Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Glance Back

The house is quiet.  Toni is gone until Tuesday, Daniel and Jonathan are working at Okoboji and Naomi is living and working in the Cities.  I have some projects to take care of here at home but what I've been doing for the last few hours is reading--specifically reading online about what's been going on recently in my former denomination, the ELCA.  I've got a book to read too--a memoir by Carl E. Braaten--a Lutheran Theologian who, as far as I know, is still an ELCA pastor.

There are many pastors, including Braaten, who have stayed within the ELCA while being disenchanted with the general direction of that church body.  Braaten has stayed even while being a fierce critic, one of those who has said that the ELCA is becoming a "liberal protestant" denomination rather than a "confessional Lutheran" one.

I, however, finally took the official leap and resigned from the ELCA clergy roster on May 3, 2011. I'm not alone in this.  I wasn't the first to leave and won't be the last.  Over 500 pastors have moved from the ELCA to affiliate with other Lutheran church bodies (such as the LCMC) and others are either currently unaffiliated or are still considering their options.

The reasons for my resignation are complex and are completely known only to God.  Maybe someday I'll write a book, though I'm not sure who would read it, partly because there are so many others who could write books on the same subject.  Each of us would have our own local and individual story to tell.  My own story is VERY local and personal... maybe only interesting to me and a few close friends.

I tend not to say much anymore about the ELCA.  I didn't mention it once in this blog from mid January through mid May, though I see since then I've mentioned the ELCA three times (including this post).

I think the reason I've done some looking back recently is that the time is upon us at Crossroads where we're going to need to be clear about who we are--how we relate to the other local churches, Lutherans in general and, specifically, to ELCA Lutherans--because most of the people at Crossroads have, like me, come out of that denomination--and I believe we've had very good reasons for doing so.

All that being said, there is going to be a lot going on in the ELCA this summer.  The ELCA churches of the "Southwestern Minnesota Synod" have their assembly in June and the whole ELCA has it's so-called "churchwide assembly" in AugustIf you're interested you can do some reading too... just look in google news for "ELCA"It's up to you.

If you are curious about my deeper perspective on these things or anything else, just ask.  Right now, I need to get back to my chores--and to what is ahead.

Summer Start

Beginning now, and continuing through the summer, we'll be reading and praying through the book Custom Designed: A Life Worthy of the Call.  More about this will be posted soon.  Copies of the book introduction are available -- just ask for one by calling me at 763-291-3499 or by email  Please spend some time with the book's introduction before Monday evening, June 13 when we'll meet for supper, conversation and prayer.

The other project is to get going with a Crossroads Youth Program.  Our Lord is calling us to give the next generation a grace-filled, Word of God-faithful and Spirit-led ministry opportunity to be launched in late summer or fall, in cooperation and collaboration with churches and ministries that do good work with youth.  We'll be talking together in the next two weeks and will present the outlines of a program on Sunday, June 12.

On Sunday, June 5, Pastor Ralph Erickson, formerly of Lamson Evangelical Free Church (Dassel) and currently serving Winner Community Church and Whitten Baptist Church in south-central South Dakota.  He'll be speaking on the theme "King Jesus" with scripture from Second Samuel 8.

Please keep praying for Crossroads Community Church, that God's Will would be done in our midst and in the ministry the Lord has set before us.  Also pray that the Lord would favor our faithful farmers with weather that would allow them to plant their crops.  A dry spell would be welcome around here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Picking the Right Battle

These are a few notes that I've written in preparation for preaching tomorrow at Crossroads.

One of the most interesting and sometimes controversial pastors I know goes by the name of David Housholder.   He graduated from the same school for pastors that I did and is now at a church in California.  He wrote a short book about spiritual gifts called Light Your Church On Fire Without Burning It Down.  He travels a lot, speaks to small and large crowds, and is an unashamed sold-out follower of Jesus Christ.

Here are a few lines from a piece he wrote recently called "Come Home, America."
"Come home, America.
Now would be the time.
Al Qaeda has been decapitated. The seven dwarves of wannabe Bin Ladens are hopeless.
The Cold War is over in Europe. As over as leisure suits.
We get most of our oil from the Western Hemisphere. No real reason to import it from the psycho-political Middle East.
Libya is not our problem. The chaos in Mexico is.
Time to come home, America.
We are a New World [western hemisphere] nation.
We started dabbling in Old World politics in McKinley’s administration with the “White Man’s Burden” and the Philippines. It was a slippery slope. 110 years of adventure with a ton of heartache.
Now is the time to realize the great promise of the New World.
The founding fathers warned us against “entangling alliances” in the Old World.
We ignored them.
And we have paid.
And paid.
And paid.
In gold and blood..."
It's Memorial Day Weekend.  Memorial Day began just after the civil war.  It honors those who have died in military service.  Special events will be held tomorrow so we will not forget their sacrifice--early in the morning there will be ceremonies at cemeteries--then will be parades and programs.  The Dassel parade is at 8:45 and the Cokato parade at 10:15.  After each parade there will be a program at both elementary schools--first in Dassel, then in Cokato. I'll be in town tomorrow and I'm planning to go. 

It's good for us, as Christians, to honor those who serve our nation.  Jeremiah 29 says this: "Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."  Romans 13 says: "Everyone must submit himself or herself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God."  And from First Timothy 1: "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."

Honestly, I'm thankful for those who do their best to keep this sin-filled, violent and unfair world from falling into total chaos.  I am thankful for all who serve in the military.  I'm thankful for our representative system of government.  I am thankful for the freedom we have to express thoughts and opinions without fear.  I'm thankful that there is still a general sense in this country that things should be fair and honest, even if we fail at those virtues often.  The United States is a very good place to live and we have a lot going for us!  Our nation is based on many good Christian principles, and, even though some of those are under attack, it's still a blessed land.
God bless America!  Land that I love!  Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with the light from above!  From the mountains, to the prairies, to the ocean, bright with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home.
Well... sort of...  You know this, but America is NOT really my home.  It's the place we live for now.  It's a place we can be thankful for and do our best to improve.  But it's not home.  A few minutes ago (above) I used Bible verses from Jeremiah and Romans and First Timothy to talk about why we should honor our country.  I use Bible verses because you and I are not Americans first.  Because of what Jesus did on the cross for us, we belong to him!  First Corinthians 6 (19-20) says "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body."  We honor God first, and, because God wants to honor our country, we do that too.

The truth is that no country on this earth will ever be God's Country.  There are people who belong to God, just as much as you and I do, in every country on this earth.  And even when a country like ours uses at least some of God's commandments as the basis of its laws, even when a country like ours has leaders who say that they are Christian and even when those Christian leaders pray and follow Jesus in every way, you still won't have God's country here.  That's one of the things we learn from God's Word.  Just before he died on the cross to buy us for himself, he said: "My Kingdom is NOT from this world.  If it were, my followers would be fighting..." (John 18:36)  This is not God's country.  We've been put here to do God's business, but we will never be able to put an equal sign between any particular country on this earth and the will of God.  It's too full of sin--your sin, my sin, and the works or forces darkness, the devil and his demons that are constantly hounding us.

So, speaking as a Christian, I'd like to do something even more radical than Pastor Housholder.  He said it's time to bring our service men and women home from the Eastern Hemisphere.

He says: "It is time to:
  1. Pull our troops out of Europe.
  2. Pull our troops out of Korea.
  3. Leave the Eastern Hemisphere, militarily. 100% withdrawal.
  4. Help Mexico fix Mexico.
  5. Establish a free trade zone in the Western Hemisphere, the New World.
  6. Stop worrying about trade with India and China. If they won’t play nice (which they won't), then transfer those jobs to North and Latin America.
  7. We won’t even start with the schizophrenic nation of Pakistan, our worst ally… ever.
  8. Build a world-class freight railroad system from Alaska to Chile.
  9. Re-align the military to protect the Western Hemisphere. Seamlessly. With big oceans on both sides and no natural enemies, we are easy, and cheap, to defend.
  10. Develop a joint Western Hemisphere Navy (like NATO was) to which we would supply 3, not 12, carrier groups.
  11. Thus save trillions in military expenditures and foreign aid, all the while enhancing our security. Oh, by the way, this would balance the budget.
  12. Be on good terms with the Old World, but stay out of their un-solvable feuds.
  13. Have every student in our hemisphere learn English and Spanish in addition to his/her native tongue. No exceptions.
  14. Create a national volunteer service throughout the hemisphere to build the infrastructure. Mandatory two years after high school. Get our young people out from in front of screens with video games and Simpsons reruns and out doing some good.
  15. Eliminate drug cartels.
Now those might be some good ideas. I'm no politician, and neither David nor I have the responsibility for the military or political strategies of the United States.  I think he's just trying to get the conversation going, and that's a good thing.  But I would like to use what David says as an analogy to think about where we are spending the time and energy and money God has given us.

I say it's time to bring our Christian soldiers home to the Kingdom of God, and to quit spending so much time and energy worrying and working to try to save the old world systems and to go out, not in the name of America, and not to save the United States, but to go out and to pray and pray to save the people God loves wherever and whoever they may be.  We spend a lot more time and energy than we should on things that really don't matter, things that are a part of the old world, the one we don't belong to anymore.  Yes, we want to honor our nation and its leaders and its servicemen and servicewomen, but we do that because God tells us to, not because somehow our country has a claim on us.  And I would even say this: since the world or the nation as a whole is not going to be saved for God, I think we ought to reconsider how much time and energy we put into arguments about politics and politicians, and, instead, come back to the Kingdom of God and work on things that will really make a difference in people's lives.

Do we really want to try to get the world out there to follow God's commands without first knowing God's grace and love?   The Bible passage we read from John 14 (see below) says that the world as whole cannot receive God the Holy Spirit and cannot see Jesus!  That's the battle I choose!  Let's pray and love and share the good news so many will know Jesus Christ and be saved--one by one.

So where should we be investing what God has given us?  How do we move our energy and time and resources from the old world to the new?  In the Spiritual Warfare class that we just finished on Monday nights, we learned about things that will really make a difference... preaching and sharing the good news in various ways with various groups of people--with the young, the old, those who come to church and those who don't, serving suffering people, giving our money--this breaks the hold our money has on us, reacting rightly--that is, reacting to adversity in God-honoring ways--not panicking or reacting with fear or hate--reacting with trust--knowing that God will eventually have the victory, fasting--setting aside what we think we need or what we want so we depend more fully on God, repenting of our sin and exercising faith, giving our money generously--giving money instead of hanging onto it breaks the power money has on us, persevering in doing God's will--not giving up when things get hard, worshiping and praising God--honest praise and heartfelt worship pushes the darkness back spiritually and psychologically, and, most of all, what we learned about from Bjorn Pedersen last week, praying, interceding, coming with our requests to God, putting our requests in words and praying consistently and specifically--grieving over those who are lost and praying that they might be found!

These may not seem to be as effective or as important as building up our military or making sure we have good and god-honoring laws, but the Bible teaches us that these are the most important things indeed because they flow out of a loving relationship with God, a relationship he initiates with us when we come to know that he gave his life for us on the cross.  But in order to do these things more effectively, it will be necessary for us to pick and choose our battles based on God's Word, and not based on what others may think.

A more complete version of this will be, God willing, shared tomorrow morning in worship.

Jesus is here speaking to his disciples in John 14:

  ... 12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Trip to the Zoo

On Wednesday I had the privilege of driving a bus-full of second graders (with teachers and chaperones) to the Minnesota Zoo.  Since I didn't have responsibility for kids I could take my time and read about some of the animals, especially on the "Tropics Trail."  While reading, I saw the word "evolve" many times.

What do you think of evolution?  I've never been convinced by those who completely reject it.  Because I don't believe the Bible is intended to tell us everything there is to know about science, I have never had any problem believing God could very well have used natural processes (such as natural selection) in order to bring the incredible species into being--every one is, I believe, a wonderful creation of God!  Evolution, if it exists, is simply the means by which the creation may have occurred over time.

Here's a summary of what seems close to my own position that I've referred people to before on Wikipedia:
Theistic evolution or evolutionary creation is a concept that asserts that classical religious teachings about God are compatible with the modern scientific understanding about biological evolution. In short, theistic evolutionists believe that there is a God, that God is the creator of the material universe and (by consequence) all life within, and that biological evolution is simply a natural process within that creation. Evolution, according to this view, is simply a tool that God employed to develop human life.

Theistic evolution is not a scientific theory, but a particular view about how the science of evolution relates to religious belief and interpretation. Theistic evolution supporters can be seen as one of the groups who reject the conflict thesis regarding the relationship between religion and science – that is, they hold that religious teachings about creation and scientific theories of evolution need not contradict...
What do you think?  Let's talk about this!  Do we all need to agree?  Faithful Christians have read the Bible accounts of Genesis more or less literally or poetically for centuries.  I hope we can respect one another and the scientists who continue to learn about this wonderful world God has made.

For a 2008 post on this topic see "No Discussion?"

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Planting Time

Last night we had our second Crossroads Community Church transition team meeting.  We're getting a lot done on necessary details.  As I've mentioned before, the Biblical basis of this team is found in Acts 6, where the early Christian church found it necessary to appoint certain people to take care of getting things organized. Important to do.

But life goes on, and we can't wait until everything is all in place to be praying and acting in faith!  Before last night's 7:30 meeting, there was a time for prayer.  As we heard last Sunday, prayer is the most important thing we can do.  As we pray, we open ourselves to the purposes of God and allow Him to speak to us, urging us on to those actions and plans that God himself chooses.  Please, as a matter of first importance, be in prayer for all, including for Crossroads Community Church.  Please gather with others for prayer as you are able!  Jesus promises to be with us in a special way when two or three are gathered together in his name!

We began last night's meeting with a reading of several Bible verses quoted in The Custom Designed Church -- a book we will soon be looking at in more depth.  I then read the following passage from the Brazilian Lutheran author Lindolfo Weingärtner. In this book, entitled Planting Time (Tempo de Plantar) the author introduces us to a young Lutheran pastor (Orlando) who is just returning to work after a long hospital stay--he had been badly injured in a car accident and was on his way toward a full recovery.  The book follows a pastor through the ups and downs of his work in a multiple-point parish in southern Brazil, an agricultural area where generations of Lutheran Christians have lived since the 1800s. 
No sábado, além do casamento programado...

On Saturday, besides the wedding that had been planned for that day, Pastor Orlando led worship at one of his small congregations -- and on Sunday he led three others in different locations.  Because Orlando still had his broken leg in a cast, Avelino drove the pastor to each church in his pickup truck, and Orlando asked him if he would participate actively in leading worship, reading scripture and the prayers.  At the last service, in the afternoon, in Pedras Brancas, the blacksmith (Avelino), at Orlando's suggestion, stepped up to speak to the congregation, improvising what he said at the moment.  He gave a wise and clear personal testimony, using words that were simple and down to earth.  It was the first time he had spoken at worship. 

Pastor Orlando noted that Avelino, who was accustomed to beat red hot iron with a heavy hammer in his work, spoke with great sensitivity, using words that carried weight with the people, bearing the authority of someone who had lived as a real every-day Christian man.  Orlando realized that there could a lot of benefit for a church in having the pastor laid up at times.  His deficiencies had encouraged Avelio to actively engage in the public proclamation of the Gospel.  If Avelino had felt that the pastor already had everything ready, in his notebook or in his head, ready to exercise the theological monopoly of an educated man, it would have been difficult for him to gather the courage to open his mouth.

It would be necessary to continue in this direction.  There were many spiritual gifts among the people of the church, but also many that had atrophied from a lack of use!  The Lutheran tradition, in this area, was not good.  That tradition practically restricted the preaching of the Gospel to the pastor.  Such a monopoly was not biblical, it was not apostolic.  It would be necessary to awaken those suffocated gifts and allow them to bear fruit for God!
What parallels can you find between their situation and ours?  How can we encourage one another to step out in faith even before we have everything all put together?  Can we, like Avelino just "do it," trusting God to supply what we need? 

It is spring!  It's time to plant!  The fall will be here before we know it!  Talk and PRAY with others about what the Lord lays on your heart, and let's go!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Real Isn't Instant

I remember the song "Instant Breakfast" from the 1970s or 80s. Pastor Bryan Lowe refers to it in his blogpost from earlier today (Alaska time).  As I read or hear the words (see link to song from the group "Wendy and Mary" above) I think of how many things have changed since then--Polaroid cameras and Avon ladies are are gone--but we still like things quick and easy, including our relationship with God. 

Here are the lyrics:
“Instant breakfast, instant life,
Anything easy ‘cuz that’s what we like –
Fast food places and banks with no lines,
Anything easy, that will do fine.

Microwave ovens, mom's dream come true -
Put it on credit, take it with you.
Drive through car wash only 2.98 -
Very convenient the American Way.

Polaroid cameras, remote garage doors,
Instant coffee, K-Mart stores,
Avon ladies right at your door,
Home computers, who could want more?

Instant Christian, changed overnight,
Anything easy ‘cuz that’s what we like.
Help me grow, Lord.  Show me how.
Give me the patience!  I want it now!”
Real Christianity, however, is anything but easy!  Here's a reflection on this truth from Pastor Bryan Lowe at
“Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” 2 Cor. 4:10, ESV

Somebody has been pulling your leg! There isn’t any provision added to your contract with the Father that releases you from “any pain or duress while acting as a disciple while in this dark world.” This “rider clause” doesn’t work, it has no validity or legal precedent–it simply is not true.

Not everyone agrees with me on this point. But becoming a saint is not an automatic or a painless process. Discipleship is like being mashed until you are soft and gracious inside, and that my friend, takes a lot of time and tears, in equal proportions. Painless Christianity and spontaneous sainthood is definitely fiction. It is a lie, and a crooked one at that.

Just pour a little water on it, and presto-chango! And stand back and watch it grow.

Perhaps our “hi-tech” culture gives us false expectations. We have the microwave, high-def TV, fast food places and the computer/internet (my fave.) I guess that I’m trying to say is that we think that there is a corresponding effect into spiritual things. But there isn’t.

Spiritual growth or discipleship is a definite growth process. The incredible redwood forests of Northern California where all once tiny, vulnerable seeds. But something happened! They grew and grew. It took centuries to attain their amazing heights. We see them in the present, the “now” –and never what they used to be.

Unquestionably, the life-giving, Holy Spirit can accelerate growth. But the standard set in the Word is more like “slow and steady.” Even God’s favorites in scripture had periods of waiting and testing. I suppose that’s where faith comes in to play. All too often we look for a formula when we should be seeking an obedience. (But honestly, formulas are fun– and nice, and clean and quick.)

Formula-istic faith isn’t really real, we just insist that it has to be. But the Father has different plans for raising his children. No shortcuts or detours, we walk through the floods and then we take a lap (or two) through the fire (my theory, this is to dry us off after the floods, lol.) Otherwise, he would have to write an apology to the martyrs that came before us.

But I beg, and plead for you, to accept the real terms of your discipleship. You will only fool yourself if you think instant is better then real. But to accept the foolish may seem to be faith to some; but to walk through the darkness with just a candle takes real faith. I’m not a “palm reader,” but I predict you are going to face hard times and challenges that will “rock your world.”

“Paul and Barnabas preached the good news in Derbe and won some people to the Lord. Then they went back to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Pisidia. They encouraged the followers and begged them to remain faithful. They told them, “We have to suffer a lot before we can get into God’s kingdom.” Acts 14:21-22, CEV

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Communicating the Kingdom

What's up in the Kingdom of God?  Crossroads Community Church is not the kingdom--but God is working through this little church in ways that are far beyond my understanding or control.  I am so thankful!

This last Sunday (May 22), Toni and I were in Ladysmith, Wisconsin for an ordination service.  Jody (Kurth) Becker was ordained and installed as pastor of Bethany and Bethel Lutheran Churches in Hawkins and Catawba.  Jody was a 9th grader when we moved from Ladysmith (Jody's hometown--we lived and served there 1986-1992) but I remember her fondly.  She was a babysitter for our three children back then and has since graduated from high school, college and, most recently Luther Seminary.  Though Luther is a seminary of the ELCA, Jody was ordained into a new church body, the North American Lutheran Church.

While we were there reconnecting with friends, Pastor Bjorn Pedersen was preaching at Crossroads.  Fortunately I was able to listen to his sermon and prayer ministry time by going to strongly recommend that you take time to listen to the May 22 service that you will find there.  Pastor Bjorn has been used by God to help many of us understand and appreciate God's gift of prayer.  As you listen you'll also hear other parts of the service (except the music which we don't have rights to put up on the internet), some important announcements and a greeting from Eloise (Ellen) Ponsford, a worker with Wycliffe Bible Translators, a Cokato native whose work through Wycliffe has been supported by several churches in our area for many years.

Announcements on Sunday included updates on the upcoming Vacation Bible School and the work of the Crossroads church "transition team."  The transition team met for the first time last Wednesday and plans to meet again this Wednesday.  This team did some great work on bylaws, setting out some structure for how the church leadership will organize itself.  This church organization, while not in any way equal to the Kingdom of God, will help the Kingdom be extended in our local area and beyond.  Please pray for the transition team and their work.  If you have questions, just ask!  I can't wait to see what God will be up to next as we continue to pray.  Please join us for prayer at Crossroads tomorrow night at 6:30.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Be Of Good Cheer

From Martin Luther's Commentary on John 14:17 - "...the world cannot receive [the Spirit of Truth] because it neither sees Him nor knows Him..."

“These words also contribute to the consolation of Christians. When they let their eyes roam about in the wide world and see the incalculable number of those who despise, blaspheme, and persecute our doctrine, and see that these are not simple and insignificant people but generally the wisest, the most learned, and the mightiest folk, and also those who presume to be the most pious and the saintliest—their weak faith is puzzled and offended, and they begin to reflect: 'Can all these prominent people be wrong, and can all that they say, maintain, and decree be untrue and damnable?' For our reassurance Christ affirms clearly and bluntly here that it is not and cannot be otherwise. He declares that these people cannot understand it; nor can it be expected or hoped for that the great multitude—composed as it is of the world’s greatest, noblest, and best, the notables of the world—should have the truth.

“...  Thus Christ wants to console His own with these words, as if He were saying:: 'Be of good cheer and unafraid regardless of what you see and experience. You will never succeed in making the world righteous. It is, to be sure, a matter of grave offense and great pain to see so many excellent, learned, prominent, and wise people, together with the great multitude, strive and storm against God’s Word and the clear truth of the Holy Spirit. Yet you must realize that it cannot be otherwise. There must be many great, mighty, wise, and "holy" people... fine, honorable citizens, both men and women, compared with whom you are as nothing—who fume against My Word. Therefore pay no attention to this, even though you are but a small number and all alone. For you hear that there is a large number of people who cannot hear and see the Spirit of truth. Even though we preached ourselves to death, even though we sang and sounded it before their eyes and ears, even though we painted it very clearly before their very noses, it would be of no avail. They cannot receive this Spirit but remain with their spirit of lies. But you, on the other hand, must remain with the little group which gladly hears and receives My Word and has the steadfast Spirit. Do not be afraid if the other multitude refuses to follow you. Take note that whatever you do in My name must be right and good in the sight of God and all the angels. And in the end even the world must involuntarily admit and praise this.'”

Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 24: Luther's works, vol. 24 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Jn 14:17). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Gift of Work

Back home after a long but good day.  It's been 25 years since I've worked for an hourly wage.  I've been spoiled, I think.  Not that I'm complaining at all about this new gig.  Working for the school district, rubbing shoulders with kids and teachers and staff members, it feels good.  And it's uncomplicated.  This kind of work I can do and then I can come home. 

In the past couple days I've been privileged to fill in for another school employee.  So now, in addition to the bus driving (still no regular route, just sports trips, though next week I get to bring second graders to the Minnesota Zoo!)... in addition to bus driving I'm doing mail and lunch and other deliveries between school district buildings.  Lots to keep track of but great people to work with.  I'm enjoying it very much.

I'm enjoying my other job too--my first job--the employment that most nearly connects with my life calling as a pastor.  On Sunday we had our church's first congregation meeting, and then, last night, the first meeting of the Crossroads "transition team" was held.  It went well.  We're on track to get Crossroads Community Church on a firm foundation and ready for the mission to which God has called us and for which we've been called into being as a church.

As I'm entering my 56th year of life and my 26th year as a pastor, I'm so privileged to be involved in both of these occupations.  I believe both are gifts from God.  Please pray that I will use these gifts well.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Yearning to Breathe Free

Today I was home for a few minutes at lunchtime (working today for the school district delivering mail and meals from building to building) and heard part of a debate on public radio.  Debaters argued for and against the proposal, "Don't give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses."  That debate was on the immigration policy of the United States.  Interesting debate with lots of pros and cons on all sides.

I did think, however, as I heard Emma Lazarus' famous poem used to introduce the debate, that the church of Jesus Christ is called to do what the poem says, in Jesus' name.

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lutherans and Crossroads

A few moments ago I read what someone I know as a musician (Rachel Kurtz) writes about Lutherans on her blog (click here to read it).   

It makes me wonder what you all think...  What's unique about Lutherans?  Can you say the same things about other church groups?  Do you love Lutheran theology?  Why or why not?

Here's part of what Rachel writes:
"I was baptized Catholic as a baby (Thank you Grandma Kurtz for your influence there). I was raised mainly in the New Life Assembly of God church in my home town of Cokato, MN. I had Lutheran friends growing up and remember especially my friends Andrea and Leah going to a national youth gathering and local ones too. If you would have asked us in high school if it were more likely for them to become Pentecostal or me, Lutheran, we would have agreed I would not be a Lutheran. God had other plans. I went to AFLBS (The Association Free Lutheran Bible School) and finally really started hearing about grace in a way I hadn’t understood before. For instance, I can not do anything to make God love me more. I can not in any way earn my salvation with good behaviour, service or otherwise and I can not make God love me any less. Should I sin all the more that grace may abound, may it never be!!

"Through my years as a camp staffer and youth director, I worked in various Lutheran settings, and now I am hooked. I love the Lutherans and the Lutheran theology and I am proud to consider myself a Lutheran (with the Holy Ghost :) "
Most of you that have read my blog over a period of time have come to know that I was the pastor of an ELCA Lutheran church in Cokato.  Through a series of events that even today are difficult for me to understand, I found it necessary to resign from that position in August of 2010.  Now I am pastor of a non-denominational church with a Lutheran flavor.  It's called "Crossroads Community Church" and it's also in Cokato.

So many of my key values align with what Rachel says in her blog.  See the chart at this link for more about Lutheran theology as compared to other common protestant varieties.  Like she says, I long to welcome ALL so that ALL can come to faith in Jesus.  I don't want anything to keep people away.

So does this mean I need to be part of an officially Lutheran church?  I recently said yes to rostering myself with the LCMC (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) but find myself drawn to the Alliance of Renewal Churches which "embraces a convergence of the evangelical, charismatic, and sacramental streams of the Christian faith" and "appreciates a shared Lutheran heritage."

The very first meeting of the new Crossroads Community Church of Cokato was held yesterday after worship.  We elected a seven member "transitional team" that will be presenting some official documents for the church to approve soon, hopefully on June 12.  We need to get this together quickly so we can move on to putting plans in place for this fall, especially in regard to children and youth and education.  The transitional team will also be looking at connecting or "affiliating" ourselves with a denomination.

How "Lutheran" should Crossroads be?  The Word of God must rule--that's where many of us have had challenges remaining within the ELCA.  Grace must be free and clearly connected with what Jesus has done for us in his suffering, death and resurrection from the dead.  Faith remains a gift of the Holy Spirit, not any achievement, nothing we do to get it.  As we hold firm to these things, will we be Lutheran? 

Let me know what you think, or share your thoughts with the transition team at Crossroads.

Old Photos

Yesterday I saw the photo below.
The photo is from a "Hunger 101" event that was held at Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato in early May 2007.  Here's another:
Then last night, I read the Old Testament book of Lamentations and had a quiet time with the Lord.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Church Meeting Sunday May 15

The following went out in an email today:

Crossroads Community Church will have its very first general meeting after worship this Sunday.  The purpose of this meeting will be to select a transitional leadership team.  Once elected, this group will act quickly in the next weeks, building on the foundation of prayer that has already been laid.  They will help the church move forward with confidence and unity based on the Word of God.  We are thankful to the "launch team" that has helped us to this point.

Please be in prayer that we will obey God in all things. 

If you have not yet done so, please pray about signing the statement that we've been introducing in past weeks:
  • Trusting Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, accepting the Bible as authoritative for faith and life, we believe God is calling us together through 2011 to pray, worship, study the scriptures, serve, care for one another and give financially for the ministry and mission of God through Crossroads Community Church of Cokato.
Those signing the statement prior to the meeting time on Sunday will be eligible to vote at the meeting.  The main order of business at the meeting will be the selection of transitional team members.  If you feel called to serve on this transitional leadership team (a kind of board of directors) for this time in this church's history, please let us know.  There is a "sign up" sheet at church for those who are willing to serve.  Of those who are willing, those at the meeting will select seven.  We are thankful for those who have already listed their names!

The Biblical basis for this team is from Acts 6, where the early church found it necessary to set aside seven persons to do administration for a period of time so others would be freed up to do the ministry to which they have been called.  See Romans 16 for another "list" of people who served as leaders in the early church.

Whatever questions or suggestions you may have about any of this, please reply to this email or contact me personally at or 763-291-3499.

Besides getting some organizational matters taken care of (constitution and bylaws, affiliation, plans for summer and fall) we will be quickly clarifying our common vision and mission as a church--based on the foundation of prayer and faith that has already been laid.

To do that, I ask that you be in prayer about the following question:  What do you believe the Lord is calling Crossroads to be? 

Here are some of the things the Lord has laid on my heart
  • This church will be a house of prayer, a place where we give over control to the Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

  • This church will always trust in the grace of God, not trusting in our own goodness (no matter how long we have been Christians). 

  • This church will be founded on the God's Word revealed most clearly in Jesus and given to us authoritatively in the Bible

  • This church will be a home for those who have had a Lutheran heritage and for others who have prayed most earnestly for a place to raise their children in the grace and mercy of God that has not moved off the foundation of God's Word. 

  • This church will reach out, actively, assertively, generously and gently to those who are lost and are in need of the ONE Savior of the World, Jesus Christ.

  • This church will not be a "top down" organization but, instead, will give guidance and support to Christians who are called to various ministries, whether with children, youth, the aged, those in need and those in crisis, with men, women and etc.

  • With other Bible based churches in the area, this church will support marriages and families, helping them be faithful and forgiving.

  • The grace based nature of this church will allow people to be themselves, to be real, to come as they are, to not worry too much about what other people think.

  • This church will not be possessive or territorial.  It will not be overly concerned about "us" and "them," about lists of members and who is "in" and who is "out."  It will need to have organization and structure because it lives in this world, but it will be primarily spiritual in nature.

  • This church will encourage risk taking for the Lord and it will be constantly bathed in prayer.  We will not live in anxiety.

  • This church will be ultimately led by God, not by people or pastor.

  • This church will seek an affiliation and other relationships that respect our heritage but will not bind us to external structures.

  • Together, and as individually, we will pray for God's guidance often and always, moving ahead boldly or waiting as we trust the Lord's direction.
Can you say "yes" to these things? 

Are there other ways in which you believe the Lord is leading this church? 

Please pray and share what you believe the Lord is saying to you.

Hope to see you Sunday - Bible study and Sunday school at 9:00 a.m., worship with communion at 10:15, meeting follows worship.

In Christ,
Pastor Steven K. Thorson
Crossroads Community Church

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Grace for the Afflicted

Beginning in my early 20s I've come into contact, in various ways, with people who suffer from mental illness.  At one time I worked as a psychiatric nursing assistant (at Mercy Hospital, Dubuque, IA).  During my time in Brazil I encountered such suffering people several times -- I remember a particular man in Ceilândia very well.  Then, during my twenty-five years as a pastor in Ladysmith, Taylors Falls and Cokato there have been multiple times when I have walked beside suffering people and their families, sometimes in ways that have been helpful, at other times when I wonder what help I've been at all. 

These neighbors and family members of ours often come to us with hugely painful issues, usually in their times of deepest need, when their disabilities and poor coping skills have led them into poverty, violence, dysfunctional relationships, various kinds of abuse, drug and alcohol use, sexual promiscuity and self harm.  When they come to us they are often in despair.  They need someone trustworthy and caring.  Often they turn to people associated with the church.

People who suffer in this way, either temporarily or in the sense of being permanently disabled, need our love and care--but many are also very gifted.  Many are extraordinarily sensitive to the suffering of the world around them or to their own pain--pain which has sometimes come upon them from a combination of genetic factors and early life experience.  Because of this sensitivity, it is good for those of us who are not currently suffering from mental illness to keep our hearts and minds and ears and eyes open to what these suffering people can teach us.  Many people who live with such disabilities are Christians who have prayed for relief for months and years but still suffer every day.  Many are truly "survivors" who really know how to pray!

Yesterday I wrote about our need, as a church, to live in closer relationship with one another.  But how can we come alongside people who, frankly, are sometimes very depressed, out of control or disconnected from reality in one way or another?  I believe, to do this, we need help from mental health professionals, from spiritual warriors, and from pastors who have had close encounters with mental illness themselves.

Pastor Bryan Lowe, who I have mentioned before in this blog, is on disability because of mental illness.  Last week, on Broken Believers, he posted a piece called "Churches Respond to Mental Illness." You will find it below.  I hope we, at Crossroads, can respond helpfully and appropriately with all of the suffering people Jesus died to save.
The following was posted on "Broken Believers" on May 6, 2011.  It was written by Ken Camp.

Living with depression — or any other form of mental illness — is like viewing life “through a glass darkly,” according to Jessy Grondin, a student in Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. “It distorts how you see things.”

Like one in four Americans, Grondin wrestles with mental illness, having struggled with severe bouts of depression since her elementary-school days. Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness, along with bipolar disorder, another mood-altering malady. Other forms of mental illness include schizophrenia and disorders related to anxiety, eating, substance abuse and attention deficit/hyperactivity.

Like many Americans with mental illness, Grondin and her family looked to the church for help. And she found the response generally less-than-helpful. “When I was in the ninth grade and hospitalized for depression, only a couple of people even visited me, and that was kind of awkward. I guess they didn’t know what to say,” said Grondin, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Alabama.

Generally, most Christians she knew dealt with her mood disorder by ignoring it, she said. “It was just nonexistent, like it never happened,” she said. “They never acknowledged it.” When she was an adolescent, many church members just thought of her as a troublemaker, not a person dealing with an illness, she recalled. A few who acknowledged her diagnosed mood disorder responded with comments Grondin still finds hurtful. “When dealing with people in the church … some see mental illness as a weakness — a sign you don’t have enough faith,” she said. “They said: ‘It’s a problem of the heart. You need to straighten things out with God.’ They make depression out to be a sin, because you don’t have the joy in your life a Christian is supposed to have.”

A Baylor University study revealed that among Christians who approached their local church for help in response to a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, more than 30 percent were told by a minister that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. And 57 percent of the Christians who were told by a minister that they were not mentally ill quit taking their medication.

That troubles neuroscientist Matthew Stanford. “It’s not a sin to be sick,” he insists. Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the doctoral program in psychology at Baylor, acknowledges religion’s longstanding tense relationship with behavioral science. And he believes that conflict destroys lives. “Men and women with diagnosed mental illness are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demon possession, weak faith and generational sin.”

Stanford writes in his recently released book, Grace for the Afflicted. “The underlying cause of this stain on the church is a lack of knowledge, both of basic brain function and of scriptural truth.” As an evangelical Christian who attends Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, Stanford understands underlying reasons why many Christians view psychology and psychiatry with suspicion. “When it comes to the behavioral sciences, many of the early fathers were no friends of religion. That’s certainly true of Freud and Jung,” he noted in an interview.

Many conservative Christians also believe the behavioral sciences tend to justify sin, he added, pointing particularly to homosexual behavior. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association famously removed homosexuality from its revised edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As a theologically conservative Christian, Stanford stressed that scripture, not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, constitutes the highest authority.

But that doesn’t mean the Bible is an encyclopedia of knowledge in all areas, and all people benefit from scientific insights into brain chemistry and the interplay of biological and environmental factors that shape personality. Furthermore, while he does not presume to diagnose with certainty cases of mental illness millennia after the fact, Stanford believes biblical figures — Job, King Saul of Israel and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, among others — demonstrated symptoms of some types of mental illness. “Mental disorders do not discriminate according to faith,” he said.

Regardless of their feelings about some psychological or psychiatric approaches, Christians need to recognize mental illnesses are genuine disorders that originate in faulty biological processes, Stanford insisted. “It’s appropriate for Christians to be careful about approaches to treatment, but they need to understand these are real people dealing with real suffering,” he said. Richard Brake, director of counseling and psychological services for Texas Baptist Child & Family Services, agrees. “The personal connection is important. Church leaders need to be open to the idea that there are some real mental-health issues in their congregation,” Brake said.

Ministers often have training in pastoral counseling to help people successfully work through normal grief after a loss, but may lack the expertise to recognize persistent mental-health problems stemming from deeper life issues or biochemical imbalances, he noted. Internet resources are available through national mental-health organizations and associations of Christian mental-health providers. But the best way to learn about available mental health treatment — and to determine whether ministers would be comfortable referring people to them — is through personal contact, Brake and Stanford agreed. “Get to know counselors in the community,” Brake suggested. “Find out how they work, what their belief systems are and how they integrate them into their practices.”

Mental-health providers include school counselors and case managers with state agencies, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice or associated with secular or faith-related treatment facilities, he noted. Stanford and Brake emphasized the vital importance of making referrals to qualified mental-health professionals, but they also stressed the role of churches in creating a supportive and spiritually nurturing environment for people with mental-health disorders. Mental illness does not illustrate lack of faith, but it does have spiritual effects, they agreed. “Research indicates people with an active faith life who are involved in congregational life get through these problems more smoothly,” Brake said.

Churches cannot “fix” people with mental illness, but they can offer support to help them cope. “The church has a tremendous role to play. Research shows the benefits of a religious social support system,” Stanford said. They stressed the importance of creating a climate of unconditional love and acceptance for mentally ill people in church — a need Grondin echoed. “There needs to be an unconditional sense of community and relationships,” she said. She emphasized the importance of establishing relationships that may not be reciprocally satisfying all the time.

People with mental-health issues may not be as responsive or appreciative as some Christians would like them to be, she noted. “Others need to take the initiative and keep the relationship established. People don’t realize how hard it can be (for a person with a mood disorder) to summon the courage just to get out of bed,” Grondin said. Christians who seek to reach out to people with mental illness need to recognize “they are not able to see things clearly, and it’s not their fault,” Grondin added.

Mostly, Christians need to offer acceptance to people with mental illness — even if they don’t fully understand, she insisted. “Just be present. Offer support and love,” Grondin concluded. “You won’t always know what to say. Just speak words of support into a life of serious struggles. That means more than anything.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Let's Live Together

"I'm asking God for one thing, only one thing. To live with Him in His house my whole life long." (Psalm 27:4)
I wonder about the so-called American Dream.  I wonder if it's really something that churches or Christians ought to embrace.  I especially wonder about that part of the American Dream that stands for individual success and the idea that individuals or individual family units ought to handle life on their own. 

The American Dream can stand in opposition to what is really good for us, that is, living in the "house of the Lord."  For Christians, the "house of the Lord" equals the Christian community.

When the Holy Spirit came down on the disciples (first about 120 of them, then 3000 or more) one of the many things it did was to lead them to live together instead of being independent.  This doesn't mean they all lived together in one house, but they spent way more time together than typical Christians do today in the United States.

How can we build a church family that better reflects God's desire for us to depend upon one another?  In the past few months, even in the past two days, God has been speaking to me through people who have deep emotional and practical needs, calling me to call our new church (Crossroads) to more fully live together, especially with and for the weakest and most vulnerable among us.

As we prepare for the Crossroads church meeting on Sunday, please read and pray over the following Bible passages from Acts, asking God to take away any false "independence" that would keep us from God's will.
Acts 2:38-47

Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Life among the Believers

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

Acts 4:31-35

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Pray first.  Then read scripture.  Then pray again.  Talk with others.  Then pray again.  Then, if you believe God is calling you to come alongside friends and neighbors in the Dassel-Cokato area through the Crossroads church through the end of this year, please sign the statement described at "Past the Launch."  That will entitle you to voice and vote in important decisions that will be coming up soon.  This Sunday, Crossroads will select and elect a transitional leadership team to help us move forward.  See "Getting Practical" for more on that.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Shepherding Me

God shepherds me through His Word, His Spirit and His people.  God directs and corrects and guides as I continually come to know Jesus.  He will continue to need to be on the alert as I stray constantly.  I ask you all to be a part of God's guiding and watchful army of shepherds.
"Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador... Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak."  Eph 6:18-20
Scriptures assigned for this coming Sunday - the Fourth Sunday of Easter:

First Reading
        Acts 2:41–47

        Psalm 23

New Testament
        1 Peter 2:10–25

        John 10:1–10

Friday, May 6, 2011

Loving Thomas

As the Bible tells us about Jesus, we also learn about the men and women who were his students, friends, followers and apprentices when Jesus was on earth.  God has chosen to tell us about them so we will know how "normal" they are.  They had some successes but they failed so often--and though many of their failings were transformed by the Holy Spirit, we can see and relate to them and their personalities.

One of the disciples is named Thomas.  Thomas is an honest man who, like me, isn't easily convinced or swayed by what other people tell him.  He wants to investigate, know the evidence, and judge the truth for himself.

On the Sunday after Easter, Christians often highlight this particular follower of Jesus because of the Bible story I'll quote below.  As I've preached sermons related to this story for twenty-five years, I normally highlight Thomas as a good example instead of shaming him as a "doubter."   I've often noted how Jesus deals with Thomas, how he offers Thomas what it is he needs in order to believe and trust in him as his Lord and God.  Jesus is so remarkably patient with all of his disciples.  And I'm so thankful for that!

As I was praying over what to share in my sermon last Sunday (May 1) three additional factors came to mind.  First is the fact that the other disciples, who had already received what they needed to believe -- the other disciples did not do anything to remove Thomas from their group.  Second, Thomas stayed around even though he didn't believe.  Third, and this is just so cool, the scripture passage below makes it seem as though Thomas' need for "evidence" is the one and only reason Jesus came back to see the disciples the Sunday after Easter!

In this encounter with Jesus, who died and rose again for us, we see him dealing personally with this one--Thomas gets all of Jesus' attention.  Jesus is loving Thomas!  What a gift!

Here are the notes I prepared in advance of preaching May 1, 2011.  Unfortunately we don't have any audio recording to share.

John 20:19-31
     19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
     21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
     24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
     But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
     26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
     28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
     29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
     30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Believing, trusting, living without anxiety… those are very good things.

But what do you do if you honestly have a really hard time with believing or trusting God?

Maybe there have been times in your life when you have felt like you were left out when something important happened. Maybe others have had advantages that you haven’t. Maybe you’ve been hurt or ignored when others have been blessed. And, maybe, not having been there, you just aren’t able to be as excited and enthusiastic as others. Maybe you just can’t believe.

That’s what happened with Thomas. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus came and showed himself alive. And because Thomas was honest, he just couldn’t fake it. He couldn’t just go along with the crowd.

What’s remarkable, though, about this Bible passage, is what Jesus and the other disciples do with their doubting and honest brother. And, the other thing that’s remarkable, is what Thomas does.

The disciples don’t reject Thomas. We know that because, a week after Jesus had risen from the dead, they still had Thomas with them.

It would be good for us to think about what that would mean for us. What does it mean for us to have someone “with us” even when they have problems believing and trusting God, when they seem stubborn or too strong willed or difficult?

Our tendency, I think, is to let people go.

How do we do that?  It's different for us than it was for the disciples way back then.  They were together not only once a week, but every day.  The disciples lived in close community with one another.  Today, we're more isolated in our homes and apartments and cars.  For us, letting someone "go" is so easy.  For us, letting someone go can mean simply not going out of our way to call them or visit with them.  Instead of ushering or pushing someone out the literal door of the church--instead of "excommunicating" or actively shunning someone, we simply let them go by just letting them slip from our minds.  We "respect their privacy" and let them go by simply letting them drift away.

So, since the result of keeping Thomas with them was so amazing, that is, Thomas received what he needed to believe in Jesus as his Lord and God, I ask this: What would it mean for us to keep someone “with us” today?  What would it take to keep someone close to us even when they are having a hard time in these days when people aren't constantly seeing one another on the street?

This is something we need to think about and especially pray about!  Galatians 6:1 speaks to us about restoring a person who has fallen away in a spirit of gentleness. “Carry each other’s burdens,” it says in the next verse, “and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” What is the “law of Christ?” To love others as He has loved us! And in First Thessalonians 3:10, we find this: “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.”

Do we do that?  Do we "pray most earnestly" that we may restore someone who is drifting? 

The disciples don’t reject Thomas. They keep him close. That’s the first thing that’s remarkable here.

For Thomas’ part, he doesn’t leave. He stays with the believing disciples. He admits his doubts and stays in the group.

My daughter Naomi has a friend who, like Thomas, has been honest enough to say what it is she has a hard time believing.

Last fall there was a time at her church where they encouraged people to get up and share what God is doing in their lives.

I think we should be having those sorts of days too. Instead of a sermon, we could do some sharing… maybe people could pick a Bible verse and then share what it means to them personally.

Naomi’s friend Melissa’s verse could have been John 20:24-25… Here’s what she said last November… her testimony is actually on line, on the internet, if you want to hear it for yourself.  (Click the following link to go directly to the mp3 audio file from the Church of All nations: -- the testimony below is found, as I recall, a little less than half way through.)
A lot of people get stage fright, but this is really scary for me because I spent most of my whole life learning how and practicing to hide myself from other people, especially people in the church.

I'm here at this church to unlearn that and it's terrifying… it’s so terrifying that I ran away from this church before because it's a place where people really do want to get to know you. But...

I'm committing to being here. Fully. With myself.

I grew up with lots of feelings of hurt and inadequacy from the church and my parents and other people in the church, but that was never something that could be shown, it was always that you had to be put together and present the best side when you come to church.

But I'm not very put together. I still have a lot of hurt and confusion.

I became an atheist at a very young age because I didn't believe there could really be a loving God. I thought atheism was a safer route than actually admitting that I hated God.

So, in college (I went to a Christian college) it became really really important for me to figure out what I believed theologically so I could believe God loved me.

I couldn't figure it out.

I still don't know what I think.


I'm gonna let people love me and learn to love them and see where that leads.

That's me.
I hope we can be a church that is willing to be with and walk alongside people… and we should pray that people who don’t believe yet are drawn, as Melissa says, to “let people love me and learn to love them and see where that leads.” Because, the truth is, because of the Holy Spirit that has been given to us, when people hang around long enough, chances are that the Holy Spirit will get a hold of their hearts and they will get the help they need to believe.

None of us have directly seen the Lord Jesus in the flesh, but God, through his Holy Spirit, has given us enough evidence of Jesus resurrection so we do believe—we have come to trust in the evidence presented in the Bible, in all the eye witness reports of Jesus resurrection and in the ways that really smart people have looked at them over the ages and have come to the conclusion that yes, no other explanation makes sense… the lives of the disciples and so many other lives since then have been changed, people have been born again, miracles have happened over and over… and so we say yes, Christ is Risen!

And we wait until others come to believe too.

Because when we are willing to love each other, and study the truth, the Lord will reveal himself to us. That’s what happened 2,000 years ago with Thomas, when Jesus himself showed up, just for him.

This is honestly the most amazing thing. Jesus showed up a week later… and, as I read John 20, as far as I can see, the only reason Jesus came to the disciples that second time was in order to give Thomas what he needed to believe.

If you have a hard time believing, don’t hold those questions inside, bring them out, and ask Jesus to give you what you need to believe and trust in him, because believing and trusting and not being anxious for anything; that’s a really good thing… but, it needs to be God who give us what we need; we ought not just fake our faith. It needs to be God himself who gives us the evidence we need.

Like it says in Psalm 16:2, “Apart from you,” that is, apart from God, the Lord, apart from Jesus, “I have no good thing.”

Other people can testify to what God has done in their lives, but you and I ought not believe just because someone else tells us to, we ought to ask God to show us himself.

And the amazing thing is, God will.

He cares for all of his smallest and weakest ones.

Back quite a long time ago, back when I was in high school or college, a man by the name of Martin Bell wrote a little story called “The Rag-Tag Army.”

I pray we, as a church, can be like this…

Martin Bell writes:
Look at God’s rag-tag little army! All he has for soldiers are you and me. Dumb little army.

Listen! The drum beat isn’t even regular. Everyone is out of step. And there! You see? God keeps stopping along the way to pick up one of God’s tinier soldiers who decided to wander off and play with a frog, or run in a field, or whose foot got tangled in the underbrush. God will never get anywhere that way. And yet, the march goes on.

Do you see how the marchers have broken up into little groups? Look at that group up near the front. Now, there’s a snappy outfit… –at least they’re in step with each other. Only they’re not wearing their shoes. They’re carrying them in their hands. Silly little band. They won’t get far before God will have to stop again.

Or how about that other group over there? They’re all holding hands as they march. The only trouble with this is the people on each end of the line. Pretty soon they realize that one of their hands isn’t holding onto anything–one hand is reaching, empty, alone. And so they hold hands with each other, and everybody marches around in circles. The more people holding hands, the bigger the circle. And, of course, a bigger circle is deceptive because as we march along it looks like we’re going someplace, but we’re not. And so

God must stop again. You see what I mean? He’ll never get anywhere that way!

If God were more sensible he’d take his little army and shape them up. Why, whoever heard of a soldier stopping to romp in a field? It’s ridiculous. But even more absurd is a general who will stop the march of eternity to go and bring the soldier back.

But that’s God for you. His is no endless, empty marching. He is going somewhere. His steps are deliberate and purposive. He may be old, and he may be tired. But he knows where he’s going. And he means to take every last one of his tiny soldiers with him.

Only there aren’t going to be any forced marches.

And, after all, there are frogs and flowers, and thorns and underbrush along the way. And even though our foreheads have been signed with the sign of the cross, we are only human. And most of us are afraid and lonely and would like to hold hands or cry or run away. And we don’t know where we are going, and we can’t seem to trust God–especially when it’s dark out and we can’t see him! And he won’t go on without us.

And that’s why it’s taking so long.

Listen! The drum beat isn’t even regular. Everyone is out of step. And there! You see? God keeps stopping along the way to pick up one of God’s tinier soldiers who decided to wander off and play with a frog, or run in a field, or whose foot got tangled in the underbrush. God will never get anywhere that way.

And yet, the march goes on.
God isn't old and tired, but otherwise this is a very sweet story.  I hope it, in some ways, describes this church.

So let’s stay together, friends, with all the others who have come to believe in Jesus and with those who have yet to believe!

Let’s stay together and pray that God would reveal himself in a convincing way, as he did to Thomas, so more and more can enjoy a life of faith and hope and unending love.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


On Sunday May 1, during my sermon, I somehow turned to a Bible passage that I hadn't planned to use.  Instead of an earnest prayer about seeing a dear loved one and "supplying what is lacking in your faith" (1 Thess. 3:10) I paged over to Second Thessalonians 3:10 "IF A MAN WILL NOT WORK, HE SHALL NOT EAT."*

That same hard-nosed verse had come to mind the previous week, I'm not sure the context, and came to me again tonight as I helped someone yet again with a financial need.  The person I've helped is willing to stay in relationship with the church I'm currently serving, is growing in faith (though by fits and starts) but is not likely to be stable enough to hold down a job.  There are hundreds of such people in our local area--mental and physical disabilities are far more common than we even know.

What do we do with folks like that?  I believe Jesus would have us err on the side of mercyThe "Sermon on the Mount", for example, is very clear on this: "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you" (Matthew 5:42).  And when you feel like you're taken advantage of, well, Jesus covered that too in Luke's version of this sermon: "Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again" (Luke 6:30).  And don't forget First Corinthians 6:7 where the Lord let's us know it's not always bad to be taken advantage of. 

(If there are times when we need to stand for truth against those who would profit at someone else's expense, if there are times when we need to take action against those who take advantage of others, better to do that on behalf of someone in need or someone who cannot defend themselves--better to do that instead of insisting on what we think rightfully belongs to us.  When we cut off support, sometimes we truly hurt those who are the least able to defend themselves.)

I want to be part of a church that leans to the side of mercy and even makes mistakes by being too generous.  I want to be part of a church that is willing to take risks in relationship with the poor, even the chronically unemployed.  I believe we need to do this in by the Holy Spirit's power and because of the command and example of Jesus.  I believe we ought to stay in relationship with those who we are helping.  The church is not a free and impersonal vending machine.  But the truth is that often those we support will need consistent mercy over a long period of time.

Some dysfunctional people will stay that way.  Some unstable people will always be unstable.  They will need to be forgiven over and over again.  And these relationships will be difficult!  Sometimes God will even calls us to have them move in with us for a period of time--and that can be very hard!  (See Bible Verses about Helping the Homeless.)  Still, mercy must flow constantly and prayerfully, in practical and personal ways.

Prudence is required.  Since many needy people are truly overwhelmed by life, some are very irresponsible.  Therefore we ought not just give out cash.  We need to be with the person in need, at least enough time to pay a bill or fill someone's gas tank or bring them to the food shelf, the thrift store, or another place of business.  We shouldn't give the needy money too quickly.  I know how tempting that is sometimes because it can get them to go away and let me get back to my less complicated and secure life.

Because it so very rare that God call us to turn our backs, close our eyes and shut our wallets we will often need advice!  God almost never calls us to act in mercy all alone.  God calls the Body of Christ, the church, to act in concert, praying and generously giving through those who are in relationship with those in need.  That's a way to prevent compassion fatigue--don't act by yourself and don't keep secrets.  Talk with a trusted and mature Christian friend as you enter a relationship characterized by the mercy of God. 

In any case, the scriptures cited above overwhelm the concern of being taken advantage of. We need to be remember that whatever we give is really just a passing on of the mercy God has first given to us.

That's a very important key, I think.  Before cutting someone off, ask God how often he has been merciful with you.


* Some Christians use this as a command to automatically judge the unemployed, or, at least those who we judge are "not willing to work."  Often, however, Christians who would impose this command do not know those who are in need deeply and personally enough to know if they are "unwilling" to work or, for some reason, unable to do so.  Some disabilities, particularly those that impact the mind and emotions, are extremely hard to diagnose.  Christians ought to search the scriptures, pray and walk personally alongside those in need--and not doing so secretly but doing so while being in communication and community with other compassionate Christians--we ought to be extremely care-ful (full of tender loving care) before we close our doors or cut off support.  Otherwise we risk hardening our hearts to the mercy of God.