Thursday, May 27, 2010

To Be Lutheran

To be Lutheran is to believe God's Word.  To be Lutheran is to understand that the Bible has a center--a shining life-giving center--that is, the excellent good news of what God has done through Jesus Christ.  To be Lutheran, however, means we respect and hold that the entire Bible is God's Word, that we do not pick and choose which parts are worthy of our careful attention.

Lutherans understand that the Bible is an ancient book.  We know it takes work to mine its riches.  We know it deserves careful study.  We have, however, always believed that the Bible speaks with God's authority.  Those who say the Bible is simply an old book of ancient human wisdom are neither Lutheran nor Christian.  We are the people of God's revealed Word.  We do not make up or find truth (in regard to our relationship with God) on our own.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Historic Crossroads - Wednesday, June 23.

The following is from the April 20, 2010 minutes of our local church council:
T.B. moved, B.M. seconded, to have a congregational meeting in order to have our first vote to leave the ELCA.  The vote was taken by paper ballot with these two options: Yes, call vote OR No, let's wait and not have a vote.  T.R. and N.B. served as tellers.  Results of the vote were:
    7 - Yes to take vote
    5 - No, wait and not have a vote.
Motion carried.
T.B. made a motion, seconded by J.B., to call a special congregational meeting to be held June 23, starting at 6 p.m. with a vote taken as close to 7 p.m. as possible.  Councilors voted by raising their hands.  There were 7 votes for and 6 votes opposed.  Pastor Thorson voted in opposition.  Motion Carried.
With these actions our church council set up a historic crossroads for our local church. Though many of us have not asked for it, it is upon us.  I have written an article for our church newsletter on this subject.  It will be printed today, assembled with the rest of the newsletter tomorrow, and mailed soon after.

Please keep us in prayer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rescuing Rahab

This is actually part of the Spiritual Battle series, but it's a bit off topic. It does come from my reflections on the book of Joshua as I've talked about before, but this is more a part of how to deal with how God prevented "collateral damage" in the destruction of Jericho.

The part I'm focusing on is from the 6th chapter.  This follows a horrible scene--the universal judgment of God--death--comes down on every inhabitant of Jericho except for the family of Rahab.

Who is Rahab?  Why is she saved from the destruction?  What do we know about her?  I'm not an Old Testament scholar, but I do know three things.
  1. Rahab is a prostitute--why, we don't know.  Many women fall into prostitution because they are just desperate.  Desperate especially in a society that provided no options for women who were not married.  For most, it's a trap that they find themselves in with few options they can find for themselves.
  2. Rahab helped God's spies.  You can read that story in Joshua chapter 2.  She hid the spies and told them the truth they needed to know.  In turn, she asked for protection for herself and her family.  She was incredibly brave and resourceful.
  3. The spies went back to Joshua, the captain of God's people, and God's people kept their word--they rescued Rahab from destruction and gave her a place to live.  Eventually she joins God's people fully and becomes a great-great-grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus.  She is listed among the examples of faith in action -- See Hebrews 11:31 and James 3:25.
Here's the quote that depicts the rescue:
Joshua 6
22 Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house, and bring the woman out of it and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” 23 So the young men who had been spies went in and brought Rahab out, along with her father, her mother, her brothers, and all who belonged to her—they brought all her kindred out—and set them outside the camp of Israel. 24 They burned down the city, and everything in it; only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. 25 But Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, Joshua spared. Her family has lived in Israel ever since. For she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
We can apply this story by understanding it spiritually.  The city of Jericho, with its walls, is a "spiritual stronghold."  A "spiritual stronghold" might be a family or a town, corporation or government that is hiding evil behind its walls--keeping secrets.  Rahab the prostitute might be a family member or "whistle blower" who lets someone on the outside know what's going on.  Joshua, the spies and the people of Israel are those who know the truth of God and are ready to stand against lies and evil so many in this and future generations can be set free.  In the story of Jericho Rahab bravely hides the spies and, when the fortress of evil finally is overrun, partly because of the truth she has made known, she is rescued instead of being destroyed.  She becomes a hero of faith.

I believe there are many people like Rahab in our lives today.  Many times they bring painful, inconvenient truth to our attention. Many times they have suffered the oppression of the strongholds they live in.  Many times they are far from innocent.  Still, following this story, such people deserve to be protected and taken to safety while situations of injustice and oppression are obediently and forcefully addressed according to God's Word.  They should not be left to just fend for themselves.

What do you think?  Who is a "Rahab" in your life?  Who has come to you with truth that points out what you needed to know?  Who do you know that needs protection, rescue, safety?  How can you pray?  How can you act on their behalf?  Can you let them know how brave they are?  Can you let them know they are not alone?

As I've mentioned before, all of this "spiritual warfare" stuff is new for me.  Let me know what you think.

Spiritual Battle (part 2)

As I'm reading through the Old Testament book of Joshua, I'm looking for clues as to how to wage spiritual battle today against evil in the world today.  Though I understand that "battle" language is dangerous in some ways--the new ELW hymnal leaves out battle hymns like "Onward Christian Soldiers"--the New Testament is absolutely clear that we do not fight other people as if they were our enemies.  Instead, our enemy is spiritual--the "spiritual forces of wickedness" that continually fight against everything good.

The first battle story in the book of Joshua is the "Battle of Jericho."  There is no "fighting" in this story except by God himself--just like in the Exodus (See Ex 14:14)--the only one who fights is God himself.

That is one principle of Spiritual Warfare.  We do not fight.  No matter how hard things become, our task is to keep still and pray, only "doing" when it's clear the "doing" is commanded by God.  Guidance for that is found in the scriptures--centered and interpreted by what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross--what he has done for us through his immeasurable love.

In the Spiritual Battles of this life, we rely totally on the power of his Word and his shed blood,  We pray, we listen for God's direction, we pray some more, and then, relying on God's Grace, we act.  In Spiritual Battles, we lay our lives on the line with no defense or offense other than what God provides.

Read Second Corinthians 10 and Ephesians 6:10-20 and let me know what you think.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Word for Today

The following is today's devotional writing by Bo Giertz from the book To Live with Christ, translated by Richard Wood with Bror Erickson.  The devotion is based on John 3:16-21.
"That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
    The Gospel reading for the day after Pentecost begins with a verse that has been called "the little Bible." Many can recite this verse, sometimes without even knowing what it means.  Certainly they comprehend that God loves the world, but they let it go at that.  For them, the Gospel is the common truth that God is good and there's nothing to worry about; they will get to heaven in one way or another.
    Now that we have followed Jesus from His birth to His ascension*, we understand how faulty this thinking is.  The deep and serious problem is how to unite the fallen world and the evil in it with holy God.  The fact that God loves us doesn't matter.  There's something in our nature that creates an insurmountable wall of separation.  It could be broken down only by God giving His only Son, sacrificing Him, and letting Him die for our sins.  That is the only possible way for us to be restored to God.  It happens when we are united through faith with the only begotten Son, who died for us.  Therefore, whoever believes in Christ will not perish, but have eternal life.
    Without Christ we would be lost.  Not believing means belonging to a world that must perish.  It's not a matter of judgment that an angry God will pronounce on some of us in the future.  It's a judgment that is already impending on the world.  The reason for this judgment is the fact that evil in its entirety pursues a course away from God.  The world has said no to God, and persists in its no.  John says it presented itself when the light, Jesus, came into the world.  People loved darkness more than Light (John 3:19).  They don't want their deeds to be exposed.  They prefer to live without God, apart from God.  Unbelief means allowing evil to control and decide.  Faith means receiving the Light when it comes.
    This Light has shined forth since the first Pentecost.  We live in the time of the Spirit and the Church.  The Light has come to us too.  Here, there is a possibility of salvation, and the Spirit is sent to help us take advantage of this opportunity.
Come, Holy Spirit
you who illumine our hearts, and allow us to see the glory of Christ.  Come to Your Church and help it witness with power and joy about God's love, that drove Him to give His only Son so we would be saved. Let the Gospel be preached with power and authority, as joyous as it is, so everyone's eyes will be opened and everyone's hearts will be filled with a longing for your salvation.  Let Your Light shine in the darkness so we are drawn to the glory that shines forth from Christ's faith.  Holy Spirit, save us. 
*the Christmas through Easter seasons of the church year

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Spiritual Battle (part 1)

Last week when I was up in the boundary waters I had hoped to start reading through some books of the Old Testament that I've neglected in the past.  But the Bible was forgotten in the car so I'm just getting started now that we're back from there and our big family day around Naomi's graduation is over too.

Reading through the book of Joshua I arrived at these verses from chapter 5:
13 Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?” 14 He replied, “Neither; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped...
These verses come just before the most unlikely of events--the conquest of Jericho by people who just obeyed God.  They did not fight.  They just obeyed God who told them, through the "commander of the army of the Lord," that they should simply march around the city once a day for six days (according to some more specific instructions you can read in Joshua 6) and then, on the seventh day, to march around seven times and then, on the last time, the trumpets would blow, the people would shout, and the walls would come tumbling down.

What impresses me, however, is how the "commander of the army of the LORD" does not say he is on Joshua's side.  He does not say he will make Joshua's plans succeed.  He simply gives instructions that Joshua should give to the people.  Joshua is but a servant.  The Lord is in charge.

How does that apply to any spiritual battles you are facing these days?  Are you willing to wait to hear what God has to say before making your plans?  Following God's commands is truly the only way that any of us will have any success at all.

I'll plan to add to these thoughts in the days to come.  Add your own by commenting below or contacting me.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Spirit of Truth

Here's a draft of tomorrow morning's sermon.  Not only are we recognizing high school graduates tomorrow, tomorrow is also The Day of Pentecost.  This festival has been celebrated since ancient times by the Jewish people as the "Feast of Weeks" or, in Hebrew, Hag ha-Shavuot, commemorating God's gift of the Ten Commandments and the harvesting of wheat.  It occurs 50 days (7 weeks) after Passover, at which time Jesus suffered, was executed, and rose from the dead.  The Christian account of Pentecost is found as chapter 2 of the New Testament book of Acts.  The assigned reading is verses 1-21.  We will also be reading Psalm 104:24-35; Romans 8:14-17 and John 14:8-27.

THIS is an important time.  High school seniors are graduating.  We're moving closer to the June 23 meeting.  And, this day, today, this is the actual day when, about 2,000 years ago, the Spirit of Truth came down on about 120 disciples, gave them courage and miraculous communication skills, and by that evening the church had grown by 2,600 percent.  And all of these things--high school graduation, our June 23 meeting and the explosive growth of the church--it's all based on Truth.  The truth we learn, the truth we know and the truth God gives us as a gift to the world.  This is an important time.  A time of Truth.  A time for the Holy Spirit of God to work within us, among us, and through us--not because we are anything special, but because we have been given the Spirit of God--the Spirit of Truth.

In our Gospel we have these words from Jesus:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  This is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
If my some miracle you can trust God's love, if you know the truth about yourself, that you are a lost sinner saved by Jesus, if you know who you are and the truth of Jesus' love, then the Holy Spirit of God's Truth has done his work!  By that work of Truth, you are born again!

It's a miracle because so often we avoid the truth.  We don't want to know who we are any more than we want to know just how much sludge and oil is pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.  We don't want to think about how our lives and our lifestyles indirectly hurt the creation and the poor of the world.  We do not want to remember how we have done damage through our pride, our stubbornness and our unwillingness to work out our differences in a peaceful and respectful way.  We don't want to know how much is hurts God when we fail to pray, when we fail to trust, when we gossip and try to control others.  But when God comes to us we come to know the truth--the truth of our damnable sin--and the truth of his far greater love.

And because of Jesus' love, we never have to be afraid of the truth.  That's what I'd like to say to our graduates this year.  You never need to be afraid of the truth.  Because God is the truth, and because God sends his Spirit of Truth, you never need to be afraid of your questions, you never need to hide your mistakes, you never need to pretend you are anything other than what you really are.  God knows all that.  God knows everything there is to know about you and God loves you just the same.  Let your minds expand.  Learn all you can.  Let your hearts be open.  Let God's love pour in like a river.  When you are hurting and wounded, come to a Christian adult who can pray for you and share this truth--God will always love you, no matter what.

I'd say something similar to the members of this church as we come up to the June 23rd vote.  You do not need to be afraid of the truth.  Let your minds and your hearts expand.  Talk with one another.  Learn all you can.  Don't come up to June 23 without doing some learning.  Think of that date as a test date for our church.  Not a final exam--this first vote on ELCA affiliation is not a final thing.  It is a first vote.  Disaffiliating from the ELCA takes two votes.  I think this vote is coming too soon because many of us just haven't learned enough yet... but our church council voted to bring this before the congregation a month from now.  There is no reason for fear, no reason to believe God will not lead us.  So take a breath, learn all you can, and come prepared for this first vote on the 23rd.  A letter from the council will be coming out to you shortly with the particulars.  In any case, hear Jesus' words: Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.  Be in prayer.  Pray for faith to trust God even at this time.

Finally--about that "explosive growth" of the church.  It is the Spirit of Truth that brought that growth.  If you read through the whole second chapter of Acts, you'll see how the Spirit of Truth made that happen.  The disciples had been in hiding.  For weeks they barely moved.  Then God came and made them change!  You never need to be afraid of God's changes!  When changes come that are in agreement with God's Word, we can let our joy just explode!  That's what happened to those disciples.  When God came they just let Him in.  No barriers, no walls, no boundaries.  God came and took them where they never expected to go.  God did that through signs and wonders, miracles and gifts of deliverance and healing--and, especially, through the Truth of the Word of God.

Peter was the spokesman.  He preached a sermon that we heard just a part of from Acts 2.  The sermon goes on to speak the truth.  We human beings, no matter who we are or when we have lived--our sins, whether we meant them or not, whether we know about them nor not--our sins were the reason Jesus died.  Those sins--those sins against the commandments God gave--You Shall Not Covet, You Shall Not Bear False Witness, You Shall Not Steal, You Shall Not Commit Adultery, You Shall Not Murder, Honor Your Father and Your Mother, Keep the Sabbath Holy, Keep God's Name Holy, Love God Above All--every time we miss the mark intentionally or unintentionally on those or any other of the commandments in God's Word--it's as if we put Jesus on the cross with each one.  Because Jesus is the only one who could pay the price for our treachery, for our disloyalty, for our treason against the one who loves us more than we can imagine.  But we never need to be afraid of that truth.  Accepting that truth, and preaching that truth, it opens the door for saving, freeing, precious grace.  Grace that never ends.  Grace that brings blessing every day.

When God's truth comes to us, we, like the people who heard Peter preach, we say "what shall we do?"  And, through Peter, and through this preacher today, you hear the same message.  Do not hide from God's truth.  Admit your sin.  Ask for his grace.  Give up your games.  Take Jesus instead.  Let God be your Abba Father.  Let Jesus be your savior.  Let us pray God's Spirit into you.  And then live in this new family--this new family of believers.  This new family of prayers and lovers and givers and forgivers--people who let new beginnings come over and over again--who never hold grudges--and who are never afraid.

That's the new beginning God has to give.  And that's the new beginning we can speak to every hurting, precious soul out there.  We let the truth be known.  The truth about ourselves--we never pretend we are good--only that we have a good God.  That's the truth the Spirit brings.  And when we speak that and live that truth boldly, when each of us takes our place in letting God have his way with us, I believe God will open the floodgates for a new beginning, a new beginning based on nothing but what the Spirit of Truth gives through the precious Word of God.

Jesus died for you.  Because of you and because he loves you.  And he rose again to give you new life.  That is the truth.  The truth that brings new beginnings.  And whether we're graduating, voting, or just going out to proclaim that truth to our neighbors, we never need to be afraid.  That truth is available for you today.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What About This?

One of the Bible passages assigned for Sunday, May 16, begins like this:
"One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour" (Acts 16:16-18).
What are we to make of this?  The Apostle Paul released a slave from bondage!  But look how he did it!  It was an act of powerful deliverance.  Just by speaking, in Jesus' name, the powers of God were released and the "evil spirit" that was binding that young woman and annoying Paul--that spirit left her "that very hour."  This upset not only the spirit, but the owners who were making money at her expense.

What are we to make of this "supernatural" stuff.  Are there such things as evil spirits?  I wrote about this just after midnight yesterday in a post entitled "Reasonable But Beyond Our Sight."  Jesus dealt with the spiritual world on a regular basis during his ministry.  The first Christians did too.  Can we easily just ignore it?  I don't think so.  I think it is good to be aware.  Not to be "impressed" or obsessive about evil and evil spirits, but, not to be ignorant either.

We Lutherans have pretty much lost any awareness or belief in the powers of darkness.  It just seems so spooky and unreal.  Normally we push it aside as unenlightened, superstitious, a relic of pre-scientific times.  I'm not sure that is wise.

We ought to be aware that many Christians are continuing, or reclaiming, the ministry of deliverance similar to what Paul did in Acts 16.  I came back to the church and heard my initial call to the ordained ministry through a "charismatic" church and conference.  I've seen the fruit of programs like "Alpha" that include teachings about the supernatural.  That's part of what we've been learning and praying about at the prayer school this week.  This wing of the Christian church is reclaiming a part of our Christian heritage that has been covered over for a very long time.  I'm still processing what it means for me.

Here's a small part of what we learned today.  I think it is a very interesting theory.  See what you think.
Until about 325 AD Christians regularly experienced miracles, healings and deliverance from the powers of evil.  This changed when Christians made a compromise with the Roman Empire.  The church was institutionalized and was given political authority but at the same time took on some non-Christian qualities.  For example, from that time and after the major Christian festivals were connected with pagan holidays.  This seemed to be connected with the end of supernatural ministry among Christians except in isolated areas far from Rome.  The Irish benefited from the miraculous missionary work of Saint Patrick, for example, who, according to what I learned today, was not a part of the Roman Catholic Church.
Okay... take a deep breath... there is more...
According to what I learned today, the "pagan" influence, tied with some of the institutions and traditions of Christianity, not only tied the hands of "ordinary" Christians (non-clergy), reserving ministry for just a few, it also brought actual "strongholds" of evil spirits, such as the "spirit of divination" referred to in Acts 16 into the mainstream culture of the church.  These spiritual forces of evil--which are named in the Bible--have inhibited or limited the Christian experience of the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit, making the church lack joy, love and power.  In the end, these things have made the church into a self-serving institution.
That's just a bit of the theory we're learning here.  I'm not sure what to think.  But I have seen evidence of God's power at work in prayer in ways that can't be explained by mere positive thinking.  I have also seen people suffer terribly from what seems to be organized and powerful evil influences.  So, I will continue to learn, and continue to pray.

And (another deep breath here!), when I see someone suffering under what just might be an evil spiritual influence, why wouldn't I do as Paul did, taking the authority of Jesus to bring peace and freedom to one of God's beloved children?  Or do I think I'm so much wiser and sophisticated that none of this "supernatural" stuff could really be true?  If we are dedicated to setting people free from physical slavery, why not from spiritual or emotional bondage?  After this week of prayer school, I think I'll be ready, when it seems clear enough, to take action instead of standing meekly by.

In any case, I will always preach Jesus first.  I won't get sidetracked from the shining center of the Christian faith: Jesus Christ and his love his grace and his peace.  This area of the "supernatural"--which Martin Luther knew was real--it can be overemphasized.  We always need to focus on Jesus first.  Every prayer, every act of charity and service, every part of daily life, AND every release from bondage--every good thing comes because of what He has done in his saving death and victorious resurrection.  Nothing good comes from me.

As always, I encourage you to respond.  Part of the purpose of this blog is to share so you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, can correct me, push me, and share your own questions, so together we can serve our Lord. Comment below or talk with me in another way.

May the peace and power of our Lord Jesus and his Holy Spirit be with you always.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How Can We Be One?

In John 17 Jesus is praying that we would be one with him and with each other.  He prays that he would be in us and that God the Father would be in him so that those who are joined to him may be "completely one."

Jesus prays this.  He does not command us to be one.  I think that's because we can't do it on our own.  It's too hard.

Unity is God's work, nor ours. To attain it, the best thing we can do is to follow Jesus' example and pray.

One of the ways that the John 17 prayer of Jesus is answered is as we understand "Spiritual Warfare." We are studying this in some detail this week, but the basic understanding of conflict as "spiritual" instead of personal is very helpful.  Knowing about Spiritual Warfare, we see that our conflicts are never against other people.

Christians know they have been rescued from their own sin by God's grace.  Because of that, we look at all people as equally beloved of God, precious treasures of God for whom Jesus gave his life and blood.  God's Word teaches us that there is a battle to be fought, but it is not with other people.  Instead, our battle is "against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil..." (Ephesians 6:12).

If we're honest, we see those forces of evil in our own lives even more than in the lives of others.  After all, we know ourselves best!  How then can we reject one another and go off into our own little camps? How can we hate one another and be angry with one another when we recognize how precious others are in the sight of God? There are times when temporary separations are needed for protection and repentance, but we never do that with anger. We may feel sorrow or pain, but we recognize the others as no more and no less in need of God's grace than anyone else, including me.  The goal is always renewed unity in the grace and peace of God.

So what do we do with anger against injustice and cruelty?  How do we stand up against what we believe is evil?  The scriptures counsel us to put on the "full armor of God" to do spiritual battle against evil, whether it's found in ourselves or in others.  The "armor" consists of truth, righteousness/justice, the good news of peace, faith, salvation/freedom, and the only offensive weapon, the Word of God (Ephesians 6:14-17).  Then, the Bible says, we pray.

The way to unity is through praying and taking on God's armor against spiritual enemies.  When we realize that, and when we accept that, we can stand beside others as brothers and sisters and fight no more.

Reasonable But Beyond Our Sight

It's late at night after the second day of the "prayer school."* On Tuesday we moved on from the basics of prayer to teaching on "spiritual warfare" prayer against evil forces.  Not only did we learn, we also prayed.  We prayed about things I've never spent much time thinking about.  We prayed for divine protection in the realms of the spirit.  We prayed prayers that take the "binding and loosing" authority from Matthew 16:19 quite literally.  I'm still running it all through my theological filters.

Here are a few quick thoughts before I go to bed--thoughts directed at my own skeptical self and at others who doubt the reality of things beyond what we can see with our own eyes. Though some of these things I'm learning here may be hard for me to accept when I get back home, there are reasons to pay attention to spiritual reality and learn how to deal with it:

1.  Anyone who prays is betting that there is a "spiritual reality" beyond what we can discern with our senses.

2.  Anyone who trusts Jesus as his or her savior from sin and its consequences is a believer in spiritual reality.  Otherwise trusting in a 2000-years-ago sacrificial death and resurrection would make no sense.  Christians believe that changes were made in the spiritual realms because of what Jesus did.

3.  The scriptures clearly state that Jesus and his disciples believed in the reality of spiritual beings such as God, angels, the devil and demons.  Can we throw out those beliefs and remain true to the Christian faith?

4.  When we experience unexplainable goodness or, on the other hand, has come up against situations where evil seems to be deeply entrenched, it is not unreasonable to think that we are encountering spiritual realities of goodness or evil.

5.  If God is "personal," that is, if God is anything other than a mindless "force of nature," and if God creates people with personalities, it's not unreasonable to think that God could also have created other personal beings, beings that may, like God himself, not have physical bodies, but, instead, be spiritual in nature.

6.  If prayer makes a difference in the lives of people here on earth, why couldn't it also make a difference among those who we cannot see?

I'm asking these questions because we're learning at this "prayer school" about prayer that deals with things far beyond the things we think about on an every day basis.  This world view takes the Bible seriously.  I'm still working this through, still praying and discerning, but I'm not ready to throw it out.

Of course, as we were warned in a presentation before Tuesday's main teaching, it's easy to put too much emphasis on angels and demons.  It's only part of the story.  But, if the scriptures and Jesus are correct, it's not a reality that we ought to ignore.

What do you think?  Comment below or email me anytime.

*see yesterday's post

Monday, May 10, 2010

Time to Pray

This coming Sunday the assigned gospel is from Jesus' prayer as recorded in John 17.  Jesus here is praying that we would have the kind of relationship with him that he has with his Father.  Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer.  In fact, the Bible says he is praying now, interceding for us, coming before God the Father with our needs!  So, if we're going to have the same kind of relationship with him as he does with his Father, doesn't that mean we will spend time in prayer too?

I'm spending this week at a prayer school* and prayer retreat up at Mount Carmel Bible Camp near Alexandria, MN.  It's a nice getaway... I'm considering it "continuing education" which is a part of my job... the prayer school is being led by Pastor Bjorn Peterson, currently on the staff of the ELCA's Grand Canyon Synod's Prayer Ministry.

But this prayer school and retreat is much more than education, and far more active than a retreat.  If this first day of this prayer school is any indication, things will be happening here.  Here, we won't just learn about prayer, we will pray.  Because we know prayer is important for Jesus, it's time well spent.

So, please let us know how we can pray for you this week.  Call me or text 763-291-3499.  Send an email -- I'll be checking email occasionally.  You can connect with me by facebook too.  Is anything making you feel anxious or afraid?  Are you weary or burdened?  Let us pray with you.  Don't try to go it alone.  Jesus is praying that we would be united with him in the same sort of relationship that he has with his Father.  And that means praying together--or at least sharing our concerns so we can pray together over the miles when we must be apart for now.

The peace of the Lord will come and be with you as you join with others to pray, in Jesus' name.

*The prayer school is focused on "Strategic Level Intercession and Warfare Prayer" based on Ephesians 6:10-20 and a Christian spiritual interpretation of the the Old Testament books Joshua and Judges where warfare plays such a central role.  It's the first prayer school on this topic that Prayer Watch International has ever sponsored in the United States.  We'll be having a different week long prayer school at our church next week, May 17-22.  The focus of that week is Listening--Listening for God's "voice" in scripture and through the Holy Spirit.  You're invited to come for all or part of the week.  Let me know if you would appreciate some financial aid to help you attend.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Prayer and the New You (part 2)

Today is the national day of prayer. We had about a dozen community members, students, staff & teachers in prayer at the high school earlier this morning. This evening we will have our regular time for prayer at 6:30. Then those who desire will go at 7:00 to the Elim Mission Church for a time of prayer as a community.

As an introduction to prayer we read Luke 11:1-13 and at the end Psalm 16 which begins:
Protect me, O God; I trust in you for safety. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; all the good things I have come from you.” (Good News Bible)
Though this world is still ruled by the powers of evil, and though all creation is corrupted and broken, all creation and every creature is still precious to our wonderful Creator.  And though we human beings are responsible for the "fall" into sin and evil, God's love has never given up on us.*  In fact, in His mercy, because of what Jesus has done, God gives us the opportunity to leave the past behind and to become new every day.

When we do become new through forgiveness and trust, we are really new!  We may not feel new.  We may not look new.  Like Jesus, we may look quite "normal."  But we're not.  And because we're not, there are times when we won't fit in.  There are times when we'll be under attack because, in some way or another, our newness comes shining through.  The old darkness hates the new light.  So, because we are new, we may actually feel worse than we did before!  And that's another reason we need to be in prayer.
Protect me, O God; I trust in you for safety. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; all the good things I have come from you.”
When we are new we cannot rely on old methods of protection.  The Bible makes it clear, over and over again, that we cannot rely on anything other than God.  People who trust in themselves or in the powers of this world will stumble and fall.  But when we trust only in the power of the Lord our God, we will rise and stand firm (Psalm 20:7-8).  And, when we pray, we trust in the power of God.  Prayer helps us trust.  Prayer helps us believe.  Don't pretend you can live as a new person in this old world without prayer.

Once again I encourage everyone to come for a day or more to the Prayer School we'll be hosting here at our church from May 17-22.  If you can't do that, just come tonight or any Thursday evening at 6:30.  It's good to get together and pray, to pray for God's protection, and, of course, to pray that others also will become new through repentance, forgiveness, and the all inclusive love of God.

*Last night Nate and I shared part of a video with our youth that presents God's love in the first person.  It's six minutes long.  You can watch it by clicking here.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Prayer and the New You

Praying and preparing to preach and pray this week, I'm in the book of Revelation.  Here we have a complex vision that God gave to the Apostle John when he was imprisoned on Patmos.  In Revelation we see earth's history from God's point of view, a war between good and evil which ends with total joy, total peace, total beauty.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth... and I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
I encourage you to meditate on this section of the book of Revelation by clicking here.  You won't understand it all, but you will get a sense of how glorious you will be in the end when you are joined to Jesus Christ.  For the holy city, the new Jerusalem, the "bride" of Christ--that is you--when you are joined to Jesus Christ.  When you are joined to Jesus you are beautiful beyond description.  You are a jewel in the holy city.  When you are joined to Jesus, you are a precious gift of God. Words fail in describing how excellent you are in the eyes of God.

Of course, your beauty is not your own doing.  Your own goodness is nothing but filthy rags. But when Jesus, your groom, claims you by God's Word and Holy Spirit, you are made new.  At the end of all things your glory will be revealed, not as anything you are in yourself, but as a part of the glory of God coming down from heaven.  Your goodness, your beauty, it comes "down out of heaven from God."

Will you trust Jesus for your beauty today?  Will you give up your search for your own beauty?  Will you come to the Lord in humble prayer, asking that your heart and your eyes be healed so you can see yourself as God sees you?  Will you ask others to pray for you and with you?  When you are sick at heart or sick in body, God has a promise for you.
Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. James 5:14-16
It's that sort of prayer that God is calling us to at our church during these days.  Some of us feel far from the Lord.  Some of us feel far from beautiful.  So we come, as God commands, to His Word and in prayer, clinging to his promises.  Promises that transform and change us when we pray.  In prayer, God's beauty shines.

Come to church every Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m. for prayer.  Or call us or other mature Christian friends (elders) who will pray with you at another time.  There is a special blessing when we get together in the name of the Lord.  This Thursday we have a special time of prayer--the National Day of Prayer.  Here in the Dassel-Cokato area we have times of prayer at the schools (7:30-7:45 a.m.), at the Cokato City Hall (12:20-12:40), and at the Elim Mission Church from 7-8:00 p.m.  The morning prayer at the schools (7:30-7:45 a.m.) will be at Dassel Elementary (next to the music room), at Cokato Elementary (music room), and at the High School (in the choir room just off the main commons).

Though God is perfect, prayer never is.  But still, stumbling or profound, God honors us when we come humbly to him in prayer, seeking his eyes, his heart, his purposes.  As we keep praying together, God will raise you up!  In the end, joined to Jesus, you and I will be jewels, precious, beautiful, the bride, the city of God.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

God's Will Be Done

A part of our Lord's Revelation to John the Apostle that we'll be reading at worship tomorrow morning:
21 1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
What does that mean?  There is a lot that can be said.  But, just to whet your appetite, here's part of a commentary by Brian Peterson, Professor of New Testament at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, SC:
God will wipe away every tear (verse 4a). This is surely one of the most moving images in scripture. The connection to the former things passing away (verse 4b) is crucial here. The promise is not only that God will wipe away any tears that might happen to linger on our cheeks after that Last Day, but that God will reach back through time to wipe away all the pained tears ever shed.

God will not just comfort us and help us to forget the bad things, but God will redeem the whole sorry story of human history. This is part of the deep hope of apocalyptic texts: salvation cannot come for me, in its full sense, as long as the terrible effects of my sins continue to ripple through the world... The promise here is that the chain reaction of human sin will be ended, and all the tears will be wiped away. The tears that God must wipe away are not only the tears we shed, but also the tears we cause.
We do not need to wait until we get to heaven.  The time for deliverance is now!  Lift up a suffering friend or family member to the Lord tonight!  If you can, go to them with others that care.  Gently touch their heads or shoulders and pray that they will know how precious they are in God's eyes.  Pray God's best now.  And keep praying.  This is God's will, made possible when Jesus took our all our sins to his cross and rose victorious to give us a new life.

Will you pray with me?
Father God, come and begin wiping tears now through your precious promises.  Through your Holy Spirit, come and do your work.  Your will be done on earth as in heaven. Bring suffering ones we name before you out of the scarred past and into the light of your presence now.  Give them a glimpse of your forever and ever love.  Begin and continue and complete your healing work. In Jesus' name.

Leaving the Building

Two weeks ago at the SW MN Synod Assembly several of us went to Gloria Dei Lutheran Church where we learned Doorway Evangelizing.  People from Gloria Dei has been praying for people in their neighborhoods and we went out to knock on some doors.  We brought a treat and asked "Is there anything we could pray for you?"  We did something similar last Sunday here in Cokato.  We met at 10:00 in the church library for prayer, asked the Lord to lead us, then went out with pieces of Karen Ake's birthday cake and a prayer request slip.  In both cases, people were blessed.  We'll try it again tomorrow.  Meet in the library for prayer at 10:00.  Some will just pray, others will go out.

It's good to invite people to church.  But it's even sometimes more helpful to just go to where they are.  Take a look at the following video and let me know what you think.