Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!!

The waiting is over. Let us all rejoice! Merry Christmas to all, and may this season be filled with much joy and many blessings for each and everyone who happens to read this!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Controlled Waiting

Something interesting happened when our culture moved from an agrarian society to an industrial culture. It got even worse as it became a technological age. Somewhere in there we lost the ability to wait. We expect everything instantly. It has also created this sense, this desire to be in control.

One of the great things the baby Jesus teaches us is that we are NOT in control. Jesus, God's very own son, was not totally in control. Do you remember the prayer he prayed as he was about to be betrayed? "Lord take this cup from me, but not my will but thy will be done." Even for Jesus' life God was in control. So not being in control simply becomes a part of our human condition, and waiting becomes a spiritual activity, a holy thing.

Then Henri Nouwen takes it another notch higher, when in our devotional yesterday he writes, "The spirituality of waiting is not simply our waiting for God. It is also participating in God's own waiting for us and in that way coming to share in the deepest love, which is God's love."

So as Christmas day creeps ever closer we are reminded that we are NOT in control, and so we wait with God and experience God's love.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Who Loves Ya Baby?

One year my dad got a package of dried apricots from his family and he kindly expressed how much he liked them. For about the next 30 years my dad got dried apricots from his mother for Christmas and his birthday. I'm pretty confident that for all of these years that I've known my dad he hasn't been a huge fan of them.

This past year my wife did her internship project with a clever analogy to frogs. Over the past six months she has gotten a lot of frog themed gifts. We expect that as she wraps up her internship she'll get a number of frogs as going away/thank you gifts. It's the connection people have made with her, and it is a wonderful sentiment that people have gone out and found these wonderfully cute frog items. Truth be told, I don't know that Dawn is much of a fan of frogs. (I like them a lot so I will make sure they have a wonderful place in our home.)

This time of year many of us will receive similar sorts of gifts. We will get gifts from co-workers, distant college roommates, and family members we haven't seen since last year. Their intentions will be good, but they just don't know us well enough to give the "perfect" gift. The truth is, who really does know us that well?

Take a look at Psalm 139... I think God knows us that well, especially when you look at those first few verses. God knows when I sit down and stand up. God knows my thoughts, my words even before they come out of my mouth. Consequently God knows the perfect gift to give to me. God knows exactly what I need this Christmas. I need a savior, and that's exactly what God has given all of us.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Patient Waiting

First of all, to those "regulars" thank you for your patience in sticking with me through this busy time of year. With all of the other writing that I'm doing this time of year (sermons, newsletter, annual report, etc.) the time and thoughts for my blog have been a bit fewer and further in between.

This year the Advent Devotional that we got for the congregation is a collection of writings from Henri Nouwen. Last week there were a couple of neat entries I would like to share. First he wrote, "Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there." So often we think of patience as a passive thing, so I love this notion of it being active. Then yesterday's entry read:

The waiting of the Advent figures in the first chapters of Luke's Gospel is not a passive waiting. They are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing. Right here is a secret for us about waiting. If we wait in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait. Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are and that we want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, believing that this moment is the moment.

I love that gardening image. When a seed is planted in the spring all you can really do is wait for it to grow. The seed has to do the work. Yet, because you know that a seed is planted in that particular location there are things you do like water it and pick the weeds that might strangle it. Yet all you can do is wait, but it is an active, patient waiting. Sure there is an anticipation of the future, but you are also forced to live in the moment. That, then, is how we are called to live in our lives: actively, patiently living in the moment.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Confirmation Follow-Up

Some of you might recall that I shared a "rant" about confirmation last week. If you missed it, or want a reminder scroll down, or click here. I wanted to briefly follow-up with an idea I had about a new way of doing confirmation.

I would like to see a more organic process to doing confirmation. What I am envisioning is something closer to how we do marriages in the church. When a couple is ready to get married they contact the church, we ask them to fill out an assessment that guides pre-marital counseling and when that is done they get married. What if we did confirmation similarly? When a student feels like they might want to confirm their faith, affirm their baptism, they (or their family) contacts the church and we give them an assessment that would give us an idea where they are at spiritually. Using the results of the assessment the student will follow a series of discussions with an adult mentor. At the end of the mentoring process the student would sit down with the pastor (or other assigned congregation leader) to assess that the student really wanted to do this. In this sense a third grader or a tenth grader could enter the process and be confirmed. It could be as long or as short as needed for the student. It could be used with new member groups, or other places in the congregation as well if desired.

It would be a new way of thinking about confirmation, but I think it has some potential. What do you think of the idea? (assuming I explained it clear enough) Chew on it a while and share your thoughts. Next week I'll share with you what I see as the most glaring concerns about my idea. (Hey, no idea is perfect. There are always shortfalls in these kinds of things. If I had the perfect solution I would be rich and ready to retire about now.)

Spending

This can be a touch financial time of year. There is all kinds of pressure to spend extravagant amounts of money. Doesn't it almost feel like the patriotic thing to do, a societal obligation if you will. Nathan Dungan has a great article (here) about how to combat this hyper-spending temptation this time of year on his website, Share Save Spend. In fact, while you're there take a look around the website as there are numerous different items to help us rethink how we use our money.

A Take on Advent

At text study last week we were talking about this whole theme of "being prepared" of "being ready" that runs throughout Advent. In light of the fact that part of what we're getting ready for is the birth of the baby Jesus (along with getting ready for the second coming, but we'll brush past that for now) I thought my pastor friend's thought was awesome. She said something to the effect of, "It's kind of like being pregnant. You don't know exactly when the baby is going to come. So you can take that and panic or you can take that as a great relief because it's not up to you."

We don't know when Jesus will return, but we know that Jesus promised us that. We can take that as a sign that we need to start to scurry around and make sure we do certain things? We also can make the choice to take this promise as a sign that it's not up to us, there is nothing we can do, that it is all up to God. To misquote Pastor Dave from his sermon yesterday, "Being ready is knowing WHO we are preparing for, WHO we are expecting."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Facebook

If you haven't explored the world of Facebook (and I suspect MySpace is the same) I would suggest you check it out. It's a strange phenomenon where people are connecting with one another and building community. Ironically, it seems to also be distancing ourselves as we interact from our own very rooms. It's also a world that you can easily get sucked into. So here is a music video about this virtual community of Facebook. If you've been there you might find some humor.



For those who have been looking for more posts from me I apologize. I was sick last week, ran into Thanksgiving, and now I'm taking a few days off for the sake of some down time. So there might not be more for a few more days. Although, we'll see what happens and I might get inspired.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Communion

Here is one of my new favorite songs from the band Third Day. What does communion mean to you?


Confirmation

Is it time for us to completely rethink how we do confirmation? What we do here on Wednesday nights is an exciting change from classroom lecture and test model that I went through as a teenager. I think we're doing some good things with our current confirmation. The problem, as I see it, is that it is still too structured, too one-size-fits-all. What we are essentially saying is that if you sit through these 45 classes (or whatever it is) you will be ready to profess your faith.

I believe faith development is more organic than that. I have met third graders who are very ready to affirm their baptism and I have met tenth graders that still aren't ready. I think it's time for us to stop thinking about faith development as simply a middle school thing and stat thinking of it as a life long way of life. I would like to suggest that if we are going to take the promises of confirmation seriously and not turn it into a complete farce, then we need to start thinking about things differently. We need to development a way to make it possible for a person to publicly profess that they now desire to live out the promises made on their behalf in their baptism whether they are 13 or 31.

Perhaps I will leave my thoughts there and let you chew on them a bit. In the days ahead I will share a few more thoughts, including a proposal that's been rattling around in my head.

Self-Help

The devotion from ODB today struck me in its discussion on self-help. If you wander into a place like Barnes & Noble you will notice books flying off the shelves in the self-help section. We like those kinds of things. We like people like Dr. Phil, because they assure us that we are in control. They tell us that we are in charge of our lives, and that we can fix all of our problems.

It's a nice concept, but I think it's wrong. Oh sure, those things certainly can be helpful. I just think that God is ultimately in control. Isn't that one of the very basic tenants of our faith? God is above all things. If you have any doubts ask someone standing at the foot of a grave how much they can fix the problem. Talk to an addict and they'll tell you that the big con they've played on themselves is thinking that they were the ones in control. It's just simply reality that we are not completely and totally in control of our lives. That would be a job for God... and thank goodness for that!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

At the Foot of a Grave

So it's been a while since I've posted regularly. My schedule has been a bit turned upside down lately and that has thrown me. However, I am here for today. I wanted to share with you a story I heard yesterday that I think fits with our lectionary readings for Sunday. As a preacher I find this a challenging stretch to be preaching. We are in the midst of a number of readings about end times and then we'll transition into Advent with similar themes in looking at the coming of Jesus (both 2,000 years ago and again soon for a second time).

With this as a backdrop and Pastor Dave's preaching about our living in a culture of death that I heard a beautiful story yesterday. I was talking to a friend of mine who is a pastor in Waseca. Last February there was a tragic shooting that involved a father and son who were killed and a mother who barely survived. Last week after traipsing through manure covered fields he came across the mother standing in the wind swept cemetery standing in front of the grave. As my friend approached the mother asked, "Is this all there is?"

If that's not a profound theological moment, I don't know what is. It's a picture of life as well, I think, covered in manure standing at the grave asking is this all there is? I think we know the answer to that question, but it hits hard sometimes. We know that resurrection, new life, is only possible through death. It is in death that we begin to see resurrection, that we begin to find hope. It's the strange thing about our faith, that it works this way. It is also the beautiful part of our faith as well.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Living Large

We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. —2 Corinthians 6:11

I think there is something kind of catchy about that phrase, "Living Large." I don't know if it's really used all so much any more, but it is used to connote that one is living the good life filled with all of the luxuries that come along with it. It is, in many ways, the American Dream.

I don't want to suggest that God doesn't want us to have good things, but I do want to suggest that perhaps God is looking for something a little different out of us. As Paul suggests to the people of Corinth, we are to live with "our heart wide open." I think that is a rather different connotation. We are called to live a life of generosity, both financially and with a listening heart.

Perhaps today we can live large by living with a large, open heart.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Survivor vs. Biggest Loser

One of the shows that we like to watch at home is "Survivor". There is something fun about the game itself, the games within that are a dream for former camp employees, but there is also something intriguing about the social dynamic of the game as well. We get to watch human nature at perhaps it's conniving worst.

Recently a friend of ours told us about "The Biggest Loser" a show where contestants work to lose the greatest percentage of weight. This friend of ours likes it not just for the fitness, health, and weight loss aspect of the show. She also likes the comradery that develops each season, as compared to the cutthroat nature of other reality competition shows. She mentioned how on a recent episode one of the contestants manipulated matters to get rid of another contestant. In so doing he tried to point out that it was a game. To which the other contestants stood up to him and said, "We don't do that here. We don't behave that way."

Wouldn't that be interesting if that's the way we behaved in the church. What if we said, "We don't do that here. We don't behave that way" to the conniving, Survivor-like behavior of other members? What if we created an atmosphere of love, respect, and support? What if we behaved in a way that God expects us to behave instead of the way our instincts sometimes drive us?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Movies

Fall is also a time of year that I like to watch movies. What movies are you hoping to catch in the theaters this fall? (The Bee Movie? American Gangster? Something else?) Do you have any recommendations of movies you have seen we should rent and watch? If you have any good movie ideas/thoughts pass them along in the comments section.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Stewardship & The Emerging Church

I was pointed to an interesting blog entry today and thought I would pass it along to you here. The author reflects on her visit to an emerging church congregation and the one that she's a part of. For those unfamiliar with the emerging church movement and over-simplified explanation would be it is anti-institutional approach to "doing church" for a generation of young adults just coming to age. In the midst of the authors reflection were thoughts about the struggle of this congregation to make their budget, a common struggle for an "institutional" church like ours. I love how she says, "we in our culture have this pernicious reality of being profoundly affluent while having a mentality of scarcity." We have a created a culture that pays $3 for a cup of coffee or $50 for concert tickets, but then complain we suggest that $1 a day will help eliminate our line of credit.

My friend Kelly Fryer writes about this as well in her blog, where she points out that this is a generation that has by and large invented the idea of voluntourism. So we have an emerging generation that goes on vacation to build Habit houses, as well as a retiring, Baby Boomer, generation doing the same. It also appears to me that we have these two generations in abundance here at CLC. It got me to thinking... We, as church leadership, need to show that we are making a difference. Where are we serving the community of Byron? Southeast Minnesota? As we make a difference people get involved. As people become involved and invested in the church they will hopefully grow in faith (assuming they get involved with things like Bible study and worship alongside their involvement in service). As people grow in faith they grow in their giving.

It's a theory... what do you think?

Rivets?

At Our Daily Bread today the author talked about it being one rivet being the cause of the Titanic sinking. From there she made the connection of what seems like "normal" parts being important in a ship to the importance of seemingly "normal" or "ordinary" parts of a congregation being important. What wonderful timing in light of Sunday being Reformation Sunday, Wednesday being Reformation Day, and the importance of the priesthood of all believers. Last night we watched the "Luther" movie that was out in 2003, and we got to see again the importance of allowing the "ordinary" people to have access to God. We all are important in God's eyes.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

We are not cisterns made for hoarding but rather channels made for sharing.

- Craig Sundbert

I was watching the "Today" show this morning and they had a report on remodeling your kitchen. It sounded like fun, but then I started listening to the report. It turns out it was tips for remodeling your kitchen for the sake of reselling your house. Not a bad thing in itself, but it struck me how focused on making money so many of the reports really are, how focused on money most of us are in this culture. I think that's why I got kind of excited when I came across the above quote this morning when I got to church. Our instincts are to hoard our money and our stuff, but what we have been granted is really ours for the sake of sharing with others. Now that sounds a little more refreshing to me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Revival 2

After writing about revival, I came across this blog post about Willow Creek Church. If you are unfamiliar with Willow Creek, they have been the model for large, outreach focused congregations for years. In evaluating their effectiveness they have discovered that by and large they have simply acculturated a shallow faith. They have done a good job of getting people to show up for things around their congregation, but it seems they have struggled to get people to be intentional about nurturing their faith outside of Sunday morning. It sounds like a common struggle of many congregations. It will be interesting to watch and see where they go with this new understanding. Read the entry here and tell me what you think.

Revival

One of the things I like about going for walks, or runs, is that it often clears my head and leads to a time of prayer. That happened to me last night. As I was communing with God I was struck by a word, "Revival." It's not one of those words that we Lutherans are often very comfortable with in our lives. We hear it and we think of Billy Graham or Steve Martin in "Leap of Faith" under a circus tent. It's just not our style.

I wonder why that is, though? A friend of mine used to be a pastor at a congregation just outside of Milwaukee and they had a revival every summer...and they're Lutheran. For me revival is being stirred up, touched by, the presence of God. Why wouldn't we want that? What if we all started praying for it? I bet we might begin to see some neat things happen.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Books

We are hitting some classic fall days. You know those days that were created for a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans. If you're like me you find that these kinds of days can be great for grabbing a blanket, a warm drink, and settling in with a good book. So here's my question for you, do you have any good book recommendations? If so click on the "comments" below and let me know... let all of us know.

Halloween is Coming

I have to confess, I'm having a very difficult time getting excited about Halloween. I've had numerous people this past fall asking if we are really going to have confirmation on Halloween. Why wouldn't we take advantage every opportunity possible to possibly grow in our faith? In fact, why don't we have more things like Bible study happening around this congregation?

Here is the other part that I'm struggling with when it comes to Halloween. How do the various activities lead people towards Christ? Yet how much time, money, and effort does the average person put towards this one particular day? It is festival, from where I'm looking at it, that encourages wearing masks, greed, and gluttony. On the other hand, as followers of Christ, I see us being called to being real, generous, and sharing Christ with others. What if we invested as much in the latter set of values as we do in the former?

Here is what I find kind of ironic. October 31 is Reformation Day, celebrating the Reformation and Luther's posting of the 95 thesis. One of the bottom lines of the Reformation (as I understand it) was placing Christ first. Maybe this next Wednesday we can place Christ first instead of all of the other worldly stuff we normally place first.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Changed

He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me ~Mark 7:6

One of the great things about literature, especially I see this with the Bible is that each time you read it you see or hear something different. Yesterday, for example, after a week of studying the readings for Sunday morning as our readers read from Genesis I heard it different. What really jumped out at me this time was that Jacob was changed after his encounter with God. Did you notice that his name was changed as well as leaving with a limp?

It got me to thinking about our church and our congregation. We have people filling up the pews, but are we seeing lives that are marked by change? Can other people see the change in your life because of your encounter with God? It seems to me that if you are a follower of Christ then people should see a difference in the way you live your life. Where does worship & prayer fall on your list of priorities? When it comes to finances do you spend first or share first? What is your reaction when you are offended, revenge or forgiveness? Do you think of yourself (or your family) first or others first? This is a challenge within the committees of our own congregation as we fret over finances well before we fret over ministry. Is not our call to ministry, our call to place others first, a top priority as followers of Christ?

You have had an encounter with God in your baptism. You have been changed, renamed "Child of God." Let the world see that change. I found what I think is an interesting devotion in "The Upper Room", I encourage you to click here and read it for yourself.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Determined & Bold

If there is one thing that our O.T. (Genesis 32:22-31) and N.T. (Luke 18:1-8) readings have in common for Sunday, it is that they are stories about bold & determined people. Okay, so there are probably a number of other things that they have in common, but this is what is striking me today. Jacob wrestles with God, of all people, all night long. To do that, I think, is either incredibly gutsy or incredibly dumb. The same could be said of the widow (who has no place in that society really, she would have been viewed as nothing) in the parable who continues to demand justice from the cold hearted judge. Now that I think about it, they have something else in common: they went to the right person, to the one who could ultimately do something and make a difference.

Thinking upon your life, are you single minded, determined, and bold like these characters? Are going to the right person? Are you willing to wrestle with God, or do you chose to wrestle with others? Do you boldly demand justice or do you settle for your lot in life and simply allow injustice to continue?... Whoever said the call to follow was easy?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Denny Crain

I was watching "Boston Legal" again last night. I think it is funny, ridiculous, and often thought provoking. Last night they took on Bullfighting! Oh yeah, they also took on "Gays in the military." I like that they are willing to take on these difficult, hot topic issues with what I see to be sensitivity and humor. I particular appreciate it during a week when the upcoming Old Testament reading has Jacob (soon to become Israel) wrestling with God. Are we willing to wrestle with the tough issues as a church? A congregation? When we do wrestle with the tough issues who are we wrestling with? Ourselves? A system? God?

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Fiery Sermon

Here is an e-mail that was forwarded to me recently... I liked it and hope you do as well.

A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the preacher decided to visit him.

It was a chilly evening. The preacher found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for his preachers visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a comfortable chair near the fireplace and waited.

The preacher made himself at home but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the dance of the flames around the burning logs. After some minutes, the preacher took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone Then he sat back in his chair, still silent.

The host watched all this in quiet contemplation. As the one lone ember's flame flickered and diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and dead.

Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. The preacher glanced at his watch and realized it was time to leave. He slowly stood up, picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow,once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.

As the preacher reached the door to leave, his host said with a tear running down his cheek, "Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday."

We live in a world today, which tries to say too much with too little. Consequently, few listen. Sometimes the best sermons are the ones left unspoken.

Back

We are back from vacation and mostly relaxed. I thought maybe I would start with sharing a cover of a song that was quite popular a few years ago.

Idols

I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior. ~Isaiah 43:11
How often do we hear from pastors and other church leaders that we are called to put God first? How often do we make reference to the first commandment? As I recall (and I very well may be wrong) Martin Luther spoke about this first commandment being the toughest and once that one falls the others all seem to fall as well. (My words, not his) There are a lot of different things that continue to tug at us trying to pull us away from time spent with God, trying to replace God as our top priority.

What sort of things are tugging at you? What are the other gods that you are battling? Is it money? Job? How about sports, that's a big one in this day and age. The big one, I think, is kids. Do you fall into the trap of "worshiping" your children? Who runs the house, you or your children? Who runs your house you or your checkbook? Who runs your life you or your calendar? Where does God fit into your life? Your schedule? Your finances? Your family?

As wonderful as some of these other things are in our lives, why don't you refer back to the opening verse from Isaiah... the "things" aren't going to save us... only God can do that.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Vacation

Technically speaking our vacation starts somewhere around 4:30 today after my last meeting. However, truth be told, my brain has already left the building. (I know. I know. Some of you are wondering if it ever entered. Funny.) I tell you this because I find it hard this morning to find words that are even remotely inspirational. If anything strikes me later, I'll be sure to share. I also tell you this because it may be some time until I post again. However, for those who check this blog from time to time, know that I will return... and maybe, just maybe my brain will enter the building with me.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Sight

My eyes are upon You, O God the Lord; in You I take refuge; do not leave my soul destitute. —Psalm 141:8

Isn't it interesting how different people see different things? When most of my friends see a golf course they begin to see where they would hit the ball and how tough the greens appear. I, on the other hand, see a golf course and I start thinking about where I would run a cross-country race. When many people walk into a new sanctuary they see the beautiful stained class or note how comfortable the pews appear. When I walk into a new sanctuary I picture how I would like to see worship use the space and where I would want to preach from. Then of course there is the classic seeing of the glass as half full or half empty.

I like this Psalm that says, "My eyes are upon You, O God the Lord..." How often do we look around surveying a scene (nature or people) and completely miss God in the picture? How often do we start to dream of our future (having kids, starting retirement, planning vacation, etc.) and not see God in the picture? I think it would be helpful to see God around us a little more often. Perhaps that can be our goal for today, to see God.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Baby Got Book

I don't remember if I've shared this before, but I came across this again today and it still makes me giggle. If you remember Sir-Mix-A-Lot, you'll probably enjoy it as well.

One Way

Jesus said . . . , “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” —John 14:6

I think this verse is both one of the most beautiful, grace filled verses and one of the most divisive verses we have in our scripture. On the one hand it can be used to suggest that you need to line up in a certain way to be saved. Often that means you need to look like Billy Graham, James Dobson, or some other well known conservative Christian. Now that might be the case, but I'm suspicious. Some want to use this verse to suggest that you must be a Christian to be saved, and that we have all of the right answers. Again, that might be right, but I think that's dangerous.

You see, when I look at this verse I don't see exclusivity, but inclusiveness. I don't see Jesus saying who is in and who is out. I see an opportunity for all to be saved, it's just that when it happens it's because of Jesus. I like to look at it this way. When I was in college we had an old two door beater of a car. At one point the passenger door couldn't be opened because of an issue with the window. Consequently you could only enter the door through the drivers side door. There was only one way to enter the car. Anybody was welcome to ride along with me, but they could only get in one way.

I think this verse is suggesting something similar. It doesn't say that Muslims, Jews, and others can't be saved. It doesn't say that you have to be a Christian to be saved. However, I do think it says that Jesus does the saving. Therefore I see that it is my job to love, to love my neighbor and to love my enemy, and it is Jesus' job to do the saving.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Best

I am admittedly a Minnesota Vikings fan. I am frustrated by "my" teams lack of success this fall. One of the criticism's of the team that has begun to increase is that their best player (Rookie Adrian Peterson) is not playing enough. If you want to win you need to play your best players. It makes me wonder if we are putting our best foot forward as a church, are we playing our best players? Often, I think, we end up "playing" those who have always played instead seeking out the best "player" for each position and plugging them in there. I think the church deserves better than that. I think God deserves better than that.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Curious

I've been writing in this blog for some time now. I was hoping that over time it might become somewhat of a dialog, thinking about matters of faith. That hasn't become the case as the comments remain largely empty. It's okay, but I don't have a chance to know if people are reading or not. As I move forward I would be curious to know if I am writing for myself or if others are checking in from time to time. If you are reading this, I could appreciate you clicking on the "comment" link below and letting me know. Thanks!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Consequences

I really liked the devotion from Our Daily Bread today. Bill Crowder wrote about reaping and sowing, or perhaps you might say, "consequences." One of the things that troubles me when I look around society are those people who seem to have forgotten that our actions have consequences. Last night we spoke about the second commandment and how minimizing God's name has consequences. So to do our actions. Working 50-60 hour weeks instead of 40, has consequences on your health and family. We can chose to follow a temporary path of sin knowing that we have forgiveness, but there consequences. How we chose to live our lives has consequences. Follow the link to the devotion above, he says it much better.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

WooHoo!!



Congratulations to our friends David & Becky! Yesterday they had their second child, Joshua Rahn... Dawn and I are excited to meet him in person in just over two weeks! WooHoo!!!

A Parable

With the recent visit and brew ha-ha about Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I was struck by the following parable written by Henri Nouwen.

Once there was a people who surveyed the resources of the world and said to each other: "How can we be sure that we will have enough in hard times? We want to survive whatever happens. Let us start collecting food, materials, and knowledge so that we are safe and secure when a crisis occurs." So they started hoarding, so much and so eagerly that other peoples protested and said: "You have much more than you need, while we don't have enough to survive. Give us part of your wealth!" But the fearful hoarders said, "No, no, we need to keep this in case of an emergency, in case things go bad for us, too, in case our lives are threatened." But the others said: "We are dying now, please give us food and materials and knowledge to survive. We can't wait..we need it now!" Then the fearful hoarders became ever more fearful since they became afraid that the poor and hungry would attack them. So they said to one another: "Let us build walls around our wealth so that no stranger can take it from us." They started erecting walls so high that they could not even see anymore whether there were enemies outside the walls or not! As their fear increased they told each other: "Our enemies have become so numerous that they may be able to tear down our walls. Our walls are not strong enough to keep them away. We need to put bombs on top of the walls so that nobody will dare to even come close to us." But instead of feeling safe and secure behind their armed walls they found themselves trapped in the prison they had built with their own fear. They even became afraid of their own bombs, wondering if they might harm themselves more than their enemy. And gradually they realized their fear of death had brought them closer to it.

Nouwen is writing at a time when nuclear weapons were proliferating. However, I think his words ring true. In talking about this parable that was published in "Lifesigns" he further writes:

... Never have nations spent so much to protect themselves against their neighbors near and far, and never have we come so close to the annihilation of the human race.
There is an urgent need for a spirituality that addresses these idolatries and opens the way to a new ecstasy. We must find a way to go beyond our national security obsession and reach out and foster life for all people, whatever their nationality, race, or religion."

A Fine Line

It seems to me there is a fine line between being meek/humble and allowing yourself to be a doormat. I enjoy watching the youth of our congregation play sports, but often I find myself wanting to encourage them to be tougher, to be more aggressive. That doesn't mean that you should be mean or try and hurt someone, but don't roll over either.

The world certainly devalues weakness, so when we hear things from Jesus like, "Blessed are the meek..." we don't understand... or we don't want to understand. I think there is an impression by certain segments of our society that want to suggest that Jesus was, or at least encourages us to be, a sissy. I can't imagine that's the case.

The devotional from The Upper Room today talked about this and really got me thinking. Today's author was Donald Maly and I will leave you with his last paragraph:

Jesus did not show timidity or spinelessness when he threw the merchants out of the temple courtyard. He certainly was not lacking courage or self-esteem. He was meek, humble before God, but he was bold in proclaiming God's truth.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Hodge Podge

How is your faith journey going these days? Are persevering? Hit a low spot? Today I came across an interesting devotion about persevering in faith. There was a reference to a 1968 marathoner who stated, "My country didn't send me here to start the race, but to finish." You've started the race, are you prepared to finish it... no matter the cost?

How is your loving going? Honestly, I'm not all so good. I wish I were better. Anyway, I was just struck by the Toby Mac song "Made to Love" with a chorus that rings with: "I was made to love You... I was made to love, and to be loved by You." I appreciated the reminder that I was made to love God.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sandy Wins

video
Here is video of Sandy being interviewed at the Twins game last Tuesday. You'll notice my mother is pretty excited to get on TV as well.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Twins Game

Last night we got to attend the Minnesota Twin's game. It was cool to see Danielle throw out the first pitch. She had a lot of pressure, not only was she doing this in front of thousands of people but her dad is a baseball coach so we were looking for one right up the middle. She stayed cool under the pressure and did awesome.

We had a lot of fun chatting it up during the game, and then Sandy up and got interviewed on TV. Can you believe that? Not only that, but she won 100 lottery tickets. What a wild night.

It was good to see us just having fun hanging out as a congregation, as a Christ Lutheran family. It was great because we had kids as young as 1st grade with us and kids as old as 60+ years old. We do a lot of great things as a church, but we also need to remember to play together. I'm glad we got to play at the Twins game last night.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hiding in Plain Sight

The Lord says, "When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart." -Jeremiah 29:13 (NRSV)

When we were kids there was a gaggle of us who liked to play games in our backyards. We especially enjoyed games like hide-n-go-seek and kick the can, games where you get to hide. One of the neighbor girls learned early on (the rest of us took quite a bit longer) that hiding in close and obvious spots were often the best places. In fact, some of the best places she found were, by and large, in places that might be considered plain sight.

Sometimes it feels like God is so very hard to find, as if God is almost a non-presence in our life. I wonder if we're not making it too complicated, because God is "hiding" in what might be considered plain sight. The verse above from Jeremiah tells us that when we look for God we will find God, so God must not be "hiding" that hard. The psalmist encourages us to, "be still, and know that I am God." Maybe, when we are looking for God we just need to slow down and look right in front of us.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Everything

Here is a popular video these days. Take a look below... what do you think?


Jesus as Friend



One of my favorite movie "images is that of Buddy Jesus in the movie "Dogma" (seen on the right). It does make a bit of a mockery of our temptation to over promote Jesus as our friend. Obviously (at least I think it's obvious) the friendship suggested and offered in John 15 is something more, something much deeper. It is something precious. It is with that "caution" that I commend to you the devotion from "Our Daily Bread" today. Give it a read, it kind of gave me a nice warm feeling. Sometimes, I think you need those warm fuzzy moments.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Letting Go

One of the best things I get to do each month is to attend a pastor support group. It's a group of other pastors where we get a chance to share our challenges (personal and professional) with one another. More often than not we find that we're not the only one struggling with certain issues and we discover that we are in this together. It's amazing how helpful this process can be.

Anyway, at our group today a couple of people were talking about, "letting go." Probably a helpful thing for all of us to. We should probably all let go of those earthly things that tend to consume us and allow God to take over. It's a great concept, but sometimes it's quite difficult to practice.

As we talked about this I was reminded that I had learned this lesson a couple of weeks ago playing golf. I'll admit it, I'm a pretty lousy golfer. Although I like to think I have a lot of potential for the game (seriously). The one time I played this summer, a few weeks ago now, it was a gathering of pastors and church workers from around the synod. I started feeling the pressure (I have a tendency to do that to myself) to play as well as I possibly could. I swung as hard as I could in an attempt to keep up with the other players in my foursome. I'm actually impressed that nobody on the golf course actually got hurt I sprayed the ball around so much.

After about fifteen holes of miserable golf aside from about two or three decent shots I basically gave up. I stopped caring. An odd thing happened over the last three holes. I had my three longest and straightest drives. Isn't it amazing how, when you relax and let go things really kind of come together? It is true in sports. It is even more true in life.

If you are feeling stressed, struggling with something or other give this a try: stop trying to control the situation and let go of it. Give it over to God, listen for God's voice, and see what happens. I bet you just might be surprised by how things get better.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lesson from the Exercise Bike

I don't normally listen to country music. It's not so much that I don't like it, I just don't think of tuning in to those stations when I'm in a car that has a radio (my radio stopped working about 4 years ago now on my way home from internship and now this past summer even the CD player has stopped working from my battery going low... long story). For some reason when I was at the health club this past weekend I decided to tune in to the country music channel. I was struck by a song that blatantly said, "I want everything." (Although, now that I'm a couple of days removed I probably have the exact line incorrect.)

"That's bold," I thought. Then, again isn't that pretty close to what most of us are thinking? I didn't catch all of the words of the song, but the singer wanted not just stuff but to try and "do" everything as well. Most certainly, I think, the song was a snapshot of our society today.

No more than two songs later came a gentleman singing about having faith is just enough. He pointed to things like Noah and his faith allowing him to survive the flood. Isn't this quite true as well?

I found the contrast and the timing of these songs very striking. I'm guessing the person who programmed in the sequence of the songs did so unwittingly. However, I think it was beautiful. Here, in song, was named our problem and our solution. Our selfishness and greed lead us to want everything, to believe that we might even deserve it all. Yet ALL that we need is God, is faith.... Maybe I should work out a little more often.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Bible is "Alive"

Bishop Skrenes from the Northern Great Lakes Synod writes in a recent book review of "God's Continent":

Martin Luther wrote centuries ago, “The Bible is alive—it has hands and grabs hold of me, it has feet and runs after me.” The scandal of the Church that bears Luther’s name in 21st century America is that its members do not take seriously the Scriptures. The average Lutheran spends more time in our “checkbooks” than we do with the Word of God. Bible study in our churches reaches 1-2% of our members. Daily Bible reading is not common in our American congregations. Pastors report to me only minimal interest in adult studies of God’s Word. Perhaps, the people of God’s Church in the Global South are challenging us to find our roots again in the Word of God. We need to be challenged!

When is the last time you allowed the Bible to grab hold of you? Do you spend more time worrying about your checkbook or the word of God?

How about as a congregation? What a challenge that is to us. I bet if we did an analysis of recent council meetings we would see that we spent more time wrestling with the budget than the Bible.

I think we have officially been challenged!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Cost of Convenience

Something has been nagging at me for a while now. How has Christianity become a faith of convenience? Read the assigned Gospel reading from Luke 14 and then come back and I'll share a little more...

What did you read there? Did you see anything that would suggest follow Jesus would be easy? Give away everything... take up your cross... It's a call to discipleship that appears to call for sacrifice and probably comes with a side dish of passion (at least I would think to be able to show such compassion so as to sacrifice on that level).

Now take a look at your average mainline (i.e Lutheran, Methodist, etc.) congregation and what do you see? Take a look at your congregation and what do you see? Sacrifice? Passion? I see a lot of people showing up when it's convenient or what it serves their needs or desires. How did things get so turned around?

As followers of Christ we are asked to take up our cross. Yes, there is suffering in the world, but that isn't necessarily your cross. Recent floods have decimated portions of Southern Minnesota. The floods discriminated equally amongst Christians and non-Christians. The floods are not necessarily their cross, nor were they God's judgment (at least I can't imagine so). To take up your cross means sacrificing and entering into the suffering with someone or on behalf (for the sake of) someone else. That, if you ask me, is a HUGE cost.

To be propelled by faith to enter into such suffering is not, in my mind, convenient in any way whatsoever. How did things get so turned around? How do we turn the ship back around again? How do we recover that radical sense of mission to the world? How do we instill that kind of passion to bring the Good News of Jesus to all the world, no matter what the cost?

What is faith of convenience actually costing us? Is it our lives?

Listening

Some might say that listening is easy. I think good listening is hard work. Listening can also be rewarding. To listen, really listen, one needs to listen beyond the words. So, in some ways, it is a little easier to do when someone is sharing about the death of a loved one. We recognize the pain, grief, and other emotions that come along side such sharing. We can listen deeply, we can empathize and we can know the rewards of allowing that person to share.

What about listening when what is being shared appears to be critical of you or something you are a part of? I believe a good leader is one who allows space for people to voice their criticism so that learning and growth can happen. As a leader you are often stuck looking to the future and can easily lose sight of the present.

My confession? I want to listen like this, but I don't think I do all so well. I need to hear the critique so I can grow, but when it comes it is easy to become defensive. I know that if I listen beyond the words I will hear a heartfelt desire to help bring improvement, a desire to help the greater good, but I hear attacks and fight back. How do you calmly listen as someone tells you that something you have poured your heart into has not gone as well as you had thought?

Listening is hard. Listening is necessary. Listening is rewarding. Listening is something I'm going to work on.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

New Routines

Here are some potential new steps for the Lawn Chair Brigade... We may need to start practices soon, though.


Biblical Enthusiasm

Below is an excerpt from a soon to be published book, "Reclaiming the 'E' Word". I commend to you the exercise of taking the Bible seriously and asking the questions at the end of this section. It is true that as we engage with the Bible we are encountering God, that Christ has a way of showing up.

Likewise, I believe a lack of enthusiasm for the Biblical story is one of the reasons so many mainline congregations today are floundering. It isn’t just that so often Bible studies are poorly attended or that our meeting “opening devotions” are so anemic. It’s that too few people think in terms of the Biblical stories. They haven’t developed a habit of using the Biblical stories as a lens for understanding their own lives and contexts. And what’s frustrating is that, really, it just wouldn’t take that much effort. I’ve seen congregations come alive because the church council agreed to begin spending half of their time together listening for God’s voice through the Biblical story. I can’t say enough about the power of three simple questions: 1) What do you see God doing in this story?, 2) What do you hear God saying to you, personally, in this story?, 3) What do you hear God saying to us, as a congregation, in this story? I have seen people come alive because they have been courageous enough to dive into the Bible, asking questions like this.

(c) Kelly Fryer, 2007. All rights reserved.

Close to Home

This morning as I was reading a devotional the topic was about loving your wife. Funny how the timing of these things work. Just this morning before coming into the office Dawn and I had a little misunderstanding, a miscommunication, where the end result was that I wasn't very loving. This morning's reminder cut awful close to the heart.

Here is my challenge, though. I grew up in Minnesota, Lutheran, and with Scandinavian heritage. In many ways I embody the stereo-types that come with this sort of background. Oh, I can empathize with the best of them, but showing my very own feelings doesn't come easily. I can relate to the story of Lena on her 50th wedding anniversary saying to her husband Ole, "I wish you would say 'I love you' more often." To which Ole replied, "I said, 'I love you' on our wedding day. I'll let you know when that changes."

So how do you show love without being gushy, lovey-dovey? How do you show you love your spouse? Your family?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Motivation? Part 2

Here is another way of looking at our motivation for doing things as a "church". They are tough questions, ones that need a little wrestling.

Why DO you feel compelled to share the good news about what God is up to? What DO you think will happen in the world and in the lives of people if you share it? What is God's DREAM for us and for creation? What DOES it mean for us to participate in God's mission to make that dream come true? And how are your answers to these questions consistent with what you believe to be true about God, Jesus, the world, heaven, hell, your neighbor, yourself?

If we're not willing to do this basic, hard, theological work...then we might as well roll down our sleeves and go home.

These questions come from Kelly Fryer. If you want to read the rest of her post, you can do so here. Just as Kelly offers, I would like to invite you to wrestle with these questions as well... even here in the comment section if you'd like.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Motivation?

Recently at our executive committee and church council meetings we have talked about how we might get more people involved in our congregation, in our various programs. I kind of like that, but I wonder if we have gone far enough in examining our true motivation. What I see is an effort to bring more people in to fill up the offering plates to bring us out of debt and therefore we can continue to sustain the institution. Shouldn't there be something more? It is true that if we remove the cloud of debt from over us we will be more free to do ministry, but will that cloud ever be totally gone?

I believe our focus should be on ministry. I believe our motivation for something like getting more people involved should be for the sake of more people getting learn of God's saving grace and incredible love and forgiveness... for the sake of introducing people to Jesus, for nurturing a lasting relationship with our Lord. How different might our efforts look if that was our motivation? How different might our results turn out?

What is the purpose of our congregation (and the larger church really)? Is it to perpetuate ourselves our is it to be a conduit through which God works to touch and change peoples lives?

Hospitality

On our youth mission trips I asked the question at the end of each day, "Where did you see Jesus today?" I learned today that this question has a longer standing history than I realized. I thought I was being clever. Today I learned that the Benedictines (an order of Monks known for hospitality) suggest that at the end of each day we are faced with two questions, "Did we see Christ in other people? Did they see Christ in us?" The second question ramps things up a notch.

While our gospel reading for Sunday appears to be about our role as guests the second reading from Hebrews challenges our sense of hospitality. Be a good host, we just may be entertaining angels... and probably are. When we have guests over do we great them at the door? Do we welcome them into our homes? Perhaps we'll serve them a drink or an appetizer, but then do we give them our undivided attention? In a world of cell phones, e-mail, texting and the glorification of multi-tasking what a precious gift of hospitality and undivided attention can be. I might even suggest a gift from God.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

WWJD

Do you remember those bracelets from about 10 years ago now? You know the ones that read W.W.J.D.? It stood for "What Would Jesus Do?" They grew out of a youth group in Michigan reading the book, "In His Steps" by Charles Sheldon. As it grew in popularity people began to mock it by changing it to things like, "Why Waste Jelly Donuts?" or "Why Waste Jack Daniels?" For a brief time there grew to be F.R.O.G. (Fully Rely On God) bracelets, but those were short lived.

In my more cynical times those kinds of things drive me crazy. These "trinkets" over simplify and even cheapen our faith. Yet, I'll admit I wore a WWJD bracelet. I had similar thoughts as the "LiveSTRONG" yellow bracelets first became popular. Yet, then I bought one to serve as a reminder to pray for my friends who were battling cancer at that time. I still wear it to remind me to pray for those people, as well as the new people on my list who struggle with cancer.

Maybe these "trinkets" aren't all so bad. I suppose we all need those reminders that encourage us to continue to live our our faith. What do you have around that helps you? Is it a calendar? A plaque with a Bible verse? Something else? If you don't have something around that helps you on a daily basis I would encourage you to find one. If you do have something, why don't you share it with the rest of us... it just might be the kind of thing we need ourselves as well.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Potter Thoughts

I just finished reading the newest Harry Potter book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." There were a couple of things that struck me towards the end of the book. So if you haven't read it and plan to wait to read this post later in case I accidentally give something away.

The first is a quote from Dumbledore, best known as the headmaster of Hogwarts (the magical school that Harry & friends attend). In the course of some dialog he says, "It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well." I think that this is a curious and perhaps very true thing. Is power and leadership best suited for those who seek it? There is a fine line, I suppose, between willing leadership and aggressively seeking it. However, I see the danger that is pointed out in the quote, that someone who aggressively seeks power is one much more likely to abuse it. Which kind of makes me wonder about this whole process of electing a president. Look how aggressively they are forced to seek it. What is the likelihood of someone to be attempted to then try and abuse that power?

Second, I wonder if we can draw an analogy between Harry Potter and the story of Jesus Oh, I know, it's not exactly the same, but might there be a glimpse of something that can help us understand? Towards in the end of the book we discover that a part of the soul of Lord Voldemort (the very dark, evil wizard through all of the stories) has become attached to Harry. Consequently for Voldemort to be killed Harry must be killed as well. It is for the love of his friends that Harry must sacrifice himself to save them. It is back to where the story begins, in many ways, where Harry's mother dies protecting her son so that he might live. In the end it is love which is the greatest force, stronger than any magic. In the end it is this live that leads Harry to be killed, for the sake of others. I think there just might be a hint of gospel understanding.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Risk Taking

Talk about taking a risk for Jesus. Here is a man that really went out on a limb and has taken the challenge to bring Jesus to ALL the world. How many people do you suppose would be willing to take on the pornography industry in such an open minded way? How many pastors would be willing to venture on a "tour" with Ron Jeremy? Below is a clip of the debates on CNN, but please do read the Blog entry linked above:


What Happened?

Yesterday at Bible study with a bunch of other pastors in the area we were talking about our Gospel reading this week from Luke 13, when somebody reminded us of a rather significant point. We were reminded that, "Jesus didn't die because he was a complacent, nice guy." Jesus did stuff. Jesus stirred things up. Jesus lived out His faith in a very radical way. Now, I don't want to suggest that any of us are Jesus, but we follow Him... and Jesus lives through us. So what happened? How is it that church has become so filled with complacent, nice people who don't really want to stir anything up and are afraid to offend people by sharing what they believe? I think Jesus has called us (the church, Christians, etc.) to something more than what we've become. What happened?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Passion

I've recently found myself fully immersed in the newest Harry Potter book. I like the action. I like the mystery. I also really like the passion in which Harry approaches his missions. He knows that his very life depends on him completing his mission. Consequently there is nothing that can stop him from completing the mission at hand.

What are you passionate about? Is it a sport? Your garden? Scrapbooking? Something else? Is there something you just can't imagine your life without?

What if your answer was your faith? What if you just couldn't imagine your life without God's grace? What if you took the attitude that there was nothing that was going to hold you back from sharing that with others who don't have a relationship with Jesus? What if we took this faith thing that seriously... as if our lives depend on it? (because it probably does).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sex Wars

My friend (I hope she doesn't mind me describing her that way) Kelly Fryer is the one that came up with the term for the subject of this post. She has written a few responses to what has happened at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Much of what I've seen written (I'm speaking in general) seem to be about votes taken on the debates about sexuality, or as she described it the "sex wars." I just love that turn of phrase.

Anyway, I appreciated her approach to how we might work through all of this stuff within the ELCA. If I'm understanding Kelly correctly, the bottom line is we need to take an outward, missional approach to these matters. We need to worry more about what those people who don't have a relationship with Jesus than about those people who already have a relationship. I say, "Right on!"

In fact, her list reminded me of a Bible study I attended in Alaska once. Okay, it was actually more of a lecture, but he did talk about the Bible a lot. The speaker was a professor from the Lutheran Seminary in Berkeley, CA. He was talking about Paul's instruction that women not teach in the church. If you look at the context in which Paul was writing, it would have been offensive to people to have women in the pulpit and they would not have heard the gospel. Just as it would be offensive to so many people now to keep women out of the pulpit so we encourage them to step up and proclaim God's word lest people would stop hearing the Gospel.

Would it not be logical to look at GBLT in the pulpit in a similar way? Might there be places where it would be offensive to be in the pulpit? Then don't have them preach. Might there also be places where it would be offensive to keep them out of the pulpit? Then by all means preach away. What if we worked for the rights (something all of us should be able to understand) of those in the GBLT communities? What if we fought on on their behalf to the point where they were accepted as equals every where in this country?

I know this might be kind of a radical point of view for some... but wasn't Jesus kind of a radical person? Do we believe that Jesus died for everyone or just a select few (that just so happens to include ourselves)?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What Do You Believe?

One of my favorite shows is Boston Legal. It's often quite ridiculous, but that's part of the fun and charm. Here are a couple of clips that beg the question, "What do you believe?" and "Who are you?"

It's All About Me

I came across this video the other day. It is pretty darn funny. It is also a little sad. It's funny because it's true. It's a little sad because it's not all so far from the truth. What motivates you to attend worship? Are you in it for what you get out of it? Or is it about giving something to God in thanks for God's amazing, incredible goodness... for what God has done in your life?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Step Out

One great movie scene comes from Indiana Jones as he is following his quest to find the Holy Grail. He has made it across various traps, and has he comes to the opening of the tunnel it drops off seemingly for thousands of feet. His notes suggest there should be a bridge there, he just has to step out in faith. He does and the bridge is there, it was just extremely well camouflaged.

This past Sunday our readings led us to Abraham. Hebrews 11 said he stepped out in faith. God told Abraham and his wife Sarah to take a leap of faith and to head out to this new land that God had promised. They did that and they found themselves quite blessed in the end. Can you imagine, though, how scary that must have been?

Where is God asking you to take a leap of faith? Are you being challenged to work with someone who is difficult for you to work with? Are you being asked to help with a ministry you had not considered before? Do you need to cut down on work and spend more time with your family or at worship? It is scary, but know that God does take the journey with you.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mine

This past Sunday we read from the beginning of Hebrews 11. Read on in the chapter a little more. I was rather struck by verse 36.

Imagine receiving a note from the bank that reads something like: "Mr. Smith thank you for your business. We will make every effort to treat your money as if it is our own. Thank you for entrusting us to this task." That sounds pretty good, right? Yet that's not quite good enough. Wouldn't you rather they treat it as if it is your money, that they remember that fact? I don't know about you, but I have tendency to treat other people's stuff a little nicer than my own.

In part, I think that is the reminder we are being given in Hebrews 11:36. All that we have is actually God's. We should remember that and treat it as such.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

No Fear

One of the real treats of being married to someone about to be a pastor is that you get to listen to them preach every now and again. When you are married to the preacher, let me tell you, you begin to hear things differently. I was blessed with that just last night.

The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday is from Luke 12, and in there Jesus says, "Have no fear little flock." He then goes on to tell us to give everything away. Seemingly these things just did not fit together in my head... until last night. I began to see that because we have so much "stuff" our lives are filled with fear. We selfishly believe that this "stuff" is ours and we deserve to have it. First of all it all came from God in the first place so we are just borrowing it for a while. Second of all, I don't have a second point because I think that just about covers it. You see this sense of possessing includes friends and family, who also were given to us by God.

So it seems that Jesus telling us not to fear and to give our "stuff" away is a twofold deal. First it is a reminder that these "things" are not really ours and they really are just temporary. Second, by giving away our "stuff" we no longer have much left to fret over. So giving our "stuff" away is really a step towards not fearing.

What are you being called to give away today?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Lesson from My Lawn

You wouldn't willingly expose yourself to lots of radiation, would you? Then why do we so willingly expose ourselves to sin?

Those people who know me personally know that I have a fondness to being irreverent. Oh, I'm not always brave enough to be that way as often as I would desire, but it brews underneath the surface most of the time. It's actually been kind of trendy to be irreverent in recent years (note the success of shows like, "The Simpson's"). Last night I got to wondering, at what point does irreverence lead to irrelevant?

It was my lawn that got me to see this. I was noticing that parts of my lawn are lush and green, while others are brown and dying. Where the grass is thriving is where there is a nice balance of trees and grass. I got to thinking it was a bit of an irreverent acts years ago that someone decided to grow grass where nature might not normally grow it, and they called it a lawn. My lawn might suggest that if we had left the trees around growing as they were intended instead of yanking them out for our yard we might have lots of lush grass. Instead in a irreverent act those trees were removed and now (in a sense) the grass has become irrelevant as it lies there brown and suffering.

I suppose that's true in our lives. How much can we rail against the established norms before we become an irrelevant voices droning on in the background? How long can we walk that path which exposes us to sin before we give in and begin to live embracing the sin ourselves?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Stretching

Reading my devotions today the author talked about the physical therapy that she went through following knee surgery. It was often painful. If you any of you have gone through something similar you know exactly what she's talking about. Sometimes in life God stretches us. It's not always "fun" and even hurts a little. However, in the end we are made stronger. Perhaps God is stretching you by encouraging you to get involved in a ministry you had never imagined being a apart of. Perhaps God is stretching you by encouraging you to give an offering that you believe to be an outrageous amount of money. Perhaps God is stretching you by encouraging you to give up some the "things" of this world and to focus more on Godly things. Where is God stretching you today? Go ahead and embrace the stretch. It's probably going to hurt in the short term, but it will be good in the long run.

Perspective

Whatever happened to perspective? Especially from the television media? I know that this I-35W bridge collapse was a scary and tragic event. However, how might it look if we put it in perspective with the larger world and in the context of history?

Last Thursday Dawn's congregation got a phone call from one of the local television stations asking if they were going to have a prayer service for the bridge collapse. When they said that they were not having a special service, but they would certainly be holding them in prayer, they were asked why not? It was almost implied that they were heartless and unconcerned. Why would they have a special service? We live over an hours drive away from the tragedy and nobody that I know of died in the collapse, therefore nobody from their congregation. If God hears our prayers, isn't their response enough?

Last night we started watching the news broadcast from the Twin Cities. It was now four days after the tragic collapse of the bridge. We had to turn it off because every single story was still only about the bridge, four days later. It was a horrible event. Has nothing else happened in the world since last Wednesday? You wouldn't know it by watching the Twin Cities news broadcasts. The last I heard there were 5 people who had died and 8 are missing, most likely dead. That is a very sad thing. However, how many other things have happened over the past year where that many people, or more, have died? Have we given them the same sort of coverage?

Whatever happened to reality? What happened to putting these kinds of things into perspective?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Bridge

Last night as we wrapped up worship at Our Savior's Lutheran somebody announced that they had gotten a call from his brother and told him that a bridge on 35W collapsed over the river in Minneapolis. Naturally, after we prayed, we all began to speculate where that might be and if it might be one of the other bridges in that area.

We went home and it was confirmed. Then it started to sink in. These were real people, real lives rocked to the core by this tragic accident. How many times have I driven over that bridge? (Hundreds, I'm sure) How easily could that have been me? It is different when these things hit so close to home... when they hit "my" people.

What can you do? What can you say? Honestly... I don't know. I know we can pray. Sometimes that doesn't feel like enough, yet no matter the situation that is the most powerful tool in our arsenal. It is in prayer that God will begin to repair the bridge. Perhaps we will not see God physically raise that bridge from its rubble (although I have no doubts that God could if God wanted to), but God will repair those bridges between heart and God that were cracked when that bridge fell. Then maybe... maybe we begin to find comfort in remembering that God walks along side of us in these times of tragedy... He walks with ALL of us.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Boundaries

I came across a new devotional today by a man named Jim Seybert. It's a daily devotional built around principals of leadership. It's not been published yet, but I came across an offer where you could download the book for free. Now there's a great deal. Skimming over it a bit, I think I'm going to like it.

Today, Jim talked about boundaries. He challenged the reader to imagine tennis without the lines. The players would be running around like a bunch of clowns at a circus, or like characters in a Monty Python sketch. There wouldn't be great shots that graze the line nor anything for John McEnroe to ramble on about. It's the lines, the boundaries, that make the game work. It's true in life as well, isn't it? Often times as parents or adults these days we're hesitant to give kids/youth boundaries, but they are craving them. We are slow to put up certain boundaries like with our time, or perhaps our neighbors or co-workers. Yet God set up boundaries from the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, "Go ahead and enjoy the Garden," God said, "just don't eat of this here particular tree." God gave clear boundaries. Yet notice that God also gave them freedom within those boundaries. Have you clearly defined and communicated the boundaries in your life? Have you then given people the freedom to act within those boundaries? Now there is some leadership... and lesson perhaps I still need to learn.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Who's Pulling?

It's summer and that often brings me to longing again for the summer I spent in Minocqua, WI. That was an awesome summer. I preached at three different campgrounds on Sunday morning and most of the rest of the week was spent reading by the lakeside or water skiing. What more could a person ask for, really? That summer I skied a lot, and helped a number of people learn how to ski. One of the key pieces of advice was always, let the boat do the work and pull you up.

Isn't that good advice for life as well?

God is my helper. —Psalm 54:4

Do you ever hit those rough patches of life and find yourself just fighting to pull yourself up? What if, instead of trying to pull yourself up, you let God do the work and pull you up? What might that look like? What kind of difference might that make?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Night

Last night I attended dinner and worship at Our Savior's Lutheran in Rochester. While sitting around dinner we talked to three different families that were touched by death this past week. It was a tough week around there this past week. There was a glimpse of darkness as we spoke of these deaths. At the same time these were some people of great faith, so there was also a feeling and a sense of hope. Isn't it amazing how faith can sustain us in our moments of darkness?

I might be a little strange, but I love the lament psalms. I just like what I would call their gritty grasp of reality. They voice their complaints and hurts to God, but it seems they always come around to praising God. When it gets down to it what else do we need besides God? They have incredible points of complex reality like in Psalm 42 when it's believed David was writing in the darkness of his life, "The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me—a prayer to the God of my life"

When darkness strikes your life and it feels like night, know that God's song is with you... a prayer when you have no words.

Have to?

Yesterday, I wrote about "doing" faith and I think it is important to live out our faith. However, I feel compelled to clarify something. After attending Camp Victory this past summer I've heard a few different students share things like, "I have to ask God to be a part of my life." Really? Did God leave you some time after your baptism and now God needs an invitation to return? That's not how I understand God to operate.

I think places like Camp Victory are doing some great ministry. I just have some concerns with their theology and how it differs from our Lutheran understanding. When you get into what we call "decision theology" I think we begin a step toward a dangerous theology. When we say things like, "You have to ask God into your life" that is putting the power of salvation into the hands of humans. That is to say that salvation is dependent on the act of humans. Our Lutheran theology teaches us that it is God alone that does the saving, primarily through that one gracious act some 2,000 years ago.

My concern then is that when I write things about "doing" faith it gets similarly misconstrued. It becomes easy to start thinking I have to do these things, with an unspoken reason for salvation. We don't live out our faith and serve others as part of a requirement to gain salvation because that puts us right back in the trap of being in control of our salvation. Instead we live out our faith and serve others as a response to our salvation, because God has given us this gracious gift despite ourselves.

These are, in many ways, subtle differences in understanding faith and theology. However, I also believe they are important differences. They are why I am proud to claim a Lutheran heritage and understanding of theology (even if I don't totally understand all of theology... it's complicated).

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

doing

The devotional I read today was based on James 1, where the author encourages us to "do" the faith. You've heard people talking about and asking things like, "You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?" I think that's one of the great beauties of going on these mission trips with youth, you get to see the youth living out their faith. They are "doing" their faith, and it is amazing to watch. It's even more fun because often they struggle to try and articulate their faith, they just don't feel even slightly comfortable with the words. Sometimes they don't even recognize the faith that lies within them. Then we send them out to serve and you can't help but see their faith hanging out on their sleeve as they simply live it.

So how are you "doing" faith today? How are you living out your faith? Or is it just something that sounds good in theory and is left for discussions on Sunday morning in the sanctuary?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

On Our Way Again

Sadly, Dawn is still not back from New York yet, but I'm sure she'll be happy to be in her own bed tomorrow night. It just won't be soon enough to cross paths. We leave early tomorrow morning with seven amazing Jr. High students for Rapid City, SD. Please do keep all of us in your prayers this week... and I'll be back here sometime after we return.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Affluenza

The devotion I read today was about our human tendency to focus on the material things of this world. In fact, our obsession with wealth in this society could easily be a sickness we called "affluenza", and in fact, I do believe some have started calling our condition just that. As I prepare to leave on Sunday for Rapid City with our Jr. High youth for another mission trip, and with our last one still fresh in my mind, I realize one of the real gifts of these trips is that they remind us of this condition, of how we focus on the material things of the world. It's funny how we do that, even though we really do know that they just don't matter in the long term... At least in terms of spiritual matters and salvation, which seem a bit more important... I think.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Seeing is Believing

We've all heard the phrase, "Seeing is believing." Perhaps we've uttered before, "I'll believe that when I see it." We like to have visual proof in our lives, don't we? I think it's true when it comes to our faith as well. In those times of questioning or wonder we think things like, "If only I could get a 'clear' sign from God." I know I've prayed for a direct phone call or e-mail from God so that I would know what God desired of me.

I wonder, though, if God did give us a "clear" sign, would we recognize it? How many people witnessed Jesus feed 5,000 people or heal a leper and still didn't believe? Would you believe it? I would like to think I would, but I wonder if that is reality or just wishful thinking.

Yesterday, we buried one of the saints of our congregation. Harold was a witness to God's love, peace, patience, and grace. In many ways how God worked through his life was a "clear" sign of God's presence in our lives. Did it help to build up our faith? It did mine. Maybe seeing is believing...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Different Somehow

Dawn left for New York City yesterday morning. She is going there with her church on a high school mission trip, like we went on to West Virginia. It's only been a day, but things are different somehow around the house without her.

At the end of last week a beloved member of our congregation, Harold, died. It's only been a couple of days, but things are different somehow around church without him and his smile that could warm even the coldest of rooms.

I know both of them are currently in God's hands, but it sure doesn't change the fact that things just don't feel "right" and that I miss them dearly. I trust the reunions will be wonderful.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Back

Well, I'm back from our Sr. High Mission Trip to Logan, WV. It was a busy week of serving that left me exhausted and with a lovely case of poison ivy (or something similar). So it hit me when the devotion from Our Daily Bead was the story about Mary and Martha.

Here we had spent an entire week working and serving. Then I read the devotion that starts with the story of the mayor of a small town who decided not to mow his lawn any longer because there were more important things. I think that can be the danger when we enter into service ministry, we get caught up in doing and lose site of the reason for serving. I think we did a job of keeping a balance of things last week. We served, but we also sat at the feet of Jesus.

I think that mayor had a point that there are more important things in life than mowing the lawn. I don't think I'm ready to go that far, I'll still tend to our lawn, but first I'll try and remember to sit at the feet of Jesus.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Off

Isn't it funny how life can appear to be going so well, but then there is just one little trigger that opens up a Pandora's Box of things that were bothering you that you didn't even realize. For example, life has been going swimmingly. Then, this morning, I hopped in the car to head in to church and all I heard was click-click-click-click-click. Great! The car won't start! Somehow that opened up the floodgates to feeling every last ounce of stress that is currently somewhere in my life all at the same time. Now there is this foreboding feeling that today just might not be the best of days. We'll have to see how that goes and judge later. It just just seem like a great way to start off the day, it kind of makes everything feel a little "off."

Speaking of cars & off, remember, we're leaving on our mission trip on Saturday morning. Your prayers are greatly appreciated. This is also a reminder that I probably won't be posting much until sometime in July.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Identity

Why do we wrap up our identity so much in what we do? I think when we do that we devalue who we are, who God has created us to be. I ask the question because I know that I am terribly guilty of this.

For example, last Saturday was Grandma's Marathon and I found a part of me feeling kind of weird because I wasn't running. I think in part because I've defined myself as a runner, as a marathoner even, and yet I haven't hardly run a step in almost nine months. If I don't run who am I?

I do it in other places as well. I do it in ministry as well. Because I define myself as a pastor I find myself measuring myself against other pastors and ministers. How well I do ministry in comparison has a way of defining how "good" I am as a person.

Now, I don't share these examples as a plea for others to tell me what a great person I am. Instead I share them because I have a hunch others act in a similar way and have seen the destructive nature of it, or maybe need to see the destructive nature of that thinking. I share them to ask the question of, "How do you break free from that kind of thinking?"

Monday, June 18, 2007

Pray

We leave soon on our mission trip to Logan, WV, Saturday morning actually. It should be a great adventure, but we need your help still. Please start to pray for the trip now, and keep praying throughout our trip until we return late in the afternoon on July 1. You can pray for safety, for lives to be changed, or just plain pray!

The students attending are: Megan, Natalie, Dani, Laura, Abby, Jenny, Katie, and Emily
The adults attending are: Jane, Ken, and myself.

ALL of your prayers for this trip are VERY MUCH appreciated. If you are a member of Christ Lutheran who is reading this please know that we will be sharing about BOTH of our mission trips this summer on Sunday, July 29, so please come and join us that morning.