Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Eve at Chain of Lakes

We had a marvelous first Christmas Eve worship service at Chain of Lakes. Despite a blizzard taking place, 38 people attended worship. We had wonderful music, plenty of children, and the story of Jesus’ birth was told. One woman shared with me that the sermon was the best she had ever heard at Christmas Eve. The sermon can be read at:

One of our hopes for our December worship services was for us at Chain of Lakes to learn what it is like to worship together. We most definitely accomplished this hope. We are a much different faith community now compared to one month ago. My wife, Amy, summed it up best after our Christmas Eve service, “Chain of Lakes had an excellent first month of worship.”

We will continue to worship in January. Our focus will be getting ready for our Grand Opening service which is Sunday, January 31.

I will be taking a break from writing on this blog until Tuesday, January 5th.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What a story!

The story of this week is not the snowstorm that we’re being told will hit Minnesota. No, the story is the celebration of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem approximately two thousand years ago. Even if we’re told with breathtaking intensity that the weather outside will be frightful, my breath is taken away when I contemplate Jesus’ birth.

At Chain of Lakes we will celebrate this story at Christmas Eve worship. The service will be this Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Lino Lakes Senior Center, 1189 Main Street.

Christmas Eve worship is my favorite service of the year. When I served at Plainview Christmas Eve worship became a tradition that attracted people from all over the area. We had so many people come that for a while we went to two services. At Chain of Lakes this Thursday we will have special music—my wife, Amy, and I will play a flute/violin duet and our daughter, Hannah, is singing; we will sing Christmas carols; I will share a message; we will receive Communion; and we will end the service lighting candles and singing, “Silent Night.” I get a shiver just thinking about it.

I encourage everyone to come to Christmas Eve worship at Chain of Lakes and to invite their family, friends and neighbors. It’s my experience that the unchurched are especially willing to attend Christmas Eve worship. Many people who joined our church in Plainview came to our faith community for the first time on Christmas Eve.

Everyone—even people who don’t attend church regularly—knows the basic storyline of Jesus’ birth. But the story is so powerful and so multi-dimensional that it’s worth coming to worship to hear it again. I’ve preached on this story almost every year of my ministry and still discover new and interesting information. Yesterday I thought about the sound of the heavenly host praising God. Can you imagine that sound? The story doesn’t say that the angels were singing, but we assume that they were. That led me to wonder about other places in the Scriptures where the angels were singing. I didn’t have the tools at my disposal to investigate that question, so I asked my Facebook friends for examples of angels singing. I immediately received many responses. This is what the story does to us—it captures us and engages us even if we’ve heard it thousands of times.

Only God could orchestrate a story that combines political intrigue (imagine the response today if the government forced everyone to go to their hometown to be counted), an unmarried couple, shepherds, and angels praising and singing to God. Each of these pieces intersected in an unbelievable way.

I can’t imagine doing anything else on Christmas Eve then joining the angels in worship.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hannah's birthday

Yesterday our daughter, Hannah, celebrated her ninth birthday. As expected she was looking forward to her day for a while. As I shared on my Facebook page Hannah bounded out of bed at full throttle around 6:15 a.m.

It’s a truism to say that time flies. It seems like just yesterday that I was holding Hannah in my arms at Rochester Methodist Hospital on December 16, 2000. Now I can hardly hold her when she jumps in my arms.

This has been the biggest year of change in our household since the year that Hannah was born. Hannah made the transition with wonderful grace. I still remember when Amy and I told Hannah a little over a year ago that we were going to be moving. Amy told me not to tell her that we were moving. The two of us approached her as she was watching cartoons in our bed. I shared with her that I was offered a new job and wouldn’t be serving the people in Plainview anymore. She whimpered and said, “you mean, we are moving!?” Kids are smart.

She quickly got on board with our move. I think those tears were the only ones she shed. Amy told me that when Hannah left our house in Rochester for the last time she said, “goodbye house” and walked away without turning back. Hannah is not afraid to enter into new situations.

I’m amazed at how easily she makes friends. Two weekends ago we celebrated Hannah’s birthday party with her friends. She had two friends from Rochester come, one friend from Ellsworth, Wisconsin come, and two friends from Blaine come. This past Tuesday night I picked up Hannah from her faith formation classes. As I walked into her classroom she was talking to a number of girls. I’m convinced that if she had invited those girls they would have come to her birthday party.

One of my favorite memories of Hannah this past year is when she wrote a story on the computer. She saw me typing my sermon into a laptop and wanted to do that too. So with one finger she typed a story that she had written—four complete chapters.

If I sound like a proud father, you are right—I am. It’s a privilege to be Hannah’s father. I look forward to coming home each day to hear the excitement in her voice as she shares the adventures she experienced during the day. I’m looking forward to seeing what adventures she encounters during her last year of life in the single digits.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A tribute to Mark Bayert

Last Wednesday I received an E-mail from Bill Chadwick, pastor of Oak Grove Presbyterian Church saying that Mark Bayert passed away. I immediately called my long-time friend and colleague, Carol Osweiler who works as the Christian Educator at Oak Grove to discover what had happened. She confirmed this terrible news.

His passing was a shock. Mark had retired from being the Head of Staff of Oak Grove in September, 2007. I hadn’t seen him much since then and assumed he was enjoying his well-deserved retirement. As I heard the story last Saturday at his funeral, Mark was in very good health before he went in last Tuesday to have a heart valve repaired. The surgery did not go well, and he passed away last Wednesday morning. Mark must have had some concern about the surgery as I was told he planned his funeral service before the surgery.

His obituary is here:

I met Mark and got to know him when we worked together on the Church Development Team (CDT) for our Presbytery. He was very supportive of expanding and re-vitalizing the Presbyterian presence in our Presbytery. Some of my favorite memories of Mark took place when the CDT took its annual retreat at Presbyterian Clearwater Forest. Mark would volunteer to cook breakfast. He got up early and took over the kitchen—preparing his special recipe of oatmeal.

We had a number of quality talks during those retreats. He was always interested in my work at the Presbyterian Church in Plainview. He was particularly interested in our House of Hope ministry and what we were doing with the Plainview Area Migrant Council. He shared stories of similar ministries he did when he served at Rock Island, Illinois.

His funeral was a treat to attend. I was able to sit with the Presbyterian clergy who attended. As Mark had requested in his funeral plans, many of us clergy were decked out in black robes with white stoles. The service combined the traditional elements of a Presbyterian worship service—call to worship, confession, the choir singing classical music, a sermon, and the Lord’s Supper. I was particularly pleased that a pictorial tribute to Mark’s life done with music was shared on the screens in the sanctuary at Oak Grove.

Mark was a renaissance man—and this came out at the funeral. He was passionate about his family, children, and grandchildren. He was devoted to his own education and sharing the faith through preaching and teaching; he played tennis, enjoyed cars, the theatre, singing and cooking.

The way he was able to combine these disparate elements into his life is an example to us all.

As a pastor I’ve had the privilege to get to know many Presbyterian clergy like Mark. They carry a determined outlook about our Presbyterian Church and how it relates to the world. Their lives and determination are examples to us younger clergy.

The world is a poorer place this week because of the passing of Mark Bayert. Praise God for the contributions Mark was able to make to the church and the world, and praise God for the ways Mark successfully modeled the living of a clergy’s life.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize Speech

This morning I printed and read a copy of yesterday’s speech by President Obama at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

The speech is worth reading. A transcript can be found here:

Some of the rhetoric is classic Obama, “We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached—their fundamental faith in human progress—that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.”

I never understood the criticism that Obama endured about him accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. I was surprised that Obama received the award. He doesn’t deserve it based on his accomplishments. Obama acknowledged himself that the prize was given to him not because of his achievements, but based on the hope that the Peace Prize committee has for his Presidency. He was gracious in acknowledging at the start of the speech that compared to others who have received the prize—people like Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela—his achievements are slight.

The media made the appropriate point that Obama was receiving a Peace Prize shortly after he deepened the war in Afghanistan.

I go back and forth myself on whether the United States should deepen the war in Afghanistan or start a pull-out. I appreciate Obama’s use of just-war doctrine as the criteria to decide on the direction of the war. I don't have enough information to make an informed decision.

For me the decision to go to war depends on just cause. Does the threat posed by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda justify military action? I was reluctantly in favor of the war back in 2001. Right now I don’t have enough information to know whether the Taliban and Al-Qaeda justify military action in Afghanistan.

So I have to trust our political leaders. I appreciate the thoroughness of the process that the Administration went through to come to their conclusion about what to do in Afghanistan. This wasn’t a decision that was rushed; it seems like they analyzed all possible strategies.

I agree with the thought expressed in Obama’s speech that military action is justified at certain times. I studied the techniques of non-violent resistance in college and believe in them at the core of my being. Love can touch and change the heart of an oppressor.

However I am not a pacifist. War should only be used as a last resort, but it is a legitimate and even moral option under certain conditions. Some people’s hearts are beyond the reach of love. Evil does exist. I don’t think that Bin-Laden would have stopped the bombing of the World Trade Center if a sit-in had been conducted at his cave.

I agree with these words that Obama shared yesterday, “Let us reach for the world that ought to be—that spark of divine that still stirs within each of our souls.” That line merited applause. The idea isn’t Obama’s—it’s one that all of us can reach for.

Monday, December 7, 2009

What a day of blessings! Praise God!

The blessings did flow at the Lino Lakes Senior Center yesterday as we celebrated our first Sunday morning worship service in the history of Chain of Lakes Church. It was a fabulous day that exceeded all of our expectations.

The numbers were outstanding: forty-one people attended—thirty adults and eleven youth & children. Two new families attended. Three families who we met for the first time at the Cedar Lake 7 concert last week also attended.

The service went off without a significant glitch. That is more of an accomplishment than you can imagine. I was sure something would go wrong and prepared the gathered crowd for a glitch. But no glitches.

And the Spirit----wow!!

Let me share some stories that I took from our first Sunday morning worship service.

As my daughter, Hannah, and I pulled up to the Senior Center parking lot we were greeted by a police car. An officer was sitting in his running car doing work on his computer. This reminded me of our first “?Why” event last spring when we had to explain to a police officer why we had accidentally turned on the alarm system of Abundant Life Church. What is it with police officers and first events at Chain of Lakes??? I’m hopeful that someday the traffic will be so crowded at our services that we will need a police officer to direct traffic. But a police officer—again?

I was so delighted by the experience of our very first acolyte lighting our candles. I am implementing an acolyte ministry in worship. I bought a candle lighter/snuffer last week and secured a boy to be an acolyte. I didn’t think it would be too hard. How hard is it to light a candle? Well I discovered that I am the one who needs acolyte training! As I tried to show the young boy before worship how to light the candles, I realized that I wasn’t doing this right. When we came back to the hallway outside our worship space after the practice the boy’s mother said, “I was an acolyte once.” I immediately said, “why don’t you be in charge of this part of worship.” And she took charge—and the lighting of the candles went very well. As I stood beside them watching her coaching her son in the lighting of the candles I was boisterously laughing inside of me. God does have a sense of humor.

I had no idea who would show up yesterday. To use New Church Development language this was not our launch service. That will take place on January 31, 2010. We didn’t do a lot of advertising for the service—we just encouraged people in our group to come. The first person didn’t show up until around 10:00 a.m.—a half a hour before the start of worship. Do you know what it is like to wait by yourself and not know how many will show? As I waited in am empty building I sat in a chair in our children’s room and prayed for people. Then the people started coming and coming and coming. And the people came—more than we expected. Wow!

The theme of worship yesterday was letting your love overflow—it came from the Philippians lectionary passage. In the sermon I shared a vision of what letting love overflow could like for our new church, and then I got practical and asked everyone to write on an index card how they could let their love overflow this week. I invited everyone to put their index cards on the Communion table. We could all barely fit around the Communion table. After we had all put our cards on the table we held hands and prayed together. As we were holding hands a person from our Core Group whispered in my ear, “this is awesome, Paul!” That moment was the best part of worship for me.

I was touched this past week about all the work that has gone on in the past five years to establish Chain of Lakes Church. Last week I pulled out a timeline and reviewed the work that took place in our Presbytery to establish this church. The first meeting took place in February 2004. Hundreds, possibly over a thousand meetings, took place since then. The work was hard, slow, and there were many days when the resistance to starting a new church seemed too strong. I shared with the group gathered in worship yesterday that their presence was a fulfillment of a dream that many people shared. It is humbling to see a dream borne of faith, hope and persistence begin to take shape.

I am also grateful for all the people who held up Chain of Lakes in their prayers last week. Late last week I sent out an E-mail request to all the people in our Presbytery who pray for Chain of Lakes asking for prayers for our first service. This morning I received an E-mail from a man who said he spent much of the weekend praying for us. A couple from another Presbyterian Church who attended our service yesterday shared that they pray for Chain of Lakes every morning. These prayers were answered yesterday. I say that because the experience yesterday far exceeded what any of us could have imagined. Only God could have orchestrated this.

By the way—if you would like to be added to the list of people who pray for Chain of Lakes, send me an E-mail.

Finally, I was touched by all the smiles on the faces of our Core Group. They have worked very hard since we first gathered on February 16th. Going from seven families to a first worship service is pioneering work. It’s full of starts and stops and uncertainty and most of all it’s full of faith. I was touched yesterday to see the joy on the faces of the pioneers of Chain of Lakes.

John Calvin wrote that in Communion that we are lifted by the Spirit to receive a glimpse of heaven. I believe that we received a glimpse of heaven yesterday in worship at Chain of Lakes. At this notion all I can do is get on my knees and say, “thank you, God!”

Friday, December 4, 2009

First Worship service

This Sunday, December 6 we at Chain of Lakes will gather at 10:30 a.m. to worship on a Sunday morning for the first time at the Lino Lakes Senior Center, 1189 Main Street in Lino Lakes.

This service is not (to use New Church Development language) our Launch or Grand Opening service. That service will take place on January 31, 2010. We will publicize that service heavily. Our plans are to send two or three different mailings out, have ads placed in the local newspapers, and invite people through a door-to-door canvass. If we were to compare that service to a business Grand Opening, we would cut open ribbons and invite dignitaries.

We’re not doing any of that this Sunday. In addition to worshipping God, a significant purpose of this Sunday’s service is for us at Chain of Lakes to learn what it is like to worship together on a Sunday morning. This service will be relaxed and informal.

I can’t wait to see how the Spirit works through our first Sunday morning worship experience.

I’ve enjoyed this week because I’m trained to prepare for worship services. For the past eight-and-a-half months a significant part of my work has been to organize events. I’ve enjoyed organizing these events and look forward to helping organizing many events in the future. But I really enjoy getting ready and leading worship. And though I’ve preached at Presbyterian churches almost every week since the middle of August, I haven’t had the opportunity to preach and lead worship for the people at Chain of Lakes. This week I’ve felt like a pastor again.

I’m sure we will have some glitches take place this Sunday. But if they do happen we’ll laugh about them. We’ll laugh not because we don’t do our best to be prepared and don’t take worship seriously, but because we don’t take ourselves overly seriously. Glitches happen. I am fairly sure that we won’t have to call the police (as happened in our first “?Why” event in May) to explain why we had accidentally triggered the building alarm. And hopefully the children won’t be scared to death of the alarm as happened at that “?Why” event. This time we have keys to open up the facility. But something will take place that we haven’t anticipated.

Everyone is welcome to this service. Everyone who attends will receive something commemorating their attendance at the first Sunday worship service at Chain of Lakes Church. Please pray for a wonderful worship experience this Sunday at Chain of Lakes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What a glorious and toe-tapping evening!

We had a glorious and toe-tapping evening last night in the celebration of the first night of our new contract with the Lino Lakes Senior Center. Forty-five people showed up for the Cedar Lake 7 concert. That number includes the nine people from the Cedar Lake 7 and includes four new families who came to inquire about our new church that is forming in Blaine and Lino Lakes.

The evening was a celebration of faith, community and possibilities.

The Cedar Lake 7 did a marvelous job of singing and sharing their faith with us. They were excited to be with us as we continue to launch our new church. One man from the group shared that they had sang for Kwanza—another New Church Development in our Presbytery, when Kwanza started. He shared how important it is for us at Chain of Lakes to be full of faith, patience, and persistence.

Another man from the group shared his story of coming to church. His story is very similar to the stories that I’ve encountered among the unchurched in Blaine and Lino Lakes. Ten years ago he and his wife knew that something was missing in their lives. They hadn’t gone to church in a long time and their five-year old son was not baptized. They started going to different churches. One day they went to Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. That faith community embraced them. He and his family found a home. Today his son is baptized and he is an active singer in the Cedar Lake 7.

I briefly shared with everyone who attended that part of the Purpose of Chain of Lakes is to make an impact on the community. Last night we were making an impact by sharing music and by helping the poor. All of the proceeds from the evening will go to CEAP, a community-service organization who serves low-income people in Anoka County.

After the concert I enjoyed meeting and talking to the four new families who attended the concert. They had heard of the concert in a variety of ways. One family saw the sign about the concert that we placed outside the Senior Center; another read an announcement in a church bulletin; two of them saw our ads placed in different papers. With each of the families I took a risk and asked if they were currently involved in a church. None of them were bothered by my question and all said that “yes” they were shopping around for a church. I invited all of them to attend worship at our first worship service this Sunday, December 6 at 10:30 a.m. at the Senior Center.

Last night’s event is one that we will do with much more frequency at Chain of Lakes in 2010. With the start of worship we will offer many more fellowship events—opportunities for people outside of our community to get a sense of who we are at Chain of Lakes Church.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Big Week at Chain of Lakes

This is a big week in the life of Chain of Lakes Church.

First, we are hosting a concert by the Cedar Lake 7, tomorrow night, December 1 at 7:00 p.m. at the Senior Center in Lino Lakes, 1189 Main Street. Tickets are $5 for adults; kids are FREE. All proceeds go to support CEAP, a community-based charity that offers many types of assistance to families in need. This concert is a wonderful way for people to be introduced to our faith community. We have invested a lot of our time and resources into this concert—and I’m looking forward to seeing how the Spirit works tomorrow night.

if you haven't bought a ticket yet, you can call our office--651-528-7321--or just come to the concert.

Second, this Sunday, December 6 we will worship for the first time on Sunday mornings. We will gather to worship at 10:30 a.m. at the Senior Center. We are already scrambling this week to do the items in preparation for worship that eventually will become common-place. Items like doing a bulletin, making sure we have all of our furnishings, having people organized to provide worship leadership, and small items like bringing a lighter so we can light the candles. This afternoon I spent a couple hours traveling to another Presbyterian Church to borrow banners.

If people worship with us on Sunday, they’ll have the opportunity to say in future years, “I attended the very first Sunday morning worship service at Chain of Lakes.” We are not doing a lot of advertising for this service as one important part of our gathering is to learn how to worship together.

I am looking forward to preaching for the people at Chain of Lakes. Yesterday I preached at Church of the Apostles in Burnsville. I shared with them that I had been on the road on Sundays since the middle of August preaching and speaking at different Presbyterian churches. I ended up preaching or speaking at Edgcumbe, Central, Community in Rochester, Presbyterian Church of the Way (twice), Kasson, St. Croix Falls, Hudson, Valley, Buffalo, and then concluded at Church of the Apostles’ in Burnsville. I enjoyed being an itinerant preacher/speaker, but I especially looked forward to writing sermons for the people at Chain of Lakes.

This Sunday that will begin.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stretched--delivering Thanksgiving baskets

This past Saturday many of us at Chain of Lakes church delivered Thanksgiving baskets to families in Anoka County. This was part of a program set up by C.E.A.P., a community-based charity that offers many types of assistance to families in need. As part of this program C.E.A.P. encouraged churches in Anoka County to give Thanksgiving baskets.

At Chain of Lakes we agreed to deliver baskets to twenty families. It was a bit of a stretch goal for us, but yesterday I was pleased to tell Tom Linman, the Family Services Manager in Blaine for C.E.A.P, that we were able to deliver all of the baskets.

Instead of having these families pick up their baskets at our office, we decided to deliver them to the families’ home. We did this so that those of us delivering the baskets would at least see the settings of these families in need.

Though it was a stretch for our new church to give out twenty baskets, the true stretching that took place was in the hearts of those of us who delivered the baskets.

We talked about this last night at our Chain of Lakes’ Steering Committee meeting. Those of us who delivered baskets shared some of our stories. We talked about how the traditional stereotype of people in poverty didn’t fit our experience. Many of the people to whom we delivered baskets are not immigrants or minorities. They are mainly Caucasian—working people who aren’t working or whose jobs aren’t paying enough to keep them from needing a Thanksgiving basket. We also talked about how the folks who are poor are invisible to the rest of us. They live on streets on which we rarely drive; they live in places that we can’t easily find. Their status is invisible.

It’s my experience that in talking about poverty it’s best to share stories. Oh sure I could recite numerous statistics, like the current national unemployment rate of 10.2 percent. But over time these numbers are just numbers. They don’t communicate the stories of people who are hurting—often hurting in an invisible way. When people become numbers they are too easy to push away.

I remember a woman to whom I delivered a basket this past Saturday. She had been in bed much of the day because of the flu. When she came to the door after I had repeatedly knocked on her door, I was touched by her eyes. The picture of her eyes has come to me often this past week. They were sunken and glazed over—tired. I know that she doesn’t have a car and she isn’t working. I don’t know the reasons for her family’s poverty, but I don’t need to know. What I do know is I’ve carried the picture of her eyes with me this week. They illustrated the harsh reality of her story.

Tomorrow most of us are going eat to excess on my favorite holiday of Thanksgiving. I know that at least twenty families in Anoka County have been given food to celebrate. And I know that many of us at Chain of Lakes had our hearts stretched as we delivered those baskets. As we sit down at the Thanksgiving table, we’ll sit with a stretched heart.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cedar Lake 7 concert

We at Chain of Lakes Church are celebrating our first day of our contract with the Lino Lakes Senior Center by sharing a concert by the Cedar Lake 7 with the community.

On Tuesday, December 1 at 7:00 the Cedar Lake 7, a Men’s Gospel Choir, will perform at the Lino Lakes Senior Center, located at 1189 Main Street in Lino Lakes. Tickets are $5 for adults with proceeds going to CEAP, a community-based charity that offers a many types of assistance to families in need. Children and youth can attend the concert for FREE

The Cedar Lake 7 is an outreach of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. Featured on Prairie Home Companion, their concerts are an uplifting blend of spirituals and exciting rhythms. Children and youth will especially enjoy their music.

I am especially excited that on our first day of our contract with the Senior Center we can offer this concert for the community AND support CEAP. One of the proposed Core Values for us at Chain of Lakes is we will have an outward focus. This means we won’t just focus on the needs of the people within our community, but will always be offering ministries that address the needs of the wider community.

Sharing music and helping families in need seem to be a wonderful combination of addressing needs in the wider community.

We are encouraging everyone at Chain of Lakes to sell tickets. We recently mailed tickets to everyone in our emerging community at Chain of Lakes. I am selling tickets myself. Our administrative assistant, Jennifer Huehns, and I are challenging each other to each bring ten people to the concert. This is a stretch goal for me—but I’ve learned that being the Organizing Pastor of a new church is a stretching experience.

We are encouraging people in the north metro and beyond to come to this concert. Come and celebrate with us as we begin a new phase of our journey as a new faith community.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Would you help us?

Today we at Chain of Lakes are scheduled to receive 75 beautiful and comfortable chairs that will be placed in our new worship space. A picture of this chair is on top of this blog. Tomorrow at our “Moving In Party” we are going to assemble and place the chairs in the worship space.

The chairs are comfortable, attractive, and inexpensive—they cost $36.99 a piece. John Ivers—a member of the Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes—did an outstanding job of finding these chairs and arranging for them to be delivered.

We have one challenge—how are we going to pay for these chairs? We don’t have a line item in our budget for purchasing 75 chairs at $36.99 a chair.

We are asking Presbyterian churches and others outside our new church to purchase chairs.

Through basic Mission support the PC(USA) is supporting Chain of Lakes financially. We are grateful for this support. When I go out to Presbyterian congregations to speak, I enthusiastically thank them for their support for basic Presbyterian Mission. This support is our seed money. I come from agricultural stock, so I know that it’s impossible to grow anything—including a church—without quality seed.

If you are a Presbyterian, would you ask your Session to consider prayerfully purchasing some chairs for Chain of Lakes? Encourage them to buy five, ten—maybe twenty. One church has made a pledge of purchasing twenty chairs. Purchasing these chairs is one way your congregation can directly help us at Chain of Lakes.

If you would like to help as an individual, would you consider purchasing chairs for Chain of Lakes? Perhaps you could purchase five, ten—why not twenty?

I spoke at our Presbytery meeting on Tuesday, November 10 about purchasing chairs. It was a gas for me to stand up in front of the Presbytery and make the pitch for these chairs. I shared that these chairs could be an effective evangelism tool—that people would like sitting in these chairs so much that they would come from miles to sit in them. Okay, that sentence might be a stretch, but I have faith that God can accomplish things that far surpass our expectations.

Who knows, maybe our chairs will be an Evangelism tool.

At that meeting, I received pledges for about 30 chairs. At that moment the interest in purchasing chairs seemed so high that one person asked me what we would do if we receive more money than the 75 chairs. I immediately replied that this is a problem which I look forward to solving.

We’re not solving that problem today—we’re encouraging people and congregations to purchase chairs.

If you are a participant at Chain of Lakes we are encouraging you to give financially to our ministry.

Would you help us? Send checks made out to Chain of Lakes Church. Our office address is 6776 Lake Drive #225; Lino Lakes, MN 55014.

Thanks in advance to everyone who will make a financial contribution for these chairs. It is a privilege to serve a connectional denomination!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Moving In Party

This Saturday, November 21 starting at 11:00 a.m. we at Chain of Lakes Church are having a “Moving In Party” at the Senior Center, 1189 Main Street in Lino Lakes. North Springs Church, the congregation who was worshipping at the Senior Center, celebrated their first service at their new location this past Sunday, November 15. They have moved all of their equipment and furnishings out of the Senior Center. The place certainly looked different last night when we gathered for our Alpha gathering.

Now we at Chain of Lakes have the opportunity to get the space ready for our use.

A number of activities will make up the “Moving In Party.” We will have a scavenger hunt for children and youth which will take place outside the Senior Center. The weather forecast for Saturday is very promising. We adults will assemble the 75 beautiful chairs that we have ordered for our worship space. The chairs are scheduled to arrive this Friday. (Thanks to the many Presbyterian churches and individuals who are making pledges to purchase for the chairs. We are still collecting these pledges and hope that the area Presbyterian churches and individuals will pay for all 75.)

While the kids are on their scavenger hunt, I intend to gather the parents and talk about future Children’s Ministry at Chain of Lakes. We will order pizza and as we are eating all of us will talk about getting organized for our first worship service on Sunday, December 6th at 10:30 a.m.

To know how much pizza to order participants from Chain of Lakes can help us by letting us know either way if they are attending.

I’m looking forward to a beautiful day on Saturday—a day of moving in, planning for the future, eating pizza, and watching our children have a blast!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Worshipping at Renovation Church in Blaine

Yesterday, my daughter, Hannah, and I attended Renovation Church. They are a New Church Development and currently worshipping at Northpoint Elementary School in Blaine.

According to their web site,, Renovation is being birthed by enCompass Church in Vadnais Heights and Grace Fellowship in Brooklyn Park. Both churches are helping Renovation by sharing finances, training, and people. This is one of the best ways to start a church—churches planting churches. I applaud these two churches for these efforts. One of my long-term visions is for us at Chain of Lakes to plant churches.

I found out about Renovation when we at Chain of Lakes were looking for worship space this past summer. When I inquired about the availability of Northpoint Elementary, I found out that Renovation was already scheduled to worship there.

They had a very impressive launch and early start to the congregation. According to their Facebook group page, 308 attended worship on the first Sunday and 194 attended their second service the following Sunday. They are already busy organizing Home Groups and seem to have been successful. They’ve organized three Home Groups of 25 people.

I’m always interested in how new churches get started, so at at 9:50 a.m. Hannah and I pulled into the parking lot of Northpoint Elementary School ready to worship.

As I approached the parking lot I was greeted by a man waving me into the correct place to park. When Hannah and I walked into the school we were greeted at the door. I asked Hannah if she wanted to go to the Kids program that Renovation offers during worship. She decided to do that.

The people leading the Kids program put me through a fairly extensive registration process. I filled out a form at a table set up at the entrance to the space where children meet. Hannah was given a nametag; I was given a tag that I had to show when I picked up Hannah from her Sunday school classroom. I certainly understand the intent of the registration—they obviously want to ensure safe pickup of the children participating in their Kids program.

I was very pleased that Dave Nyberg, a member of the Core Group at Chain of Lakes joined me for worship. Dave and I walked into worship at the gymnasium of Northpoint Elementary a couple minutes after worship started. The gym was dark and the music was being led by a four-man Praise Band. No bulletins were handed out. The Praise Band led us in two songs—ones we would hear on KTIS.

Their equipment was impressive. Renovation had a huge black curtain hung in back of a portable stage. An image was professionally projected in the middle of the curtain. The band was made up of three guitar players and a drummer. It seemed to me that they had all the eqipment needed to share a quality presentation.

After the music the lead pastor of Renovation, David Sorn, shared a thirty minute sermon. The sermon was well-prepared and well-presented. He talked about a number of issues--the main one that struck me was the relationship of the Sermon on the Mount to the Old Testament. David previously served as the Pastor of High School Students at Constance Evangelical Free Church in Andover. The sermon was preceded by a short video clip.

After the sermon we were encouraged to sign a card that was placed under the chair where participants sat. We were encouraged to share an offering (along with the card) in a bucket that was passed. David shared that if we were visitors we didn’t need to share an offering.

We then sang three more Praise songs. The service ended when their worship leader basically said, “see you next week.”

Dave Nybert and I estimated that between 100 and 125 people attended the service.

This style of worship is one I've experienced at other new churches in the area--band, sermon, no liturgy. At Chain of Lakes we've decided to worship with a little more balanced style. We'll use traditional forms of worship and try to share them in fresh ways.

After the service I congratulated David Sorn on their very successful launch. I told him that we were starting a new church in Blaine/Lino Lakes and tried to worship with other congregations to learn from them.

Before we went to Renovation I asked Hannah if she would share with me one quality she liked about the church and one thing she didn’t. As we were driving out of the parking lot she shared a lot. I can tell she is going to be an analytical person! She shared that she enjoyed singing with the other kids in her class—I think about eight kids attended their class of 1st to 5th graders. She also shared that she would have liked to have done an art project.

I’m very thankful for the opportunity to worship with Renovation. As I do with every church I pray that they will become the community that God desires for them to be.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Presbyfest cancellation

Last week I received an E-mail saying that Presbyfest was cancelled due to low registrations. Presbyfest is a bi-annual lay leadership event put on by the Presbytery I serve—the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area.

Presbyfest is one of my favorite events that our Presbytery does. I enjoy it because it is one of the few local, lay leadership training events that brings Presbyterians together. I’ve participated in Presbyfest almost every time it’s been offered; I always try to bring a group of people from the church I serve to Presbyfest; I’ve been a workshop leader for Presbyfest in the past and was scheduled to be a workshop leader this year.

Last December I was asked to serve on the Presbyfest leadership team. I was grateful to be asked, but I declined the offer. I’ve decided to curtail significantly my Presbytery involvement for three years. I figure that being the Organizing Pastor of a Presbyterian Church qualifies as significant Presbytery service.

As a leader I am an incurable optimist. When events happen I always look at the bright side and usually spin them from a positive perspective. However, I try to balance my own positive outlook with the facts. Sometimes the facts don’t lead to a positive and upbeat outlook. I remember earlier this fall at Chain of Lakes when we had 12 people attend our second Alpha session after 38 attended the Alpha Celebration Dinner. I was disappointed—and diplomatically shared my disappointment with our Emerging Community.

I’m very disappointed that Presbyfest was cancelled.

My intent is not to point fingers or enter into the blame game. I know many of the people who serve on the Presbyfest leadership team, and I know that they are effective leaders.

One element of an effective organization is to be a learning organization. In his book, “The Fifth Discipline,” Peter Senge wrote the book about learning organizations. I didn’t read the entire book, but I strive to implement the practices of a learning organization at Chain of Lakes After every significant event we do I try to ask the question, “what have we learned from this event?” After our second Alpha event our worship team at Chain of Lakes came to the conclusion that we at Chain of Lakes weren’t as far along in developing the faith habits of our people as we thought we were. We changed the original plan that we had for the start of worship. Instead of starting with a big Grand Opening worship service, we decided to start worshipping ourselves on Sunday mornings. We put off our Grand Opening service until January. I think this plan is better than the original one. I can’t say I’m thankful that we had such a low turnout for our second Alpha event, but I am thankful that we were able to learn from it and develop a stronger plan for our new church.

My hope for our Presbytery is we can enter into a learning phase about Presbyfest. What has the cancellation of Presbyfest caused us to learn? How will these conclusions change the Presbytery’s programming and the way we program in the future?

It’s bad enough to have to endure the cancellation of Presbyfest; it would be even worse if we don’t learn and grow and become more effective as a Presbytery.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Listening to Miroslav Volf at Luther Seminary

Last Friday and Saturday I had the opportunity to attend the Missional Church Consultation organized by Luther Seminary in St. Paul. The title of the Consultation was “Created and Led by the Spirit Planting Missional Congregations.”

Luther Seminary has done these consultations for a number of years—this one was the fifth. Last weekend they shared four lectures and other small group experiences. To read a copy of the lectures go to and type in the password “planting.”

I am still learning about what it means to be a “missional church.” This conference helped me in my understanding of what this means.

By far the highlight of the conference was listening to Miroslav Volf speak. He teaches theology at Yale University.

He started out sharing that he wakes up at night thinking about our culture and his part in the culture. Some highlights for me were the following comments:

“What our culture has come to believe is the importance of human flourishing
Humans have always sought some form of experiential satisfaction
Religious culture was built around trying to resist this basic human instinct and of human drive”

“Culture has become the managed pursuit of pleasure instead of a sustained effort to live the good life.
It’s not simply the pursuit of pleasure—it’s the managed pursuit of pleasure
We work out; we work hard; We maximize utility as we see it—instead of seeing ourselves as living the good life

“Most of the church is organized around a very secular understanding of human flourishing. It’s almost as if the pastors didn’t believe in the gospel. The gospel doesn’t claim their lives or imagination. The pastors had to put fake jewelry around the gospel.”

“People are either takers, givers, or traders
Takers—we are so consumed about ourselves that we are willing to take.
Traders—I want something back when I give
Givers—I want to give more than I receive.
“we are a culture of traders and not of givers. We want something back for the gifts we give.”

“If we are traders it’s hard for us to appreciate grace.”

This last point on takers, traders and givers especially resonated with my experience of people, in particular Minnesota people. It’s hard for us to accept the FREE gift of grace that we have been given. We want to turn grace into a transaction.

I was especially inspired about his ideas regarding gifts and immediately ordered his book, “Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace.”

I look forward to reading the book and writing about it on this blog.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Upper Room

Late yesterday afternoon I drove to St. Louis Park to worship with the Upper Room community. Upper Room is a church who started as a ministry within Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina. If I have the story correct, they were spun off as a separate congregation within the last year.

I attended the Upper Room once when I served as the pastor in Plainview. They have always been very successful at attracting a large number of young adults to their community. When I attended a service at Christ Presbyterian a number of years ago I would guess that close to 400 young adults participated.

I’m always interested in learning from churches who successfully attract young adults to a faith community. So at ten minutes to five yesterday afternoon I got out of my car on a side street and walked to the building where they are worshipping. I wasn’t able to park in the parking lot of the building because there was no room. Upper Room is leasing space from Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in St. Louis Park.

At the doorway to the building many young adults were hanging out. The sanctuary was lit by a lot of candles. Candles in the chancel area, candles or lights (I don’t remember which) on the side of the sanctuary—candles all over the place. Music was playing as I sat down in the sanctuary. For me the mood was mysterious—and inviting.

The too-practical side of me wondered what the budget for candles is at the Upper Room.

The service started with congregational singing led by their Praise Band. The three songs we sang were ones I’ve frequently heard on KTIS. The lyrics were projected in three places in the sanctuary. After one song the lights in the room changed colors—I think from red to blue. The congregation—I would guess approximately 150 to 200 attended, almost all young adults—must not have been singing as loud as usual. The song leader encouraged us at one point to sing louder.

After the singing we watched a video of a dramatic reading by a woman who portrayed the women at the well—the story in John 4. It was very well done. As I watched it I wondered if the woman was a professional actor—the quality was that high. After the video Kurt Vickman, the lead pastor of the Upper Room—gave about a 35 minute sermon on the theme of the day, which was “Searching for Water.” This sermon is part of a series called, “Soul Cravings.”

After the sermon the Praise Band led us in more singing. During the singing we were invited to come forward and take a bottle of water. Different bottles of water were set on a table in the chancel. They were marked to share the different types of refreshment we are given by God. People could kneel down to pray and then take a bottle of water with them. I took a bottle marked, “living water.” It’s powerful to be reminded that God’s living water is actually alive within me. That bottle of water is now in my car and is a visible reminder of that.

After the service I talked briefly with Kurt Vickman. I congratulated him on the service and wished God’s continual blessings on his ministry and the ministry of Upper Room.

I have all sorts of take-aways from my experience. The main one is how cool it is for me to see young adults worshipping together and being a community living in the rhythm of Jesus!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fort Hood shootings

Why would an officer in the army start spraying bullets at his own comrades? For me this is the key question in the story of the Fort Hood killings. What was the motive?

Finding the truth is not easy. Already people with ideological positions are sharing their views. The alleged shooter, Nidal Malik Hasan was stressed from caring for victims at Walter Reade Medical Center, he had an Islamist political ideology, he was trying to get out of his upcoming deployment in Afghanistan. I agree with President Obama’s statement yesterday that it is important not to jump to conclusions until all the facts are known.

But let’s face it—it’s very hard not to speculate.

I can’t help but look at this story through the lens of faith and a Reformed understanding of the human condition. When Nidal Malik Hasan was born no one lifted him up and said this baby will turn out to be a killer. When he came into the world the people around him celebrated the gift of new life.

Over time something went wrong in Hasan’s life—just as something went wrong in the lives of other mass murderers. I believe that all of us are born with the possibility of creating tremendous good and perpetuating terrible evil. For some reason evil won out in Hasan’s life.

What's confounding is the very day that Hasan allegedly murdered 13 people,he gave away his furniture to a woman who lived in his apartment building. Sure we could speculate that Hasan thought he was going to die in the shootings, so he gave away his stuff. But a death-wish doesn't have to prompt an act of generosity.

The human spirit is complicated.

I would like to learn the key moments in Hasan’s life that turned him into a killer. Just as I would like to learn the key moments in the lives of the other mass murderers. Since Columbine these incidents are way too frequent.

We in the faith community have a role to create a culture that resists violence. If Martin Luther King and Mahattma Ghandi taught us anything it’s that violence perpetuates itself. I’m not trying to make a statement about war or guns, I’m just pointing out that repeated exposure to violence does something to us—our hearts become corroded.

Until we create a culture that doesn’t glorify violence, we will continue to grieve such evil.

Friday, November 6, 2009

New Church Development Conference

This past week six of us from Chain of Lakes attended a New Church Development conference sponsored by our denomination. The conference was called, “Can I Get a Witness” and was hosted by San Clemente Presbyterian Church.

The conference was a marvelous opportunity for the six of us at Chain of Lakes to spend time together and to learn more about New Church Development. I have gone to church conferences for the past 16 years; I love them. In some ways I am a conference junkie. The problem I always encounter is translating the excitement I feel about a conference back to the people of the church I serve.

The good folks at the Church Growth Office of the PC(USA) made it easier to bring lay people to this conference. The registration for the conference was only $200 and the lodging was free. The Church Development Team of our Presbytery also made it easy for us to bring people as they contributed over $1,000 to the airfare of our group.

Having five others from Chain of Lakes join me will deepen the impact of this conference into the ministry of Chain of Lakes.

One highlight of the conference was having our group meet Doug Cushing. Doug has been my New Church Development coach since last December. Our denomination has wisely instituted a New Church Development coaching program. Every New Church Development pastor has the opportunity to have a coach. Doug and I talk on the phone once a month. He doesn’t tell me what to do—but reflects back from his experience and training what he hears from my stories.

Doug spent a significant amount of time with our group in San Clemente. He ate with us, sat down in fellowship with us, worshipped with us, and spent Tuesday afternoon in Dana Point with us. He asked good questions of our group about what is happening at Chain of Lakes and shared stories from his experience of being a successful New Church Development pastor. As a Packer fan he endured our ribbing of the recent triumph of the Vikings over the Packers.

Both of the speakers at the conference were from third-world countries. The speaker that resonated with our group the most was Murithi Wanjau, the senior pastor of Mavuno Chapel in Nairobi, Kenya. In his humble speaking style Pastor Wanjau shared the amazing work of the Spirit in his church. Their church has experienced tremendous growth, but what was amazing to me is the impact the people of the congregation are having and will have on the nation of Kenya. One statement that he made that resonated with me was his encouragement to depend on God and not strategies. Certainly strategies are important for churches, but too often we look to techniques for our answers instead of sitting down and patiently waiting for a word from the Lord. Prayer is not a substitute for action, but action without prayer is not complete.

On Tuesday afternoon the six of us and Doug Cushing went on a site visit to Dana Point, California. Dana Point is a beach town located about ten miles north of San Clemente. The Presbyterian Church in San Clemente is investigating the possibility of starting new churches in different areas. The participants at the conference went out in a number of groups to learn about different areas and bring back a report and suggestions.

We interviewed people in Dana Point asking them about the community, the needs of the community, and how a church could make a difference in the town. Paulette Zvorak and I ended up talking to two folks in a surf shop for about thirty minutes. Our group discovered that one need of Dana Point is ministering to surfers. No faith community is successfully reaching this group of people. We at Chain of Lakes came up with the idea of hiring a married couple who would develop relationships with this community, open up a storefront, and eventually start holding events. This could be a ministry under the umbrella of San Clemente. Over time it could evolve into a worshipping congregation, but the start would be a ministry of relationship.

We were touched by the hospitality of the people at First Presbyterian in San Clemente. They went out of their way to help us feel welcome. One small example of this was a welcome pack that they shared with us in our hotel room. Their modeling of hospitality will be one we at Chain of Lakes will lift up as an example.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

My hometown--Worthington, Minnesota

Author Tim O’Brien recently wrote a fascinating article for the Smithsonian magazine about coming to terms with his hometown, Worthington, Minnesota. The article is here:

His words were especially interesting to me because I also grew up in Worthington, Minnesota. I’ve had the opportunity to live in many different places, but Worthington is my home-town.

Almost all of us have a home town; almost all of us have deep opinions about our home town. Sure, some folks move so often that they really don’t have a home town, but most of us do. And coming to terms with our home-town is a significant part of our journeys. Bruce Springstein sang about this. In his article O’Brien also shared how this coming-to-terms process never quite ends.

O’Brien graduated from Worthington High School eighteen years before I did. That time distance was enough for him to experience a much-different Worthington than I did. I never had to talk about the Vietnam War or wonder if I would be drafted. A person who graduated from WHS in 2000 will view Worthington much differently than I did in 1982. My graduating class was almost entirely white. That isn’t the case today. My mom—who still lives in Worthington—has shared with me that almost twenty different languages are spoken in the school system today.

My dad didn’t suffer from alcoholism, so my family didn’t experience the small-town, moral judgment that O’Brien mentioned. Small towns make judgments about their occupants. It’s like being forced to live on the different side of the tracks.

The people of Worthington were good to me. I experienced some success in athletics, music, and was active in my church. In their minds I lived on the right side of the tracks and received the support of the community.

These judgments define small town, Midwestern communities—and we never really escape them.

I could relate to O’Brien’s experience at age 7 of “ice skating in the winter, organized baseball in the summer, a fine old Carnegie library [I experienced a different library], a decent golf course, a Dairy Queen, an outdoor movie theater and a lake clean enough for swimming.” I experienced all of that too. Some of my best memories of Worthington were riding my bicycle to the ball fields every day in the summer to practice and play baseball.

Just this past week I received another coming-to-terms-moment of my hometown. I was helping out in my daughter’s third-grade classroom. I didn’t know the substitute teacher and started a conversation. After I told her I was starting a new Presbyterian church in Blaine/Lino Lakes, she told me that she grew up in a Presbyterian church. “Where,” I asked. “Worthington, Minnesota,” she replied. My jaw must have dropped six inches.

She went on to tell me about attending church at the church building that used to be downtown. I haven’t heard many stories about that place. The Presbyterians built a gigantic, new church building in the 1960’s. That building defined my experience of the church. This teacher was married when the building was new. “It was such a beautiful place,” she told me. “The purple carpet was beautiful, almost perfect for weddings.”

My home church still has that purple carpet. It has partly defined this woman’s view of her hometown. I won’t look at that carpet the same the next time I see it. It’s part of this coming-to-terms process.

I'm traveling to San Clemente, California with five others from Chain of Lakes for a New Church Development Conference. I won't be blogging again until Thursday, November 5.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The start of weekly worship at Chain of Lakes

This past Tuesday night the Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes voted on a proposal for the start of worship for our New Church Development. The proposal that was approved on Tuesday was developed by the worship team at Chain of Lakes. That proposal had been changed from an original idea that the worship team had about starting worship.

The process was healthy. Our worship team developed a proposal, circumstances caused the first proposal to be changed, the final proposal that the Steering Committee approved was modified some more.

The bottom line is we at Chain of Lakes will soon be worshipping together.

At 10:30 a.m. on the first three Sundays in December we are going to have three “Seasonal Celebration” services. These services (and all our future services) will be at our new worship site—the Senior Center in Lino Lakes, 1189 Main Street. These services in December will be planned so that families can worship together. Infant and toddler care will be available, but we want children and youth to worship with their families.

On Thursday, December 24th we will celebrate Christmas Eve by worshipping at 5:30 p.m.

We will continue to worship on Sundays in January. The formats of those services have not been determined yet.

Our Grand Opening worship service will be Sunday, January 31. To use New Church Development language this service will be our launch. We will be doing heavy advertising and marketing for this service. We have a six-week publicity plan that will start soon after the Christmas holidays are finished.

I can’t wait to start weekly worship at Chain of Lakes.

As a pastor I am trained to design, lead, and plan worship. It certainly has been a switch for me to be pastor of a community that doesn’t worship. We had good reasons to wait to start worship until we did—and I encouraged us to wait. I wanted us at Chain of Lakes to first develop some significant parts of our congregational culture before we started weekly worship. But the wait has been challenging. For the past ten weeks I’ve preached or spoke almost every week at a Presbyterian congregation in the area. I’ve enjoyed doing this, but I look forward to designing worship and preaching for the people at Chain of Lakes.

These decisions by our Steering Committee are significant. It’s exciting to take another step towards living out our Purpose Statement at Chain of Lakes Church!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Carleton Football

Ever since I walked onto the practice field in the fall of 1982 I have cheered passionately for Carleton Knights’ football. As a player I gave four years of my life to the team. I played in the era when Carleton transitioned from the Midwest Conference to the M.I.A.C., a difficult switch that caused us to lose many more games than if we hadn’t made the change. Changing conferences changed our expectations—we deemed our 1985 season a success when we won four conference games. That season was a success for me personally as I was one of the captains of the team and achieved All-Conference status. That season also launched a golden era of nine years for Carleton football where we averaged six victories a year, beat St. Olaf every year but one, and won a conference championship.

This past Saturday Amy, Hannah, and I drove to Laird Stadium in Northfield to watch Carleton host the St. Thomas Tommies. My nephew, Adam Henning joined us. He attends St. Thomas, and we are developing a new tradition of watching the Carleton/St. Thomas game every year.

I went to the game thinking that Carleton would get waxed—I put the line at 17 points for St. Thomas. The game didn’t start out well for the Knights as St. Thomas scored on the opening kick-off and then quickly scored again. About halfway through the first quarter we were down 14-0, and I was thinking that St. Thomas might win by forty.

But Carleton didn’t give in. We scored a touchdown and then right after halftime scored another to tie the game. Suddenly the possibility of an upset was dancing in my brain. Kurt Ramler, the Carleton coach, then strategically called an on-side kick. It was a brilliant call and initially it seemed that Carleton had recovered, but somehow St. Thomas was given the ball. I would like to see that play on instant replay.

St. Thomas is one of the best teams in the M.I.A.C. They are well coached and have quality athletes. With the scent of an upset in the air they adjusted by changing quarterbacks and by running the option. Our defense couldn’t tackle the new quarterback and couldn’t defend the option. St. Thomas scored on five straight possessions. Carleton didn’t give up and the game wasn’t lost until the Tommies scored their last touchdown with less than two minutes to play. Final score: St. Thomas 48 Carleton 28.

Football is a game of passion—that’s one reason I loved playing it. Even as a fan my passion can overtake me. Carleton didn’t lose the game because of the officiating, but we had about six judgment calls that went against us. On one fourth down incompletion a St. Thomas defensive back pushed a Knight receiver right in front of the official. It was clearly interference—in my mind. I loudly let the official (who couldn’t hear me) know what I thought of the call. I didn’t use language that would make anyone in my congregation blush, but it’s fair to say the tone of my voice was full of energy. Hannah was taken aback by my sudden expression of fury. Most of the time I am mild-mannered, but as I said football is a game of passion—and I am passionate about Carleton football.

Kurt Ramler has the Knights moving in the right direction. Even without a senior class he put a scare into St. Thomas. Even when the game appeared lost, the Knights didn’t give up. The future is bright for Carleton Knights’ football.
And I can hardly think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon then attending a game at Laird Stadium.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reflecting on the 20th anniversary of Jacob Wetterling's abduction

This past week was the 20th anniversary of the kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling. The local media did a tasteful job of writing about the event.

The Star Tribune ran a lengthy story this past Sunday about Aaron Larson, a friend of Jacob Wetterling who was present at the abduction. That link can be found here:

Yesterday the Pioneer Press also ran a lengthy story yesterday. That link can be found here:

This story is one that has reached into the soul of people in Minnesota. Say the name, “Jacob Wetterling,” and most adults 30 and over can have a conversation. I was in California on October 22, 1989—working for the farm workers and most likely reflecting on my own encounter with the Loma Prieta earthquake. I remember at that time some college women from Minnesota who came to do a short internship with the farm workers. On the window of their car they had taped paper signs imploring the public to find Jacob.

On the Jacob Wetterling Resource web site Patty Wetterling said,
“Today people often remark, ‘I know where I was when Jacob was taken. I remember what I was doing or wearing. I remember how it made me feel. I’ve never stopped wondering what happened to that little boy.’ That defining moment in time continues to impact people throughout Minnesota, Jacob’s home state, and in nearly every corner of the world.”

I have never met Patty Wetterling. From afar I’ve always admired her courage and character. She has said over and over and over again that she believes Jacob is still alive. Let’s face it—if most of us were in her shoes we would have given up that dream long ago. She has responded to this tragedy by dedicating her life to keeping kids safe. Just a year after the kidnapping she and her husband formed the Jacob Wetterling Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to educate the public about who takes children, how they do it and what each of us can do to stop it.

We live in a culture that encourages grievance. If someone cuts in front of us while driving, we have the right to “send them the bird.” If we are not feeling a hundred percent, it’s understandable if we lash out at our kids. We have a system that justifies our grievances.

Instead of giving into the rage she must have experienced Patty Wetterling and her husband responded in a different way. Their response is a lesson in character for us all.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Facebook, Social Media, Connection

Yesterday I had an experience where Facebook connected me to a friend whom I haven’t contacted in years. I think the story illustrates how Social Media has connected us at a speed that wouldn’t have happened for me even twelve months ago. Let me share the story.

Tonight I am sharing a talk on prayer at our Alpha gathering. As part of the talk I’m sharing a few significant stories in my own prayer life.

One of the stories happened while I was a Youth Director at First Presbyterian Church in Babylon, New York. As I prepared the talk yesterday afternoon I thought about a few people from that church. I decided to try to find them via the Internet.

That wasn’t hard. I did a Google search for First Presbyterian Church in Babylon. After finding the church’s web site I saw the church had a Facebook page. The first status report on the church’s page was written by one of my friends.

That didn’t take long—ten minutes.

I immediately sent my friend a Facebook Friend request. I thought of some other people I knew from that church. I went through the Facebook friend list of my friend and sent out a Facebook Friend request to another man who I knew in Babylon. That man immediately responded to me. We had conversation yesterday afternoon and last night on my Facebook page and via E-mail on Facebook. I did some of my writing on my I-Phone.

Having this conversation brought back many wonderful memories.

I wonder what my Grandmother Moore would think about this story?

This story illustrates many dimensions of how our ability to connect has changed. I’m still trying to come to understand Facebook and Twitter—and I know many other ways of Social Media connection exist too. I hope and pray that the church and especially Presbyterians are thinking creatively how these mediums can enhance our ministry.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Evangelism at Presbyterian Church of the Way

Yesterday I had the opportunity to preach at Presbyterian Church of the Way (PCOTW). They are the closest Presbyterian Church immediately south of Chain of Lakes. Their pastor, Todd Allen, and the leadership at PCOTW have been very supportive of our newly forming congregation. They let me live in their Parish House for almost four months as my family prepared to sell our house in Rochester. Yesterday they dedicated some worship furnishings that they are giving to our congregation when we start worship.

I was especially touched that nine folks from Chain of Lakes joined me at the 11:00 a.m. service.

Because so much of my work as a New Church Development involves Evangelism I decided to preach a sermon on Evangelism. In particular I encouraged everyone to have a conversation about God this week with an unchurched person. The entire sermon can be found here:

As I shared in my sermon I think we’ve been conditioned to think that the unchurched don’t like God or are turned off by church. I don’t think that is the case at all. I’ve found the unchurched to be some of the most spiritual people that I’ve met. I know that God is working in their lives. Sometimes the unchurched are just waiting to have a conversation about God. I don’t think there are waiting for someone to be confrontational or offensive to them in the name of God. But I’m absolutely convinced that they are willing to talk to someone who models God’s love in front of them—someone who will display the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Someone who is a Christian who will say, “I really care about you as a person.” I think our approach is everything.

Imagine what would happen if everyone in our congregation looked for opportunities to talk about God with people. I’m not talking about being confrontational or offensive or insulting. I’m talking about approaching people with the attitude of the fruits of the Spirit—love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, & self-control.

This week I’m going to be especially aware of opportunities to talk about God with others. I don’t know what will happen, but I’m going to trust God that some wonderful experiences will take place.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Debating Society???

One of my desires at Chain of Lakes is to create and develop disciples—people who know God with their mind, love God with their heart, serve God with their feet. Finding a balance among those three is critical.

For the most part I see us Presbyterians as unbalanced among head, heart, and feet. We are very head oriented—and very willing to have debates with other Presbyterians with whom we disagree.

Case in point. In the most October 19th issue of the Presbyterian Outlook is an exchange between Eric Mount and Winfield Casey Jones. The two of them debated some fine points of biblical authority. I found the articles interesting. However, I’ve read so many articles like this in the past 16 years and heard so many speeches like this that I can’t get exercised about either’s position. After reading these articles I came to the conclusion that our denomination has become a debating society. I also wondered--how did this came to be? How did we Presbyterians delude ourselves into thinking that church is a debating society?

Eric Mount’s article can be found here:

Winfield Casey Jones article can be found here:

I would be more impressed if Eric Mount and Winfield Casey Jones committed to praying with each other instead of debating each other’s understanding of biblical authority.

A much better way has to be found. I don’t think the world is sitting around waiting for the results of a Presbyterian debate on biblical authority. In fact I don’t think most people go to church looking for a debate. I think they are thirsting for the living water that Jesus Christ offers.

A better way is found in the same issue of the Outlook. Chris Erdman, pastor of University Church in Fresno, California, shared five practices for the church. He urged the church to: 1) preach the gospel over and over again; 2) return to the life of prayer; 3) pursue purity of the heart; 4) practice a gutsy inner relinquishment; 5) give the Bible freedom to judge us broadly and save us wholly. His article can be found here:

I’m sure that Chris Erdman has opinions on biblical authority and the ordination questions that endlessly swirl around our denomination. But I didn’t detect an ounce of ideological bias in his article. I sense that he wants people (whether they are conservative, moderate, or liberal) to unite around a complete understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

I would love it if the people at Chain of Lakes became known by these five practices.

The world is thirsting for this type of disciple. But as long as we Presbyterians see our church as a debating society, we will continue to struggle.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Minnesota Twins, 2009--Yes but ...

I’ve learned in almost 17 years of ministry never to evaluate the church’s ministry based on one worship service. I always look for trends and try to remember the expectations I had at certain dates.

These ideas come in handy when evaluating the Twins’ recent season. Put most simply the season was a success—the Twins won the weakest division in baseball on the 163rd game and were swept in the playoffs by the team with the best regular season record. At a basic level it was a success.

Yes, but push deeper and the results are more confusing.

If someone had said to a Twins' fan on April 6, the first game of the regular season, that the Twins would win the weakest division in baseball on the 163rd game and then be swept in the playoffs by the team with the best regular season record, would you be satisfied? I don’t know.

If someone had said this on Tuesday, July 14th, the day of the All-Star game, would you be satisfied? Probably

If someone had said this in September when they were seven games behind, would you be satisfied? Most definitely

If someone had said this when the Twins were three games out with four games to play, would you be satisfied? Oh yes—you would have thought that the person telling you this was delusional.

If someone had said this when the Twins were entering the bottom of the ninth last Friday, October 9 ahead 3-1, would you have been satisfied? No. At that moment my nephews were already looking ahead to the Twins playing in the American League Championship series.

I would guess that most Twins fans so enjoyed the drama of the season’s last week, that we will think of the season as a success. Most of us will forget that the drama only happened because the Twins failed to deliver on what many fans expected.

So can we be satisfied with wonderful drama that shouldn’t have happened?

Yes, but …

And I think “Yes, but …” describes the Twins’ season.

The Twins have managed to tamper fans’ expectations. Most of us have bought into the Twins’ managements’ argument that because the Twins are a small-market team just making the playoffs is a success. And for the most part these are realistic expectations. Fans in Kansas City would be more than satisfied to trade results with the Twins in 2009.

Yes, but professional sports teams are asked to give championships every now and then to their fans. I can tell you stories about the 1987 and 1991 Twins seasons off the top of my head. I enjoy sharing them. I can hardly remember the years the Twins won Division Championships in the first decade of 2000. The Twins have won five.

So I have to evaluate the Twins’ season as a “Yes, but …” They gave us some wonderful memories. (The 163rd game against the Tigers easily will go on my top five list of memorable Twins’ games.) But we were in the lead in each playoff game against the Yankees and ended up losing.

Yes, but. . .

Monday, October 12, 2009

Drew & Nikki's marriage blessing

This past weekend our family celebrated the blessing of my wife, Amy’s son, Drew and his wife, Nikki’s, marriage at Pax Christi Catholic Church in Rochester. The picture above is of Drew and Amy.

Drew and Nikki were married in February 2008 in a small, private, ceremony in Texas. Drew serves as a medic in the Army and in June of this year completed a year of service in Iraq. This past weekend was an opportunity for family and friends to kick up our heels and celebrate with Drew and Nikki.

The entire weekend went off with hardly a hitch—rare for weddings. The rehearsal was late Friday afternoon, the rehearsal dinner was Friday night, the blessing was early Saturday afternoon, and the reception Saturday night.

Some of my favorite moments were:

Watching my wife Amy’s power point presentation. She put together a presentation that shared through pictures and music some of Drew and Nikki’s life story and shared some significant moments in their relationship. I would guess that Amy spent almost 100 hours on the presentation. One of my favorite parts of the presentation was the very last slide. She put a video clip of Drew’s arrival on leave from Iraq last February. He was walking in the airport arm-in-arm with Nikki, and said, “thanks, momma. My name is Drew, and I’m home.”

Watching our daughter, Hannah, dance. She danced almost every song during the reception Saturday night. We practically had to drag her eight-year old body off the dance floor at 11:30 p.m.

Laughing as Bea Harrington, a close friend of ours from Plainview, tried to take a picture with my I-Phone. After the blessing on Saturday I was taking many pictures and asking others to take pictures. I asked Bea to take a picture of her husband, Kent, and me. Bea couldn’t figure out how to take a picture. I kept telling, Bea, “push the button on the bottom of the camera.” But even though she tried she couldn’t get a picture of Kent and I. The scene was hilarious. I was telling her, “push the button,” and she was giggling as only Bea can. Kent was rolling his eyes as only a husband can. The first picture she took was a headless shot of Kent and me.

Enjoying the conversations I had with Father T, as he is affectionately called. He was the priest at Pax Christi when I first met Amy and officiated at the marriage blessing. He has retired from parish ministry, though he is soon coming out of retirement to help out at a Catholic Church in Rochester. He is an absolute delightful brother in Christ. He’s written a book on marriage. He generously gave me a copy at the reception on Saturday night.

I posted about 40 pictures of the weekend on my Facebook page. If you aren’t a Facebook friend of mine, send me a request.

The entire weekend was a highlight of this year—which has been full of many.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Welcome, Jennifer!

This week I have had the opportunity to welcome Jennifer Huehns as Chain of Lakes’ new Administrative Assistant. Jennifer’s first day was this past Tuesday. She will be averaging 15 hours of week.

I believe that Jennifer has a call to this position. She shared with me that when she saw an ad in the newspaper advertising this position, she said that we had written out the perfect job for her. At that moment she was transitioning from her work of interior design and looking for something else. And that something else turned out to be us at Chain of Lakes!

The process for hiring an Administrative Assistant turned out a bit longer than I had anticipated. We had an excellent Hiring Committee who was appointed in June by our Steering Committee. That committee (made up of Mary Ann Archer, John Ivers, and me) first met in late July to finalize the job description. In late August we advertised the position in the classified section of some local newspapers. We received over 50 applications. I read every word of every application. Our Hiring Committee winnowed the number of people we were considering to ten in early September. I then conducted then ten phone interviews on the week of September 6th. I then selected three candidates for our Hiring Committee to interview on Saturday, September 19. We ended up interviewing two excellent candidates. Our Hiring Committee was unanimous in our selection of Jennifer.

Jennifer grew up Presbyterian in a small church in Illinois. She has lived in Lino Lakes for the past five years and before that lived seven years in Brooklyn Park. She is married and has a daughter in 9th grade and another daughter in upper elementary. She most recently was the owner and co-founder (with her twin sister who lives in Lino Lakes) of Jennifer Rebecca Designs, an interior decorating company. Jennifer received an Associate Degree with high honors in Business Administration at Rock Valley College in Illinois. She is the team manager for the Centennial Soccer Club and volunteers twice a week at the dance studio in which one of her daughters participates.

Our Hiring Committee found Jennifer to be very personable. We believe that the people in Chain of Lakes and people in the wider community will enjoy getting to know Jennifer and working with her. Her administrative experience will be a big plus to our new church and her design skills are something we need. She is comfortable in all Microsoft programs. She is gifted in coordinating and managing projects.

She started her business from scratch and shared with the Hiring Committee that she enjoys the challenges of starting a new organization

Jennifer and I are still coming up with her schedule. But if people from Chain of Lakes call our office and hear a different voice on the phone, it will be hers.

When I called Jennifer to offer her the job, I shared with her that I hoped that she would work for Chain of Lakes for years to come.

Praise God for the call to work positions!! Welcome, Jennifer to this staff position at Chain of Lakes Church!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Metrodome Magic

Wow. “Metrodome Magic” is a new phrase that has entered the Minnesota lexicon in the past seven days. Even though I don’t believe in magic or even luck, I don’t know how else to explain how the Twins won last night.

The game brought new meaning to heart-stopping. From now on whenever I watch a tense game I’ll compare the drama to last night’s thriller. I thought the Twins would lose when they were down 3-0. Then I thought they would win when they went ahead in the 7th. Then I experienced the heart-stopping zaniness of thinking they had lost it in the 8th, won it in the 8th, lost it in the 9th, won it in the 9th, lost it in the 10th, won it in the 10th, lost it in the 12th, and then VICTORY.

I called my 95 year old grandmother after the game (she’s an avid Twins’ fan and has had heart bypass surgery) partly to see how her heart did.

The game last night was easily the most exciting game I’ve seen the Twins play since the 7th game of the 1991 World Series. The only game that might be comparable was the Twins playoff victory against Oakland.

One note to all fans—I know that the Twins are huge underdogs against the Yankees. But don’t accept a loss before the series even starts. Thinking the Twins could beat the Yankees is not any more improbable than thinking the Twins could beat the Tigers in the 1987 playoffs. Besides, in professional sports no guarantee exists that the Twins will be back in the playoffs any time soon. I’m going into this series thinking that this inexplainable run does not have to end.

I discovered a new way to celebrate after the Twins victory. Many of my Facebook friends were posting comments after the game. I hit the “like” button on every comment that I saw and then enjoyed reading the responses. I know that was nerdy, but screaming at the TV for almost five hours is not rational either. I guess I experienced a “virtual celebration?”

Oh and a note to all Chain of Lakes participants—don’t let the game stop you from attending the first week of Alpha. We’re meeting at 6:00 tonight at the Hampton Inn in Lino Lakes. We’ll give updates on the game at our event. Bring your cell phones and put it on gamecast.

Only in the Metrodome could a game like that be played. Metrodome Magic! Go Twins!