Friday, October 29, 2010

Can We Listen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the truth will set you free.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Quiet Time with God

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Continue with one or more prayers of praise and thanksgiving:

Jude 1: 24 - 25
Prayer of praise

Also Psalm 47, 136, 100, 117, 150

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalms 139     God knows us completely

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

James 2: 1 - 13    
Against prejudice

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

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

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

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

Read Psalm 51 and then Psalm 32

Now read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then be sure to read:

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

Ps. 90
Reminds us to number our days

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

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

Ps. 111: 10
How to be wise

Ps. 15
Who can approach God

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

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

Ps. 37: 8
Stop your anger and worry

Ps. 121
God is my protector

Ps. 66
Thanks to God for answering your prayer

At the end of your prayer time read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 25, 2010

More Like Falling In Love

There's a song by Jason Gray called "More Like Falling In Love."  Click the link for a video!
Give me rules, I will break them
Show me lines, I will cross them
I need more than a truth to believe
I need a truth that lives, moves, and breathes
To sweep me off my feet...
That "truth that live, moves and breathes" is called the HOLY SPIRIT. The Holy Spirit is the PERSON of God who comes and lives in us and among us when we trust Jesus. He does great work in our lives when we let him. And it's way more than just something in our heads.

I've been reading a very interesting and helpful piece published on the Lutheran Renewal website by Larry Christenson. After giving a history of the "Charismatic Movement" (including a mention of psychiatric interviews that were done on Lutherans who were "spirit-filled"), Larry goes on to talk about how the Christian life needs to be way more than just "principles" or "rules."
    One of the great traps in living the Christian life is the tendency to substitute general principles for the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We scour Scripture looking for principles we can apply to life situations. In almost any story or text we can ferret out a general principle, a formula for dealing with a life problem. When the formula doesn’t seem to work, well, you have to refine the principle.
    “Love one another” doesn’t seem to cut it with that rebellious student? Re-examine your principles. Try the “tough love” formula. There’s a principle for every situation or problem. Keep looking.
    The danger in this approach is that it can foster a belief in Scripture that effectively neutralizes the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Lutherans — and evangelicals in general — run the danger of all but handcuffing the Holy Spirit to the “Word.” The Holy Spirit is politely invited to confine His work to inspiring and authenticating the Word, the essence of the “Word” being understood as a series of doctrinal truths that we understand, believe, and by which we order our life. “Just give us an authoritative Scripture, and we’ll take it from there.” We end up with a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Scripture.
    Many things that people do in the world can be successfully copied — a good recipe, a scientific experiment, a computer program. Living the Christian life is a different kind of proposition. Here we encounter the paradox of a God who is reliable, yet often unpredictable. He is faithful. What He has promised, He will surely do. But how He will do it, or when, we often do not know. He holds His own counsel. He does what He has decided to do in the counsel of the triune Godhead (see Ephesians 1:11).
    That is why the Christian life involves more than living by principles. Jesus was much more than “a man of principle.” He said, “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing” (John 5:19)...
    Jesus did not intend His disciples to be guided simply by commonsense application of spiritual principles. Not even the truths that He had taught them stood alone. He said, “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Helper . . . he will teach you all things, and will bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:16,26)
    Christ calls us into a totally new dimension of living. Our life as Christians is not meant to be guided simply by principles, common-sensically applied. Our life is under the direction of a living Person, the Holy Spirit. By His power we partake of the divine nature. The Lord is in us, we are in Him.
A dear friend told me of a dream she had of DANCING while being filled with the Holy Spirit! I love that! To live in the Holy Spirit is to dance with God. It is more like "falling in love" than just "something to believe in."

How can you experience this? Ask someone to pray with you, that you might be filled with the joy and peace and love of God through Jesus Christ... let go in prayer... pray for the Holy Spirit... and the Holy Spirit will come.

***The whole article by Larry Christenson is "The Charismatic Movement: An Historical and Theological Perspective" (click the link for to read it in pdf format).  Another article worth your time to read!***

Friday, October 22, 2010

Preaching Links & Etc.

Over the 2+ years that I've been writing this blog I've done quite a bit of Bible study and preaching.  Much of that work has found its way to the blog but it's not easy to find.  Now that I'm available for call to another ministry situation, I thought it would be good to organize things.  I'll start today but won't finish this project for awhile.  If you're looking at this on facebook you'll only see only the links that I finished posting today.  To find more just go to "Preaching Links & Etc." on my blog.  

This will be organized according to the date on which the Bible passages were assigned to be preached.  You'll also see TITLES like "Lord Have Mercy" and "Keep Crying" etc.  Those are links to what I wrote in connection with the scriptures.  When it says "Listen," those are inks where you can listen to sermons, the most recent of which is August 22, 2010.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010 - notes Lord Have Mercy

Sunday, October 17, 2010 - notes Keep Crying

Sunday, October 10, 2010 - notes As If

Sunday, September 26, 2010 - notes Jesus Saves Even Me

Sunday, September 19, 2010 - a few comments related to Luke 16:1-13 - Blessed Are the Liberal

Sunday, September 5, 2010 - notes Only God's Strength

Sunday, August 29, 2010 - notes Unable To Repay

Sunday, August 22, 2010 - my last Sunday at ELC/Cokato
Listen to entire 1.4 hours of worship
Listen to preaching - "What Is Church For?"
- notes What Church is For

Sunday, August 15, 2010 - notes Not Peace But Division

Sunday, August 1, 2010
Listen - "What's On Your Mind?"
- notes What's On Your Mind?

Sunday, July 25, 2010
Listen - "Ask"
- notes Ask 

Sunday, July 18, 2010
Listen (misses beginning) "Listen First"
- notes Listen First

Sunday, July 4, 2010
Listen - "Ask the Lord"
- notes Ask the Lord

Sunday, June 27, 2010
Listen - "Here We Go Again"
 - notes Here We Go Again
 - notes Jesus - The First Responder

Sunday, June 13, 2010
Listen - "Now You Shall Be Real"
- notes Now You Shall Be Real
- notes Use the Keys

Sunday, June 6, 2010
Listen - "No Other Aid"
- notes No Other Aid
- notes The Third Floor

Sunday, May 23, 2010
- notes The Spirit of Truth

Sunday, May 16, 2010
- notes What About This?
- notes Time To Pray

Sunday, May 9, 2010
- notes Prayer and the New You

Sunday, May 2, 2010
- notes God's Will Be Done

Sunday, April 11, 2010
Listen to First Part
Listen to Second Part (by Luke Cada)
- notes Stand Up

Sunday, April 11, 2010
- notes Attention

Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010
Listen - "The Best No Surprise"
- notes The Best No Surprise

Sunday, March 21, 2010
Listen - Oh, How I Love Jesus!
- notes Oh, How I Love Jesus!
- notes Loving Jesus

Sunday, March 14, 2010
- notes Always Mine
- notes A Hug From God

Sunday, March 7, 2010
- notes Angry?
- notes Good Anger

Sunday, February 28, 2010
- notes Goodbye to Sinful Pride

Sunday, February 7, 2010
Listen - "When All Is Lost" 8:30
Listen - "When All Is Lost" 11:00 (with 30 second gap)
- notes When All Is Lost (2)
- notes When All Is Lost (1)
- notes Sweet or Bitter?

Sunday, January 24, 2010
- notes Raw

Sunday, January 10, 2010
- notes God Won't Cohabit
- notes Empty to Fill

Christmas Eve, Thursday, December 24, 2009
Listen - "No Place No More"
- notes No Place No More

Sunday, December 20, 2009
Listen - "Trusting Good" 8:30 a.m.(better organized, cut at end)
Listen - "Trusting Good" 11:30 a.m.
(livelier, less organized)
- notes Alongside the Preacher
- notes Trusting Good
- notes Fear of the Lord

Sunday, December 6, 2009
- notes First Christmas Gift

Sunday, November 29, 2009
Listen - "The Love Side of Faith"
- notes The Love Side of Faith

Thanksgiving Eve, November 25, 2009
notes - For the Beauty of the Earth

Sunday, November 22, 2009
Listen - "It's about Truth (not Power)"
- notes It's about Truth (not Power)  

There are many more sermons (notes and audio) on this blog.  I'll try to link more of them at this post as I have time. Or just go back to November 2009 or before on this blog.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lord Have Mercy

On Sunday, October 24, I'll be traveling from Cokato to preach and lead worship at a church that is just beginning in another Minnesota city.  I've been asked to preach after the following scriptures are read: Jeremiah 14:7-22, Second Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 and Luke 18:9-14.  I've been asked to lead a Bible study on Psalm 84 also. 

Here's a first draft of my sermon:
Luke 18:9-14
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Draft of Sermon to be preached October 24 after the reading of Luke 8:9-14.

It's so predictable!

If you know even a little of the story of Jesus, you know the Pharisees are not the good guys.

Sing: I don't want to be a Pharisee! I don't wanta be a Pharisee!  'Cause they're not fair, ya see.  I just wanta be a sheep (ba ba ba ba)... I just want to be a sheep... I just want to be a sheep!  And I pray the Lord my soul to keep... I just want to be a sheep! (ba ba ba ba).

The Pharisees rejected Jesus because he was spending time with tax-collectors and sinners--with the guys like the tax-collector in Jesus' story who didn't have a prayer.  He (the t-c) had nothing good to say about himself at all.  He was desperate.  And it seems that's where the Lord wants us.  Desperate.  Helpless before God.

There's a great book on prayer by Ole Hallesby that says this:
Notice how graciously prayer has been designed.  To pray is nothing more involved than to let Jesus into our needs.  To pray is to give Jesus permission to employ His powers in the alleviation of our distress... The results of prayer are, therefore, not dependent upon the powers of the one who prays.  To pray is nothing more involved than to open the door, giving Jesus access to our needs and permitting Him to exercise His own power in dealing with them.  He designed prayer in such a way that the weakest can make us of it.  For to pray is to open the door unto Jesus.  And that requires no strength.  Will we give Jesus access to our needs?  That is the one great and fundamental question in connection with prayer.
So what are our needs?  It's the preacher's job to connect the scriptures with the situation of the people.  What are your needs then?  I don't know you well, but I do know something.  You and I have something in common... for one reason or another you or I have left churches that we've been part of to either join or help form other churches.  And because we've done that, and because we want to feel good about our decisions, we very well might be in need of hearing the message of this parable story today.  Because we might just feel like the pharisee, having made right decisions, thankful that we're not like others who have stayed.

As I read the gospel, today, I read it as speaking particularly to me.  I hope you will do the same.

I have left a church.  I believe the reasons I have left were good and right.  Others have left local churches and I have given them aid and comfort.

It has been a very hard thing, very painful.  But it's also dangerous.  It's dangerous because, in doing this, I can easily become like the self-righteous pharisee who thanked God that he wasn't like other people.

The gospel today brings me to my knees.  The gospel today reminds me of my sin.

God have mercy on me, a sinner.

I've recently been reading a book by Francis Frangipane.  In this book, It's Time to End Church Splits, Francis warns about the terrible consequences of church divisions.  He writes:
If you have ever been through a church split, you are all too familiar with the terrible churning of emotions and the inconsolable distress that accompanies this descent into hell.  Large factions of otherwise nice Christians will be pitted against one another.  They will participate in slander, anger, deception, fear, bitterness, hatred, gossip, unforgiveness, strife, rebellion and pride...
And even worse:
As rumors and details of the split reach the ears of the unsaved, the pettiness and politics that accompany a split remind the unbelieving world of why they are keeping their distance from the church.
This is true even when the reasons for leaving a church, or forming a new one, are good and right, even when, as Francis says in his book, withdrawing from a denomination might be a means of protest, done to protect Christ's people.  Sometimes, he says, it's necessary.  But, still...

God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

Things we do for all the right reasons have unintended consequences.  I wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper this week.  It was an answer to Bishop Chilstrom's letter... his letter, originally, I think, in the Mankato paper... his letter said that the only reason he hears for people to leave the ELCA was because of sex... my letter responded with a list of other reasons... but my letter hurt some dear friends who are still in the ELCA and are trying to be faithful.  I feel terrible about that.

God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

How many times do I need to say that?  When can I stop?  I hope I never will.  I always need to be looking in the mirror of the law of God.  And that law will convict me again and again.  How often have I failed to love my neighbor as myself?  Even when I do it in the name of God, saying that I am just obeying the first commandment, to love the Lord with all my heart, all my soul, mind and strength... but if I do that without also loving my neighbor just as much as I love myself, I have failed.  I have sinned.

Lord, have mercy.

And I don't need to tell you how much we fall short when it comes to loving our homosexual brothers and sisters.  We have nothing to brag about.  We must hang our heads.  We are guilty as sin.

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

So what can we do?  One thing is to keep noticing and being honest about our own sinfulness.  I heard that from Richard Mouw this week as he was talking about the terrible divides in our country these days.  How can we reach out in love to someone we honestly believe is involved in a sinful relationship?  How can we reach out in love to those who are going to feel judged?  There's only one way I know of, and that's to be transparent about our own sin, our own struggles, our own brokenness, our own confusion--to make sure no one thinks we are worthy or better in any way.  And we can't pretend that.  We can't fake.  We need to know how it is we are sinful now.

So let God's Word go to work on you.  Don't back away when it points at you and says you are guilty.  Let it bring you to your knees.  You and I, if we've ever wanted a woman or a man who wasn't our wife or husband, we are adulterers.  You and I, if we've ever said anything bad about someone else, we are slanderers and gossips.  You and I, if we've ever turned away from someone in need, we are thieves.  And, you and I, if we have driven cars or lived in houses that are larger than what we need, we are polluters and despoilers of God's good earth.  None of us has any rights with God.  Together with the worst, we cry out,

God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

And when we do that, and when we find ourselves loved by the God who gave his life on the cross for sinners, then we will be able to stand on level ground with all of our neighbors and our enemies, brothers and sisters linked by our unworthiness.  And then we can go knock on doors and ask people if we can pray with them and for them, to come to God with them and ask his gracious mercy, the mercy that we proclaim here at this church.

We cannot point to ourselves in any way.  Only to Jesus.  If this church or any church, especially churches that are staring fresh in this painful environment of church splits are going to be successful, there needs to be tremendous humility about ourselves, and absolute reliance on the grace and mercy of God--not only for ourselves, but for others too... for those who are still in ELCA churches, and for those who are confused, and for those who are just lost.  All the glory, all the honor, all the power, needs to go to Jesus.  Let God get all the glory, and let every man be called a fool.  That's the humility that will draw people to Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Faith, Prayer and Helplessness

The following is from an article on Baptism (pdf) written by Paul Spaulding.


    Faith, like salvation and grace, is not a substance you can have more or less of. Faith is also not a mental action or step. Faith involves the person as a surrounding, enveloping and permeating gift. When it breaks through the human shell, we experience what we often call “getting faith”. Really “getting faith” is a non-act of surrender to what is already there, a letting go of our control. It is unhindered and unencumbered trust.

    Faith therefore is simply non-resistance. It is helplessness. Ole Hallesby in his classic book on Prayer talks about our coming to God and how faith is involved. Let me quote several passages.
“As far as I can see, prayer has been ordained only for the helpless...

“Prayer and helplessness are inseparable. Only he who is helpless can truly pray...

“To pray is to open the door unto Jesus and admit Him into your distress...

“Helplessness is the real secret and the impelling power of prayer. You should... thank God for the feeling of helplessness He has given you. It is one of the greatest gifts that God can impart to us. For it is only when we are helpless that we open our hearts to Jesus and let Him help us in our distress, according to His grace and mercy.”
He continues,
“I never grow weary of emphasizing our helplessness, for it is the decisive factor not only in our prayer life, but in our whole relation to God... (God) does not need any help; all He needs is access.”
    “All He needs is access!” That is a startling revelation and a stumbling block for many an individual. Yet that is exactly what Scripture says. Jesus says in John 15:5, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Later on in verse 16 he says, “You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.” Paul says in Romans 9:16, “so it depends not on man’s will or exertion but on God’s mercy.” In Second Corinthians 12:9 he quotes His Lord saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

    Faith and life in Christ are a gift given by God to helpless sinners. As adults, you and I have had years to practice blocking that gift. We repeatedly block His access to our distress. We are sinners, that is, rebels, from birth. But over the years we add to our sinful nature the mental idolatry of being our own little Gods. We want to do things for ourselves, even salvation.

    That is why, when an adult is converted, that conversion occurs only when that person quits fighting and can just plain be a sinner; that is, someone God can reach. That is why Jesus said, “ I came not to call the righteous but sinners.” That is why He said, “Unless you come like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Children are not innocent, they are simply helpless sinners. God loves sinners. Children are what we need to be. They have the kind of faith (helpless accessibility) we need for salvation. This is what “saving faith” means, the kind of faith God both gives and honors.


I encourage you to look at Paul Spaulding's entire article on Baptism - 9 pages (pdf).  Taking time to read and study can truly help you grow in trusting Jesus Christ, so you can be healed and made whole.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Questions 2 & 3

My letter to the editor of the Enterprise-Dispatch comes out this morning.  It's another version of what I wrote here at my post "Replies to Bishop Chilstrom."  (The former presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's letter "Questions for those Leaving the ELCA" was published locally on Oct. 4.)

In my response published today, Oct. 18, I answer Bishop Chilstrom's first question "What is it about sex that pushed you over the edge?" by saying "It's not all about sex."

Bishop Chilstrom's second question is "Why are you organizing new churches?"  He then says there are several other Lutheran denominations and "Surely there must be one among them that would welcome you."  He goes on to say "I suspect the only reason is because none of them ordain women... Why not drop your insistence on the ordination of women for the sake of unity with some existing church body?"

Go to my post of Sep. 2, 2009 entitled "Biblical Equality" for a bit on that subject.  Women's equality is supported in the Bible.  No such Biblical authority supports homosexual sexual activity.  Many excellent articles are the Christians for Biblical Equality website including one entitled "Does Belief in Women's Equality Lead to an Acceptance of Homosexual Practice?" by Catherine Clark Kroeger.  If we "give up" women's equality for the sake of church unity we are not being true to the Bible.

Another reason other churches are being formed is because many of the more conservative Lutheran groups listed in Chilstrom's letter do not look kindly on the full exercise of spiritual gifts.  The Alpha course, for example, and some forms of prayer ministry much needed for the healing and care of the spiritually, emotionally and physically wounded, are not welcomed in many Lutheran churches.  Do a search for "Alpha" or go to "Sozo" on this blog for more on that.  Besides that, some Lutheran church bodies are much too restrictive and formal for those of us who believe God often works in ways that are not scripted or pastor-led.  Check out Testify to the Lord and Tracing New History for examples of how the new wave of spiritual growth has a hard time being contained in the "wineskins" of traditional Lutheran church bodies.  Jesus said new wine needs fresh "wineskins" (See Matthew 9:17).

Bishop Chilstrom's third question: "What will you say to your sons and daughters, sisters and brothers and others in your churches when they tell you they are homosexual?"   That is a very important question and one that we are just beginning to answer.  The book unChristian has a chapter that explores how harmful Christian attitudes can be.  That chapter begins and ends with more questions than answers.  We must treat all people with love and respect--but, if they are pushing an agenda which stands against God's Word, then we must stand against that.  We must understand how complex and difficult this is.  We must teach the truth about God's plan--that God blesses only the male-female union with the potential for new life... but, we must welcome homosexuals into our churches with open arms.

I know of no other issue that is more painful and more difficult than this.  If a son or daughter of mine, a sister or brother or any relative or dear friend is homosexual, I cannot reject them.  I must follow Jesus heart and reach out in love and accept them as I have been accepted.   I must welcome and love and care.  And I must speak the truth in love--homosexual sexual behavior is not a part of God's perfect plan.  It falls short.  It is in the category with all the fallen and broken thoughts, words and deeds that are not pleasing to God.  But God loves every homosexual and somehow they must know that if they are going to come to the Lord and receive his forgiving and convicting love.

It's not easy and I don't have it all figured out, that's for sure.  Perhaps over time we will learn how to integrate Biblical compassion and Biblical sexual standards in a way that works for the salvation of all who the Lord loves so much.  Maybe we just need to spend way more time in prayer than in talk.

I call this blog "Sharing Ministry and Faith" because I believe that's what we do, we share.  There is one who is above all of us, and that One--God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit--that One has given us his Word--in Jesus, in the sharing of the Gospel, and in the Scriptures--as a lamp and a light to our path through this difficult and painful world

Whatever we do, the Word of God and the Message of Jesus' sacrificial love for sinners must shine above all.

Let's share what the Lord is speaking to us and stumble together, often just barely seeing one step ahead... let us stumble together with much prayer toward the future God has promised and prepared.  In spite of all our failings, we can trust him to get us there as we rely on his Word.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"I Will Give You Rest"

This morning I drove to Dinkytown to meet a friend (a former member of ELC/Cokato) at his church.  While there, we sang this hymn:
I leave all things to God's direction;
He loves me both in wealth and woe.
His will is good, sure his affection;
His tender love is true, I know.
My fortress and my rock is he:
What pleases God, that pleases me.

God knows what must be done to save me;
His love for me will never cease.
Upon his hands he did engrave me
With purest gold of loving grace.
His will supreme must ever be:
What pleases God, that pleases me.

My God desires the soul's salvation;
My soul he, too, desires to save.
Therefore with Christian resignation
All earthly troubles I will brave.
His will be done eternally:
What pleases God, that pleases me.

My God has all things in his keeping;
He is my ever faithful friend.
He gives me laughter after weeping,
And all his ways in blessings end.
His love endures eternally:
What pleases God, that pleases me.
After that hymn we heard a sermon based on Second Timothy 2:8-13 where Paul writes:
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
What do we do when we have lost our dreams?  What do we do when all seems hopeless?  When we know Jesus, we can rest and say "it is well."  When we know Jesus, when we remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, coming again to rule over all--then we can have peace.

Is everything lost for you?  Jesus died and all was lost.  The hopes and dreams of all the world were crushed on the cross.  But then, on the third day, Jesus rose, defeating death, and giving hope to the most desperate, hope to the most hopeless, forgiveness and peace to the most sinful. 

The resurrection of Jesus, his glorious rising from the dead, it proves that God's good will be done.  Because of Jesus, risen from the dead, we know nothing will keep God's good purposes away.  Knowing that keeps us from despair.  Knowing that lets us rest and trust in the worst of storms.

God desires that you know his peace--peace beyond circumstances, peace beyond understanding. God desires that you find rest.  So God gives us Jesus, risen from the dead, and His Holy Spirit, living in and among us when we trust him.  Now we have a place to go when all is lost.  We can come with a brother or sister, come with a friend or a stranger, and we can wrap them in prayer and in love, and have every load lightened through his presence and his purpose, knowing that, in the end, we will not be lost.

Come to Jesus tonight.  Listen to this Word for you:  Jesus, crucified, deserted, abandoned, tortured dead and buried--He has risen from the dead and he comes to you in and among His people.  Jesus has defeated every pain and evil evil that afflicts you, and he is now your true and lasting place of peace.

Do not carry your burden or your grief alone.  Ask someone to pray with you and for you.  Because of Jesus, risen from the  dead, you will find full forgiveness, a new beginning, unconditional love for the deepest part of who you are.  In His Word, and through those gifts we call Baptism and the Lord's Supper... in these ways Jesus calls you to himself... to be welcomed and fed like a child in the arms of a loving mother or father.

God wants that for you tonight.  "Come to me," says Jesus, "all you who are weary and are carrying such heavy burdens.  Come to me," says Jesus, "and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28-30)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Word Of God Speak

I'm finding myself at a loss for words.

Let me stay and rest in your holiness. All I need is to be with you, Jesus, and in the quiet, hear your voice.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Keep Crying

Has anyone ever told you how annoying you are?  Have you been told to keep quiet?  That is NOT God's message to you tonight.

God says, "Keep Crying!"  

That might be the simplest and best way of summarizing the parable of the "Unjust Judge" in Luke 18:1-8.  Keep crying to God!  Keep praying--day and night!  Do NOT give up or give in to "faithless fears."  God will bring his kingdom.  His ways will win.  Those who cry to Him will be with him forever.  Those who cry to Him will win (Luke 6:21b).

In the Unjust Judge story, a widow wins her case simply because she does not give up.  That Unjust Judge is nothing like God, for he has no care or love for anyone but himself.  So, if the widow prevails against the Unjust Judge, how much more can we be confident in bringing our prayers over and over again to God.

Jesus says this to you tonight: God WILL give what is right.  And what is right will come quickly, swiftly, without any hesitation.  For the answer to your cry comes from the God who loves all his suffering ones--from the God who loves you  The answer comes from Jesus, who loves us enough to die and defeat death for sinners like you and me. As was true for Jesus, so will be true for those who cry out to him.  Unexpectedly, surprisingly, love and life will win.

So pray, my friends, pray and pray again -- and pray especially with and for those who, like the widow, are the most desperate, the most helpless, the most in need.  Keep praying with sighs and cries too deep for words.  In Jesus' name, the Holy Spirit will help you.  And, suddenly, God's good answer will come.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Replies to Bishop Chilstrom

Our local newspaper, the Dassel-Cokato Enterprise Dispatch, printed, one week ago, a letter from Herbert W. Chilstrom, the former presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  The letter, first published in the Mankato Free Press, was entitled "Questions for those leaving the ELCA."  You can read the letter by clicking the title - colored words in this blog are links.

One reply by Pastor Jonathan Sorum posted on the Lutheran CORE blog is "Reply to Bishop Chilstrom." I find his answer extremely helpful.

Another answer is found on the WordAlone Ministries website.  It is a pdf file with two parts (two pages): What Has Gone Wrong in the ELCA and Why We Are Leaving the ELCA.

Bishop Chilstrom's letter ignores the central issue -- that is, that the ELCA has violated its own statement of faith, which says that the Bible is the authoritative source and norm of our proclamation, faith and life.  The ELCA has stepped away from the Bible in many ways.  You can read about that in the aforementioned replies.   ***Sexuality is important.  It's the way God brings life into the world.  It's intimately connected with the Word of God.  But so much more is at stake.***  The following is from WordAlone's "Why We are Leaving the ELCA."  I have been a member of WordAlone for 10 years.
For many years, the WordAlone Network has worked to reform the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and to call it back to the Church’s biblical and confessional foundations. Our time as a reform movement in the ELCA has now ended.  We are moving forward as WordAlone Ministries, to directly support individuals and congregations in preaching, teaching and confessing the message of Christ.
For those who ask why we are making this move forward out of the ELCA, the following is a simple list based on the format of our Common Confession and expressing the concerns we have about the theological departure of the ELCA in these important matters of faith.
1. The Lord Jesus Christ
• use of the name “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” has diminished in worship materials
• biblical pronouns in reference to God have been eradicated, Scripture altered in the ELW
• Unitarianism tendency in describing a non-specific generic “god” rather than naming Jesus Christ
• the true gospel of forgiveness/repentance is replaced by a false gospel of acceptance / affirmation

2. The Gospel of Salvation
• a post-Christian form of Universalism (all are saved) is routinely preached in pulpits
• less than 200 missionaries are in ELCA, only a few with “evangelism” in their job description
• ELCA’s paradigm of mission changed to support and “accompaniment” rather than evangelism
• lack of evangelism has resulted in a 600,000 decline in baptized membership in the ELCA
• LWF and mission support dollars are used to export a false gospel to world Lutheran partners

3. The Authority of Scripture
• educational materials and social statements show lack of respect for biblical authority
• Presiding Bishop acknowledges “two equal but irreconcilable” hermeneutics (March 2005)
• methods of “higher criticism” are used as an end, rather than as a means of proclamation
• seminary education stresses psychology and systems-theory rather than biblical teaching

4. A Common Confession of Faith
• teaching materials show a lack of respect for Scripture and our historical confessions of faith
• general American Liberal Protestantism has replaced specific Lutheran doctrine and practice
• a new definition of “bound conscience” grants authority to self-invented and individual truth
• the work of the Holy Spirit is regularly detached from the Word of God (aka. “Enthusiasm”)

5. The Priesthood of All Believers
• the ELCA suffers from a rigid institutional, bureaucratic, and regulatory mindset
• there is lack of representation and accountability in assemblies of independent “voting members”
• the Lutheran understanding of ministry and ordination has been abandoned for Episcopal forms

6. Marriage and Family
• sexuality statement assigns morality and ethics to gospel (salvation) rather than law (creation)
• 2009 CWA actions change the traditional biblical teaching on marriage and homosexuality
• abortion is funded in the ELCA pension plan, contrary to the ELCA’s own social statement

7. The Mission & Ministry of the Congregation
• the ELCA has a “three expression” church structure, contrary to the Lutheran Confessions
• the top-down ELCA governing system allows for no ratification of important decisions
• congregations are routinely treated as franchises, simply “feeding” national offices
• emphasis on political advocacy diverts 5% of hunger relief funds to ELCA lobbyists

Produced by WordAlone Ministries (,
2299 Palmer Drive, Suite 220, New Brighton, MN 55112
You may not agree with much or any of the foregoing, but, unlike what Bishop Chilstrom wrote in his letter, it's not all about sex!

A link to the actual letter I sent to the Enterprise Dispatch as a reply to Bishop Chilstrom, and answers to other parts of his letter can be found at my post entitled "Questions 2 & 3".

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The So-Called Gospel of Inclusion

If you went to church this morning, think about the message you heard. If it was mainly about "including" outcasts, then make note of that and pay attention for the next few Sundays.

If you are in a church where the main message is regularly about who we include or exclude, you may be in a church that is proclaiming a "Gospel" of inclusion.   A so-called gospel of inclusion makes people feel good, but that's not what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for.  The Christian message is one of being healed and saved and transformed, being made new, being "born again" through God's Work in your and my life.  The Gospel of God is about dying to our sinful selves through repentance and being raised up to a new life through faith.  God "includes" us all, but when we are welcomed by God we are changed!  God never leaves us as we are.

This is one of the key issues in the life of the church.  For more, read Scott Grorud's 2008 speech "Wresting the Wheel from God: Theological Roots of the Current Crisis in Christianity."  (Click the title for the article.  The colored words in this blog are links.)
Galatians 1
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angelb from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
10 Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servantc of Christ.
P.S. This morning I heard a very good sermon--it was NOT simply based on human inclusion! I'm thankful for that. At the moment, as I get bikes ready for a pleasant fall outing on the Luce Line trail, I'm listening to a message from Paul Hinkley. It was given at August 2010 theological conference sponsored by Lutheran CORE. You can listen to the message entitled Authority in the Church: A Plea for Critical Dogmatics by clicking that link. The introduction to his lecture subtitled "A Spiritual Battle."  It's a lecture, not a sermon, so be prepared for some deep thoughts--but very good stuff.

Friday, October 8, 2010

As If

I believe God wants us to act "as if" his promises were true.  God's promises are always true, but when we have trouble trusting, God calls us to step out in faith according to his Word anyway, as if we were sure.

An example of this is found in Luke 17:11-19.  Ten men with a dread disease called out for Jesus to heal them.  They already have some faith.  They have heard previously that Jesus could provide miraculous cleansing of physical sickness.  Jesus response is that they should go and act as if they were already healed.

Lord, give us that kind of faith.  Let us always act as if your promises are coming true.  Because, truthfully, they are.  

Spend some time (5 minutes) reading God's Word today--I'd suggest one of the gospels or another part of the New Testament.  Thank about what you read and let the Words of God speak to your heart.  What promises of God through Jesus Christ do you read?  What would it mean to act "as if" they were true?  Pray about it, talk with a Christian friend, and then step out in faith. Praise God out loud. If you don't want to do that when others are around don't worry about it, just praise and thank the Lord. Fill the air with good.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Attack from Within

I visited an ELCA church today.  I wandered down the hall to the adult class and picked up a copy of what they were teaching.  What they were teaching was not Christianity.  This would not bother me so much if it was not being taught under the banner of the truth of the Christian faith.  What they are teaching is the idea that each of us should make up our own spirituality, our own religion.

Here are a few quotes from the materials I picked up.  Remember, these materials are being used in a church that claims to be Christian and to be living under the authority of the Bible.
Traditional understandings of Christology, Atonement and Incarnation are all in flux.  In fact, many people find these concepts to be quite irrelevant to contemporary spirituality...

Everything we use to refer to God is simply a limited, human effort to explain the unexplainable...

The Bible offers a multitude of images and ideas about the Divine.  On their own, not one of them is right...
Christianity says we can know the truth about God by looking to the Word of God--incarnate in Jesus, preached in law and gospel, and written in the Bible.  The idea that we need to make up our own understanding of God is not Christian.  We seek truth, but we find it when we look to Jesus.  Christians do not trust in our own understanding.  Instead, we rely on the Word of God.

If some want to teach people make up their own truth, go ahead.  But don't lie and pretend to teach that under the banner of the Christian church.