Sunday, February 27, 2011

At Crossroads

This morning I preached and led worship at Crossroads, a new church in the Dassel-Cokato area.  If you're curious, you can listen to the most of the service at  The picture above shows what you'll find when you go to that link.  (Don't try to click anything on the picture--you'll need to go to to access it.)  On the right side you click the specific service you'd like to listen to, then click the play arrow. 

The Crossroads "launch team" asked me to preach on John 15--other scriptures that we read were Isaiah 61:1-4, Psalm 92:1-7, Hebrews 12:1-13. 

Here are the notes I used to preach--you can listen on the link described above; the sermon begins about 25 minutes into the service.  The sermon doesn't follow the notes exactly... there are things I meant to say but didn't, and other things that I said that came to me at the time.
(The sermon had no title.)
A few verses from John 15.
1“I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He breaks off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and he prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so that it will be clean and bear more fruit. 3You have been made clean already by the Word I have given you. 4Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me.  5“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me…”

Lord Jesus, come now through your Holy Spirit as we apply your Word to our lives. Transform us, change us, so we are more and more dependent on you.

It’s so good to be with you this morning. Thank you, launch team, for all you have done to bring us to this point. And thank you, all of you, for being here as a part of this new work of the Lord.

“I am the real vine,” says Jesus, “and my Father is the gardener. He breaks off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so that it will clean and bear more fruit.”

I had to go out to a friend’s house to borrow something to make this scripture come to life today—and when I pull it out, don’t be concerned—I’m not the gardener—and the real pruning shears are contained in this book.

It’s God’s Word that does the pruning, the cutting, the cleansing. It’s the Father’s work, not the pastor’s.

And the Father does good and loving work, perfect work, so you never need to be concerned when he goes to work on you as he has gone to work on so many during these past months and years.

I believe this has been, for so many of us, a special time of spiritual pruning and cutting. That needed to happen. We get attached to substitutes that look or feel like God. You may be too attached to your pastor… SNIP. You may be too attached to your church building or church organization or denomination… SNIP.  You may be too dependent on having things just so… SNIP.

Yes, God has used this time as a divine pruning process. He has clipped away things that are not essential, things that can become substitutes for God.

And he’s stripped us almost bare so we end up needing to connect with him directly, one on one.

"I am the vine, says Jesus, and my Father is the gardener. He breaks off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so it will be clean, healthy, ready to bear more fruit."

And it’s God’s Word, the clipping, cutting, cleansing Word that does that work in you and in me. Oh how precious the Word of God is. How absolutely irreplaceable. God’s Word will correct and guide us and connect us with Jesus Christ himself, giving us real life.

“When all supports are washed away”—when there is no other hope, when everything that might substitute for God is gone, He, Jesus, and Jesus alone, He then is all my hope and stay… On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, All Other Ground is sinking sand.

And once the clipping and cleaning is done, once we’ve given up every other hope and every other support, then the Holy Spirit begins to flow with strength and healing power direct from God Himself. Strength and healing power that come from the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

That’s what I look forward to. I see it happening already. And as we let go of all pretense and all other aid, again and again, as we lean more and more on our faith, praying and relying on God, God’s Word, on Jesus, on the Holy Spirit, the impediments to God’s work among us and through us, they will fall again and again.

So, now, it’s time for honesty.

Are you, first and always, dependent on God? Am I? Or do we sometimes imagine or pretend we can get by on our own?

We human beings are not like plants or vines because we are so good at finding short term temporary artificial imitations and substitutes for a real and life-giving relationship with God. There are obvious things like drugs and alcohol… yes, no matter how long we’ve been a part of the Christian life, we can be dependent on these things. It’s time for honesty.

We can use other people. We can jump from relationship to relationship. We can fuel our psyches with success and soothe our souls with sports and shopping and just keep busy. It’s time for honesty.

It’s time to let the truth catch you. It’s time to limp back to Jesus. For only Jesus is the way and the truth and the life, and no one will come to God the Father except through a relationship with him.

I am the TRUE vine, says Jesus. I am the ONE true source of good and lasting and real life. Any other person or any other “thing” that pretends to be a source of life, no matter how religious they may be, they will not work in the long run.

And when we come here to church, to the Crossroads, we allow God’s Word to examine the sources of our lives, to let him do whatever pruning or cutting or reconnecting that He decides we need.

I am the one TRUE source of life. You are the branches. Apart from Jesus you can’t really do anything of worth. Apart from Jesus, no matter how good you may look or feel today, apart from Jesus you will fail and fall. He is the only way.

If there is anything in your life that is propping you up now, it’s time to let it go. No matter how holy or sacred it might seem. It’s time to go straight to the source, to the Word of God, though prayer, through worship, through honest confession and true forgiveness. And God will be glad to welcome you and graft you in.

That’s one of the things that happens when we come to the Lord’s Supper today—here, when we come honestly, prayerfully, seeking a connection or reconnection with Jesus, he will extend his wounded body and his blood, shed for you, he will give these to you, so you may be joined to him. As it says in Isaiah 53:5, by his wounds we are healed.

Through the wounds and the death of Jesus on the cross, he made it possible for you to be joined, or rejoined, to Him. And not only you, but every one who is ready to give up all other means of support, and come naked and bleeding to God.

Jesus, the true vine, the source of life, was wounded for you. In Romans 11, round about verse 24, there’s a section that talks about joining… not joining as a member of a certain church… honestly, that’s not so important… it talks about joining as in the body of Christ or, if we think of that body as a “vine,” the term is grafting.

Grafting is something gardeners do when they want to put a new branch on a different tree. My neighbor, Tom Harpole, had a tree in his yard that he called a “fruit cocktail” tree. Someone had taken a plum or pear tree and had made cuts in its bark and had put in a branch from another tree. Tom’s tree, here in Minnesota, had peaches, it had pears, it had plums. You may think you don’t fit in a church or a group like this, but God is the master gardener, not only cutting and pruning, but also grafting and connecting and giving new life—and that life can be given to you.

And you, yes each one of you, remaining connected to the true vine, to Jesus, through worship and scripture and prayer and relationships with all these other fruits, you can become a way that life and goodness flows and grows into a world and a community that needs God so much.

This is your time to connect with God today. This is the time for you to say yes to Jesus, to let his life, and his life alone, begin to flow into you, to heal you, to forgive you, to let you begin again.

Yes, you and I will still need work, and pruning, and there will be times in the future that God will need to go at us again to strip away anything that we depend on too much—anything other than He Himself—but connecting with Him, taking time away from all the other distractions and attractions of life, coming here or to another Bible believing church to learn and pray and grow—when that happens fruit will flourish—love and joy and peace, patience and kindness and true goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

And many many more will come to know the Lord.

Will you connect today? Will you allow God to connect with you? What are the false supports, the substitutes for God that make you feel okay? What needs to go? Addictions? Ungodly relationships? Unfaithfulness? Maybe you’re even so dedicated to your work that you just can’t imagine taking time to come to prayer or to go to a group to study the Bible? Maybe there is some letting go that’s needed in regard to your family—perhaps they need to be allowed to build their own relationship with God? Or maybe distractions and entertainment are filling a place in you that just feels so empty.

Here’s the promise: When you let God, through His Word today, or whenever you hear and believe it, when you let God do his pruning and cutting work, and when you connect or reconnect to him in a deep and personal way, he will begin to flow through you, and God will be glorified in your life.

This just may be a Crossroads day for you, a time to let go and let God work. We’ll have a time now to sing an old favorite hymn. I want to encourage you today, that if this can be a time for you to reconnect with the Lord, to pray as you sing, that you would indeed become one of those dear children of your heavenly Father, safe in his embrace, and that you would rest there, in his presence, today, and every day until you see Jesus face to face.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Relationships Matter

The way we relate with God is connected with the ways we relate with others.  That's why we have the twin commandments about love for God and caring for our neighbor.  In fact, we can learn something about our relationship with God as we consider how we relate with others, including those closest to us.

Today in class we saw a video interview on marital intimacy with a Biblical counselor, David Powlison.  It's a very helpful video in its own right, but notice how it connects our attitudes and behaviors in marriage with how we relate with God and vice versa.

How we deal with others reflects how we deal with God and how we relate with God affects our relationships with others, particularly the most intimate.  Let's pray and ask God for help as we apply Jesus' life and teachings to both.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Psychology and the Church (seminar update)

Last night, after finishing yet another stage of our move to 15075 30th St SW (just north of Cokato), I drove my son Jon and his friend Brianna back to North Central.  It was late--we arrived in Jon's room at about midnight after dealing with parking.  (Snow emergencies make things "interesting" around here.)  Still, it was a beautiful night.  The moon was coming up full amid the cold clouds, and, as we were going through downtown Minneapolis Jonathan remarked how nice it looked with the plies of clean snow.

I'm just about to drive back to Cokato now--more cleaning to do in the house--but thought I'd say at least a little bit about what we're learning in the Psychology and the Church seminar.  There's still a lot more to learn--this class continues through May.  This is simply an attempt to share some things that just might be helpful to one or more of the readers.  It helps me organize my thoughts too.

The basic question I'm asking as I'm taking this class, doing reading and reflecting on what I'm learning is about how psychological understandings of mental health can help us in our God given callings (a) to love our neighbors (especially those who seem most broken in mind and spirit, and (b) to clear blockages to the work of the Holy Spirit** in my life and in the lives of other Christians.  I'm asking how how our personal relationship with God as His sons and daughters interacts with scientific (psychological and medical) ways of helping people heal.

Why do this?  When Jesus walked the earth, he brought healing and wholeness to many.  The word for "healing" in the Greek language is the same as the Greek word for "salvation" and "deliverance" (as in being "delivered" or "rescued" from evil).  Following Jesus and ministering in his name means more than just helping people know Jesus' love in their heads, as in "affirming" or "confirming" one's faith.  Following Jesus and ministering in his name means more than proclaiming that he will save you someday in an unearthly "heaven when you die" sort of way.  Following Jesus is more than just a fresh "coating" of good looks or nice short-lived feelings.

From what I read in scripture, Jesus acted to bring salvation and healing and deliverance from evil in his earthly ministry.  From what I read in scripture, and from what I've seen happen over and over again today, the Holy Spirit acted and continues to act through his Spirit-filled followers today, bringing the same blessings--salvation, healing and deliverance--all summarized by the Greek word "sozo."  It's my hope and prayer to be a part of doing that more effectively as I re-enter the world of active Christian ministry and leadership.

Christians have various ways of understanding how ancient and modern understandings of the psyche or "soul" interact and/or complement one another as we follow Jesus in loving God and serving our neighbor.  "Psychology" is the way that modern science works to serve and help our neighbors, but Christians generally believe that there is something missing in modern psychological understandings.  Even so, most Christian students and teachers of psychology believe that some forms of modern scientific psychology can be good allies in helping people heal and deal with the sinful self, the sinful world, and the devil's evil power.  In our class, we're looking at several contrasting ways in which Christian scholars understand the relationship between those two things--modern psychology and faithful, biblical, Holy Spirit directed, supernatural, prayerful ministry.

There's still a lot more to learn.  As a pastor, I believe it's important for me to be able to walk beside people as they heal and are delivered from evil, using whatever faithful means God may put at our disposal, whether through science or straight from the Word of God. 

Father God, may the righteousness you give be more than simply and outward coating of righteousness, but a gift that brings health and deliverance from evil in this life, as we wait for the final deliverance and salvation in heaven.  May it be done on earth now, as it is in heaven.


* God is our Father because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the faith given by that same triune God.
** Thinking of "love, joy, peace" and the other fruit of the Spirit and the Holy Spirit's gifts as in Romans 12, First Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 etc.

Monday, February 21, 2011

After the Retreat

I left my notebook, and my Bible, at Shamineau bible camp.  That's two hours north.  So I won't be able to give a good overview of the men's retreat I attended with about a hundred or more men from the Dassel-Cokato area.  I'm very glad I went though, and when my notebook is found most likely some specifics of what we learned will be shared here.

One moment, however, stands out for me, maybe because I had my own doubts about whether I ought to have gone on the retreat in the midst of this very busy moving time.  Someone I've known from church was expressing those same thoughts, having struggled with whether to leave his family to come along.   Another man got up and reminded him, and all of us, how important it is to get ourselves connected with the source of life so we can be there for others.

He recalled what flight attendants say before takeoff.  If an airplane cabin were to lose pressure emergency oxygen masks for each passenger will drop from the ceiling.  The flight attendants always reminds us that if we're traveling with loved ones, even with children, we should resist the impulse to get their masks on first.  Instead, they say, "always put on your own mask before trying to help others with theirs."

It's good and important that we make sure we're connected with the Lord before trying to help anyone else.  That's what men and women do when they go on spiritual retreats, or when they take time to gather with others for Bible study and prayer.  That's what we do every day as individuals as we spend some time in God's Word and in prayer, especially on the busiest days, and especially when others are depending on us.

Don't try to help others without being securely connected with the source of life yourself.

I'll be preaching on John 15 this coming Sunday.  Using another analogy, Jesus says:
"I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
To "abide" is to live and thrive and grow while being well connected with the source of life.  Usually that "connecting" means disconnecting, at least for awhile, from the busyness and business of our days, even when it might seem that we are abandoning our responsibilities to help others. 

Abiding in the Source of Life is not an option for those who know Jesus.  Taking "spiritual time" is something we need if our life is to be authentically based in a personal relationship with the Lord.  Without it we will fumble around and, in one way or another, lead others away from what they need themselves.  Without taking time for that connection, we can lead others to depend upon themselves.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Beautiful Tatooed Feet

"How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!"  (Romans 10:15)
We met Kelly Gilbert at Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp. I remember so well when she stood by the campfire and shared her testimony in, as I recall, the summer of 2009.

Here's her brief story from her blog:
My name is Kelly and I love and live Jesus Christ. He is my Healer, Redeemer and Savior. I live everywhere and nowhere. I have no place to rest my head.

I am in an intimate love relationship with a God who not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am.

I am also known as Showbiz, and known for wearing tie-dye, working at camp, being artsy-craftsy, high-caffinated, book-loving, organizationally-minded, tattooed, lead-foot driver, board game player, thrifty shopper, vagabond, map reader, tree-hugger, star-watcher, ocean lover.

To be alive is to be broken. And to be broken is to stand in need of grace.
You WILL be blessed if you take time to go to her blog on "Tumblr"... I'd suggest starting with her "notebook testimony".  (Click on colored words and press play where you see Kelly holding up a notebook with the first word "Worthless."  It will take awhile to load but it's worth taking the time.  Wow.  I am SO thankful!)  NOTE - Aug. 30, 2011 - THE VIDEO testimony is no longer available, though a written one is at

Then begin to pray that God will lead you to someone like Kelly.  Support ministries like Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp.  Or go there yourself sometime.  The camp is unique in that it's mainly aimed at families.  Toni and I went with our kids every summer for about 17 years.  My son Dan will be a program director there this summer.  So thankful for that camp.  And so thankful for our friends Wendy and Joel Berthelsen who talked us into going there when our kids were small.  The Holy Spirit does such intricate and long lasting work!

It's such a treasure to share the grace and mercy of God.

Praise you Jesus!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Real Hope, Real Spring

“That’s the difference between me and the rest of the world! Happiness isn’t good enough for me! I demand euphoria!”  Calvin & Hobbes, comic strip

We're having a warm spell in central Minnesota.  It was up into the 40s today and may even reach 50 tomorrow.  Not bad for mid February.  Not bad at all.

Of course, it will get colder again.  Snow is forecast for Presidents' Day.  I'm glad because we had to postpone Toni's birthday sleigh ride... no fun to go dashing through the slush.

I love warm weather and sunshine even when I know it will come to an end.  Seasonal affective disorder doesn't bring me down too much.  I'm not prone to depression.  I've got other "issues" but that's not one of them.  I can take clouds and cold for quite awhile.

There are probably many reasons for that.  I've had so many advantages in life.  I've been well taken care of since I was small and, really because of many things beyond my control, I have come to trust the Lord through anything that comes my way.  So the fact that it's warm for just a day or two before a plunge back into winter doesn't much bother me.  It's just how I am.  I'm not better or worse than anyone else.

The reality of life is harder for some of us, however, and there are many, many reasons for that.  Today we visited with a young mother who has been through many huge challenges in her life.  Illness and a variety of misfortunes have come her way, one after another.  Yesterday I got called to a neighbor's home.  Could I help them get through to the end of the month?  I've been so blessed.  What right do I have to judge anyone else for having a hard time?  Shouldn't I help when I can?

Such hard times and sad feelings lead many to seek short term happiness, or, as Calvin or Hobbes (don't know which one) said, euphoria--a forgetful sort of happiness that can be attained only through drugs and other addictive behaviors.  We all know it's such a trap, but sometimes we go there anyway because we just don't know how else to cope.  Many times we just don't know what else to do.

Trouble is, like a warm day in February, the happiness of a high, whether it's through spending or gambling or alcohol or sex or drugs or whatever gets us really excited... The trouble is that those things fade so quickly and addictions set in.  Life becomes a roller coaster.  Each downer demands a greater high.  And eventually there is a crash.

Even then, or maybe especially then, there is real hope.  Yesterday a young woman called me.  She shared her testimony about how God, with the help of the people and prayers of Minnesota Teen Challenge, set her free from addiction to her particular "drug of choice."  Today Pastor Bryan Lowe posted a piece on his blog entitled "Chasing Euphoria."  It's worth reading.

So many are trapped in addictions of one sort or another.  Let's join in prayer and action for one another as we face whatever our challenges may be.  Let's not stand apart as if we were better than others.  Let's not throw anyone away.  No one is beyond hope.  No one is beyond the help of God.  And let's pray that those who have crashed will be willing to accept the help that is offered--especially the help that will connect them with the Lord.  Jesus gave his life so all may come to repentance for their sin and receive God's gift of forgiveness and new life.  Let's share that in every way we can.

In that regard, begin praying now about who you can bring to the Dassel-Cokato High School Performing Arts Center on the first day of spring, Sunday, March 20, 2011, 4:00 p.m. There we will hear the praises and testimonies of some who have been brought into God's true and real and new spring!  It's there.  It's real.  There is hope.  For you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

God Makes Do

"The biblical fact is there are no successful churches.  There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world.  The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them.  In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsiblity in the community.  The pastor's responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God."
- Eugene Peterson as quoted in The Church Awakening by Charles R. Swindoll, p. 241-242.
Toni and I are making do with less stuff than usual this week.  My desk is now a card table with boxes packed around.  It's fine.  I've kept my trusty computer out.  A few books too.

As I looked at the scene before me, I realized I'm still using one of the cups bought for a youth teaching lesson.  Back in 2009 I intentionally broke another of those cups and put cash in it to illustrate Second Corinthians 4:5,7.
...We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake... But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
I thought of this tonight as I've been listening to concerns about the church.  The book in which the above quote is found is subtitled "An Urgent Call for Renewal."  It's a good book and I'm thankful it was loaned to me.  One thing, though, I've been thinking of as I read it.

It's God who renews the church, not we human beings.  Even when the church is not all it can or should be, God chooses to use it for good--as long as it preaches and teaches God's Word, stays close to Jesus, and relies on God's Holy Spirit.  Like he fills imperfect human beings with his own presence, so he fills broken and troubled churches and uses them for good.  The only thing we need do is stay dependent on God's Word, trust Jesus for good instead of ourselves, and let the Holy Spirit do his remarkable, joyful work.

I'm "broken and cracked" and so is every church I've ever been part of.  As I wrote in this blog on Feb. 4, 2009, "All he asks of us is to admit our unworthiness as we open ourselves to his Word and Spirit."  That's true for individuals AND for the groups of desperate believers we call "church."  Somehow, even with churches filled with people like me, God makes do.


And God makes do to do excellent things.  Here's the end of chapter 8 in Swindoll's book mentioned above:
The House of God Needs to Represent Its Biblical Purposes for Existence

It's a house of prayer, not a house of business.  It's a place of worship, not a place of entertainment.  Jesus is our Savior who we worship, not a brand to market.  The body of Christ is a sanctuary of protection for the vulnerable--for children, single mothers, the abused, the bruised and broken in life.  The house of God is refuge for those who have special needs and can't keep up.  It's a harbor of hope for those who are addicted and struggling.  For those trying to find a reason to go on after a death or divorce, the church ahs a powerful opportunity to offer the hope that God gives.

The marvelous opportunity of ministry that lies before the church awaits only one thing: the church's awakening.  Stated simply, the people of God must return to a hunger and thirst for righteousness... the ministers of God must repent of their failure to fulfill their calling... and the house of God needs to represent its purpose for existence.  In spite of all the spiritual devastation and famine in our land, it is not too late to turn it around--by God's grace.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I'm changing over my email address to  My former email still works for now, but since that one is tied to the parsonage* that we're in the process of moving out of it's good to start the switch.

Thanks to the many, many people who have come alongside us during this time of transition.  Thank you to the people of Evangelical Lutheran Church, Cokato, for so generously supporting us during these six months.  Honestly I didn't think it would take us so long to move on.

Thanks to many friends we were able to get most of our possessions out of the house in two hours last Saturday.  We will follow our things to Dave & Barb Yeager's home on Presidents' Day, Feb. 21.  I plan to turn in the keys to the parsonage* the next day.

Toni and I are so thankful we have a place to stay with the Yeagers for now.  We don't know yet where we're going next.  Hopefully that will be determined in the near future.

We treasure our connections with you, whether its in person, by phone, by mail or electronically.  Our cell phone numbers will stay the same.  Our US mail will continue to be P.O. Box 8, Cokato.  I believe it is God's plan to continue the relationships God has given to us.  Let's not let one another drift away. 
*"parsonage" is a church-related word that means a house owned by the church where the pastor (or "parson") lives.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Trustworthy Love

God's love never ends.  Do you know that?  Consider these Holy Spirit inspired words from Charles Spurgeon via Pastor Bryan Lowe.
Dost thou know, O saint, how much the Holy Spirit loves thee?

Canst thou measure the love of the Spirit? Dost thou know how great is the affection of his soul towards thee?

Go measure heaven with thy span; go weigh the mountains in the scales; go take the ocean’s water, and tell each drop; go count the sand upon the sea’s wide shore; and when thou hast accomplished this, thou canst tell how much he loveth thee.

He has loved thee long, he has loved thee well, he loved thee ever, and he still shall love thee; surely he is the person to comfort thee, because he loves.
When you desperately long for the love of God, and find that love in Jesus, you are ἅγιος (a saint), holy loved by the Holy Spirit of God. No matter how you feel, you can trust that love tonight.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Finding Shelter

Tomorrow is the big moving day.  Anyone who wants to help can come by at 9 a.m.  Toni is getting lunch ready for the crew.  Dan and Jon are coming back from college to help also.  Lots to do -- and I really shouldn't be blogging.

We know where we're moving to. And it's only by God's grace that we have a shelter. Both in this life (Dave & Barb Yeager's home) and in the life to come.

This afternoon I'm helping with a funeral at a church in Cokato.  About 10 days ago or so I was asked to be with a family whose step-dad was ill at the Cokato Manor.  He then passed away and I was asked to help with the funeral.  I do not know the man who died.  He was not communicative when I was with him.  I spoke to him about Jesus' amazing love.  He was in pain and under the influence of medication.  There was no response.

Moving day is coming for all of us.  We will be moving on, sooner or later, from these temporary shelters.  That's what our bodies are.  Here's how the Lord speaks to us in Second Corinthians 5:
...We know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked (2 Cor. 5:1-3).
Only when we know Jesus do we know we are not spiritually naked, without shelter and hope. Please join me in prayer that many who hear God's Word at the funeral today would come under the shelter of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ. When we know Jesus...
...we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord [whether we're in this life or when we're moving on to what God has for us in the future by his grace] — for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.  For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor. 5:6-10)
None of us deserve the grace and mercy of God.  In terms of myself, I am a brother to all the sinful and condemned men and women of this world.  And, just like the so called "best" and the so called "worst," I can receive what Jesus has done for me, rather than getting the damnation I deserve.  I hope you will be likewise assured of Jesus' great love for you!

In connection with this, this morning I re-read what I had linked to at the end of what I wrote on Tuesday.  It was from the Renovaré newsletter--a piece called "Embracing Suffering."  When we know Jesus we have total shelter from every storm. 

I found this helpful to me during this time of change:
God's work in our lives can be painful, but his ultimate goal is to transform us into something better. Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on. You knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 205).

Interview with James Bryan Smith and William Vaswig

In the rebuilding of their lives, Renovaré team members James Bryan Smith and William Vaswig describe their respective experiences of suffering, physical helplessness, grief, disappointment, loneliness, and waywardness. We asked both of them about suffering, and their responses reflect the experience of grief and hurt that many of us have felt and continue to feel over the loss of those close to us.

In following our Christian responsibility of being "light" to the world, how did you share your faith during this difficult time?

James Bryan Smith: Within a short span of time I lost one of my closest friends, Rich Mullins, our daughter Madeline (2 yrs. old), and my mother. During those times I never thought about being a "light" unto anyone. I was just trying to manage, to keep believing that God is good, and that in the end all will be well. I don't think we should even try to be ... anything other than what we are. If we are living in the kingdom of God our lives will naturally look different. Many people said to my wife and I later on that our faith was an inspiration to them. That was nice to hear, but frankly, we were not trying to be an inspiration. We were just living in the kingdom, and in the kingdom we grieve differently, we grieve with hope. And that usually provides all the light a darkened world needs.

William Vaswig: A psychiatrist friend of mine told me to talk about my wife Marcine to anyone who would listen after she died. I did, and it helped the grieving process. I lectured to a group of pastors and talked with individuals about the dying process. Witnessing through it was automatic in a way.

Reacting to faith is characterized by focusing on the Lord. How were you able to keep focused?

JBS: In times of trial everything that supports you gets tested, and much of it does not make it through the crucible of suffering. Most of these are beliefs, such as "life will go on like this forever." We assume that our loved ones will never get sick, and that our world will be perfect. Then it all shatters with a phone call, or in the hospital room or the funeral home. In times like these everything crumbles—except one: "I will never leave you or forsake you," Jesus said. I never tried to focus on Jesus because Jesus was all I had.

WV: The reality of his presence increased immensely when I knew Marcine was only in the other room (heaven). I still reach out to her physically sometimes when I wake up at night, forgetting that she is gone.

Following your suffering, did you feel energized in your Christian walk with the Lord?

JBS: Not at all. I was simply rebuilding my faith, because much of it had been torn down. Many of my core narratives (stories about reality that we have adopted through the years) were shaken and shattered. The kingdom core narrative is this: "the sufferings of this present age are preparing us for an eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:16-18). I was not energized following my time of suffering, but I did emerge from it with a stronger, more real faith.

WV: Not very. I grieved very much for five years. It has been eight years now and I have accepted it. The whole thing "decked" me. I almost quit praying for people. It de-energized me.

What are the benefits that come from suffering that will not come in any other way?

JBS: When things go well in our lives we are seldom reflective about life and its meaning. Also, we rarely lean on God in times of success. When we suffer, as I said before, all of our props fall down, and we are forced to ask what life is really all about, and to trust in God in the midst of the darkness.

WV: Both my heart surgeries, stents, heart attacks, stroke, and carotid-arteries caused me to lose confidence in myself and put much more confidence in God. That's what happened to Paul, which he speaks of in 2 Cor. 1:8-10, and that helped me get on my feet.

Can spiritual growth take place through suffering?

JBS: Absolutely. James 1 and Romans 5 tell us that suffering produces a whole host of virtues: patience, perseverance, hope, etc. But it is crucial that we be living in the kingdom of God and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

WV: It is one of the best ways to learn to walk with the Lord that there is. It is hard but it brings with it spiritual maturity if one sees it all in his light. “Suffering produces endurance”–1 Pet. 4:1-2. There is a strange word here which some of us dare to face. “Whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin.” Suffering can enable us to live less and less according to human desire, and more and more according to God’s will.

Can non-Christians profit from suffering?

JBS: I have known several non-Christians who have gone through serious sufferings such as the death of a child. When you take the kingdom of God out of the equation, it makes suffering very different. There is no real reason for hope. Most of the nonbelievers I know simply have to divert their attention because to think about their loss is too painful. So they garden or throw themselves into their work. Their suffering never gets redeemed, just ignored. But that being said, suffering forces all of us to figure out what life is about, and quite often that will lead us back to things like loving one another, enjoying the moments of life, helping out people in need. Christian or not, suffering shatters the illusion that happiness comes from outward things (money, fame, physical beauty, etc.) and forces us to look to something deeper.

WV: By all means. Many millions of people have come to know God through suffering.

Can unnecessary types of suffering be profitable?

JBS: One of the things we do in times of suffering is to search for the meaning. When our daughter died a lot of people tried to offer comfort by saying, “God certainly must have had a plan in all of this.” And if you look hard you can see some meaning. She only lived two years, but 500 people came to her funeral, and several doctors and nurses came, and told us about how her life had impacted theirs. I am grateful for that. But I can also honestly say, “Hey, God, this was unnecessary! She could have been born healthy and done even more good.” We search for meaning because of our innate sense of justice. But I have come to believe that the only justice is heaven. There is not justice in this life. But heaven is the greater restorer of justice. My daughter never got a chance to dance and sing in this life, but she is dancing and singing in heaven. I can complain about only having her for two years, but she will reign eternally in heaven. I am guessing she and I will have 100,000 years or so together.

WV: I doubt whether suffering for a Christian is ever unprofitable. God, of course, does not cause suffering most of the time. It is part of our falleness. But he does allow suffering to take place. It seems to me that life for each of us as God’s children is a three-act play, so to speak, which God has written for us. It is his plan for our lives. But he gives us freedom to choose not to follow his plan exactly, and in order to accommodate our waywardness he rewrites the play. When we are in Act I he is rewriting Act II, and so on. As a result it will come out where he wants, even though we go our own way half (or even most) of the time. He is so gracious to use all our suffering, whether it is willful on our part or not, to arrive at the place he chooses. Our very last breath in this life can be a willful rejection of him, but he will try his best to end it in a good way.

— Marian Euler

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


The following is from a blog written by Milt Rodriguez on October 11, 2010.  I found it in connection with a facebook friend who is a member of a small "house church" in western Wisconsin.  Milt's main website is
“If we are entangled with ourselves, we have no peace. If we are entangled with the world, we have no peace. Only the disentangled can have peace; and death with Christ does the disentangling, and resurrection with Christ leads to a life above the world and above ourselves.”  T. Austin-Sparks

Just recently I attended my brother’s wedding in Southern California. During my stay in Southern California, my wallet was stolen. All of my credit/debit cards, forms of identification (except passport), and a little cash was in that wallet. The thief immediately tried to use my debit cards but was only able to use one card to purchase fifty dollars worth of groceries at a nearby supermarket.

Of course, I had to call my banks, order a new drivers license, etc. But the point of this article is not that I lost my wallet. I had a very interesting experience a few days later at a local shopping mall.

Disentangled from the World System
As I wandered through the mall I suddenly realized that I had absolutely no money and no way to get money. I had no wallet! Oh, the irony of that moment. Here I am walking through a haven of merchandising and I have no identity, no plastic, and no cash! But at that moment I realized more vividly than ever before that I was not a part of that system. In fact, I was totally dead to that system.

“But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”  (Galatians 6:14).

It actually freed me up to a higher level of understanding and experience than anything I had experienced before. Even though I may have appeared to be just another “mall rat,” in reality, I was seated with Christ in heavenly places. I was walking through that mall in a complete state of “disentanglement.” The economic system had no control over me. And I felt like a bird set free.

However, I also became more keenly aware that I was a part of another “system.” This system is not an organization or a culture or anything political or of this world in any sense. This “system” is actually a living organism. It is really not an “it” at all. I am referring to the vast organic order of Christ Himself! He is God’s order and arrangement of all of His thoughts, visions, and purposes. This “system” is what Paul referred to as being “according to Christ” (Romans 15:5).

Disentanglement from the Self System
Even though I realized that day at the mall that I was truly not a part of that system of materialism, consumerism, selfishness, and greed; I also saw in a deeper way that I have been set free from the “self-system” as well. That is my old man was crucified with Christ (Romans 6:11).

Now, it’s no longer about me and my world, but rather it’s about Christ and His Church! I am truly dead to myself but alive to God and His eternal purpose. It’s no longer me and my agenda, but it is God and His agenda. And His only agenda is Christ! That is, the full, whole Christ; Head and body, Vine and branches, Shepherd and sheep, Cornerstone and living stones, Wine and wineskin, Grain of wheat with the many grains, Bridegroom and bride, New Adam and new Eve, the Lamb and His wife.

Set Free to Live a Life Above
Of course, being crucified with Christ is only half of the equation. In order for us to live by His life there had to be a resurrection as well. He was raised so that we too could now walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4,5). How is it possible for us to share in His resurrection life? It’s because we were placed inside of Him and He is resurrection! (John 11:25) We have been placed in Him so we share all that He is. Isn’t this wonderful? Isn’t this good news?

Now the reason that we have been raised with Christ is that now we have the glorious opportunity to live by His resurrection life instead of our own human lives. He who is Resurrection now lives inside of you and me so that we can display this wonderful life of God to the world. But the problem is that instead of living by Resurrection, we choose to attempt to please God by our own human lives. This is called religion, and it is of no use to God. In fact, it actually repulses Him.

So how do we live this “above life?” How do we live by Resurrection life instead of human life? The New Testament gives us many hints but Paul very clearly shows us the beginning in Colossians chapter three.

“If therefore you were raised together with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things which are above not on the things which are on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”  (Colossians 3:1-3).

One of the key principles in learning to live by Christ is to set our minds upon things above. What are those things? They are the riches of Christ Himself! This is a process of God renewing our minds (Colossians 3:10) so that we think the “above thoughts.” But notice with me that it all begins by an act of our will: “set your mind.” We move our will into action by turning our thoughts to Christ and focusing on Him. May He become our life as we live this “above life” together!

- Milt Rodriguez

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Curing and Healing

As I continue to consider the issues connected with Psychology and the Church, I came upon a compassionate website that I think deserves a look.  The goal of these four family members is to "change the world one mind at a time."
One Mind Mental Illness Ministry

OUR STORY is about one family’s personal experience with mental illness. Over ten years ago our lives were turned upside down as we watched Janet (our beloved wife, daughter, sister, and aunt) be gripped by the pain, frustration, isolation, fear, loneliness, and earth-shattering diagnosis of a mental illness. And yet—in that place of brokenness and fear—God entered and began His work of healing.
Click here to get a pdf of the following. Give it a look and let me know what you think.
Curing and Healing

When our daughter was first diagnosed with a mental illness, we prayed and prayed that God would take this terrible disease from her. We wanted it to be gone. She wanted it to be gone. No one should be suffering so. Other people were cured of their diseases. They took special medications or had surgery. They listened to everything the doctors told them and they prayed for their disease to be gone….and for many of them it was. There was a cure. Couldn’t there be a cure from our daughter’s mental illness too? God surely was listening to all our prayers and to those of so many others who love her. Why was she still suffering? She was taking her medications, listening to the doctors, going to her appointments…she was doing what she was supposed to do…but she was still suffering from mental illness.

Five years into her illness, our daughter attended a healing service and met Pastor Bill Vaswig*, a man who for over 35 years has been involved in a Prayer and Healing ministry. He understood the pain of mental illness….his son had been diagnosed many years before with schizophrenia. Pastor Bill spent 30 minutes in prayer with our daughter. A month later, our daughter visited with Pastor Vaswig in Washington for three days. They prayed together and he counseled her. Something we had known all along was being confirmed for us. Our daughter was not being cured, she was being healed.

HEALING comes in the acceptance of the illness… whether it be mental or physical.
HEALING comes in not trying to run from the illness but to face it fully and embrace it head on.
HEALING comes in knowing you are not alone.
HEALING comes from seeking help.
HEALING comes in recognizing that there will be difficult days, but that God is present even in them.
HEALING comes in realizing that just like life…healing is a journey.

Our daughter lives "un-cured" from her mental illness, but not "un-healed." 
She continues to struggle with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, but she has embraced what she knows is her life now a life with mental illness. She has learned much about her illness and herself. She takes her medications and sees her doctor. She is learning and practicing coping mechanisms and has many good days. But some days it is very difficult for her to continue to embrace it….and there are moments of deep sadness and sorrow, but she knows that God has been there all along and that He is present with her each day as she continues her journey of healing.
That testimony is from the website maintained by Janet, Doug, Bonnie and Bill.  It can be found at

*Pastor Bill Vaswig, who passed away last month, was a Lutheran pastor and prayer ministry leader for many years. His obituary can be found here.  An excellent 2006 interview with Pastor Vaswig and James Bryan Smith can be found on the Renovare website:  Just scroll down -- you'll find it as about the third article in that newsletter.

Sometimes God chooses to heal and "cure."  And we pray for that!  It's good to know, however, that God's blessings can be found in the meantime, as we wait for all things to be made new.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Teens Surviving the Storm

So many people suffer from depression.  It can be even worse when you're young and feel trapped in difficult circumstances.  We hear of so many young people who are desperate enough to even take their own lives.  It is so sad, and it is so wrong because there are so many adults out in this world who do honestly care.  So many who are willing to step out in prayer and action for their young friends.

If you know someone who is suffering, or if you are still suffering in silence, you don't need to handle this all alone. The following video is helpful.  There is help.  There is hope.  Help and hope straight from the heart of God.

    Adults:  One of the most important things to recognize is that teens struggling through depression are not acting. Too often serious teen depression is blown off as just being typical dramatic teen stuff. Teens who are afflicted by depression are not weak. They're not trying to be lazy, moody, difficult or obnoxious. They're not trying to get in our faces. It's almost as though there's something behind them pushing them into conflicts with parents and others. These struggling suffering teens already feel like no one understands and no one cares. They don't need our judgment and rejection. They need our compassion, our patience, and our help. They need to know there is hope.

    Teens and young adults: If you find yourself walking in the darkness of depression, please know that you're not alone. There are people who care about you who and want to help. Sometimes when you're depressed that's hard to believe but it's true. Talk to someone who cares: a parent, a doctor, your pastor, your teacher, your friend or a professional counselor. There's lots of information and sources of help that can give you a better understanding of what it is you're going through.

Feel free to call me at 763-291-3499 or my wife Toni at 763-957-9296. We'll help you find the help you need.  Or go to Pastor Gary E. Nelson's website:  You do not need to do this alone.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Attachment and Surrender

We started our move.  We're not going far, just two miles north of town to Dave & Barb Yeager's.  They've volunteered to put us up until we know where we'll be going from here.  Our big moving day is planned for Saturday, Feb. 12.  We'll be needing a lot of help.  Thanks in advance to anyone who can lend a hand, and thank you to those to whom we are already so in debt.

Part of moving is throwing things away.  My wife Toni is really good at that.  I tend to get too attached to things, especially things that are connected with special people or special memories.  When a garbage bag of my kids' stuffed animals was out in the entryway, I needed to check to see which of the dozens were being tossed.  That's just one kind of "thing" I want to pause with before letting it go.  Lots of other things are getting carried with us to our next home--probably more than we need.

I heard a sermon this morning based on Philippians 3:7-4:1,8-9 where the Apostle Paul recognizes that nothing is worth hanging onto except what we have in knowing Jesus Christ and his love for us.  "For his sake," writes Paul, "I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ and be completely united with him."

Join me in praying that nothing may possess me other than the love of Jesus, and that I be ready to let everything else go at his command.  That way we will have our hands and hearts free to worship and serve him for the rest of our life.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Say the Truth

Tonight at Bethel University, at a gathering for student leaders, a young man from the Dominican Republic spoke about how God used a young woman named Ashley to change his life. How did she do that? She was from a family that was not well off... at the time when Ashley stood up in her family to make a difference, they didn't have many of the conveniences that some of us today consider must haves. But Ashley convinced her family that it was better for them to share one telephone and take the extra money they would have used on another line to sponsor a child in a far off land... in the Dominican Republic... his name was Tony, and because of the family's support, less than $50 a month, the young man was taken out of hopelessness and poverty and was truly given a new life.

Ashley's God inspired willingness to step out from the "herd" to do something truly made a difference.  Take some time tonight to pray and ask God how He would have you step out in following our Lord.

The following, written in 1950 by Erich Fromm, was read today in my Psychology and the Church class today.  Can you see how this applies to Ashley's life?  She was not simply a "herd animal," moving along with the crowd.  Can you see how it applies to yours?  Certainly being "rational" is not all that is necessary, but with God in control, our reason can be transformed into a powerful gift of the Lord.
    Man is by nature a herd animal. His actions are determined by an instinctive impulse to follow the leader and to have close contact with the other animals around him. Inasmuch as we are sheep, there is no greater threat to our existence than to lose this contact with the herd and to be isolated. Right and wrong, true and false are determined by the herd. But we are not only sheep. We are also human; we are endowed with the awareness of ourselves, endowed with reason which by by its very nature is independent of the herd. Our actions can be determined by the results of our thinking regardless of whether or not the truth is shared by others.
    The split between our sheep nature and our human nature is the basis for two kinds of orientations: the orientation by proximity to the herd and the orientation by reason. Rationalization is a compromise between our sheep nature and our human capacity to think. The latter forces us to make believe that everything we do can stand the test of reason, and that is why we tend to make it appear that our irrational opinions and decisions are reasonable. But inasmuch as we are sheep, reason is not our real guide; we are guided by an entirely different principle, that of herd allegiance.
    The ambiguity of thinking, the dichotomy between reason and a rationalizing intellect, is the expression of a basic dichotomy in man, the coextensive need for bondage and freedom. The unfolding and full emergence of reason is dependent on the attainment of full freedom and independence. Until this is accomplished man will tend to accept for truth that which the majority of his group want to be true; his judgment is determined by need for contact with the herd and by fear of being isolated from it. A few individuals can stand this isolation and say the truth in spite of the danger of losing touch. They are true heroes of the human race but for whom we should still be living in caves. Yet for the vast majority of men who are not heroes the development of reason depends on the emergence of a social order in which each individual is fully respected and not made a tool by the state or by any other group, a social order in which he need not be afraid to criticize and in which the pursuit of truth does not isolate man from his brothers...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What's A Pastor For?

What is a pastor for?  Why are pastors even necessary?  Anyone can pray.  Anyone can preach.  Anyone can visit the sick, baptize, share communion, and teach.  There isn't anything a pastor can do that a so-called "ordinary" Christian can't do too.  So why do we call and set certain people apart and call them "pastor"?

When I was ordained a "Minister of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," I did the same thing as all pastors do.  I promised that I would follow the Word of God no matter what.  And that's what makes a church need a pastor, someone who will hold the church body accountable* to God's Word, someone who has been set aside as a sort of captain--not of the financial or organizational affairs of the church, but, rather, a sort of captain of the church's spiritual life, of it's connection to the will and Word of God.

Whether the specific title "pastor" is used or not, the role is needed as we read in Ephesians 4:
11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11–16)
The need of every local church to be led by the Word of God that makes them need someone to be their pastor.  If a Church is to be faithful, it must not just go along to get along.  It must be able to stand its ground when it comes to truth.  So the Lord equips the church with spiritual leaders, and those leaders are set aside through their promise to follow God's Word.

Pastors must be true to the truth.  They may be personally popular or not, more or less emotional, tall or short, old or young, plain spoken or eloquent, personally friendly or intense, male or female.  None of this really matters.  What really matters is their adherence to the truth of the Word of God and their willingness to teach and preach and live according to that Word, no matter what.  This is what I promised in 1986, and this is what I will do whenever I am called as a pastor, so help me God.

*It's good when "ordinary Christians" hold their pastors accountable to the Word of God too.  If you believe I or any pastor are falling away from the Word of God in what we teach and preach, or in how we live, go to them personally, as a sister or brother in Christ, and show them where you believe they have erred, or discuss with them any serious question.  For more guidance on that, see Matthew 18:15.