Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mental Illness and Poverty of Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit. (Matthew 5:3)
This week the local pastors met for our annual breakfast with deputies from the Wright and Meeker County sheriff's departments. We meet monthly with various community professionals in order to get to know one another and listen to what they are observing in the area, ask how we can help, and then pray for them as we are able.

When we meet with the deputies they let us know about issues they are encountering with some frequency. Drug and alcohol abuse comes up often--but this year, for the first time, they mentioned mental illness.  As I recall, this came up in regard to school children and their families. 

As I looked at the scriptures many churches will be reading for tomorrow, with the verse about the "poor in spirit" and the rest of the beatitudes, I thought to myself, that certainly describes those who know what mental illness is like:
Blessed are the poor in spirit...
Blessed are those who mourn...
Blessed are the meek...
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...
In the last 24 years, serving as a pastor, and before that as I worked in health care, I've seen many examples of how people suffer in this way.  In some ways mental illness is harder to deal with than physical illness.  People feel ashamed or guilty when they or their loved ones are afflicted with mental illness (whether it's officially diagnosed or not).  Some unfortunately think the mentally ill are "evil" or beyond hope.  The truth is, there is much that can be done to help us and those we love whether illness is mental or physical.  And, not only that, if we can see mental illness as one way we are, indeed, "poor in spirit," some of the fear can be removed and replaced by love.

In R.C.H. Lenski's 1961 commentary on the book of Matthew, we find this explanation of the words "poor in spirit."  I certainly can see how the mentally ill fit this description:
[Being "poor in spirit"] is the attitude that grows out of the profound realization of utter helplessness and beggary as far as any ability or possession of self are concerned. These wretched beggars bring absolutely nothing to God but their complete emptiness and need and stoop in the dust for pure grace and mercy only." (p. 184)
How can we stand side by side all those who are poor in spirit, including the mentally ill?  This certainly is a challenge!  So often there is a sense of being out of control, or trying desperately to stay in control, or a sense of just wanting to give in to despair.  Christians usually don't know what to do, and this little discussion here isn't going to be a lot of help.  I have found quite a bit of help on line.  Let me know if you have specific questions and maybe I can help direct you to someone who knows more than I do.

One thing I can share right now is the work of Bryan Lowe, a pastor who "serves the Lord Jesus by serving mentally ill believers."   I stumbled on his blog today and it looks pretty good.  You can find it at

The following was his first post, published August 26, 2009--
Loved, but Broken

For everyone who loves Jesus, but has had an experience of terrible loss, sickness or the death of a loved one…this blog is for you. I am evangelical, a pastor and a teacher at a Bible institute. I am also Bipolar I, with rapid-cycling (and a bit of paranoia thrown in, as if I didn’t have enough). I have been hospitalized in mental hospitals on ten different occasions. But, I love Jesus more than anything. And I’ve been told by many, that He loves me as well.

I have experienced the darkest and most difficult depressions. There are some days I could not get out of bed, shower or even eat. For this and the Bipolar I take lithium, Zoloft, Seroquel, and Provigil.

This blog is for the mentally ill believer, the terminally ill, and all who are confused and dismayed by their own brokenness. The feeble, lame, sick, blind and mentally ill have not always been welcome in the Church. But, I’m convinced that it has been the churches’ loss.

The Church needs us, whether it realizes it or not. It is as broken people that we model our fallenness as the paradigm to intimacy with Jesus. It never has been about our giftedness, but intimacy. We are a reminder, a testimony of God’s grace giving His power to the weak and despised.
We are all broken in one way or another.  According to Jesus' words about the "poor in spirit" being blessed, that's actually a good thing.  I encourage you to take a look at some of Pastor Bryan's work, and let's hold one another close in our hearts and even closer in prayer.  We all have times when stress or grief or anxiety comes on like a flood.  Let's understand, for ourselves and for others, that we are not "lost" when we are broken.  We are loved just as we are.

Reflecting on these things, I've decided to stay in "Psychology and the Church" seminar, as long as it seems wise to do so.  Let me know if there are any questions I can seek an answer for, or if you just need a listening ear.

Praying the peace of Jesus for you tonight.  

Pastor Steve

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How Are You?

When I got up this morning I wasn't ready for my class so I decided to stop at the Wayzata "Park and Ride" and take the #674 express bus to downtown Minneapolis.  That way I could do my assigned reading en route.

After class I walked back downtown and had 20 minutes to wait.  I stepped into the Young Quinlan building for a coffee and was greeted with what seemed to be a very sincere "How are you?" from an employee doing some cleaning in the lobby.  I stopped and said, "Honestly, I'm feeling very well.  How are you?"  And the employee smiled back with "I'm just fine."

I could honestly say that today.  I was feeling fine.  I'm feeling quite good right now--physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I'm feeling that way more often than not these days.  Thankfulness overflows. That's true even though many things in my life are very uncertain--and much of this uncertainty affects others, including many I am responsible for.

Is that fair?  Many would say it's not. What right do I have to say I'm doing okay when I'm still living under a temporary support agreement five months after my resignation as pastor?  How can I be feeling fine when I should perhaps be worried about what will happen when that agreement runs out next month?  Oh, yes, I am working on many things.  I've filled out many applications for this and that and have more to do.  I'm not just sitting around.  Still, I wonder how others might feel if they spoke their minds or hearts.  "Why does he feel so blessed?"  "It's not fair."

The shoe has been on the other foot.  During the last year and a half there have been days and weeks and months of almost unbearable emotional (and I say spiritual) pain.  That's been true for me and for others as well.  I think it's because many, like me, have truly felt that we had been doing right and ended up getting put down for it.  We don't like that.  We sinful human beings want to get credit for doing good.  We don't want to be forgotten, neglected or turned away.  When we do right--especially when we do what we have very good reason to think is right in God's sight, according to God's Word, in line with God's purposes-- When we do right we want to have some kind of reward.  We want to see good results.  We don't want to feel like we've done good for no reason.  And when there are no good results for good actions, at least not that we experience in an obvious way, we cry and shout or groan, "It's Not Fair."

Many who suffer can understand.

How do I deal with this?  I don't have time or energy to get into it deeply tonight, but something has happened in my relationship with God, especially in the last 18 months... something has happened so I can say, most days -- at least I'm beginning to be able to say--with Paul the Apostle,
"I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:12-13)
The secret, I believe, is the presence of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and also, the sense that, ultimately, everything is under the mighty and perfect control of God.  I am beginning to trust that God is doing what is best in the midst of all circumstances.  And this growing faith is truly the source of peace, even when things aren't fair.  That, and the presence of those who also trust God and who love and pray for me, that has gotten me through.

But know this--even if you are not at peace tonight--and even if you are, as I have so often before--even if you are screaming at God to DO SOMETHING about the painful circumstances you are in -- Know this: God will not reject you even if you are not at peace.  Even in your pain, even in your questions, even in your faith that is shaken to the bone, even when nothing is fair and you're ready to quit: God will not abandon you.  He understands.  I know this because that is what he experienced himself on the cross.

But Jesus' cross was not the end.  And your pain will not be your end either.  When all is said and done, God will get the victory.  Hallelujah.  And that is the truth..

One thing is true for me though--and I think this is just how God works in most cases: We need each other to hold onto that truth.  Please don't try to find this kind of faith all alone.

May the peace the passes understanding be with you tonight in Jesus' name.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Real Faith Knows Only One Way

The following is from A. W. Tozer, as quoted in PsychoHeresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity by Martin & Diedre Bobgan.
    Many of us Christians have become extremely skillful in arranging our lives so as to admit the truth of Christianity without being embarrassed by its implications.  We arrange things so that we can get on well enough without divine aid, while at the same time ostensibly seeking it.  We boast in the Lord but watch carefully that we never get caught depending on Him.  "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"
    Pseudo faith always arranges a way out to serve in case God fails it. Real faith knows only one way and gladly allows itself to be stripped of any second way or makeshift substitutes. For true faith, it is either God or total collapse. And not since Adam first stood up on the earth has God failed a single man or woman who trusted Him.
    The man of pseudo faith will fight for his verbal creed but refuse flatly to allow himself to get into a predicament where his future must depend upon that creed being true. He always provides himself with secondary ways of escape so he will have a way out if the roof caves in.
    What we need very badly these days is a company of Christians who are prepared to trust God as completely now as they must do at the last day.
Father God, may it be so in me, and among us, in Jesus' name.

Confession and Prayer

James 5
13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
It's so good when we ask for prayer as the Lord commands in the verses above.  When we ask for prayer, however, we need to be willing to also think about our lives in the light of God's Word, and then admit our sins before God.  Sometimes it's helpful to actually let those who are praying for you know how it is that you believe you have sinned, that is, have not followed God's commands.  This requires deep trust, but in shedding our defenses we open ourselves fully to the amazing and healing grace of God.  No matter what your sin, you are forgiven for Jesus' sake.  Jesus shed his blood and died for you!  And in his suffering death and glorious resurrection, there is power for healing in every way.


Father God, you have brought us thus far.  You have protected and kept us safe.  You are greatly to be praised.  If you had but given us only one sign of your grace and mercy, it would have been enough!
With the Hebrew people, who celebrate Passover every year with the refrain "Dayenu" (It would have been enough!), we give you the glory, Lord God, and live thankfully.  And knowing Jesus, risen from the dead--O God, that is so wonderful and glorious there is nothing else we need!  Thank you Lord!  Praise you Jesus!
"Dayenu (Hebrew:דַּיֵּנוּ) is a song that is part of the Jewish holiday of Passover.

The word 'Dayenu' means approximately, 'it would have been enough for us', 'it would have been sufficient', or 'it would have sufficed' (day in Hebrew is "enough", and -enu the first person plural suffix, 'to us').

This traditional up-beat Passover song
is over one thousand years old. The earliest full text of the song occurs in the first medieval haggadah, which is part of the ninth-century Seder Rav Amram.

The song is about being grateful to God for all of the gifts he gave the Jewish people, such as taking them out of slavery, giving them the Torah and Shabbat, and had God only given one of the gifts, it would have still been enough.

This is to show greater appreciation for all of God's saving gifts as a whole.
The song appears in the haggadah after the telling of the story of the exodus and just before the explanation of Passover, matzah and the maror."
(For more about "Dayenu" as a part of the Passover celebration, go to this link:  To hear music based on this ancient truth, go to

This video is a Christian version of the traditional Hebrew song.

We have been given so much!  If all we have is the promise of resurrection and the knowledge of Jesus' love, how he purchased our pardon on the cross, if all we have is the presence of the Holy Spirit, DAYENU!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This One Day (2)

Back home after a full day.

Here are a few notes from today's "Psychology and the Church" seminar:
In the 1950s-1970s Christians like Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, Tim LaHaye tied simple psychological themes to theology.  On the other hand, Christians like Jay Adams (and his "Institute for Nouthetic Studies"), Jimmy Swaggart and Martin & Deidre Bobgan stood against them, saying that there was no need to add any psychological theory to the truth of God's Word--any Christian who knows Scripture is "Competent to Counsel."  Our teacher, Dr. Daniel Nelson (PhD, LP) also touched on Prayer Counseling and Spiritual Warfare.  Fascinating stuff. 

The next thing we'll look at in class, if I continue, would be psychologists and teachers at the other end of the spectrum--those who reject Christianity totally--among them Sigmund Freud, B. F. Skinner, Marlene Winell.  After those we'll consider Christians who find varying degrees of validity in each other's perspectives. 

(I need to decide, by tomorrow morning, whether or not to continue the class.  If I drop the class now I can get a refund--and it will save gas money too.  But the class is so good...  Please pray that I'll be wise in that choice of how to spend the resources God has given.)
In the afternoon a friend and I spent time (in prayer and conversation) with a group from Prayer Transformation Ministries.  This ministry is going through a change since their former director, Steve Loopstra, moved to his current position with the Sentinel Group in Washington state.  They are now focusing on developing a culture of prayer.  They've invited me to join them on Thursday at 11:30 a.m.  Let me know if you'd like to come along.

After those more spiritual encounters, it was off to see the insurance agent.  Yes, practical things do need to be taken care of.  And I need to get things organized for our upcoming move out of the parsonage too.  I'd better stop blogging and get to that.

Peace to you in Jesus' precious name alone.


For a bit more about my time at North Central and the seminar I'm auditing, see One Thing I Know, This One Day (1) and Psychology and the Church (seminar update).

This One Day

I'm jotting this as I'm standing outside the mailroom at North Central University, where I'm auditing a seminar called "Psychology and the Church."  This afternoon a friend and I will be meeting for lunch, then we'll go together to Prayer Transformation Ministries.  After that, I'll go to another meeting, this time with an insurance agent.

Life is fascinating and hugely challenging.  It might seem to difficult to make sense of.  But, hallelujah, we are not alone!

Our Lord God, the amazing creator, loves us no matter what.  We know this because of Jesus, who gave his life as a sacrifice, dying in our place because of our sin.  The Holy Spirit guides and inspires most clearly as we get to know Jesus in the Bible, but also out in the world, no matter where we go.

I trust the Lord to make good to work his will through this particular day in my life.  You can do the same.


For a bit more about my time at North Central and the seminar I'm auditing, see One Thing I Know, This One Day (2) and Psychology and the Church (seminar update).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Safe in the Temple of the Lord

One thing have I asked of the LORD;
one thing I seek;
    that I may dwell
    in the house of the LORD
    all the days of my life;
to behold the fair beauty of the LORD
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he shall keep me safe in his shelter;
    he shall hide me
    in the secrecy of his dwelling
    and set me high upon a rock.
Even now he lifts up my head
    above my enemies round about me.
Therefore I will offer in his dwelling
an offering
with sounds of great gladness,
    I will sing
    and make music to the LORD.  (Psalm 27:5-7)
Tomorrow I have the privilege of leading a Bible study on this Psalm, a song of great confidence, hope and joy in the midst of danger.  The beginning of the Psalm speaks of evil and enemies and war--dangers that lead us to seek safety--safety that does not come in self-defense but, instead, to the temple of the Lord, where the faith-filled find safety and joy.

Where do we find that safe place today?  Where is this temple?  Because the New Testament interprets the Old, we look there to find the answer:  The temple, where we can find safety and peace, is found wherever you and I are gathered together in Jesus' name.

Here's what it says in Ephesians:
"You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God." (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Don't look for safety or security by yourself.  Scripture makes clear that we find the "fair beauty of the Lord" as we gather together in Jesus' name.  Whether you get together with two or three or several hundred, it's in together with one another and the Lord that we find what we need.

For more on this topic, see this sweet article by my friend Jon Zens:  The New Testament Is Plural (Us) Not Singular (Me)

It's those who are alone--either by choice or because they can't get together with other believers for some reason--it's those who are alone who end up in the most painful and dangerous circumstances. Let's do all we can to bring those we know out of hiding. We are truly called to gather, to share God's Word and pray together in person. That's where safety, and healing in Jesus' name can truly be found.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Emerging on Campus

From my son Dan's blog -- Indagatio Veri
"...There is another transition occurring within the church; and at a time like this it is important to look at scripture to try and understand God's intended purpose for it. This understanding has become very important for me. Here at Concordia College I witness a strange dichotomy when it comes to ministries on campus. The campus ministry itself, led by the pastors on campus, has become very bland. Sermons and teachings revolve around us instead of around God. This 'church' seems to be more influenced by the World than it does God, and it is reflected in where they search to find truth and how this changes the interworkings of the community.

"On the other hand there is an 'emergent' church on campus as well. These student led bible studies and worship services have a different character than the more common 'Campus Ministry.' Here it seems the students are more willing to look deep into themselves. There is a yearning for not just more of life, but more of God (which of course are inextricably connected but not always recognized as such.) However neither group is perfect, nor do they completely fulfill the purposes of the church as outlined in scripture. I believe that every church body should strive to conform to the will of God; and in order to do that, we must look towards scripture for our guidance and direction..."
Read the rest at Indagatio Veri: The Purpose of the Church (1)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Searching Together

When you are in the mood for some spiritual "meat," check out  I got to to know Jon Zens and Cliff Bjork when I lived in Taylors Falls.  I've found their Biblical "searching" to be faithful, challenging, fascinating and carefully done.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Custom Designed

On Saturday I mentioned the scripture from Matthew 4:19 where Jesus calls fishermen with words they can understand--words that transform their lives as they obey the words "Follow Me!"

But what does it mean to be called by Jesus today?  How do we clearly and certainly hear God speaking, guiding, calling us through the expectations, social pressures, busyness and “noise” that are so much a part of 21st century reality?

I don't know about you, but in order to do that myself, and in order to help others hear Jesus' call, I need help!  I need help through a book like the one written by my friend and "sister" pastor, Wendy Berthelsen.  Here's a review I've written -- maybe it will encourage you to order a copy for yourself.
Don’t let the small size, the friendly approach or the low price deceive you—Custom Designed: A Life Worthy of the Call is not fast food. It’s a five course spiritual meal, meant to be read slowly and prayed over with care, section by section.

Like the first disciples of Jesus heard Jesus calling them, this book by Wendy A.W. Berthelsen was written to help its readers hear our risen Lord calling them to know, follow and serve him in the way that fits each one personally. Using scripture and dozens of real life examples, the book guides readers to hear God’s “custom designed” call through considering the talents, personality, spiritual gifts, dreams and passions God has given them and through the experiences God has allowed in their lives. The book brings Biblically faithful spiritual truth to 21st century Christian lives that are so often trapped by the expectations of others, guiding readers to deeper prayer, open conversation with loved ones, quiet contemplation and small steps of faith. In this way the Holy Spirit speaks, leading toward the “calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 3:20-4:1).

In today’s Christian world, believers often feel pressured to take on (or continue with) tasks or roles that really don’t fit them personally. This leads to grumbling, negative attitudes, ineffectiveness and/or plain boredom. Wendy has known the “restlessness” that can come even in the midst of a good career, a restlessness that pushed her to re-vision her life. Now, as a pastor and president of “Call Inc.,” she shows us how to break out of a “so-so” life by simply paying attention to God’s Word and acting on it. As I slowly read this little book, as I’ve taken time to pray and then put into practice just a few of Wendy’s Biblically faithful suggestions, I heard God speaking to me more clearly, calling me and those I live and work with to more faithful, more effective and more joy filled lives-—simply because they are more “fitting” to how we have been made and gifted by God.

I’ve served as a pastor for 24 years. One of the challenges in my ministry so far has been to help people know the freedom and joy of that is ours through Jesus while at the same time doing my best to help the “programs” and “plans” of the local church move forward. Sadly, churches sometimes sacrifice joy and freedom and encourage believers to simply “do what needs to be done.” Oftentimes people then feel like they are simply interchangeable parts in the church machine rather than living freely as members of Christ’s body. Reading this book has helped me respect the ways God is calling every church member individually in every area of life—in the family, at work, out in the world—and also in the church. Church leaders need to respect every aspect of their members’ calls, allowing them the freedom in Christ to give a confident “yes” or “no” to the things that church leaders want them to do.

I have found growing freedom and joy since I learned the principles taught in Wendy’s book. I believe the same can be true for you.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Wonderful Call

Follow me!  I will make you fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19)
I'll be preaching on Jan. 23 using that text as a basis.  Jesus speaks these words to fishermen as he calls them to a new life.  That new life he calls them to, however, is not entirely different from the life they knew before.  Yes, they leave the tools of their former profession behind.  But when he speaks to them and calls them to follow, he speaks to them in a way they can understand.  Before, they had been catching fish.  From then on, they will be catching people.

Jesus speaks their language.  Jesus knows them.  There are probably several ways of understanding this, some of which are just "normal."  They lived in the same area, knew some of the same people, may have even connected professionally--as a carpenter in Galilee, Jesus may have done some work on wooden boats like the ones the fishermen used.  But Jesus doesn't only rely on what we think of as natural or normal knowledge.  He knows them deeply, spiritually, way down in the depths of who He--the Son of God--created them to be. 

Each one of us can hear and obey Jesus' call.  Jesus is risen from the dead and He speaks to us today through the Holy Spirit.  Jesus sees you way deep down inside and wants you to use everything you are to serve him.  He knows you just as well as he knew those fishermen.  He knows your positives and negatives and can deal with you perfectly.  So we pray and ask Him to speak in a way we can understand.  We listen for him as he speaks directly to our hearts, as we read his Word, as we trust others to help us discern his call.  When we hear and obey that call, it's wonderful.  It's as if we find a way of life for which we have been custom designed.

I'm writing this from Texas.  We're at our friends Wendy and Joel Berthelsen's home for the weekend.  Wendy is the author of a wonderful common sense book that will help you hear Jesus' call in your life now.  I'll write about that next--stay tuned.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

One Thing I Know

Before Philip called you, I saw you. - Jesus

Like Jesus saw Nathaniel in John 1:48, the risen-from-the-dead Jesus sees you.  He sees you today.  He sees you, knows you, totally loves you, and he knows just how he wants to work in and through your life. 

Even if you are far from the Lord today, he calls you now to a remarkable life that you might not even be able to imagine.  All he asks is, when you hear the call, that you respond by coming to see just what it is Jesus can do in you and for you--today, and for the rest of your life--and then letting him take control.

You can do that now, in prayer, or, better yet, by inviting a Christian friend or mentor to pray with you and for you, to ask God to fill your heart with dreams direct from God.

This I know because God has done it for me.
This was the basis of the message I heard today at chapel at North Central University.  My son Jonathan is a student there, and, now, so am I--though just for one class, and that not even for credit.  The class is a senior "400" level "Seminar on Contemporary Issues in Psychology and the Church."  There are eight students in their early 20s, the professor, Dr. Daniel Nelson, and one old guy.  Me.

During the seminar, we'll be comparing Christian views of our personalities and secular views.  We'll take a look at how Christians can benefit from scientific research and psychological practices and what they have learned about the human brain.  We'll look at various views of counseling, psychology and psychiatry.  Then we'll be challenged to put what we learn into practice.

As you can see if you'll read back in this blog over the past three years, there are many times when, in one form or another, questions related to healing, mental health, prayer ministry and even spiritual warfare have been addressed.  I've been doing quite a bit of study on my own on some of these subjects, especially during the past year, but I've been looking forward studying with others.  I've considered going on for an advanced degree.  Before I plunged in to that extent, I talked with professor Daniel Nelson (PhD, LP) in the psychology department at North Central.  I thought talking with him, and now taking a class there, would be particularly fitting because, as an Assemblies of God related university, it takes the supernatural seriously; the supernatural meaning the direct action of God in our lives.  I'm looking forward to what I'll be learning, and I'm sure I'll be sharing more about it on this blog.

One thing, though, I do know even before I begin the class.  There are glorious gifts we can receive from Jesus no matter who we are, no matter how "balanced" or "healthy" our minds may be.  Jesus can begin that work now.  He can go to work in your life right now, no matter who or where you are.  Jesus, through His Word and Holy Spirit, can begin a transforming work today.  All He needs is access.  All He needs is an opportunity.  When we surrender to God's Will as we know it in Jesus Christ, miracles can happen.  I've seen it in my life.  You can see it in yours.

We do have much to benefit from with the scientific and psychological advances we've come to know over the past hundred or more years.  Harmful brain chemistry can be balanced and destructive patterns of thought and behavior can be made less controlling.  I believe we should receive these psychological and psychiatric helps with thanks, just as we do with modern medicine for the rest of the body. 

Nothing, however, can substitute for personal surrender to the Lord.  That's where your blessed future really begins.


For a bit more about my time at North Central and the seminar I'm auditing, see This One DayThis One Day (2) and Psychology and the Church (seminar update).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Lutheran Sermon

Even if you are not Lutheran, I'd encourage you to listen to this a scholarly Lutheran sermon from Pastor John Christopherson of First Lutheran Church, Sioux Falls, SD.  It was preached on October 31, 2010, a day many protestants call Reformation Day

In his Reformation Day sermon, Pastor John speaks to the struggles that members and leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) continue to face on a daily basis. Please pray for Pastor John and for all who are affected.

You can go to this page (click this link) on his church's website you can find a place to listen by downloading the audio file.  Or, simply click here for a direct link to the mp3.
(Unfortunately it seems that the end of the sermon is cut off.  I could only listen to the first 15 minutes or so.  I'll call his church a bit later and see if it can be fixed.  I'll also see if I can find a copy you can read.)
His sermon is based on Jeremiah 6:16-19 -

16 Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, "We will not walk in it." 17 Also I raised up sentinels for you: "Give heed to the sound of the trumpet!" But they said, "We will not give heed." 18 Therefore hear, O nations, and know, O congregation, what will happen to them. 19 Hear, O earth; I am going to bring disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not given heed to my words; and as for my teaching, they have rejected it.

Some of my own sermons can be found at "Preaching Links and Etc."  I am not as scholarly as Pastor John, nor do I put as much emphasis on specifically Lutheran doctrine.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Reply to a so-called church in Westboro

Last night a friend pointed out some nastiness that is coming out of "hate group" that the Apologetics Index people say is "masquerading as a Christian church."  I'm not going to even mention what that so called "church" is saying through their leaders, but suffice it to say that is such a terrible thing when any church or Christian forgets the character of Jesus, who, as I read scripture, was extremely loving toward those we might think of as the worst people while condemning those who thought of themselves as so righteous.  It's a crying shame when any church forgets that.

Those who know the leaders of the so called "Westboro Baptist Church" should remind them of Jesus' immense love for all and call them to account for their hate filled words and deeds.  All of us need to be vigilant against any tendency toward such hate.  Jesus took the penalty for the sins of the whole world, and, we all need to echo Paul as he says "I am the worst, the foremost of sinners" (First Timothy 1:15).  Pointing at the sins of others is not what Jesus calls us to do (Luke 6:42). It's not other people standing in the need of prayer, it's me.  And, praise God, he comes to save me, not condemn me.  Jesus came to save the world--not to condemn it.  That's the great Lord we serve.

Let's pray that the Lord would intervene with power to shine His great love and light in that darkness.
Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (First John 2:2).

God did not send his Son into the World to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:7).

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Reason for Repentance

I found the following comments on Matthew 3:1 in a 50 year old work by R. C. H. Lenski entitled The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel.  I found it as I was studying in preparation to preach this Sunday, and I found it extremely inspirational.  Imagine--every believer a king or queen alongside Jesus, the King of All.
The reason for repentance is: “for the kingdom of the heavens has come near”... it has been drawing near and is thus now at hand. Matthew alone writes ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν [the kingdom of the heavens], and he does so at least 32 times; the others write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ [the kingdom of God], which is found only a few times in Matthew’s Gospel. The distinction is merely formal; one and the same kingdom is referred to.

[Both "the Kingdom of the heavens" and 'the Kingdom of God" have the idea of belonging:] the kingdom which belongs to the heavens, belongs to God. But it is difficult to keep the qualitative idea out of the former: the kingdom whose very nature is that of heaven; and the subjective idea out of the latter: the kingdom that God rules... We may very well think of Daniel 2:44, and 7:14, to gain a proper conception of what the Baptist had in mind.

This grand Biblical concept cannot be defined by generalizing from conditions obtaining in the kingdoms of the earth. These are only imperfect shadows of God’s kingdom. God makes his own kingdom, and only where he is with his power and his grace his kingdom is found; earthly kingdoms, which are many and various, make their kings, often also unmake them, and their kings are nothing apart from what their kingdoms may make them.

So also we are not really subjects in God’s kingdom but partakers of it
, i.e., of God’s rule and kingship; earthly kingdoms have only subjects. In God’s kingdom we already now bear the title “kings unto God,” [as both men and women who believe in Jesus] and eventually the kingdom, raised to the nth degree, shall consist of nothing but kings in glorious array, each with his crown, and Christ thus “the King of kings,” a kingdom made up entirely of kings with no subjects at all.

This divine kingdom goes back to the beginning and rules the world and shall so rule until the consummation at the end of time. All that is in the world, even every hostile force, is subservient to the plans of God. The children and sons of God, as heirs of the kingdom, in whom God’s grace is displayed, constitute the kingdom in its specific sense. The kingdom is in them...

This kingdom is [especially marked] by the coming of Christ, the King, in the flesh to effect the redemption of grace by which this specific kingdom is really established among men. Hence we have the kingdom before Christ, looking toward his coming, and the kingdom after Christ, looking back to his coming—the promise and the fulfillment to be followed by the consummation [Christ's coming again]—the kingdom as it was in Israel, as it now is in the Christian Church, the Una Sancta in all the world, and as it will be at the end forever.
With this understanding of the kingdom, that where the King is and rules with his power and his grace there the kingdom is to be found, we see what the John the Baptist means when he says, “the kingdom has come near.” Jesus was approaching, and by the revelation of himself with power and grace as the Messiah and by the completion of his redemptive work he would stand forth as the King of salvation from heaven and would by faith enter into the hearts of men [and women], making them partakers of his kingdom. ...

Since the kingdom is so near in Christ, the King, all men [and women] should long to receive this kingdom. The one and only way to do this is to repent, to turn from sin, self-righteousness, and worldly security by the power of grace ... to the King and his kingdom with its pardon, peace, and joy.
This promise of God makes me sing!  Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord!

Repent!, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near! 

This is God's Word for you now! 

Now, at this moment, you may turn from your own ways and join the kingdom of God now!

Don't delay!  This could be the first day, the first moment of your new life! 

O God, I pray this may be so for many who read this, in Jesus' name.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The 12th Day of Christmas

We had a very good Christmas and New Year's with the family; but now it's over.  Our young adult children are going about their lives.  The house is returning to its quiet empty-nest self.  On Monday we took down our Christmas tree.  The decorations are packed away--this time they're packed away with other things that will be moved to another home.*

I'm not sad to see the end of the Christmas season.  It's not just because, with the rest of the world, I heard Christmas songs for more than a month, and it's not because I was tired of Christmas advertising, though I didn't mind the end of those things...  I'm not a scrooge; I like giving gifts and I enjoy Christmas carols and Christmas family gatherings--but there's a way in which even the Christian focus on Christmas can get us off track spiritually.  Let me explain...

You've noticed, perhaps, how little the Bible tells us about the early life of Jesus.  There are a couple chapters in Matthew and Luke of a prophetic sort.  There are genealogies and few short accounts of Jesus' early life, including a dozen paragraphs about events around the birth, but the Bible quickly moves on to the time when Jesus was about 30 years old.

This coming weekend I'll be preaching on one of the Bible's accounts of Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:13-17).  Jesus baptism is traditionally remembered on this Sunday only two weeks after Christmas.  Maybe you've never known or noticed that, but for those of us who pay attention to such things as the church year or the lectionary readings, or if you've ever read the first chapters of Matthew or Luke, it's noteworthy that the Gospels don't follow a normal biographical format.  In Matthew's gospel there's a leap of almost 30 years from the last verse of chapter two to the first verse of chapter three.

Because the Bible is as God wants it to be, we should be able to learn something from this.  Here's what I've been thinking and praying about during the last few days...  Let me know what you think about this.  Could there be a special reason God wants to move us quickly past "the baby in the manger"?
  • Too much attention given to the "Christ Child" can make us think of Jesus as someone who needs our help.  Putting our focus on "the baby in the manger" can make us think that we are somehow the strong and capable ones.  We can become confused and think of Jesus as a like a child who may be good but who certainly has no power or authority.
I think Christmas, over-emphasized, can lead us to put way too much attention on our own good deeds and give them too much importance.  I think, at Christmas time, as we focus on the baby, and as we imagine we might have done for him if we had been there, or what we might do for God now in caring for the "least of these," we can forget about our sinfulness.  We can forget that sin and selfishness and pride infect even the best human good deeds.  We can, in this season especially, put to the side the absolute need for us human beings to be submitted and obedient to Him alone and imagine we can somehow do good on our own.

Perhaps that's why there isn't much about Jesus early life in the Bible.  It's not until he is baptized at age 30 that the mission of God in Christ gets going.  Finally then the real work of God in Christ has its start.  And it's clear that, in the Bible, that everything about Jesus' life leads up to his last week of life.  In the Bible there is so much more, maybe a hundred times more about the last week of Jesus life than about the first thirty years

Maybe it's no mistake that the earliest Christians did not celebrate Christmas at all.  Christmas only came into being as a Christian holiday two or three hundred years after Jesus completed his work in the cross and resurrection, on his ascension into glory and on his promise to come again.  The early Christians put way more emphasis on the celebration of Jesus saving work on the cross and in the resurrection than they did on his birth.**  They knew Jesus as the one who had defeated sin, death and the power of the devil!  They knew they were weak, in and of themselves, and if they needed strength to do good, that it could come only from Jesus himself through the Holy Spirit.  If they did anything good, it was always done in his power and in his strength alone.

It's okay to celebrate Christmas, but not if we over do it, and certainly not if we think of Jesus as weak or mild or needing our help.  Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!  He does not need anything from us.  In our relationship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, we are always the ones in need, and God is always the one who gives.  We read this very clearly in Acts 17:25 and we can see it over and over again in the rest of God's Word.  God is in charge.  God is strong.  We follow.  We receive.  He is the one who blesses us.

So, let's move on. Yes, Jesus did come into this world as a little baby, and yes he grew and matured and did who knows what in his early life. But God jolts us through his word, yanking us forward to the time when Jesus was ready to begin the work he alone would do for our good--and for the salvation of the world.

*  We'll most likely be in the Cokato parsonage until about the time we must move (Feb. 22).  We are so thankful that we still have a place to live.  And we are thankful that our Lord and His precious promises are always here to bear us up.
** Christmas as a Christian holiday only came into being only a couple hundred years after Jesus' birth.  It may, in fact, have been connected with old Roman holidays, though that is debated even today.

Added Jan. 13 - I revised this post and used it as the basis of notes for a sermon that I preached on January 9, 2011 in Wisconsin.  Click here to download a pdf of those notes.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Better to Receive

If you go to church, why do you do it?  I hope it's because you know you need something that you receive there.

I didn't go this past Sunday.  Instead, we were traveling, returning from our family New Years weekend.  We stopped for gas in Hinckley.  There was quite a mob there.  Evidently many of them didn't go to church either.

That's what made me think about motivation.  I hope we don't go to church to impress anyone, least of all God.  I hope I go, even as a pastor, even when I'll be leading worship or preaching... I hope I go to receive something from the Lord.  In relationship with our God, 'tis more blessed to receive.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Family Reprise

On Dec. 31, 1999, Toni and I and the kids traveled up to Grand Marais on the north shore of Lake Superior where we met my parents and sisters and brother and their families for a "Millenium" celebration.  This year we decided to redo that, so we spent New Year's weekend together again, this time in northern Wisconsin.  The 18 of us enjoyed the time together at the "Heartwood" retreat center for just over $20 per person per night--and my dad picked up the tab!  We brought food along to prepare meals, we enjoyed dancing and karaoke, played games and went out sliding and cross country skiing.  It was really fun.

Family is important and I'm glad we were able to enjoy that time together.  Even more important, though, is the truth and love of Jesus that our family life has been based on over all these years.  The forgiveness and joy of Jesus is something we want to share every day of this new year.  Let us know how we can help and serve and pray for you.