Saturday, November 21, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ministry Musings: Fired Up

This past week the adult education class on Sunday morning started to study the book of Acts. It is the story of what happened after Jesus ascended into Heaven and the Holy Spirit showed up in His place. It’s filled with some crazy stories. It is the story of the beginning of what we know as the church. It is filled with wild stories.

This past Sunday they started with Acts 2. If you haven’t read it lately I encourage you stop right here and read it, then come back. Am I wrong or is that wild, chaotic scene? There was a great wind, tongues of fire, preaching in all the languages of the world (by people who didn’t know those languages), and some 3,000 people were baptized. Think about for that many to be baptized there must have been friends baptizing each other, parents baptizing their kids… and that many people all in one place? This was not orderly. However, as I read it I sense and feel a great energy and enthusiasm present in that place.

Last year at this time we were wrapping up what many are calling an historic election. One of the things that carried the election was an enthusiasm that followed along with President Obama. Do you remember his mantra? (He recently brought it back in regards to health care.) He would get the crowds at his rallies chanting after him, “Fired Up! Ready to Go!” Can you imagine being in one of those stadiums with 17,000 people enthusiastically chanting that? You couldn’t help but leave there energized. It’s the kind of energy and enthusiasm that I could imagine being present on that Pentecost day in Acts 2.

What keeps us from that kind of enthusiasm when it comes to our faith? What would it take to get you/us “Fired Up! Ready to go!”? How might the world around us be different if we were so moved by the Holy Spirit that we could no longer contain ourselves?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


How might you see this playing out in your setting? In the church?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Ministry Musings: Stewardship

My son turns one year old today. It’s amazing how quickly a year can pass by. We are so excited by what a blessing he has been in our life. While he has learned a ton of stuff over this first year of life, one of the things we hope he will learn in this second year is sharing.

Isn’t sharing the essence of what we in the church call stewardship? It starts with the concept that in the beginning God created, therefore all belongs to God. We have been entrusted, then, as caretakers of all of God’s creation from the plants and animals to the gifts and talents we have been given to work and serve others. So in a very simple sense stewardship is about how we share these wonderful gifts given to us by God.

One of the neat biblical concepts that you will hear us talk about from time to time around the church is first fruits giving. It’s the concept that you give your best to God. Farmers will often tell you that the first cut of hay is the best cut of the season. Hunters will tell you that the young animals provide you the best meat. That is first fruits giving, giving that first cut of hay that first born (the young one) to God. First fruit giving is the notion that if you are willing to share with God your very best then you are willing to share everything… and why not if it all comes from God in the first place?

How do you plan to share what God has given you? What are you doing to care the earth? How are you being wise about sharing your finances? How might you share your gifts for listening, building, etc. for the betterment of God’s children?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ministry Musings: Size Matters (2)

It’s funny how when you’re in the church business you so often here things about how numbers don’t mean much, but one of the first questions pastors like to ask each other is how big is your church? How many do you worship? I want to agree that size doesn’t matter, but I’m afraid that on a certain level it kind of does.

Membership size probably doesn’t mean a whole lot since different congregations count membership in many different ways. A more accurate comparison perhaps is worship attendance because that gives an indication of how many are actively involved on a weekly basis. Still, how much does that mean? If you live in a growing suburb like Cottage Grove you have more people to draw from than an unincorporated town like Rome. At the same time worship attendance speaks perhaps to the width but not so much to the depth of the ministry.

Where I think size does matter is in measuring growth. A church is an organization, which comes from the same root word as organism. The church is a living community. That, to me, means that if you are not growing you are dying. Jesus came so that we might have life and have it abundantly. Therefore we need to be looking for signs of life: Growth in the number of people participating in worship and other ministries of the church; Growth in the depth of faith through prayer, Bible study, and service to others; Growth in the number of people empowered to take on ministry leadership; or Growth in excitement for sharing the Good News of Jesus among signs. Of course, none of these are easily measured, but I suspect you recognize these signs of life in a congregation when you see them.

Where do you see our congregation growing? Where do you see signs of life? How are you contributing to the life and growth of the kingdom of God?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Mark 6, Evangelism, and Play

Looking at Sunday's gospel reading from Mark 6, I see a call to evangelism. Using Jesus' sending the disciples as a model for evangelism you might simplify it to say, "Go with a friend and make a friend." It then seems to me we most often make friends through play (whatever form that might be).... which connects to something I read more recently about "seeker" services. How often are people really "seeking" Jesus intentionally? However, we know we have a savior who intentionally seeks us. Perhaps our roll then is to play. When we play we are much more likely to invite people to come and play with us. (As a kid did you ever knock on the neighbors door and ask them to come out and work? You did ask them to come out and play.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ministry Musings: Size Matters

One of the reasons I love being Lutheran is our embrace of the priesthood of all believers, that notion that all of us are called to minister to our neighbor. In the church, ministry isn’t just done by the paid professionals (i.e. the pastor), but by all of us. Unfortunately, over time the church has abdicated the responsibility for ministry to the pastor, and in some occasions to lay staff. We see this especially when a congregation grows.

Experts who study how congregations function tell us that worshipping size of a congregation dramatically effects how a congregation needs to function. One of those dividing points comes around 150 people in worship, right about what we are averaging. Generally speaking the biggest changes as a worshipping community becomes a large congregation are the addition of staff to keep up with the changes and the shift in the pastors responsibilities to be more administrative.

What this means is that as a congregation grows a pastor will spend more time training and supervising ministry and less time doing hands on ministry. You can imagine the objections that arise as this happens (i.e. less personal time with the pastor, etc.). You may have raised them yourself. This can certainly be the downside of growth.

On the other hand this can be a real blessing that comes out of growth. To keep ministry happening more people are forced to get involved leading ministry that they were called to because they can no longer sit on the sidelines and wait for “pastor” to do it.

As we strive to grow as a worshiping community of Christ where are you getting involved with your call to ministry?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Don't Eat the Marshmellow

Where do you need to work on delaying gratification? Where have seeds been planted and you need to wait for God to grow the seeds yet for the harvest?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Changing the Conversation

At a recent church council meetings we've been talking about changing the entire culture of our congregation. We need to work on developing an atmosphere where we all realize that we live out our faith on a daily basis and don't just turn it over to the pastor and a few, select church leaders. We need to work on creating a climate where people are excited about their faith and willing to talk about it.

During one of these conversations I floated the idea of approaching conversations with friends just slightly. Instead of asking people how their week was why not ask something like, "Where was God at work in your life this week?" Instead of asking what they have coming up this week why not ask something like, "How can I be praying for you this week?" I wonder what difference it might make if we all starting asking such questions. It seems to me, by shifting the focus of the question we are reminded of the presence of God in our daily life and it can serve as a reminder of faith being lived out on a daily basis and not just on Sunday. Perhaps we should try and experiment.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Line of Vision

Those of you who have been around me recently know that I think my son is the most amazing child ever. However, from time to time I find myself wishing he would look up at me more. It seems looking down is a lot more exciting. I think it's because he can see himself, see what he's propped up on, and far more likely to find something he can grab and shove in his mouth. I think it's interesting that this is our natural instinct (including shoving our foot in our mouth) for most of us as babies.

As we were sitting out on the grass the other day and I was trying to get his attention it struck me that spiritually we are often the same way. We focus down on ourselves, where we are at or where we have been, and looking around for things we can get our hands on. Meanwhile we could change our line of vision and look up into the face of our heavenly father. I wonder why we don't do that more? I think I need to remember to give that a try.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Worship Attendance

We recently got to talking about worship attendance around here. It was noted that part of the struggle is that we lead such terribly busy lives that we desire down time. Often, that means in the summer we sleep in or spend time away at the cabin. I think I can totally understand that.

However, I think I have a slightly different perspective. First of all, I wonder why worship can't be that time of recharge for people who live these busy lives? Isn't there something about standing in the presence of God that fills one with life? Secondly, and related to that I think, is something that developed for me in college. I was fortunate to go to a school where we had daily chapel. I was there just about every day. From what I can remember the preaching wasn't always top of the line. It never really is, is it? Yet on those days when the sermon wasn't perhaps as inspiring as others I didn't view it as a waste of time. At the very least I got to pause in my day read the Bible, focus on the cross, and join together in prayer. On a weekly basis here we also add the Lord's Supper. So on those weeks when the sermons don't inspire or the hymns don't soar, there are still plenty of good reasons to be in worship.

Thursday, June 04, 2009


The other night we were watching a rerun of "Friends" and there was an interesting debate that arose. Joey suggested that there was no truly selfless good deed, only selfish. Phoebe spent the episode trying to prove him wrong by attempting to do something completely selfless. The defining argument was that when you do a good deed you feel good about yourself having done it and therefore it is not selfless, but selfish.

Now, I don't totally agree with that argument, but it is interesting to note how self-centered we tend to be in our giving. How quick are we to get receipts for our donations so we can write them off on our taxes? It is incredible to watch how important it is for families to have memorial moneys go to something specific that can have the family name on it. What ever happened to giving it to the church and allowing the leadership to decide how to best use the money to make ministry happen?

The problem develops, then, that our memories get tied up in the stuff. You see it on the organization shows on HGTV, TLC, etc. You see it in the church when it comes time to make changes to the physical space and it effects the light, window, or other item given in memory of Grandma Myrtle. Which brings it back to being about what the individual wants for what they gave...a self-centered act.

I wonder how we got this way?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Ministry Musings: Hospitality

When was the last time you were new somewhere? What sort of things did you look for? What kind of things were you wondering about? How quickly, and easily, your concerns and questions were addressed went a long ways in determining their hospitality, which probably went a long way in determining whether or not you returned.

We have talked about a desire to grow here at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, which means we are going to hopefully have people visiting for the first time and they will be asking questions on their way here, and as they enter. How easily they find answers will go a long way for them feeling welcome and wanting to return.
I know when I am going places I’m wondering things like: Where am I going to park? Where am I supposed go in? Can I find the bathrooms easily if the need should arise? Will I be warmly welcomed? Will I be able to follow along? How will I know what to do so I can blend in? What are the unspoken rules? Will there be a place for me to take my child to quiet him down or change a diaper?

How are we doing with out hospitality at St. Luke’s? If you are a visitor coming for the first time, showing up as worship is about to start, is there a clear place to park? Is there clear signage as to where to enter and where to find things around the facility? What are our unspoken rules about where people sit, how we take communion, how we interact, etc? How many people introduce themselves to new faces and how many speak only to family and friends? Is there something we could be offering first time visitors, like a gift or a cup of coffee?

Over the course of the summer I encourage you to invite a friend or family member to come as a “spy” and see how we are doing with hospitality. I also invite you to attend a different congregation (perhaps when you’re away on vacation) and make note of what that experience is like as a visitor, making note of things we can do to help welcome the stranger (something Jesus encouraged us to do by the way). It’s amazing how far a little old fashioned hospitality will go.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Yesterday in the sermon I talked about how Jesus saying to Thomas, "Have you believed because you have seen? Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe" begs the question of us today, "What do you believe?" The reading from Acts then also begged the follow-up question of "What difference does it (what you believe) make in your life?"

Now that you've had some time for it to settle in a little, what is it that you believe? What difference does it make in your life? Where do you see your faith lived out in your day to day life? I would to hear some of your thoughts and stories, so please post a comment and we'll see where the discussion might lead.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sunday's Comin'

Some people struggle with calling today "Good Friday" because they want to know what's so good about it? This is a sad day, or sad week, in the church year. I am tempted to say that it's not so much sad as serious, but that's probably a subtle difference that doesn't matter much. However, in regards to what is so "good" about this Friday let me offer the following video clip.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Maundy Thursday

So the word "Maundy" gives us the word, "Mandate" and so today we celebrate this new mandate that Jesus gave us at the Last Supper. This "new" mandate? To love one another. Is that really all so "new?" I am no Biblical expert, but I recall something in Deuteronomy saying, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself." If you ask me, that sounds awful similar, and not exactly "new."

On that same night, Jesus removed his outer robe and got down and washed the feet of the disciples, a humble act of service one would not expect from the Son of God. Only a few short (or long, I suppose depending on your perspective) Jesus was suffering on the cross on our behalf a selfless act of love like no other. If this is the level of love that Jesus was referring to, and I believe He was, then maybe it is a "new" mandate after all.

How will you be celebrating this new mandate, Maundy Thursday, today?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Gift of Worship

Here is a video I came across encouraging our worship to be "genuine," that it be about the object of our worship and not about us. I like the line at the end that invites us to come and gaze and the cross.

I like the sentiment of the clip, but not so much the music included. I found another version here with music I prefer, if you would rather, but I don't know how to embed it in this blog.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Communion Follow-Up

Here is an excellent reminder of the context in which Paul shared the words of institution in his letter to the Corinthians.


On Thursday our readings will lead us back to the night in which Jesus was betrayed and shared, for the first time, what we no know as communion. So this morning I've been thinking about communion. I wonder if we as a church have soiled the practice through our traditions that attempt to keep "good order?" I find it interesting that over the years, because we hold communion in such high estate, we have decided that we need to put stipulations on who is allowed to participate and who is not. The chief deciding factor seems to be a clear understanding. That's why in some denominations you need to be a member of that church or in other denominations you need to be of a certain age so you can take the class to be allowed to participate.

I am sure there is good reason for this, but I also find it somewhat comical. For one, a big dividing point that has created a variety of different denominations is disagreement over the what communion means and what is really happening. When we gather around the table is it just a symbolic act? Is Jesus somehow "magically" appear in the bread and the wine? These are some serious differences, but also differences that brilliant church leaders and theologians have been unable to agree upon. How then can we require people to understand what is happening in communion if we don't even know? Does that mean none of us are eligible until we're dead and can ask God?

I also wonder about this need to understand to participate when I think of the disciples on that night. Do you suppose it all made sense to everyone of them in the moment? I imagine there was a lot more confusion than there was understanding. I can only imagine that as they were out in the garden waiting upon Jesus as he went off and prayed that there were a few whispered, "What the f*@# just happened in there?" between disciples. What makes us think we can understand it all?

Then there is this whole deciding who gets to participate and who doesn't business. How did we become so arrogant? I don't recall Jesus stipulating who was participating nor specific people that He died for in lieu of others. The words I speak each week are, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin." Who, then, are we as a church to limit how "all people" should include?

It just kind of makes me wonder.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Dramatic Ad

What do you think?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ministry Musing: The Cost

Have you ever heard the expression, “You’re going to have to pay for it one way or another?” It holds true for most of life, even ministry. As we talk about our hopes and dreams for ministry we need to keep in mind the other part of that expression, “Nothing in life is free.” Generally speaking, I believe we have to pay for ministry in one of three ways.

The first way we pay for ministry is the obvious money. We need to pay for staff, both those leading the program and the ones supporting the program. Depending on the ministry we may need to pay for supplies and/or space to carry out the ministry. We will need to pay for them either through the church budget or generous donations, either way they will need to be paid for, which leads us to…

The second way we pay for ministry is through our time. If we don’t pay to hire a youth minister then we need people to volunteer their time to lead the youth. If we don’t hire a children’s minister to work with our youngest of children then we need people to volunteer their time to teach the children. Even when we add paid staff to run programs we need to people to volunteer and work with people. We all have our limits of the number of people we connect with and as the ol’ saying goes, “Jesus had a youth group of twelve and apparently that was one too many.” The paid ministry, then, largely becomes the resident expert who can help the volunteers stay up with the latest, most effective ways of doing ministry in their specific areas.

The final way we pay for ministry is the one we pray we might never have to use, it just simply doesn’t happen. If we desire to send a group on a mission trip and we don’t pay for a leader through one of the first two ways then it won’t happen and we pay by not having that experience. If we want to see our youth ministry grow and we don’t hire a youth minister and nobody comes forward to lead then we pay price of not nurturing the faith of our youth.

The choice, really, is ours to make. We want ministry to happen. We want ministry to grow. How will we choose to pay for it?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Quick Update

OK, so I haven't died or anything, I've just gotten swept up in the chaos of Lent. For the sake of my sanity I need to return to a regular practice of updating this Blog. I don't know what others think, but for my sake and for the sake of clearing my head I need to spend a little more time here each day. So I hope, in the days and weeks ahead to be more regular once again with my updates... and hopefully that will make everyone happy.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Natural Highs

I got the following e-mail listing natural highs. I thought there were some good ones. What are your favorites? What might you add to the list?

Falling in love.

2. Laughing so hard your face hurts.

3. A hot shower.

4. No lines at the supermarket.

5. A special glance.

6. Getting mail.

7. Taking a drive on a pretty road.

8. Hearing your favorite song on the radio.

9. Lying in bed listening to the rain outside.

10. Hot towels fresh out of the dryer.

11. Chocolate milkshake (vanilla or strawberry).

12. A bubble bath.

13. Giggling.

15. The beach.

16. Finding a 20 dollar bill in your coat from last winter.

17. Laughing at yourself.

18. Looking into their eyes and knowing they Love you

19. Midnight phone calls that last for hours.

20. Running through sprinklers.

21. Laughing for absolutely no reason at all.

22. Having someone tell you that you're beautiful.

23. Laughing at an inside joke with FRIENDS

24. Accidentally overhearing someone say something nice about you.

25. Waking up and realizing you still have a few hours left to sleep.

26. Your first kiss (either the very first or with a new partner).

27. Making new friends or spending time with old ones.

28. Playing with a new puppy.

29. Having someone play with your hair.

30. Sweet dreams.

31. Hot chocolate.

32. Road trips with friends.

33. Swinging on swings.

34. Making eye contact with a cute stranger.

35. Making chocolate chip cookies

36. Having your friends send you homemade cookies.

37. Holding hands with someone you care about.

38. Running into an old friend and realizing that some things (good or bad) never change.

39. Watching the expression on someone's face as they open a much desired present from you.

40. Watching the sunrise.

41.. Getting out of bed every morning and being grateful for another beautiful day.

42. Knowing that somebody misses you.

43. Getting a hug from someone you care about deeply.

44. Knowing you ' ve done the right thing, no matter what other people think.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You Took My Place

I came across the following story as I was preparing for my sermon this week....

There is a story about a man who visited a church. He parked his car and started toward the front entrance. Another car pulled up nearby, and the irritated driver said to him, "I always park there. You took my place!" The visitor went inside and found that Sunday School was about to begin. He found an adult class, went inside, and sat down. A class member approached him and said, "That's my seat! You took my place!" The visitor was somewhat distressed by this rude welcome, but said nothing. After Sunday School, the visitor went into the sanctuary and sat down in an empty pew. Within moments another member walked up to him and said, "That's where I always sit. You took my place!" The visitor was troubled, but said nothing. Later, as the congregation was praying for Christ to be present with them, the visitor stood, and his appearance began to change. Scars became visible on his hands and on his sandaled feet. Someone from the congregation noticed him and cried out, "What happened to you?" The visitor replied, "I took your place."

Some things that happen in church are silly. Some things are down right scandalous. Some things may even be sacrilegious. But the Church is still the body of Christ and it was for the Church that Christ died.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ministry Musings: Growth

One of the things that was expressed by a number of people at the cottage meetings was they would like to see the congregation grow to the point of bursting at the seams. Once again I have to ask, why? Is it so that we can feel good about ourselves? Is it because we know people who haven’t heard the promise of the saving Grace of God and we desperately want them to hear this Good News? What if, instead of those who have not heard the good news coming to us, we took this message to them? Would we be accomplishing the spirit of this goal/dream if we were tell every household in Rome about Jesus and our relationship with Him, but saw virtually no increase in our Sunday morning attendance? What is more important? How does that reframe our goals/dreams?

What if, our dream started coming true and we started growing in attendance and participation in leaps and bounds (something I think could very realistically happen)? Do you realize that’s probably going to mean making changes and you needing to make some sacrifices? It might mean a change in the style of how we worship. It might mean needing to sing different hymns/songs than what we’re comfortable with on Sunday morning. It might mean needing to welcome somebody different into your pew, or finding a new one all together. It might mean needing build a whole new facility, which will cost us a lot of money.

It most certainly will mean needing to pay more money to adequately staff the programs and activities a larger amount of people will necessitate. In fact, studies show that if we are going to grow we will need to increase our staff. According to the Alban Institute a congregation needs one full-time program minister (i.e. pastor, youth director, etc.) for every 100 people worshiping on a weekly basis just to maintain their programming. That means we are currently staffed to decrease, to maintain we should have a half time program minister, to grow we would need to add a full-time minister. That doesn’t include the support staff (i.e. secretaries, janitors, etc.) needed to go along with them…Are you ready to grow?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ministry Musing: Membership

One of the things that was expressed by a number of people at the cottage meetings was they would like to see the membership grow. Specifically, a number of people expressed a desire, or need, to reinvolve people who have become inactive.

I guess my first question is to ask, why? I suspect an underlying motivation for some is that if we get more people to join they will give more money. That in turn would free us up to do more ministry, a noble aspiration. Something to keep in mind is that to be considered an “active” member is to contribute financially once every two years, and that can be as little as $1. It is also been shown that it takes about 7 years before somebody starts giving of any significance.

My second question is, what does it mean to be a member? One thing I know membership is not and that is salvation. I fear that sometimes we equate church membership to our salvation, which I do not find any support for in the Bible. In the Lutheran church we talk about being baptized into the body of Christ. What good is it to have an arm, a leg, or an eye if they do nothing? I think there is an expectation with membership that you are contributing in significant ways to the whole. Nobody wants to be the spleen. How are you choosing to contribute?

I know of a congregation, not Lutheran mind you, that requires you sign a covenant agreeing to teach a Sunday school class, be involved in a weekly small group, attend worship 3 out of every 4 Sundays, tithe, and serve on a committee. Now that means something to say you’re a member of that congregation. Of course, we in the Lutheran church believe in Grace so our expectations aren’t nearly that high. To become a member here you need to attend the orientation and then need to partake in communion or give offering once in the course of a two year period. Have we set the bar too low? What should be our expectations for membership?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Five Forks

The RevGals gave us a good Friday Five today. I just hope I'm up for the challenge. So without further ado here it is:

I am at a life-changing juncture. I do not know which way I will go, but I have been thinking about the times, people and events that changed my life (for good or ill) in significant ways. For today's Friday Five, share with us five "fork-in-the-road" events, or persons, or choices. And how did life change after these forks in the road?

1. Visalia: After college I was looking to do youth ministry in my hometown where I knew where "stuff" was while I figured out what a youth minister does. Instead God drove me to the wilderness of CA where I knew nothing. It was there that I learned it was OK to go so far away from home. It was there that I was affirmed in my call and my leadership potential.

2. Dawn: As I entered seminary I was very single, but had no interest in any of the women if for no other reason than who would want to deal with being a clergy couple? That sounded like a nightmare. Then I met Dawn and I couldn't get her out of my head. A year and a half later I was done with seminary and we were getting married. Now that she is done with seminary it is going to be a headache figuring out the clergy couple part, but chasing after her may be the best choice I ever made.

3. Andrew: He will be six months in a couple of days. In some ways this parenthood is all too knew to properly reflect upon. Those who are parents know that it changes everything, but I can't really explain how. It is awesome. He is awesome. Who knew that a smile, cackle, or spit bubble could so easily melt away all of the other stresses weighing you down for the day. I now see the world in a whole new way.

4. Byron: In many ways it was a wonderful place for my first call. I had a supportive senior pastor, some great people, and we were in between my family and the in-laws... and we were in commuting distance of seminary for Dawn. We had an awesome text study where I believe I made some lifelong friends. On the other hand there were a number of people often worked against me, even launching some very hurtful personal attacks. I didn't realize how very hurt I was until I got here and have been loved intensely and I have felt the healing in profound ways.

5. Dad: I wasn't sure where to go with this last one, but I think I have to give it to my Dad. I watched him as I grew up playing with us kids, a regular at church, and running all the time. So I guess I have to give him some credit for influencing my desire to play with Andrew and winding up working in the church (before it goes to his head there were others as well). However, the nod goes to him here because of the running. I watched him run somewhere in the neighborhood of 30+ marathons. While it's been a struggle to run in recent years the desire is deeply ingrained in me. I have completed 11 marathons now myself. Running has also led me to my newest passion and that's coaching. It seems that every year I've had the opportunity to coach I've started enjoying it even more. Just over a week and a new track season begins!

I don't know if I clearly answered the challenge on this one. I think each of these people or places changed me for the better. I'm sure there are things that have changed me for the worse, but they just didn't come to mind this morning. If you've got some life changing "forks" I'd love to hear about those as well.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Delicate Balance of Optimism

I've been watching various people over this past week talk about our current economic crisis. (Honestly, I don't think you can avoid it if you watch the news.) On the one hand I heard a few people talking about how we've lived off false optimism for too long. If there was one thing President Bush was good at it, was remaining confident, or at least projecting confidence, throughout whatever we faced. (Might we call that a theology of glory in the church?) At the same time that became a problem because it led many to deny reality. Consequently we started living beyond our means. I've heard that we were living, on average, at 107% of our income. No budget can sustain that for any length of time.

Now, more recently, I've heard that big flaw from President Obama is that he hasn't projected enough optimism. His staff is arguing that he is trying be realistic (Might we call that a theology of the cross in the church?) in the face of uniquely difficult times. Yet, it seems more than anything the stock market NEEDS an injection of positivity and hope that we will recover from this rough patch.

I honestly don't know what the solution is, but it does seem clear that there is a fine line between healthy optimism and overconfidence. I have faith that our leadership can walk that line... especially if folks take a head to Gov. Schwartzenager's words on "This Week with George Stephanopolous" where he talked about there being a time to toe the party a line and a time to step out from that for the good of the people you're serving.

What Do You Do With Ash Wednesday?

I think Ash Wednesday poses an interesting conundrum for the church, or at the very least my preaching. On the one hand we have the Jesus preaching in Matthew about not being "showy" about our faith, but to live out our faith as if only God were watching (my paraphrase). Then on the other hand we put these big smudges of ash on our foreheads showing the whole world how very religious we all are. It feels to me like on the one hand we are telling people not to act "this" way and then turn around say we will now live our our faith "this" way. What do you think? How do we avoid making Ash Wednesday Worship a service of contradiction?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Life in the Valley

My wife grew up in Southwestern Wisconsin where everybody lives either "on the ridge" or "in the valley." I've been thinking about that as I think about our Transfiguration Gospel for this coming week. In our story for this week we see a couple of disciples go up to the mountain top where they see the glory of the Son of God. Yet, isn't the true glory as they come down the mountain? As the venture into the valley and they continue life, life in community, that is where the true glory of Christ is revealed.

Here, let's look at it a slightly different way. Transfiguration Sunday is the Sunday that leads into Lent. On the other end of Lent is another "mountain" top, where Christ is crucified. Lent, becomes the valley between two mountain tops. On the one end we have the mountain top we want and on the other is the mountain top we need. In between lies a life of ups, downs, and suffering which ultimately leads us to the cross. In that valley, leading us to the cross, lies a community that walks with us to the cross. Now isn't that really true glory?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Challenge with Change

Being in a new location, a new call, you can't help but think about change. I'm experiencing all kinds of change living and interacting with all kinds of new people. I look around at the ministry we're doing here and I see things I want to change. I know I can't change it all at once, and I also know I need to be smart about how we might go about change. I know we can't just change for change sake, but at the same time I realize it is much easier to suggest change than to have it suggested.

You see, one of the great challenges in proposing change is that it can very easily be heard as invalidating what has been done in the past. Say for instance you move into a new house and you suggest that you need to change the 70's shag carpet. The previous owner just might hear that as their choice of carpet was a bad choice. At the time it was probably a good choice, but now there are options that might work a little better for the current needs. If I were to suggest we change the way we worship or do a certain program might not the same thing happen? Might it be heard that what they are doing was a "bad" choice. It isn't at all a "bad" way of doing it, but it might be time for an update... and I'm really trying to help and not tear down.

Now, if I can just learn to hear that in my personal life. How might things go differently if I didn't hear Dawn's suggestions of doing things a different way not as a personal attack but an honest effort to help?... sometimes it's easier to ask others to change than to change yourself.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Business As Usual

Is anybody else tired of watching the news talk about the attempts to get a stimulus bill passed? I admit I had hope that this might go a little differently this time. We had elected new leadership and more importantly we are facing a serious situation with our economy. I thought maybe it was a serious enough situation that politicians might be able to set aside some of their fierce party loyalty and compromise a little. Both sides of the aisle have ideas for the stimulation package that are going to make a difference as well as ideas that are limited in this current state of financial crisis. Yet what it largely seems to be is the Democrats writing the bill the way they want it to be and the Republicans refuting all points until they get one that looks exactly like the one they want. So isn't there a middle ground? Why can't these people change and learn to work together?

I suppose I should know better as a Christian. Isn't that why the church is still in business, peoples stubborn refusal to change their behavior? When was the last time you read a story from the Bible and couldn't relate it to something or someone today? The bible is filled with stories that are thousands of years old, stories that have been told and written down to help us change our behavior. So maybe we need to worry more about the plank in our own eye than the speck in theirs... although I do still wish more political talk would center around the actual ideas and less around fiercely loyal party lines.

Monday, February 02, 2009


Today we'll see on a number of news programs a big deal made about Puxatony Phil seeing his shadow and what sort of implications that will have on our winter. It is kind of a fun tradition, although having lived most of my life in MN and now in WI it also seems a little silly. Honestly? We'll have at least six more weeks of winter. We are nowhere near being done.

Last year, with Lent beginning so early, it was even more appropriate though. You see this annual tradition reminds me of another shadow as well, the shadow of the cross. As Christians we live in the shadow of the cross. During the season of Lent we are intensely aware of that, but in reality it is all year round that we live below the shadow of the cross. It is what Christ did for us on the cross that shapes who we are, what we do, and how we see the world. It is the great irony of the faith that in the cross, in death, that we find life. We must ultimately die to our old selves so that we may be raised again to new life in Christ.

To live in the shadow of the cross is to know that it is all about Jesus. To live in the shadow of the cross is to be reminded that there is suffering in this life and that God walks with us in that suffering, that where there is suffering there is God. To live in the shadow of the cross is to be called to love and serve our neighbor. To live in the shadow of the cross is to live in the reality of life; even when it might be stark, harsh, or difficult; a reality that is grounded in love.

Friday, January 30, 2009


As some know we recently got DishNetwork TV. My wife claimed fears of the station never leaving ESPN. As it turns out it seems the remote can't make it beyond HGTV. Who's really in control here? Anyway, that being said I find today's Friday Five fitting... that and we just moved into the parsonage, so we're limited in the changes that are reasonable to make so it makes it a little more interesting (at least for me) to dream about possibilities since most can't even be tried (consequently they all remain good ideas in my brain).

And so, my questions to you this fine Friday involve your home past, present or future...

1) If you could, what room in the place you are currently living would you redo first?
I would probably start with combining two of the bedrooms upstairs (all 4 are upstairs) and making it one large master suite. I think it would be fun to have a large bedroom with our own fancy bathroom and walk-in closet.

2) What is the most hideous feature/color/decor item you have ever seen in a home?
I think there are few folks who would argue for the vase that we got from a White Elephant gift exchange at our church staff Christmas party a few years ago... although, I do kind of like it.

3) What feature do you most covet? Do you have it? If not, is it within reach?
Personally, I would love to have a large, flatscreen HDTV. I think we're a ways away from that. We're even further away from my childhood dream of an indoor swimming pool. I think that would be totally AWESOME, but not all so realistic.

4) Your kitchen - love it or hate it? Why?
I don't know that it's a love or a hate, but perhaps sliding towards the hate end. It definitely is larger than our last kitchen, at least cupboard wise. We also love that we finally have dishwasher that isn't human. At the same time, I would like to update the cupboards, you know spruce them up a bit. I also would prefer a gas range top instead of the electric coils. Although, I do love the magic my wife can work in there, I am so fortunate to be married to an excellent cook.

5) Here is $10,000 and you HAVE to spend it on the place you are living now. What do you do?
Ooh, that's a tough one. I might be tempted to go with the master bedroom project above. I also would be tempted to look at upgrading some of the things like the furnace to make the place more energy efficient.

BONUS: Why do you think there was such a surplus of ugly bathroom tile colors showcased in all homes built from the 1950's right through the early 80's? Were they really that bad? Maybe I need to work on my sense of color.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Worship as Dance

I came across something today that credits famed Christian author C.S. Lewis comparing worship to a dance, when arguing against liturgical innovators who seemed to be wanting to create a weekly variety show in worship. Here is what I found:

"Worship, Lewis wrote, should be a bit like dancing. Once you have learned how to dance and have become good at it, you are able to immerse yourself in the dance and just do it almost without thinking about it. But if you must constantly look down at your feet, if you have to think about each movement before you actually make it, then you can't dance yet but are just learning how to dance.

Worship is like that, Lewis thought. A believer should be able to move through the liturgy without having to check his every movement first. An ideal service would be one you hardly notice in the sense of your simply being immersed and caught up in a set of actions and a series of thoughts that are fully a part of you already."

I like that analogy because I too believe worship is to be something that should flow out of us. I like, as well, that a good dance is one that has a firm, technical base but when it gets really good is when the dancers improvise and make minor adjustments to the dance along the way. Finally, what makes for a good dance is a good dance partner and in worship we join with the best of partners... remember good dance partners are not strangers, but ones who have an intimate connection with one another.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


When was the last time you were astonished? What was it? Why were you astonished?

The gospel reading for this Sunday says that after Jesus taught in the synagogue the people were astonished. I don't know if it's just me, but it seems that Jesus has become more ho-hum than astonishing. Why isn't Jesus so remarkable... astonishing any more?

Sweet Relief

I tend to be the kind of person who doesn't really care about money. I've come to learn that my dislike for money largely rises out of the realization that money just seems to cause stress and anxiety... and I don't like those kinds of things. I've been trying to remind myself that the house not selling back in MN is "just money" and that there are more important things in life. I think I was doing pretty good with it, but then this last weekend we got an offer on the house that we're accepting. We're going to take quite the financial loss (at least for us it's pretty significant), but we're pretty sure it's worth the relief that we feel. Our start here in Rome has been great, which reassures us that we've come to the right place in trying to follow God's call. We'll still need to make a few more mortgage payments towards a house we're not using, but with paperwork signed it is much easier to say, "It's just money" because we are feeling a sweet relief this week.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Theology Thought

My understanding of the definition of theology is that it means, "words about God." It is, then, our attempt to use words to describe God and God's actions. Yet, they are our words. They are human words, not The Word. So why is that we act like theology is "done", that we have come up with the defining words about The Word?

We don't expect scientists to ever be finished. We expect that there will always be something new to discover. We don't expect artists to ever be finished. We expect that there will always be another picture to create or story to tell. Why, then, would we ever expect to be done discovering and telling about God?

Don't get me wrong, theologians like Martin Luther and John Calvin were absolutely brilliant. Yet, somehow, I suspect that if we were to bring them back from the dead they would probably agree that they had not spoken/written the definitive word on God. Yet we teach people as if they have... is it any wonder that seminary education sometimes feels a bit lifeless?

I think that it's about high time we start reclaiming our wrestling match with theology. We need to recognize that our theologies are just human words and sometimes they will sound childish and maybe even be a misunderstanding. However, we ought to continue to mold and craft our understanding of God. I have a hunch that's part of what's been so refreshing for so many people with books like, "The Shack"... because it comes off as an honest, raw wrestling with theology.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inauguration Coverage

After watching some of the media coverage of the inauguration this last week I have become more convinced that the media lacks, more than ever, the ability to differentiate, to keep things in proper perspective. We see it on both sides of the news now. When a tragedy like a hurricane, tornado, or flood wiping out a city happens they dwell on it for days on end, digging into every little piece of minutia. They refuse to break away from the scene of the story, even if they don't have any new developments.

Weather reports are great for that. You get a tornado warning and they'll sit and talk about tornadoes and the potential damage they can do for hours. They'll bring in a guy who survived a tornado twenty years ago, yet there may not be a single tornado that touches down in the viewing area.

The coverage of the Barrack Obama inauguration had a similar feel to me. I agree that the election and inauguration of our first "black" president was significant historically. However, did it need non-stop, 24-7, news coverage for 2-3 straight days? I am of the opinion that when you start analyzing and reanalyzing the fashion choices of the Obama family you are no longer reporting news. That, to me, is to suggest that the producers (the decision makers at the networks) have lost perspective.

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Thoughts?

Yesterday, I made reference to the importance of "The Cosby Show." I hope you read it as it was intended in terms of its pop culture significance. Having celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. yesterday and now gearing up for the inauguration, I'm wondering what your thoughts are in terms of the significance of Barack Obama being sworn in as the 44th president?

Also, who are those people that you see as blazing the path to make the election of an African American president? MLK? Muhammad Ali? Jackie Robinson? Malcom X? Others?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Obama Inaugaration Thought

It was interesting watching "The Today Show" this morning... OK, it did get old essentially only having one topic, but that they were focused on the inauguration of our first "black" president on the same day we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the reports they had was speculating on whether Obama or 50 Cent will have a greater impact on this generation. Here is one response to the report they had.

My response got me to thinking about "The Cosby Show." One of the things that they are lauding about the Obama's is that they are a black family still in tact. Remarkable to many in a generation where that isn't always so much the case. I have a hunch that in the long run Barack Obama will have a greater impact on our culture. In the short term it just might be 50 Cent, or some other rap/pop music icon...

Yet, I think any positive influence someone like Barack Obama, 50, or even folks like Jay-Z or P-Diddy might have on the African American community has to have some roots in "The Cosby Show." I believe that show went a long way in portraying a smart, educated, African American family in an extremely positive, All-American, light.

An interesting (at least to me), related side note is that "The Cosby Show" was somewhat ground breaking by showing an intact African American family when that wasn't always so much the case in the the African American community. (Or so certain media critics suggested at the time.) Now it seems to be an aboration for our entire culture, no matter your race.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Persistant Call

In our Old Testament reading on Sunday from 1 Samuel we have the Lord calling Samuel. As you read the story I hope you notice the persistence of the Lord. Over and over the Lord calls out to Samuel and instead he goes to Eli. Finally it is Eli, who is going blind, who "sees" that it is the Lord who is actually calling. How awesome is that? How familiar does that sound?

It starts by noting that the word of the Lord was rare in those days. Sound familiar? I don't know about you, but I haven't noticed any burning bushes or any clear voice of God thundering from the sky lately. What I wouldn't give for an e-mail or even a status update from God. Yet, there is God calling... to Samuel none the less. Unfortunately, he doesn't recognize the voice all so much. It makes me wonder, how often is God calling our name and we simply miss it?

This resonates with me as a pastor as well. Unfortunately, many people want to think that pastors are ones who more in tune with God than others. Yet during my years in seminary I don't recall any one sharing their call story and saying, "So one day I was called by God and next thing you know I was enrolled in classes." In fact, the story was more one of God nagging at them and tugging at their hearts. For most it was a matter of years before they responded. I would say most stories were more stories of finally giving in to God than snapping to action in response to a clear voice.

Thank goodness God is persistent since most of us don't hear all so clearly... not all so unlike Samuel.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Call: To Evangelism

Looking ahead to this weeks assigned texts, I get an overwhelming sense of call. In the gospel reading there is a calling to evangelism. As a life long Lutheran there is something that makes me a little nervous when I hear the "E" word. Although, it is a little ironic since "Evangelical" is the "E" in ELCA.

It's an evangelism that seems almost fitting of a Midwestern, Scandinavian Lutheran like myself. First of all, with the way Philip approaches Nathanael I get the impression they know one another already. So it seems to me the first step in this form of evangelism is to talk to a friend. If for some reason you don't have friends I suppose the first step is to make a friend or two, but I somehow doubt that's the case for you.

Then, did you see the profound theological statement that Philip used? He said, "Come and See." So Philip didn't need any sort of eloquent explanation of why Nathanael should come to believe, but rather said, "Here take a look for yourself." Perhaps you might say something like, "Would you like to join me for worship on Sunday?" or "Would you like to join me when I go to activity x." Then you can let someone else do the talking, or even better let Jesus do the talking.

Although, you should probably also note the response of Nathanael. If I were to paraphrase I would say it was, "You're nuts!" So it's not going to be shocking if your friends don't just jump at your invitation. However, the seed has been planted and Jesus can work with that.

Now, I think that's the kind of evangelism I can get on board with... at least for now.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I think it's unfortunate that we've come to think of "Amen" as "the end" because that's not what it means. It is an adamant acclamation saying, "Lord, let it be so!" "This is what we want, Lord, make it happen!" Perhaps that is why I like the line in Steve Curtis Chapman's song, "Let Us Pray" where it says, "Just because we say the word 'amen' doesn't mean this conversation needs to end."

So, come on, and let us pray!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Let These Gifts, To Us Be Blessed

This petition begins with a reminder that all comes from God. It was God, who in the beginning, created and God continues to create. It was God who gave us the ability to work that we might make money so that we can purchase things like food, home, and clothing. So this petition begins with a reminder that this building in which we sit, this food before us, and the good people surrounding us are not of our doing but but rather is a gift given to us by God.

This petition also asks that these gifts would strengthen us so that God might be glorified. It is prayer for the blessing first bestowed on Abraham, that we would be blessed to be a blessing. We ask in this prayer that we might reflect the love and grace that first comes from God.

Pancake Five

The boxes, OK not all of them but a good number of them, have been unpacked. We're reconnected to the internet at home. Thanks to these circumstances coming together I figured it was time to take dip back into the Friday Five circle.

So pull up a chair to the kitchen table and tell us all about your pancake preferences.

1. Scratch or mix? Buttermilk or plain?
Of course they taste best from scratch, but more often than not we go with the "just add water" mix because we just don't allow for the time. We tend to go with the buttermilk, however my wonderful wife has a great recipe for Oatmeal Pancakes that she got from a kids cookbook.

2. Pure and simple, or with additions cooked in?
Pure and simple is good, but I like a little fruit mixed in. Blueberries? Yes! Bananas? Yes! Raspberries? Yes! There is a restaurant in St. Paul called "The Egg & I" and they have what they call Kamakaze Cakes. You can get them in plain, buttermilk, buckwheat, and I think wholegrain. They have fruit, granola, and a bunch of other stuff. Really, one pancake is an entire meal. They are absolutely AWESOME!!!

3. For breakfast or for dinner?
I'm not so sure you can go wrong either way. I think we end up having them for dinner slightly more often, but I honestly can't complain either way.

4. Preferred syrup or other topping? How about the best side dish?
I am most definitely a syrup guy, however in a strange twist for many I must request that you leave the butter off. On the side I would say it's a toss up between sausage and hash browns, but I think I'm going to give a slight edge to the hash browns.

5. Favorite pancake restaurant?
The Egg & I is excellent as is the Highland Grill in St. Paul. However, I think I'm going to go with the Copper Dome in St. Paul. In fact, even Barack Obama stopped there for pancakes when he was in St. Paul campaigning. Unfortunately, I'm in Wisconsin now, so I'm going to have find someplace new.

Bonus: Any tasty recipes out there, for pancakes or other special breakfast dishes? Bring 'em on!
I don't really have any, but if others want to share with me, I certainly won't object... I'm getting hungry now. I think I'll go make me a stack.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Abused Child?

Today at a new text study someone suggested an image for many congregations that I had not heard before: an abused child. In my frustration I have often seen people sitting in the pews not really engaging in any meaningful way and I have seen it as a country club mentality. It's sort of that notion that if you show up, punch the holy time clock, pay your "dues" every now and again, then you will have your place in heaven. I suspect that is still the case in a lot of places.

However, I had not considered the abused child image before, and it kind of made sense. (I probably won't do his explanation justice, but here's how I understood it.) That many people feel abused, burned, or whatever similar term you want to use, by the church. Yet they feel they need to be there. However, their job is to show up, lay low, don't rock the boat, and make peace when necessary.

What, I think, you wind up with is similar behavior from members. However, it is for vastly different reasons. This probably means we would need to respond in very different ways as well. I, honestly, haven't had a whole lot of time to think about it, but on a gut level there is something about it that makes sense. What do you think? If it's a true, or helpful, image then what implication do you see it having upon our ministry?

Be Our Guest

At first blush this petition is much like the first one we prayed. You see, it certainly is true that Jesus is present with us and so we, once again, are asking that Christ would be present with us at this table. Thanks to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, Jesus most certainly comes and joins us in the meal. It is with little irony that it is in the meal that this petition gains power. It is the meal that reminds us of the Last Supper, which is the prelude to the greatest servant move of all time. So this petition becomes a reminder to us that just as Christ humbled himself we too are to humble ourselves as we are called to serve. First and foremost we are to serve Jesus, whom we are asking in this petition to be our guest so that we might serve them as good hosts. Consequently we also are proclaiming that we desire Jesus to be glorified in all that we do.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Come Lord Jesus

We were praying the common table prayer, "Come, Lord Jesus" the other day and it dawned on me that while more often than not I just whiz through the words and don't think about it, there really is some wonderful depth to the prayer. So I got to thinking that maybe over the next few days I might share some of my thoughts on the petitions in the prayer, kind of like Luther did with the Lord's prayer in his small catechism, but perhaps not with the same depth.

We begin with, "Come Lord Jesus." First of all, it is a wonderful recognition, confession if you will, that Jesus is Lord and that we truly are in need of a savior. It is true that Jesus is Lord of all, but in this petition we pray especially that Jesus would be Lord of us as well.

Similarly in this first petition we are asking Jesus to come and to be present with us. Oh, it is true that Jesus is ever present with us, even without our asking. However, in this prayer we particularly ask that Jesus would be present, here and now, with us at this time.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Moved... sort of...

Well, we have finished packing all of our stuff and loading a rather large U-Haul (and a couple of cars) plumb full. We have driven to Rome and unloaded the truck (and a couple of cars) and here we are. We have officially "moved" to Wisconsin. Am I ready? I don't really know, but I guess it doesn't matter a whole lot since I'm here and it's going to happen regardless. It will be good in the end, but like most things it is a bit daunting as we begin. We are wondering if we'll ever get all of our "stuff" unpacked, sorted, and arranged in a way we feel comfortable with because there is waaaay too much "stuff" that we own. My hope is that returning to a regular routine of posting here will help me out. I've got a few things rattling around in my head that I just might need to get out sooner than later. So stay tuned... and we'll all see what happens.