Friday, January 28, 2011

The Good Earth

During January the on-line book club in which I participate has read “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck. This is a story of the peasant farmer, Wang Lung and his family as they lived in rural China in the early 20th century. The book was the best selling novel in the United States in 1931 and 1932. Its success helped Buck win a Nobel Prize for literature in 1938.

At the beginning of the story the Chinese, peasant farmer, Wang Lung married O-Lan. Wang Lung fit the classical Horatio Alger myth that has guided the consciousness of America. He achieved success as a farmer through his hard work, bought land, suffered from a terrible drought, dragged his family to another city where they had to beg for food, came back to their home when an army threatened the city. As they left the city he and O-Lan took some jewels from another house. That money helped them re-establish their life on the land where they previously lived. Wang Lung and O-Lan had four children; they were very successful as farmers. They eventually bought more land and bought the house where O-Lan lived as a concubine. Overtime Wang Lung fell out of love with O-Lan, brought a concubine to live in his own house while O-Lan was alive, and lived through the challenges that his family presented him. He died a very prosperous man.

Wang Lung never lost his love for the land. At the end of his life he shared with his sons his desire that his land would always stay in his family. The last line of the novel displayed the cyclical nature of fortune that Wang Lung experienced. “But over the old man’s (Wang Lung] head they looked at each other and smiled.” It was obvious that the sons would sell the property against their dying father’s wishes.

The folks in my Book Club had a vigorous discussion on how to view Wang Lung. Some saw him as a farmer who, though flawed, became very successful. He was similar to an Old Testament patriarch. His adultery could be excused because the culture in which he lived excused this behavior. Others couldn’t excuse Wang Lung’s behavior.

The question with which I think is worth reflecting on is do the cultural mores and expectations of a society excuse a person from their behavior. Because the culture in China in the early 20th century—at least according to the novel—accepted men having concubines live in their house does this excuse adultery?

This year I’m reading through the Old Testament. This morning I read Exodus 20—the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses. When God gave the Ten Commandments God gave these as universal laws. Just because a culture could accept adultery—through married men living with their concubines—this doesn’t make adultery acceptable. Universal moral principles exist—despite the setting in which they are lived out.

What would happen if a culture accepted stealing as acceptable? Would this make stealing tolerable?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Worship at the Upper Room

Last night the worship team at Chain of Lakes attended the 5:00 p.m. worship service at Upper Room in St.Louis Park. Upper Room is a church that spun off from Christ Presbyterian in Edina about two years ago. At the last worship meeting at Chain of Lakes Church I suggested that our worship team worship together at other churches to learn about different worship styles. Our worship team oversees the general direction of worship at Chain of Lakes Church.

On November 9, 2009 I shared a blog about attending worship at Upper Room. That blog can be found by going through the links on the right side of this blog.

My daughter, Hannah and I were late at arriving at Upper Room last evening. I left our hosue with plenty of time to spare, but the GPS on my I-Phone didn’t work well. We parked at least two blocks from the church—it was the closest we could get to the church. Upper Room is leasing space from Lutheran Church of the Resurrection.

When we arrived at the building Hannah and I walked through the wrong doorway. I knew the way to the sanctuary. As I came to the entrance of the sanctuary I met Kellie Burriss and her son. She was signing in her son so that he could participate in child care. When I opened the door to the sanctuary, the music hit me with a very strong force. The Praise Band was in high gear. I eventually saw three other people from Chain of Lakes sitting in the balcony, so we went upstairs to worship with them. Kellie gave up on the registration and worshipped with her son.

The ambience of the sanctuary was similar to when I’ve worshipped at Upper Room before. The sanctuary was dark, a large number of candles were lit throughout the sanctuary, different colored lighting shone throughout the service, three screens were lit with the lyrics to the songs.

The order of the service was similar to the order of other new churches I’ve visited in Blaine. The service started out with about 20 minutes of Praise Music; we then listened to a 35 minute sermon; celebrated Communion, heard a short talk by someone from Upper Room about some ministries of the church, and then were released.

I’ve always enjoyed the chance to participate in the faith rituals that Upper Room designs. Last night during Communion we were invited to take Communion by Intinction. We had the opportunity to kneel in front of a mirror, write on the mirror with a sharpie a value we want to be known for ourselves, and then pray. At least 16 stations were set up in the sanctuary. I know that many traditional Presbyterians would squirm at how Communion was distributed—or not distributed. We served the elements to ourselves.

What has always impressed me about Upper Room is the large number of young people who participate. It seemed to be that last night at least 90 percent of the people gathered were 45 and under.

Upper Room seems to be challenged by the facilities they are using. Even with two services they have too many people for their space.

In the past I’ve experienced a wonderful sense of mystery as I’ve worshipped at Upper Room. I missed that last night. Perhaps I missed it because I came to worship late and felt rushed when I arrived. I also missed a sense of organized hospitality. I was greeted by no one—this could be on me because Hannah and I walked through the wrong door.

As Hannah and I drove away I asked her what thoughts she had about worshipping at Upper Room. She didn’t like the lack of crosses in the sanctuary and she missed having a time of fellowship with others.

I very much appreciate what Upper Room is doing in worship. Any church that has the success they’ve had with young people needs to be thanked. We’re still developing our worship style at Chain of Lakes. I can’t imagine that we will look like the Upper Room, but I am glad that our worship team will talk about our shared experience of worshipping there.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Property Task Force 2.0

Last night the second round of our Presbytery’s Property Task Force met at the offices of Chain of Lakes Church. The first round of the Property Task Force identified some properties in our geographical area that would suit the long-term needs of Chain of Lakes Church. The charge to the second round of this group is to bring a piece of property and a viable funding plan to our Presbytery for approval.

In the Presbyterian Church the wider Presbytery historically purchases the property for new churches. The local congregation then holds the property in trust for the Presbytery. The local congregation is then responsible for paying for the buildings on the property.

Last night I shared an opening prayer for the group. As I prayed I shared that I felt like Abram going off on a journey. We don’t know exactly where we are going or how we are going to get there, but we trust that God is present to us and is leading us every step of the way. The new tagline of our Presbytery is “fearlessly following the Holy Spirit into a changing world.” This Property Task Force will test our Presbytery’s willingness to live into this tagline.

I don’t believe that a piece of property or a building is ultimately important for a congregation. What ultimately is important for us at Chain of Lakes is that we live fully into the Purpose Statement which God gave to us. However I do believe that a piece of property poorly chosen and/or a building poorly designed can hamper a congregation for decades.

At the end of the meeting last night I experienced this wonderful appreciation for the connectionalism of the Presbyterian system. We did have four people from Chain of Lakes at the meeting, and we had three people (and three others who didn’t attend) who are from the wider Presbytery. The three people from outside of Chain of Lakes who attended last night were fully engaged and invested in the conversations we held. They weren’t present to help their local congregations or to receive any benefit for themselves. They were present to help a new, forming Presbyterian congregation. They represented the best of who we are as Presbyterians.

Abram fearlessly followed—I think we can too!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Welcome to the world, Jamison!

This past Tuesday the heavens opened when Jamison Andrew Gilman was born at the United States Naval Hospital in Okinawa, Japan. Jamison is the son of Drew and Nikki Gilman—my wife, Amy’s son and daughter-in-law. Amy, Hannah, and I were at a Martin Luther King celebration on Monday night when she received a call that Nikki had gone into labor. Around 3:00 on Tuesday morning Amy received the call that Jamison had entered the world.

Amy is flying to Okinawa tomorrow to celebrate this new birth. Our household is full of joy this week. Praise God for new life!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Evangelism opportunity--Ray Jones coming!

This weekend we at Chain of Lakes are sharing a marvelous Evangelism opportunity with the community. Ray Jones, coordinator of Evangelism for the General Assembly of the PC(USA) will be flying from Louisville to the north metro. He will lead a Retreat this Saturday, January 15th on Evangelism from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Presbyterian Church of the Way, 3382 North Lexington in Shoreview. On Sunday he will preach at worship for Chain of Lakes Church. Worship begins at 10:30 a.m. Chain of Lakes Church worships at the Lino Lakes Senior Center which is located a half mile east of the intersection of Lake Drive and Main Street (#242).

I’ve gotten to know Ray through my attendance at New Church Development conferences the past two years. I find him to be very warm, engaging, and passionate in helping people (especially Presbyterians) share the gospel in a holistic way.

At the Retreat on Saturday Ray will teach us how in evangelism we engage our culture, engage the gospel, engage the community, and engage discipleship. The Retreat is FREE and open to the public. A small feel for lunch will be collected. Registration is requested, but not required. To register, E-mail or call 763-208-8049.

Ray is the founding pastor of the 500 member Maclund Presbyterian Church in Powder Springs, Georgia. Before his new church development work, he served First Church in Bay Minette, Alabama and Summer Church in Mississippi. He received his M. Div. and D. Min. degrees from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.

I want people to learn to articulate how God has made a difference in their lives through Jesus Christ,” he said, in ways that will lead them into relationships with people in the world that are centered in justice and mercy.

If you live in the north Metro, come join us on Saturday and then listen to Ray preach on Sunday. Perhaps we Presbyterians can re-claim how to do Evangelism in a way that will connect to hurting people and communities in the world.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Arizona shootings

The terrible shootings in Arizona lift up another opportunity for church leaders to be intentional about creating a culture of peace. I hope that church leaders will reflect on these three questions

1. How are we doing at teaching people in our congregations to share compassion with those with whom they disagree?
I’m not convinced that the use of language is any more raucous today than in our past; however the use of technology gives more people the ability to spew inappropriate language. One of our tasks in the church is to model and teach compassion for those with whom we disagree. Jesus did teach us to love our enemies. I don’t believe that a person who looks at the world differently than me is my enemy, but I do believe that Jesus wants me to love that person. I don’t think this is easy or happens naturally. I have had many incidents in my ministry when I would have preferred to use my linebacking skills I learned in playing football at Carleton college on a parishioner. But I didn’t—because Jesus called me to love that person. Before blaming others, let’s work harder at loving the other.

2. How are we doing at sharing Mental Health resources with the world?
I don’t know the faith background of Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged shooter. From what I’ve read he seems to suffer from some type of mental illness. I wonder what type of Mental Health Resources he received. Not receiving counseling help is not an excuse to kill six people, but those resources might have prevented the murder of six people. When I served a small Presbyterian church in Plainview, we hired a counselor on our staff. The only cost to our own budget was giving him free space. As we grow at Chain of Lakes Church we will offer Mental Health Resources for the community. If we could do this at Plainview, any church can do this. I believe that every church in America should have a counselor on their staff.

3. How are we doing in our congregations at modeling healthy disagreement?
We have established “healthy disagreement” as a Core Value at Chain of Lakes. We understand this to mean that “when we disagree we will encourage discussion while valuing all opinions. We will speak truth in love, treat others respectfully & with dignity, and seek to remain in community.” It’s amazing how often in our short history as a church that someone mentions this Core Value. Having this Core Value has given people at Chain of Lakes permission to share their opinions. We certainly have a long way to go in living into this Value. I challenge all churches to spend time focusing on modeling healthy disagreement.

Being successful in answering these three questions might not have prevented this shooting in Tucson, but it would create a healthier culture and prevent future murders.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Reading through the Old Testament

I've preached approximately 800 sermons and in all of them I either mentioned or explored a Scripture passage; I've taken seminary classes on the Bible; I have at least forty commentaries on the Bible in my office; I read the Bible almost every day in my personal devotions; I've taught Bible Studies; I've read through the Bible cover to cover at least twice. And I still find myself learning more about the Bible when I read it.

As I made some New Year's Resolutions for 2011 I decided to read through the Old Testament this year.

I've done this before. In 2006 I read the Bible cover to cover; in 2007 I read the Old Testament; in 2008 I read the New Testament. I tried to read Calvin's Institutes in 2009, but lost interest halfway through. In 2010 I was too busy starting a new church to thing about a reading plan.

I'm not any less busy this year, but just as needy to grow in my own personal relationship with God.

I know that the Old Testament is scary to some people. At times God acts in confusing ways; the people of Israel often went on killing sprees; the laws in Exodus and Leviticus seem out-of-place for life in 2011.

But still—my spirit has already been refreshed in 2011 through what I've read.

Just this morning I read chapters 15-18 of Genesis. I was touched by the compassion that God showed Hagaar. I resonated with the questions that Abram had for God about if and when his wife Sarai was going to have a baby. I discovered—even though I've read this story countless times—that it was 25 years between the time that God promised Abram a son and Sarah bore Isaac. Even though God had made a promise, the promise too a while to happen. This gives me a deepened appreciation for patience.

All of this—in just four chapters of Genesis!!

If you—this blog reader—would like to read through the Old Testament, send me an E-mail. The address can be found via our church's web site— The reading plan I'm following involves reading two or three chapters a day. I'm sure I'll get behind—but I'll just look for times to get caught up. If I get too far behind, I'll just skip ahead to the place of the current plan.

If you join me in reading the Old Testament I would love to have conversation via E-mail about what we are reading. Reading the Bible is always done better in community.

The Scriptures are a treasure that teach us about God, humanity, the world, and ourselves. I'm excited to learn more through reading the Old Testament in 2011. Why don't you join me?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year's Resolutions and light

Like many people I make New Year’s Resolutions. Sometimes I’m able to keep them and sometimes not. This year I made a modest weight loss resolution along with deciding to read the Old Testament in 2011. If anyone reading this blog would like to read the Old Testament and then exchange comments via E-mail, please let me know.

I like the process of New Year’s Resolutions. I have a habit of getting stuck in ruts and the flip of the calendar allows me to be intentional about making some changes in my own life. New Year’s Resolutions gives me an opportunity to live out the aspirations I have for my life. One of my joys during the holiday season was sitting at Barnes & Noble in Rochester and talking with Hannah about the New Year’s Resolutions we would like to make for 2011.

However each of our New Year’s Resolutions pale in comparison with what is going on in the Universe. In this age of Narcissism each of us would do well to see how small we are in relationship to the cosmos.

During my Christmas Eve sermon I focused on the theme of light. The sermon can be viewed by finding the blip TV link at As I worked on this sermon I was especially touched by the words of John, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

Light surrounded the incarnation of Jesus. Light was predicted by Isaiah, it was displayed by the angels and the star that guided the magi, and it was described by John.

The above picture is of Eta Carinae, which according to Wikipedia is a stellar system in the constellation Carina, about 7,500 to 8,000 light-years from the Sun. The system has a combined luminosity about four million times that of the Sun and has an estimated system mass in excess of 100 solar masses.

The light that we see in this picture originated almost six thousand years before Jesus was born. Wow! My weight loss goal seems pretty small when I look at this picture.

I believe that God knows every part of Eta Carinae and knows every part of all the other stars and solar systems in this Universe. With this unimaginable knowledge, God chose to give us light through a tiny baby born to an unmarried, teenage peasant in a non-descript town in the Middle East.

When I look at Eta Carinae I think of the words of the Psalmist.
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars that you have established;
What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
And crowned them with glory and honor.”
Psalm 8:3-5a

I have dedicated my life to receiving and sharing this light through the church. Without this light I can’t imagine that any of my New Year’s Resolutions will make a difference.

In my Christmas Eve sermon I challenged everyone at Chain of Lakes to share this light in 2011. Would you, this blog reader, commit to doing the same?

Happy New Year!