Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I had a conversation with my friend (and neighbor!) Heidi Smith beginning at about 12:30 this afternoon.  I see it as more evidence of God in our midst.  Heidi used to work at Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp.  I'll be heading down there either tonight or first thing tomorrow morning.  My wife and sons are there now.  The speaker at camp this week is Tim Hatt from Hosanna Lutheran Church in Lakeville. Looking forward to being there and hearing Tim and spending time with our friends and partners in ministry, Joel and Wendy Bethelsen.

I'm continually awed by how God works.  This conversation came via facebook messages.  (I'm taking time off from the facebook "wall" scene but still get messages.  After getting this today, I'm so glad I made that choice!)  The conversation involves the book of Esther.  I've been drawn to that book more than once in recent months.  I don't think Heidi knew that.  Again, I'm awed.

Her first comment about "listening" connects with the word "listening" that I wrote on my facebook wall last night before I decided to take a week break from that.  I wrote "listening" because it was clear at the time that God was calling me to do just that.

Here's the conversation.
  • Heidi: I just started to read Esther again. I am going through the Chuck Swindoll study on it. Great listening book of the Bible. :) I need to be reminded to LISTEN a lot. Praying for you guys. Hear well. 
  • Steve: Hey Heidi. I would love to see that study of Esther. We are studying Esther on Saturday mornings at our men's Bible study. I think of Esther as a book of Courage. How is it a "listening" book? 
  • Heidi: I guess according to Heidi, how I see it as a listening book...
        I think the Esther had to learn to listen. First she had to listen to Mordecai and obey him as her parent since her parents were no longer alive and he raised her. I think for any youth to have to listen to an adult at times can be a challenge, but in this case it wasn't even her parents raising her. She had to learn and listen to him and by doing this she built and developed a trusting relationship with him.
        Secondly she had to listen to Mordecai in not sharing that she was a Jew with anyone. I think she had to listen not only to Mordecai, but God as to when and how she would tell the king that she was a Jew.
        I also believe that Esther when she took her her maids and had them fasting a praying she had to be listening to God's calling, timing and planning or it would not have come out the way it did. She obviously in my mind had a strong relationship with God and knew that to have His hand on the situation prayer was the way. She knew that she was up against great odds.
        From what I see with Esther to have the kind of characteristics she has I think one has to listen, otherwise we go on our own knowledge and understand and can really mess things up.
        I always think it is interesting to hear people comment on the Book of Esther and how it doesn't specifically mention the name of God, but His hand is all over it.
        Let me know when you want to look at the book. I also have Beth Moore's study on Esther that is pretty interesting. I did that study last summer. 
  • Steve: Heidi that is totally excellent! Can I quote you on my blog? 
  • Heidi: Yep! You might want to spell check me though. ;)  ...  I won't be using the Swindoll book till mid morning tomorrow and as far as the Beth one you are free to look at that for a longer time. Just let me know. 
  • Steve: Thank you so much, Heidi -- I'll give you a call. I'd love to borrow the Beth Moore study now since I'm going to be gone for a a couple days at Okoboji! Thanks again!
I have thought of Esther as a book of courage.  That's true.  She stood up to the king and saved her people.  But, first, she listened.  Because she listened, God acted to save her people.  Because she listened to God, God used her mightily in the process of freedom and a new beginning for the oppressed.

Read the book of Esther.  Read it in a translation like The Message so it's easy to understand -- here's a link to the book in that version.  If you click that link, you'll go to a website where you can read the first chapter of Esther--then you'll need to look for how to move to the next chapter, etc.  It's not that long--only ten chapters.

In Esther God works powerfully to do the impossible!  In Esther a young lady does God's Work in a way that can only be seen though the eyes of faith.

But it all begins with listening.  Thanks, sister Heidi, for pointing that out!

I pray, in Jesus' name, that you and I would also listen for and hear the voice of God -- the voice of God that comes first through the Word of God become flesh, Jesus Christ, and then through every part of the Bible, including in the book of Esther, where God is working behind the scenes -- in the spiritual realms -- in what we've called The Third Floor.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Last and Hardest Lesson

"Wait, and you shall realize the joy of the one who can be calm and wait, knowing that all is well.  The last and hardest lesson is that of waiting.  So wait.  I would almost say tonight, 'Forgive me, children, that I allow this extra burden to rest upon you for even so short a time.' I would have you know this, that from the moment you placed all in my hands and sought no other aid, from that moment I have taken the quickest way possible to work out your salvation, and to free you."
Those words came to me on October 30, 2009.  They originally were "heard" by someone who was intentionally listening for God's voice and they were passed on to me in a time of great need.

The time of waiting continues.  Specifically what I was waiting for, and what I am still waiting for, is for a particular loved one to be healed and freed.  I am often very impatient and want to take matters into my own hands!  Also, many feel the same sense of urgency and I'm also waiting for the resolution of issues in our church and the reconciliation of those who are just having a hard time.

Still, often, I am tempted to stop waiting and to, instead, take matters into my own hands.  So tonight, another someone who listens for God's voice gave me a copy of a piece entitled "Life Principle 14: God Acts On Behalf Of Those Who Wait."  I hope these words will be as much as blessing to you as they are to me tonight.
    Why does God so often ask us to wait?  Let's consider five major rewards of waiting.

    1. We discover God's will and purpose in the things that most concern us.
    "The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks him" (Lamentations 3:25). God does not string us out to tantalize us. He does not dangle carrots in front of our noses to lead us along. He does not say, as do so many earthly parents, "We'll see." No. Right now, even as we wait, God is working all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes (Romans 8:28).
    2. We receive supernatural energy and strength.
    God invites us to claim His promises.  "He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:29-31).
    God promises that as we wait on Him, he will supply us with supernatural energy.  While our impatience makes us weary and worn, actively waiting on Him  energizes us...
AUTHOR'S SURPRISE - this is beyond strange... I did not write this today. It just appeared here. It looks familiar though... My guess is that I wrote this at some previous time and somehow dated it way in advance thinking that I'd finish it by the time it automatically posted. I can tell it was in process because I only finished transcribing two of the five points. If you don't understand that it's because you don't blog! In any case, I'm utterly amazed. An hour ago I chose to take a week off from Facebook so I can spend some time waiting and listening to God more carefully. Then I came back from church to the parsonage, talked with my wife for awhile--she's at family camp down at Okoboji with our sons--and for some reason decided to look at the blog. And lo and behold here is this posting that comes out of some point in the past. The incredible thing to me is that not only is it still applicable (though I have gotten a bit better at "waiting" in the past few months), it's just the confirmation that I needed and it comes at precisely the correct time!  Wow!  I am so thankful for the Lord's amazing work! Thank you Jesus. Now I wait for the healing that I (and others) have prayed for for such a very long time.  I wonder when I wrote this?  I'm so curious!

Okay - so I did a search for the original piece that I was transcribing way back when and found the other three rewards of waiting.  They are all true.
    3. We win battles.
    When we rush God’s plans or do things our own way, we end up defeated. But waiting on Him will ensure our victory and keep us from foolish and precipitous acts. Proverbs 20:22 says, “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and He will save you.”
    4. We see the fulfillment of our faith.
    The Lord says, “Those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame” (Isa. 49:23).
    In the end, we’ll never be embarrassed if we choose to wait on God. It’s always the wise thing to do. When others encourage us to forge ahead, we need to remember the Lord’s plans and timing are always best. He knows our strengths, weaknesses, and preferences better than anyone else—even better than we know ourselves. And only He can predict the future.
    Don’t let circumstances tempt you to take matters into your own hands. God has a purpose for all you experience. Ultimately, you will be honored—whether during your life or after it ends—if you remain faithful to Him (1 Cor. 4:5).
    5. We see the Father working on our behalf.
    Isaiah spoke of a God “who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him” (Isa. 64:4). What a wonderful promise! While we actively wait, He actively works. Think of this: Every single day, we have the greatest Mediator working on our behalf.
    Although waiting can be one of the more difficult things in the Christian life, it is not wasted time. During periods of waiting, God teaches us lessons we couldn’t otherwise learn. In such a season, He sifts our motives, strengthens our faith, and may even change our circumstances. His purpose is to keep us in step with Him as He prepares us to receive the answers we need to hear.
Ephesians 1:11 says that the Father “works all things after the counsel of His will.”

What are you currently waiting on God for?

What do you see Him doing in your life as you wait?

Peace to you all in Jesus' name.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Here We Go Again

Here's my notes from yesterday's sermon. You can listen by clicking this link (mp3).

It’s been an interesting week, a historic week. The first time this church had an interesting, historic week was the week of its founding, in January of 1870, 140 years ago. Here are a few words from the church’s history:
While it is not possible to judge how accurate and objective the minutes were, it appears that the proceedings were self-assertive and frank.

There was a dispute at the organizational meeting of this congregation… and I quote “There arose a most unpleasant controversy… According to early members who recalled this incident in later years, the disagreement was called by dissidents who were opposed to being bound by Lutheran confessions and practices… But these persons withdrew from the meeting and ‘peace and unity prevailed.’”
When difficulty and disagreements arise, we should not panic! We should simply say “here we go again.” The God who brought the congregation safe through discussion and disagreement and division in the past—that same God will be faithful today.

And it’s clear that none of this begins with us or with our church. The scriptures assigned for today speak the truth about a complex and difficult road, but a wonderful road—the road of faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let’s first look at the scripture from First Kings—when I first read this I thought it was Elijah’s retirement! Elijah had been depressed and hiding in a cave. He’s hiding because he’s gotten in huge trouble—and he’s in trouble because he’s been obeying God.

He is depressed and in hiding… he goes in God’s strength for forty days into the desert of the Sinai peninsula… he goes to a mountain where he experiences wind and earthquake and fire… and finally hears the whisper of God’s voice. This is in First Kings 19:9 and following—page 320 in the church’s Bibles…

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” says God in verse 9… Elijah is up far away from everyone else, hiding in a cave. Have you felt like hiding lately? If so the Word of God come to you in your hiding place? What are you doing here?

Elijah answers honestly—I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, FOR THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL HAVE FORSAKEN THY COVENANT, THROWN DOWN THY ALTARS, AND SLAIN THY PROPHETS WITH THE SWORD, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.

And then the reading for today begins with verse 15.

What happens next looks like a retirement story. The Lord tells Elijah to do what looks like is going to be the wrapping up of his work. He’s to go anoint a couple kings and to “anoint Elisha as prophet in your place.” It looks like Elijah’s retirement.

But it’s not. Elijah actually continues his ministry, standing up and witnessing to the one true God—except now he has Elisha by his side as an assistant. When Elijah is so depressed—that isn’t the end… God strengthens Elijah with his Word and sends him out to do many things like he has done before. Here we go again.

And something similar happens in our gospel with Jesus.

Luke 9:51-62. Like Elijah, Jesus is standing up for a particular, specific TRUTH. Jesus is not someone who always gets along with everyone. People are leaving his meetings all the time. It’s clear from this passage that it’s important to be kind and not to call down fire from heaven on those you disagree with. It’s important, as it says in Galatians 5, to love one another and not “bite and devour” each other… but that doesn’t mean just saying every opinion is alike.

That wasn’t true for Elijah and it’s not true for Jesus Christ himself. When we have disagreements about truth, we ought to sigh and say “Here we go again…” and trust God to bring us through.

When we are dealing with matters of truth, there are going to be disagreements. It’s just how it is. It’s important to make sure that what any of us are standing up for is supported by God’s Word, but the mere fact that there are disagreements should NOT be surprising! It’s simply a time to hold even tighter to God’s hand, and in a sigh to deep for words---in a sigh that says “Here we go again” pray and pray… and ask God to bring us through.

There are many times in scripture that God’s Word divides.  That is why the Word of God is called "the sword of the Spirit." There are many times that God's Word does not unite. We ought always to be kind and gentle with one another, we ought to be way more sad than angry, we ought to LOVE those we disagree with no matter what, but that still does not always bring us together. Oh, Lord, we pray you will be with us as here we go again.

The gospel for today shows how hard it is to follow our Lord. Many times what we do will seem harsh and uncaring. When Jesus speaks to his followers he says things that seem very harsh today. There are deeper reasons for what he says in verse 60 for example, and in verse 62, but those reasons do not take away the fact that following Jesus usually, normally, time after time, it is hard. So we cannot claim that those who are “upset” or seemingly divisive are wrong simply because the things they bring up are difficult to handle. Everything will not always be peaceful on the surface or even way down deep—at least not until we reach the kingdom of God.


Why are these things of God so important that it’s worth it anyway, even though there are divisions—I mean, the words of Jesus to those who would follow him are not all that peaceful!

Why is it worth it?

Early this morning I heard a message by Pastor Mark Larson on the radio. He compares what Jesus says to what first responders—fire and police and other emergency personnel—Pastor Mark Larson compares what Jesus do to what “first responders” did on 911.

Here I quote from Pastor Mark’s sermon:
Jesus said, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God." These words are very blunt. It seems perfectly reasonable and proper that a man be allowed to attend the funeral of his father. These words seem harsh. Why is Jesus in such a hurry when He calls to us, "Follow Me!"?

To answer that, put yourself in the big shoes of the first responders after the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11. Huge plumes of smoke are rising to the sky. Many people have already died. . . . And it's raining . . . raining people, people who are forced to choose between death by fire or death by jumping out of the buildings a hundred stories up. The sirens of the fire and police vehicles howl and echo back and forth in the skyscraper canyons of the city. The first responders speed toward the task appointed before them. Many in the Towers have already died, but some people still need to be rescued. The firemen and the policemen set their faces toward the Twin Towers. Their eyes are fixed on this catastrophe; I don't think they could look back if they wanted to. They could not say good-bye to their families. There was nothing more important at that moment than the task of saving the lives of those still trapped in the Twin Towers.

What an important task, saving lives. Yet this pales in comparison to the task of saving eternal lives. The brave first responders went to save earthly lives. Jesus and those who respond to His words, "Follow Me" set their faces to save the eternal lives of those who are trapped in sin. . . It's still raining. . . Raining the souls of men being lost from our Heavenly Father's tender care to a hopeless, despairing eternity. So Jesus says, "Follow Me. Right Now! Don't look back!" That's the meaning of this passage of the Bible.
Because this church will do what it always has done—preaching and teaching salvation in Jesus Christ alone—there will be challenges and even divisions. But because Jesus is the only one who can save us and the world, let us say with confidence, even in the face of disagreement, “Here we go again…” and follow our Lord.

I invite you who are reading this to join in our prayers from June 27, 2010.

Remembering always to give thanks, let us pray for the whole Christian Church and for all people everywhere. ...

We praise you Lord, for preserving for us the saving gospel of Jesus Christ alone. Continue to raise up, strengthen, and encourage all who speak your Word for the sake of the world, that many may be saved. Let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

Jesus, Master, many times we hide from difficulty. We panic when hard times come upon us. Remind us you are always with us, and come to us as you did to Elijah with your Word. Help us listen and believe. Let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

Jesus, Master, many times we seek retaliation and revenge. Too often we would like to see others suffer. But you rebuke us. You reject our self-righteousness. Help us, Lord, know what it means to stand with uncompromising truthfulness and total love. Fill us with compassion. Make it our goal to change every enemy into a friend. Let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

Jesus, Master, turn easy words of commitment into action. Eliminate excuse making. May the greater desire to follow you overcome all selfish desires. Give us ears and eyes to see those who are in need of your salvation. Give us a sense of urgency so we leave all else to follow you. Let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

When there is stress or tension, turn our attention to you. you promise that you will not leave us for forsake us. Help us always trust in you and your Word. Let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

Bless and protect our youth as they are traveling and working for you in Montana. Give them a blessed experience as they bless others in your name. Thank you for Izabella Grace Bendorf. Bless her and her parents, Nate and Sarah. Grant your healing to Isabelle Mattson, to Jeff Barth, and to the many others who are injured or who are ill or in trouble. Send your healing balm upon all who are living with stress during these days. Give your peace and love to Frank Cruz and his family as they mourn his mother’s death. Let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For the poor and needy, for those with mental illness, for the institutions that care for them, for first responders and our military, that God would work in every situation. Let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

Others were invited to pray... then we continued…

Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Jesus - the First Responder

I'll be refering to this sermon this morning at our church... it's worth reading or listening to in its entirety... if you prefer listening, go to the Lutheran Hour website.

The First Responder
By Rev. Dr. Mark Larson, Guest Speaker

Text: Luke 9:51-62

Jesus said, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God." These words are very blunt and challenging. It seems perfectly reasonable and proper that a man be allowed to attend the funeral of his father. These words seem harsh. Why is Jesus in such a hurry when He calls to us, "Follow Me!"?

To answer that, put yourself in the big shoes of the first responders after the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11. Huge plumes of smoke are rising to the sky. Many people have already died. . . . And it's raining . . . raining people, people who are forced to choose between death by fire or death by jumping out of the buildings a hundred stories up. The sirens of the fire and police vehicles howl and echo back and forth in the skyscraper canyons of the city. The first responders speed toward the task appointed before them. Many in the Towers have already died, but some people still need to be rescued. The firemen and the policemen set their faces toward the Twin Towers. Their eyes are fixed on this catastrophe; I don't think they could look back if they wanted to. They could not say good-bye to their families. There was nothing more important at that moment than the task of saving the lives of those still trapped in the Twin Towers.

What an important task, saving lives. Yet this pales in comparison to the task of saving eternal lives. The brave first responders went to save earthly lives. Jesus and those who respond to His words, "Follow Me" set their faces to save the eternal lives of those who are trapped in sin. . . It's still raining. . . Raining the souls of men being lost from our Heavenly Father's tender care to a hopeless, despairing eternity. So Jesus says, "Follow Me. Right Now! Don't look back!" That's the meaning of this passage of the Bible.

I suppose that there are at least two groups of people listening to this message. For the first group the words "Follow Me" are impossibly challenging. This group is composed of those who are content with their current lives. They are comfortable, and perhaps even complacent. These words of Jesus require radical change. The second group is composed of those who realize that their lost condition, who have no hope of saving themselves or finding their own way. To them, the words, "Follow Me" are sweet hope. When we acknowledge that we are lost, Jesus' words are rescue because only He can lead us to life.

Let's turn to that first group. The Bible reading today from Luke 9:51-62 shows us some people like this. We see the Samaritan turning Jesus away and we have three conversations between Jesus and would-be followers.

The first verse of this passage (51) sets the stage for this passage of Scripture. "As the time approached for Jesus to be taken into heaven, He resolutely set out for Jerusalem." This verse establishes the basis to understand the rest of the passage. Jesus was going to heaven, but first He had to go to Jerusalem. Very important, so let me repeat that: that Jesus was going back to the glory of His throne in heaven, but He had to go through Jerusalem first where He would be rejected, mocked, and even killed, but raised back to life on the third day.

Between Galilee and Jerusalem was Samaria. Verse 52: "And Jesus sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem." The Jews and Samaritans did not get along. Each claimed to be the true worshippers of God, but each rejected the other's claim. The bottom line was that it was common for Samaritans to hinder the travel of Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem. Here is an example of people rejecting Jesus. They did not heed His words, "Follow Me." They were sure that they had the answers. They did not realize how much they needed Jesus.

"When the disciples, James and John, saw this, they asked, 'Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" This response strikes me as both funny and sad. Funny, because who are James and John to think that they should call fire down out of heaven. But, it is also sad because James and John in no way reflected the loving heart of their Master Jesus, Who didn't want anybody to be lost. In verse 55, Jesus squarely turned to them. He looked them in the face and rebuked them. Proudly calling fire down out of heaven is not the plan. The plan is to humbly go to Jerusalem.

Jesus continues His journey through Samaria. During this time He encounters three people, who are counting the cost to follow Him. In Verse 57, we meet the first man: "As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' Jesus replied, 'Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.'"

We meet the second man in verse 59 "[Jesus] said to another man, 'Follow me.' But the man replied, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.' We meet the third man in verse 61, 'I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family.' Jesus replied, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'"

What is Jesus telling us? He is telling us that the matters of the Kingdom of God are incredibly more important than the issues of this world, even family and home, as important as they are.

People have souls, souls that will live forever, either in the bliss of heaven - as God wants - or separated from Him in hell forever. As I said before, it's raining souls, souls of people being lost from the Father's tender care in a world that is ready to collapse. The work of bringing people back to God is so important that the lack of a place to lay your head should not deter you. It is more important than burying your father. It is so important that there should be no reason to look back after having set your hand to the plow.

So Jesus says, "Follow me!" And these words rock our world to the foundation. Do we find ourselves in this first group? Are we stuck? Are we so stuck in the earthly that we are not able to see to the greater purpose that Jesus has for our lives? Or, maybe, we like Jesus well enough, but are we ready to respond to His call to radical commitment?

What about the second group? It is not composed of people who are content and complacent, but rather of those who realize that they are in need of rescue.

They are like the people who were trapped in the Twin Towers after the planes struck. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. The elevators won't work. The stairwells are destroyed. The smoke is thick and choking. The flames are advancing. You will not get out alive. The only thing left to do is to choose between death by fire or death by jumping out of a skyscraper and you have chosen to jump. You balance yourself on the window's edge and glance down to the street so far below. You stay as long as you possibly can, but the fire's heat just keeps coming and building. It is becoming unbearable and searing and consuming.

You are about to jump when you feel a hand on your shoulder. It is a first responder. The rescuer speaks the words . . . "Follow me." Follow me! Of course! He knows the way out! No longer are the choices only about death. Now there is hope and maybe even a future. There must be a way. The rescuer got into the building. He must know the way out.

So, by no means would the rescuer's words, "Follow me" be viewed as an imposition to your busy schedule, but as the only hope for a new life. That is how it is with people who understand their spiritual condition before God. Because of sin, we have offended God and deserve only punishment from Him. The punishment that we deserve is eternal death and separation from Him. We cannot help ourselves out of this situation.

So, hear me on this, friends. You are the person trapped in sin. I am too. This sin has consequences for your eternal life. It poisons everything in your life - your relationships, your job, your family, but most of all your standing before God. Because of sin, you are like that person caught between the fire and the great, big fall. The only choices that you have lead to death.

But there is a way to life. In the same way that those first responders stormed the hell of those trapped in the Twin Towers. Jesus came to ours. He knows the way in and He knows the way out. He says, "Follow me." For Jesus, the way is through Jerusalem. He knew that there was some very nasty business awaiting Him. Yet it must be done. What Jesus was about to do in Jerusalem was the most important event in the history of mankind. Jesus knew that He was going to be rejected by the religious leaders and eventually by all the people. He knew that He would be killed on the cross in disgrace. He knew that the reason that He had to do this was so that He could take the fall for our sins.

Christians talk about the cross a lot. This is because it is the center of our faith. So, please let me explain in the plainest terms that I can, the meaning of the cross. And, if you remember nothing else about this message today, please remember this.

* There is a God. He made everything.

* He's absolutely perfect. He's so good that He can't tolerate evil. We're naturally evil. So we can't be in relationship with Him.

* But God is love. He's not just loving He is love. That's His nature. He wants to be in relationship with us. He's so loving He even made a way for us back to Him. That escape route is Jesus. He took the fall for us by dying on the cross. That was the punishment for our evil. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Through this message that you are hearing right now, Jesus' hand is on your shoulder, offering forgiveness, offering life, offering love. This offer is real. His word is trustworthy and true. With tender love, He says, "Follow me." He came into your world to rescue you from sin. He knows the way in; He knows the way out.

When Jesus turns you around to follow Him, you join a third group. Yes, there is a third group. This group is composed of those, who having felt Jesus' hand of rescue on their shoulders, have left all to follow Him.

These are people who, once having been rescued from certain death, go back into the fiery tower to rescue others because they too now know the way.

Who would do that? History is filled with believers who are so filled with joy at receiving eternal life that they followed Jesus even to the point of giving up their earthly lives. An early church father said that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." To this very day, Christians around the world work to put Jesus first. Believing in Him may cause a rift in their family that can never be repaired. It may cause them to be rejected by their communities. In some places, believing in Jesus comes with a death sentence.

In preparation for the sermon, I asked for input on this Bible passage from some friends at Lutheran Hour Ministries. From this small group arose a couple of examples that illustrate this text so well.

Wayne told me that the day before he was ordained his father died. The day after the funeral he had to bid his grieving family good-bye to begin his ministry. Verse 60 of this 9th chapter of Luke seems to apply, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God."

Roy wrote this to me: "My wife's grandfather is 97 years old. He still pastors a church. Two years ago his wife had a heart attack and died while preparing lunch on Saturday afternoon. The next day, Sunday morning, he was in the pulpit preaching to the congregation. When he was asked why he wasn't at home (as they expected him to be), and why he chose to drive himself a considerable distance to church, his answer was simple. He said, "Mae is fine". "She's in heaven now." "We have a church full of folks who are still trying to get there. I have to be here." He understood that it was still raining, raining the souls of people.

So in which group do you find yourself? It depends on the day I suppose. Some days you may be in the first group: stuck in complacency and completely oblivious to the rain of men's souls. On other days you may feel like that soul on the edge, feeling like you are caught between the flames and the fall. And, you know, feeling that way isn't all bad, because on those days when you feel that there is no hope or escape, there is one in Jesus. Through the Word, Jesus' hand is on your shoulder. He says, "Follow Me. I know the way. By my cross, I purchased salvation for you." His words have amazing power to rescue us. When you know the way back to God, I know that you will want to be among those who suffer and sacrifice for THE First Responder, Jesus Christ. This makes you a member of the third group, which is right where Jesus wants you to be. In His Name. Amen.

Friday, June 25, 2010

New Beginnings

I emailed this letter to our council and staff a few moments ago.

Council and staff:

Thank you, all, for EVERYTHING you have done to make the last weeks and days go as smoothly as they did—especially Wednesday evening. Special thanks to Gary Lankki for all his uncompensated work—hours and hours—and to Deb Hammond and Diane Zitzloff for the many hours of extra work you have put in behind the scenes. Thank you, Karen, for accompanying the hymns and thank you to all council members for your work in registering people and kindly handling questions. I did not want this vote but am glad it’s behind us.

We have a task of reconciliation ahead of us as a congregation—not something that the leaders can do on their own but we can model what Rabbi Friedman called “self-differentiation” and “non-anxious presence” while avoiding “triangulation.”
  • Without compromising what we believe—being “self-differentiated”—letting others know where we stand—we can continue to be in relationship with all—being “non-anxiously present”—this includes not avoiding those who we know we disagree with and those who still feel confused and hurt above everything else.
  • It’s important not to “triangulate”—that is, to not put the focus on something beyond the relationship each of us is directly involved in. The basic law of emotional triangles is that when any two parts of a system become uncomfortable with one another, they will "triangle in" or focus upon a third person, or issue, as a way of stabilizing their own relationship with one another. A person may be said to be "triangle" if he or she gets caught in the middle as the focus of an unresolved issue. Conversely, when a person tries to change the relationship of two others (two people, or a person and his or her symptoms or belief), they "triangle themselves" into that relationship (and often stabilize the very situation they are trying to change).
So, If you see that there is a way that I or anyone else is failing, then please speak directly with the one you have the “issue” with rather than talking with others about it. You can, of course, talk with others to ask for prayer or advice, but not to avoid talking with someone. That will be very important as we move ahead.

If you have any comments or questions about this, please let me know.

Looking forward to seeing you all in worship on Sunday!

Peace be with you in Jesus’ name. – and CONGRATULATIONS to Nate, Sarah & Baby Izabella Grace born the same day as our congregation meeting, Wednesday, June 23.

Verses for These Days

We read the following scripture verses at the end of our congregation meeting on Wednesday. Let us meditate on them and let them grow deeply into our souls, praying that in Jesus' name we would live in a way that gives honor to God.  Pray that I might live in this way too.  If in any way you believe I have not lived up to these things, please speak with me personally and help me to hear the Lord calling me to repent.  I will fail and fall, but part of "growing in grace" means talking with one another and then allowing for an opportunity to repent and ask forgiveness.  There is one thing, however, that I cannot do.  I cannot step outside the Word of God.  I pray that my life and my conscience would continue to be bound only by God's Word--God's Word that we know most clearly in Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 4:15 - 5:2
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.  Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.  Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.  Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.  Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

So What Happens Now?

Tonight--well, technically, LAST night--it being after 1:00 a.m. Thursday now, our church talked and sang and sweated through a "special congregation meeting" with a vote on whether or not to disaffiliate from the ELCA.  The vote was taken shortly after 7:00 p.m. and a half hour later the vote was announced--with 111 voting "yes" to leave the ELCA and 116 voting "no." 

Later I got a text from a friend: So what happens now? 

I replied: Well... We keep praying... No quick decisions... I wasn't wanting this vote... It turned out about how I thought... Don't know what is next.  Thank you for asking.

And that's the truth. God holds the future! We are not in control! God is good! Praise God for that! God, and God alone knows "What's Next."

After spending some sweet time with friends late into the evening, we came home and I saw that my daughter Naomi had already written in her blog tonight.  Her blog is called "Simply Shalom."  She began by quoting a Roman Catholic priest and author, Henri Nouwen from his book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership
"We are not the healers.
 We are not the reconcilers.
 We are not the givers of life.
 We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anybody we care for."
That is so true, Naomi.  We simply submit ourselves to God and rest in His care.  Naomi went on to say:
Tonight my parents’ church voted on whether or not to leave their denominational affiliation. I was there to vote too. (I am a member, my dad is the pastor… but I do not really call it my church because I only lived there for one year.) The resolution to leave the ELCA did not pass–the vote was pretty much split 50-50, but needed a 2/3 majority to pass. But this means the congregation is split 50-50 on this subject and probably on many other related topics as well. (I wrote about this conflict before in my post “Washing Feet for Unity.“)

Our synod bishop* was there and she said to my dad (the pastor), “This just means you’ll have to work on reconciliation.” And my dad said, “Sometimes reconciliation is not possible. People are not only in conflict with one another. They are in conflict about a principle.” (see the ELCA social statement on human sexuality that was adopted in the 2009 churchwide assembly here.)
After this "vote" which showed that we are quite different from one another, and even when we cannot be FULLY reconciled, we can still can be kind to one another.  We can care about one another even when we disagree about things that are hugely important.

But even Jesus was not fully reconciled with everyone during his time on earth--we'll see that as we read from Luke 9:51-62 assigned for this coming Sunday.  There are times for many things under heaven.  There are times to "scatter" and there are times to "gather."  There are extended times of uncomfortable feelings and outright disagreements. There are things no human being can control.  Even leaders are simply too broken and weak to do much of anything sometimes.  We can follow Jesus' example.  We can love and forgive.  But we can't make someone make up.  Even Jesus didn't do that.

I hope everyone will stick together, but that's not something I can make happen.  So, when I think again about my friend's question, "So what happens now?"  I have to say, only God knows.  And tonight I'll leave it in God's hands.

If you wonder what happens now -- Ask God!  Pray, believe, and do all you can to live at peace as the Word of God commands you in Romans 12:9-21Breathe and trust our God.  He holds the future.  We do not.  When we surrender to God, He will work things out.  All we do is trust and obey.

On another dear "friend's" facebook wall I was reminded of these verses tonight:
Jesus said,
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
(Matthew 11:28-30)
That's the promise I will rest in tonight.  I have a promise from Jesus--an excellent promise of his eternal love that holds me even though I don't deserve to be held.  I'm rambling, I'm tired, I'm disoganized.  But I am so thankful that my Lord holds me anyway. Praise the name of Jesus forever!

I want to be with Jesus.  I hope you will too. Only as we are "yoked" or "connected" to Jesus can we find peace, or, as my daughter would say, "Simply Shalom."  Good night.

*My daughter promoted Pastor Linda Pedersen to bishop!  Her official position is "Synod Minister" and she serves as assistant to Bishop John Anderson here in Southwestern Minnesota.  Naomi's blog post from tonight, pictured above, is called "We are not the reconcilers." Click the colored words for links.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Standing at the Crossroads

I'd been meaning to listen to a particular recorded presentation since my son Jon heard it live at the 2010 WordAlone Convention held back in April.  As I was driving to Minneapolis today to see someone in the hospital I listened to it on CD and was thoroughly blessed.  Today I called WordAlone and got permission from office staff to post excerpts "ripped" from the CD--I've started the process tonight.

This presentation entitled "Standing at the Crossroads" is by the Rev. Dr. Gemechis D. Buba.  Dr Buba is currently serving as the director of African national ministries in the ELCA. Originally from Ethiopia, East Africa, he brings a message of hope and encouragement that the Word of Christ, which brought faith to Africa, can now return to bring faith to those who originally sent it.

His text is from Jeremiah 6:16 -- I suggest you read the entire sixth chapter of Jeremiah to gain perspective.
Thus says the Lord:
    Stand at the crossroads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
    where the good way lies; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
Here a tiny excerpt I transcribed from the very beginning of his sermon--you can listen to the first 22 minutes or so by clicking here (mp3).  In his message Dr. Buba speaks the strong truth of God's Word.  During the first part of his message he says this:
...Brothers and sisters, Christianity is always standing at the crossroads and making a choice.  Always Christ turned to his disciples--in the Gospel of John chapter 6 verse he said "Do you want to follow me?  Or do you want to live like the others?"  Standing at the Crossroads, the Lutheran Reformation was born with three words:  Here I Stand. 

Where do you stand?  What is the foundation on which you are called to stand? 

Jeremiah was speaking to people in captivity.  They were running up and down--once to Jordan or to Egypt as if these neighboring nations would save them.  But the salvation of Israel was coming only from one place--there is no other choice--from God.  Jeremiah was telling the kings and the people, "Stand and wait for the Lord--for there is no substitute to faith in God alone."
With the permission of the WordAlone Ministries staff, I have uploaded the about 22 minutes, of Dr. Buba's sermon.  I encourage everyone to listen to it by clicking here (mp3). Please take time to listen to this gifted man of God.  Dr Buba is a great preacher--and he speaks the truth.

If you'd like to hear the rest of his presentation, talk with me and we'll loan you the CD.  It's good preparation for our meeting tomorrow evening, as all of us are called to stand on the Word of God.

In his message Dr. Buba tells the story of Gudina Tumsa, who chose tho stay with his Ethiopian people at the cost of  his life.  To learn more about this martyr, click his name.

Patience for Interpretation

Everything in the Scriptures is God's Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live. (Second Timothy 3:16 - today's KTIS verse of the day)
At last night's "Friends of the ELCA" meeting someone remarked about all the different Christian denominations and how all of them claim to be based on the Bible.  There are differences, for example, about baptism that have existed for many, many years.  There are differences about how people understand God's gift of life and questions about whether it is ever permissible to end that life through abortion or the death penalty.  Someone mentioned that if they "googled" "Christian denominations" that they're sure they would find thousands.  Someone mentioned that there are differences of Biblical interpretation even among husbands and wives.  Are they all to divorce and "disaffiliate" when they run up against differences that won't go away?

How can people continue together in spite of their differences?  In my opinion the church has done well when we sketch out a wide boundary for what might be acceptable in Scriptural interpretation.  The difficulty for many of us in connection with the ELCA is that it seems as though some positions are not based in scriptural interpretation but instead come out of experience and conscience.  We believe what has held us together under a big tent has been an agreement that we will discuss everything on a biblical basis.  That, for some of us, is what it means when we say that the Bible is our "authoritative source and norm."

Last night I wrote a piece called "Is It Possible?"  Is it possible to remain together as we work out our differences?  I think it is IF we agree that all our differences need to be discussed on the basis of scripture rather than appealing to experience or conscience above scripture.  If we can agree on that, I think we can be patient with one another as we interpret and work out what the Scriptures mean for our life today.

Being patient is not post-modern relativism. Being patient--even being patient in suffering--that is a command of God.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Is It Possible?

Scripture says "With God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).  Even a rich man like me can be saved for the Kingdom of God.  Amazing Grace!

What about the possibility of keeping our local church together after Wednesday's congregation meeting?  This Wednesday evening there will be a meeting with a vote called for to disaffiliate from the ELCA.  Can we stay together and continue to work side by side?  Can God not do this?  What can stand in God's way?

Aside from the issue of hurt feelings and personal offense, which must be taken care of through talking with one another, confessing and repenting and forgiving... aside from that what is it that stands in the way?  And can some kind of agreement be reached?  Only with God--only according to the Word of God and by the loving spirit of Jesus Christ.

Tonight I attended a meeting of "Friends of the ELCA."  As I said to Pastor Eric Lemonholm, with whom I'm having a fascinating dialog, "I attended because I hope I am a friend, though not a happy friend at present."  I'm not happy with some deep issues* within the ELCA, but as I listened to what the "Friends of the ELCA" are saying, I find I appreciate some of the things they brought up: (1) The ELCA's support of those in need through organizations such as Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Social Service and (2) a general non-judgmental attitude of that allows people to continue to talk with each other and work together in spite of significant disagreements.

I came out of the meeting wondering what might be possible.  I know that some people from one side or the other have been reaching out to talk with others to listen and learn from each other.  I think that's helpful.  I don't think any accommodation that trivializes or demeans either "sides" concerns will work--the difficulty with "staying" in the ELCA is that the ELCA has decided to lift up personal conscience over what seems to me and others to be so clear--that the one blessing God places on sexual relationships is heterosexual in its essence. The difficulty with "leaving" is that we're not sure what that means, what kind of future affiliation(s) would work for us... though, because there are two votes that need to be taken to leave, we would have time to figure that out.  I know of some churches that took their two votes years apart!

What might be possible?  Perhaps some kind of "staying but protesting" can be arranged... or perhaps "leaving with support" -- that if we leave we could agree to to continue to fund ELCA programs that are most important to our "Friends of the ELCA."  Last week at church council I suggested that perhaps God might intervene and bring strong voices on both sides together for the good of our local church, to sketch out a possible future, or to postpone the vote for another time while such a future is imagined...

I can't control this and I haven't.  I will continue to pray and I hope you will too.  A 25 hour prayer vigil begins tomorrow at 5 p.m.  If you'd like to participate, please contact me or call the church office (320-286-5964).  It's only with God that any good comes--and that means prayer.

* I've outlined some of the deep issues in the ELCA previously on this blog and now again in my dialog with Pastor Lemonholm--if you're interested let me know and I'll see if we can share our conversation with you.

Meditating on God's Word

About a week ago or more a member of our church who has been a great prayer partner for me dropped off a photocopy of a devotional reading entitled "What the Bible Says about the Thrill of Obedience." It was read at staff meeting this morning by our office manager since the person assigned to do the devotion today was unavailable.

The devotional was deeply meaningful for me, especially because another prayer partner had texted me about being awakened at 4:30 this morning with a clear sense of God's direction for something he or she had been praying about.  He or she asked me to pray that God would confirm the word that he or she had perceived was from the Lord.  Perhaps God is confirming it through this devotion.

The devotion speaks of the Lord continuously moving us "through a variety of circumstances" as He works our His purpose for our lives.  Though we can never allow experience to override God's written Word in the Bible, as we live in submission to and in agreement with that Word we can pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us through all of our ups and downs.  One of the readings assigned for this coming Sunday confirms this also, as Elijah waited through wind, earthquake and fire to hear a gentle whisper (דְּמָמָה דַקָּה׃) from God (1 Kings 19:12).

The devotion we read this morning is based on Isaiah 31:21 -- see that verse in context below.

19 Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. 20 Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it." 22 Then you will defile your silver-covered idols and your gold-plated images. You will scatter them like filthy rags; you will say to them, “Away with you!”
23 He will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and grain, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. On that day your cattle will graze in broad pastures; 24 and the oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat silage, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork. 25 On every lofty mountain and every high hill there will be brooks running with water—on a day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. 26 Moreover the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, like the light of seven days, on the day when the Lord binds up the injuries of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.

Here's the devotion about the thrilling adventure of obedience:

    '...God intended our walk of faith to be a thrilling adventure, motivated by our love for Jesus Christ.  Obedience is about discovering God, not about avoiding unpleasant consequences.  That is why John can say, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.  And His commandments are not burdensome" (First John 5:3).
    When we place our trust in the omnipotence of the Lord and act on His prompting, life becomes exciting.  We need not be afraid of the future because God already knows the outcome of our obedience--and we can trust His promise that He does everything for our good (Romans 8:28).
    Walking in faith is so thrilling because each step leads to a fantastic blessing from Almighty God. The Lord continuously moves through a variety of circumstances toward His overriding purpose for our lives. If we back off from obedience because of a mistaken desire for safety, we deprive God of the opportunity to demonstrate His awesome power in us. Small choices may seem insignificant, but they lead toward a lifetime of walking with God.
    As God's children, we should ask Him what He wants us to do every day. "What would you have me say here, Lord" or "What is the best decision now?" We must learn to listen to our heavenly Father and remain sensitive to the quiet voice that prompts us throughout the day. Isaiah says: "Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right hand or to the left."
    When we keep our minds attuned to Him, we will begin to understand the significance of some decisions we might otherwise barely notice. Ultimately the awareness will lead to a lifestyle of walking with the Lord and receiving His best for us.'

As you look to what is ahead of you--what is your next step of obedience?  Keep your mind attuned to God by meditating on His Word, and then ask Him to speak and confirm what He has said.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Happy Father's Day - 2

Thanks to Mark Anderson for this one!

God's Revelation Above Our Experience

I'm not sure how to write this in a way that will grab your attention.  I don't have any stories in mind and it's very late at night.  One thing, however, has become clear as I've been talking with people over the past few days, whether it's about church issues or their own lives -- It's always better to trust God's Revelation than our own experience.  Trusting our own experience, our own feelings or our own "conscience" will always get us into trouble.  That's why we need to bring our experience, our feelings, and our conscience into line with God's Word, centered in Jesus Christ, instead of the other way around.  Interpreting and applying God's Word is not "easy," but with the help of the Holy Spirit of God, which is given to those who trust Jesus and humbly ask for revelation, the Word of God can be brought to bear on every circumstance of our lives.  Don't fall into the trap of relying on your experience.  That's always a dead end road.  More later.

Added Sunday morning, June 20:  Interesting conversation going on over on facebook on this note!/note.php?note_id=406213194823.  Joining facebook is free.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Happy Father's Day

For the Children

As we move forward to next week's vote, the most important people to think about are the children.  I encourage you to read the following two chapters of the GOSPEL OF MATTHEW and then to spend time in prayer.  We will be meeting for prayer tonight here at church at 6:30.  There are special promises, according to Matthew 18:19-20, that come along with us when we gather for prayer with others.  Also, pay close attention to the matter of repentance and forgiveness.  If you hold anger in your heart toward someone, now is the time to go to that person and work it out.  That's in this section of Matthew also.  We do this, not only for ourselves, but for our children and the generations to come.  See you tonight at prayer.

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
6 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!
8 “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.
10 “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” 
19 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he cured them there.
3 Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” 8 He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.”
10 His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”
13 Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.
16 Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
27 Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Trust and Security

Our youth ministry director and seminarian, Nate Bendorf, will be preaching on June 20 while Toni and I are in Taylors Falls as part of the 150th anniversary celebration of that congregation.  Thanks, Nate!

Looking ahead to June 27--we will be reading Psalm 16.  So appropriate for the Sunday after the congregation meeting, as are the other scriptures assigned for that day--good to read them but also the context around them from your Bibles - 1 Kings 18:15-16,19-21 (look also at 1 Kings 18); Galatians 5:1, 13-25 and Luke 9:51-62.

Here is Psalm 16 from the New Living Translation.
16 A psalm of David - a Song of Trust and Security in God..
     Keep me safe, O God,
for I have come to you for refuge.
     I said to the Lord, “You are my Master!
Every good thing I have comes from you.”
     The godly people in the land
are my true heroes!
I take pleasure in them!
     Troubles multiply for those who chase after other gods.
I will not take part in their sacrifices of blood
or even speak the names of their gods.
     Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
You guard all that is mine.
     The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
What a wonderful inheritance!
     I will bless the Lord who guides me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
     I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
     No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
10      For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
11      You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Now You Shall Be Real

Here are my notes for today's preaching.  It's a kind of summary of many things that have already been said this week.  It's based mainly on Second Samuel 11:25-12:14 though just before the sermon we read Luke 7:36-8:3.  The audio from 11:00 a.m. preaching is available by clicking here (mp3 - 21 minutes including the Luke 7-8 reading.)

People who have been forgiven, people who’ve been released from demons, people who have been brought out of darkness—people like that are generous to the point that we might wonder why.

In today’s gospel (Luke 7:36-8:3) there’s a focus on generous and thankful women. The woman who pours her affection on Jesus’ feet, the women who provide for Jesus and his disciples out of their own resources. I wonder if Chuza, for example, the husband of one of the women who gave money so Jesus could carry out his ministry—I wonder if Mr. Chuza approved.

After all, generosity and thankfulness, they need to be kept under control. Let’s not be unreasonable!

But it is unreasonable thankfulness that is poured on Jesus! It’s praise to the highest degree, praise that doesn’t fit here…—we’re too well behaved.

But when you know the amazing grace of God, when you know that YOU are forgiven and LOVED no matter what, when you KNOW the height and depth of your SIN and know you are LOST but that Jesus has FOUND you and will TREASURE you forever… then you shall be FILLED with praise. And, in praising God, you shall be real.

There’s an old children’s story about becoming real. In the story an much loved stuffed animal has become real to a child… and the animal says this: “By the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”

What’s the key to being real for you and for me? Many times we live fake lives. This week at a funeral we shared a song from Emmylou Harris about how we so often go around “bottled up inside”? How is it that we can become real, pouring out our thankfulness like the women in our gospel? There are two keys really—the first is admitting and confessing our sins—and the second is God’s free gift of forgiveness. These keys are illustrated in the story of King David. Let’s look over there for a minute… Second Samuel 11…

By the way, the worship and music committee decided something you should know. Beginning in September we won’t be using bulletins that have the scripture lessons printed on them. We encourage you to bring your own Bible, or to use the one in your row.

Anyway, in Second Samuel 11-12 we have a story about King David. It would be good to read the whole story, chapters 11 and 12. In this story King David takes his neighbor’s wife, just because he can, he covers up that sin, and, when the cover-up doesn’t work, he has her husband killed. The woman is Bathsheba. Her husband is Uriah—a foreign soldier far more honorable than the king himself.

What has happened in this story, before the prophet Nathan comes to David, is that David is living a lie. He is no longer being real. He has retreated from reality. He has barricaded himself in lies and violence. He is lost and he does NOT want to be found.

Read the story in Second Samuel 11. Imagine yourself having used power and influence to push your way. Imagine yourself not wanting to be found out. Imagine the loneliness as you watch every word and plan every detail to keep yourself protected. Unfortunately, many, many people live in lies today.

Can you be real when you’re living in lies? No. You’re as artificial as a toy—controlled and manipulated by demonic fear.

Is there hope! Yes! When God comes to you as He did to David, and when you allow the Word to push you out of your hiding place, so you take off your mask, step out into the light, and LIVE!

And you will be SO grateful, SO thankful, you just might not be able to control yourself. You will shed tears. You will shout for joy. You will be generous. You won’t be able to blend in with the crowd anymore. But it will be worth it—stopping your fake life, you will be REAL!

Today, in this house, as you hear the Word of God, as you let God speak about how you are hiding from God, and as you know that you are LOVED anyway, no matter who you are or how you are, you can stop being false. You can find the real you that you think you lost a long time ago.

I love this story of Nathan and David. In 2nd Samuel, at the very end of chapter 11 it says “The thing that David had done displeased the Lord…” The “thing” David had done was not just the original sin of taking his neighbor’s wife—it was the cover up—the lying—the murder. All of that became ONE thing, one stronghold, that kept David trapped.

So, like God sent MOSES to Pharaoh in Egypt; like God sent JESUS to that sin-filled woman in Luke 7 to set her free, the Lord sends Nathan to David…” … and like a top notch spiritual warrior Nathan gets around David’s defenses… Equipped with God's Word and God’s own wisdom, Nathan disarms David. Through the prophet Nathan God presents David with parable. The parable tricks David into pronouncing judgment on himself. Like the tyrant judge he is so used to being, David speaks his own judgment: "The man who has done this…” The rich man who stole from the poor man so he could party and serve his guest… David says “The man who has done this deserves to die."

David is caught. With that statement of truth David steps out of the stronghold that he has been building for himself. With that true judgment David steps out into the light, and the Word of God roars “YOU ARE that man.” YOU, David, who took Uriah’s wife… you are the man. You are the man who deserves to die for your sin. You deserve the condemnation of God.

The remarkable thing is that David doesn't retreat at that point.  He doesn't go running back into hiding.  He doesn't put up more excuses.  The Lord speaks to David about his sin… and, miracle of miracles, David listens! David must have known that Nathan was God’s man. David does not shut his ears or close his eyes. He doesn’t run back into his shelter of lies.

David hears the truth… "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king, I rescued you from the murderous hand of Saul, I gave you his house and his wives… and if that would have been too little I would have added more! WHY HAVE YOU DESPISED THE WORD OF THE LORD to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah with the sword and have taken his wife… now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house."

God’s Word lays out the REAL consequences of what David has done. Amazingly, David does not hide. He deals with what is REAL.

This is David’s moment of truth. He doesn't run away.  He agrees with the Word of God.  He does what we all must do if we are to be real people with real lives. He says, in verse 13… read what David says… “I have sinned against the Lord.”

And when we do not hide, please say those words with me… “I have sinned against the Lord.” it’s the only way to be free and real and new

Then, when we don’t hide from God’s Word that convicts us of our sin and our cover-ups… then we can hear a still more excellent word. …This is later in that same verse, verse 13… These things come one on top of another.  There's not a moment's gap between them.  Nathan said to David,
“Now the Lord has put away your sin.” Say that with me… “Now the Lord has put away your sin.

This is the promise—we know this is true because of what Jesus has done on the cross—when we admit our sin—when we stop running and hiding and covering it up—then God comes with his healing and renewing and life giving WORD. But it’s only when we admit our sin. It’s only when we stop running away.

Now there are consequences that sometimes even go down through the generations.  This is true in human life.  But the ultimate penalty is taken away.

Today, now, in this house, it’s time to step out of your fortress, your stronghold of lies and cover-up. It’s time to come clean. It’s time to be real.

Sometimes it’s just when things feel the absolute worst worst, when we’re in the depth of conflicts and trouble, when we’re at the end of our ability to cope, that’s when God’s Word comes to heal and cleanse and raise us from the dead.

Because of Jesus, you never need to be afraid of the truth. Say this with me "Because of Jesus I never need to be afraid of the truth."  Jesus has taken every sin, every guilt, every shame. He has dealt with it and it is gone. Now you can come. Now you can be REAL.