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


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?


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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.