Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Reformation vs. Halloween

Do you know what day it is today? That's right! It's Reformation!... oh, you thought it was Halloween. Does anyone else find it a little sad that Halloween has become the second biggest money maker for stores? Begging for Candy, smashing pumpkins, dressing up like demons... remind me again what exactly is spiritually redeeming about the day?

Just think, instead we could be celebrating the Reformation. Do you remember that historical act by Martin Luther that was largely about helping us understand that we are spiritually free? We could be celebrating that though we are slaves to sin we are set free by the blood of Jesus! Now that seems like something to celebrate. Tomorrow is All Saints day, where we celebrate all of the saints that have gone before us, and continue to encourage us in our faith (Hebrews 12:1). Now those seem a bit more redeeming and worthy of celebrating... maybe it's just me. I'll let you think about it. Meanwhile, I need to get home so I can hand out candy. (Dentist's brace yourself)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Blind Pastor

I got the following e-mail today. I thought it fit nicely with the sermon we heard from Pastor Dave yesterday...

Pastor Steven E. Albertin told the following story. He wrote: in my church secretary's office there hangs a modernistic picture composed of a maze of colors and shapes. I realized these sophisticated, modern, and abstract pictures were supposed to contain some profound artistic or philosophical message, but I never was able to figure it out. It just looked like a jumbled mass of confusion. If there was a message there, I was blind to it.

One day while I was standing in the office, waiting for the copier to warm up, one of the congregation's kindergarten-age boys, Adam, stood beside me and said, "Do you see what I see?"

"Do you see something in that picture? I sure don't." Adam looked at me with glee in his eye, "Pastor, can't you see him? It's Jesus hanging on the cross." I stared as hard as I could, until my eyes actually hurt from staring. I wanted to believe Adam and that there actually was the image of Jesus hanging on the cross hidden somewhere in that mass of color and shapes, but I couldn't see Jesus anywhere. "Adam, I'm sorry but I must be blind. You will have to help me see."

Directing his finger to a mass of color in the center of the picture, Adam said, "There, Pastor. Do you see what I see? There is Jesus, his face, his arms outstretched on the cross." And then, like an epiphany, the image began to appear. Yes, there hidden somehow "behind" the colors and the shapes was the barely visible image of Jesus, hanging with arms outstretched on the cross. "It's amazing, Adam. You have helped one blind pastor to see Jesus. Yes, I can see what you see, Adam."

--Steven E. Albertin, Against the Grain, CSS Publishing

Thanks to all of you that help the blind pastors see Jesus!

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I was reading this morning from "My Utmost For His Highest" and Oswald Chambers starts out talking about love saying:

If what we call love doesn't take us beyond ourselves, it is not really love. If we have the idea that love is characterized as cautious, wise, sensible, shrewd, and never taken to extremes, we have missed the true meaning.

He goes on to challenge our love a little bit further asking:

Have you ever been driven to do something for God not because you felt that it was useful or your duty to do so, or that there was anything in it for you, but simply because you love Him? Have you ever realized that you can give things to God that are of value to Him?

What an amazing thought, that little ol' me might be of value to God. If you ask me, that is a rather profound notion. Yet, incredibly, it is absolutely true. Now, I think that's pretty cool. Chambers then takes this notion of love and moves it to surrender, suggesting that it is when we surrender to God that we become of tremendous value to Him.

We should quit asking ourselves, "Am I of any use?" and accept the truth that we really are not of much use to Him. The issue is never of being of use, but of being of value to God Himself. Once we are totally surrendered to God, He will work through us all the time.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Hurry Sickness

Today's devotion in "Our Daily Bread" talks about what some people call "hurry sickness" where our stress levels rise because we find ourselves sucked into the fast line of life demanding quick arrivals and instant results.

It becomes even more problematic we demand this of our spiritual lives. The author makes the comparison to an apple that is not quite ripe. It's not that it's a bad apple, it's just that God isn't done making it yet. It is good. It is where it's supposed to be in it's life. The same is true of us in our spiritual lives. It takes a lifetime to really grow in our faith lives.

This struck me as well from as a pastor. There are times I look out at our congregation and I see the amazing potential for God to work through all of us, yet we seeming fall short of that potential regularly. (I have tremendous dreams for the ministry this congregation can, and will, do.) What I needed to be reminded of today was that we are just where we need to be as a spiritual whole. It will take time for us to grow into the entirety of the ministry to which God has called us.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Jeremiah 31:31-34

God's covenant demands exclusivity, much like the most intimate of human relationships - marriage. When persons marry, they promise to forsake all others: the lover declares publicly his/her choosing the beloved, exclusively.

God chose Israel; but Israel broke God's covenant by pursuing other gods. God exposes Israel's infidelity when using the lamenting yet accusatory words: "though I was their husband."

We too court other gods. In the face of our unfaithfulness to the covenant, God maintains faithfulness, forgiving our sins through the new covenant, through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

God chooses to be known to all people - from the least to the greatest - by forgiving our iniquity and remembering our sin no more. Thanks be to God!

Gracious and faithful God, we confess to you our misdirected affections. Grant us forgiveness and newness, through your Son Jesus. Amen.

Eugene R. Zeller
Peace Lutheran Church, Loveland, Colo.
Master of Divinity , 1997

What Can Be Done?

Too often, we can be overwhelmed like the disciples - we look at our small selves and think how little we have to offer, how little we can do. How can we possibly make changes in the world when we are so small, when we have so little to work with? What can we do? We respond, like the disciples, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish!" But in doing so, we shortchange ourselves and God, rejecting, by our inaction, the gifts which God gives to us.

If we say there is nothing we can do, then we are in fact saying that God has not given us enough, or good enough. Jesus shows us that we just need to use what we have, put some heart and faith behind it, and watch miracles take place. We ask, "What good will our little bit do?" But Jesus' answer is always the same - to the one cup of cold water offered to a child, to the one widow's mite, to the five loaves of bread. The answer Jesus gives is, "Let's see what good we can do here."


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Whatcha Gonna Do?

Last night I was in Owatonna to hear Tony Campolo speak. It really was an inspirational night, filled with plenty of challenges. My favorite went something like this:

"Let me give you a Lutheran word. Grace. Yes, absolutely, we are saved by Grace through faith... So whatcha gonna do about it?"

Campolo then went on to tell a story about riding the subway in England. While on the subway a man started having an epileptic seizure. His buddy put a newspaper in his mouth and folded his jacket to lay under his head. When the seizure stopped the buddy apologized and explained a little further. You gotta understand, the man said, we were in Vietnam together. Then he explained the horrific story how the two of them were shot, their rescue helicopter was destroyed, and they were left for dead. He explained, how despite unbelievable pain the man who now had the seizure had pulled the two of them out of the jungle. They were so bad off that twice they ran into VietCong and twice they left them alone because they were so bad off. A couple of years ago the man who had pulled the two of them out started having these seizures and he needed somebody to be with him because he never knew when they would happen. So this gentleman sold nearly everything he owned in New York and moved to England to be with his buddy. "What you don't understand," the man concluded, "is that after what he did for me there is nothing I wouldn't do for him."

We through it around so much it almost becomes a brush off statement, that Jesus died for you. Yet it is true. It is powerful. It is incredible. Jesus paid the price for your sins. Jesus turned the whole world on its head. Jesus died so that we might all be saved... by grace.

Now, whatcha gonna do about it?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Words can do strange and amazing things to us. There are some words that we only need to hear once for there is such power in them we know exactly where our place is in them. Words like:
"The (Twins) lost."
"Can I see your drivers license?"
"The cancer is terminal"
"We made it (to our destination) safely"

Then there are those words that we like to hear over and over again. Sometimes, despite how often we hear them, we can't hear them enough. Words like:
"Free food"
"Honey, I'm home!"
"I love you"

I think God's word falls into that second category for me. Oh, it's true that I have tendency to neglect God's word, but when I hear it I can't believe how much it refreshes, challenges, and renews me. God's words work in me in incredible ways. How are God's Words working in you today?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

White & Nerdy

Okay, so this isn't exactly "churchy" but it was a music video I found I could relate to.

Monday, October 16, 2006

About Wealth...building on yesterday's sermon

Loosing Ourselves in our Possessions

There was a man who loved gold. Then he inherited a fortune. With joy he redecorated his bedroom. He put gold parchment wallpaper up, hung yellow curtains, had a golden colored rug and a yellow bedspread. He even bought some yellow pajamas. But then he got sick and came down with, of all things, yellow jaundice. His wife called the doctor who made a house call and went up to that bedroom for an examination. The doctor stayed up there a long while. When he came down, the wife asked, "How is he?"

"Don't know," said the doctor. "I couldn't find him."

Indeed many people today are absolutely absorbed in and lost in a world of greed and materialism.

Dr. Adrian Rogers


The Doomed Wasp

George Orwell, writing during the Second World War, tells of a rather cruel trick he once played on a wasp. The wasp was sucking jam on his plate and he cut him in half. The wasp paid no attention to what had happened to him, but just went on with his meal, while a tiny, stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly did he realize the terrible thing that happened to him.

What a picture of a solely consumer-oriented humanity, gorging itself, earthbound, and oblivious to its plight.

Adapted from Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journals and Letters Vol. II New
York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968, p. 15.


The Trouble with Money

Guys, just remember, if you get lucky, if you make a lot of money, if you get out and buy a lot of stuff--it's gonna break. You got your biggest, fanciest mansion in the world. It has air conditioning. It's got a pool.
Just think of all the pumps that are going to go out. Or go to a yacht basin any place in the world. Nobody is smiling, and I'll tell you why. Something broke that morning. The generator's out; the microwave oven doesn't work. .
. .Things just don't mean happiness.

H. Ross Perot (Billionaire and former Presidential candidate) in Fortune magazine.


Marketing Gone Mad

At the Coca-Cola Company, we have built and grown for more than 110 years.
Remaining disciplined to our mission has brought us to remarkable places.
Not long ago, we did some research and came up with an interesting set of facts.

A billion hours ago, human life appeared on Earth.

A billion minutes ago, Christianity emerged.

A billion seconds ago, the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show.

A billion Coca-Colas ago was yesterday morning.

And the question we are asking ourselves now is: What must we do to make a billion Coca-Colas ago be this morning?

Address by Roberto C. Goizueta, Chairman, CEO, Coca-Cola, delivered to the Executive Club of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, November 20, 1996. Taken from Vital Speeches of the Day, January 15, 1997, p. 201.


We Want It Our Way

The story of Faust by Goethe has become part of our heritage. Faust was a man who longed for romance, academic success, and wealth. Unable to find these on his own, he made a pact with the devil. If he could be granted his wishes, have his true worth made public and enjoy its fruits, then he would give his soul to the devil. Sure enough, he enjoyed marvelous romances, fabulous successes, and much wealth. Oddly enough, when the time came, he was unwilling to keep his part of the bargain. I wonder if there is a parallel here. We put Jesus off, promising, “Just one more of this and one more of that -- then I will be willing to go with you, Jesus.” Are we not like little Fausts, wanting to have it our way? After all, we say, we deserve it! And what do we say to Jesus when he comes to claim us?

Thomas Peterson, The Needle's Eye, CSS Publishing Company.


Remember, no one is worthless. Any person can always be held up as a bad example.


Hope Quotes

"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don't give up."

~ Ann LaMott

"While there's life, there's hope."

~ Cicero

"Human pain does not let go of its grip at one point in time. Rather, it works its way out of our consciousness over time. There is a season of sadness. A season of anger. A season of tranquility. A season of hope."

~ Robert Veninga

Marbles and Toes

My daughter broke her ankle five hours after arriving on her university campus to begin her final year of college. This is after being out of school for a year and a half and signing up for a massive load of difficult courses in order to finish by June. I dropped her off and five hours later, already in between flights home, I was talking to her on a cell phone and she was hysterical with pain on her way to the hospital.

A few months later she had permanent pins and a plate for an ankle, she was wired to set off metal detector alarms in airports for the rest of her life. I remember she told me how excited she was to get her first instructions in physical therapy. Being the physical person that she is, she was envisioning bulking up on special exercising machines, starting major work on building back her leg and ankle. The therapy she was all excited about turned out to be picking up marbles with her toes. “And guess what?” she told me, “I can’t do it yet.” For someone of limited patience like my daughter, this was going to be quite a test.

Spiritual growth is a lot like physical therapy. Faith needs to be exercised in order to grow, and sometimes it seems we can’t even pick up marbles with our fingers, much less our toes. But the more we work at it, the stronger we become. Faith is like a muscle; nourish it and exercise it, and it will grow. Each time you step out in faith, it becomes easier to step into greater things. You believe God more because of what he has done for you in the past. Each new step creates more confidence.

Just keep in mind, however, that spiritual supermen don’t exist. The minute you get strong in one area, God shows you something else for which you need to trust him. And Galatians 6:1 reminds us that even the strongest are not exempt from a fall. So this applies to everyone, new believer to old: Faith needs to be exercised to be healthy. Somewhere in your life and mine, we’re just learning to pick up marbles with our toes.

What is your next step of faith? Mine is not running away from problems I can’t solve, but learning to face them and trust God to help me find the answers as I do. Tell you what: I’ll pray for you in regards to your next step of faith if you’ll pray for me.

--By John Fischer

Not Alone

Here is one I came across last week...

There is hardly a human need stronger than the need to belong. We were created this way. Every one of us came out of a womb screaming for warmth, companionship, and someone else’s heartbeat. We were rudely ripped out of that idyllic existence and thrust into a cold, impersonal, lonely world. (No wonder babies cry.) And the rest of our lives are spent trying to find that intimacy again. Everyone knows this feeling because everyone has had the same experience once – being so close that our mother’s heartbeat was a constant presence – and everyone knows that reuniting with others is somehow a part of our common purpose in life. No man is an island.

Is it any wonder Jesus prayed, “My prayer for all of them [his disciples and us] is that they will be one, just as you and I are one, Father – that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me.” (John 17:21 NLT)

We were made to be together. We often think only in terms of our own spiritual lives and forget the fact that God is saving a people to come together for his glory. Salvation is not just an individual matter; it’s a corporate thing – it plugs us into everyone else in the Body of Christ. It is when the church functions as a whole that we give evidence to who we really are. We are the Body of Christ, not the Individual of Christ. Not one of us can reflect, alone, what that body is. His will is expressed in all of us together.

Together we are the bride of Christ. (My grammar checker doesn’t like that last sentence because this concept challenges even our language. Since when is “bride” plural?) I am not the bride; you are not the bride. We are only the bride in completion with all other believers in history and in the world. This is all part of God’s plan to bring us back together where we can hear each other’s heartbeat and experience the oneness that Jesus has with the Father and desires to have with us. Jesus prayed that we would be all wrapped together in oneness with him – us in Christ, and Christ in the Father.

So what does this mean for you and me today? It means we are not alone. We know where we belong. We need to give priority to our relationships with other believers because who we are depends on it. Check your calendar; arrange some lunches. Time put into people is time committed to God and his purposes.

--By John Fischer


I was reading through the assigned readings for this coming Sunday's worship and I was particularly struck by two things in the gospel reading from Mark. James and John start out by demanding that Jesus do whatever they wish, like Jesus is some sort of Genie or puppet or something. Jesus simply asks them if they know what they are talking about and asks if they are worthy to drink of the same cup as him. Of course they reply that they are.

What?! Here's what I'm struck by. How bold are James and John? Demanding that Jesus serve them and claiming they are of equal worthiness to Jesus, are they crazy? Nuts? Stupid? All of the above? Then it strikes me further that despite this brash and cocky approach by "the boys" Jesus doesn't get upset. If somebody came to me with that sort of attitude I don't know if I could even give them the time of day.

So this got me to wondering... When is the last time you approached the throne of God with such boldness? When is the last time you claimed your worthiness within the kingdom?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Spiritual Laziness

I was reading from the classic devotional by Oswald Chambers, "My Utmost For His Highest" today. He was referring to Hebrews 10:24-25 when he said:

"We are all capable of being spiritually lazy saints. We want to stay off the rough roads of life, and our primary objective is to secure a peaceful retreat from the world. The ideas put forth in these verses from Hebrews 10 are those of stirring up one another and of keeping ourselves together. Both of these require initiative— our willingness to take the first step toward Christ-realization, not the initiative toward self-realization. To live a distant, withdrawn, and secluded life is diametrically opposed to spirituality as Jesus Christ taught it."

He later goes on to challenge us a little further saying:

"It is a most disturbing thing to be hit squarely in the stomach by someone being used of God to stir us up— someone who is full of spiritual activity. Simple active work and spiritual activity are not the same thing. Active work can actually be the counterfeit of spiritual activity. The real danger in spiritual laziness is that we do not want to be stirred up— all we want to hear about is a spiritual retirement from the world. Yet Jesus Christ never encourages the idea of retirement— He says, "Go and tell My brethren . . ." (Matthew 28:10 )."

Where are you at today? Are you feeling spiritually lazy, desiring to use God to retreat from the world? Or is your faith driving you to go and make a difference in the world? It's quite the challenge... isn't it?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Today's devotion from Our Daily Bread struck me in their talking about suffering. At some point in time we all come in contact with suffering; we experience a tornado, our child rebels beyond toleration, a loved one dies, and on and on... We come across this suffering and we begin to ask the question of why? The bottom line, that I got out of the devotion, is that we're in relationship with people and we are all victims of sin. Yet, we are all created to be in community. Is that not something we could take out of last Sunday's reading from Genesis when God said it was not good for man to be alone. Yes, it was said more in regards to marriage but I think it's fair to extrapolate out to understand that we were created to live in community. I don't think God wills us to suffer, makes us to suffer. However, God can allow suffering to exist because we have each other, because we have community. God created us for each other.


When Dawn and I were dating we played a lot of Scrabble, so Monday's devotion from Our Daily Bread struck me because of it's title. They talked about how to be successful at Scrabble you have to be good at math and good at memorizing. You don't actually need to know what the words mean. How often do we pick up language at church that we don't really know what it means, but we wield them as weapons in arguments. Perhaps you've experienced it on the other end when people start throwing around Bible verses to battle their arguments, but if you challenge them they don't really know what those verses mean nor the context in which they were written. I think we're all guilty of it from time to time.

Maybe this is a good reminder to us to take some time and to learn. We need to learn more about the Bible. We may need to learn more about our faith tradition. We need to learn more about what we are talking about in matters of faith. What are you doing to learn? Are you involved in Bible study? Do you have friends you talk about these things with? Are you reading? How are you growing in your knowledge of the Lord?

Monday, October 09, 2006

A God Pause

Monday, 10/9/2006
Amos 5:1-15 (Click to view Bible text below.)

When others criticize or judge you, even when they are right to do so, how do you feel? The natural human tendency is to defend yourself. Defensiveness is one of the most common of human responses - and also one of the least helpful.

What about when others judge you when you are in the wrong? You may still become defensive - a sign that you are not fully admitting the truth (you may even feel defensive as you read these words). Words that attempt to explain, defend and justify are piled higher and higher, but in the end are only a monument to human failure.

The prophet Amos offers a different option: "Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time." These are wise words for individuals and whole nations. Amos' time was a moment to take stock, consider both collective and individual injustice, and then change. That is still our task.

Lord, help us keep salutary silence, that your words may break into our hearts, changing us for the sake of others. Amen.

Chris Smith
Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, Apple Valley, Minn.
Master of Divinity , 1993

What If...

Last night as part of a youth ministry training session we played a game called, "What if..." as a way to dream of what our youth ministry might be. So we dreamed of things like, "What if we planned an event that attracted every high school youth in Byron to attend?" or "What if we raised enough funds to do a mission trip to another country?"

This morning after reading the assigned Gospel for this Sunday I was left asking another "What if..." What if I spoke the truth that I hear in here. Verse 25 is familiar, but quite harsh, speaking of how it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Why is it harsh? Look around, we are rich people. If this is the case we are up a creek and totally without paddles. It does not look good. Then you glance back at our old testament reading from Amos, especially verse 10, and my suspicions are confirmed. Of course our reading from Hebrews this Sunday reminds us that the word of God is a double edged sword. So it maybe it's a good thing... What if I called people to task this Sunday for their extravagant wealth? I bet people would be upset with me. I wonder, though, if it weren't something people needed to hear and would benefit them in the long run...

What if...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Bad Mix

In recent months in the Minneapolis Star Tribune there have been a few articles in their Faith & Values section about conservative Christian leaders who have grown frustrated with the mixing of faith (the church) and politics. I found it interesting because that was part of the genius of George W. Bush politics. He managed to engage the conservative, Christian, right with their sense of morals and values for our nation.

The danger, I think, is the Bible is not nearly as clear cut as poll taking politicians would like it to be. Sure you can make arguments that grow out of the Bible that support a conservative anti-abortion side of politics. You can also make arguments that grow out of the Bible that support liberal spending that supports food shelves and homeless shelters. I don't remember Jesus ever throwing his weight behind a particular political party or agenda. He told Peter, "If you love me then feed my sheep." I also remember Jesus encouraging us to "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself." He didn't tell us how to do it.

Now, because there weren't clear instructions on how to do these things we get political finger pointing, with each side accusing the other side of evil ways. One of the problems is that what your mother taught you is true. When you point a finger at someone there are three more pointing back at you. Do we need a clearer demonstration of that than this most recent political scandal coming out of Congress? Mark Foley led a self-righteous personal agenda pointing fingers at the evils of this world, and it turned out he stumbled morally himself - the fingers started pointing to him. We are all capable of sin. We all do it.

In recent years the conservative leaders have wanted to claim a moral high ground by pointing towards their political victories/success. We have learned they are maybe no better than the rest of us. That's not to say the liberal, democratic side is immune to it. I wouldn't be surprised to see liberals claiming moral high ground or religious superiority in the near future and have it come crashing in on them as well. It seems the way we humans operate, somewhat oblivious to history.

You see, I think, religion and politics are a bad mix. I would agree that our faith influences how we view the world and how we make decisions. We can't leave our faith at home when we go to the polls to vote this fall. However, I don't think the Democrats nor the Republicans can claim to have a corner on operating how God wants. Do you remember when Jesus cleared the temple? In part people were claiming a religious superiority and trying to sell it, just like some of our politicians are trying to do today. It all falls short because ultimately it is simply the seller turned in, focused on, themselves and that is how I remember Luther describing sin.