Thursday, June 30, 2011


At Okoboji today we sang a song that has a line "It's You I Live for Everyday."  When we live FOR Jesus, we're not living on his behalf or on "his side" as much as living in desperate need of His presence.  That's where I want to be everyday.  That's why I "follow after" Him, stand upon His Word and pray that I would come to know Him more.
What to say, Lord? It's
You who gave me life and I
Can't explain just how
Much You mean to me now
That You have saved me, Lord
I give all that I am to You
That everyday I could
Be a light that shines Your name

Everyday, Lord, I'll
Learn to stand upon Your word
And I pray that I
I might come to know You more
That You would guide me in every single step I take, that
Everyday I can
Be Your light unto the world

Everyday, it's You I live for
Everyday, I'll follow after You
Everyday, I'll walk with You, my Lord

Everyday, Lord, I'll
Learn to stand upon Your word
And I pray that I
I might come to know You more
That You would guide me in every single step I take, that
Everyday I can
Be Your light unto the world

Everyday, it's You I live for
Everyday, I'll follow after You
Everyday, I'll walk with You, my Lord

It's You I live for, everyday
It's You I live for, everyday
It's You I live for, everyday
It's You I live for, everyday

Everyday, it's You I live for
Everyday, I'll follow after You
Everyday, I'll walk with You, my Lord

Everyday, it's You I live for
Everyday, I'll follow after You
Everyday, I'll walk with You, my Lord

As Pastor Bryan Lowe says today, quoting Martin Luther, “Grace is given to heal the spiritually sick, not to decorate spiritual heroes.”  Read more of what Pastor Bryan shared today at

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Carry On

When we go through circumstances that cause us to be injured and in pain, we need someone to carry us.  This is not a bad thing at all when the one who carries us is the Lord God himself.

That was the sense of what Jesus said in Matthew 10:40, where Jesus says "Whoever welcomes (or receives) you, also welcomes (or receives) me."  It's a great blessing to be carried by the Lord!  Where we go, He goes too.  Why?  Because he carries us.  Because we depend upon him.

For more on this subject go to the website and listen to what was recorded of Crossroads worship from from July 19.  I believe the Lord gave us this "image" or "picture" of God's grace that we can share with the world. 

There is no pride in being a Christian.  Only because we are carried by the King of the Universe do we have any rights or hope at all.  By his grace alone we carry on--and by his grace alone others are blessed too.

As the following hymn says, it's all through Jesus' grace that we have a claim to be part of the wonderful city of God (Zion), that is, the church throughout the world.
  1. Glories of your name are spoken, Zion, city of our God; He whose word cannot be broken Formed you for his own abode. On the Rock of Ages founded, What can shake your sure repose? With salvation's walls surrounded, You may smile at all your foes.
  2. See, the streams of living waters, Springing from eternal love, Well supply your sons and daughters, And all fear of want remove. Who can faint, while such a river Ever will their thirst assuage? Grace which, like the Lord, the giver, Never fails from age to age.
  3. Round each habitation hov'ring, See the cloud and fire appear For a glory and a cov'ring, Showing that the Lord is near. Thus deriving from their banner Light by night and shade by day, Safe they feed upon the manna Which God gives them on their way.
  4. Savior, since of Zion's city I through grace a member am, Let the world deride or pity, I will glory in your name. Fading are the worldlings' pleasures All their boasted pomp and show; Solid joys and lasting treasures None but Zion's children know.
(John Newton 1725-1807 alt.)

Here's what's coming up at Crossroads:

Tonight at 6:30 any adults (and older youth) who know how important an active youth group will be for our church are invited to a preliminary conversation about youth ministry.  We'll meet at Dassel Covenant Church -- come if you can.  We do not have very many email addresses yet, and actually I don't think we have any youth emails on the list I used to send this out, so please pass this along or personally invite anyone you think might be interested in this conversation.

Please come for prayer on Wednesdays if you can, 6:30 at the church, often followed by a meeting of our Board of Directors.

Upcoming Sundays:
  • July 3 - Pastor Peter Churness of "Life Together Churches" and Lutheran Evangelistic Movement "Deeper Life" will lead worship and share the Word of God.  We had discussed sharing a video link from North Heights Lutheran Church but we'll need to have some practice with the technology first.
  • July 10 - We'll share the Lord's Supper together, hear from Pastor Paul Gustafson of Holy Trinity Street Ministry and, after worship, our Board of Directors will host an informational and update meeting.
  • July 17 - Some of you may remember the unexpected blessing that came to Cokato when Crosswalkers from Bethany College of Missions visited in April 2010.  We're hoping to have one of those young people with us to share how the light of God shined in the darkness of her life and how she is preparing a mission to share the love of God with those caught in the sad business of "human trafficking."
Please pass this on to any and all who might be interested, and please pray and ask lots of questions!  Encourage others to visit or learn more about what the Lord is doing among us, in Jesus' name.

If you would like to be on the Crossroads email list, please email me or Veda Davis and ask to be added.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Growth in Partnership

As you know by now, Crossroads is exploring a partnership with the Alliance of Renewal Churches.  This partnership comes out of a decades long flowering of personal faith and Holy Spirit driven action in our community.  It comes out of much prayer and is growing out of the relationships God has initiated.  It is not under anyone's personal control.  It respects and grows out of Lutheran teachings.  It is a good fit for us.

A step in that relationship was taken when three pastors from North Heights Lutheran Church and Community of Hope Church drove out to Cokato on June 15th and met with 10-20 Christians who are either already members and partners of Crossroads Community Church or who are praying with and for us.  Some of us met for supper, others joined us for prayer, and then the pastors met with our leadership.  It was a very good evening.

One practical outgrowth of this will be a leadership growth group.  This group will be dedicated to deep relationships with the Lord and one another and will be at the center of our spiritual community.  Pastor Marcus Haug of North Heights has felt a heart connection with us, has experience with "Missional Communities" and has volunteered to lend his expertise, being willing to drive out from the Twin Cities regularly to be a part of this group.  Please pray about whether the Lord may be leading you to be part of this leadership group.

We are exploring other aspects of this partnership, for example, participation in a Freedom Celebration with the North Heights Community via video link at worship on July 3.

A partnership with the Alliance of Renewal Churches will allow other partnerships, such as, for example, a possible affiliation with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC). We have been using educational materials (for Sunday School) from Sola Publishing and are planning to use that solid Lutheran curriculum for the education of our middle school/high school youth beginning this fall.  On Tuesday evening of this week we will meet to discuss other aspects of our youth program--this also in partnership with others. 

Once again we ask your prayers, your questions, and, as the Lord leads, your personal partnership in what God is doing to grow Crossroads Community Church.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

An Equalsharing Classic

The following was written about 18 months ago connection with a special day that some Christians observe as "The Baptism of Our Lord."  It's an important piece that impacts our journey as Crossroads Community Church.  Please let me know what you think.  Share your doubts and questions please.  Comment below, email me or call/text 763-291-3499. 

Monday, January 5, 2009

Fuzzy on Baptism, Focused on the Word

I love these words of Paul -- I think they speak in the spirit of Christ:
"I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power" First Corinthians 1:14-17
As a Lutheran pastor, I do baptize. I baptize according to what I understand and believe about baptism. (See a summary in the baptism section of Luther's Small Catechism.) I baptize people of all ages, including children whose parents bring them for baptism. I don't argue with people about this. When parents bring their children for baptism, or when someone older inquires about it, I teach what I believe is closest to God's Word, and let them make up their own minds about what to do.

One thing I try to make sure to say every time, which might get me in trouble, because it's not standard Lutheran doctrine, is that I don't see anywhere in scripture where baptism is "required" for salvation. I believe it is one way that God's grace comes to us, but that's only because it is a way God's Word is proclaimed. But this has never been a main emphasis in my personal or pastoral work. Some of my colleagues would probably consider this a significant failing in my work. For me, however, it's a matter of principle.

I believe an over-emphasis on baptism--and any emphasis at all on the emcees who "perform" it--does what First Corinthians 11:17 warns against, "empty the cross of its power." I'm aware that the phrase "empty the cross of its power" applies more directly to "eloquent" preaching--but anything at all that puts the emphasis on the performance of a pastor or church organization can indeed spoil the gospel. We do need preachers and baptizers, but every preacher and every baptizer needs to get out of the way and let Christ do his work.

God does his most important work through his Word. This coming Sunday (known as the Baptism of Our Lord) begins with a reading from Genesis 1 with the phrase And God Said.... When God "spoke" the universe was created. The Psalm for the day, Psalm 29, celebrating the surpassing power of God's Word that "sustains all things" (Hebrews 1:3). The reading from the book of Acts includes 19:5, where, upon hearing the Word of God, "about 12" disciples were "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." And in the Gospel reading (Mark 1:4-11), "John the baptizer" preaches and God speaks from heaven.

Even on this festival dedicated to "baptism," the strongest emphasis is on the action of God through his Word. That's how it should be. The emphasis is on God's action, not ours. If baptism is understood as something God does, then we can celebrate it. But if there is any sense that it's something we do to gain God's favor, or to tell others about something a human being has done, then the focus falls away from the Word, and the power, is diluted and confused. It can still do it's work--God does not need perfect messengers--but it can lead to strife and dissension.

So, every time, whether it's in preaching or teaching, baptizing or presiding at the Lord's Supper, the focus needs to be on the Word of God, even if we're fuzzy on everything else.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Truth and Circumstances

My father-in-law gave me a book for my birthday.  It's called Because of Christ: Memoirs of a Lutheran Theologian.  The author, Carl E. Braaten, wrote it as a "theological autobiography."  I'm about half way through.

One of the things I underlined was a connection that a certain theological study group made about the connection between God's truth and what goes on in this world. that God indirectly reveals himself through "historical events."  (See the end of this blog post for the quote.)*  It's my impression that Braaten, a well known Lutheran theologian, was sympathetic toward that statement himself.  If I'm wrong, please let me know!

In any case, I see something similar
in one of the "values" of the Alliance of Renewal Churches:
Revelatory Decision-Making - We choose to make decisions based on hearing God's voice. We believe we hear Him through His Word, prayer, fellow believers, circumstances, and personal encounter with the Holy Spirit.
God's Word is first on the list, and that's intentional.  We know God best through Jesus Christ--who we know through the Written Word of God, that is, through the Bible.  But because God is "sovereign," that is, in some often mysterious way, God is in control and will work "all things together for good" in the end, we can trust that God, not the devil, is, finally, in the details and circumstances of our lives (when we are submitted to Jesus), and that God is also involved in making things "work out" one day at a time.

I'm praying and thinking about this as I am beginning my study of the scriptures that are assigned for this coming Sunday.  When I say "are assigned" it's not because there is some rule that certain Bible passages must be used in worship at any particular time.  The Bible itself teaches us that we are free to pay attention to certain "days" or not.  But still, I've found it interesting that the assigned scriptures seem to apply to what goes on in the churches that I have served over the years.  And that continues even now that I'm working with a church that is not yet officially affiliated with any particular Christian group.

This is a long way of saying that I'm looking at a particular Bible passage to possibly preach on June 26.  The passage happens to be Matthew 10:40-42, picking up from where I left off last August.  We were reading then in the Gospel of Luke, but the Matthew 10 reading fits in the sequence just at about the parallel place where many of us were in the middle of August of last year.  I see a deep connection here.  I may be wrong, but that's what I see.  "Circumstances" and "historical events" may sometimes reveal the purposes of God.

Matthew 10:40-42 follows immediately after a great promise of division and loss.  Yes.  Jesus promises that those who follow him will be divided from their families and be left without the earthly security.  At the same time, he promises his own divine protection and provision.  You can read this throughout Matthew chapter 10--and in these verses (42-44) at the chapter's end:
‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’
These are interesting verses because they focus on the benefits for people who come alongside the suffering representatives of Jesus.  There is a promise of blessing for them!  Rewards are promised when they are welcoming and caring to those who have suffered the rejection and division Jesus described in the rest of the chapter.  These verses include promises to those who do not close their doors, their hearts or even their wallets against the ones who have followed their Lord.

As I read these scriptures, I am thankful for many who have come alongside us and others who have suffered losses during this hard year.  I am thankful for the people who have dared to come to Crossroads and for those who have dared to call me to serve there as a pastor.  I think of those who have welcomed and helped us and many others who been rejected or divided from their churches and I am so thankful!

I want to say "yes"--this IS what has been going on.  I can see it.  There's very little doubt.  Praise God for those who have come to our aid!

Is this a fair reading of these scriptures?  Is God revealing his purposes through these circumstances and historical events?  To really know that, we need to ask some questions:  Have we and others who have suffered really been representing Jesus?  Have we been serving as prophets (προφήτης) and "righteous persons" (δίκαιος)?

That seems very bold and not very nice.  Is there any way that we can honestly say this?   Certainly some humility must remain!  After all, we are only "righteous" because of God's grace!  Any righteousness does not come from us!  It's not ours because we are good!  We do not become righteous in that way!

Still, I am willing to seriously look at this.  I do often sense that, as many of us have suffered in the past year or more, that we have had a taste of what it is to be one of the defenseless "little ones" (ἕνα τῶν μικρῶν τούτων) who are living as Jesus' disciples. 

Please pray that God's Word would examine us.  Let us pray for God's judgment, because our judgment is always imperfect.  God is the only one who truly knows us (1 Corinthians 2:11).

Father God, reveal your truth to us through your Word and through your Holy Spirit.  Teach us to rightly apply your Word to the circumstances and historical events in which we find ourselves--even here in our little town.


* On page 36-38 of Because of Christ, in a section about his studies at the University of Heidelberg (1957-1958) Carl Braaten says this:
The year in Heidelberg was very special for LaVonne and me -- it was the beginning of a lasting friendship and collaborative relationship with Robert (Jens) and Blanche Jenson. ...

I did not anticipate that Jens and I would have a lot to do with each other in Heidelberg [the book says more about why].  Then one Sunday afternoon as LaVonne and I were strolling down Hauptstrasse in Heidelberg, we saw Robert and Blanche Jenson coming our way.  By the time we recognized each other it was too late to turn around or cross the street.  We met, exchanged greetings, talked about our living accommodations, and before we went our separate ways, Blanche suggested that we get together.  This we did, again and again, back and forth, we to their humble place in the suburb of Neckargemunde and they to our small city apartment on Mittlerer Gaisbergweg.  There was so much to talk about.  All the frontline theological issues were being treated in the lectures and seminars.  Jens and I would mull over everything we were hearing and learning.
The hear in Heidelberg was very special in another respect.  LaVonne and I met Wolfhart and Hilke Pannenberg.  That was the start of a lifelong collaborative friendship.  We did not know then that Pannenberg would soon become the most famous Lutheran systematic theologian in the world.  Once I asked Johannes Wirsching, the leader of the Kähler seminar, whether there was anything new developing in German theology beyond the standoff between Barth and Bultmann.  He said yes, that Pannenberg was the leader of a study group made up of some of his fellow graduate students constructing a new theological concept of history... The group came to be known as "the Pannenberg circle"... The circle published a volume of essays appropriately entitled Revelation as History (1961) .  It's fundamental unifying theme is that God reveals himself indirectly through historical events.  This meant that theology as the "study of God" cannot be separated from the study of history."

Still in Cokato?

Are you still in Cokato?
Many people ask that question.  One of the members of the Bethany College of Missions team (shadows depicted above) that came by in April 2010 asked me that this morning.  (See It's Not My Life It's God's and Stand Up! for more about their visit.  I met them on a Saturday evening on the highway where the Crossroads church now meets in a rented building.)

The team member who asked me has a testimony to God's light in her life that she deeply desires to share with those who are exploited sexually through human trafficking.  I am hoping we can arrange to have her bring here testimony and her dream of serving in Thailand here to Crossroads. She wrote: I one way or the other want to work in a ministry with people who have come from a horrible past..., I want to show them the light I have found!

That's one of the reasons we're still here.  There are so many people who have suffered horribly in this life, and many of people who God has gathered together to be a part of Crossroads have gone through very painful times themselves.  Perhaps because of that, and because God has poured his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, there is a deep and active desire among us to reach out--prayerfully and powerfully--to do more than just care for "our own."*  Perhaps working with someone like this Bethany student can be one more way for us to do just that.  Let's pray together and seek God's will.


* Not to say that those from other churches have not had similar experiences.  And not to say that Crossroads is unique in wanting to reach out.  But there are many, many people who continue to suffer from their own sin and the sin of others against them.  There's no lack of people, in our community and elsewhere, for "one more church" to pray for and serve.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Do You Read Blogs?

Hello "everyone" (whoever and wherever y'all are)!  I'm writing this, as I have in the past occasionally, from my parents' apartment in the uptown neighborhood of south Minneapolis.  I came into town last night to have supper with dad & mom etc. for Father's Day, stayed overnight, did some business (looking for a replacement for my old PDA--on our reduced income I don't want to spend hundreds of dollars a year for a "smart phone" data plan) and went to Snap Fitness in the morning (still thankful for that membership!) and then borrowed my dad's bike and rode to the "Church Center" up on Franklin Avenue where my daughter Naomi works.  She took me out to lunch (that was really fun) and since then I've been mostly prepping for tonight's 6:00 - 7:00 "Custom Designed" group study at Crossroads.  I won't be with the group tonight.  Toni and I will be going to a book release celebration--Naomi has been one of the editors for the book This Much I Can Tell You.

Not that any of that is interesting to anyone other than me and a few folks who like to keep track of what I'm up to.  As of now the counter I installed on this blog as of July 2009 says I supposedly have had "20,201 visitors" since that time...  That doesn't mean there have actually been 20,201 actual people reading this.  Blogger, the internet publishing service I use, says there have been over 30,000 page views... I don't even know what that means.  I think those numbers tracks "hits," that is, the times that a computer connected with 

My guess is that a few people look at this sometimes.  Knowing that just encourages me to keep putting it out there.  Writing like this helps me organize my thoughts--or get them a bit more organized than they would be otherwise.  Even if ONE person reads this, that is one more than it would be if I was just jotting thoughts in a journal.

This morning I heard some people talking today about blogging at a coffee shop--they were organizing for some big protest movement--and one of them said, "Do people actually read blogs?"  I didn't hear an answer so I asked the question on facebook.  A few have answered.  A few read this.  That's enough for me.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day

What follows is my preparation work for Father's Day preaching 2011.


...and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.  (Matthew 28:20)

Those words of Jesus are a promise we can depend on.  There is no power, no authority, no "system" of government, no church, no economy, no family heritage, no sin, no demon, nothing in all the universe that can stand against our God.  And in this promise from Jesus we learn that God is WITH us, on our side.  Let's say those words together--the words Jesus said--"Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Today I'm going to speak specifically to men.  I feel blessed to do this because the assigned scriptures for the day are connected with manhood--not to the exclusion of women--but in the Bible passages from Genesis and from Matthew 28 it's not hard to find specific connections with men's lives.  Also, in regard to women and children, there is nothing better for them than when men understand the Bible's commands and promises.  How wonderful when men love and serve like Jesus!

I was reading the Bible verses from Matthew 28(:16-20) and thinking about men and a question occurred to me that I've never thought about before.  Do you suppose any of those first twelve disciples of Jesus were fathers?  We do know, from other places in the Bible like First Corinthians 9:5, that most of them were married...

Turn over to that passage for a moment... we don't think about this very often...  Here's what it says:  (Paul is writing as a man who was single--unmarried with no biological children.)
"This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?  Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?"  [Cephas here is another name for Peter.]
In this passage Paul is speaking of his rights as a disciple of Jesus.  We like rights, don't we!  We're glad that we aren't required to be single but that God lets us get married!  And then, through the God-given gifts of sex and biology, children come into the world!  We get to be parents!  What a wonderful thing!  And being a dad (or a mom...) is, therefore, a really important part of the Christian life when we have kids.

But somehow we don't think about those first disciples* as having wives and children.  Chances are they did--there was no birth control in those days--and I'd be willing to bet that when Jesus spoke those words from Matthew 28 those disciples thought of their children!  How could "making disciples, baptizing and teaching" be understood in a way that these dads' children would be left out?

The faith that these disciples had when they themselves were children, the Jewish religion... their faith put a priority on family life that can hardly be exaggerated.  In the Old Testament the promises of God were passed down through the family almost exclusively--there is almost nothing clearer than this in that part of the Bible.

Those disciples who heard Jesus command to go and make disciples--they must have understood their God-given responsibility as husbands and fathers.  Certainly there were times when they needed to leave their wives and children for a time, but many times their wives came with them on their missionary journeys (First Corinthians 9:5).  I presume that often the children came along too.**

In Matthew 19(:27ff) and in other places there are very important words about leaving one's family and property, but there are many, many scriptures that speak to men about our responsibilities to our wives and families--scriptures that speak of how we are to be faithful, to not divorce our wives for any old reason, to love our wives as Christ loves us--sacrificially and completely.

The New Testament raises the Old Testaments teaching about family to an even higher level.  The first disciples would have already known a lot about their responsibilities as dads.  I mentioned how the Old Testament promises were passed down through families... there are wonderful passages in the Bible like this one from Deuteronomy 6 from Moses:
These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life...

...Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)

So Father's Day isn't far from the commands of God at all.  Fathers have biological, spiritual and financial responsibilities toward their wives and children.  Fathers are not to just run off to follow Jesus without taking their families into consideration.  Fathers are called by God to follow Jesus with their families--leading them with humble and sacrificial service in thankfulness to God.

A big responsibility?  You bet!  Jesus puts such emphasis on how we treat our kids.

Look at Matthew 18:
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked,

“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said:

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.5 And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea...”
And then Ephesians 6:4 --
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children;
instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
To "exasperate" your children means to make them angry with you... it's a big responsibility, isn't it, to love your children and care for them, and discipline them in such a way that they don't become angry and bitter.

That's your job, dad, whether it comes naturally nor not.

It means that you don't have much time for yourself.  You're always making choices, thinking about your kids and learning about how best to be their dad.  You pray a lot and seek advice.  You look for events like the men's Fire Life gathering this week in Annandale.  You know you can't do it all alone.

You're constantly balancing everything--work (or seeking work), prayer, many other responsibilities... and time for your wife and your kids.

You probably feel a lack of time and energy and money but you trust God to fill the gap.  You say no to your boss sometimes and set boundaries with your customers because you need to get home.  Almost all the time, when you have fun, you include the kids.  And you love your wife and sacrifice for her--forsaking all others.  You watch your step with other women.  You're careful about how you stir the sexual fires.  You recognize that you are not all that strong.  But, because you've heard God's call to love and care for your family, you do it--no matter what.

Then, on top of that, as you are dedicated to God's plan for being a dad in this world, your circle of prayer and concern and action expands. Remember what Jesus said to the group of dads he was speaking to at the end of Matthew's gospel?
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
O how we need Jesus!

A dad, just like every other Christian, can't just focus on his own home or his own kids!  Jesus EXPANDS the circle!  He says GO!  Go to OTHERS.  Go beyond your own family.

"Nations" in this verse doesn't mean just other countries.  A better way to say it would be "go to every kind of person, to every group of people..."  Go with the good news of God's love to other people who aren't like you, that aren't a part of your family.

Dad--part of this means caring about other people's kids.  It might even mean getting involved in what we'll be doing as a church with youth.

One more thing--everything here applies to grandfathers too.  We never retire from being men of God.

This means we are really going to need Jesus!  We're going to need him to lead and guide.  We're going to need his constant forgiveness and the outpouring of his Holy Spirit.  We're going to need to focus on the promises of God and depend on Him to give us our rest and peace and joy.  We're not going to be able stir it up on our own.  We're not going to   We'll just run out of gas.  We'll just run out of steam.  Without Jesus we'll stop, we'll retreat, we'll give up and focus on whatever gives us peace--our jobs, our sports, our hobbies.  Without Jesus we'll feel defeated and say, "What's the use?  I'll never measure up to God's plan anyway.  Why even try?"

Dads--the truth is this: You don't need to do any of this alone.  Come to Fire Life next week if you can.  Do the study on how God is calling you that many of us are doing this summer.  And let us pray for you.  In fact, let us pray for you now.

I'll plan to have the dads gather in a group and then have all the rest lay on hands to pray for them.  After that, we'll sing this song to the tune of Jeg er så glad:
Happy the home when God is there,
and love fills everyone,
when with united work and prayer
the Master's will is done.

Happy the home where God's strong love
is starting to appear,
where all the children hear his fame
and parents hold him dear.

Happy the home where prayer is heard,
and praise is every where,
where parents love the sacred Word,
and its true wisdom share.

Lord, let us in our homes agree
this blessed peace to gain,
unite our hearts in love to thee,
and love to all will reign.
* The Bible focuses on 12 men as disciples because those disciples were chosen to show connection with the Old Testament where men were always in charge.  Through his relationships with women Jesus began to correct those pre-conceived notions and the Holy Spirit continued that work through the rest of the New Testament.  The goal is that both men and women, young and old, slave and free -- the goal is that there would be no one higher than anyone else.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What's Up?

There's a lot going on.  Actually, too much to keep track of!  I'm at the church right now for a post-wedding session with a newlywed couple.  At 5:30 there will be a supper at a local restaurant with a pastor and other staff from the Alliance of Renewal Churches.  They'll be with us for prayer at 6:30 and will meet with our Board of Directors from 7:30 - 9:00.  Exciting times.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Space to Fill

As I've been getting ready to preach, I've been thinking about what the first Christians lost.  Today is Pentecost, the day when the followers of Jesus were given the Holy Spirit.  But it seems to me that it was necessary for them to lose a lot in order, perhaps, to make "space" for the dynamic presence of God in their lives.
I started writing this early Saturday evening from China Place, located across Cleveland Avenue from the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota.  As I write I think about what many people throughout our world lose in order to gain a personal transforming relationship with Jesus.  I've heard many accounts of miraculous Christian living coming out of countries such as China.  I don't think it's any coincidence that those who lose the most to gain Christ end up with the most powerful experiences of God's love--today as it was 2,000 years ago at Pentecost.
This written in preparation for preaching on Sunday, June 12, 2011.

What did the first Christians lose?  They lost their respectability, that's for sure!  Not only did they get so happy that people thought they were drunk at 9 in the morning (Acts 2), they also lost what we Christians today would think of as their "church" community.  They recognized a devastating truth--their religious leaders, the spiritual shepherds they had relied on for their whole lives--their trusted "pastors" had been involved in having God's Messiah--the One that God had sent to earth as his very own PERSONAL representative--they came to the realization that those shepherds of their souls AND MANY OF THEM PERSONALLY were guilty of MURDERING God's very own Son.  God had come to this earth personally, in the man Jesus, and they had killed him.  What a terrible thing it must have been to recognize that truth.  What a loss.

But that loss of respectability, that loss of dignity, that loss of self-righteousness and any ability to pretend that they were right or innocent--that loss was IMMEDIATELY filled with the love and joy and peace of God.  A gift we know to be the Holy Spirit.  And that Holy Spirit still comes today!  When we see, in the mirror of God's Word, that we are guilty sinners, when we recognize that we are doomed to hell because of our sin--and when we admit that to God and ask, as the thousands did on Pentecost, "WHAT CAN WE DO NOW?", the wonderful forgiveness of God, bought at the cross for you and for me, it rushes in to fill the void where our pretend self-righteousness was before.

What should we do? said the crowds in Acts 2:37 -- and God's messenger replied "REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED, EVERY ONE OF YOU, IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS; AND YOU WILL RECEIVE THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT" (the indwelling presence of God--God coming to live inside of you) and Peter went on to say: This promise is for you and your children and for ALL who are far off--for ALL whom the Lord our God will call!  With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day."

It was the EMPTINESS... it's the failure of those people's ability to think they could make it on their own that gave space for the Holy Spirit to enter in.  That had happened before with those who had followed Jesus from the beginning.  They had lost their human leader, the one they had depended on in the flesh.  They had lost Jesus.  He had gone to the cross for them, he had died for them and he had risen again from the dead, but then he ascended into heaven; he went back to eternity to reunite with God the Father.  He left them.  But before he left them he made a promise to send another helper, someone who would not only be alongside them as a friend and leader, but someone who would be in them.  Jesus told them it would be good for them if he went away!  Jesus told his disciples he would not leave them as orphans but that he would send the Holy Spirit... and it is that Holy Spirit that came on the disciples at Pentecost, giving them joy and love and so many other gifts.  But the Holy Spirit could only come when they needed him, when there was an empty space in them for him to live.

If you do not have a sense of God's love and joy and peace in your life today, maybe it's because there is a barrier up inside of you that is trying to hold back the truth.  Maybe you're trying to hold it together on your own.  Maybe you don't want the truth to fully invade your life--the truth of your guilt--the truth of your sin.  Here, today, however, at worship, it's time to let that barrier fall down.  In a while we will have a time of prayer.  Come to Jesus in your prayer today.  And then we'll share communion--we'll come with totally empty hands to the Lord.

There's a song that we'll sing leading up to prayer that talks about letting Jesus "have the things that hold you."  Maybe one thing that is holding you is your sense that you've got to be respectable, honorable, good-in-your-self.  It's time to let that go.  "Let him have the things that hold you," says the song, "and His Spirit--that's the Holy Spirit--His Spirit like a dove will descend upon your life and make you whole."
"Jesus, O Jesus, Come and fill your lambs.
 Jesus, O Jesus, Come and fill your lambs."
That's my prayer for you today.  That you will be FILLED with the Holy Spirit.

But when he does come and fill you, when you experience the JOY of forgiveness, it just might make other people think you aren't yourself anymore.  That's when that other space opens up, space I mentioned earlier, space between people that had been close before, painful space where misunderstandings and discomfort come in.  What we today would think of as those early Christians' "church" community fell apart... their religious community... the Jewish religious community had a hard time.  Some believed in Jesus and others did not.  It must have been hard. 

That community began to break apart.  Jesus came preaching and healing and loving the worst of sinners.  Differences came in between Jesus--the one who God sent to SAVE people--differences came in between him and those who wanted to be right and good on their own.  You've heard about the religious leaders called "Pharisees" who thought they were just about perfect in God's sight.  Jesus offended them for lots of reasons, and they became Jesus' enemies--but not only Jesus' enemies--they became enemies of Jesus' friends.  Jesus' love was offensive because it REQUIRED people to admit the TRUTH about their sin and failings!  People who couldn't do that just could not receive forgiveness.  Their hearts became hard and they turned away from the one sent to save them AND from those who were desperate enough to follow Jesus as their Lord.

A gap opened up... and it was painful!  Jesus warned his followers about this: If they hated me they will hate you.  There will be divisions he said--father against son, mother against daughter.  One's enemies will be the members of one's own household.  And those differences continued after the Holy Spirit came.  Not too long after Pentecost, when the disciples preached right on the steps of the Jerusalem temple, not too long after this that sort of thing would no longer be possible.  As you will read in the book of Acts you'll see there was a great division--those who lived in the truth and love of Jesus were expelled from the religious community that had sustained and nurtured them for centuries.  They could no longer worship alongside their other Jewish brothers and sisters.

Two things happened because of that.  The followers of Jesus made their own family--you can see that in the last few verses of Acts 2, and the Holy Spirit rushed into action in all their relationships--including in their relationships with those who did not yet believe in Jesus!  Outsiders began to see God's power in their lives... miracles of prayer happened among them just as they had when Jesus walked among them.  Not everyone was healed, but some were!  Not everyone had their demons expelled, but many did.  Outsiders who could not accept the truth persecuted the Christian believers and many were killed, but they were filled with a divine and holy presence that led many to continue to sing and praise even to the end., evident even in the eyes of those who did not yet believe.  And that still happens today.  When we get filled up with Jesus the love and joy and peace of Jesus oozes into those spaces between us and between us and others.  That's where miracles happen.

In this little Christian community here, in this little Crossroads community:  many of us are here because we believe the TRUTH of God is more important than anything else.  Many of us, and many others beyond this church have suffered tremendous losses.  In the packet of information we've been studying about the Alliance of Renewal Churches, there's a paragraph there that speaks of things that at one time blessed us but aren't such a blessing anymore.  Many of us have experience that with denominations and congregations that we had been part of in the past.  I think we can feel, at least a little bit, what the early Christians must have felt as they were no longer a part of the religious communities that they had been before.  That loss hurts, and so does the sense that none of us are innocent when it comes to our relationships with others, particularly with people who are still deeply committed to the institutions we have left.  Many of us feel desperate for God's peace, for God's love, for God's joy... desperate as never before.  The ARC material speaks of replacing those religious commitments with "Real Encounter," a personal dependence on the Holy Spirit of God.

As long as we don't try to justify ourselves, and say we are all righteous or good, and as long as we continue to come to God honestly, repenting of our sins and receiving the gift of forgiveness we do not deserve, and as long as we continue to seek the Truth of God in his Word, we can be sure that God's Holy Spirit will come to fill the gaps and the painful places in our lives, and we can expect God to do wonderful things in our midst, bringing healing and transformation and tremendous love.

We'll now hear a song that is very special, and then enter into a time of prayer.  The song is based on the verses around Ephesians 3:17.
O Let the Son of God enfold you
with His Spirit and His love.
Let him fill your life and satisfy your soul.
O let Him have the things that hold you,
and His Spirit, like a dove,
will descend upon your life and make you whole.
Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.
Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.
O come and sing this song with gladness
as your hearts are filled with joy.
Lift your hands in sweet surrender to His name.
O give him all your tears and sadness,
give Him all your years of pain,
and you'll enter into life in Jesus' name.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Same Word

Click on the video below (or go to this link to hear a sermon from the ELCA pastor (Jon Anderson) who serves as bishop of the southwestern part of Minnesota--an area that, in the ELCA, is called the Southwestern Minnesota Synod

From what I understand, Jon and his staff prepared and uploaded this sermon so that people in ELCA Lutheran congregations could have this message available to them while their pastors and others are at a synod "assembly" this weekend.

The Word of God speaks no matter what church or synod we belong to.  The Holy Spirit is the same everywhere.  Let's praise God for faithful pastors and people wherever they may be.  Pray that all Christians everywhere would be responsive to the Holy Spirit and obedient to the Word of God.

How does this sermon speak to you about God's Work through the Holy Spirit in your life or in the life of your church?  What does it have to say to those of us who are no longer part of the ELCA?

The following is from the Augsburg Confession:
It is also taught that at all times there must be and remain one holy, Christian church. It is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel.

For this is enough for the true unity of the Christian church that there the gospel is preached harmoniously according to a pure understanding and the sacraments are administered in conformity with the divine Word.

It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that uniform ceremonies, instituted by human beings, be observed everywhere. As Paul says in Ephesians 4[:4–5*]: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Playing the Fireman?

Last night I got a chance to play a fireman in a VBS Bible-lesson skit. The lesson was from First Kings 18 -- where the prophet Elijah triumphs over the "priests of Ba'al" by praying to the One True God, asking God to send fire from heaven to an altar that was made for the occasion.  God answered powerfully:  "Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench" (First Kings 18:38).  Elijah had soaked it all with water so that everyone would know that it was truly God who had answered his prayer.

In the skit, I came in just at the point when Elijah (played by another pastor) and the kids had the altar built and were about ready to pray... I barged in and stopped the skit, warning them all about how dangerous it would be to have fire in the building with all those kids around.  I enjoyed being in the skit, but, as is so often the case, the whole thing made me think.

When it comes to the Holy Spirit, do we worry about the effects He might have in our lives?  Do we try to keep Him under control?  It's no mistake that God's personal presence (The Holy Spirit) is symbolized by fire!  God is not safe*!  He is good, but he's not tame.  When he takes control, we're not (in control)!  And sometimes we'd rather play the fireman and make sure things don't get out of (our) hand(s) than allow God to do what he wants.  When we do that, we not only play the fireman, we play God.

This coming Sunday is Pentecost--seven weeks after the Resurrection of our Lord.  Will we welcome the Holy Spirit?  Or will we try to keep Him under control?  God is so good!  Let's let Him do what he wants!
* God is not safe.  This reminds me of "Aslan."  Read the item below from and get a copy of the Chronicles of Narnia if you can.  It's great stuff!

Is A Lion Safe?
by Pat Cook, Pastor at Doaktown and Blissfield Wesleyan Churches, New Brunswick

I’ve been a fan of the Chronicles of Narnia for several years now. What’s funny about it is that it was recommended to me by a friend of mine who is decidedly not a believer. That’s funny because Narnia was written by a man who worked hard to make his Christian faith known through his writings, Clive Staples Lewis. His family and friends called him Jack, but he is commonly known as CS Lewis.

The Chronicles of Narnia is a seven-book series written between 1950 and 1956. The first one written and published is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (even though all box sets published nowadays has Lion listed as #2). This book is getting a lot of attention this season, because it has become a major motion picture released this month.

The book/movie is not strictly an allegory, as in, each person or event representing something else in real life. But there are many parallels between the book and the Bible. The most notable connection is Aslan, the lion in the title of the story. I’ll let some quotes from the book describe who Aslan is, but let me first give you some background to the story.

Narnia is another world. Four British schoolchildren, fleeing the air raids of London in World War II, stumble upon a wardrobe (read: walk-in closet for us on this side of the pond) in an old mysterious house in the countryside. This wardrobe, they find, leads them into Narnia, a land covered in snow.

In fact, Narnia always has snow, because there it is always winter. What’s more, in Narnia it is always winter, and never Christmas. It is at the same time wonderful and bleak. You see, Narnia is under a curse. The White Witch Jadis has been ruling the land for 100 years now, keeping Narnians under her thumb with her curse of winter. Oh, that and the fact that she turns her enemies into stone statues.

But the children, the Pevensie siblings, stumble into Narnia at just the right time. They sit down to supper at Mr. and Mrs. Beaver’s house for fresh fish and potatoes. After supper, Mr. Beaver reveals an interesting tibdit of information. The Pevensies find out that they are part of an old prophecy which states that four human children – Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve – would sit on four thrones at the beautiful castle of Cair Paravel, and would rule Narnia. But the key is this: they would not do it on their own, because "Aslan is on the move."

At the mention of Aslan, the children each feel a wave of emotion wash over them. Peter, the oldest, suddenly feels very brave and adventurous. Susan and Lucy feel that they are in a wonderful dream. But Edmund, soon to be a traitor, feels guilty and unworthy.

So the children ask: who is Aslan? Well, Aslan is the King and the Lord of the whole wood, Narnia, but he isn’t always there. But the word is, Aslan is back, or at least on his way back.

And he would fix the situation in Narnia. The Witch, whose favorite tactic is turning people and creatures to stone, can’t do that to Aslan. There’s an old saying,

"Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again."

You see, Aslan is not just a lion, but he’s a great Lion. He’s the King of the Beasts, and the real ruler of Narnia. Now, Susan asks the beavers, "Is he safe?"

Mrs. Beaver says, "If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly."

Lucy asks, "Then he isn’t safe?"

And Mr. Beaver says this famous line about Aslan: "’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you."

This is the King. Certainly not safe, but most certainly good. And when he arrives, he will dispel the winter and bring in the spring and break the Witch’s curse and bring new life.

This reminds me of Jesus, the Lion of Judah, especially at this time of the year. Jesus broke the curse of fallen humanity, in a world of always winter and never Christmas. Christmas – Jesus – changed all that.

But is Jesus safe? Was Jesus’ first arrival on earth safe?

Of course not. It cost Bethlehem mothers their babies by the order of the insecure King Herod. It cost Mary her own plans for her family and her life. It cost Joseph the stigma of being the husband to an unfaithful wife.

It cost the wise men a long journey and expensive gifts. It cost the shepherds their jobs, eventually anyway, because the baby born in Bethlehem would end the sacrifice of the shepherds’ flocks.

God’s plans are not always safe, or pleasant, or pain-free. They will sometimes lead us into dangerous places. Missionaries go to unsafe places.

Many believers over the years have lost their lives because they were willing to follow their faith in unsafe places, like Communist regimes, radical Muslim countries, or extreme Hindu nations. If you think that following God’s plans will always lead you to green pastures and beside still waters, you’re in for a shock.

In the words of Simeon, God’s plans for Mary’s life would be like a sword piercing her heart. Were those plans safe? No. But were they good? Oh yes.

The arrival of Jesus brought with it the hope of freedom from our perpetual coldness. It brought forgiveness and warmth and hope. So even when God’s plans are not safe, they are still good.

No one knows the plans God has for each of us. But I have to believe they are good. I have to believe that what God leads us to, He’ll lead us through. Things may not turn out the way we expected or wanted, but if we let God do His thing, our situations will turn out good. Maybe not safe, maybe not easy, but good. His plans for our lives may be painful along the way, but they will still be prosperous.

Jesus Christ: "’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you." Now and forevermore.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Something to Do

I'm waiting here in the lobby of a Holiday Inn Express.  Some of the wedding party is staying here tonight.  Toni and I will be going to my aunt's home soon.  We spent the day getting ready for the wedding and reception (thanks to great family and friends!) and enjoyed the groom's dinner (Filipino food with blessings, prayer and tinikling afterward) provided by my soon-to-be in-laws.  Tomorrow's festivities are at my dad's sister's church - First Lutheran Church, Columbia Heights.  I think we're looking forward to a beautiful day.

Getting ready for this wedding makes me so appreciative of all the people in my life, each with his or her own personality and talents.  Some are just really hard workers.  As my uncle chopped fruit, my sister helped Pastor Kevin arrange flowers.  As my many others got the reception area ready, the church staff worked to repair the air conditioning.  It was a sweet picture of the body of Christ on earth.  (See First Corinthians 12:27.)

Because this wedding weekend is pretty well planned it wasn't too hard for any of us to find something to do that was helpful and that each one of us could do fairly well.  I knew enough not to take responsibility for deciding how to place and drape the fancy cloths over the table that will hold the wedding cake.  I could chop fruit, carry some things, and, later, share some scripture and prayer at the rehearsal.  No one asked me to be the photographer or the flower arranger.  Things were well planned and each of us found a worthwhile role. 

It's different, though, on an every day basis.  Sometimes we feel pressured into doing what really isn't something that fits with our personality or talents--and not just for a few hours!  Or, sometimes things just aren't organized well enough to have someone telling us what to do at all and we feel like we're just standing around or sitting, twiddling our thumbs while we know there just has to be some way we can be of help.

This summer, at Crossroads, beginning Monday evening, March 13, we'll help one with this.  For more, see "Summer Start."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Naomi and Tim

These words, a Biblical warrant for marriage, will be read at the beginning of my daughter's wedding on Saturday:
Dearly Beloved:

Forasmuch as Marriage is a holy estate, ordained of God, and to be held in honor by all, it is good for those who enter into it to consider, with reverence, what the Word of God teaches concerning it.

The Lord God said: It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said: Have you not read that He who made them in the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh?  Therefore, they are no more two, but one flesh.'