Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Just after the most recent snow storm I drove over the icy roads to the White Bear Lake movie theatre to watch Nebraska.  I love driving in wide open spaces and the idea of watching someone take a journey from Montana to Nebraska was very appealing.

The movie opened with Woody walking on busy road in Billings, Montana.  He is an elderly, alcoholic who has convinced himself that he’s won a million dollars.  His ticket to wealth is a sweepstakes offer that everyone but him can see won’t stand up.  But Woody won’t let it go.  He has to get to Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up his winnings.  He can’t drive, so he decided to walk.   His son, David sees that Woody won’t let the fantasy go, so he offers to drive off on what he sees as a family road trip. 

On their way to Lincoln they ended up in the fictitious town of Hawthorne, Nebraska where Woody’s brother lived there.  Soon the small town hears about Woody’s winnings.  Despite David’s attempt to clear up the confusion the fantasy wins over. 

Woody is suddenly going to be rich—and that “reality” brings out the best and worst in people of Hawthorne.  Many want to congratulate him on his good fortune and the newspaper wants to do a story.  When David goes to the office he discovers that Woody and the newspaper editor were once in love.  But the smell of money among some of the people in Hawthorne can’t be missed.  Woody’s former partner tries to strong arm an old debt from them.  His brother’s family brings up an old financial obligation too. 

Hidden family stories and secrets slowly come to the surface.  David learns more about his father than he wanted to know.  Woody doesn’t share often, but with a few drinks old family stories emerge.

My favorite scene was when David and his brother tried to get back an air compressor.  Woody had complained for a long time about a man who borrowed but never returned an air compressor.  When they traveled past the farm, the boys realize they had a chance to finally stop their dad’s incessant complaining.  They ran into the barn to take back the “stolen” item.  As they were driving away with the loot they realized that they had been in the wrong place.  So the boys take the air compressor back to the barn.  As they were in the barn the family suddenly drives up.  Oops.  Awkward.  Embarrassing.  Hilarious. 

The film was shot in black and white—which didn’t work for me.  I also thought the caricature of Woody’s cousins, Cole and Bart, didn’t work.  They came across as two fat, ignorant, and uninteresting men.  I’m not sure what they were supposed to represent.

Bruce Dern as Woody carried the movie.  His forlorn and stubborn look shared the confusion of our times.  He had a fantasy that his family knew wouldn’t work.  When pressed about why he wanted to go to Lincoln, he shared that he just wanted to leave something for his sons.  And at the end of the movie he did, though it took the creativeness of David to make it work.

Watching Nebraska is like driving through the plains on a road trip.  With plenty of time on their hands Woody and David can’t help but share their lives with each other.  What emerged wasn’t always pretty, but it was their story.  And ultimately it’s many of our stories.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel--Real Love on the eve of Valentine's Day

This past Sunday I was blessed to moderate a conversation with Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel.  Oshea murdered Mary’s son in 1993.  He went to prison.  While he was in prison Mary visited him and eventually forgave him.  When Oshea was released from prison he moved next door to Mary.  She has adopted him as what she calls her “spiritual” son.

The interview was remarkable.  Check it out at: http://vimeo.com/86263115

I have shared with many people that I had the opportunity to see the gospel in action this past Sunday.  It’s hard to believe that a woman could forgive and ultimately reconcile like Mary has with Oshea. 

She demonstrated the best parts of forgiveness.  She hasn’t forgotten what happened; she hasn’t excused Oshea for what he did; she certainly hasn’t ignored the pain that she has had to endure.  When Oshea first went to prison Mary described him as an animal.  She wanted him to be locked up for the rest of his life.

Mary has founded From Death to Life, an organization dedicated to ending violence through the facilitation of healing and reconciliation between the families of victims and perpetrators.  They publicly bear witness once a month on the north side of Minneapolis in support of mothers who have had a children who has had life taken.

Tomorrow the world is going to celebrate Romantic Love on Valentine’s Day.  I think Mary’s action of forgiveness is more in line with the love Jesus had in mind and wants all of us to live out.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Forgiveness--Mary Johnson's story

I want to invite the community to hear Mary Johnson’s story of forgiving her son’s murderer at a special worship service this Sunday, Feb. 9, at 10:30 a.m. at Da Vinci Academy, 13001 Central Ave in Blaine. 

I first heard Mary’s story when she and Oshea Israel shared it last month at St. Joseph by the Lakes Catholic Church.  Mary’s son, Laramiun Byrd was murdered by Oshea in 1993.  After visiting Oshea in prison, Johnson began the process of forgiveness.  The two eventually reconciled after Israel was released from prison.  Mary now identifies Oshea as her “spiritual son” and he refers to her as a “second mom.”  The two have lived next door to each other for more than two years.

During worship I will interview Mary.  I will particularly ask her how she was able to get the point where she was willing to release the anger she understandably felt towards Oshea.  I will also ask her how she was able to forgive him. 

Through my work I have learned that many people struggle with the issue of forgiveness.  Hopefully by hearing Mary’s story many people can take some steps in releasing the pain that they might experience.  After Mary shares her story I will invite people present to ask her questions.

Mary has founded From Death To Life," a nonprofit that provides healing and reconciliation between families of victims and those who caused harm.

After worship we will enjoy a banquet of Valentine’s delicacies.

Please do come hear the powerful message that Mary will share!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sunday sermon

Please enjoy the sermon I shared yesterday called, "Snag."  I looked at a thought that can hold us back as followers of Jesus Christ.  The thought or snag that I examined in this sermon was "God is not really super."  You can also watch the sermon at: http://vimeo.com/85741495

One of the reasons I’m a pastor is to help people discover their Inspirational Intersection.  God wants us to discover this place.  It’s an intersection between what God wants us to do and be and what we want to do and be.  At this intersection is a place of tremendous power and passion and satisfaction.  This place is the like the sweet spot on a golf club.  When we discover this sweet spot things just fly.    

On our journey it’s easy to get bogged down.  We get snagged from discovering this place.  Often these snags are thoughts that go through our brain.  Everyone has these thoughts.  These snags hold us back.  They can bog us down for years. 
A key part of our journey is to unhook ourselves, so that we can discover our Sweet Spot.

For two Sundays I’m sharing a sermon series called, “Snag.”  We’re going deep into two snags.  Last week we looked at the snag, “I don’t need to worship God with other people.  Today on Super Bowl Sunday I’m looking at the snag, “God is really not super.”

With that introduction let me encourage you to get out this brochure that is in the bulletin.  Every week I write a devotion that ties into the week’s message.  This week I shared six stories of how God truly was super.  I encourage you to read these stories this week as I believe the stories themselves can ignite something in us.  In the middle is a place to take notes.  I believe that God might say something to you that you’ll want to remember.  On the back is a place for prayer requests.  Let me say share a story about what happened in my prayer life this week.  Next week is an extra special day at Chain of Lakes.  Mary Johnson will be here to share a story on forgiveness.  As I was working on this sermon of God being super I felt inspired to participate in a prayer initiative that I’m calling 10 for 10.  I am praying for ten minutes every day that ten guests come to worship next Sunday.  That is a high number.  We haven’t had that many guests in a couple years.  When something seems extraordinary, it’s time to prayer.  I encourage you to join me in this 10 for 10 prayer initiative this week.   

Today billions of people around the globe are going to watch the Super Bowl.
How many people will watched the game last year?              108 million
How much does a Super Bowl commercial cost                                4 million
The average Super Bowl commercial costs 1 million to make
How many chicken wings people consumer while they are watching the Super Bowl 1.25 Billion
Of the ten most watched television shows in the history of TV, nine of them were Super Bowls
The Super Bowl is the second biggest day of food consumption of the year
Domino’s Pizza will deliver 11 million pizzas during the Super Bowl

Underside to the Super Bowl.  Big increase in sex trafficking in the city of the Super Bowl.

Today over a 100 million people are going to watch the Super Bowl.

How many of us over time have had the thought go through our heads that God does not really want the best for us?  I know that I have.  Something bad happens and we wonder if God is on our side. 

It wouldn’t surprise me if all of us at some point have the thought go through our mind that God is not really super.  As a result we have a hard time giving ourselves over to God.  We would rather keep God at arms length.  We don’t stop believing in God, but we’re not going to let God get too close.

We just stop believing that God is super.  This is a snag.  It’s almost impossible to find our sweet spot if we don’t trust God.

It’s my experience that unanswered prayer is a big factor.  As a pastor I’ve walked with many people who struggle with unanswered prayer.  When I was a seminary intern my boss retired.  His name was Ken.  He was so looking forward to retirement and spending that time with his wife, whose name was Maren.  He really worked really hard and didn’t spend as much time as he wanted with her.  A few months after their retirement Ken & Maren went on a bike trip on the west coast.  Maren as riding down a hill.  She fell off her bike.  She didn’t have a helmet on and went into a coma.  Everyone back at the church was devastated.  We prayed and we prayed and we prayed for Maren.  I still remember one vigil when the Music Director stood up and in the most defiant voice that she had said, “I’m going to pray for a miracle.”  We all agreed and prayed with all of the passion that we had. 

Maren died shortly afterwards.  When we have a prayer that is not answered there is a part of us that says, “where were you God?”  We held up our end of the bargain, God.  We prayed and prayed and prayed.  Why didn’t you answer?

You might wonder, “questioning God like that.  Is that okay?”

We can see this questioning about God in the story that Amy read.  We might not be all that familiar with this story, but it’s a really fascinating story.  The people had been in the wilderness for a long time.  They had a case of the grass is greener on the other side.  They were just tired.  They wanted to go back to Egypt. 

The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”  Numbers 11:4-6

God heard the complaining to the Israelites.  God told Moses to tell the people that God would provide them meat.  Moses delivered that message.  The people didn’t believe Moses.  Even Moses had questions.  Moses said to God.

The people I am with number six hundred thousand on foot; and you say, ‘I will give them meat, and they may eat for a whole month’!  Are there enough flocks and herds to slaughter for them?  Are there enough fish in the sea to catch for them?”

Moses wondered.  Then God said.

SLIDE                        Is the Lord’s power limited?

This is the key question.  Do we believe that God’s power is limited?  I think this question that God raised is a question that goes through all of our minds.  Do we believe that God is not super?  Do our unanswered prayers or difficulties in life lead us to believe that God is not on our side. 

The story gives a response to the question.  It’s a powerful response.  We could spend a long time looking at the different parts of this question. 

Today let’s keep it simple.  Let’s go back to the story.

A wind went out from the Lord.  This wind is translated from the word Hebrew word, Ruah.  Ruah is the wind of God.  When this Ruah blows amazing things happen.

This Ruah brought quails to the Israelites.  Quails—plural.  There were a lot of quails.   Quails fell about two yards deep around the camp.  I’m about six feet tall.  Imagine quails six feet deep around the camp.  Every person had about ten homers of quail.  A homer is about 9 bushels of quail.  Every person in the camp had 89 bushels of quail.  Mark Batterson who wrote the Circle Maker wrote a chapter in his book about this story.  He did the math.  If there were 600,000 people were in the camp and each person had 89 bushels that is 105 million quail.  Is God’s power limited?  God brought 105 million quail to the Israelites. 

The point that I’m driving at is this.  I want you to write this down.  God can do things that go far beyond what we can imagine.  This is what makes God super.  That’s why I want you to read these stories this week.  In these stories God does something just extraordinary—super.  God raises the stakes with the people.  It’s like God is playing poker with the people and says, “I’ll raise you a million.”  Then God comes through.

God can do things far beyond what we can imagine.  Often this happens when we are in a jam. 

In my own life I’ve experienced moments when God did something that far surpassed what I could imagine.  Almost everytime it’s happened when I’ve been in a jam.

When I first came to the church I served in Plainview the first year I was there the congregation gave $40,000 to the budget.  Wow.  We have some significant work to do.  Seven years later we broke ground on a million dollar building.  If you had told me that year that this would happen, I would have been like the Israelites.  No way.  God did something that far surpassed what any of us could imagine.

I went through a time in my life that I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be married.  I was stuck in a small town working 50 to 60 hours a week and hadn’t had a serious date for five years.  One day I picked up the newspaper and three days later I was in love with the woman who would become my wife.

God can do things that far surpass our imagination.

Here at Chain of Lakes I’ve seen God do things that far surpassed my imagination.  A summer and a half ago we started to hire a Music director.  I wondered if we would get any strong candidates to apply.  I decided to pray on my knees for 15 minutes every day until we hired a Music Director.  Once I started praying I had this sense of peace that everything was going to be all right.  Then one day a woman living in Bemidji got a message from a friend living in the Cities about a flyer she saw at a coffee shop.  What a great marketing plan.  If someone had come up to me and said that all we had to do to hire a music director was put a flyer in a coffee shop and then a friend would tell someone in Bemidji.  Only god.

People didn’t think we had any musical talent in our congregation.  Last week we had seven people in a Blue Grass band. 

God can do things that far surpass our imagination. 

We’ve gone through a dry spell in receiving new guests to worship.  I’m going to go back to God.  I’m praying ten minutes a day every day on my knees—and my knees aren’t as strong as they used to be—that we will receive ten guests will come.  I believe with our prayers and with all of you inviting people that we can do ten.  God can do that.

God can do things that far surpass our imagination.

Our task is to have faith.  Our task is not to be God.  It’s to have faith in God.  No human could have arranged 105 million quail to come to the Israelites.  We just have to have faith.  The good news is we don’t even need a lot of faith.  Jesus said, “have faith the size of a mustard seed.”  A mustard seed is the one of the smallest seeds that exists.  Just keep having a small amount of faith.

You see when we are backed into a corner we’re exactly when God works in a super way.  When we’re in this place we realize that we can’t solely rely on ourselves any more—on our own gifts or our own creativity or our own thoughts—then we realize that we need God.  God is especially super when we are at the end of our rope and looking down at a great fall.  When that happens we realize that it’s not us who got us out of a jam, it really was God.  Have faith the size of a mustard seed.

The challenge is not whether we believe God is super.  The challenge is whether we are going to have enough faith to allow God to do something super in our own lives.

This week I had the opportunity to be touched by someone who is a role model of faith for us.  Most of you know Ruthann Coburn.  She has lupes.  She really has struggled with her health.  Recently she is suffering from a large wound on her leg.  She is homebound during the winter.  By the way she loves to receive visitors and phone calls.  Please do visit her and give her a call.

I talk to her about once a week.  Last week she asked me if I would bring by Communion for her.  Of course I said yes.  On Tuesday Val Owens and I went to Ruthann’s.  she was so happy to see us.  We talked and talked and talked.  She told us about her struggles with her health.  But she never complained.  She doesn’t have a woes is me attitude; she isn’t mad at God because her body is not working as she would like; she isn’t complaining because the only time she leaves her house is because of a doctor’s appointment. 

Most likely her health is not going to get better.  She is at a point of trying to avoid getting worse.  But she still smiles and is positive. 

She’s not mad at god; she’s not bitter about what is happening to her; she is suffering from health maladies that she didn’t bring on herself, but she still want to receive Communion. 

Who knows maybe God will deliver Ruthann from her health problems.  Whether that happens or not Ruthann has the mustard seed type of faith that is an example to the rest of us.

God is super.  We’re called to have a mustard-seed amount of faith.

Today we’re going to celebrate Communion.  We’re going to remember that Jesus died for us so that we are released from the weight of our own sins; we’re going to remember that during the Passover meal—the very meal that celebrated what the Israelites experienced—that Jesus said that people could come to God through him; we’re going to remember that God took Jesus from death and placed Jesus at his right hand in heaven so that all of us can receive the gift of salvation; and we’re going to remember that God can surprise us in a way that we can’t even imagine.