Monday, July 24, 2017

Worship at Chain of Lakes with the Cameroonian community

This past Sunday, July 23 Chain of Lakes Church had the privilege of hosting a service of thanks that involved the Cameroonian community.  The joyful noise that was shared in that service still has to be reverberating with everyone who was present.

Edet Afonchwi approached me recently about holding a service of thanks.  Edet has attended Chain of Lakes for almost two years.  She was born in the Cameroon.  For a significant part of her childhood she was not able to live with her mother.  Edet now lives in the Lakes Development of Blaine—within walking distance of the property that will someday (sooner rather than later) have a Chain of Lakes building.  Recently Frida, Edet’s mother, became very ill.  Edet was not sure if Frida would live.  Edet flew back to the Cameroon and to be her mom.  Miraculously Friday was able to live; and not only that she was able to travel to the United States to live with her life. 

Edet is extremely thankful that she can care for her mom in this phase of her mom’s life.

I was touched by Edet’s story.  I believe that one way to think of a local congregation is a collection of individual faith journeys.  I proposed that we share her story in worship—giving thanks for how God helped heal her mom—and also give thanks for the enormous gifts of the local Cameroonian community. 

Many Cameroonians grew up as Presbyterians.  When they came to the United States and started looking for a place to worship the Presbyterian church was the place they looked.  All of the north Metro Presbyterian churches have been blessed by the presence of folks born in the Cameroon.

Our new church (soon to be an established church) has had many memorable worship services where the Cameroonian community is present.   Since coming to Chain of Lakes I have learned that when the Cameroonian community learns about an event they will show up in mass. 

And this is what happened yesterday at Chain of Lakes.  People came streaming through the doors of our facility on Davenport.  At least twice the ushers had to go look for more chairs.  We ended up with 190 people in worship—at least half were born in the Cameroon.  Our worship space seats 100.  Imagine how packed we all felt—Yay, God!!

But the memory of the service wasn’t the number of people who attended—my memory is the fervency (to put it mildly) with which the Cameroonians worshipped God.  A local Cameroonian choir started worship yesterday by singing.  As they sang many in the congregation sang with them.  The songs were known and sung with joy.  The choir was dressed in their beautiful white, yellow and black garb with head dresses.  Many who came to worship were dressed in native, Cameroonian clothes. 

After they sang Edet’s family and other sang for the congregation.  Again they sang songs that the Cameroonian community knew.  Even though many Caucasians didn’t know the songs, we could relish and worship because of the spiritual energy that was being shared.  Imagine people packed together, with joyful and fervent singing, with energy and loud sounds. 

I preached on giving thanks and encouraged us to think hard about letting go of the idea of insiders and outsiders in a congregation.  God owns our life together as a congregation.  Each of us can grab the hands of others as outsiders—because of grace God has turned all of us to insiders.  Our task as congregations is to discern what our owner wants.

Towards the end of worship Frida came forward.  Edet shared how important it was to have her in worship and how significant it was for her to give thanks.  All of us raised our arms and prayed over Frida.

I know I can’t speak for all Caucasians, but I can say that we Caucasians have so much to learn about worship from our Cameroonian friends.  As a pastor I am extraordinarily grateful that I can could lead worship yesterday—being present and participating with our Cameroonian friends.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Eugene Peterson fracas. How wide is our biblical tent?

Image result for eugene peterson
At a Communications Team meeting of Chain of lakes Church last week I shared that I would come back to blogging.  My initial goal is to blog three to six times a month. 

Last week Eugene Peterson was interviewed by Jonathan Merritt, award-winning columnist for the Atlantic and Religious News Service.  The interview was shared in three parts.  Peterson was asked questions about why he was stepping away from public life, his thoughts of Donald Trump, and whether he is afraid of death. 

Peterson is the author of “The Message,” a translation of Scripture that is widely used and sold.  I have a copy of the Message in my library and refer to it almost every week I preach.  Peterson has written many books.  One of my favorites is his memoir called “The Pastor.”

Eugene Peterson is one of my heroes.  I regret that I haven’t read every word of what he’s written.  I would change my schedule to hear him speak.  I have tremendous respect for him as a person and for his writings.   If I’m in a tricky situation in my work I have asked myself the question of how Eugene Peterson would respond. 

The last part of the interview became controversial and prompted many responses on the Internet.  This part of the interview can be found here:

The following is an excerpt of that interview:
Eugene Peterson:            I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.

Question:                            A follow-up: If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?

Eugene Peterson:             Yes.

The fallout from this comment was immediate and swift.  Lifeway Books, the publishing arm of Southern Baptist Convention, immediately announced they would stop selling his books.   See more:

The next day Peterson came out with the following statement.  It’s worth reading the statement in its entirety.  I found this at:

I included the statement at the bottom of this blog.

The bottom line of this statement is Peterson shared that he would not officiate a same-sex wedding.

Many excellent blogs have been written about what happened. 
Here is one written by an Irish pastor who worked with Eugene Peterson.  Thanks to Neil Craigan for sharing the blog.

Here is one written by Dennis Sanders that I found helpful.

This is a complicated story that illustrates the fracture of the church.

Because of my respect for Eugene Peterson I give him the complete benefit of the doubt on the shift of his position that was reported.

My hunch of what happened is Peterson was surprised by the initial question, wasn’t comfortable with his first answer, reflected some more, and shared his belief.   I would call this this discernment.

Peterson lands at a different place on his willingness to officiate at a same gender marriage than me.  But his position doesn’t diminish my own respect for him.

A question I haven’t seen asked about this controversy is how large is our biblical tent?  Can we accept that some people look at the Bible differently on issues that each of us care deeply?  And does another person’s different biblical views make the person any less of a Christian?  And who am I to judge another person for their view?  I believe judgment is left to God.

I get that the idea “come let us reason together” is not guiding us.  The sense of coming together to pray, talk, and ask hard questions about how the biblical witness and ultimately Jesus Christ guides each of us rarely takes place.  

One reason I love the Presbyterian Church (USA) is we are not a subscriptionist denomination.    Ever since Jonathan Dickinson helped develop the Adapting Act in 1729 religious leaders have the freedom to develop their own views.  This freedom comes under the authority of an appropriate governing body, but nonetheless the freedom is essential.  The issue in 1729 was whether Dickinson was going to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith; the issue in 2017 is whether Eugene Peterson is going to subscribe to someone’s view of same-sex marriage. 

I’m glad that both have had the freedom to their own views.  How wide is our biblical tent?

Here is the statement from Eugene Peterson:
“Recently a reporter asked me whether my personal opinions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage have changed over the years. I presume I was asked this question because of my former career as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which recently affirmed homosexuality and began allowing its clergy to perform same-sex weddings. Having retired from the pastorate more than 25 years ago, I acknowledged to the reporter that I “haven’t had a lot of experience with it.”

To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.

It’s worth noting that in my 29-year career as a pastor, and in the years since then, I’ve never performed a same-sex wedding. I’ve never been asked and, frankly, I hope I never am asked. This reporter, however, asked a hypothetical question: if I were pastoring today and if a gay couple were Christians of good faith and if they asked me to perform their wedding ceremony—if, if, if. Pastors don’t have the luxury of indulging in hypotheticals. And to be honest, no is not a word I typically use. It was an awkward question for me because I don’t do many interviews at this stage in my life at 84, and I am no longer able to travel as I once did or accept speaking requests.

With most interviews I’ve done, I generally ask for questions in advance and respond in writing. That’s where I am most comfortable. When put on the spot by this particular interviewer, I said yes in the moment. But on further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that.

That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage. That said, I would still love such a couple as their pastor. They’d be welcome at my table, along with everybody else.

When I told this reporter that there are gay and lesbian people who “seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do,” I meant it. But then again, the goodness of a spiritual life is functionally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

We are saved by faith through grace that operates independent of our resolve or our good behavior. It operates by the hand of a loving God who desires for us to live in grace and truth and who does not tire of turning us toward both grace and truth.

There have been gay people in a variety of congregations, campuses, and communities where I have served. My responsibility to them was the work of a pastor—to visit them, to care for their souls, to pray for them, to preach the Scriptures for them.

This work of pastoring is extremely and essentially local: Each pastor is responsible to a particular people, a specific congregation. We often lose sight of that in an atmosphere so clouded by controversy and cluttered with loud voices. The people of a congregation are not abstractions, they are people, and a pastor does a disservice to the people in his care when he indulges in treating them as abstractions.

I regret the confusion and bombast that this interview has fostered. It has never been my intention to participate in the kind of lightless heat that such abstract, hypothetical comments and conversations generate. This is why, as I mentioned during this interview, I so prefer letters and will concentrate in this final season on personal correspondence over public statements.”

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Welcoming Jonathan Smith, new Music Director at Chain of Lakes

This past Sunday the Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes hired Jonathan Smith as their new Music Director.  His first time in worship at Chain of Lakes will be Sunday, June 4.  A special thanks to Karen Bakia, Sally Leitch, Paul Edgett, Becky Booker, Jolene Altrichter, and Amy Moore for their work in hiring Jonathan.  Can't wait to see how the Spirit works through Jonathan at Chain of Lakes!

Jonathan Smith is a teacher, performer, composer, and leader from the Central Wisconsin area. He received a BA in Music from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in December of 2015. Since age fifteen, he has been called upon to lead groups of people in children's theater, community theater, and church music settings. He has previously been in the role of Praise Band Director at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Wausau, WI, and at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stevens Point, WI. He has vocal directed 16 theatrical productions, usually as Vocal Director. He has been recently nominated for a Tommy award for Outstanding Vocal Direction for "Spamalot" at Marshfield High School. In addition to his work as a leader, he has taught many students how to sing through private voice lessons at various schools in Central Wisconsin.

As a performer, he has performed for over 25 operatic and musical theater productions and over 60 weddings and special events. Through the years of being involved theatrically, his passion for acting and directing shows turned to writing musicals meant to be performed by young actors. His first musical, DMV The Musical, received a grant from UW-Stevens Point and was also performed in the New Works Theatre Festival. It is now published on and is available for future performances. 

He is very excited to be working in his new role as Director of Music for Chain of Lakes Church! He is available for private music lessons also at Chain of Lakes Church for a special rate for church members. He is also available as an instructor at Spark Music Studio in Osseo, and St. Paul School of Music in West St. Paul. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Eulogy for Bill Ward

What a privilege for me to share this Eulogy yesterday for Bill Ward.  

           My name is Paul Moore.  I’m the pastor of Chain of Lakes Church a new Presbyterian church in Blaine.  I got to know Bill through Rotary.  On Wednesday mornings at 7:30 the Blaine-Ham Lake Rotary Club gathers in this space for a meeting.  I’ve been a part of it for three to four years.  Bill was a member of the club for the past 18 years. 
            One of the philosophies of Rotary is service above self.  That was Bill—service above self.  In his soft-spoken way he always looked for ways to serve.  When Rotary had a breakfast meeting before doing a program at a school—Bill would bring the food; when a group from Rotary went on a special project in Guatemala, Bill took Kim and served.  It didn’t matter to Bill that at the time he had cancer in his body.  It was service above self.           
            He loved to help.  A couple years ago his singing group offered singing Valentine’s for anyone who wanted to purchase one.  Bill told us about it at a Rotary meeting.  I bought a singing Valentine for my wife, Amy.   Bill brought his group to sing for Amy, at her office.  I’ve seen the video many times.  As he  was singing Bill couldn’t stop smiling.  It was a smile we’ve all seen many times; I’m guessing we can picture it without even seeing a picture.  As Bill sang he had his hand in front of him.  He wasn’t conducting the group; he was so into the moment.  He was fully alive—enjoying the happiness that his group was bringing to Amy.  His hand gesture was more than just a movement.  He was serving; he was helping—it was a helping hand.  That was Bill—smiling—helping—serving.  Service above self.
            It was certainly shocking when Bill told us at Rotary about 22 months ago that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  He was honest with us.  “I have probably have six months to live,” he said.  “Maybe less.”  A few weeks later we gathered at Rotary and prayed for him.  We prayed with all the spirit that we had.  Those prayers were answered.  Bill would often tell us what was happening with his cancer (such a role model of honesty).  He would tell us when he was concerned; he was blunt at how hard it was to go through treatment; he would often ask if any of us knew of special treatments for the cancer.  When he lived past six months he told us that with a smile.  He shared that he wasn’t supposed to be here, but he was.  He was here for 22 months.
            It might be easy to say that Bill lost his battle with cancer—but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Bill encountered something that humans haven’t figured out how to beat.  That had nothing to do with him.  Bill won every day—when he laughed, when he helped, when he served. 
            And when he gave hugs.  You ever experience a bear hug from Bill Ward?  I told Bill often at Rotary how I was praying for him.  We listed him on our congregation’s prayer sheet, so a lot of people were praying.  He thanked me and often he hugged me.  He would circle me like a bear and squeeze me so tight.  He literally took my breath away.  I can’t imagine someone stronger than Bill—and it wasn’t his physical strength.  It was the strength of his spirit.  He never lost that spirit.    
            As I shared just last year Bill and Kim traveled with others from Rotary to help in Guatemala.  Another example of service above self.  I didn’t go, but I saw the pictures.  Pictures of Bill grinding coffee beans; pictures of Bill helping out at the work site, Bill sitting on a boat draped by a gorgeous blue sky.  And then there was the smile.  There he was—winning.  Showing us how to live. 
            A lasting image I’ll carry with me of Bill was this past Christmas Eve.  Bill came to worship at Chain of Lakes.  As part of the service people brought gift cards for homeless youth in Anoka County.  During the service everyone brought the gift cards forward to put in a Christmas stocking.  Bill sat in an aisle seat and watched and smiled and rejoiced that people were being helped.
            Bill wasn’t perfect—he was a Packers fan for goodness sake.  He loved to wear that godawful Packers jacket.  When the Packers beat the team in purple Bill would let us know.  He wasn’t obnoxious about it.  He just smiled. 
            I had the privilege of being with Bill and his family the night before he passed.  Kim called me on Friday night and asked me if I would come pray.  So I drove to the hospital.  Bill was asleep.  Kim asked if we should wake him up.  “No, let him sleep.”  I anointed his forehead with oil.  Kim and their three kids and family and I grabbed hands around their bed.  We prayed.  I prayed that God might take him—for it was time.  When the prayer was done Kim shared a story.  Then she asked if anyone else had a story and everyone did.  For we all had stories about Bill.  It was beautiful.  It was like we were serenading a man who so blessed us with his songs. 

            We’re sad today.  Not for Bill for he’s singing in a better place.  We’re sad for what we’ve lost.  Wednesday mornings at Rotary won’t be the same for a while.  But Bill is still with us.  We carry his spirit inside of ours.  And despite our sadness we can rejoice.  That each of us had the privilege of knowing a man who was so willing to help and was so willing to serve.  Thank you, Lord for giving us Bill Ward.

Monday, January 9, 2017

I will be responding to the many questions that were shared at the Chain of Lakes Christmas Eve service.  This response was the sermon that was shared yesterday, January 8 at Chain of Lakes Church.

Question:  Can we be forgiven for all if we are truly sorry for what we have done?  Even regarding the 10 Commandments?

Today I’m beginning a January sermon series called the “The 1 Question.”  At Christmas Eve worship I asked each person present to share one question about God, the church, or personal faith. 

I was personally thrilled that 24 questions were submitted.
I was also a bit dazed that 24 questions were submitted. 

When our worship team was talking about this series, they suggested I write a blog about each question.  I said “yes.”  I said “yes” before I knew that 24 questions would be submitted.  This series is going for four weeks.  That means I have 20 blogs to write. 
Lord, in your mercy!!  Would you pray for me.

I encourage you to read these blogs.  You can find links for them from the Chain of Lakes web site and the Chain of Lakes Facebook page.  You can find a listing of all 24 questions on the blog.

This series is significant because illustrates the point that we value questions at Chain of Lakes.  We’re authentic, so we’re willing to listen to people’s questions. 
If you have questions about God, personal faith, why things happen the way they do in a church, relationships, please ask the question.  Don’t be Minnesota Nice about your questions.  Ask hard ones. 

These are the questions we are going to look at in this series. 
Sunday, January 15     What does it mean to be “full of the Spirit?”  
Sunday, January 22     Can a child or someone who has never heard the Word go to heaven?”
Sunday, January 29     Does God really have a plan?  Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?

Today the question is: “Can we be forgiven for all if we are truly sorry for what we have done?  Even regarding the 10 Commandments.” 

The answer to this question has everything to do with our view of grace.  G-R-A-C-E.  To help all of us understand G-R-A-C-E I wrote a Bible Study on G-R-A-C-E.  I strongly encourage you to use it this week.  I know that many of us are reading through the Bible.  Put this devotion in your Bible and read these readings.  In the middle is a place to take notes.  I believe God will say something today that you’ll want to remember.  On the back is our congregation’s prayer requests.

I just gave the answer to this question.  But there’s something more important than the answer.  What’s more important is how we get to the answer.  I’m going to spend the rest of this sermon sharing how we land on G-R-A-C-E.

At Chain of Lakes we want to help everyone who comes here in four ways.  We want to help you:
In your faith life
In your relationship life
To recover from past wounds
To discover your Inspirational Intersection or your identity in Christ.

To have a rich faith life, we must understand grace—G-R-A-C-E. 

I can’t help reflect on grace without thinking about a traditional song.  We sang a contemporary version of the song today.  The traditional version
Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see..

SLIDE            The words to the song were written by John Newton.  Newton served the Episcopal tradition as a priest.  He collaborated with the poet William Cowper to write these words.  They were a sermon illustration at his church New Year’s Day of 1773.  The congregation probably didn’t sing the words that day.  Most likely they chanted the words. 
It wasn’t until 1835 that the words were combined with the tune. 

Amazing Grace is a song of Extraordinary Blessing.  It has been big and bold. 
It’s performed about 10 million times every year.  During times of crisis—during the Civil War & the Vietnam War—it had a surge of popularity.  A lot of people recorded a version of the song—Judy Collins’ Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson—even Elvis. President Obama sang the song at a funeral for a victim of the church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina.

The song provides the answer to today’s question.  The answer, of course, is grace.  G-R-
Grace that is FREE—grace is a gift and costs us nothing.   
Grace that is unconditional—God offers it to us at any point in our life no matter what we’ve done.  There are no strings attached to grace.
Grace that is undeserved.  The point of grace is none of us deserves it—and grace is still given by God to us.    

One controversial lyric is “it saved a wretch like me.”   

John Newton identified himself as a wretch.  It’s worth knowing some of his story.  His mom died two weeks before his seventh birthday.  His dad was a sailor, so he ended up living with his step-mother.  Unfortunately John Newton’s step-mother was like the step-mother in Cinderella.  It didn’t go well.   He was sent to boarding school.  At the age of eleven he was sent to spend time with his father at sea.  JN became a tough, raunchy, and disgusting sailor.  At 18 he tried to desert from the crew he was serving.  He was caught and punished.  He was stripped to the waist, tied to the ship and whipped 96 times.  He responded by simultaneously wanting to murder the captain and kill himself.
Five years later, at 23, he was part of a crew sailing off the coast of Ireland.  There was a terrible storm.  John Newton awoke in the middle of the night.  The storm caused a hole in the ship.  The ship was filling with water.  It seemed like it would sink.  John Newton cried out to God.  The cargo shifted and filled the hole.  The ship drifted to safety.  He and the crew were saved. 

This was the beginning of his shift to the faith.  He eventually became a priest.

John Newton always knew he was a wretched man.

I have a question.  How do you think God viewed John Newton?  God viewed John Newton in the same way God views all of us.  God knew everything about John Newton.  God knew the worst and raunchy and filthy desires of his spirit he had.   God judged John Newton.  Do you know what the judgment was?  Forgiven. 

It’s fair to ask the question—and remember we encourage questions—how do I, Paul Moore, know that God forgave John Newton.  This question is tied into today’s question. 
SLIDE            Can we be forgiven for all if we are truly sorry for what we have done?  Even regarding the 10 Commandments.    I know this because Jesus came to share and illustrate Grace-G-R-A-C-E.    

When Jesus died he died between two people.  The gospel writers, Matthew and Mark called the two people on the other crosses, bandits. 

The Greek word was lestai.  I’m not trying to teach you Greek, but I’m trying to teach you the type of person that these two people were.  A lestai is a person who  plunders and pillages – an unscrupulous marauder (malefactor), who exploits the vulnerable and doesn’t hesitate to use violence.  The gospel writer Luke called them criminals. 
“One of the criminals who was hanged there kept deriding [Jesus] and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?  Save yourself and us!”  But the other [criminal] rebuked him saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then [the criminal] said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’  [Jesus] replied “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” Luke 23:39-42

According to Luke these were the last words that Jesus said to a human being.  The last words that Jesus said to a human being were words of forgiveness.  Grace!
Another story about Jesus.     

Two men were praying in the Temple.  One was a Pharisee. 
“God I thank you that I am not like the other people:  thieves, rogues, adulterers or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”

Tax collectors were hated in the days of Jesus.  We might have opinions about the IRS, but our opinions are nothing like the opinions of Jews towards tax collectors when Jesus was alive.  Tax collectors operated like independent contractors for Rome.  They gave a certain amount of money to Rome, and then they were free to collect money.  in that they would give money to Rome and then collect money.  As long as they gave the money to Rome, they were free to collect as much as they wanted.  Often tax collectors were unscrupulous.  They would do whatever they could to get as much money as they could.  Not only that a tax collector represented a foreign country that was hated by most people.  The tax collector was a wretch.
The tax collector had something that the Pharisee didn’t have.  The tax collector knew he needed grace—or mercy.  The tax collector knew he needed forgiveness.

‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Maybe we’ve heard this story often.  If we’ve heard the story often we run the risk of losing the astonishment of the story.  Who was the hero of the story? 
Was the pious man or the wretch? 
The righteous man or the unrighteous man
The follower of the law (what we might call the 10 commandments) or the breaker of the law.
The hero was the tax collector. 
“I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Luke 18:14

To truly have a rich and robust faith we have to start with having an understanding of our own need for grace.  If we don’t have an understanding of our own need for grace, then we will always run the risk of being like the Pharisee. 

God gives grace freely.   The answer to today’s question is grace.   To take it to the next step we have to ask ourselves—how deep is my own understanding of my need for grace.   John Newton, and the lestai and the tax collector knew that they needed grace.  For them grace wasn’t an academic exercise they debated in their minds.  Grace was burning in their heart because they knew they needed it.  The question that I want each of us to ponder about ourselves is how deep do each of us know that we need grace. 

We can’t talk about grace without bringing in some other words about faith that have tripped people up.  One of the words is sin. 
Unfortunately the church has done a poor job of talking about sin.  In general when preachers talk about sin we’ve made one of two terrible errors
We’ve made people feel so bad about their sins that they won’t approach God
We’ve made people feel so good about themselves that we never talk about sin.  Then people believe that they don’t need God. 

The reality is that each one of us have been given wonderful gifts and are capable of being an extraordinary blessing.  We are good.  And the reality is that each one of us is capable of doing terrible things and even doing evil.  We sin.

One of the reasons that we exist at Chain of Lakes is to be authentic.  Part of being authentic is acknowledging that we sin—that we fall short.  We miss the mark.  Sometimes we sin even when we don’t know that we sin.    Acknowledge our own sins prevents us from living as prideful people.  We won’t be like the Pharisee. 

The key is recognizing we fall short—we sin—without beating ourselves up.         

I pray in the morning and use a prayer sheet.   On my prayer sheet is a place where I list the ways that I messed up the previous day—the ways that I sin.  I’ll either write these sins down or reflect on them.  Sometimes it’s hard.  I’m putting a mirror in front of my own spirit and take a hard look at what is happening. 

I do this not with a sense of dread, but with a spirit of anticipation.  I’m not happy that I sin or fall short, but I don’t bludgeon myself.  I’m very sorry that I mess up.  But I look at confession as opportunity to grow.  Through my own acknowledgment I anticipate becoming more like Christ, that’s one goal of faith to become more like Christ.    

There’s no secret formula to confession.  It’s very simple.  I find three words to work.  “I have sinned.”  The Apostle Paul put it this way:
“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Jesus gave us access to grace.

If we go back to the question.  And here it is:

We can go down all sorts of rabbit holes when we think about confession that don’t ultimately help us.  What happens if we confess and aren’t truly sorry; or how do we know if we are truly sorry.  Do we need to confess something more than once.  Or is there a magic number in confessing.  Am I truly sorry if I confess something twenty times instead of once; or do I need to confess something a thousand times.  Do I need to prove myself to God.

Here’s the thing.  God is on our side.  God is not against us; God is not waiting to pounce on us for and make us prove that we are truly sorry; God never created a litmus test for sorrow.  God is on our side.  Grace.  G-R-A-C-E. 

Grace leads us to think about our own image of God.  This is an important question for our faith life. 
SLIDE            What is your image of God.
Is God like our worst critic waiting to jump on us when we mess up?
Is God like a bad teacher waiting to go through the lessons of our life and say, “uh, uh, uh” you didn’t confess this sin?
Or instead is God like Jesus on the cross.  Looking at the bandit who waited until the end of his life.  Jesus responded to the bandit by saying, “today you will join me in paradise.”  Essentially saying, “I forgive you.”

I hope that our image of God is Jesus giving grace on the cross. 

In the Scripture that ___ read, the Apostle Paul said that at the right time Jesus died for us.  What this means to me is not matter what we’ve done in our life, Jesus wants to forgive us.  That’s the image that we carry with us.

In my work on this sermon I reaquainted myself with the story of Jeffrey Dahmer.  Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the worst serial killers in the history of the United States.  I went to his Wikipedia page and had to stop reading it.  It was horrible.

One part of his story that is worth lifting up is at the end of his life, while he was in jail Jeffrey Dahmer started a conversation with Roy Ratcliff.  Roy Ratcliff is a pastor.  He started having a weekly conversation with Jeffrey Dahmer in jail.  Jeffrey Dahmer confessed his sins.  He was baptized at the end of his life.  Ultimately Dahmer was killed by another inmate.  At the funeral service Roy Ratcliff said this about Jeffrey Dahmer.

“Jeff confessed to me his great remorse for his crimes.  He wished he could do something for the families of his victims to make it right, but there was nothing he could do.  He turned to God because there was no one else to turn to, but he showed great courage in his daring to ask the question, ‘Is heaven for me too?’  I think many people are resentful of him for asking that question.  But he dared to ask, and he dared to believe the answer.” 

Did God forgive Jeffrey Dahmer.  I think he did.  I don’t say that easily.  JD was the worst of the wretches.  I can understand if people could never forgive JD for what he did.  If I was a family member of one of JD’s victims, it probably would take me a lot of therapy to forgive him.  I’m not God.  Jesus looked at the bandit shortly before his death and said, you will join me in paradise.  You are forgiven. 

The task is how do we let this forgiveness/grace/G-R-A-C-E infuse our life. 

Let me close with this story.  How many of you have seen the movie, “Rogue 1.”  Amy and I saw it a week ago.  There is a scene in the movie where a character named “Chirut” has to make an extraordinary action.  He risked his life in order to advance the cause of the rebels.  And as he took this action he said to himself, “I am one with the Force; the force is with me.”  He said this over and over and over.  It was his mantra.

I’d like to leave you with a mantra.  I’d like to encourage you to say this mantra this week.  I want to encourage you to say it over and over and over again during your week.  The mantra is this:

SLIDE            I am forgiven; I am forgive; I am forgiven; I am forgiven.

Take this mantra; say it many times this week; experience the power of grace.  I am forgiven.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The 1 Question

One of my New Year's Resolution is to post a blog every Monday morning.   Today I'm sharing the questions submitted at Christmas Eve at Chain of Lakes.  Christmas Eve at Chain of Lakes was the largest attended service at our current location.  During worship we took three minutes and asked people to submit one question about God, the church, personal faith, spirituality that each person would like to hear a sermon.  We received 24 questions.  A special thanks to Kathy Brevig for typing up the questions.

I'm not going to share a twenty-four week sermon series.  The series starts this Sunday, January 8 and will go for four weeks.  Later this week I will share the questions for the series.  I will share a blog about the twenty questions that are not chosen.  

I don't know if these questions reflect what people in our culture are thinking about regarding faith.  But I think these questions share a general sense of where many people in our culture are regarding their own thoughts about God and the church.

The 1 Question
1.  How does one keep the joy going – especially in trying times?    
2.  How do I discern my will from God’s will for me? How do I differentiate the Spirit’s nudging from the desire of my heart? 
3.  When considering the Trinity of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, how do you define the Holy Spirit?  
.      Why doesn’t God stifle the harm and hatred in our world?  
5.      Can you be a Christian if you do not believe in the Virgin birth or physical resurrection?
6.      Can we be forgiven for all if we are truly sorry for what we have done? Even regarding the 10 Commandments? 
7.      How can I help people experience God in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit in each one can be so powerful, but people have to take time to listen. 
8.      Why was Jesus named Jesus? Where did God come from?
9.      How many Adam and Eves were there?  
10.  How do I let God lead in my life without being certain of the path I am taking? 
11.  What do you think it means to be “full of the Spirit” ?     
12.  How does grace happen?  
13.  Will I see & recognize my family and friends that passed when I die?   
14.  When you lose faith in God, how do you gain it back? 
15.  If a child is not baptized can the child be baptized at a later age? 
16.  How can a child or someone who never heard the Word not be able to go to heaven? 
17.  Does God really have “a plan”? Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? 
18.  Why do bad things happen to good people? How do I forgive?    
19.  What is your best advice and approach for communicating with people who use the word of the Bible to condemn or oppress others?   
20.  Why do bad things happen to good people
21.  Why do people believe in so many different religions and why do they hurt each other because of their beliefs?   
22.  Why does it have to be the Christian God? As long as we all believe in a higher power/general deity what difference does it make? If I believe in energy and you believe in a church God, is that any different? 
23.  If God has forgiven us, even from the most heinous sin, why do we still have guilt and feel like we are not really forgiven?  
24.   As in the days of Noah, so will be the time of Christ’s return.  With current events and moral decay of the times, are we in the near end of times?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Trivia questions about Chain of Lakes

Yesterday I shared the following questions about Chain of Lakes with the large number of people who attended our stewardship dinner after worship.  See how many questions you get right!

Chain of Lakes Trivia
1.            At how many locations has Chain of Lakes conducted worship?
                a) 6         b) 5        c) 7

2.            What is the nearest Presbyterian church east of Chain of Lakes?

3.            What is the nearest Presbyterian church north of Chain of Lakes?

4.            What is the nearest Presbyterian church west of Chain of Lakes?

5.            How long has Chain of Lakes worshipped at its current Davenport location?
                a) one year         b) two years       c) three years

6.            What year did the Presbytery close on the property in the Lakes neighborhood?
                a) 2010                  b) 2011                 c) 2012

7.            How many adults came to the first meeting with Pastor Paul at the Rice Lake Professional Building?
                a) 10                      b) 16                      c) 20

8.            What church was originally approached to be the sponsor church of Chain of Lakes?
                a) Presbyterian Church of the Way          b) Church of the Master                               c) First Presbyterian, South St. Paul

9.            The proceeds from which of the following two closed churches helped the Presbytery purchase the property intended for use by Chain of Lakes?
                a) Warrendale Presbyterian Church         b) Waverly Presbyterian Church                               
                c) Reformation Presbyterian Church       d) Fourth Presbyterian

10.          What is the size of the property when it was purchased?
                a) 8.9 acres                         b) 12 acres                                          c) 15 acres

11.          What was one of the first fundraisers COL did for homeless teenagers?
                a) Pancake breakfast at Da Vinci                                b) Raffle               c) Sleeping in a box

12.          How many times has Chain of Lakes done Box City with Blaine High School?
                a) 3                         b) 2                        c) 1

13.          How many mainline churches not including Chain of Lakes exist in Blaine?
                a) 2                         b) 4                        c) 8

14.          What was the name of the school where Chain of Lakes did Sundaes on Wednesday?
                a) Northpoint Elementary            b) Roosevelt Middle School         c) Blaine High School

15.          How many years did Chain of Lakes do Sundaes on Wednesday?
                a) 2                         b) 3                        c) 4

16.          Chain of Lakes was featured in the Minneapolis Tribune?
                a) Yes                                                    b) No

1)            C             Da Vinci Academy, Hampton Inn in Lino Lakes,  Davenport, Roosevelt Middle School, Northpoint Elementary School, Abundant Life Church, Church property
2)            First Presbyterian Church in White Bear Llake
3)            First Presbyterian Church in Pine City
4)            Presbyterian Church of the Master in Coon Rapids
5)            B             Two years
6)            C             2012
7)            A             Ten adults
8)            A             Presbyterian Church of the Way
9)            A             Warrendale Presbyterian Church
                B             Waverly Presbyterian Church
10)          A             8.9 acres
11)          A             Pancake breakfast at Da Vinci
12)          A             Three times
13)          A             Two—a United Methodist Church and (ELCA) Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
14)          A             Northpoint Elementary
15)          C             Four
16)          Yes