Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What a glorious day!

We had a glorious day this past Sunday as 19 adults and eight kids showed up for our new church’s “Blessing of the Animals” event. Though it was windy, the weather was beautiful, Golden Lake Park was an excellent venue, and the whole event went off with hardly a glitch. We had two new families attend who are interested in our congregation. I was thrilled that a photographer from the Quad City Press took pictures.

I had never led a “Blessing of the Animals” event before. In getting ready for the event I learned a lot about a community of people who care for pets. Beforehand I was oblivious to this community. I discovered a passion that people have for their pets—a passion that I hadn’t experienced before.

I have a new appreciation for the love of pets that many people have.

I think a “Blessing of the Animals” event is an outstanding way for all churches to reach out to the community. We only had seven weeks to plan and get ready—something our new community had never done before. If we do this event in the future we’ll take some more time to do it in partnership with other animal organizations. With the right type of partnership and with enough advanced planning, any church could hold a “Blessing of the Animals” event where a large number of people attend.

I also learned something about the covenant that God made with Noah. The story is in Genesis 9. When God made the covenant after the flood, God made the covenant also with the animals. This covenant wasn’t only made with humans. I’ve read this story hundreds of times, but never quite grasped this idea. As I shared this past Sunday whenever we see a rainbow we can know that this sign of the covenant is with our pets—and all other animals.

God indeed loves animals!!

My family will be traveling up north for three days starting this afternoon. I will be back to blogging on Monday, July 3.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson

I was a bit snooty about pop culture when I was in High School, so I never really jumped on the Michael Jackson bandwagon. I was more familiar with Itzhak Perlman’s (you’ve heard of him, right? Famous violinist!) life than I was with Michael Jackson. But in the early 80’s it was impossible to ignore Michael Jackson. He seemed ever-present.

I can still remember the first time I saw his “Thriller” video.

I saw it in the place where most high school guys wanted to hang out—a friend’s basement. One of my buddies and I watched it on MTV. He and I sat speechless (which is saying a lot) during the entire video. I was mesmerized. The dancing, the set, the special effects—I can still vividly remember the moment.

But I still watched his life from afar. His behavior became so bizarre that I saw him as a spectacle. Even though the charges against him for child molestation were quite serious, at that time I felt some relief when he was acquitted. It seemed like he needed time away from the intense spotlight to get his life back together.

I was looking forward to hearing how his new tour would go. Now we’ll have to look back and remember an unbelievable talent.

Achieving fame has a high price and Michael Jackson certainly paid it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Blessing of the Animals

This Sunday, June 28th our newly forming congregation is sponsoring a “Blessing of the Animals” event at Golden Lake Park in Circle Pines at noon. We’ll start out by gathering to have a short service. I’ll then offer an individual blessing for anyone who wants one for their animal. When that is done we’ll have a picnic and games for the kids.

I have been amazed in the interest in this event. We put up some flyers on the outer wall to our office. Many kids walk by our office every day. I don’t think they have really noticed that our office exists. But when they saw a flyer with animals on it, many of them took the information we put out.

I am praying that this interest will parlay into a good turnout of people on Sunday. The weather promises to be fine, the food will be tasty and the games will be fun. Please come!!

Many churches have done “Blessing of the Animals” event around St. Francis day, which is October 4. Stories abound about St. Francis’ love for animals and his ability to communicate with animals. Perhaps in the future our new congregation could do an annual “Blessing of the Animals” event near St. Francis day.

Golden Lake Park is tucked away a bit, but quite easy to find.
From Lake Drive (#23) turn on Golden Lake Road. Then take a right on West Golden Lake Road. You’ll drive right to the park.

From Lexington Ave turn on Woodland Road (the turn is adjacent to Our Saviors Lutheran church). Take a right on West Golden Lake Road. You’ll drive to the park.

See you Sunday!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


When I picked up the Star-Tribune this morning, I saw a picture on the front page of a red-faced man holding a Bible at a sentencing hearing. My immediate thought was this man was using the Bible as a club. I thought I would read a story of a victim’s family spewing justifiable anger at a person who committed a terrible crime.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I encourage everyone to read this story. The on-line Star Tribune version is here: http://www.startribune.com/local/south/48771717.html?elr=KArksUUUoDEy3LGDiO7aiU

WCCO-TV had a video version here: http://wcco.com/local/sams.club.fatal.2.1054572.html

The short version of the story is this. A severely drunk man drove over and killed a 66 year old woman at a Sam's Club this past December. At the sentencing hearing yesterday the husband of the deceased announced his forgiveness for the man who perpetrated the crime.

The power of this story speaks for itself.

In WCCO-TV’s video version I was amused when Frank Vascellaro justifiably asked the woman reporting the story, “were you taken with his willingness to forgive?”

Let me ask everyone reading this blog this question, “could you forgive a drunk driver who twice ran over and subsequently killed your spouse?”

My short answer is “yes,” but it would take a lot of faith. Faith that can happen when our lives are informed by the Scriptures.

Which is exactly why I was so touched to see a picture in the newspaper of a red-faced man sharing forgiveness with a Bible in his hand.

The Bible is not often seen as a source of forgiveness. Most often when someone is holding it up that person is announcing judgment or vengeance or sharing how terribly people have sinned. This stereotype has permeated our culture—it’s one that informed by mistaken view when I first saw the picture in the newspaper this morning.

I want to do everything I can to change this stereotype of the Bible. This change will happen when more people live and act like LeRoy Johnson; this change will happen when the church is more effective at teaching the central messages of the Scriptures; this change will happen when more of us open up our Bibles and read it.

One of the greatest stories in the Bible is when Jesus looked at his perpetrators and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

I want to thank LeRoy Johnson for sharing a 21st century example of this biblical story.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day wisdom

Amidst unpacking boxes this past Saturday, I read a wonderful article about Father’s Day wisdom. Folks at the Star Tribune asked people for the best wisdom they had received from their father. There is some good stuff at: http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/style/48614502.html?elr=KArksUUUoDEy3LGDiO7aiU

That got me to thinking about the best wisdom I received from my father. If you asked him what was the best advice he gave to me, I'm sure he he would quickly say that I never followed his advice. I’ve heard the same story more than once about how he wanted me to be a teacher and not a pastor, how he had reservations about my going to Plainview, and how he has stopped giving me advice because I don’t follow it.

He’s mostly right—I am an independent thinker—mainly because my parents taught me to be.

My dad had more influence on me through his example rather than him sharing any specific pearls of wisdom. Oh sure, I can hear his voice saying, “that’s life,” when something went wrong. But he wasn’t one to pound his philosophy of life into me. That’s probably good as I usually resist things that are pounded into me.

The best thing my parents did was to encourage my sister and me to become the people that we wanted to be. When I was in 7th grade I wanted to take violin lessons in Sioux Falls, South Dakota—60 miles from Worthington. My Dad became the primary chauffeur. Every Saturday morning for almost four years we would go to Sioux Falls. We would leave at 7:30 a.m. He would wait while I rehearsed for three hours with a Youth Symphony, go t lunch with me, then wait as I had a hour lesson. We would get home around three or four in the afternoon. That was quite a commitment of his time. Then when my violin teacher moved, he and my mom allowed me to drive to the Twin Cities to take violin lessons.

They always supported my dreams and ambitions. What a wonderful gift!

Friday, June 19, 2009

We are a people with a Purpose!

Last night the Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes Church passed our new church’s Purpose Statement. Our Purpose Statement is:

We are called to be an authentic, Christian community where:
strangers become friends
friends become disciples
disciples impact the world.

I am so pleased at the engagement with our Purpose Statement from our Steering Committee and from many other people in our new congregation. We all worked hard at this. There wasn’t a word in this Purpose Statement that didn’t receive careful scrutiny. I think that the Spirit helped us do good work. I believe that this Purpose Statement came from God.

Of course, having a Purpose Statement is one step among many for our new church. I shared last night that every time we walk through a door (that is when we accomplish a task) we can see many new doors through which we need to walk. We talked last night about some of the doors through which we will have to walk. We will need to communicate our Purpose Statement; we will need to structure our ministries around our Purpose Statement; we will need to learn how to measure whether our new church is living into this Purpose Statement. These are important doors through which we will have to walk.

That journey, though, will have to wait for another day. Last night we celebrated passing this Purpose Statement.

After we took the vote someone asked me if I felt “white-hot” about this Purpose Statement. That was a very good question. I had shared in an earlier blog and with the group who developed the Purpose Statement that I wanted to develop a “white-hot” Purpose Statement.

I think our congregation and I will grow into this Purpose Statement so that it becomes “white-hot.” I like our Purpose Statement, I feel passion for it, I think it shares what the world needs from a main-line church, I can’t wait to start implementing it.

In a small way developing a Purpose Statement is like birthing a child. Of course, I don’t have a personal experience of birthing a child, but I stood by my wife for nine months and then was with my wife, Amy, when our daughter, Hannah, was born. I loved her immediately, but I can’t say my love for her was “white-hot” on the first day she was born. I didn’t even know her then. My love for Hannah is “white-hot’ today. I know her so much better and I have so many experiences of being with her.

On June 19, 2009 I love this Purpose Statement. In the days ahead as our new congregation learns more about this Purpose Statement, as we implement it, and as we have some experiences with it, my love and our congregation’s love will grow to be “white-hot.”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A night at the Metrodome

My friend Gary Wassam and I joined 30,055 people to watch the Twins lose to the Pirates last night at the Metrodome. The two of us had decent seats—ten rows up on the upper deck just beyond the infield on the first base side.

The Twins played a game that revealed some of their shortcomings:
· Lack of clutch hitting. Delmon Young had a runner on third with one out in the 6th and on the first pitch hit a weak chopper to the pitcher. Then with the bases loaded in the 7th Kubel and Crede went down weakly.
· Poor relief pitching. The game was still winnable in the 8th, but Henn came in and put it out of reach. After the game became 7-2 I asked Gary if he believed in staying until the bitter end. He said he does, but not at that game.
· Mediocre starting pitching. Liriano was okay, but I never really trusted that he would get out of any inning. Before the first homerun that was hit in the 3rd the Pirates were hitting rockets.
· Poor fielding at inopportune moments. Cuddyer threw a rocket from right field that easily beat Adam La Roche in the top of the fourth, but Brendan Harris dropped the ball. That would have been the first out of the inning and Andy La Roche wouldn’t have hit a two-run, two-out homer in that inning. Watching Cuddyer’s throw was almost worth the price of admission—which is not cheap!

Other thoughts about the game and the Metrodome:
· Even though Carlos Gomez isn’t hitting he covers a lot of ground in the outfield. That man can run!
· Listening to the crowd sing “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey was fun. I almost felt like I was singing a Praise Song in church.
· The Metrodome looks a bit shoddy. Those curtains in the upper right field seats need to be cleaned! Yuck!
· When we were leaving our parking garage—which thanks to Gary’s good find only cost $5—an attendant was taking our debit card for payment. The attendant wouldn’t take cash. If I wanted to pay cash I would have had to do it at a machine in the foyer of the parking garage. Since when do machines take cash and people take plastic for payment! That’s weird!

As I was watching the game and talking to Gary, the two of us had a conversation about the Twins’ all-time Metrodome team. I made my selection for the team this morning at: http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/min/fan_forum/metrodome_ballot.jsp.

My team is:
Kent Hrbek—First Base—even though Hrbek didn’t live up to his potential his grand slam in game six of the 1987 World Series is one of my all-time favorite Twins’ moments
Chuck Knoblauch—Second Base—not much competition
Greg Gagne—Shortstop—ditto from above
Gary Gaetti—Third Base—the guy could hit homeruns
Joe Mauer—Catcher—maybe he’ll hit .400 this year
Kirby Puckett—Outfielder—my all-time favorite Twin
Torii Hunter—Outfielder—excellent player, but never brought us to the Promised Land
Dan Gladden—Outfielder—this was my hardest choice. I figured he deserves to be on the team because he’s had to endure the Metrodome for so many games as a player and an announcer.
David Ortiz—Designated Hitter
Johan Santana—Starting Pitcher
Frank Viola—Starting Pitcher—he did take us to the Promised Land
Brad Radke—Starting Pitcher—he endured a lot of bad teams
Rick Aguilera—Starting Pitcher—he was lights out as a reliever and threw the last out of a World Series victory
Jeff Reardon—Starting Pitcher—ditto from above
Tom Kelly—Manager—won us two World Series then lost interest with bad teams.

Please feel free to share comments in the comments sections!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Worshipping at Community Presbyterian in Plainview

This past Sunday, June 14th my wife, Amy, my daughter, Hannah, and I worshipped at Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview. This was a big deal for us. We decided to go worship there on Sunday as we moved to our new house in Blaine the next day. We thought that the day before our physical move was an appropriate time to see the people I served for 16 years.

I’m bound by our Presbytery’s policy to honor appropriate separation ethics with my former congregation. I don’t remember all the specifics of that policy. The bottom line for me is I won’t serve a pastoral function for that congregation unless I am invited by the Session. I’m also not supposed to talk about the mission and ministry of the church with anyone from the congregation.

The intent behind our Presbytery’s separation ethics policy is good, though as with any policy the good intent can get clouded at times by its application.

I had told via E-mail the current pastor of the church two weeks prior to this past Sunday that the three of us would be attending worship on Sunday.

Being back in the sanctuary in Plainview was a moving experience. I think I gave a hug to everyone in the entire congregation. I had intended to attend the church’s fellowship time in the lower level, but I wasn’t able to get there. As I was walking downstairs after worship I would come across someone and we would talk for five minutes, then I would come across another person and we would talk for five minutes, then I would come across another person and we would talk … (you get the idea).

The people at Community Presbyterian Church are very special. I’ll always hold a special place in my heart for them. There wasn’t a day that went by for 16 years that I didn’t think about our mission and ministry. We had a wonderful ministry together. I’m keeping them in my prayers as both they and I continue our newly separate journeys.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bus Driver Bob

Yesterday was the last day of school for our daughter, Hannah. She has had a wonderful experience attending Gage Elementary in Rochester for the last three years.

I am an advocate for the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child.” Many people will make an investment into the development of our daughter. Yes, my wife, Amy, and I will have the strongest influence on her, but quality schools, quality churches, quality youth organizations, and quality (fill in the blank) will make a big difference.

One person who made an investment in our daughter was her bus driver, Bob. For the past three school years he has picked her up between 8:35 and 8:40 a.m. every school day.

Over time I gradually got to know Bob. When it was my turn to take Hannah to the bus stop I would usually have a classic Minnesota conversation with Bob in front of the bus door. We’d talk for thirty seconds about the weather, the quality of his bus, and any other easy topic. On the first day of school we would talk about the summer and pick right up where we had left the conversation the previous spring.

Our family gradually got to know Bob. We would see him and his family in restaurants around Rochester every now and then. Amy would send some treats to Bob every once in a while. We knew him, he knew us—he was and is “Bus driver Bob.”

When Bob saw the moving sign in front of our house in March he asked us about it. Since then our thirty second conversations in front of the bus door became about our move. We would briefly talk about the sale of our house, the new house, how our move was going.

Yesterday we said goodbye to Bob. Neither one of us shed a tear—we are Minnesotans, you know! But I walked away from that bus glad that Bob was Hannah’s bus driver. I always knew that when Hannah walked on the bus she was safe and in good hands.

No matter how strong we are, we all need people like Bob. Unassuming, unpretentious, behind-the-scenes folk who are happy to talk about the weather when that is the only topic that connects two people.

Our family is moving to Blaine next Monday, June 15th. I am taking a break from blogging until Wednesday, June 17th. I’ll be back then!

Friday, June 5, 2009


This Sunday, May 31 we are holding our third “?Why” session at Abundant Life Church in Blaine, 1105 117th Ave NE. The topic is an excellent one—“Why does one God have so many different denominations?”

Many people struggle with the plethora of churches. In preparing for this talk yesterday I did some research on all the different Presbyterian denominations. Other expressions of being Presbyterian besides the PC(USA) are:
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Cumberland Presbyterian Church

I’m guessing that some other Presbyterian expressions exist. Is it good that so many different denominations exist? What does God think about this? Would the church be a better place if we only had one church?

Being married to a Catholic I have an unique perspective about this question. I’ll be sharing this perspective this Sunday night.

I encourage you to come. I don’t think you’ll regret your attendance!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Spiritual blessings

The following devotion from Upper Room spoke to me this morning as I prayed on this beautiful, Minnesota, June day. The devotion can be found at: http://upperroom.org/devotional/ May all of us enjoy a day of many spiritual blessings. May the church communicate to the world the power of these blessings. May these blessings fill the hearts of the people we know.

“WHEN I arrived in the city where I now live, I saw a beautiful place, where many people vacation. To show God how I appreciated being able to live in such a city, I engaged in social work. For 15 years, as a volunteer I have managed a Christian organization that meets the needs of almost five hundred impoverished children.

Recently, I was surprised when a skeptical friend expressed doubt that I would work for free. The friend thought I am crazy to work without pay.

While meditating on what my friend had said, I received a call from my mother, who is 82, lucid, and healthy. She told me how beautiful Sunday worship had been. When we hung up, the phone rang again. My six-year-old grandson, filling my heart with joy, asked if we could go to the beach that week. Of course I said we could.

I don't work for money, but I am rich. My mother's good health, a hug from my grandson, the beauty of the city, a walk on the cool sand on summer mornings, a family dinner, laughter in the living room - what blessings! They are immeasurable, and more valuable than anything money can buy.

Orlando Lima Coutinho (Santa Catarina, Brazil)

God of abundance, thank you for your grace. How great are all the blessings that fill our lives! Amen.”

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Christians on steroids?

This past Saturday at our Purpose Statement Retreat I was asked to write a blog about my understanding of a disciple. Let me start by sharing two paragraphs from the P.I.F. that I shared with the Pastor Nominating Committee of Chain of Lakes when I interviewed with them last November.

“I have a dream of following God to start a new church that makes and cultivates disciples of Jesus Christ who impact the world. The congregation’s ministries will come from the church’s desire to make disciples and cultivate discipleship. The church will have set up a discipleship process that is simple and known by each person in the congregation.

The core of the congregation will always be the love that God gave to the world in Jesus Christ and that God continues to share today by the Holy Spirit. The congregation’s theology will weave together personal faith and social witness so tightly that an outsider won’t detect if the community is liberal or conservative. Members of the church will aspire to grow and be known by three passions. They will be:
• Passionate about loving God with their mind—always wanting to grow in the intellectual dimensions of faith
• Passionate in loving God with their heart—always wanting to grow and participate in the spiritual disciplines of faith
• Passionate in loving God with their feet—always wanting to serve and bless their neighbor and the wider community
This desire to love God in these three particular ways will present a holistic style of ministry that will be widely appealing and will make a significant impact in the world and in the main-line church. By participating in the church individuals will move towards being the people who God desires for them to be.”

One of the biggest debates we had at our Retreat this past Saturday was the use of the word, “disciple.” Some of our folks found it intimidating—“you mean I am supposed to be a disciple? I can’t do that—being a disciple is only for Christians on steroids.”

I’m not looking to put people on steroids on our church—just to reclaim the biblical teaching on making and being disciples.

I understand the hesitancy for the word, “disciple.” I remember hearing Leonard Sweet speak at a Presbyterian Redevelopment Conference many years ago. He said clearly (and in a tone of voice that only he can share) that the purpose of the church is to make disciples. Even though I was an ordained pastor at the time my immediate thought was “I have to be a disciple? I don’t know if I can do that.” But then I remembered the clear teachings of Scripture about the priority of making and being a disciple.

I understand that being a disciple might seem impossible to some. But just because something is a challenge doesn’t mean we don’t have a call to pursue it. Think how powerful it would be if we could help people—in particular people who are strangers to God—realize that they can be disciples of Jesus. Think how powerful it would be if we helped people be passionate about knowing God with their mind, loving God with their heart, and serving God with their feet. If we were successful in that, we would have impact!

Monday, June 1, 2009

We have something to share!

This past Saturday, May 30, the Steering Committee of our new church plus some other folks met on Retreat to come up with the Purpose Statement for our new congregation.

It was a wonderful day. We met at Presbyterian Homes in North Oaks. Many of us remarked that we want to live at North Oaks at the appropriate time in our life.

Our group worked hard on Saturday. After a brief mixer, I shared a guided reading on the story of Jesus healing the paralytic. I then went over a document I wrote on the importance of developing a Purpose Statement. That document is posted on-line at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/15887348/Purpose-Statement-Document. After that I shared a Bible Study on the importance of developing and being disciples.

Newell Krogmann, pastor of The Presbyterian Church in Le Sueur, led the rest of the Retreat. He facilitated three exercises. In the first we talked about what God’s dreams are for our new church; in the second we talked about the community needs that we see; in the third we each talked about what give us passion as individuals in our service to this new church. All of our discussion was written on white butcher paper that was posted on the walls of the room where we met.

Then we started writing Purpose Statements. We broke up into two groups—each group wrote some Purpose Statements. We then came back as a group and decided to focus on one Purpose Statement. We spent some time wordsmithing that one and came up with a Purpose Statement.

The Purpose Statement that we developed on Saturday is:
“We strive to be an authentic, Christian community where:
strangers become friends
friends become disciples
disciples impact the world”

We are not done with our process. The Steering Committee of our new church is meeting on Thursday, June 18 to vote on the final Purpose Statement. Until then we are going to spend some time sharing the above Purpose Statement with people, receiving feedback, and then possibly incorporating the feedback into the final Purpose Statement.

The group who met this past Saturday couldn’t find a time before June 18th where we could all gather to discuss further refinements of the Purpose Statement. So instead of meeting in person, we are going to have E-mail conversation about the feedback we receive. The Steering Committee will receive a copy of this feedback.

If you are reading this blog, you can help us. Would you share your feedback in the comments section of this blog? The comments section is at the end of this blog. Hit the comments link and fire away. All feedback is welcome—as long as it is civil. As I shared in a blog I wrote on May 28, I want us to have a “white-hot Purpose Statement.” Your feedback could help increase the temperature!!! Please share your thoughts.

Thanks to everyone who was praying for us this past Saturday. I believe your prayers made a difference.

A special thanks to the folks who volunteered their time on a beautiful Saturday in May to contribute to this Purpose Statement. I am humbled that this group has come so far in such a short amount of time.