Sunday, August 29, 2010

Unable to Repay

Jesus said:
"But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." (Luke 14:13-14)
In what ways are the poor and disabled "unable to repay"?

Certainly they cannot host a banquet, but there is something else that they may not be able to do.  They may not be able to repay you even in friendship or a fulfilling long term relationship.  They may be unable to even repay with heartfelt thanks.

Advances in psychology have taught us that.  Disabilities can extend to the heart.  And some who are seemingly "fine" on the outside are actually hurt on the inside.  They also may be unable to repay.

Jesus calls us to a life that is willing to give without requiring any repayment from those to whom we give.  Those we serve may not even become our friends.

Such was the case with Jesus and his life of suffering service.  Almost all who he loved and served left him at one time or another--all but three or four were gone by the end--and they could only look on while he suffered.

What is the reward in that?  The reward only came at the resurrection, when Jesus lovingly received those who abandoned him. And those who follow Jesus today can expect the same.

Knowing this truth--God's own truth--knowing this truth will keep us from bitterness.  Knowing this truth will keep us openhearted and willing to give, looking forward to the reward God has for all his people with Jesus in heaven, when all disabilities will be gone.

Praise God and look forward to that certain and wonderful future!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tracing New History

Something new came to Cokato a few years ago. Don't know exactly when or under precisely what conditions. Part of the beginning was the Morris Excavating Garage Men's Bible Study. They started reading book about why men hate church and they've been meeting ever since on Tuesday nights. I plan to attend tonight.

You can trace the history of this "something new" since before I came to Cokato.  But since then I can see many signs of this "new thing" God has been doing here.  Alpha and the Prayer Ministry are two high points in the mission of this new thing.  So was Lent 2009 when we shared "What the Cross Means To Me."

This is "new wine," I believe.  The former "wineskins" had a hard time accommodating it.  Perhaps what has happened recently is simply the bursting out of the "new."

Some of the "new things" have been done cooperatively with a variety of churches, but much of the planning and leg work were done by folks who have been impacted by what I've already mentioned.  Minnesota Disaster Relief, the new Food Shelf, and, to a great extent, the "Save and Share Thrift Store" have come into being thanks to this move of God in our midst.

What has been growing?  What do you see?  Certainly last year's Robin Mark event and this year's Peter Eide event are from the same root.  What is the "DNA" of this new thing?  What will it do next?

One thing is sure--none of us pastors have been in charge.

Monday, August 23, 2010

So Sad - except for Jesus

Click the date to listen or download the entire Sunday, August 22 worship with baptism and communion as an mp3.  I had to make it low fidelity and speed it up 5% in order to fit it onto the free website I use to host these recordings.  It was a great hour -- well... more than that, about an hour 25 minutes.  Thank you to EVERYONE who helped make this possible.

It's so sad that we won't be doing this again anytime soon.  But Jesus will lead us and keep us safe in his care.  And that is so good.

If you want to just listen to the gospel reading and sermon, go to For Now.

Hold Us, Abba

I'm beginning to write this just after 1:00 a.m.  The pastor's office at church is pretty much cleared out, files from the computer over there have been moved home, and I'm about ready to hit the hay.  Sunday worship was a blessing, both in the morning and in the evening.  I am thankful.  I'm very tired.  I'm thankful for the Word of God which stands strong despite conflict and chaos.  I'm thankful, as Peder Eide reminded us tonight, that I have an Abba Father--someone who clings to me no matter what.  Thanks to Peder and to Tim Hatt for coming and sharing time this evening.  That was sweet.

Tonight I pray for so many I saw this morning and this evening.  I pray for my family and dear loved ones, some of whom I saw today and others who weren't around.  Tonight I think of and pray for many of the servant leaders at ELC, where, up until an hour ago, I was pastor.  I pray for Nate & Sarah, for Deb, Teresa, Rori, Amy, Dianne, Karen & David, for Eric & Laura & Jill.  Tonight I pray for Gary, Tom, Sarah (again), Jean, Kristen, David, Dwight, Ken, Diane, Julie, Amy & Kip.  I also pray for Greg, Deb, Jim, Mark, John, Christine, Karla and Bob.  I pray for Nancy and Paul.  O Lord, have mercy upon us and grant us your peace and your purpose.  Give us clear vision and open hearts.  Hold us, Abba, and carry us until we can walk once again.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

For Now

You can listen today's sermon by clicking this link: "What Is Church For?"  For the entire hour of worship see So Sad - except for Jesus.  I plan to post a better quality or at least a higher volume recording of this sermon later.  This'll need to be good enough for now.  The scripture basis is Luke 13:10-17.

Thank you to all who worshiped this morning and who were so gracious at the reception afterward. 

Time for a nap!  See you, I hope, at the Peder Eide event at the Dassel-Cokato High School Performing Arts Center tonight at 6.

Peace be with you in Jesus' name alone.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This Is A Test

Two weeks ago I attended a day of the Holy Spirit Conference sponsored by Lutheran Renewal.  It was 30 years ago at the same conference that I heard God's call to become a pastor in the Lutheran church.  I wondered what God would have to say this year.

I arrived at North Heights on Friday in time for the 8:30 communion service.  As soon as the preaching began, I was hooked.  Pastor Harley Schmitt brought a word from the Lord:
God sets the solitary in family (Psalm 68:6).
Wow.  That was wonderful!  There's a sense that, for the last year, I've been in the process of being orphaned.  Not from my natural family--mom and dad still love me unconditionally as they always have.  But my spiritual family has changed in a dramatic way.  Many friends are moving on to other churches these days.  I am too.  This Sunday, August 22, will be my last as pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato.*

Just before communion--presided over by a PhD in liturgy (Mark Luttio) we sang an old "Gaither" song -- you can click on this title to hear the back story of the song and listen to the music: "I'm So Glad I'm a Part of the Family of God."

The song includes this verse:
From the door of an orphanage to the house of the King
No longer an outcast, a new song I can sing
From rags to riches, from the weak to the strong
I’m not worthy to be here but thank God I belong.
That song is nothing special when it comes to the music, but the message was just what the doctor ordered.  The tears flowed as I went to receive the Lord in communion that morning.  Praise God for a church family that goes far beyond the local congregation.  Praise God!

After communion we heard the main presentation of the morning.  It was given by Lutheran Renewal's director, Paul Anderson.  He began by saying God had given him a word for us.  Not a comfortable word at all, but very fitting for this moment.
Jesus sometimes frustrates and confuses you on purpose.
Again, the Lord spoke to me powerfully.  I continue to be so thankful.  You might not think of that as good news, but when you're dealing with confusion and frustration on a daily basis, it's good to know God is in it!

Paul A. explained how God tests us through times of frustration and disorientation so we become stronger and more useful as we participate in His loving Work.

The title of his message?  "This Is A Test"

It reminded me of First Peter 4:12-13
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.
What a wonderful thing to know that God is ultimately in control, even when we find ourselves confused and alone!  We may be surprised.  We may be confused.  But God is not!

What Glory!  Hallelujah and Praise!

Paul Anderson defined a "test" from God like this:
A test is a physical, psychological or spiritual trial that God uses to develop our character.  A test tends to disorient us, threatening our peace and joy.  We either pass by responding to God, or fail by reacting to our feelings.  We don't naturally look forward to tests, because they frustrate us and cause us pain.
He then laid out some of the things he has learned about testing.

Through times of testing:
  • God is teaching us to live above our circumstances instead of just reacting to them.
  • Like a loving parent who wants us to share his or her love and character, God is often more concerned about what happens in us than what happens to us.
  • God doesn't usually tell us when we are being tested.  He has told us to "consider it pure joy" when we go through trials, but we don't know what specific tests we're going to be facing.
  • Our attitudes are revealed.
  • We experience tension.
  • We learn that it doesn't matter "who" or "what" brings the test.  We can still thank God for how God sill use it to refine our character.
  • We get tougher and then can experience and learn from tougher tests.
  • We can be confused, but, when tests are passed, they bring a reward.
  • Tests don't last forever.
  • Tests produce a testimony. By passing a test you will have the opportunity to witness to God's faithfulness. 
I would love to have you hear or read Paul's message "This Is A Test" all the way through. 
Even when a test brings you through a spiritual orphanage--don't despair.  God is faithful, and with the test he will provide a way out, so you may be able to endure it.  Ask for wisdom with a Christian friend, and look for the goodness of God.  And pray.  Pray for me.  I will pray for you.

For more info on my own recent journey, see "Letter of Resignation" and "An Awkward Time and "ELC/Cokato - Final Report"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

ELC/Cokato - Final Report

As I post this on my blog, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato church council is meeting down in the church library and a couple who will be getting married here on August 28 are meeting with our wedding coordinator in the sanctuary.  Though my resignation is effective August 22, I have asked and received the permission of the council's executive committee to officiate at that wedding.  I checked in with the couple and the wedding coordinator and came back to my office to post the report I just made to the council.  Synod Minister Pastor Linda Pedersen is here meeting with the council as ELC/Cokato begins to chart its way forward.  Here's my report.
Pastor’s Report to the Church Council
August 17, 2010

My last Sunday at ELC/Cokato is coming up. I am deeply appreciative of the work of the church council in coming to agreement on a “Memorandum of Understanding” on “transitional support.” Thanks are also due to Pastor Steve Olson of our neighboring Gethsemane Lutheran church and also to synod minister Linda Pedersen. Thank you also for the planned reception that will be held Sunday. I hope you can attend.

Though I am thankful, this is an extremely sad time for me, for my family, and for the church as a whole. This is not only sad locally, but nationally and beyond. Hundreds of ELCA congregations have been in turmoil. 348 have voted 2/3 to leave the ELCA and many others have had votes—and many of those votes have split congregations in two. Some members leave for other congregations, others form new churches. New configurations for Lutherans are forming. The “LCMC” (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) now has 495 member churches. Next week there will be a Lutheran CORE theological conference in Columbus, Ohio and in 2011 the “NALC” (North American Lutheran Church) will have its constituting convention. These changes will continue in the coming years. Please pray God’s will is done.

At the regular July council meeting we had two resignations--our Faith Family ministry leader, who serves as Sunday school superintendent, and one council member. Since that time another council member has resigned and I too have submitted my letter of resignation. Some members of our church have resigned from committees and others have expressed their desire to leave the congregation. It’s a very sad time.

This will be a time when charity and understanding will be needed. As a pastor, I have a special responsibility, and the various circumstances leading to my resignation are connected with that responsibility in this particular congregation, so my decision will not necessarily be the same as others who hold similar convictions. As we proceed through the coming days and weeks, various members of our local church and others will be making their own decisions, quickly or slowly. Please understand that the reasons people decide to join or leave a particular church are complex. Please withhold judgment and express caring as people make their own choices. We are not saved through church membership. We are saved only by the grace of God, given to us to receive by trusting the one and only Savior of the World, Jesus Christ. None of us are “better” or “worse” than anyone else. We all stand on level ground, sinners all, at the foot of the cross. Please remember, as a friend of mine has said, that most people are doing the best they can. (Martin Luther said something similar in his eighth commandment explanation.)

I am doing my best to complete my work at ELC/Cokato and will be working with the executive committee in regard to any future work here. We don't know what is next for us as a family. Please keep us in your prayers and please don't be strangers. Give us a call or stop by for a visit. In addition to the sadness, this can be a very lonely time. You will always be welcome in our home, wherever that may be, and at any church I serve in the future. Together we will proclaim Jesus, the one Savior of the world.

Pastor Steve Thorson 

Monday, August 16, 2010

What Church is For

In the Luke 13:10-17, the gospel for this coming Sunday, Jesus breaks the orderliness of worship in order to do something very important.  As he was teaching at Sabbath worship, he interrupted his sermon in order to set a woman free from an invisible evil that had been weighing her down for eighteen long years.  The one who was in charge of worship told the people that this sort of healing should not be happening on that day.  But Jesus told him and the other religious leaders that there is nothing better than that someone should be set free -- even if it does happen right in the middle of worship -- or, as we might say -- right in the middle of Sunday church.

What is church for?  Why do you come to church for worship?  Do you expect God to show up and do things there, or do you expect to leave pretty much the same way as you came?  If in any way we come to church thinking that we are in control; if we limit God through formal or informal "orderliness;" if you never see the flow of worship broken up by the need to actually pray for a particular person in need; if people are not literally set free from bondage... I wonder then if we are really being "church" in the way Jesus would have us be.  Jesus breaks the pattern for the sake of someone in need.  I think we need to be doing that too.

Sunday, August 22, 2010 is my last Sunday of service as pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cokato.  We'll be reading the Bible verses about setting a woman free and another passage about satisfying "the needs of the afflicted" (Isaiah 58:6-14).  What will God want to do during worship that day?  I hope and pray that our orderly worship will never keep the Holy Spirit of God from doing His freeing work.  Let's pray that God will act among us on Sunday and every day when we gather in Jesus' name.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dear Anonymous

Dear Anonymous - please talk with me directly.  It's difficult to know how to respond.  Wouldn't you agree that our Lord commands us to meet together personally?  See Matthew 18:15. 

Clarification - the above note is addressed to someone who wrote an anonymous comment yesterday - a comment that I chose not to publish.  Why didn't I publish it?  The content of the comment felt accusatory, and accusations between Christians must be dealt with in private according to Matthew 18:15.

An Awkward Time

Toni and I have been at her parents' cabin up in northern Wisconsin since Monday.  This was an unplanned time away.  I don't know what I had planned to do with my last week of vacation but I do know that I would have never missed the Cokato Corn Carnival if things were "normal."  It feels very strange to have been away.  I've managed to keep busy and enjoy some relaxing time.

Tonight we head back.  Toni has appointments tomorrow and I'm planning to lead worship and share the Lord's Supper at Cokato Apartments Building III.  On Saturday one of my cousins is getting married in the twin cities and on Sunday we'll worship at another church while our youth director and seminarian Nate Bendorf preaches and leads worship.  My last week of work at Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato begins Monday.  I'll lead worship as usual on Sunday, August 22,  After that we'll be living in the church's parsonage until we can figure out "what's next."

It's an awkward sort of time.

It's awkward because...
  • ... it's hard to explain why I ended up resigning my call as pastor at ELC.  Though those in Cokato who have literally suffered through the last year might be able to understand, there are very few who know the whole story.
  • ... we'll be in Cokato after I my work at ELC is over.  Every other time I've left off working at a church it was because I had work waiting for me in another place.  That's not true this time.  It's awkward and kind of scary to not know what's next.  
Put those two things together and you might be able to see how awkward all of this is.  Because we'll be in Cokato, at least for the forseeable future, we'll end up seeing people who have lots of questions and doubts and deep feelings.  Some of them will talk with us and, hopefully, we'll begin to understand one another.  Others will feel too awkward and won't know what to say.

I'll be praying that the conversations that need to happen will happen.  I'll be praying that, as it says in Martin Luther's Small Catechism, we'll be ready to believe the best about one another, even when we don't really understand.  I'll also be praying that we understand that our real adversaries are not other people, but are, instead, the devil and his allies who are out to devour us.  I'll be praying that we will be kind and respectful with one another, loving one another as God himself as first loved us.

After all, if Jesus can love and put up with me, even giving his life for me on the cross, we should be able to love and care for one another--even when the awkward times come.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Not Peace But Division

My decision to resign from Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato came in the days immediately following the July 20 council meeting.  As I talked with others about it, it seemed, at the time, that my last Sunday as pastor of ELC/Cokato would be August 15.  Naturally, I looked ahead to the scriptures assigned for that Sunday and, as I did, I was astounded.

Since then, my last Sunday was changed to the 22nd* so I won't be preaching the 15th.  But, because of the stark nature of the texts assigned I've decided there are some things that should be said--especially about the gospel reading:
Luke 12:49-56
Jesus said:
49 ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!
51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!
52 From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:
    father against son
        and son against father,
    mother against daughter
        and daughter against mother,
    mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
        and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

54 He also said to the crowds,
‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say,
    “It is going to rain”;
    and so it happens.
55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say,
    “There will be scorching heat”;
    and it happens.
56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
As I look at this text and think about the current situation at ELC/Cokato and in the wider ELCA, I wonder how it applies.  I say "I wonder" because the first application of the text is the fire of Jesus' own ministry, the baptism of his death and the divisions that were caused as the first Christians were rejected by their family members 2,000 years ago.  The "signs of the times" he was referring to have long since passed--they were the signs pointing to his time and the then upcoming completion of his work on earth.

On the other hand, because this is God's Word, it does apply to what goes on here and now.  The trick is knowing how it applies.  If we aren't careful, we can justify every division and every argument by appealing to this text.  If we're too careful, we'll reject any talk of division as evil or unloving and end up saying that this text has no present day application.  (See Spiritual Concierge? for more about that.)

It would be interesting to sit in on a variety of sermons being preached on this text on Sunday, August 15.  How many preachers will address these things?  How many will avoid the issue of "division" in search of more peaceful themes?  Those of you who hear preachers this Sunday, let me know.

I do believe the divisions Jesus speaks of here are rightly applied to divisions currently occurring in the ELCA today.  "Liberals" push us to "social justice."  "Conservatives" push "personal morality."  Both can be signs of the "sword of the Spirit" (God's Word) being applied.  The difficulty in the ELCA at present, however, is that some ELCA decisions and some within the ELCA want to push agendas that are not based on the Word of God.  That's real division.  That's real pain.

Without the written AND incarnate Word being the center of all we do and all we say, division will be truly devastating.  May we all return to God's Word and reconcile our divisions there.

* My last Sunday was changed to August 22nd from the 15th because we needed time to come to an understanding with the church council about "transitional support."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Washing Feet

Here's a devotion and prayer by Pastor Erma Wolf, Brandon, South Dakota from
John 13:12-17 After [Jesus] had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

Devotion: The hallmark of Lutheran teaching is that salvation is a free gift of grace, given not on account of anything we do but on account of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even so, Jesus reminds us, as he taught his disciples in this account from the Gospel of St. John, that how we treat one another is not a matter of indifference. We are not saved by our actions; but we do bear witness to our salvation from Jesus Christ in how we act toward one another. Do we insist on our rights and privileges, or do we kneel before our brothers and sisters, washing their feet? For all our emphasis on right teaching and right belief, the blessing is given in what we actually do, how we care for each other. And this is particularly true when relationships are strained and at the breaking point.

What matters most is not whether one is in the ELCA, the NALC, or any other church body; not whether one is in Lutheran CORE, Word Alone, or even Lutherans Concerned/North America; not even if one “speaks in the tongues of angels” and “possesses all knowledge”: rather, did any of us give a cup of cold water to one of God’s little ones? Did we visit those in prison, pray with those who were sick, and bring good news to the poor? Did we welcome in those who came seeking Jesus? Did we serve the least of these? Did we wash feet?

Prayer: Precious Jesus, even our best thoughts and beliefs are bankrupt if we fail to see you calling us to serve others on our knees. We are not comfortable there. It is fearful to follow your example. Did you really mean wash that person’s feet? We have so much business to take care of, such a full schedule to work through. This serving one another takes so much time! Forgive us, Lord, for thinking that our agenda takes precedence over your call. Teach us how to be church again. Bring us to our knees, along side of you on yours, that we may know your blessing. Amen.

Spiritual Concierge?

My daughter Naomi sent me this -- it was published in the New York Times and dated August 7, 2010, Swampscott, Massachusetts... I'm not sure I work too much, and I'm not really feeling burned out at all, but I do see that it's true that many of us do want to be made comfortable rather than to be challenged according to the Word of God.  The original article can be found at this link.
By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

The American clergy is suffering from burnout, several new studies show. And part of the problem, as researchers have observed, is that pastors work too much. Many of them need vacations, it’s true. But there’s a more fundamental problem that no amount of rest and relaxation can help solve: congregational pressure to forsake one’s highest calling.

The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people.

As a result, pastors are constantly forced to choose, as they work through congregants’ daily wish lists in their e-mail and voice mail, between paths of personal integrity and those that portend greater job security. As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy.

The trend toward consumer-driven religion has been gaining momentum for half a century. Consider that in 1955 only 15 percent of Americans said they no longer adhered to the faith of their childhood, according to a Gallup poll. By 2008, 44 percent had switched their religious affiliation at least once, or dropped it altogether, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found. Americans now sample, dabble and move on when a religious leader fails to satisfy for any reason.

In this transformation, clergy have seen their job descriptions rewritten. They’re no longer expected to offer moral counsel in pastoral care sessions or to deliver sermons that make the comfortable uneasy. Church leaders who continue such ministerial traditions pay dearly. A few years ago, thousands of parishioners quit Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., and Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Ariz., when their respective preachers refused to bless the congregations’ preferred political agendas and consumerist lifestyles.

I have faced similar pressures myself. In the early 2000s, the advisory committee of my small congregation in Massachusetts told me to keep my sermons to 10 minutes, tell funny stories and leave people feeling great about themselves. The unspoken message in such instructions is clear: give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we’ll get our spiritual leadership from someone else.

Congregations that make such demands seem not to realize that most clergy don’t sign up to be soothsayers or entertainers. Pastors believe they’re called to shape lives for the better, and that involves helping people learn to do what’s right in life, even when what’s right is also difficult. When they’re being true to their calling, pastors urge Christians to do the hard work of reconciliation with one another before receiving communion.

They lead people to share in the suffering of others, including people they would rather ignore, by experiencing tough circumstances — say, in a shelter, a prison or a nursing home — and seeking relief together with those in need. At their courageous best, clergy lead where people aren’t asking to go, because that’s how the range of issues that concern them expands, and how a holy community gets formed.

Ministry is a profession in which the greatest rewards include meaningfulness and integrity. When those fade under pressure from churchgoers who don’t want to be challenged or edified, pastors become candidates for stress and depression.

Clergy need parishioners who understand that the church exists, as it always has, to save souls by elevating people’s values and desires. They need churchgoers to ask for personal challenges, in areas like daily devotions and outreach ministries.

When such an ethic takes root, as it has in generations past, then pastors will cease to feel like the spiritual equivalents of concierges. They’ll again know joy in ministering among people who share their sense of purpose. They might even be on fire again for their calling, rather than on a path to premature burnout.

G. Jeffrey MacDonald, a minister in the United Church of Christ, is the author of “Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul.”

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Letter of Resignation

I submitted the following letter of resignation to our church council president this morning.  The church council worked very hard, with the help of a neighboring pastor, to put together a transitional support agreement that will, among other things, allow us to stay in the church's house ("parsonage") for up to six months so I can seek a new pastoral call or other employment.  I deeply appreciate the work of the church council in coming to this agreement.

This is an extremely sad time for me, for my family, and for the church as a whole.  But, for the sake of the ongoing mission and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ in our area, it is best at present if I step down and allow the members of our church to decide how they will move ahead, either with this church family or with another.

Many members of our church are feeling deep distress that does not seem to be getting better.  During the past few weeks we've received several resignations.  Some members have resigned from the congregation or from committees and other volunteer positions.  At the regular July council meeting we had two resignations--our Faith Family ministry leader, who serves as Sunday school superintendent, and one council member.  Since that time another council member has resigned.

These are very hard times.  It seems as though it's time for me to step aside and allow each person to choose what their future course will be.

We don't know what is next for us.  Please keep us in your prayers and please don't be strangers.  Give us a call or stop by for a visit.  In addition to the sadness, this is be a very lonely time.  Sometimes people avoid one another during hard times because emotions are hard to handle, but it's harder to be alone.

Here's my letter.

Dear Friends:

30 years ago I heard God's call to ministry in the American Lutheran Church. After several years of preparation I received a call to serve in the ministry of the ALC. I then publically and officially accepted the Bible as the Word of God and agreed that I would adhere to the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. On that basis I was ordained on June 22, 1986.

In 1988 the ALC merged into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ELCA's confession of faith speaks of the Bible as the "inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life" and accepts the Lutheran Confessions. It is the agreement between my ordination promises and the official statement of faith of the ELCA that has allowed me to serve as an ELCA pastor for the last 22 years.

For many years, however, I, with many in the ELCA, have been concerned that our denomination has been departing from its confession of faith. During the past 10 years or so, I've been able to continue to serve as an ELCA pastor only because of the support of the many friends and colleagues who remain committed to that confession within the ELCA. The WordAlone organization has been central to that support. I made that clear when I considered and then accepted my call to serve as pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato.

Unfortunately that support network of friends and colleagues within the ELCA is weakening both nationally and locally. Many are leaving the ELCA. Locally, some members of our church have not been attending because they can no longer support a congregation that allies itself with this denomination. 

After much time spent in prayer, I have come to that same decision. Because my call as pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato requires me to continue to serve a denomination that I can no longer support, I must resign my call to Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato. My resignation will be effective August 22, 2010.

I resign with much grief. I do not want to leave. The Holy Spirit has been moving among us. Lives have been changed. Prayer and spiritual life has been deepened. People have come to know the Lord Jesus. I am surrounded by a wonderful staff and excellent spiritual leadership from our lay people. We've been "church" together in fresh ways. For all of that, I am grateful. It's sad that is coming to an end.

In the days, weeks and months ahead, our Lord will challenge us to be generous of heart. Jesus calls us to forgive those who have hurt us and ask forgiveness of those we have hurt with our words and actions. What seems impossible to you and I is possible with God. Healing and new life can begin.

I am, above all, confident that, as it states above the entrance doors to our church, that God's Word will, indeed, endure forever.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Want to Come With Me?

In August 1980, thirty years ago, David W. Preus, the then president of the American Lutheran Church spoke at the "International Lutheran Conference on the Holy Spirit."  In his sermon I heard the words "We need your gifts."  I recall that as the beginning of my call to serve as a pastor in the Lutheran church.

Tomorrow I plan to attend the 2010 Holy Spirit Conference for one day.  If anyone would like to come along, let me know.  Information about the conference is available at the Lutheran Renewal website.  The main speaker tomorrow morning is Pastor Paul Anderson.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What's On Your Mind?

What's been on your mind lately? In the gospel lesson we read in church yesterday, a man has his mind set on an inheritance that he thought should be divided fair and square.  He asked Jesus to help settle the dispute with his brother but Jesus wasn't interested.  Instead, Jesus used the opportunity to tell a story and point out that nothing in this world is as important as our relationship with God.  You can read that lesson and a few more verses in Luke 12:13-31.

The "things above," that is, the precious promises and the blessed commands of God, they are far more important than anything we may want to focus on here on earth.  The following verses formed the theme for yesterday's sermon (click here to listen*).. they are part of yesterday's reading from Colossians 3:1-11.
1 So if you have been raised with Christ,
seek the things that are above
, where Christ is,
seated at the right hand of God.
2 Set your minds on things that are above,
not on things that are on earth,
3 for you have died,
and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ who is your life is revealed,
then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
We used the same verses as the theme at a funeral last week.  The 400 people who came needed to be reminded of those promises.  In times of grief it's especially good to know what we see on this pain soaked earth is not all there is, but, actually I need it every day. There is a new life coming, a life we know about because JESUS IS RISEN from the dead!  Praise God!

* The sermon was followed by the song From the Inside Out--you can listen to it and see the lyrics at this link: