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.