Thursday, April 30, 2009

There's more that unites us than separates us

One personal core value statement of mine is “there is more that unites us than separates us.” I frequently shared this statement at Community Presbyterian in Plainview and imagine that I’ll share it in my ministry at Chain of Lakes Church. Often I find myself sharing these words when disagreements seem to be overwhelming.

In the PC(USA) our disagreements seem overwhelming and are tearing us apart. It’s my experience that many Presbyterians are very wedded to our own tribe and viewpoints. Our allegiances far outweigh our willingness to be in dialogue with people outside our tribe. Working with people outside our tribe doesn’t seem to happen often.

I don’t want to appear to be on my own high horse when it comes to being wedded to my own tribe and viewpoints. I certainly am capable of being polemical, and I enjoy spending time with people with whom I agree. However, I believe that the future of the church and especially the future of main-line denominations lie in our ability to claim the fact that there is more that unites us than separates us.

This past week the leaders of the PC(USA) sent a letter applauding Presbyterians for our civil conversation on the recent voting on Amendments to the Book of Order. In the Twin Cities Area Presbytery our conversation about these Amendments was civil—heated at times, but civil.

To be honest, I don’t think the world outside the PC(USA) is really paying attention to our civil conversation regarding Amendments to the Book of Order. I do think folks outside the PC(USA) would notice if our conversation was not civil. I think the world assumes (rightly or wrongly) that leaders inside a denomination are civil with each other.

I think people outside the PC(USA) would be more interested in us if they saw us working together in a dynamic and Spirit-inspired way. This can only happen if we truly believe that there is more that unites us than separates us.

Last November I preached for the Twin Cities Area Presbytery (which by the way is still a terrible name. If we aren’t going to name our Presbytery, “Hope Presbytery,” I would vote for “Plainview Area Presbytery”). In my sermon I shared that I’m not all that interested in having conversation with people with whom I disagree. Don’t misunderstand me—I am interested in other people’s viewpoints and how they came to them. I’m just passionate about discovering what unites me to others and then doing ministry together. Oh sure—if I have a couple hours of time and a cold beverage in my hand I might find it illuminating to discover how a person came to a position. But how many of us have that sort of time?

Until we Presbyterians muster the will to work with people with whom we disagree in a Spirit-led way, the world is not going to pay much attention to us.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reflections on Exponential Conference

Last week I attended a Conference called “Exponential” in Orlando, Florida. This was a national new church development conference organized by the Exponential Network. This is a network that seeks to encourage church planters who start reproducing churches.

The web site for the conference is:

The web site for the Exponential network is:

It’s fair to say that the Exponential network is made up of people on the conservative side of the church. The conference featured speakers who are stars within the conservative movement—Erwin Mc Manus, Craig Groeschel, Tim Keller, and many others.

I was amazed at the number of people who attended—over 3,000. I know that our main-line denominations are struggling with New Church Development; however this conference is an illustration that the church as a whole is not struggling with New Church Development. It wouldn’t surprise me if thousands of churches are being started right now in our country and hundreds of thousands across the world.

At the conference I enjoyed spending time with Philip Lotspeich and Ray Jones. Philip is the coordinator for church growth for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Ray is going to take an Evangelism position for our denomination in Louisville. Among other things they helped me learn to play Texas Hold’em.

I attended a Pre-launch track. This was for folks who haven’t had a first public worship service. I went to workshops that were about “Building a Launch Plan, “How to plant a church and still have a life,” “Building an Indigenous Church,” “Building Relationships one Act of Service at a time,” and “Building a Launch Team.”

One speaker who I particularly enjoyed was Larry Osborne. He is the pastor of a huge church in California. I have rarely heard a pastor speak with such honesty. He talked about having a life while building a church—which is what I desperately want. I don’t mind working my tail off to build this new church, but I won’t do it at the expense of my family. He shared some thoughts and ideas about this in a honest and refreshing way.

I went on to purchase one of his books called, “Spirituality for the Rest of Us.” It is an excellent book of essays about spiritual formation—again written in a refreshingly honest way. I know that his theology is much conservative from mine, and I still take away a lot from him that can help me grow in my own relationship with God and help me grow in my own skills.

It’s my experience that one of the greatest mistakes we Presbyterians make is we ignore any idea from people who have different labels then our own. If a person believes that women shouldn’t be ordained (which many people did at this conference and which I categorically reject) then we won’t be willing to listen to the person. Or if a church believes that the elements of Communion can become the actual physical body and blood of Jesus then we won’t pay attention to what the church has to say.

We have to get beyond our own silos and admit that we can learn from people who view the world in a much different way. Are we willing to learn from others even if we come across some ideas that we categorically reject? We Presbyterians better be willing to wrestle with that question.

At the close of the conference the speaker invited folks to come forward to receive anointing of oil. I was touched and can still visualize all the young men (yes, they were all men) streaming forward to be anointed by oil. They were literally on their knees in prayer. These guys are passionate about planting churches and being successful in ministry. A few of these guys will plant huge, successful, and re-producing churches. Their passion was inspiring to me.

Monday, April 27, 2009

First Communion

This past Saturday my daughter, Hannah, received her First Communion at Pax Christi Catholic Church in Rochester. It was a big day. On Saturday we celebrated with close family at our house, went to Mass, and then celebrated more afterwards at Pax Christi. Yesterday we went to my wife Amy’s family in Ellsworth to continue the celebration.

For the past eleven years I’ve attended Pax Christi Catholic Church with Amy. I’ve grown to learn the rituals that are very important to Catholics. First Communion is one of them. We have no corresponding ritual in the Protestant Church. A Protestant friend of our family (who grew up Catholic and understands these Catholic rituals) was asked by her husband about Hannah taking First Communion. “She has received Communion,” her husband said. That is true—Hannah participated in Communion at the Presbyterian Church where I most recently served. But my Protestant friend who grew up Catholic told her husband, “Hannah didn’t receive Catholic First Communion.”

There is a big difference between receiving Communion for the first time in a Protestant Church and participating in First Communion at a Catholic Church. When Hannah received Communion for the first time in a Presbyterian Church I talked to her briefly about what Communion means. When Hannah received First Communion this past Saturday she wore a gorgeous dress (she looked like a bride), we had family travel from all over the country to be with her, and she had people from the church congratulate her. Big difference

Some people might wonder what I—an ordained, Presbyterian pastor—think of my daughter receiving First Communion at a Catholic Church. My first thought is I’m glad she is receiving Communion. As a child I never received Communion until my Confirmation day—and I think that was and is wrong. I strongly believe that all children should receive Communion after they are baptized. Jesus loved children just as much as he loved adults. I think he is scandalized that children are prevented by almost all denominations from celebrating Communion.

My second thought is I’m glad that Hannah has this day to remember. It was fun this past weekend to hear Amy’s family talk about their First Communion day. They almost all remembered that day and what happened. First Communion is a special day on people’s journey of faith. Amy’s mom even brought a picture from Amy’s First Communion celebration.
What matters most to me is that Hannah grows up to live out the desires that God has on her life. I think this could happen if she becomes a practicing Catholic or a practicing Presbyterian. Of course I have a preference about what denomination she chooses, but she’ll eventually make that choice herself—without too much pressure about the denominational choice from Amy or me.

What I do know was Saturday was a special day for Hannah on her journey of faith. I will always remember the smile she had on her face as she got ready to receive Communion. She was so full of happiness and peace. I believe that she was experiencing the wonderful presence of the Holy Spirit. I take comfort in knowing that she will always have that moment as part of her faith journey.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Exponential Conference

This week I am attending the Exponential Conference in Orlando, Florida. It’s a conference for New Church Development Pastors. I heard that 3,000 people are here—about 30 Presbyterians. I’m not going to have much time to blog while I am here, so I’m taking a week off from writing. I’ll be back next Monday, April 27

Friday, April 17, 2009


For the past couple weeks we’ve had a group in our new church planning a series called, “?Why.” The idea behind the series is for us to share responses to questions people have for God which start with the word, “why.”

To come up with our questions I’ve had people think about this, “If Jesus walked into the room and said you could ask him one question that starts with the word ‘why,’ what would your question be?”

We ended up with three pages of questions. Our planning group for this series came up with some questions, people at our Agape Feast came up with some questions, and I came up with about 20 questions.

If anyone would like to see the three pages of questions, share a request on the comments section of this blog. I’ll E-mail them to you.

Last night our planning group sat down and finalized the questions that we will be addressing in our series.

After some conversation the questions we developed are:

Drum roll …………………………………………………………………….

Week 1: Why doesn’t God intervene to stop suffering, especially among children?

Week 2: Why is the Bible relevant today if it was written over 2000 years ago?

Week 3: Why does one God have so many different denominations?

Week 4: Why make time for church?

The whole process was fun and could easily be adapted by churches.

We also came up with some creative marketing ideas for this series. More on this later.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Responses to nine questions from a seminarian

Bruce Reyes-Chow, our current PC(USA) moderator, shared responses to nine questions that he was asked by a seminarian. His responses are here:
He encouraged others to respond to these questions too. So….

1. Tell me about your conversion experience/faith journey.
I’ve never had a conversion experience—have always had a belief/faith. I grew up Presbyterian; decided to go to seminary while working for the United Farm Workers as a Volunteer in Mission for the Presbyterian Church; decided to go into parish ministry while being the Youth Director for a Presbyterian church in Babylon, New York; decided to go into New Church Development while serving as a Redevelopment Pastor in Plainview, Minnesota. I’ve frequently experienced and discerned the presence of God on my journey.

2. Why did you go into ministry?
God called me into ministry. My journey has been a long and winding one that is hard to share through a short answer. I recently gave a 25 minute talk about my faith journey with the New Church Development that I am currently serving. During the many different parts of my journey God has sharpened my motivation for ministry. While working for the farm workers I wanted to go into ministry because I believed the best way to change the world was through the church; while working as a youth director I wanted to go into the parish because I wanted to combine spiritual growth with social witness; while working as a Redevelopment pastor I felt a call to be a New Church Development pastor because I felt the best way to create the type of church God is calling me to help create is through a new church. God has continued to refine my motivation.

3. What do you love the most about being in ministry?
It’s hard to choose only one! I’ll limit myself to four:
I love helping groups of people succeed with projects
I love preaching sermons that are used by God to touch and help people
I love helping people grow in their personal relationship to God
I love going on Mission Trips

4. What is the most challenging thing about being in ministry?
It’s hard to choose only one!
I think it is very hard for people to work well together. We live in a culture where control is more valued than collaboration. Being patient enough to work through differences, finding energy in common ground, and then trusting each other—these are tough.

5. What are the most important things to keep in mind while ministering to people?
Partnering with God in knowing how to be helpful in a situation. The other day I shared with a new person in our new congregation that it would be a privilege to be the person’s pastor. I was then asked, “what is a pastor?” I shared that a pastor is a guide. Guides play different roles with people. As a spiritual guide we are alongside people on their spiritual journeys. As a guide we’re sometimes called to carry a load, sometimes we’re called just to be present, sometimes we’re called to share our story, sometimes we’re called to be silent. When I’m ministering with a person and I have no clue what to do I pray silently, “help!!” God usually does.

6. How do you deal with the stresses of ministry and leadership?
Daily prayer—there is nothing in my life over which I don’t pray. My prayers are even more passionate when I’m stressed
Exercise—I try to run three or four times a week—it’s a wonderful way to clear my mind
Participating in a group—I’ve participated in a clergy group for nine years.
Being vigilant about my day off
Spending quality time with my family
Creating strong boundaries with people in my church. I’m always available, and there are certain times that I’m not available—unless it is a crisis.
Learning from other pastors and churches
Getting seven hours a sleep each night—this might seem to be minor, but it truly isn’t. I can deal with stresses much better when I’m rested.

7. How would you define your leadership style?
I was asked that in a PNC interview with my current church. I shared that I desire to be a servant leader. Every day I pray that I will love as Jesus loved, be a blessing to others, grow to be like Christ, and help bring in God’s Kingdom. In being a servant leader I see myself as collegial, a risk taker, innovative, a person who offers hope, and someone who wants to continue to grow.

8. How would you define your leadership techniques?
The techniques or methods that have served me the best are:
Prayer, strong relationships with people, keeping hold of the vision that God has given, persistence and more persistence, being willing to take risks, loving people when I disagree with them, not taking myself too seriously, being willing to say “I’m sorry—I messed up.”

9. What are the things people do that make you feel most supported and loved as their pastor?
Unexpected cards and notes. I keep an envelope that I call “nice notes.” I read them when ministry is hard. These notes are like precious jewels.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The decline of Christian America?

During Holy Week usually Time or Newsweek usually share a cover story about religion. Newsweek delivered this year with a cover article called “The End of Christian America” written by Jon Meacham. The cover of the article had the words, “The End of Christian America” in red and in the form of a cross against a black backdrop.

The link to the article is here:

The article (I read the on-line version) must have generated quite a bit of reaction as Meacham was compelled to share a short response to the reaction. In his response he said in his cover story he was arguing two things:
1) that new data suggested that the percentage of Americans who self-identify as Christians has been falling and
2) the political project undertaken by politically and theologically conservative Christians in the wake of Roe v. Wade—what we call, in cultural and political shorthand, the rise of the religious right—has failed.
His response can be found here:

In a very detailed blog, Greg Boyd shared six reasons why American should not weep over the demise of American Christianity. His blog is here:

There is way too much in Meacham’s article for me to reflect on in a short blog. I would like to share some very brief reflections on this term “Christian America.”

When I hear the term, “Christian America” my mind often thinks of the book, “the Scarlet Letter.” I think of Hester Prynne (a main character in that book) having a red “A” emblazoned on her clothes and being imprisoned by Christians for committing adultery.

I’m confident that most Americans do not want to see this type of “Christian America.”

However I am concerned that the percentage of Americans who self-identify themselves as Christians has fallen. I’m not surprised when I hear that young people (between 18 and 30) do not believe as strongly as the generations before them and some even have a hostile view towards the church. David Kinnaman made this argument in his book, “Unchristian.”

Clearly something is changing in American culture regarding our views about God and the church.

I’m happy if the religious right has less control over our culture and politics; I’m very concerned if belief in God decreases and if the church’s influence in the world decreases (particularly the main-line church).

At a minimum we in the church (especially the main-line church) have to do much better at understanding what is happening in our culture regarding people’s beliefs about God and the church. I certainly don’t claim to have the answers, but I am certainly willing to work with others at understanding this more clearly.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Glimpse of Heaven

Even though I didn’t preach on Easter Sunday this year, Holy Week was wonderful for me. On Thursday night our new church had a beautiful and well-attended Agape Feast; on Friday I drove to downtown Minneapolis and attended a beautiful (in a Good Friday way) Tenebrae service at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Then yesterday I decided at the last minute to attend Mass with my family at Pax Christi Catholic Church in Rochester. I went there instead of going to a Presbyterian Church.

We went to 9:00 a.m. Mass. The place was packed—it wouldn’t surprise me if 700 people attended. We weren’t able to park in the parking lot, but did find a place on a grass field a long ways from the entrance to the church. When we walked into the narthex people were already sitting there as the sanctuary was full. I asked the usher if there were any seats in the sanctuary. He said there were some seats in the front if we wanted to sit there. I love to sit there, so we enjoyed a front row seat.

The music and singing was just superb. We began worship by singing the familiar Easter hymn “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” The moment was beautiful. Everyone in the choir was singing with passion, most of them had a smile on their face, I was singing my lungs out too. The words of the hymn are so familiar to me that I felt like I was praying. As I was singing/praying I thought about John Calvin’s thought that during worship and in particular as we celebrate Communion, the Holy Spirit leads us to receive a glimpse of heaven. I felt at that moment that I received a glimpse of heaven. How do I know? I don’t—I accept it on faith.

How ironic that John Calvin's thought came to me as I was singing my lungs out at a Catholic church.

Last week I wrote in a blog that I was praying that we would be different people because of our celebration of Holy Week. I feel different today because of this glimpse of heaven that I received.

In his Easter message yesterday, Pope Benedict said,
“since the dawn of Easter a new Spring of hope has filled the world; from that day forward our resurrection has begun, because Easter does not simply signal a moment in history, but the beginning of a new condition: Jesus is risen not because his memory remains alive in the hearts of his disciples, but because he himself lives in us, and in him we can already savor the joy of eternal life."

Yesterday this Presbyterian savored the joy of eternal life with my Catholic friends.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Successful Evening of Feasting!

Last night our new congregation hosted our second “large” group event when we held an Agape Feast at the Hampton Inn in Lino Lakes. As I mentioned in an earlier blog I had never led an Agape Feast before. I enjoyed learning about them and working with our new congregation’s leaders in planning one.

The event was a big success—27 people came, 22 adults and five kids. We had four new families come—and some of them want to be part of our Emerging Community.

We also collected 85 pounds of food (84 items) for the local Food Shelf. I'm very excited about this display of generosity by our new congregation.

At the service we sang together (really for the first time), heard two Scriptures about love, had about ten minutes to reflect and talk in small groups about qualities of love we heard in the Scriptures, ate a simple meal, heard me talk about future ministries in our new church, and stayed around afterwards to talk.

We were very blessed to have Chaz Ruark attend. He is our Presbytery’s new Executive Presbyter.

It’s a blast to live out the calling that God has given to us!

Have a wonderful Good Friday and Easter.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Reflecting on Steve Cannon

Radio personality Steve Cannon died this past Monday, April 6. Reading a few articles about his life (in particular this beautiful tribute by Tom Mischke at brought back many memories.

When I was growing up in Worthington, Minnesota in the 1970's my family listened to WCCO AM—the great 830. When I came down for breakfast in the morning the radio would be on. I didn’t need a clock to know the time as I came to know what WCCO played between 7:10 and 7:30 a.m. If my memory serves me well their sports report was at 7:25 a.m. That lasted for five minutes. If I stayed on track in getting ready for school I could listen to the sports, get my school stuff together, and dash out the front door to make the bus.

This was the 70's so my family didn’t sit around a big brown radio listening to the radio at night like my grandparents’ generation say they did. But radio was an important part of my family’s life. We didn’t get Cable TV until the early 80's and until then could only watch three or four television stations. I’m sure that we listened to radio more than watching television. The only station we listened to was WCCO AM.

Listening to Steve Cannon was part of my radio listening. We frequently visited my grandparents in the southeastern part of Minnesota, and when we rode in the car we listened to the radio—and Steve Cannon. I still remember his booming voice and all his funny characters –Morgan Mundane, Ma Linger, and Backlash LaRue. I treasured listening to his radio spats with Sid Hartman.

Reflecting on Steve Cannon reminded me of a lot of car rides I took with my Dad. He would drive, I would sit in the front seat, and we would listen to Steve Cannon. Cannon usually talked about the events of the day. His thoughts led my Dad and I to talk about the issues of the world.

During the mid 70’s the success of the Vikings was as important to me as almost anything else. Via Morgan Mundane, Steve Cannon usually had something to say about the Vikings. During that time we didn’t have the overflow of information about sports teams that we have today. So when Steve Cannon talked about the Vikings I listened closely.

I never met the man personally, but through his medium he became part of my relationships with the people closest to me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Agape Feast

Tomorrow night, April 9, our New Church is holding an Agape Feast at the Hampton Inn at Lino Lakes, 579 Apollo Drive at 7:00 p.m. The Hampton Inn is easy to find—just take exist #36 off from I-35W, go a very short distance north on Highway #23 and then a left on Apollo. We have quality child care lined up.

I have never led an Agape Feast before. I’ve always known about Agape (or Love—Agape is the Greek word for love) Feasts, but I had to spend some time over the last month learning about them. Some of the non-clergy reading this might wonder, “Don’t you learn about that stuff in seminary?” I didn’t. The way I learn about new things now is through observing what other churches do, reading books, talking to colleagues, going to conferences, and surfing the Internet.

The Internet is a fabulous tool for researching new ideas. Do a Google search on “Maundy Thursday” and a person could find churches doing many different types of worship services. I tried that and in five minutes of searching I came across a Tenebrae service, Communion service, vigil of the final hours, and a foot washing service. And that was only five minutes.

I remember trying to design church programs in the pre-Internet era. When I first came to the Plainview church I had two days to come up with a Lent mid-week series. I work best when I have a number of ideas in which to choose. So I drove to a local college library (60 miles away) to immerse myself in possibilities.

If I had tried to design an Agape Feast before the Internet, I would have first read through the books in my personal library, and then driven to a local library. Now through the Internet I can do all of that research and much more.

The idea for doing an Agape Feast came when I was browsing through a dictionary on Spiritual Formation that I own. The following statement grabbed me:
“Essential to the love feast is the balanced combination of three essential elements: a token meal, a measure of spontaneity in sharing spiritual matters with one another, and a liturgical pattern that links the participant to the past but adapts to the changing needs of the present.” (Page 176 from “Upper Room of Christian Spiritual Formation," Keith Beasley-Topliffe, editor)

In my research on an Agape Feast I came to learn that Agape Feasts were commonly held during the first two hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection. The practice fell out of favor, but was revived by us snarly Protestants. During the Reformation some Protestants were looking to drop some worship practices of the Catholic Church and re-discovered the Agape feast.

In the late 1600s a German historian named Gottfried Arnold rediscovered the Agape Feast and wrote about it. In the early 1700’s some Protestants came across Arnold’s writings and began holding Agape or Love feasts. The first one was served in Germany on August 13, 1727. The Agape Feast has become a tradition of the Moravian Church. Moravians have made it their custom to celebrate special occasions by sharing an “Agape Feast.”

Our Agape Feast tomorrow night will be simple, but will incorporate the three elements I mentioned--especially adapting to the changing needs of the present. I wonder if an Agape Feast has been held in a Hampton Inn before.

Everyone is welcome to tomorrow night's Agape Feast. This Agape Feast will probably look far different than what a Moravian would expect, but I’m guessing all who come will experience a connection to God and the world!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Home" by Marilynne Robinson

For the past month the on-line book club in which I participate has read Marilynne Robinson’s novel, “Home”. It’s a book that any Midwestern religious person with a fondness for small towns (me) would grow to love and especially savor. Robinson recently wrote “Gilead.” Both are set in the small, Iowa town of Gilead.

In “Gilead” Ames, a dying congregational pastor, wrote a letter to his son. The book chronicled Ames’ past, in particular the story of Ames’ grandfather, a radical abolitionist.

“Home” took place at the same time as “Gilead.” “Home” was a story about the family of one of Ames’ best friend. The patriarch of that family was Robert Boughton, a retired and dying Presbyterian pastor. In “Home” Boughton’s youngest daughter, Glory, comes to her childhood home in Gilead to take care of Boughton. While doing this the prodigal son of the family, Jack, comes back after disappearing for 20 years to live in the family home. In the setting of small town Iowa the story of “Home” is how Boughton, Glory, Jack, and Ames come to terms with their past relationships and grow to a new understanding of who they are in relationship to each other.

I couldn’t help but read “Home” through a family systems perspective. Boughton, Glory, and Jack tip toed around Jack’s rebellious past. While a teenager Jack fathered a daughter. He soon left Gilead, the daughter died of illness, and Boughton and Glory to an extent were left to pick up the pieces. That event—as an example of Jack’s rebelliousness—was the white elephant in the room that no one could honestly and openly discuss. Boughton couldn’t understand why Jack was who he was; Glory was angry with Jack for what he did, but was not able to completely share her anger; Jack never thought too much about that event and didn’t understand why he didn’t.

I particularly enjoyed “Home” because of Robinson’s craft as a writer. The plot was slow moving, but Robinson seemed able to clearly display what was going on underneath the slow action. In one example she wrote for pages about how Boughton’s family prepared for a dinner party with Ames and his family. Every small detail had meaning—the selection of Boughton’s tie, what Jack wore, when Jack came to dinner. The pace in the story and for the reader is far from the instant gratification of the Facebook age. So little happened in the story, so much happened below the surface—it was life in a Protestant, Midwestern, small town in the late 50’s.

“Home” is a big to savor. Pick it up, find a quiet place, and let your mind wander off to the setting and story Robinson beautifully described.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Holy Week

Yesterday was the start of Holy Week. Along with the week that includes Christmas and Christmas Eve this is one of the most important weeks of the year for the church and for Christians. This past Saturday I started out Holy Week by attending Mass at Pax Christi Catholic Church in Rochester; they were celebrating the Passion. Yesterday morning I went to worship at Community Presbyterian in Rochester. Then later in the day I watched some of Church of the Resurrection’s ( feed of worship on my home computer.

All three services helped me spiritually (each in a different way) start Holy Week.

This Holy Week will be different for me. For the first time since 1992 I will only be leading worship on Maundy or Holy Thursday. This year I will feel more like a person in the pew than a pastor.

One quick advertisement—our new church is holding an Agape Feast this Thursday, April 9. It is being held at the Hampton Inn in Lino Lakes starting at 7:00 p.m. The Hampton Inn is at 579 Apollo Drive.

Holy Week is an incredible opportunity for the church, for people of faith, and for the world. This week I am praying that our world will be a different place because we celebrated the events of Jesus’ last week.

It’s powerful for me that two branches of the church—Protestant and Catholic—are celebrating Holy Week at the same time. Can the day be far away when the Orthodox branch always celebrates Holy Week at the same time? It’s meaningful to me to reflect that clergy all over the world are getting ready and finishing preparations for Holy Week. I’m guessing that these servants are stressed and excited; they are agitated, getting ready, looking forward to the week’s services, pondering possibilities, maybe a bit scared, and probably looking forward to Monday. It’s moving to me that billions of people on planet Earth will be celebrating the resurrection this Sunday.

This week is a time that Christians can claim distinctiveness from the rest of the culture. I remember one Good Friday worship service. It was an intense service that only a small number of people attended. As a leader of the service I was deeply touched by what happened during worship and by pondering Jesus’ death on the cross. I felt different after the service compared to before it. As I was driving home that night I turned on the radio and came to a sports talk show. I remember thinking, “how can these people care about a basketball game (it was Final Four weekend) instead of Jesus’ death? I turned off the radio and continued to reflect on what I had just experienced.

Before the weekend was over, though, I had turned on the TV and watched some basketball.

When I was leading worship on a weekly basis, I would always encourage people to worship on Thursday, Friday, and then Easter Sunday. It’s my experience that the week is much more meaningful when we experience the entirety of Jesus’ last week. I would encourage everyone who reads this blog to do the same.

Who knows--maybe we'll be different next Monday compared to today.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hard Stuff

Last night our Emerging Community talked about the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve been reading through Philip Yancey’s book “The Jesus I Never I Knew.” Last night our group watched Yancey’s video presentation on the Sermon on the Mount and discussed what he wrote in his book.

I first came across the Sermon on the Mount at a Bible Study at Carleton College. The metaphors about salt and light made so much sense to me then. Later I discovered that the Sermon on the Mount inspired Gandhi and Martin Luther King to develop their views on pacifism and non-violent resistance.

The Sermon on the Mount continues to inspire me, especially the version in Matthew. I so want to see a world where people love their enemies, where anger and lust and retaliation don’t consume people, where people love each other so much that divorce doesn’t happen, where people don’t judge others, where we all live by the Golden Rule.

I’m an idealist—and my ideals are what Jesus shared in the Sermon on the Mount.

But I’m also a realist. Look at the world and we can quickly see that the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount haven’t taken hold. Even worse—look at us Christians, and it’s terribly disappointing that we don’t live out what Jesus taught.

Inevitably when I talk with people about the Sermon on the Mount, someone will say, “this is impossible.” Last night our Emerging Community agreed that the teachings of Jesus are very challenging.

I like how Yancey approached the difficult challenges of living out these ideals. He said that Jesus’ teaching is something that we strive towards and that God accepts us where we are right now. In the Leader’s Guide for this series he wrote, “There is only one way for us to resolve the tension between the high ideals of the gospel and the grim reality of ourselves: to accept that we will never measure up, but that we do not have to. We are judged by the righteousness of the Christ who lives within, not our own.”

I would add that just because we will never measure up, doesn’t mean that we don’t try.

Last night I encouraged the Emerging Community to pray and reflect about how each of us could take one step towards the ideals that Jesus shared. For example it’s probably not realistic to give up anxiety, but we can take one step towards letting go of anxiety. What step can we take?

I was thinking about this when I picked up today’s Star Tribune and saw a front page illustration of this challenge. A little background—this week a man was convicted of luring a 24 old woman to his place through a Craig’s list ad and then killing her. Yesterday the murderer was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The story in the paper was about what the Olson family (the victim’s family) said to the murderer at the sentencing.

The father of the victim is a Lutheran pastor. His quotes in this front page story illustrate the challenges of living out the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount.
“ ‘My faith has been tested,’ said the Rev. Rolf Olson, minutes after Anderson [the murderer] as sentenced to life in prison … ‘I do that pastor thing … evil, forgiveness, God’s grace, sin’ …As for what needs to be done, he finds a comforting clue in the New Testament. ‘It defines forgiveness as to cut free, to let go. We are attempting to do that with Mr. Anderson. We have a lot of living to do, a lot of loving to do. Forgiveness is a process,’ he added after a while. ‘There is no rush.’”
The full front page story is at:

Another story is at:

I can imagine that the following words of Jesus seem impossible today for the Andersons.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

Obviously this is very hard stuff.

I’ll pray today that the Olsons can take a step in the days and years ahead towards forgiveness. I’ll pray that we in the Church can effectively communicate the ideals in the Sermon on the Mount and then practically help people take steps towards living them out.