Friday, July 29, 2011

Caring Together

Good morning!  It's a little after 7 a.m. (Friday) right now.  I've been up since just after 6, walked to the store to get something for breakfast and am now back at mom and dad's apartment.  Don't know when I'll get this blogpost published, but I'll at least get a start.

Early yesterday morning I got a call from a person in need.  I've promised to connect with this person when I get back to the Cokato area and she, together with other people in need, has been on my mind.  How can we best serve those in need?  How can we best help?

Our community has done a good job of providing places where people can go to get a few basic needs met.  We have seen the Lord at work as believers were inspired to organize a food shelf and a thrift store.  Both of these have good visibility in our little town and are able to serve a good number of people.

Needs, however, extend far beyond just food and clothing.  This is true both in the realm of felt needs (things I think I need) and real needs (things that are absolutely necessary for ongoing physical life).  Though, in a spiritual sense, God encourages us to be content with food and clothing alone, it hardly seems fair that we ought to close our hearts to those who those who aren't starving or naked.  All of us could make a longer list of things we believe are needs (as opposed to mere wishes or wants) in the place and climate where we live.
  • What do you think you need?  
  • Will you extend the same care to your neighbor? 
The person who phoned me early yesterday morning was not calling about food or clothing.  Food and clothing are relatively inexpensive.  Paying a car repair bill is not.  Neither are things like rent or mortgage payments.  And medical bills?  Those can be bank breakers for almost anyone.  It's enough to make us hide away so people don't ask us for help.  It's enough to make us put up walls, harden our hearts, screen our calls.

I've been thinking about this a lot for a long time.  Over the years we have assisted so many who are in crisis, and others who seem to move from one crisis to another on a daily or monthly basis.  What's the best way to help?  How can we do this together instead of dumping off our responsibility on someone else?

I was thinking about this as I drove from Hayward to North Heights yesterday, and then, at the end of our meetings, I cornered the pastor whose main area of ministry is "Community Care."  I was hoping that perhaps they may have some ideas or help for us as we in Cokato try to serve in our community.  I was not disappointed.

Pastor Mindy talked with me for awhile about how they are organized to meet needs.  She then gave me a brochure for North Heights' Community Care area.  Her area of accountability involves training and supervising dozens of volunteer ministers and some staff people who facilitate healing and prayer ministries, baptisms, communion and weddings and funerals, grief support, visitation and counseling, and, finally, about 14 volunteers who they call the "care team."  These men and women work and pray together to help people find the resources they need, no matter what the need may be.

I'm hoping we can learn from Pastor Mindy Bak and this "Community Care" group.  I think we could be less stressed about helping our neighbors if we did get some training and knew that we're not just out there helping someone alone.  Perhaps we can send a small group to North Heights to be trained.

Here's what the brochure says about the Care Team:
Assistance in various forms is available to [those] in crisis.  We can refer you to resources throughout the community as well as connect you with resources within the body.  An appointment with the Care Team can transform your breaking point into God's point for offering hope, help and healing.  Applications for financial assistance are individually evaluated and follow predetermined guidelines.  Contributions can be made through the offering plate by noting "Crisis Fund" on the memo line of a check or on an envelope.  Your gifts make a real difference in the midst of life crisis.  Crown Ministries offers additional help with financial management (see adult classes).
Caring and praying TOGETHER -- that's the best thing we can do.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Good Buzz

I spent the middle part of the day today, from about 10:30 - 3:00, with Pastor Per Nilsen and his staff.  We prayed and studied scriptures in preparation for October - November preaching, had lunch, listened in as North Heights staff members supported one another and shared what's coming up at their church, learned from Per as he reviewed key points from a book they are all reading together and did some networking.  I had the chance to connect with people I have known in the past but haven't seen for a long time and to meet staff members whose expertise will be really helpful as we move into the future at Crossroads.

Now I'm at my mom and dad's apartment.  I'm not in a rush to get back to Cokato.  Toni is still up at her parents' cabin with her brother and family and the one appointment I had for tonight was postponed.  So I'm here, doing some writing, thinking about all the things we have coming up in the weeks to come, reflecting on what I've been hearing from the Lord.  Perhaps later I'll even get some notes written down for this coming Sunday's message.

One reason I'm not in a rush home is because, when I get there, it will be very quiet.  Sometimes I like that, but normally I seem to do better when others are around.  I don't mean I need always to be interacting with them or talking to them, but there's a certain buzz I get in the presence of other people.  I get de-energized when my alone time is prolonged.

The new church in Cokato is in the process of developing what might be called a "staff."  I'll call them that even though, so far, I'm the only one being paid.  The other members of the staff -- those who have agreed to be leaders in various areas of our church's life -- they're great people but, because they're not "paid staff," they can't spend a whole lot of time together.  They're very busy with many things outside of church.  That's good.  It does mean, however, that I end up doing a lot of work on my own.

I guess that's one reason I enjoyed my time with the North Heights staff today.  I felt so much at home and energized for what's to come.  Part of that is deeply spiritual, as when "two or three" are gathered in Jesus' name He promises to be there with us.  Part of it is just that "it's not good for the man to be alone" too much.  I've been invited to keep connecting with that staff, and I'll probably do that in spite of the 2½ hour round trip drive to and from Cokato.  And I'll keep praying that we will work well together, building the new church so we can support and inspire one another in the months to come.

Yesterday I mentioned that I've been dealing with grief and loss over the past year or more.  Much of that grief is over the disconnection with others that we've experienced.  I'm not feeling much grief over the fact that our three kids have all graduated and have moved away.  I expected that and I can connect with them pretty much as often as I like--though it's not as easy or as frequent as it was.  I'm mostly excited for them and the wonderful people they are turning out to be!  But there have been other disconnections--disconnections with some dear loved ones, disconnections with colleagues from my former church denomination--and, most on point, disconnections with the co-workers I had so much enjoyed working with and relating with on a daily basis at my previous church.  I connect with them as I can, and our personal relationships remain very good, but it's not the same since we don't see each other "at work" like we used to.  I can't replace any of these people and I pray that someday we will work side by side once again in some way.  In the meantime we do have a good group that's coming together at Crossroads and I'm thankful for that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Learning with an Old Dog

As pastors go, I'm kind of an old dog.  An "old dog" in the sense of the saying "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."  But I am learning new tricks.  I'm learning new ways of doing what I've always done (for the last 25 years) and I'm learning to do new things.  I'm learning these new things because because some of my old ways don't fit me as well as they did.  The reasons for this and the details of what I'm learning could fill several books.

In my last blogpost (written Sunday morning just before worship) I spoke of a series of messages on discipleship that I tried to begin that morning.  I say "tried to begin" because I'm not sure that first one of the series went so well.  I felt awkward as I got past the first few minutes of the message.  I felt a bit like I was learning to ride a bike all over again.  It was frustrating.  I felt embarrassed.  It's been a long time since I've felt that out of sorts while preaching.  I was glad when it was over.

Now, I'm not saying any of this to gain sympathy or to have people tell me that "it wasn't so bad."  I'm sharing this to sort of "dare" myself and other old dogs to put new learnings into practice, even when it's awkward at first.

So what's new about how I tried to preach on Sunday?  For 25 years I've mostly followed the pattern that my former church denomination followed.  Now I'm launching off in a new direction, joining together with Pastor Per Nilsen and his team, a team that meets every few weeks to pray and plan for the upcoming weeks of worship.  I think one reason it felt awkward last Sunday was that I hadn't yet met with the "Nilsen team."  I'm looking forward to meeting with them tomorrow.

The important thing is that I keep learning from Jesus.  If He is leading me to do things in new ways, which I believe He is, then it's good to follow.  This is true even when it doesn't "feel" good at the beginning.  Feeling good or comfortable is no guarantee that we are doing the Lord's will.  Having a group to learn with, like the group I'll be meeting to pray and plan with tomorrow--that's no guarantee either--though it is a lot better than just trying to figure things out alone.

I've been reading one of C. S. Lewis' lesser known works over the past few days.  A Grief Observed is a series of reflections written following the death of the author's wife.  It's not a book Lewis' planned to write.  As a matter of fact, he mostly wrote it as a way for him to work through the emotional minefield that huge loss brought his way.  It's a very personal book (he first published it under a pseudonym) and is only about one particular tragedy (he married late in life and his wife died within three years of their marriage).  Even so, as I read it, I could relate to it in many ways.  Grief has been my companion (our companion really) in recent years too. 

Getting back to the subject at hand, as Lewis writes, he moves along, bit by bit, finally coming to the point where he can see that God may be teaching him through the loss.  Lewis doesn't mean that God somehow made his wife die, but he does claim that God could very well be like a schoolmaster who might say something like, "'Good; you have mastered that... I am very pleased... And now you are ready to go on to the next.'

Lewis struggled tremendously through his loss.  I've struggled through mine.  All of us do.  Still, we can choose to remember that God is somehow, ultimately, in control.  (That's bearable only because of Jesus.)  And, if God is somehow in control, we can be confident that there is something to be learned in every situation, even the most painful, even the most tragic.  We can learn.  We can change.  We can grow.

I don't think I ever "mastered" the business of being a more-or-less traditional Lutheran pastor.  I may, however, from God's point of view, have done just about as much I could have in that role.  I don't know that for sure, but, because I do trust that God is indeed wanting to teach me, I'll accept the changes in my life as ways that He is bringing me into a new place so I can keep learning from Him.  I'm still a Lutheran pastor in my basic theological outlook, but not in the way I used to be.  Things have changed and I've moved on to the next lesson.  Perhaps this is also true for you.

I'd suggest, if it is true for you, that you not try to learn alone.  Come alongside people like those at Crossroads who are trying to learn new ways.  Be patient through the learning and be desperate in prayer, and join hands with others along the way.  Together, we can learn what He is desiring to teach.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

One We Follow

This morning at Crossroads we're going to begin a series of messages about discipleship.  A disciple is someone who knows he or she is not what they could or should be and who has found someone that they want to copy, someone who they want to be like.  We at Crossroads,  together with thousands of others in our local area and millions of others around the world, we say Jesus is that someone, that one that is worth copying.  We want to be his disciples, his students, his apprentices.  We want to be like him.

We want to be like him because we have discovered there is no other good option.  Without him, we are lost.  With him we are full of life, life that bursts forth and creates new beginnings everywhere we go.  But it's ONLY because of Jesus, our Master and our Savior, the One to whom we owe everything we are and everything we do.  We come to church to hear God's Word, the word that reminds us of this truth over and over again.  For without that reminder, we begin to think we're "something" on our own.  A disciple should never think that.  We're always who we are simply because of the One we follow.  And Jesus is our only choice.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Me and Michelle

This isn't about politics.  I generally stay away from political subjects on this blog because it seems obvious that politics in this world is even more "shades of gray" than the rest of life.  But all this talk in the media about Michelle Bachmann and whether migraine headaches make a person unsuitable for the presidential office make me think about the effect migraines have had on my life and my work.  I've suffered severe migraines for most of my life.

What I've heard in connection with Michelle Bachmann and her migraines does make sense: When attacks can be controlled with medication then they don't present a problem.  I am personally so thankful for the advances in medical science that I've seen in my lifetime, advances that have produced medications that, in my case, have almost no side effects but just get rid of the pain and/or stop it before it becomes debilitating.  I've learned about some things that "trigger" these nasty headaches too -- in my case what's helped the most is avoiding carbs, especially in the morning.  And, for some reason that I don't understand, I've had very few headaches during the last four years--years that, for me, have been among the most stressful of my entire life.

So, though migraines are so terribly painful, leading, in my case, to hours when I'm mostly incapacitated, not just with pain, but with nausea and worse, as long as I have the medication that helps me most, getting a migraine is not a problem.  Sumatriptan works wonders for me, stopping the migraine within minutes even when it's at its worst.  Until 20 years ago there was nothing that really helped, so I praise God for the medical science that developed this drug.  And, because of it, and other drugs that help other people, I don't think any of us should be concerned if a leader happens to suffer in this way.

In fact, those of us who suffer with various painful conditions can become less judgmental and more compassionate to others who suffer.  We can also recognize how important it is that we have good access to medical care.  We can develop a deep respect for the science and technology that allows us to live in a way that our ancestors could never have if they had suffered as we do.  We can "get" the deep connections between physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of life.  We become more humble and more human, more able to be used by God in this broken world. 

For more on this see "Thankful for Bad Eyes."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Full Cycle Disciple

Written Wednesday evening, revised Thursday morning.  

It was too hot to go biking today, and since I've moved to the country I haven't been on my bicycle much at all, but I do know that you can't get very far on half a wheel.  Even a unicycle needs a whole tire.  Can't get far on half.

A disciple is a follower, but more.  I can follow someone without actually doing what the one I'm following is doing.  To be a disciple, follow through.  To be a disciple, I get up on that cycle and ride.

I don't remember, as a young kid, the first time I got up on a bike, though I do remember having training wheels.  I do remember taking the training wheels off my own children's bicycles.  Like I "got it" somehow, so did they.  But they never would have if they hadn't dared to try.  You learn by doing.  And there's no other way.  Try to explain riding a bike to someone who's never done it.

Try explaining how you can feel secure when there's nothing to keep you from falling.  Until you've actually done it, you will not understand.

That's what Jesus is saying in Mark 4.  Somehow, at some point in my life, the message of God's truth and love started to make sense.  I don't remember just when that was.  Because for my parents God's Word was precious and good, it was probably very early in my life when I began to accept what Jesus had to say to me.  Maybe even before I learned to ride a bike.  And for me, though there are times when I resist God's truth, mostly I'm hungry for it.  Mostly I want to know what God has to say.

How did that happen?  How is it that I've been open to God's truth, God's love, and God's sometimes stern correction in my life?  For me it was probably my parents that guided me through the cycle of hearing God's Word even when it hurt.  They ran beside me long enough that I would know that I would not fall, and if I did, I would be okay.  They were God's corrective and loving voice, and they were not content to just have me hear what they had to say.  They did all they could to lovingly help me to adjust and change and live in a way that was more in line with the Lord's will.

Last night Marcus Haug from North Heights came to Cokato and laid out a plan that will help adults do for one another what my parents did for me.  Because the truth is that the Word of God keeps meeting resistance in my hard and rocky and weedy attitudes and I need to be supported as I repent and then adjust my life to live more and more in harmony with God's Word, or, as Marcus said, to "look more like Jesus" day by day, week by week, year after year.

But I do get it now.  I can get up and ride.  I can repent and believe.  I know what it feels like.  God isn't finished with me, but I am a disciple.  I'm not just following along.  And I'll let the wheel of God's word turn all the way around.  I'll let it examine me, and I will change.  I will learn.  Even though I sometimes need you to help, I will follow through.  And I'll help you too.  Together we can be disciples all around.

But, and this is one of the main points of Jesus' teaching in Mark 4, this is not understood by those who will not "get up and ride."  If all we do is think and talk when we are met by God's Word, if we don't follow through with decision and action, none of this will make any sense.  That's what Jesus means in verses 10-12 of Mark 4, when he speaks about those who do not and in fact can not believe, calling them "those outside."  Like riding a bike, life in relationship with Jesus will never be understood by those who have never dared to try.

What do you think?  Can you see how unless "faith" moves to action and experience, there can be no understanding?  We then pray that they will be truly changed and born again, that they will surrender and submit and ride.  Unless they become new people, they will never understand.

Let's talk about this.  I'm not sure if I'm being clear or helpful. 
Mark 4:10-12

When Jesus was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that
     “they may indeed look, but not perceive,
      and may indeed listen, but not understand;
      so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.” ’

For more on the subject of "Full Cycle Discipleship," see other posts on this blog about the "circle" or "kairos" moments by clicking ►here◄.  (Colored words in this blog are links.)

Send A Missionary (part 1)

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn... (Isaiah 61)
On Sunday we heard a young woman share a very special and truthful message, a message from God's heart.

It's worth hearing.  Go to to listen.  I'm working on transcribing the message, so if you would like a written copy, please let me know.

The following video is a brief introduction to the work Andria will be doing with her team in Thailand.  

Andria's true story of God's work in and through brokenness means extra challenges.  She'll need extra people, people like you and me, to come alongside her.  Especially if you know a young person who has been hurt, this is a way to reach out and make a difference, not just for Andria, but for all those God will reach through what God has done in her life, bringing healing and new life!

Financial gifts of any amount will show that we are beside her in what God is calling her to do. When you go to you'll find an online giving form -- put in your information, scroll down to "Donate to a Missionary" and put Andria's name in the form. 

Or, if you prefer, call Bethany International at 952-944-2121.  Make sure you mention Andria' name as you make your donation.

Andria has been called personally to do Isaiah 61 work -- setting the captives free -- especially to proclaim freedom to young people whose lives are filled with pain.  She has shared her testimony with many in this country, and now she will go to another part of the world where "human trafficking" leads to hopelessness and slavery for thousands upon thousands of children and youth.

Please listen to Andria's testimony from our Sunday worship service or request a written copy.

Commit to pray and give.  

Send this missionary to the work as God calls.


An update is found at Send A Missionary (part 2).

Monday, July 18, 2011

What About Them?

Part of living with complete confidence is trusting in the mystery of God's will for those who will not allow Jesus to restore or find them.  The restoration of all things that I wrote about yesterday is not done automatically or impersonally.  It is Jesus that does the restoring work.  Those who have come to know Jesus' love and mercy but still then reject it are, at least for the present, lost, and if there is no repentance, if they never respond to God's grace, the time will come when they cannot respond.  The Bible's way of speaking of this is to say that their hearts have been hardened.  Those of us who have been found by Jesus need to trust God for those who are lost and not continually fret or worry about them.  If God cannot change their hearts, neither can we.

For a liberal like me, this is hard to take.  But God's word trumps my feelings, my conscience and my bleeding heart.  That is good because we learn in scripture that God wants us to continually be sowing the Word of God instead of getting distracted and frustrated when some people just don't seem to respond.
Mark 4:10-20

When he [Jesus] was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that
“they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.” ’

And he said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Living In The Future

When we know Jesus we live with complete confidence.  Jesus will restore everything that is broken, all that has been lost, joy and laughter will reign.  Just as Jesus has been raised, we shall be too.  Oh what a day that will be!

I can, therefore, live with deprivation and loss.  I can confidently live forward.  I can live without regret and without fear, knowing that Jesus will make everything right and good.

This is the good news we have to share with the world.  The Holy Spirit comes upon us so we can experience some of the future in this world, in our caring and fearless relationships with one another.  The Holy Spirit spurs us on, pushing and leading us to be representatives of God's future now, standing against the destructive and short-sighted ways that we human beings try to make ourselves comfortable while caring less for others, sending us to seek and save the lost in Jesus' name.

Let's live in that future today.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

In Jesus' Name - Be Healed!

"God the Father disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed." (Hebrews 12:10-13)
I'm reading some materials I received in the mail today, materials that lay out a daring and positive vision for a ministry that has has suffered a more than 50 percent decline in the last 15 years.

There is no whitewashing of the facts. They admit that they have "failed to reach the new population for Christ and the church" and speak candidly of "difficult internal struggles which resulted in the departure of members."  For this ministry, however, the time of loss is over.  It's now time to GROW!

How inspirational is that!  Here are some visionary themes gleaned from the materials:
  • Growth needs to be a major goal.
  • The Lord used persecution as a positive means for spreading the gospel in the book of Acts.  Thus the Lord desires to use the challenges we face to propel all of us to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to each one in our community.   
  • Every unsaved person within the broad area of our church and in our individual sphere of influence is our mission field.   
  • The Lord Jesus says that the harvest is ready!  We cannot be satisfied until we have done everything possible to reach the lost for Christ, searching for the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son and introducing them to Jesus!
  • Let us together ask the Lord to give us a passion for the lost!  And lest us pray earnestly for the Lord to fill us with His Holy Spirit, propelling and sending us to witness to his power and his love.
Have you been wounded?  Has your church or ministry suffered?  Are you ready to let go of the past so you can be used by God?  Are you ready to pray for healing?  It's time to leave the past where it belongs and to launch out to what God has for us now!   

If your wounding is standing in the way, call for experienced and mature Christian friends to come and pray with you and for you.  

Let the tears flow, grieve the loss, receive healing from the Lord, and in Jesus' name, press on!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Andria's Journey Ahead

On Tuesday I wrote a bit about a young woman who will be speaking at Crossroads this Sunday.  Her name is Andria Jasper and she was one of the "Crosswalkers" who came through Cokato last April -- you can be reminded of that at It's Not My Life It's God's.

Please pray for her as she prepares to speak to us and as she prepares to go to Thailand.  We invite you to come early this Sunday to meet and pray with her before church, or just come to worship at 10:30.

The video below will let you know more about the journey she is making with her team.  On Sunday we'll get to know her better and learn how God has truly brought blessing from what some of us would consider a hopeless life.  

You can follow Andria on facebook or on her The "real deal" will be with us this Sunday in Cokato!  Please come!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Many of you may know the story of how, in the early 1980s, in southern Brazil, I called the police when a the next-door neighbor was out with a handgun, threatening his wife, while she was hiding in the house with us.  The family I was living with at the time said it would do no good to call the police, and they were right.  No one answered the phone when I called the police in the nearest town, and when I called the county seat, a city of about 100,000, the officer who answered the phone said that he couldn't come because he needed to stay and answer the phone, and the only other officer on duty was out on a call.  That was one experience that made me realize how privileged we are to live in the United States, where we can, generally speaking, trust law enforcement to do their best.

We need police because of the evil in the world.  I was speaking with a police dispatcher recently who sees this reality all too clearly.  Those of us whose homes are not filled with constant shouting, threats, occasional violence and other forms of abuse don't realize how sweet our lives are.  Those who suffer know the dark side of reality.  So do those who are sworn to protect and serve.  I'm sure my dispatcher friend could tell many painful tales from calls he's taken night after night.  And other suffering souls never call.

But even in the darkest corners, Jesus brings light.  Where people are captive, Jesus brings freedom.  And where anger and depression leads to hardly imaginable ways to "cope," the Lord Jesus still pursues us, oftentimes by inspiring others to come alongside, demonstrating another way of life, a way that is given through the Holy Spirit.

This Sunday at Crossroads we'll hear from one of the precious souls who God has rescued and restored.  She has shared her remarkable testimony with me.  At church she won't share details about her past -- she'll just say that earlier in her life she was not safe.  She'll focus on how God has changed her life and how we are called to follow Jesus by the Holy Spirit in reaching others still in the dark:
Isaiah 61

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
   the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
   they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
   the devastations of many generations.

God does remarkable and miraculous work when Christian believers don't just sit on the sidelines.  The young woman we'll hear from had opportunities to spend time with Christ-centered families.  She traveled with church groups for short-term missions.  She says that she went on mission trips for several summers while in middle school and high school, not necessarily for the right reasons to start with, but "the Lord truly used" those trips, allowing her to be in a "Godly environment" where she "was able to begin to see the Lord."  Since then she "started feeling a huge calling to go into missions."  "So," she continues, "I googled missions schools and ended up at BCOM [Bethany College of Missions]. BCOM is where I began to find the true freedom the Lord had for me..."  Now she is planning to go to Thailand.  We'll hear more about that this Sunday at Crossroads.  I hope you can be with us.

When we suffer, especially when we suffer in our homes, many times we do not know what to do.  But the young woman who will share with us on Sunday will be a sign for us that no matter how hard things may be today, that God can bring a new future--and lead us into ways that we can truly bless and save others.

Some of those who have suffered and who now have found freedom will "protect and serve" in law enforcement.  Some will serve as social workers and mental health professionals.  Some will volunteer or work with abuse shelters.  And others will just be consistent and caring friends, letting suffering souls know they are precious, treasures, gifts of God, blessings--no matter what.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Not Just Amused

Praise God for all the ways he provides and guides!  Thinking back on the last 24 hours, I'm particularly thankful for opportunities to meet with dear friends--last night at the Cokato Manor and then, this morning, in a local home and at a gas station.  What a privilege to come alongside brothers and sisters to meet needs in Jesus' name.  Thank you, Lord, for providing so many ways for us to see prayers answered!

When I got home to my desk and while I was starting on some paperwork, I listened to a radio show ("Mid morning") which today was focused on technology.  One idea particularly caught my attention--schools are in some ways flipping the idea of education around so that students get the content at home (through watching lectures in addition to reading) and then go to school to do what we normally think of as "homework," that is, writing papers and answering questions based on what was learned.  That way, there is personalized help available and classmates to work with. Maybe not new, but the idea is that the "lecture" concept of education is even more antiquated than I thought.

How does this apply to the church?  How will this impact me and others as we prepare for "sermons" and "Christian education?"  The fact is that people already get a lot of information, including Christian teaching at home (and in the car and wherever they go) through their reading and listening to media.  Maybe what I should be spending my time on, in regard to the "teaching" and "preaching" side of ministry, is to help our people agree on what they will be learning outside the church building (such as particular books or media that we would all read or listen to or view) and then, having read or listened to the same things outside of the church service, to spend our time together on sharing, conversation and prayer leading to group action.

Perhaps this would help us with what Neil Postman has called an imbalanced "information action ratio" (in his book "Amusing Ourselves To Death").  Do we really need to just give more "content" in sermons and teaching?  Should't we spend more prayer and energy focused on helping Christians do something with what they know?  Should that be a focus for the church instead of passive listening to sermons?

What do you think?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Alternate Route

Last night Toni and I were visiting friends and a storm came up.  We and a bunch of others ended up staying at their home until after midnight.  When we were all ready to leave we found that a large pine tree had blown down blocking the dead-end street leading through the woods to their home.  Fortunately there was another way for us to go out.  Our friend opened a gate and we and at least three other cars ended up driving out through a neighbor's long driveway.  I followed the others, wending our way through the rain to the main road, and then drove home, arriving at about 2 a.m.

Earlier in the evening our friends had asked me to tell the story about what has happened with us here in Cokato over the past years and how it is that we came to serve a different church than we were originally called to in 2005.  It's a long story.  I mentioned that I've thought of writing it all down sometime, from my perspective, and they encouraged me to do so.  Another out-of-the-Cokato-area friend has told me she would look at some first drafts.  I like to share freely but this subject is one that needs extra writing care.

Last night, because I was unfamiliar with the "alternate route" through the neighbor's property, I was thankful that I didn't need to lead the way.  I would have driven out alone, but since others were needing to go home too, it felt a lot more comfortable being part of our little convoy.  Our Ford Focus was the smallest of the four.  We could just sort of blend in as we crossed the unfamiliar.

Something similar has been going on in hundreds of communities throughout the United States as church members have gone through stormy and painful times.  George Erdner of suburban Atlanta, Georgia and others have been keeping track of what they call the "fallout" from the ELCA.  Thousands of church members have seen that the road ahead for them in their local churches has been blocked so they, like we at Crossroads, have gone another way.

If you're interested in George's data, let me know and I can send you a spreadsheet that he has prepared.  Otherwise go to his "yahoo groups" page at  You can read George's description without actually joining the group.

I do find some comfort in knowing I'm not alone on an alternate route.  Of course, knowing others are with me doesn't say anything about the rightness or wrongness of the way we're going.  It's just as possible for many to be wrong as it is for them to be right.  But if you have felt that you have suffered through church storms, it might be nice for you to know there is a convoy for you to join.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Getting ready for church?  I am!  Hope to see you this morning at Crossroads--we worship at 10:15.  Pastor Paul Gustafson will preach and share an opportunity to do street ministry with him in Minneapolis. 

As I've been preparing, I've been listening to Pastor Peter Churness as he led worship last week, shared a children's message on being filled by the Holy Spirit and preached on First Peter 3:15 - "In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you." 

I'm thankful that our technical whiz Jeff Ertl makes each week's worship available to listen to at  Take time to listen to Pastor Peter (from last week) or Pastor Paul (probably available online tomorrow or Tuesday).

Hearing God's word helps us prepare for whatever the day may bring.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Jesus' Question

Good morning all.  Toni and I returned last night from an eight-day road trip that took us to Okoboji IA and Ogallala NE, the Dahlin-Mosier wedding near Colorado Springs, a day with Toni's family in the mountains at a cabin near Grand Lake, a one day drive back to Okoboji, and a my-mom's-side-of-the-family event at Lake Mills IA.  Aside from missing my wallet all went well.

Amid all the blessings and pains of life, Jesus is asking me this question:  Do you love me?  I came to know that yesterday morning as I sat in a chapel at Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp with a hundred or more others listening to presentation by Pastor Mike Housholder.  The week's theme was "Restored" and the Friday theme was "Restored to Community" based on Jesus' conversation with Peter in John 21:15-19.

Jesus is asking me for undivided loyalty and undivided love.  He wants to know if I will love him more than I love anyone or anything else.  He wants me to know if I will follow him no matter what.  And he is asking the same question of all of us at the same time.

At Crossroads this summer I've been encouraging people to take time to study and pray through a "reflection guide" written by my friend Wendy Berthelsen.  We're proceeding slowly, having gone through only the introduction and first chapter so far.  We'll meet again Monday evening   We'll continue this for some time, leading up to an all church retreat with the author that is scheduled for September 30 - October 1.  Through this prayerful consideration of how God is calling us Jesus will ask each of us "Do you love me?"

Do you and I love Jesus enough to spend time with him, listening to him, asking him to lead us and guide us?  Or will we stubbornly follow our own ways?  The Lord Jesus has given us a way to ask this question together here in the Dassel-Cokato area.  He is asking us this question now.

We have copies of the reflection guide at Crossroads.  When we run out, we'll get more.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Heritage from the Lord

There's a Bible verse in Psalms (137:3-5) about the blessing of sons.  It's a piece of folk wisdom that could have been repeated in many cultures.  It's a verse that could (and should) be expanded to include daughters--however, since this is my son Dan's birthday, I'll use it like it is:
3 Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord,
   the fruit of the womb a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
   are the sons of one’s youth.
5 Happy is the man who has
   his quiver full of them.
   He shall not be put to shame
   when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
We're back at Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp after a few days in Colorado.  My sons Daniel and Jonathan are on staff here and it is such a blessing to hear the good things others say about them.  Both of them have grown spiritually in ways I am only beginning to discover.  In some ways they have grown beyond me.

Praise God for His faithfulness.  It is only because of God that a blessing can come down from one generation to the next.  Sons and daughter are indeed a heritage from the Lord.  Let's do all we can to pray and protect and invest in our own kids and any others we can reach in Jesus' name.

(This afternoon we go to Lake Mills, Iowa to meet my mom and others connected with the "Larson" side of my family... we'll enjoy a dedication of a garden at the home of my mom's dad's dad and mom, Soren and Anna [Boldstad] Larson.  We'll be back at Crossroads on Sunday where we will hear a message from Pastor Paul Gustafson.  Looking forward to seeing you all there!)

Swatting Mosquitoes

I wrote this on Tuesday morning, July 5 but posted it on July 8.

It's another beautiful morning in Colorado Springs.  We've been here since Saturday and awhile ago I asked my brother-in-law if it's always beautiful like this here.  According to him, this is a typical summer morning.  Cool, dry and sunny (it will get hot later, of course).  But the extra bonus: no mosquitoes.   

Earlier this morning my father-in-law mentioned a study done some years ago of retired persons who had moved from the northland.  Many of the Christian believers in the study had been active and involved in their churches in the north but stopped after they moved.  Why?  They got tired of discussions (Dick used the word "fights") about, as he said, "the color of the carpet" and all the other details of church life that they'd suffered through back home.

Maybe there are spiritual mosquitoes too.

You don't need to be at church to suffer from those pesky bugs.  We came out here to Colorado for my niece's wedding.  It was a grand outdoor event, beautiful and well-organized.  (Mikelle and Kegan are remarkable young people.  They wanted their wedding to be a testimony and praise to God--and that's what it was--through and through.)

Even so, weddings, and every other event that involves people, a certain amount of care was needed to make sure the spiritual mosquitoes didn't descend.  The one in charge of doing that was the wedding coordinator.  It was her task (done quite joyfully it seemed to me) to make sure the Kegan and Mikelle's wedding plans were carried out.  She had the plan at hand--a detailed list of who was doing what when.  From my point of view, the wedding came off without a hitch.  I didn't see mosquitoes of either kind--spiritual or other.  It was great.

At our young church (Crossroads Community Church of Cokato) we will be swatting spiritual mosquitoes by letting go of some things while dedicating ourselves to the aspects of the church's ministry that we are personally involved in.  The pattern for this is found in Acts 6, where the early church prayed and SOME (not all) people were set apart for certain functions. When any of us think we need to be involved in everything, we can become spiritual mosquitoes ourselves.  May the Lord swat us when we do.

Monday, July 4, 2011


My wallet is missing.

I'm obsessed with finding it.

God evidently feels the same way about each of us - see Luke 15

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Marriage Is Unique

Among all the commitments people are called to make in this world, marriage is unique.  It's the only one that is "till death do us part."  (We're on our way to a wedding.)  It's a holy thing in a way that other relationships are not.  It connects with the survival and blessing of the human race in a way that cannot be duplicated in any other way.