Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Eve at Chain of Lakes Church

Christmas Eve is my favorite worship service of the year. Last Saturday at a staff party, I was asked to share a favorite Christmas memory. The first thoughts that came to my mind were the Christmas Eve services that we celebrated at the previous church I served—Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview. We poured ourselves into Christmas Eve worship. We would often double our usual attendance on Christmas Eve. Many new people came to our congregation for the first time during Christmas Eve worship.

I encourage everyone who lives in the north Metro to join us at Chain of Lakes for Christmas Eve worship. Everyone is encouraged to come for a time of fellowship at 6:00 p.m. at our worship location—the Lino Lakes Senior Center, 1189 Main Street in Main, located about a half-mile east of the intersection of Main (#242) and Lake Drive (#23). We will enjoy hot apple cider, cookies, and have Christmas carols playing in the background.

We will begin worship at 6:30 p.m. We will enjoy special music shared by Kellie Burriss and Hannah Moore, I’m writing a sermon that is designed for someone who doesn’t normally go to church, and we’ll celebrate Holy Communion. We will close worship by singing “Silent Night” and lighting candles amidst the dark sanctuary. Child care will be available.

We have advertised heavily for this service and mailed a large number of designed cards for the service. On the card we put the slogan, “start a new tradition with a new church.” If you normally do not attend worship, I invite you to join us at Chain of Lakes for Christmas Eve worship.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Birthday, Hannah!

Ten years ago today at 10:38 a.m. Hannah Louis Moore came into the world. We were experiencing a snow storm outside, but inside Methodist Hospital in Rochester, MN my wife, Amy, and my heart were warmed by the gift of our new daughter. I’ll never forget seeing the nurse holding Hannah after she was born and thinking, “wow, she’s finally here.” Hannah came nine days after her due date, and for a while I wasn’t sure if Hannah ever was going to arrive.

Amy has said often that the person who is forgotten on a birthday is the mother. The mother had to carry the child for an extended period of time. Few people remember this on a birthday. Let me share a tribute and appreciation to Amy for carrying Hannah and for all that she experienced in the months following Hannah’s birth. Few women deliver a baby while their other child, Drew, is in their senior year of high school. Six months after Hannah was born, June 2001, we celebrated Drew’s graduation from high school. Eight months after Hannah was born, August 2001, we moved to a new house in Rochester. Nine months after Hannah was born, September 2001, we watched with horror as the Twin Towers fell.

For each of the past four years of Hannah’s birthday I’ve written a letter to her on her birthday. This year I shared with Hannah my pride about her singing skills. Hannah is singing for the choir at Chain of Lakes Church, St. Joseph Catholic Church—her choir director their called Hannah one of her alpha leaders, and a honors choir through the school district. Hannah has the ability to stand up in front of a large number of people and sing.

Hannah has grown in her love for reading this year. It’s not surprising if she’ll pick some books and spend a hour reading them. I’m looking forward to reading and talking about books with her as she continues to grow.

For lunch today I drove over to Johnsville Elementary and shared a Subway Sandwich with Hannah. She told me that Beethoven has the same day of birth as her. Wow!

One of my favorite pictures in the world is the above picture. This was taken shortly after Hannah came into the world. I still remember how comfortable she felt in my arms.

Thank you, God, for giving Amy & me the gift of a daughter!

Monday, December 13, 2010

December blizzard

The worst blizzard I remember was the Great Blizzard of January 10-12, 1975. I was a 5th grader attending West Elementary School in Worthington, Minnesota. January 10th was a Friday, and we were let go from school early. The blizzard lasted almost until Sunday. The electricity went out in my house. Temperatures were in the 20 below range and the wind chill was 80 below. We received at least a foot of snow. And the wind!! It never seemed to stop howling.

I eventually got bored during the blizzard, so I walked outside to see how fierce the storm was. I waded through waist-high snow drifts on our 50 foot driveway. At the end of the driveway I fell over. I was too tired to go any farther. At that moment I developed a healthy and fearful respect of Nature that I’ve carried with me until this day. I still remember lying on the snow, looking up at the sky, and thinking that I was not ever going to mess with Nature.

During the first night of the blizzard my family walked down the street to visit with our neighbors. After walking half a block I picked out ice cycles from my eye lashes.

Sunday, January 12th was the first time I ever remember missing church because of the weather. My family had a short worship service around our kitchen table. I probably prayed for the Vikings as they lost later that afternoon to the Steelers in Super Bowl IX.

This past weekend’s blizzard wasn’t as frightening as that one, but it still packed a large punch. I would guess we received about 18 inches of snow at our house in Blaine. The storm was the 5th biggest snowstorm in the Twin Cities since records were kept.

Amy, Hannah, and I spent almost all of Saturday inside our house. I did go outside to shovel three times on Saturday. Fortunately the temperature didn’t drop until Saturday night, so the shoveling was not that cold. After the third time I shoveled Friday night I wrote on my Facebok wall that I was worn out.

Sunday morning I got up at 6:00 a.m. to shovel for the fourth time. I was very fortunate that my neighbor was blowing out his driveway just as I started to shovel. He came over to help blow out the rest of my driveway. Thank God for friendly neighbors!

After I finished shoveling on Sunday I drove over to the Senior Center to see if we would be able to worship on Sunday. Fortunately the workers from the City of Lino Lakes had sufficiently plowed out the parking lot and had created a lane so that we could get to the front door. Without their work we would not have been able to worship.

Our attendance yesterday was very low—and understandably so. As I drove away from worship at about noon I saw many people still blowing out their drive ways. I’m sure many people at Chain of Lakes were not able to get out of their driveway on Sunday morning.

My parents’ furnace went out during this blizzard. They endured temperatures in the 50’s in their house. My sister and I encouraged them to stay in a hotel for a night, but they were made of the same stock as many other hearty Midwesterners. They were going to grin and bear it.

Last night Amy, Hannah, and I watched the movie “White Christmas.” None of us need to wonder whether a white Christmas will happen in 2010.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

CODA concert tonight!

The above picture says what I want to communicate. Please join us for a Christmas concert tonight by CODA at the Senior Center at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $5 and proceeds will go to Manna Market.

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Be My Guest" Sunday at Chain of Lakes Church

This Sunday, December 5 is a very big day at Chain of Lakes Church. We are celebrating “Be My Guest” Sunday. Everyone at Chain of Lakes Church is encouraged to bring one guest to worship. Preferably the guest is not connected to a church and lives in our geographical area. We worship at 10:30 a.m. at the Lino Lakes Senior Center, 1189 Main Street.

The idea for “Be My Guest” Sunday came from Rev. James York, pastor of North Presbyterian Church. James and I served together on the Property Task Force for Chain of Lakes. At one meeting he talked about doing “Be My Guest” Sunday at his congregation. As he talked about all that they did—and it was quite a list—I was waiting for him to say that they had a low number of visitors attend worship. I almost fell off my chair when he said that they received 47 visitors to worship on that day.

A very effective way to have a congregation grow in numbers is for people in the church to be inspired to invite their friends and family to worship. At Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview we often had “Invite a Friend” Sundays. I like the language of “Be My Guest” better.

We are going out of our way to plan a tight and powerful worship experience on “Be My Guest” Sunday. We are celebrating one year of worship at Chain of Lakes as our first worship service was on the first Sunday of 2009; I am starting a sermon series called “Stepping Off the Treadmill;” we are celebrating the baptism of Manka & Bih Tse; Kellie Burriss will share special music; and we will enjoy a power point presentation of our year together.

I wish worship was starting today, so I could enjoy it!

We have done quite a lot among people at Chain of Lakes to encourage everyone to invite guests to worship. Two weeks ago in worship I shared a simple four-step process for extending an invitation; we also watched a skit about sharing a typical invitation. Yesterday in worship everyone was encouraged to write down names of people on an index card of people whom they will invite to “Be My Guest” Sunday. Everyone put those index cards on a bulletin board. As a community we gathered by the bulletin board to pray over the names of the people. Many people at Chain of Lakes have been carrying a wooden coin for the past three weeks that encourages us to “get a round” to inviting people. This week I started an E-mail list among people at Chain of Lakes asking everyone to share what they are doing to invite people.

If you are not connected to a church and live in the north metro, consider joining us for worship this Sunday. If you are connected to a church, please take some time this week to pray for us as we celebrate "Be My Guest" Sunday.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I’m very thankful that the Wampanoag Native Americans saved the Pilgrims in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts and thus the first harvest festival that we know as Thanksgiving was initiated. Even though it took 320 years from that date until Franklin Roosevelt made Thanksgiving a national holiday, thankfulness has always been part of our national psyche.

The media would rather this Thanksgiving be defined by body scans and intrusive pat downs. They haven’t reported people’s thanks that we haven’t had a catastrophic terrorist event in the United States for over nine years.

When I talked to a few farmers in southeastern Minnesota they shared that the harvest has never been better. I doubt that many people in our state know this. Instead of this story we hear and read about what is going poorly in agriculture.

We hear much noise about all that is wrong about the church, but I’ve read little about the thousands of Thanksgiving ecumenical services that are taking place this week across the country. The Lino Lakes/Circle Pines/Lexington churches are gathering tonight at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church at 7:00 p.m. tonight. In this Lutheran sanctuary I’m looking forward to hearing the local Catholic priest share a homily. I’m grateful that my daughter, Hannah, will sing in the children’s choir. Though it’s easy to take these ecumenical services for granted, I’m thankful that on one night we celebrate oneness through the sharing of thanks.

Thanksgiving is a day to lay aside whatever separates us from each other; instead the day calls us to grab hold of our common humanity by giving thanks. Sure—gluttony is all around us. We can get sick on too much food, too much football, and too many commercials about Black Friday. Even though we are enticed to start shopping, I’m grateful that we have a day to express our gratefulness.

During this Thanksgiving holiday I encourage all of us to focus on what we have—and to let fade the insecurities of what we don’t have. Life on earth will never be perfect, and we still have heaven to anticipate such perfection. Until then, I’m filled with gratefulness and resolved to continue to express my thanks for all of the blessings here on earth.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The new strategic plan--get on board!

I’m still singing inside about the approval (131-6-2 in a written ballot) last week by our Presbytery to approve a new Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan includes guidelines, a new vision, values, major focus and ten three year goals. The plan can be seen at: An article describing the vote of the Presbytery can be found here: The blogs that Chaz Ruark wrote about the plan (he is the Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery) can be found here:

I was part of the group who developed the Strategic Plan. I attended two, all-day planning sessions and attended one follow-up meeting in addition to sharing a few E-mail comments to the group. I helped lead a small group conversation about the plan at the September Presbytery meeting and spoke in favor of the plan at last week’s meeting. However I don’t consider my involvement that significant in the development of the plan.

This strategic plans works for me for a number of reasons.

First, the plan is on one page. It’s not a twenty page document that will get lost in a file drawer. The plan is clear, bold, and easily measurable.

Second, the plan was brought through the process of the Presbytery. I know many people still bemoan the lack of implementation of the last Strategic Planning process—known as the Summit. That effort was a two-day gathering of leaders. I attended the gathering and loved the energy of the event. The follow-up to that plan clearly was designed poorly. Task Forces came out of the Summit and did meet, but there was no accountability to the Presbytery or follow-up with the Presbytery. This plan was different. The Strategy group was appointed by the Presbytery Council; the group presented their plan to the Presbytery Council for approval; the plan was shared with the Presbytery for feedback; the plan was then voted upon by the Presbytery. I’m guessing that for some the process happened too quickly—I rejoice that it went through the process!

Third, the new vision is sizzling—“We fearlessly follow the Holy Spirit into a changing world.” This vision encourages the Presbytery, staff, committees, and churches to take risks. What can be more exciting than being led by the Holy Spirit? Phil Gebben-Green did a terrific job last Tuesday of drilling down into the nuances of what it means to fearlessly follow. I hope he submits the comments he made at the Presbytery meeting for the rest of us to read.

Fourth, the plan is a paradigm shift in starting new faith communities. In my work on the committee I advocated for goal #7. That goal is: “Encourage 10 churches to launch new, distinct faith communities in the following 3 years, and welcome new faith communities into fellowship of Presbytery.” We need to re-claim the idea of churches starting new faith communities. Part of the mission of every congregation is to fearlessly follow the Holy Spirit by discerning how they can initiate new faith communities. We can’t wait for a committee of the Presbytery to start new faith communities. This is a task of the local congregation. I would be surprised if ten churches in the next three years can’t imagine how they could start or welcome a new faith community in the following three years. To implement this goals means we would have ten new faith communities by January 2017. Even though we at Chain of Lakes Church are still small—and growing—I will be encouraging us to start a new faith community by January 2017. I’d like us to be one of those ten churches.

Fifth, the plan articulates the need to support congregations. I see the role of Presbytery committees and staff to empower congregations and pastors and not create separate programs. I believe the ministries of the Presbytery should be rooted in congregational ministries.

Sixth, the plan had an advocate (Karen Morey from Best Year Yet) who will hold the Presbytery Council accountable for implementation of the plan.

I hope that this plan also encourages our Presbytery to do a better job of helping congregations during pastoral transitions. We have much to improve on this issue.

Many of us have expectations of the Presbytery Council to implement this plan. If you are on the Council, let me say with the best pastoral sensitivity which I can share that we expect you to make the implementation of this plan your number one priority.

I know that nay-sayers to this plan exist. I understand that our Presbyterian culture encourages skepticism. To the nay-sayers and skeptics I say get on board. You can sit on the sidelines with your hands folded and be critical, and I know there are reasons to be critical. I’ve been critical of the Presbytery in this blog. But if you wait for the perfect plan, you’ll be waiting for a long time. This plan is the best opportunity I’ve seen in 17 years of Presbytery involvement to be united on a common vision. The train is leaving the track, and I hope that everyone gets on board.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Kashif Saroya at Chain of Lakes Church

This past Tuesday night Kashif Saroya shared a terrific talk about the basics of Islam for the people of Chain of Lakes Church and the community. An edited version of his talk can be seen at: I very much appreciated his humility and willingness to engage and answer everyone’s questions.

Some pieces of Kashif’s talk that resonated with me:

• When Muslims take a posture of prayer they kneel down and put their head to the ground. Kashif shared that when they do this their heart is higher than their head. This is one function of prayer, isn’t it? When we pray we try to let our mind rest and open our heart to receive and honor God.

• When Muslims bow down on their knees in prayer next to each other they become one.

• Muslims did stand up to condemn the killings of September 11, 2001. The media didn’t cover that.

• Islam is a religion of peace and not war

• Many of the stereotypes we have about Muslims are cultural and not religious expressions.

We had some excellent questions shared during Kashif’s talk. Some of the questions brought a tension to the room (questions about September 11, the reaction of Muslims to the Danish cartoon a few years ago, and the reaction of a few Muslim leaders to the recent Interfaith service held in the Cities last month). The questions were not shared in an argumentative way—people needed answers. Kashif handled them with a spirit of openness. He encouraged people to ask difficult and hard questions about Islam.

We’ve received excellent coverage of the event. This week the Quad Press put an article previewing the event on the front page of their newspaper. You can read the on-line version at: They had a reporter come on Tuesday evening who most likely will write another article for next week’s edition.

I highly recommend Kashif Saroya to other churches and organizations. He is an oustanding representative of the Islamic Resource Center.

I’m very proud of the people at Chain of Lakes for their willingness to host and sponsor this talk. I already know that through this talk some stereotypes about Islam were broken down.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Islam: Beyond the Headlines

Everyone in the Blaine/Lino Lakes/Centerville area is invited to attend a talk sponsored by Chain of Lakes Church called “Islam: Beyond the Headlines.” The talk will be on Tuesday, November 9th at 7:00 p.m. at the Lino Lakes Senior Center, 1189 Main Street in Lino Lakes.

Kashif Saroya, a leader with the Islamic Resource Group of the Twin Cities, will lead the presentation. Following the presentation there will be time for questions, answers and further conversation.

Saroya is a systems analyst for Ecolab in St. Paul and president of the Advisory Council of Muslim Youth of Minnesota and director of a summer camp for Muslim youth which focuses on struggles for identity, self-definition and empowerment. He and his wife and their newborn baby reside in Blaine.

This talk came as a result of a blog I wrote on September 8. In that blog I was strongly critical of Terry Jones for wanting to burn the Koran. After that blog I received an E-mail from the Islamic Resource Center. That E-mail started a conversation which resulted in this presentation. Whoever said that blogging can’t make a difference!!

Muslims and Christians have lived together in peace for more than 14 centuries. The recent controversies about the proposed placement of an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York City, the possible burning of the Koran, and the recent firing of Juan Williams by National Public Radio all indicate the eroding relationship of Christians and Muslims.

At Chain of Lakes we want to do everything we can to break down the stereotypes that exist between Muslims and Christians.

We aren’t promoting Islam as a religion through this talk; however we are promoting deeper appreciation among Christians and secularists for Muslims. Christians, Muslims and Jews all have a common Abrahamic heritage. Instead of looking for ways to be apart, let’s continue to strive for common ground.

Come join us this Tuesday, November 9th!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A plea for bi-partisanship

Independents—those not deeply connected to a political party—voted for George Bush in 2004; they voted for Barak Obama in 2008; they gave the U.S. House back to the Republicans and almost the Senate yesterday. Our national government changes often because the tastes of Independents in the United States changes often.

Every politician is capable of deception. However I don’t believe George Bush governed that differently than the campaign on which he ran. The same holds true for Barak Obama. In America we receive the government and politicians for whom we vote. Our political leaders are a reflection of us.

I implore our politicians to go out of their way to find common ground on issues. We need bi-partisanship more than ever. My hope is that the next two years both sides of the political aisle can work together.

Two weeks ago I gave a sermon on the relationship of the church to politics. The link for the sermon is here: I used a line that Brian Rusche said in a video interview we did of him, “The church is called to be political, not partisan.” He made the statement that visiting an elderly person in his or her home is a political act.

I’m waiting for political leaders who take risks for bi-partisanship. I’m not looking for anyone to take America back, or anyone to demonize the other side, or try to cram an agenda down anyone’s throats. Amy politician who hasn’t learned that Americans aren’t impressed with hubris will probably making a concession speech in a future election.

A first step towards this is for the public to reach out to others in a bi-partisan way. If our political leaders are a reflection of us, then we must look in the mirror. Our political leaders won’t find common ground unless the people do.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Voting & Trembling

This morning I joined millions of people around the United States as I voted in the mid-term elections. I voted at Northpoint Elementary School in Blaine

It took about twenty minutes between the time I entered the school and the time I left. The process was well organized. I got in line to be marked off as a registered vote, was given a ballot, waited in a short line for an open voting booth, and then entered a voting booth. I would estimate that about thirty voting booths were available for use.

When I was done voting I was given a cover to place over my ballot. I went to a machine and put my ballot into the machine. I was the 150th person to vote this morning at this voting station.

This is the third time I’ve voted since moving to Blaine in June 2009—the first time at Northpoint. I’m still learning who the candidates are. With the help of the Star Tribune web site, I printed out a ballot last night. I spent about thirty minutes researching the candidates and then deciding for whom I would vote this morning. I took this pre-printed ballot with me into the voting ballot.

It’s essential for all of us to remember the sacrifice that millions of people have made in the history of the United States so that we could vote today. My step-son, Drew, is serving as a medic for the United States army in Okinawa. He lives half a world away from his family and friends, so that we can vote. Last month my parents visited the cemetery of soldiers who died at the Battle of the Bulge in Germany. They visited the cemetery with the Aasers, family friends who live in Worthington. The brother of Martin Aaser is buried in this cemetery. He died at the Battle of the Bulge. He died in an effort to preserve our freedom to vote today. These are two examples among millions in the history of the United States of people who have sacrificed so that we can vote in a free and fair election.

I hate war, but I do believe that I wouldn’t have been able to vote this morning without the service of many veterans.

When we vote today I hope our motivation is more than electing the people we want to lead our nation, state, county and city. I hope that through voting we can remember the people who have gone before us. Their sacrifice makes me tremble as I reflect on what is taking place across the United States today.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Teen Challenge at Chain of Lakes

Yesterday our congregation was blessed to have one of the Teen Challenge choirs sing for us during worship. Between 15 and 20 men—they weren’t teens—came to Chain of Lakes to sing and to share personal testimonies during worship about their encounters with addiction.

Teen Challenge is a drug/alcohol rehabilitation program. The participants are all ages and all genders. The program is tightly structured, faith-based and residential. Teen Challenge serves people whom much of society has given up. Some of the participants who spoke at Chain of Lakes yesterday had been to prison multiple times. In some cases participants had the option of going to Teen Challenge or going to jail for a lengthy sentence.

The guys who sang for us were all dressed in white shirts and ties. They were respectful, courteous and thankful for the opportunity to sing at Chain of Lakes.

As these guys sang and shared their testimony I thought that they would be the people for whom Jesus has a special place in his heart. These guys had been beaten down by society; they had made choices that had gotten them into serious trouble. They were not innocent, but they deserved another chance. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jesus would give them another chance.

As these guys sang and shared their testimony I also thought that these are the people who don’t participate in church. They are a tough group to reach—it takes an extraordinary effort to reach them. Often we in the church know about folks who are suffering from addictions, but we don’t persevere in connecting them to our faith community.

I think Jesus would persevere. He calls us in the church to be relentless to reach the people whom we in the church often label as unreachable.

At the conclusion of worship yesterday I had the guys from Teen Challenge raise their hands towards us at Chain of Lakes; I had the people from Chain of Lakes raise their hands towards the guys from Teen Challenge. Then I asked everyone to repeat the Aaronic blessing:

“The Lord Bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

This was one of my best moments of the week. The guys from Teen Challenge were blessing us; we were blessing them. It was a service of blessing where everyone's hearts were opened to the movement of the Spirit.

Thank God for Teen Challenge!! They are doing the work that we in the church need to persevere in doing.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Al-Anon starting at Chain of Lakes

Last winter I visited Val Owens in her home in Anoka. She openly shared her story of living with an alcoholic husband and two alcoholic sons. Through her own participation in Al-Anon she found peace. Val has a special interest in Recovery ministry. Last May she helped organize Recovery Sunday at Chain of Lakes. That was a moving worship service where speakers shared their story of recovery from addictions. At the end of our visit last winter, Val told me that if we ever wanted to start an Al-Anon group she would be willing to do that. Tomorrow night is the first night for Al-Anon. The group will be meeting every Thursday night at the Lovell Office. If you are close to someone who has an addiction or if you suffer from co-dependency, I strongly encourage you to come to Al-Anon. Please keep this ministry in your prayers and also give a special thanks to Val for starting this group.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Attending Leadership Institute at Church of the Resurrection

Last week two folks from Chain of Lakes Church and I attended the Leadership Institute in Kansas City that was put on by United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (COR). COR is the largest Methodist congregation in the United States. The church started in 1990 and today has approximately 14,000 members.

This is the fourth time I’ve attended Leadership Institute, and the first time I’ve brought people from the church I serve. At Leadership Institute COR literally opens up their church for outsiders to observe. Through large group presentations and workshops led by people at the church, we participants can learn almost anything we want to know about how COR does church.

I brought back too many ideas to share in a short blog, but let me share a few. In a workshop called, “CATCH: Attracting and Connecting Visitors” (and who doesn’t want to attract and connect visitors??) the leader encouraged every church to be clear about three questions. The questions are 1) Why do people need Jesus Christ; 2) Why do people need the church; 3) Why do people need this particular church. These are simple questions, but how a congregation answers these questions will help determine the character of the church’s ministry.

I was especially touched by a video that was shared by Sue Nilson Kibby who works at Ginghamsburg Methodist Church in Ohio. She had a video crew ask people the dreams for their lives. After the person shared their dreams, the person was asked what specific step he or she is taking to live out their dreams. Everyone interviewed answered the question by basically saying “nothing.” How sad it was to see people living with unfulfilled dreams. Seeing that video re-ignited my desire to help people to fulfill their dreams in their life. I’m going to share a sermon series later this month called, “Fulfilling God’s dreams.”

Steve Hawn from Hallmark gave a talk on the strategic decisions that Hallmark has made to change its company. Their research has revealed that people now spend an average of 18 hours a week on the Internet compared to three hours a week a few years ago. He said that this time has to come from other activities that people previously did. Their research showed that people spend less time in retail stores and less time in church.

Though this is disturbing, Hallmark is taking this change of environment to change its strategy. One of the objectives at Hallmark is “staying relevant in a changing world.” Three important steps towards change that he mentioned are 1) Establish a sense of urgency; 2) Rally people around the vision; 3) Create short-term wins. These steps are taken from John Kotter’s book “Leading Change.”

At the end of the conference we were encouraged to write on a sticky note three ideas that we want to implement in our local congregations. The above picture has the sticky notes that one group shared. My three ideas are:
1) Deepen community among young adults at Chain of Lakes
2) Give our Christmas Eve offering to an outside organization
3) Call people servants instead of volunteers.
We’ll see how the Spirit works at Chain of Lakes with these ideas!

Next year I’m hoping that we take a group of ten to Leadership Institute. I highly recommend the conference.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Leadership Institute in Kansas City

Today two volunteers (Val Owens & Gary Wassam) and I drove to Kansas City to attend the Leadership Institute that United Methodist Church of the Resurrection provides.

Church of the Resurrection (COR) is the largest Methodist Church in the United States. For the past ten years they open up their church through this Leadership Institute. Participants can learn everything we want to about what COR is doing. Tonight the three of us attended a 5th grade mid week ministry called “Wile 1’s Ministry.” Approximately 125 5th graders gathered for mixers, games, big group presentation, and small groups.

This is the fourth time I’ve attended Leadership Institute. I’m especially excited that two others from Chain of Lakes have joined me. I’m doing my best at not attending any Continuing Education events without going with others at Chain of Lakes. Val, Gary and I have already talked more about with the church with each other (eight hour car ride!) than we normally do in a month. The conversation and fellowship that we’ve already experienced was already worth the journey.

For more information on Leadership Institute go to:

I’ll be taking a blog break until next week.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Using video in worship

Yesterday we shared the first video during worship at Chain of Lakes Church. On Tuesday night another person from Chain of Lakes and I went to the local Cub Food. We had a video camera and microphone. As people walked in the parking lot I asked them if they would like to participate in an interview. I told them we were from a church and were doing interviews of people. I gave every person who agreed to do an interview my business card.

In a hour I talked to ten people. I started out by asking each person the following question, “If Jesus came up to you and said you could ask him any question about baptism, what question would you ask?” I went on to ask each person if they had been baptized, what they remembered about their baptism, does the church do a good job of teaching about baptism, and what baptism means to them. When the interview was done I asked each person if we could use the footage in our worship service. Every person said yes.

We ended up with thirty minutes of footage. The final video and the sermon I gave can be seen at:

I’ve always wanted to use video in worship and expect that we’ll use more of it in the future.

Over time I fully expect that we will get pushback about using videos in worship. We Presbyterians do a poor job of using visual projection in worship. I would guess that some Presbyterian churches still don’t have a screen in their sanctuary. Off the top of my head I can’t remember ever watching a video in a Presbyterian worship service that the local congregation produced.

The question for me is “Are we willing to use the tools of the culture to advance the mission and ministry of our congregations?” My answer is an overwhelming , “Yes!”

I’m not in love with videos, or power point, or sound systems, or organs, or drums, or electric pianos, or any other piece of equipment that is in a church building or sanctuary. For me they are tools that lead to a more important purpose. If I thought we could advance our mission and ministry by doing jumping jacks in worship, I would do jumping jacks in worship. (For those of you who might have kvetched on that last sentence, don’t worry—I don’t think doing jumping jacks in worship would advance our mission and ministry.)

It’s ironic to me that we Presbyterians—who are so committed to transforming the world—are so unwilling to use the tools in our culture to advance our purpose.

Every piece of equipment in a church building was at one time something new. When Jesus lived he didn’t have a pulpit or a sound system, or an organ, or a piano, or cross, or a baptismal font, or a pew, or a bulletin, or videos. Everything listed in the preceding sentence was introduced into the church in order to advance the mission and ministry of the church at that time.

I believe that the mistake we Presbyterians have made is we have stopped adapting to our culture. And we forget that when we adapt we do it to serve a larger end.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What are your questions about baptism?

One issue over which every preacher grapples is the starting place of their sermons. Do preachers let the questions, needs and interests of the congregation inform the themes of preaching or do preachers take a prescribed set of biblical readings and then apply them to their congregation?

I started out as a Lectionary preacher. I preached through the three year readings at least twice.

Over time I discovered that I was a better preacher when I let the questions, needs and interests of the congregation inform the themes of my preaching. I understand and have heard the arguments about the value of preaching from a pre-set lectionary. However I just think I am more faithful to the task of preaching when I share theme-based sermons—themes that come from the questions of the congregation.

This Sunday, October 3, we are celebrating the first baptism of a child at Chain of Lakes Church. We are focusing worship this Sunday around people’s questions regarding baptism. For the past two weeks I’ve encouraged folks at Chain of Lakes to submit the questions they have about baptism. “What question do you have about baptism that you have always wanted answered? What is a question about baptism that you’ve felt too shy to ask?”

I’ve received a wonderful and challenging set of questions. In the sermon (and if necessary in an enclosed sheet) I plan on sharing responses to every question.

So let me ask you—the reader of this blog—the same questions. What question do you have about baptism that you have always wanted answered? What is a question about baptism that you’ve felt too shy to ask?”

Please share your questions in the comment section of this blog, or send and E-mail to

To adequately respond to the questions, I need them by noon on Wednesday, September 29.

Don’t be shy—ask some tough questions!

The above picture was of the first baptism we celebrated at Chain of Lakes that took place on Easter Sunday.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Welcoming Joanne Shingledecker as Educator at Chain of Lakes!

This past Tuesday night the Steering Committee hired Joanne Shingledecker to be our Children’s Ministry Director. Joanne will be starting with us on October 1. She currently serves on the staff of Presbyterian Church of the Way—she works 20 hours a week.

In my mind the hiring of Joanne completes our initial staff team. We are blessed at Chain of Lakes to have a top-notch Administrator in Jennifer Huehns, a top-notch Music Director in Kellie Burriss, and now a top-notch Children’s Ministry Director in Joanne Shingledecker.

Our Education team interviewed two quality candidates for the position. Joanne has extensive experience in Christian education. She has received certification as an Associate Christian Educator. She has worked on staff for Presbyterian churches whose memberships range from less than 200 to over 650. Her job at Chain of Lakes will be to continue to develop our Sunday School. The building blocks for our Sunday School were put in place by the work of Gary Wassam. Joanne will continue this work. Her task will not be to do the ministry, but instead will be to equip adults to lead this ministry. Our initial plans are for her to alternate between Church of the Way and Chain of Lakes on Sunday mornings. One Sunday she will be at Chain of Lakes and the next Sunday she will be at Church of the Way.

Besides serving as staff at Presbyterian Church of the Way, Joanne recently served as co-chair for the Special Needs Committee for the 2010 General Assembly and was director of Grand’s Camp for Presbyterian Clearwater Forest. She currently serves on the Disabilities Task Force of our Presbytery. She is very well connected with the Educator community within our Presbytery.

In her application for the job she shared the following:
“A successful church education program is led by volunteers. It is important, therefore, that the Christian Education staff have the ability to identify and encourage the development of abilities and gifts of volunteers. Both volunteer and the church benefit when contributions are made by those who have skills in the areas to which they are contributing. It is important that the staff person provide resources to teachers, program areas, and committee chairpersons in order to facilitate the work of volunteers.”

Having different churches employ the same staff person is one important model for churches to consider in the 21st century. Presbyterian Church of the Way has already been an important contributor to the development of Chain of Lakes Church. When I first started at Chain of Lakes I was willing to live in their parish house for free. Ward Sessing, a member of Church of the Way, currently chairs the Property Task Force—a group looking to secure property for Chain of Lakes Church. I look forward to the day when we at Chain of Lakes will contribute to the ministry and mission of Presbyterian Church of the Way.

I am thrilled that Joanne Shingledecker will be joining our staff team. I anticipate that she will make a dramatic impact on the formation of our educational ministries at Chain of Lakes Church.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A good way to honor a good man

A special thanks to everyone who came to the plaque dedication this past Saturday for Jeff Gravon in front of the Worthington YMCA.

We weren’t able to get a lot of publicity out into Worthington about the event, so I was very pleased that about 30 people showed up. I was especially impressed by the large number of people who came from New Prague. I was touched that some of the players on Jeff’s team, Tim Dittberner, the current coach of the New Prague Boys Basketball team, and the athletic director from New Prague came. Their presence made the event even more special.

Dedicating this plaque was a way to celebrate Jeff’s commitment to youth, and it was a way to let go of the grief that many of us feel about his passing.

Jeff was a very private man. As we were sharing stories this past Saturday, I shared with the group that he would have hated having all of us talk about him in public. I think he would have also been pleased that a group of us were acknowledging the importance of committing ourselves to youth. If he knew that by honoring him we were honoring kids and youth, he would have been satisfied.

I hope that this plaque will inspire many of the adults who pass it to commit ourselves again to the youth and kids.

A special thanks to Any Johnson from the Worthington YMCA , to Wayne Klumper from Worthington, and to Audrey Peters for all they did to make the ceremony happen.
It was a good day to honor a good man.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jeff Gravon Plaque dedication

This Saturday, September 18th I will help dedicate a plaque at noon for Jeff Gravon in front of the Worthington YMCA.

Jeff was a childhood friend. He stood up for me in Amy & my wedding; I officiated his wedding. Jeff was passionate about youth. He passed away from cancer in January 2009. I officiated at both of his funeral services. When he died Jeff was the Boys Basketball coach at New Prague High School. His fight with cancer received some media coverage in the Twin Cities.

At the luncheon after his funeral in Worthington I started talking to some folks about dedicating a tree for Jeff in his memory. Over time the idea of dedicating a tree morphed into dedicating a plaque in front of the Worthington YMCA. Jeff spent much of his childhood at the Y. He spent his summer’s playing baseball on the ball fields at the Y. When he was older he did a lot of umpiring for the Y.

Jeff was one of the most competitive people I ever knew. He fought his cancer to his last breath. I shared the following story at his funeral and on the Jeff Gravon Memorial Facebook page. I remember when we played summer baseball in the YMCA rec league. I was not a good baseball player, but one game I was feeling it. I had three doubles. In the last inning Jeff came in as a relief pitcher for the other team. We had runners on second and third. I was at bat. He promptly beaned me. He beaned one of his friends in a summer baseball game, so that he could win. And they did win the game!!

You can check out some other beautiful stories on the discussion link on the Jeff Gravon Memorial Facebook page.

Jeff was one of the most dedicated fathers that I ever met. He would do anything for his children. One of his greatest sorrows was he didn’t get to see Jason, Danielle, Allison and Jordan grow up.

We’ll share some more stories about Jeff during the dedication on Saturday. A special thanks to the Andy Johnson from the Worthington YMCA, Audrey Parkhurst, Wayne Klumper, and the Gravon family for all they did to help set up this dedication.

If you are in the Worthington area this Saturday, come join us at noon.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reflections on September Presbytery

Yesterday afternoon and evening I joined other Presbyters at the Plymouth Presbyterian Church for the September meeting of the Presbytery of Twin Cities Area. Besides the “train ride” of a special meeting called in July, this was the first time the Presbytery had met since May. With all of the preparations involved in hosting General Assembly in July, I’m glad we didn’t have a regular meeting in July.

After I arrived I found a small space at a table and began hawking the recent newsletter from Chain of Lakes Church. Until our New Church Development charters, I plan on having some sort of display about Chain of Lakes at every Presbytery meeting. I enjoyed meeting and talking to many colleagues, sharing the recent successes we've experienced at Chain of Lakes, and in particular talking to some of the saints from Community Presbyterian in Plainview.

The meeting got interesting to me when Andy Lindahl, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Austin, shared his experience of serving on the Presbytery's Strategy Task Force—a group on which I also served. He very honestly and tactfully shared his skepticism about serving on the group. He admitted that he had not recently been involved in Presbytery work and was very tired of the infighting within the body. He compared his thoughts about serving to “the last session before a couple divorces.” He then told us that his participation on the Strategy group had connected him to the Presbytery again. He was excited about the document that our group had produced and was looking forward to seeing what came of it.

A little later David Lenz, pastor of Hope Church in Richfield, shared almost the same message. While serving on the Presbytery Council he had participated in a Retreat where the work of the Strategy work was shared. He shared that he felt welcomed into the process. He also honesty and tactfully shared the pain he had experienced from the Presbytery and then shared his hope about the future.

I was moved by both presentations—not “cut to the heart,” but most certainly moved. Experiencing the truth spoken in love with tact at Presbytery is a sign that life within our Presbytery is changing.

After dinner I moderated one of the small groups that discussed some of the Strategy Task Force's work. The one-page document can be found here:

Our group of about 25 generally approved of the document that they read. The document received some push back by folks concerned about the lack of articulation about participating in the world. Some other folks were a bit concerned about the use of the word, “fearlessly” in the New Vision statement that the Strategy Group brought forward. Our statement was, “We fearlessly follow the HolySpirit into a changing world.” The word “fearlessly” is my favorite word in the document. For me it articulates the essential need for the Presbytery to take risks. Risk is something that many religious bodies have difficulty, something I've never understood for our leader, Jesus Christ, was one of the most fearless leaders in the history of the world. Having said that, I could see changing the word, “fearlessly” to “courageously.”

Dr. Cynthia Rigby, professor at Austin Theological Seminary gave the sermon. I missed her Pre-Presbytery talk on Calvin. She very beautifully exegeted Peter's sermon in Acts 2 and shared the nuanced differences between being moved and being “cut to the heart.” I was moved by her sermon, but soon brought back to reality when the business portion of the meeting was resumed right after the sermon was concluded.

How about a prayer, hymn or benedication to conclude worship?

I'm encouraged by the positive energy that is slowly percolating within our Presbytery.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rally Day at Chain of Lakes Church

We have been working hard all week to get ready for our first Rally Day at Chain of Lakes Church. Many people in the Blaine area received the post card that is in this blog’s picture. We sent out 2,000 post cards in the mail yesterday. These post cards are part of our fall Publicity efforts. I am excited to see how these post cards will share the word about Chain of Lakes Church. I've already had a conversation with someone this morning that asked me how we designed such a professionally looking post card. Give kudos to Jennifer Huehns, our Administrative Assistant for designing the post card.

We have all sorts of activities taking place on Rally Day, this Sunday, September 12. Come early at 10:00 a.m. to enjoy fellowship on the patio outside of the Senior Center. We will have music playing, balloons set up and food. Bring your kids early as they are going to help lead the congregation in the Call to Worship during worship-I'll want to practice this with them. During worship special music will be shared by Hannah Moore and Kellie Burriss. We are also announcing three small group opportunities for the fall. I am starting a new sermon series called, "God's desires 4 you." After worship we are going to take our first congregational picture.

If you live in Blaine, Lino Lakes, Lexington, Circle Pines or Centerville, please come and join us on Sunday. We will go out of our way to help you feel welcome! We worship at the Lino Lakes Senior Center, 1189 Main Street—located a half mile east of the intersection of Main and Lake Drive.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Terry Jones and the burning of the Koran

Terry Jones is the pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. He is the pastor who is going to have 200 copies of the Koran burned this Saturday, September 11th. According to news accounts approximately 50 people come to worship every Sunday at the Dove World Outreach Center. The question that has been lost in the media coverage is why is this a story?

I was the pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview, Minnesota. When I started there in 1993 our worship attendance was 54; we grew to 98 in worship and then settled at 84. Our congregation was larger than the congregation at Dove World Outreach Center. No member of the media every came to worship to report on the sermons I gave. The message I shared that God loves us, Jesus Christ is risen, the Holy Spirit is present never made the national news.

Not surprisingly I don’t think my sermons in Plainview should have made the national news. Just as I don’t think that Terry Jones’ message should make the national news.
When I was a kid I was taught that if someone makes a bullying comment, the best thing to do was to ignore the person. The more I paid attention to a bully, the more caustic the bully would become. The same principle applies to Terry Jones. The more the media pays attention to him the more outrageous his statements he will make.

Do I think the Koran should be burned? Of course not.
Do I think that Islam was part of murdering over 3,000 people on September 11, 2001? No
Do I think that Osama Bin Laden represents Islam? No way
Am I bothered that Tony Jones wants to burn the Koran? Yes, but I wouldn’t let him know. Why would I want to encourage a man with such extreme views?

This Sunday during worship I’ll pray that this situation will renew relationships between Christians and Muslims. I doubt anyone will from the media will write about my prayer.

This story is more about the immaturity of the media than it is about a angry man with a small flock in Florida.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First Day of School

Today is a special day for the red heads with whom I share my life. One is celebrating her entrance into the world and the other is going to her first day of 4th grade.

Hannah was as ready as she could be for the first day of school. She was certainly organized. Shortly after we met her teacher last Wednesday she took home the lunch schedule and quickly decided which days she will be eating hot lunch and what days she will be eating cold lunch. The lunch calendar is now dotted with “h’s,” and “c’s.” Her backpack and supplies were purchased almost a month ago, and if Hannah had her way the purchase would have been made earlier. She kissed me good night last night and made me promise that I wouldn’t let her oversleep.

She didn’t need to worry. She was up shortly after seven, and we started the wonderful morning of seeing her off on the first day of school.

Yesterday afternoon Amy and I sat down and shared with Hannah our expectations for her this school year. It didn’t take too long for the three of us to get on the same page. Hannah wrote the expectations down, and I hope they’ll end up on our refrigerator door.

Last night some neighbors came over and we talked about education. Both of our neighbors earn their living through teaching and education. All of us shared our frustration with the focus on testing in our schools. As a parent I want my daughter to learn how to think. This is more important to me than a score she receives on a standardized test. I believe educational leaders have confused “means” and “ends.” I have no problem that kids take standardized tests and that we have national standards for different grades. But the obsession with testing has gone too far. Some schools in Minnesota are now starting two weeks before Labor Day they they can have more time to prepare kids for spring tests. Some want teachers to receive extra pay depending on how their students do on tests.

Hannah knows the traditions of the first day of school around our household better than me. As we were eating breakfast she asked me if we were going to take a video of the day. Oops—forgot that tradition. So I found the video camera, charged the battery, and took five minutes of video. Somewhere in our collection of video tapes we have five years of tapes that have 1st day of school recordings. If I could find the tapes and play them I would guess the length would go in decreasing order--on Hannah's first day of Kindergarten we took at least a half hour of video.

Soon after we took the obligatory first day of picture and then the neighborhood kids and parents gathered at the bus stop—which is on the corner of our front yard. I hadn’t seen a few kids since last spring, and we have a few new kids going to school. We quickly got the kids together to take a picture, the bus came, and off they went. We had some tears and one girl was running a fever so couldn’t go to school. Then they left. Watching the bus drive away on the first day of school is always a powerful moment—deeply spiritual.

Say a prayer today for the new journey our precious kids are taking today in Minnesota.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Minnesota State Fair

Last Friday, Amy, Hannah and I made our annual visit to the Great Minnesota Get-Together—the Minnesota State Fair. Since Amy and I met each other in 1998 we have only missed the fair once. Going to the fair is an annual tradition for our family.

Instead of driving to the Fair and parking there, we parked our car at the parking lot of Presbyterian Church of the Way. While we waited for the bus to arrive, we very much enjoyed talking with folks from the church. The parking lot was almost full. I appreciated that we could park for FREE and then take a bus to the fair.

For me the power of the fair is its tradition. I attended the fair as a boy, as a single young adult, and now as a father and husband. When I walk around the different areas of the fairgrounds many memories come to me. I remember listening to Steve Cannon at the WCCO-radio booth; I remember going to hear Kenny Loggins sing at the fair in 1985. I remember the first time Amy and I went to the fair. We stayed late and sat in the bleachers at the WCCO-TV booth to watch the telecast. We were both still giddy about meeting each other. As we watched the telecast Amy called her family and friends to tell them to turn to Channel 4. I remember hauling Hannah as a baby around in a stroller all over the fair. I have a memorable picture of her sitting on my shoulders eating a cream puff. I remember the year that statues of Peanuts characters were all around the Fair.

For me the challenge of attending the Fair is its tradition. I’ve attended the Fair so many times that I have a “been there, done that” attitude. I need to do new activities at the Fair. This year I decided I was going to eat new foods at the fair. I eschewed my traditional feasting on cheese curds, Greek gyros, and pronto puffs. Monica Walch—a former parishioner from the Plainview church—sent me a blog that contained a review of new fair foods. The link is here: I tried the lingenberry lefse—highly recommend it; the Granny’s Apples Strawberry Lemonade in the Food Building—again, highly recommend it; the Giant Juicy Turkey Sandwich from Turkey To Go—even though it’s received strong reviews the sandwich didn’t do much for me. I also consumed a half pounds of cinnamon almonds—Yum. No cheese curds or cream puffs this year.

The memory I’ll take from this year’s Fair was when Hannah participated in a DNA survey that some students at the University of Minnesota are doing. We stumbled upon the survey. It was late at night and the students were almost finishing up for the day. They asked Hannah if she wanted to do the survey and we said “sure.” The survey consisted of the three of us spitting into a tube, Hannah getting weighed, her height measured, her blood pressure taken, and some blood taken from her. Hannah had never had her blood pressure taken before. She didn’t like the pressure that the instrument put on her arm. The student taking the survey tried unsuccessfully three times to get Hannah’s blood pressure from her right arm. Finally he switched to her left arm—it worked. In participating in the survey we’re suppose to get two tickets to the Fair for the next two years.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wonderful week of Vacation Bible School!

Tonight is the fourth and final night of Vacation Bible School. We have enjoyed an outstanding Bible School at Chain of Lakes this year. Last year's Bible School went well, and this year's is even better. We've had excellent attendance-23, 19 & 21 kids--and we've had a few new families send kids to Bible School. Our adults have done an outstanding job of leading Bible School. Last night I watched Gary Wassam & Tiffany Godfrey lead three different groups in Story Time. The two of them did a marvelous job of having the children act out the story of Jesus healing a blind man. I was touched by the passion that Gary and Tiffany had for working with their groups. I've seen this passion on the faces of many of our adult volunteers this week at Bible School. Thanks to all adults who have given their time to help this week. Many adults have spent four nights at the Senior Center this week helping out. This commitment to our youth and children leads me to know that we at Chain of Lakes are well on our way to living out our Core Value of "Investing in Future Generations."

I'm also touched that the kids in Bible School have responded so well to the service challenge we gave them. Earlier this summer Manna Market shared with us their need for rolls of toilet paper. So though this might seem to be a bit of an odd service project, our Education Team decided to have kids at Bible School bring rolls of toilet paper. We set a goal of 350 rolls. This was a stretch goal, and on the first night the kids seemed a bit overwhelmed by bringing that much toilet paper. Now it appears we underestimated the generosity of our kids!! We already have collected 347 rolls and still have another night of Bible School left. James Chapman-the pastor of Son Light Church which runs Manna Market-was so impressed by this response that he is personally coming to Bible School tonight to pick up all the toilet paper.

Just like last year, Vacation Bible School has shared a vision of what our children’s ministry at Chain of Lakes can be!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Vacation Bible School is tonight!

Tonight—Monday, August 23—we begin one of the best ministries of the year for us at Chain of Lakes—Vacation Bible School! I still remember the wonderful Bible School we held last August at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. For two nights last year we received a vision of what our children’s ministries could look like.

I’m anticipating an even better Vacation Bible School this year. We have a strong number of kids pre-registered; all of our volunteer positions are filled. Now it is time to enjoy this ministry!

Bible School will start with a FREE meal at 5:45 p.m. at the Lino Lakes Senior Center, 1189 Main Street in Lino Lakes. After dinner I will welcome the kids and share with them our service project for the week. I can’t share what it is, but let me say that it has something to do with “rolls.” Kellie Burriss will then lead the kids in our first Kid’s Choir. After singing the kids will break into three groups. Each group will enjoy games, crafts, and a Bible Story.

I’ve been encouraging all adults at Chain of Lakes Church to invite the children on their street to attend Bible School. I think that two families on our block are attending Bible School. Take some time right now to call a family on your street to invite that family to Bible School. If you need to offer the family a ride—consider doing that. Vacation Bible School is one of the easiest ministries in which to invite someone outside our congregation.

Please feel free to come by the Senior Center tonight to enjoy the energy of Vacation Bible School. We will be there until 8:00 p.m. Please also take some time today to keep this wonderful ministry in your prayers!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

National New Church Development Conference

I’m back in the office and blogging again after spending three days last week at the National New Church Development Conference at St. Pete, Florida. Approximately 200 people from around the country attended the conference. The conference was made up of two plenary presentations by Rev. Shawn Lovejoy, who is the organizing pastor of Mountain Lake Church in Cummings Georgia. He started the church in 1999 and today has over 2000 in worship. We had the opportunity to enjoy worship, six different workshop tracks, and a large group seminar. The workshop tracks were: Evangelism and Disciple Making, Nuts and Bolts of New Church Development, Spirituality and Prayer, Leader Development, Multi Ethnic Church Starts, and Churches Starting Churches. I attended the Churches Starting Churches workshop.

It was a privilege for me to attend this conference with four other people from Chain of Lakes Church. I have decided that I want to avoid going to conferences unless others from the church come with me. I have too much experience of getting all excited at a conference and then having my excitement die when I get back because no one shared the experience with me.

Ideas from the conference that resonated with me personally:
• We should pray the following prayer every day: “Lord I give this church to you. This is your church”

• The denomination has put together an excellent process for starting a new church. It’s a 16 session process. We at Chain of Lakes did part of this when we developed our Purpose Statement and Core Values. At Chain of Lakes we could benefit by getting on the same page about the following questions: “Who is Jesus?” “What is the church” “What is salvation” “What is evangelism?” We also could benefit by doing some site interviews into the community.

• The importance of protecting Purpose Statement and Core Values. We have to communicate this over and over to the congregation and also be aware of vision leaks.

• I saw some outstanding ways that Mission Insight—a demographic tool that we at Chain of Lakes have access—can be used

Congratulations to our National Office for putting on an excellent conference.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Why go to the Dells, when you can go to Synod School?

Last week I spent the week with my family at Synod School held at Buena Vista College in Storm Lake, Iowa. Synod School is an annual educational event sponsored by the Synod of the Lakes and Prairies. (The Synod is one of the four governing bodies in the Presbyterian Church. The Synod of Lakes and Prairies covers the Midwestern section of the United States.)

This was the fourth time I’ve attended Synod School—the first time I’ve attended at Buena Vista College. I attended three times at Grinnell College.

Synod School was a marvelous event which I completely enjoyed. Each morning we participated in worship. After worship children and youth were dismissed to their programming. When it was time to go to the kids’ program, my daughter, Hannah, leaped out of her chair. After worship Rodger Nishioka, professor of Christian Edcuation at Columbia Seminary, gave a morning lecture. This year he talked about what it means to be Presbyterian. We then had the opportunity to go to four classes. The classes ranged from academic—one class was on Greek tragedies—to the playful—another class was on Improvisation. During the evening we were able to worship again and then had many other possible classes in which we could go. In one evening class Rodger Nishioka did a question and answer session with whomever showed up.

My sister’s family and my parents made Synod School our family vacation. Instead of going to a resort or Wisconsin Dells we chose Synod School. Why go to the Dells when a person could go to Synod School?

On Sunday night we were greeted in Storm Lake by the first stage of R.A.G.B.R.A.I. This is the bike ride sponsored by the Des Moines Register across Iowa. Approximately 10,000 people were participating. My wife, Amy, and I were amazed at all we saw on Sunday night when we walked downtown Storm Lake. Bicyclists were camping all over town, a huge festival was being held on the main street, and the Johnny Holm band performed. Amy & I had a blast talking to some cyclists and absorbing many “interesting” sights.

The highlight for me at Synod School was listening to Rodger Nishioka speak. I’ve heard him speak twice before. He has gotten better. He has his pulse on the how young people view faith. He’s passionately interested in how we Presbyterians can share our message in a successful way with young folks. I know many people are worried about the future of the PC(USA). My suggestion for our doubters is to listen close to what Rodger Nishioka has to say.

Synod School is a wonderful family vacation. I can see why over 600 people participated. Why go the the Dells when a person can go to Synod School?

Congratulations to the Synod School Planning Team and Synod Staff for pulling off an outstanding event.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Outward Focus--it is about attitude--our own

This week the esteemed Stated Clerk of Minnesota Valleys Presbytery who is also on the City Council of Redwood Falls, Minnesota who is also my little sister sent me a link to a blog written by Landon Whitsitt, the new vice-moderator of our denomination. He wrote about what it means to be an open-source church. The blog can be found here:

Landon compared the church to Wikipedia. The process is simple--one person writes about a topic, another person edits the topic, and the process keeps going. According to the blog, Wikipedia is clear about its own identity and also has clear guidelines for handling disputes. In bold letters, Landon wrote that “being an open source church is not so much about content but attitude."

During the last 24 hours, I’ve written a devotion about Chain of Lakes’ Core Value of “Outward Focus.” This summer I’m preaching on the eight Core Values of our new church. (Links to the sermons and the devotion I write for each sermon can be found at our web site—

It’s fascinating to me that the challenges of having an Outward Focus are certainly not new. I think that we humans are predisposed to focus on ourselves, our own problems and the internal interests of our own communities. This isn’t a 21st century problem—just read some of the stories in Acts—the story of Peter in Acts 10 or the struggles of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. These stories illustrate the different attitudes that people had towards having an Outward Focus. Peter was hesitant to eat food that God wanted him too; a sect of the Pharisees had problems with the outreach to the Gentiles.

Self-centeredness is one of the hardest sins to overcome. It afflicts all of us no matter what our theology (conservative or liberal), our politics (Republican, Democrat, Independent, etc.), our denominational affiliation, our … you get the picture.

Perhaps the key to the resurgence of the Presbyterian Church is all of us acknowledging the following, “ I am powerless over self-centeredness.” All recovered alcoholics know how hard it is to move through that first step. Perhaps the pastors and elders in our denomination can acknowledge the same challenge. Being open, having an open-source attitude is not about judging others—it’s first recognizing the forces in ourselves that limit our attitude.

Thank God, we have God on our side!! For myself, I can’t imagine successfully negotiating this first step without the help of God.

Can you?

Next week I'm off with my family to Synod School in Storm Lake, Iowa. I'll be taking a short break from blogging.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Serving the poor at Manna Market

Last week seven of us from Chain of Lakes Church volunteered at Manna Market, a food distribution ministry that is coordinated by Son Life Church in Blaine. Manna Market distributes fresh vegetables, fruit and meat products to low-income residents from eastern Anoka County. They distribute food on Tuesday and Thursday nights at Son Life Church.

This ministry was an opportunity for us at Chain of Lakes Church to have direct contact with low-income folks. My task was to stand behind a table and offer fresh meat. Each participant could choose one package of fresh meat from two boxes. The people selecting the meat were grateful and very polite. James Chapman, pastor of Son Life Church, shared with us that many of the families who come to Manna Market have zero income. The food that is distributed is the only fresh food that families will have for an entire week.

I enjoyed serving last week because I had the opportunity to see the face of the poor.

Before we started serving I saw a person who I knew I had seen in the past. I had a moment where I knew I had seen the person before, but I couldn’t remember where I had seen the person.

As the person came through the line, I remembered where I knew the person. The person was a server at a local restaurant. I have been to the restaurant many times; I never knew that this person was struggling financially.

I was touched that I was serving this person food at Manna Market--a person who had served me many times at a restaurant.

At that moment poverty wasn’t invisible to me. It was represented on the face of someone I had come to know—but obviously much of the person’s life was invisible to me.

I would guess that many of the rest of us would be shocked if we learned about people who are in poverty.

I’m very hopeful that we at Chain of Lakes can partner over time with Manna Market. This is a ministry that is directly living out Matthew 25—“whatever you do to the least of these, you do it to me.”

Friday, July 16, 2010

Letter to the Editor regarding English Only

The following is a Letter to the Editor I wrote that appeared in this week's edition of the Quad Press:

Before I became a pastor I worked for farm workers in California in the late 1980s. I came to understand that the phrase “English-only” was code for “you are not welcome here.”

When I read that Lino Lakes Councilman Dave Roeser wants to establish English as the official language of Lino Lakes, I couldn’t help but hear these code words.

In the article I read, Roeser was quoted as saying that the city doesn't spend any money right now on documents in languages other than English. His proposed policy would guarantee that the city wouldn't be required to spend money in the future on translation services. He said his motivation for this policy is to save the city money.

It seems strange to me that Roeser would want to save money on an issue that isn’t costing the city anything. And he’s using words that minority groups have come to understand to mean, “you are not welcome here.”

I don't know Dave Roeser. I would be happy to grill a steak for him and listen closely to him in order to understand his rationale for having an English-only policy in Lino Lakes, a city where the new church I serve worships.

I would like every person in our country to learn and know English; however I've never been convinced that passing English-only policies causes people to learn English. I've seen the English-only rhetoric for what it is — a way to make immigrants, legal and illegal, know that they aren’t truly part of the community.

As a person of faith, my final test is what would Jesus do. He spent much of his time with the people whom his first-century culture ignored. If he lived in the United States today, I believe he would go out of his way to spend time with people who didn't speak English. I believe he would encourage this group to learn English, but he wouldn't do it by passing a law.

Immigrants have the responsibility to assimilate; just as politicians have the responsibility to be frank about their motives.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Recap of General Assembly

Last Saturday, July 10, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) completed its work at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

A big congratulations to the Committee on Local Arrangements for their work in hosting the General Assembly. I know that some folks had worked on the General Assembly for years. Part of their work was recruiting hundreds of volunteers to help at General Assembly. As a pastor I know how recruitment can be a nerve-wracking experience. From my outside perspective it seemed that the General Assembly operated very smoothly.

Tonight I will give a short report to the Steering Committee at Chain of Lakes Church about what happened at General Assembly. On Sunday, July 25 Gordon Dosher, a commissioner to General Assembly will come to Chain of Lakes Church and give us a report.

An excellent pastoral letter summarizing the actions of General Assembly can be found here:

The letter highlighted five significant issues on which the General Assembly took action. According to the letter and the links on the letter this is what the General Assembly did. The explanations are from the links in the letter.

Civil Union and Marriage Issues
The General Assembly approved both the Final Report and the Minority Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage and ordered they be sent out for study by the wider church. The vote was 439 in favor, 208 against, with 6 abstentions. By this action (sending both reports for study) the Assembly maintained the definition of marriage as "a man and a woman.” With the action to send the reports for study, no change has occurred, or is pending.

Form of Government
The General Assembly voted to recommend a revised Form of Government to the presbyteries with a vote of 468 in favor, 204 against, and 6 abstentions – a 70%‐30% margin. The new Form of Government includes:
• Foundations of Presbyterian Polity ‐‐ the principles that are foundational to government, worship, and discipline for the PC(USA). Preserves the vast majority of the material in the first four chapters of the current Form of Government.
• Form of Government ‐‐ in six chapters, which spells out the constitutional framework for government of the PC(USA) as it seeks to respond to God’s call to life in mission.
• Advisory Handbook for Councils for the Development of Policies and Procedures Required by the Form of Government ‐‐ an aid to councils (governing bodies) of the church for developing the policies and procedures to carry out their mission.

Nothing has changed until a majority of presbyteries vote to approve this new Form of Government. Voting must be completed by July 10, 2011, and if affirmative, the new Book of Order would take effect the next day.

Middle East
The General Assembly approved a comprehensive report on the Middle East – its first since 1997. The paper calls for:
• An immediate cessation of all violence, whether perpetrated by Israelis or Palestinians;
• The reaffirmation of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders;
• The end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories;
• An immediate freeze on the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and on the Israeli acquisition of Palestinian land and buildings in East Jerusalem;
• And many other steps toward peace in the region.

Middle Governing Body Commission
The 219th General Assembly (2010) has created a Middle Governing Body Commission with the power to act as the General Assembly, upon request of presbyteries and synods. The commission has the power “to organize new synods and to divide, unite, or otherwise combine synods or portions of synods previously existing” (G‐13.0103m) and “to approve the organization, division, uniting or combining of presbyteries or portions of presbyteries by synods” (G‐13.0103n) — upon the request, by a majority vote, of the affected presbyteries and/or synod.

Ordination Standards
The 219th General Assembly (2010) proposed a change to the PC(USA) Constitution regarding ordination standards by a vote of 373‐323‐4. This action does not change the Constitution. It is a first step in the process. A majority of the 173 presbyteries would have to vote in the affirmative to approve the replacement by July 10, 2011.

The first statement would replace the second statement in the Book of Order
1. “Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G‐1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G‐14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation
(W‐4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

2. “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W‐4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self‐acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or
installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.”

The bottom line for me is how these actions will enhance the ministry of a local congregation. Last night I read an outstanding article written by Barbara Wheeler in the most recent issue of the Christian Century. She shared a detailed description about the challenges of providing pastoral leadership in a small, rural congregation. She shared the pros and cons of hiring a Commissioned Lay Pastor.

After reading the article I wondered about how the actions of the General Assembly will help this congregation. How will the above five issues enhance the ministry of that congregation?

Even though the General Assembly spent enormous energy on these five issues and debated them with passion, I would say that most of them won’t affect the ministry of that church. And that is one reason we Presbyterians are struggling.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Skipping town

I’ve had the opportunity to participate in General Assembly in many ways the past five days and now am skipping town for a family vacation. This blog will be quite until next week.

I had a wonderful time sharing Communion at Opening worship, driving international commissioners from the airport to their hotel, participating in Tuesday’s morning worship, and staffing our Presbytery’s table yesterday for Chain of Lakes Church.

I’m very pleased that the Form of Government Report has cleared committee and will go to the entire Assembly.

I will keep the General Assembly in my prayers over the next four days. I look forward to seeing what the Spirit accomplishes through these dedicated servants!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Opening Worship at General Assembly

On my Facebook page I just shared my feelings about Opening worship this morning at General Assembly, “Terrific opening worship service at General Assembly--I'll remember it for a very long time. Praise God from whom all blessings flow ...”

I was one of many Communion servers and arrived at 7:30 a.m. at the Convention Center to receive my training. And even though I’ve administered Communion hundreds of times, I appreciated that we received training. I quickly learned that whoever planned and implemented this service was paying attention to details.

As soon as I entered the Convention Center I felt the spiritual energy. I saw many Presbyterians who I know and greeted them. We had a feeling of celebration from the start. I could feel a sense of anticipation—that something very special was going to happen. I felt like a greeting machine—dispensing “hi’s” and “how are yous” and “this is a very special day” to anyone I knew who came near me.

We Presbyterians are so good at identifying our own problems. It felt good to celebrate!

The opening of worship took my heart away. Fern Cloud, a commissioned lay pastor from Rapid City was dressed in traditional Native American apparel. She and Elona Street-Stewart shared the welcoming. Animals (humans dressed that way) and then large Native American figures walked by where I sat. I saw a bunny hopping and skunks skitter by. The processional was a story of creation with a midwestern accent.

I so appreciated a welcome from these Native Americans. It fit our history and context. It affirmed my recent thoughts opposing the English Only initiative that a Lino Lakes City council member has floated. If we truly want to go back to our native language, we should all learn Ojibwee. I don’t propose that, but we have to remember that we Caucasians brought English with us to this land. Now we Caucasians are called to welcome people who look and act differently than us.

Now former moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow knocked the sermon out of the park. Much of what he shared is what we are trying to create at Chain of Lakes Church. He shared the challenges of being Presbyterian mean we have to work together. He shared a beautiful story of a an elderly woman who became angry with him in a congregation he served because of how the flowers looked in the sanctuary. After her outburst, Bruce shared with her that he didn’t care about the flowers. That is the mistake we all make about people who disagree with us. We don’t care about them. We don’t care about them as people, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as children of God. We just don’t care enough. Bruce shared the Core Value of “Healthy Disagreement” that we’ve articulated at Chain of Lakes.

Bruce shared that he dreams of a church where we have more people in their 20’s than 30’s than 40’s than 50’s than 60’s than 70’s instead of vice versa, which we have now. Amen and preach it! His thoughts shared the Core Value of “Investing in Future Generations” we articulated at Chain of Lakes.

I watched the breathtaking baptism of Alexis Renee Sanders. Alexis is part of Kwanza Community Church. Watching Rev. Alika Galloway take Alexis in her arms was seeing an illustration of God’s clinging to us as humans. (The preceding thought came from Donna Christison from Community Presbyterian in Plainview. Donna shared this with me after worship.) I teared up when many of the Kwanza Community church, sitting near the stage rose to affirm that they would raise Alexis in the faith. This African-American congregation from North Minneapolis committed to instilling faith in this precious child. I very much appreciated the diversity in worship. We shared theological diversity—musicians from Westminster, Church of All Nations, and Christ Presbyterian in Edina—shared their gifts. I appreciated the different styles of music from classic hymns to contemporary Praise Band selections. Through our diversity we were united in our desire and passion to worship. These diverse styles complimented each other and didn’t tear at the fabric of our unity.

The power of worship will fade, but the principles lived out give us as Presbyterians hope in which to grasp as we face an unsettling future.