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.