Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dona Nobis Pacem

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

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

How do we walk through days like this?

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

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

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Unfailing Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Repentance at Christmas

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

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

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

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

Every time, Jesus will give you new life.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Wrong Notes

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

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

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

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

Peace to you tonight in Jesus' name alone.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What We've Been Doing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Worth Sharing

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bit Part

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

How Long?

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

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

What do you have to lose?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thrice Blessed

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

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

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Sign For Your Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What I Long For

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Living in a Snowstorm

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 10, 2010

What We Celebrate

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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Worth the Wait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 6, 2010


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

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

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

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Baptism and Salvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 3, 2010

When God Breaks Me

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

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

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

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Out of (my) Control Church

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

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