it's beyond my comprehension, nothing is beyond the reach of the Master's hand.  No matter what, because of Jesus, we can trust.  We can allow God's plans to work themselves out.  How sweet it is.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On Being Lutheran

I've been asked, recently, why it's good to be Lutheran.  Every church denomination has it's problems.  So why is being Lutheran a good thing?

For me, if I had to put it in a brief statement, it would be something like what is summarized in Martin Luther’s explanation to the third article of the Apostles' creed.
It’s good to be Lutheran because Lutherans understand that we cannot believe or trust or come to Jesus by our own reason, understanding, strength or effort but, in terms of having a good relationship with God, all the initiative is God’s and God’s alone.
Lutherans get that right.  Jesus loves me just because He does.  He chooses to do so.  It's not because I'm good or worthy in any way.  It's not because I've said the right words or done the right things.  He simply chooses to love me and He reveals that to me through His Word.   I know of no other Christian denomination that is as clear and true on that one important point.

So what about our response to God's Grace?  That comes about through the work of the Holy Spirit, who works in us and through us when we give up our own initiative and live by God's Word and God's Will.  The good things we do and say and think and pray--they are VERY IMPORTANT, but they also begin with God.

Let me know what you think.  I've already revised this after getting feedback from a friend! ;-)

See also:
A previous post on this subject from May 27.
and Faith Does Not Dwell in our Brain
and Held By Truth

Friday, November 5, 2010

Papa Please

I know it's the wrong season to be talking about fishing, but an image came to me today as I was preaching on Luke 20:27-40 where a snarled, tangled family situation is described.  When I was a kid I learned to cast with a fishing reel a lot like the one pictured -- and it would get snarled and tangled fairly often.  And I thought of knotted and tangled shoe laces.  I'd try to undo them but, when I was small, I had to bring them to mom or dad and ask for help. 

Knotty situations and snarled relationships abound in our world because of sin.  Sin, as it's described in the LBW's order for marriage is "our age old rebellion" by which "the gladness" of God's gift "can be overcast and the gift of family can be come a burden."  In Luke 20:27-40 a situation is described where seven brothers each marry the same woman in succession, one after another dies and one after another each brother marries her.  The story is told to trip Jesus up, to trap him by describing a problem that can't be unraveled--even by God.  These opponents of Jesus believe there is no unsnarling this.  They think it's best to just accept the reality and realize that even God can't make it all okay--better just to die.

Jesus' Father, however, the one he encourages us to call "Abba" (like "Papa" or "Daddy"), He does all things well.  There is no snarl too complicated for Papa God to fix.  If in this world there's no way, God makes a way in the new world.  "In the resurrection," says Jesus, we "neither marry nor are given in marriage."  When we trust in Him the time will come when we will be clearly and obviously "like angels and sons of God" -- newly born again in the resurrection of the dead.  The time will come when all will be well, even the worst and most tangled of individual and family stories.  What an excellent thing.

I believe God wants to break into our world today with that hope--and with little or BIG signs of his untangling love.  Let's ask our Papa God to come and untangle the mess we've made of our lives.  Let Papa God go to work granting forgiveness and new beginnings where we believe all is lost.

Is your family or your life... or your church... is it all a snarled, tangled mess today?  Don't give up.  Papa God will help.  Bring your request to Him.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

When I Am Weak

This has been quite a week.  There have been accidents.  Pain has been expressed.  There was an outbreak of trouble among those I love.  Maybe that's why I haven't blogged since last Friday.  I'm fine physically, but this week has definitely been another time of trial--another test.

In an email I received the day before yesterday, a professional friend said,
"I would concur with your earlier observation that we are aligned against principles and principalities of evil in this world, and the battle rages on."
The battle, of course, is with sin and evil in the world and in my life and heart--and in your life and your heart.  More than one of these difficulties came upon me this week, and also friends and family members, not simply from "bad luck" but because of sinful stupidity.  The humiliations are only surpassed by the costs in pain and suffering and cash.  The worst is that, in more than one case, innocent bystanders were hurt.  I feel so guilty--and thankful for Jesus' love and grace, given at the cross for sinners like me.

Please pray that all who have been hurt by whatever means will be fully healed--physically, spiritually and emotionally, in the way and in the time chosen by God.

* * * * * * *

In any case, I this morning I was blessed as I read the following from Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening. I included it here after slightly updating the language*, in the hopes that it will bless you too.
“For my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

A primary qualification for serving God with any amount of success, and for doing God’s work well and triumphantly, is a sense of our own weakness. When God’s warriors marches forth to battle, strong in our own might, when we boast, “I know that I shall conquer, my own right arm and my conquering sword shall win me the victory,” defeat is not far distant.

God will not go forth with us when we march in our own strength. When we plan on getting victory that way we are wrong, for “it is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” They who go forth to fight, boasting of their prowess, shall return with their merry banners trailed in the dust, and their armor stained with disgrace.

Those who serve God must serve Him in His own way, and in His strength, or He will never accept their service. That which we do, unaided by divine strength, will not be approved by God. God will not receive mere human efforts as His own. He will only embrace those good things that come from His own initiative, the fruit of seed that was sown from heaven, watered by grace, and ripened by the sun of divine love.
God will empty out all that belongs to you before He will give you his own powerful blessing; He will first clean out your granaries before He will fill them with the finest of the wheat. The river of God is full of water; but not one drop of it flows from earthly springs. God will have no strength used in his battles but the strength which He Himself imparts.

Are you mourning over your own weakness? Take courage, for there must be a consciousness of weakness before the Lord will give you victory. Your emptiness is but the preparation for your being filled, and your casting down is but the making ready for your lifting up.

When I am weak then am I strong,
Grace is my shield and Christ my song.”

I pray that all of us will know God's strength even as He empties us of our own.


*Some reading this may wonder why, when I updated Charles Spurgeon's writing from the mid 1800s, I kept using "He" and "Him" as pronouns for God.  After all, God is not a man and God is not male.  Christians, however, know God only has God has been revealed to us.  The clearest revelation of God is in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who called God "Abba" (meaning "Daddy," "Papa," or "Father")  Therefore Christians are bound to refer to God, mostly, as "Him" or "He" etc.  For more on this see Dan Biles' brief article on the Wordalone website, listen to Robert Jenson's hour long presentation "Speaking Of, To and For the Triune God" from the 2010 Lutheran CORE Theological Conference or download a pdf of my 1982 seminary paper "'Father' and 'Son' in the Naming of God: A Necessity for Christians?"


Friday, October 29, 2010

Can We Listen?

I got an email yesterday from Sojourners, a Christian social-justice organization.  It began like this:
Dear Candidate, Party Organization, PAC, Super-PAC or any committee that happens to be contributing to the non-stop political ads that have flooded my TV:

Give us all a break! We're sick of the attacks, the innuendos, the outright lies, and the prophecies of doom if the other candidate gets elected; and the same commercials over and over again. There is one week left before the election. Instead of filling the airwaves with noise, how about you give us all a chance to clear our heads and do some thinking? I'm pretty sure you have said everything you have to say and made all the arguments you can make. The only things the negative ads and robocalls are accomplishing at this point are annoying lots of people and wasting lots of money.
And it went on from there.

No one likes negativity, but... there is another side to this.  Sometimes, even in the most negative of attack ads, there is a grain of truth.  Should we reject that truth simply because of the way it's said?  Or can we listen anyway?  Normally, even if we need to look hard, there is truth there.  If truth may be there, I think we ought to pay attention.  I think we always need to look for the truth.

This Sunday (October 31) is Reformation Day, the day that marks the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  On this day in 1517, Martin Luther posted his "95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences."  Lutherans celebrate this day as a festival of the church yearThis is true even though the church authorities at the time were terribly offended.  Two and a half years after the Theses were posted, and after Luther had written many other criticisms of the church, the following statement came from the Pope:
Arise, O Lord, and judge your own cause. Remember your reproaches to those who are filled with foolishness all through the day. Listen to our prayers, for foxes have arisen seeking to destroy the vineyard whose winepress you alone have trod. ... The wild boar from the forest seeks to destroy it and every wild beast feeds upon it....

...Lying teachers are rising, introducing ruinous sects, and drawing upon themselves speedy doom. Their tongues are fire, a restless evil, full of deadly poison. They have bitter zeal, contention in their hearts, and boast and lie against the truth...
And these attacks on Luther's negativity--these complaints against Reformation zeal--they went on from there.

How do you feel when someone makes critical or negative statements?  Many things Martin Luther said were negative!  Remember that as you evaluate what is being said by politicians or those who are debating church issues!  I wonder how much of the Roman Catholic Church's rejection of Lutheran teaching had to do with emotional or protective reactions to criticism.  Could the Roman Catholic Church have reacted differently?  Could the pope have said, "Martin, you make some good points in what you criticize.  Let's talk."

I believe God is calling us to listen to what is said no matter how it's said!  Remember: God's Word is not "nice."  God's Word often comes upon us sinners with fierce purpose.  God's Word is often negative.  God's Word does not leave us alone.  God does provide a way out, but on the way, his word stings and cuts.

Now, while it's true that we ought to be careful about what we say and write so we're not unnecessarily harsh, it's also important not to reject the "what" of a critical statement just because the way the statement was made causes us to be offended or annoyed.   The Roman Catholic church, for example, had every right to be offended by some of the things Luther said.  At his trial in 1521, he admitted:
...I have written against certain private individuals who attempted to defend such Roman tyranny and denounce my pious doctrine. I confess that I have been more bitter and vehement against them than is in keeping with my Christian estate and calling. ... 
But, instead of continuing his apology, he went on to say:
...I do not claim to be a saint, nor do I proclaim my life, but rather the doctrine of Christ.  I cannot revoke these [things I have written], since my revocation would mean the continuance of their tyrannical, violent and raging rule due to my compliance and hesitancy. The people of God would be treated more violently and unmercifully than ever. (The rest of Martin Luther's defense at his trial can be found here.)
What Luther is saying, I think, is this: "Don't focus so much on "how" I say something, though I could have said things in a kinder way.  I can't really apologize for it because there is truth to what I have said.  Please pay attention to what is being said and why I'm saying it, even though I know I could have done it in a better way."

This is an example of why the truth is far more important than the way it is said.  That's the case in church debates and, I think, in political ads and personal relationships.   

We should not reject what is said because of how it's conveyed.  Sometimes you may feel like the person or group making the negative statement is really wrong or even crazy!  Still, I suggest that we follow this advice by Valerie Porr:  "Find the nugget of truth.  Sometimes you may feel like you're searching for a lost ring in the sand at the beach, or a contact lens in an airport restroom."  Most of the time, somewhere, there is "a valid basis" for what is being said.  Look for it.  And don't be afraid.  By doing so we'll be more prepared to hear the truth of God's Word.

This Sunday, on Reformation Day, many of us will hear Romans 3:19-28 and John 8:31-36.  This morning I had the privilege of preaching on these texts at Brookridge.   The main message was this: Hearing the truth--even when it hurts--that is what will set us free.

How can that be?  Jesus gave his life to save sinners--no one but sinners--sinners like me.  So when the Word of God comes to you, in whatever form and by whatever messenger, even if it's comes to you in a way that feels hard instead of kind, don't be offended.  Don't put your guard up too high.  Be willing to listen.  Be willing to learn.  Jesus pays the penalty for all sin.  Admit it all.  Bring it to him in prayer.  He will bring you through as a new person.  You will be born again.

So rejoice when you are cut down to size.  Let God's Word do God's work.  Let it speak, even if you feel attacked.  Examine what is said, not based on how you feel.  Instead, consider the truth.

And the truth will set you free.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Quiet Time with God

Good morning! I pray that you know God's peace in your life today, in Jesus' name.

In early September Toni and I attended a Shepherd's Canyon retreat, and while there, we received this "Time to Talk with God" prayer guide from Barbara Brunworth, a wise Christian who has walked with many people through the seasons of life.  Yesterday I asked her permission to share it with you and she said: "Yes, the Prayer Walk sequence is something I put together many years ago for a retreat.  You can certainly use it and say it came from me.  I'd be pleased if others were blessed by it."

Set aside time to do this when you can be quiet.  I spent an hour or two with this and found it a great blessing. If you want, you can download the Time to Talk with God and read it as a pdf or print it out.  Links for the download are at the bottom of this post.  I read it at my computer.  You may choose to print it out and read it elsewhere, or actually take a prayer walk with the Lord.  This prayer guide is especially helpful during times of stress or before making important decisions.  May you feel or hear the Lord speaking to you as you pray.

Time to Talk with God
by Barbara Brunworth (Dallas, Texas)

In order for God to speak to us, we must be willing to listen.  God speaks to us through His word from Scripture.  God speaks to us in the mystery of the sacraments, baptism and communion.  God speaks to us in a still small voice within our very “heart and soul”.  God speaks to us through Christian friends and mentors i.e. pastors, teachers, and friends who have maturity in Christ.

Being a Christian provides potential for coping that the world does not have.  Knowing God and His love for us enables us to measure the influences in our life in a whole different way than the world.  We find guidelines in developing our values.  We can find correction for the attitude adjustments that we need to make.  Emotions that result in burdens for us can be laid at the feet of Jesus.  When we’re scared of relinquishing control, we can rest in the arms of Jesus with the confidence that He is in control.  When all the circumstances are chaos around us, we can still have the peace that passes understanding, because Christ promised that He has come to give us peace, not as the world gives it, but only as it comes from knowing Him.


Philippians 4: 4 - 7
Use as a beginning for the prayer walk

Continue with one or more prayers of praise and thanksgiving:

Jude 1: 24 - 25
Prayer of praise

Also Psalm 47, 136, 100, 117, 150

Colossians 1: 3 - 14 and Ephesians 1: 3 - 10
Prayer of thanksgiving

Contemplate your life by listening to what God has to say to you in His love letters to you His child:

Colossians 2: 6 - 7    
When you know Christ, then what?

Ephesians 4: 17 - 32
and Colossians 3: 5 - 17   
The new life we live when we know Christ

Philippians 3: 1 - 13 especially v. 9     
We are put right with God and absolved of sin through faith

2 Timothy 3: 1 - 9   
The last days will be difficult – women will follow evil men

Hebrews 11: 1 - 40    
A reminder of how faith helped others go through difficulties

James 1: 12 - 15    
God tempts no one – we are trapped by our own evil desires

Consider how Our Heavenly Father knows us and loves us anyway:

Psalms 139     God knows us completely

Through His Word let Him examine you in order to discover your own thoughts and then to guide you in the everlasting way:

James 2: 1 - 13    
Against prejudice

James 3: 1 – 12    
Teaching us how powerful our words are

James 4: 1 – 10    
Helping us to see that being a Christian will mean saying “no” to some things

James 5: 1ff         
A warning to us about getting caught up in our possessions, wanting things or in getting discouraged when we don’t have what we’d like

When we can see the wrong/sin in our lives and can feel the guilt, then we can do something about it.  We confess it.

Read Psalm 51 and then Psalm 32

Now read:

Galatians 5: 1 – 6 and 13 – 15, and First John 4: 11 – 24
Know that it is Christ who has set us free and it is by staying in union with Christ that we can love others

The following selections may be used for special circumstances.  Read any that seem to speak to you at this time:

Second Corinthians 4: 16 – 18 and 5: 1 – 10 
Do not be discouraged – our body is only our temporal home

Second Corinthians 8: 1 – 12 and 9: 6 – 15
On Christian giving

The Psalms were written as prayers or songs about the everyday of life.

Psalm 6, 13, 77, 102, 142, 143
Written by David when he felt God was not listening and when he felt great depression.

But then be sure to read:

Psalm 34: 18 – 20
Ps.  40: 1 – 5
Ps. 42: 11
Ps. 145, 146
Ps. 37: 34 – 37

Ps. 90
Reminds us to number our days

Ps. 127
Tells us how our homes are to be built

Ps. 101
Asks the Lord to help us be Godlike in our homes

Ps. 111: 10
How to be wise

Ps. 15
Who can approach God

Ps. 23
Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need

Ps. 25: 4 – 14
Prayer for forgiveness for the sins of my youth

Ps. 37: 8
Stop your anger and worry

Ps. 121
God is my protector

Ps. 66
Thanks to God for answering your prayer

At the end of your prayer time read:

Galatians 5: 16 – 25
The Spirit should direct our lives

And finally, to complete this talk with God, read the following Living Bible translation of Psalm 119: 1 –  43.

            Happy are all who perfectly follow the laws of God.  Happy are all who search for God, and always do His will, rejecting compromise with evil, and walking only in His paths.  You have given us your laws to obey – oh, how I want to follow them consistently.  Then I will not be disgraced, for I will have a clean record.

            After you have corrected me I will thank you by living as I should!  I will obey!  Oh, don’t forsake me and let me slip back into sin again.

            How can a young man/woman stay pure?  By reading your Word and following its rules.  I have tried my best to find you – don’t let me wander off from your instructions.  I have thought much about your words, and stored them in my heart so that they hold me back from sin.

            Blessed Lord, teach me your rules.  I have recited your laws, and rejoiced in them more than in riches.  I will meditate upon them and give them my full respect.  I will delight in them and not forget them

            Bless me with life so that I can continue to obey you.  Open my eyes to see wonderful things in your Word.  I am but a pilgrim here on earth; how I need a map – and your commands are my chart and guide.  I long for your instructions more than I can tell.

            You rebuke those cursed proud ones who refuse your commands – don’t let them scorn me for obeying you; For even princes sit and talk against me, but I will continue in your plans.  Your laws are both my light and my counselors.

            I am completely discouraged – I lie in the dust.  Revive me by your Word.  I told you my plans and you replied.  Now give me your instructions.  Make me understand what you want; for then I shall see your miracles.

            I weep with grief, my heart is heavy with sorrow, encourage and cheer me with your words.  Keep me far from every wrong; help me undeserving as I am to obey your laws, for I have chosen to do right.  I cling to your commands and follow them as closely as I can.  Lord, don’t let me make a mess of things.  If you will only help me to want your will, then I will follow your laws even more closely.

            Just tell me what to do and I will do it, Lord.  As long as I live I’ll wholeheartedly obey.  Make me walk along the right paths for I know how delightful they really are.

            Help me to prefer obedience to making money!  Turn me away from wanting any other plan than yours.  Revive my heart toward you.  Reassure me that your promises are for me, for I trust and revere you.

            How I dread being mocked for obeying, for your laws are right and good.  I long to obey them!  Therefore in fairness renew my life, for this was your promise – yes, Lord to save me!  Now spare me by your kindness and your love.  Then I will have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust your promises.

            May I never forget your words, for they are my only hope.  Therefore I will keep on obeying you forever and forever, free within the limits of your laws.

Click the links below to read on your computer as a pdf or to print.
Time to Talk with God as above with scripture references - 4 pages

Time to Talk with God with all words from Bible verses included - 20 pages