Monday, November 21, 2016

Trivia questions about Chain of Lakes

Yesterday I shared the following questions about Chain of Lakes with the large number of people who attended our stewardship dinner after worship.  See how many questions you get right!

Chain of Lakes Trivia
1.            At how many locations has Chain of Lakes conducted worship?
                a) 6         b) 5        c) 7

2.            What is the nearest Presbyterian church east of Chain of Lakes?

3.            What is the nearest Presbyterian church north of Chain of Lakes?

4.            What is the nearest Presbyterian church west of Chain of Lakes?

5.            How long has Chain of Lakes worshipped at its current Davenport location?
                a) one year         b) two years       c) three years

6.            What year did the Presbytery close on the property in the Lakes neighborhood?
                a) 2010                  b) 2011                 c) 2012

7.            How many adults came to the first meeting with Pastor Paul at the Rice Lake Professional Building?
                a) 10                      b) 16                      c) 20

8.            What church was originally approached to be the sponsor church of Chain of Lakes?
                a) Presbyterian Church of the Way          b) Church of the Master                               c) First Presbyterian, South St. Paul

9.            The proceeds from which of the following two closed churches helped the Presbytery purchase the property intended for use by Chain of Lakes?
                a) Warrendale Presbyterian Church         b) Waverly Presbyterian Church                               
                c) Reformation Presbyterian Church       d) Fourth Presbyterian

10.          What is the size of the property when it was purchased?
                a) 8.9 acres                         b) 12 acres                                          c) 15 acres

11.          What was one of the first fundraisers COL did for homeless teenagers?
                a) Pancake breakfast at Da Vinci                                b) Raffle               c) Sleeping in a box

12.          How many times has Chain of Lakes done Box City with Blaine High School?
                a) 3                         b) 2                        c) 1

13.          How many mainline churches not including Chain of Lakes exist in Blaine?
                a) 2                         b) 4                        c) 8

14.          What was the name of the school where Chain of Lakes did Sundaes on Wednesday?
                a) Northpoint Elementary            b) Roosevelt Middle School         c) Blaine High School

15.          How many years did Chain of Lakes do Sundaes on Wednesday?
                a) 2                         b) 3                        c) 4

16.          Chain of Lakes was featured in the Minneapolis Tribune?
                a) Yes                                                    b) No

1)            C             Da Vinci Academy, Hampton Inn in Lino Lakes,  Davenport, Roosevelt Middle School, Northpoint Elementary School, Abundant Life Church, Church property
2)            First Presbyterian Church in White Bear Llake
3)            First Presbyterian Church in Pine City
4)            Presbyterian Church of the Master in Coon Rapids
5)            B             Two years
6)            C             2012
7)            A             Ten adults
8)            A             Presbyterian Church of the Way
9)            A             Warrendale Presbyterian Church
                B             Waverly Presbyterian Church
10)          A             8.9 acres
11)          A             Pancake breakfast at Da Vinci
12)          A             Three times
13)          A             Two—a United Methodist Church and (ELCA) Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
14)          A             Northpoint Elementary
15)          C             Four
16)          Yes

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

It's a wonderful day to be Presbyterian in Blaine!

The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area met for our November meeting last night at House of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Paul.  I intended to arrive early to attend a workshop on FLSA changes, but unfortunately got caught in traffic.  I ended up setting up a table about the Chain of Lakes ministry.  As always I enjoyed talking to people before the meeting.

A special treat for me was having Pam Prouty, my sister, serve as the Stated Clark of the meeting.  She is the Stated Clerk for the Minnesota Valley’s Presbytery and for the Synod of Lakes and Prairies.  With Bill Davnie out of town yesterday, she served as his replacement.  It was also special that yesterday was her birthday.  I brought a cake that the people at my table enjoyed at dinner.

After a welcome from David Van Dyke, pastor of House of Hope, we enjoyed a moving service of worship.  During worship we heard Scriptures, sang songs, and read together a portion of the Confession of Belhar.  The service seemed appropriate given the tumultuous election.

After worship the Presbytery sped through docket items.  Jeff Japinga shared a report; T.J. Parlette shared a report from the Presbytery Leadership Team; Ed Martin presented the Presbytery’s budget for 2017.  The budget was passed unanimously.  Some questions were asked about the Acting COM Coordinator position that was in the budget.  According to a written report this is a temporary, one-year transitional position.  More details about this can be found in the Presbytery Leadership Team Report Budget Proposal at:

The Presbytery then approved the ordination of Dana Caraway who will serve as a chaplain at Prairie Care in Brooklyn Park.  Because the Presbytery was ahead of schedule, David Lidle shared a report about the Eden Prairie Administrative Commission.  That group has filed an appeal of a judge’s ruling and is waiting for next steps.  Last night David shared the history of the Administrative Commission and shared the amount of the legal fees that the Presbytery has incurred.

The main event of the meeting for me was the report of the Chain of Lakes Administrative Commission (AC).  The AC was appointed by the Presbytery this past July to make recommendations about the viability of Chain of Lakes as a chartered church and to make recommendations about possible use and timetables for property that the Presbytery holds in Blaine.  The report of the AC can be found at the above link.

Barbara Anne Keely, chair of the AC, stood in front of the members of the AC and shared their report.  She shared two recommendations upon which the Presbytery voted.  The bottom-line of the first recommendation is Chain of Lakes must have a commitment from 85 people, ages 13 and older before the end of 2017.  If the goal is not met Chain of Lakes will be dissolved as a new church development.  Barbara Anne shared that the AC was impressed by the quality of leadership that the Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes exhibits, the vibrancy of worship, and the impact that the ministry of Chain of Lakes has had with homeless teenagers.  I stood up to share that the Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes voted to endorse this recommendation.  I said that Chain of Lakes is almost at 85 right now and that we will do everything possible to reach that goal.  I also shared how important it is for Chain of Lakes to be a church and not a new church development.  Many people have given their blood, sweat and tears so that Chain of Lakes becomes a church.  When Chain of Lakes reaches this goal and becomes a church we will celebrate (for a day, a weekend, a month?).  No one else spoke to this recommendation and the Presbytery unanimously approved it. 

Barbara Anne then shared a second recommendation.  The bottom line of this recommendation is Chain of Lakes must have an agreement with the Board of Trustees of the Presbytery for a building on the property by the end of 2021.    She spoke about the property and how it has been used a tool for ministry.  When she was done speaking I shared that the Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes also endorsed this recommendation.  I said that the property is a significant part of the story of Chain of Lakes.  Chain of Lakes doesn’t exist because of a piece of property, but we have communicated frequently our excitement about putting a building there.  We see a building on the property as an important part of our future story.  We are frequently asked by people in Blaine when we will have a building.  (I want to say to people living in Blaine and surrounding communities—don’t wait for a building to connect to Chain of Lakes.  We have a vibrant ministry right now!)  I also shared some numbers.  Chain of Lakes pays $3,100 a month in rent for our current facility.  Over 25 years and with a  4 ½ percent interest rate, that could buy approximately $625,000 in a building.  Combine that with a Capital Campaign plus other solicitations and perhaps a building loan and Chain of Lakes has a first-phase building.  After I was done speaking, Sally Narr, Youth and Family Ministry Coordinator at Chain of Lakes, shared how important is the voice of Chain of Lakes for the wider community.  No one else spoke.  The recommendation was approved unanimously. 

This is a significant development for the Presbytery and for Chain of Lakes.  For multiple reasons the future of Chain of Lakes is brighter today compared to yesterday.  The vote last night will go down as a significant development in the history of a faith community called Chain of Lakes.

Our New Church Development has had three significant issues go before the Presbytery in 2016.  The leaders of Chain of Lakes have collectively spent hundreds of hours on these three issues in 2016.  Not every issue went the way that the leaders of Chain of Lakes and I wanted.  However I am celebrating today that this group of people called Chain of Lakes is poised to be a chartered church, and we have clear guidelines from the Presbytery about building a facility. 

I want to publicly thank the AC for their willingness to communicate clearly and openly with the Steering Committee; their willingness to listen to the hopes, dreams, frustrations and fears of the leaders at Chain of Lakes; and their willingness to come to the Chain of Lakes locations to observe the ministry that is happened.  They provided a healthy model for partnership between committees & commissions of the Presbytery and congregations.

It’s a wonderful day to be Presbyterian in Blaine!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September meeting of Twin Cities Area Presbytery

The Presbytery of Twin Cities Area met for our regular meeting on Tuesday, September 13 at United Theological Seminary in New Brighton.  I came early to set up a table for Chain of Lakes Church and was joined by Paul Edgett, a member of the Chain of Lakes Steering Committee.  We both enjoyed talking to people and getting re-connected to folks after the summer.

I came into the meeting—which was held in the beautiful chapel at United—when Lewis Zeidner, the new President of the Seminary, was giving a talk.  Not many open seats were available.  Eventually a row of chairs was set up in the back of the chapel. 

After a very moving worship service, Jeff Japinga, Transitional Executive Presbyter, gave a report.  He has been speaking the last months about change within the Presbytery.  His report can be found on pages 12-15 of the following link:
I especially appreciated his note that the Presbytery cannot fulfill our responsibilities by working harder in our current structures.  He shared two possible ways that the Presbytery could be restructured.  Specific proposals will be shared at the next Presbytery meeting.

A very meaningful moment for me was the celebration of the ministry of Clint Patterson.  Clint is retiring as the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Kasson.  I got to know Clint when I served in Plainview.  In fact I talked to him about the Kasson church before he even came to the church.  During his short talk at the Presbytery meeting Clint talked about he benefited from many Presbyterians before him who set up structures and systems that allowed him to do ministry.  Clint has always had a special gift for visiting with the elderly in his own church and in the wider community.  My grandmother, Maxine Harris, participated in a Bible Study that Clint led in the care center in Kasson.  In fact it was moving to me that Clint’s ministry was celebrated by the Presbytery on the same day that she would have celebrated her 102nd birthday. 

After dinner Lisa Larges was examined by the Presbytery for ordination.  Many people spoke at the meeting about her long ordination journey through the Presbyterian Church (USA).  She first appeared before the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area at least twenty years ago.  Many people verbally applauded her during the examination for her perseverance in staying with the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Her statement of faith can be found on pages 22-23 of the above link.  It is a gem and is worth studying.   

In a report from the Eden Prairie Administrative Commission, Barbara Lutter said that the lawyer’s representing the Presbytery have filed an appeal of the most recent court decision.   Representatives of the church have thirty days to respond.   Assuming a response from the church, oral arguments would happen after the first of the year—perhaps sooner.  Over $75,000 has been spent by the Presbytery on lawyer’s fees.

Kathryn Breitbarth, chair of the Albert Lea Administrative Commission presented final terms of departure for that congregation to Evangelical Covenant Order (ECO).  The congregation voted on the final terms by a vote of 340-36 on Sunday, September 11.  She and other leaders of the Administrative Commission said the Presbytery would do their best to attend to the concerns of people in the church who do not want to leave the PC(USA).  The Presbytery unanimously approved the terms of the agreement.

Monday, September 19, 2016

First Night at US Bank Stadium

Last month Jay Harris, my mom’s cousin, sent me an E-mail asking if I would like to go to the Vikings/Packers game—the first regular season game in US Bank Stadium.  I thought about it for one second and marked the date.   

Jay, his two sons, and I arrived at the area west of the stadium last night about a hour before kickoff.  We had taken an Uber from northeast Minneapolis.  The crowd was already gathered and waiting for the very special night.   The ratio of Vikings to Packers fans was about nine to one.  This wasn’t a game that Vikings fans sold their tickets to Packers fans. 

Attending a football game is much different than attending a baseball game.  At Target Field I usually walk around, enjoy the atmosphere, and watch the game.  Last night I found my seat, stayed there, and watched the game.  I can’t even give an adequate review of US Bank Stadium because I only saw a small section of it.   I did love seeing the skyline of Minneapolis through the huge windows, and I enjoyed the wider seats.

And I loved the game.  Quick review of the Vikings.  Terrific defense—especially the play of the secondary.  Shaky offensive line.  Bradford was terrific.  The Vikings don’t win that game without Bradford’s pin-point accuracy.  I was amazed at his touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph.  Stefon Diggs had a break-out game.

And though I came to see the game and the game was important, the night was really about the first regular season game in the Stadium.  The Vikings did a terrific job of pre-game and halftime entertainment.  I loved the video narrated by Ahmad Rashad sharing the history of the Vikings.  I got teary-eyed when Bud Grant sounded the Gjallarhorn before the game.   I loved the fire-breathing sculpture and the exhaled flames.  I felt the heat from the flame as I sat hundreds of yards away.  Having the Minnesota Orchestra play Purple Rain during halftime was quite a touch.

Going to US Bank Stadium was like a successful first-date.  I had a lot to see and think about.  And I want to go back and see more.  

But going back won’t happen for a while.  Perhaps the Prep Bowl.

The crowd was raucous and people behind me could not stop yelling things that I wouldn’t want my daughter to hear.  Of all the sports events I’ve attended, the crowd at a Vikings game is the most crazed.  That craziness cuts a lot of different ways.  Bottom line—I’d rather be part of a Twins crowd than a Vikings crowd.

But the night was memorable—though leaving the Stadium with 66,000 people was a headache.  But I’m glad I now have the memory.  “You know I attended the first regular season game at that Stadium,” I’ll be able to say in the future.  Every Minnesotan will eventually have to go to US Bank Stadium.  And just as the Metrodome was at first a destination for every Minnesotan, this Stadium will be too.  And I’m guessing the love for US Bank Stadium will last much longer.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Questions for Carleton Football

My linebacker soulmate, #51, (also known as Pete Machacek) wrote a Facebook post this past Saturday suggesting that Carleton leave the MIAC in football and join a conference whose members have similar athletic goals to Carleton.  I’m sure he wrote the post in response to Carleton’s loss in football to Macalester this past Saturday.  Macalester beat Carleton, 30-23.  I was at that game with my Dad and nephew.  We watched the game with three other Carleton football alumni.  The game was close.  I think Carleton should have won.  The teams are evenly matched.  If Carleton played Macalester ten times they would probably each win five.

An extended conversation about Carleton football broke out on Pete’s Facebook page.  It’s worth reading.  Check it out at:

I’ve been a Carleton football fanatic (yes, Carleton football fanatics do exist) ever since Bob Sullivan (Sully) asked me on my recruiting visit to attend Carleton in February 1982.  I played there for four years; captained the team with two others my senior year; had personal success (all-conference my senior year) and success as a team my senior year (we went 4-5 in the conference and beat St. Olaf, starting a streak of beating them ten of the next eleven seasons).  Our 1985 team started a streak where Carleton was five hundred or above in eight of nine years.  I go to football games every year, I scream my lungs out at every game and care a lot about who wins.

Carleton moved from the Midwest Conference to the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) in the 1983-1984 school year.  When Sully recruited me he sold me on the excitement and challenge of playing in that conference.  I bought into his argument.  When I played at Carleton I was completely sold on playing in the MIAC.  The biggest challenge in my mind at the time was depth.  We had approximately 70 players on our roster.  Many of the teams we played had over a hundred players.  Today some of the top teams in the MIAC have over two hundred players.

The question of whether Carleton belongs in the MIAC has always been part of the culture of Carleton athletics.  During my senior year at Carleton I wrote an article for the Carleton Observer entitled something like, “The move to the MIAC: a three-year review.”  I argued then that Carleton can compete successfully in football; just as I believe that it is possible now for Carleton to compete successfully in football in the MIAC.

Carleton has had success in football in the MIAC.  We won the conference in 1992; we were one last-minute drive from winning the conference in 2009.  We’ve had long stretches of success.

But the last few years have not been kind to Carleton football—in fact they have been brutal.  Since the 2009 season Carleton has won nine MIAC games—that’s nine wins in seven seasons.  The only teams Carleton has beaten since 2009 in the MIAC are Hamline, Augsburg, and St. Olaf.  The last two years Carleton has suffered embarrassing losses to St. Thomas and St. Johns.  Carleton lost 80-3 in 2015 and 83-7 in 2014 to St. Thomas. Carleton lost 56-0 in 2015 and 52-3 in 2014 to St. Johns. 

The ascendance of St. Thomas in athletics has led some people to argue that Carleton should find a conference with schools who share similar values towards athletics.   The success of St. Thomas in athletics has been well-documented.  One recent article is here:
Patrick Reusse wrote an article on the ascendance of St. Thomas after they played in the championship game in football last season.

Macalester left the MIAC in football in 2001.  I don’t know why they did, but they were not having much success in football.  Since Carleton is similar to Macalester in many ways, the question comes up, Should Carleton leave the MIAC too?

Carleton has had success in other sports in the MIAC.  The basketball team frequently makes the playoffs; the tennis team competes for championships, the track team frequently has individual champions.  Baseball hasn’t been great, but they were competitive last year. 

I don’t want to see Carleton leave the MIAC, but I don’t want to see us win nine conference games in football in seven years.  It’s not fair to the athletes who compete to ask them to play when they have literally no chance to win a championship.  I don’t expect Carleton to win the MIAC every year in football; however if Carleton is going to compete, Carleton has to compete with an expectation of winning.   

A lot of goals exist for the existence of an athletic program.  In terms of athletic records for football I believe the goal should be to win the conference once or twice a decade, consistently finish in the upper-division, and dominate St. Olaf. 

My ultimate point is the status quo at Carleton football is not acceptable.  I don’t mean this as a dig at the coaching staff, the administration, or certainly the current players.   I think Carleton’s recent lack of success is systemic.  But something has to change.  I don’t claim to have the answers, but I was taught at Carleton that asking the right questions will lead to the right answers.  I have many questions, but I want to pose two.  First, “If Carleton can be successful in academics, then why can’t we be successful in football.”  And another question: “What does Carleton need to do to be successful in the MIAC?”

Somebody needs to have the answers.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Twin Cities Area Presbytery meeting

The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area met for their July meeting this past Tuesday evening, July 12 at Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Bloomington.  Kathy Brevig, Chain of Lakes Administrator, joined me in attending the meeting.  She attended the Pre-Presbytery meeting on Board of Pension changes while I talked to people at a table I set up for Chain of Lakes church.

After worship and a report from the Board of Pensions, the Presbytery heard a report on from the Administrative Commission on General Terms for Departure of First Presbyterian Church in Albert Lea.  That church is in the Gracious Separation process.  The terms for departure are in the link for the Presbytery packet for the meeting and the link for the minutes for the meeting at:

During their report the Administrative Commission reported that 65 percent of the congregation supports leaving the PC(USA) while 35 percent are either against leaving or are undecided.  This difference of opinion became apparent when a person from the church spoke out the church leaving the PC(USA).   The pastor of the church spoke in favor of leaving, and for a while it seemed like a significant squabble was about to happen. 

The clock saved the squabble from happening as a Special Report was shared by Denise Dunbar-Perkins, the new Presbytery Leadership Team Chair.  In her report she announced a plan for serious conversations about race within the Presbytery.  Alika Galloway—pastor of Kwanza in North Minneapolis—read from letters written from middle school youth in Kwanza’s 21st century middle school academy.  These letters shared thoughts by middle school students about the recent shootings of African-Americans by police.   Around the dinner table we had more conversations about race. 

After dinner the Presbytery took up again the Albert Lea Administrative report.  The Presbytery chose to trust the wisdom of the Administrative Commission and approved the General Terms for Departure.  The vote was not unanimous, but the conversation was civil.

Sue Rutford, new Moderator for the Presbytery, nominated five people to serve on the Administrative Commission for Chain of Lakes Church.  That Administrative Commission has been asked to make a report about the ministry of Chain of Lakes and possible uses of future property at the November Presbytery meeting.  As the Organizing Pastor for Chain of Lakes I had asked Sue to appoint a slate that is open-minded about Chain of Lakes.  The five people nominated were Anne Foote, Vince Gin, Barbara Anne Keely, Rob Smith, and James York.  I joined the Presbytery in unanimously approving this group of people to serve on the Administrative Commission.  I know that the Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes looks forward to sharing with the Administrative Commission our excitement about the ministry of Chain of Lakes, and our vision for the property.

A moving part of the meeting was the commissioning of Youth Triennium participants.  A large number of youth blessed the Presbytery with their presence.   Another moving part of the meeting was the ordination exam for Alanna Tyler, an African-American woman who came from the Kwanza church.  She passed with exam with ease.  We learned that seven people from Kwanza have become ordained as Teaching Elders.  Yay, God!

David Lidle reported that the Administrative Commission for the Eden Prairie Church had appealed a recent court decision regarding who owns the church property where the Presbyterian Church does ministry.  He said that the Presbytery was ordered to and paid $19,000 of the church’s legal fees.  Despite the court decision, the Presbytery still views the church as a PC(USA) congregation.

The meeting adjourned by 8:00, and I was able to get home to watch the All-Star game.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Last Sunday, July 10 was a significant day for churches across the United States.  I'm guessing that almost every congregation had some sort of focus or response to the shootings in Falcon Heights, Baton Rogue and Dallas.  Below is the sermon I shared.  After the sermon our congregation sang "We Shall Overcome" with linked arms.  Many of us were in tears.  I pray that the Spirit can continue to move people of faith to create a more peaceful world.

Today is the third Sunday of a summer sermon series called, “Tending to the garden of our spirit.” 

We have a large group of people from Chain of Lakes who are camping this weekend at Presbyterian Clearwater Forest.  I know that they are taking advantage of the summer.  The camp is on Clearwater Lake.  It wouldn’t surprise me if they saw a loon slowly descend on that lake.  What a spiritual experience. 

This is the type of spiritual experience I’d like this sermon series to help you have.

We’re looking at our spirit.  We’re using a garden as a metaphor to describe our spirit. 

The AIM of this series is to give you practical tools to tend to our garden. 

Let’s catch up a bit.
The first week I made the case for how our spirit is like a garden.  We looked at the very first story in the Bible that was all about a garden.  I shared how without the God our spirit is just like dirt, but with God something special can come.

Last week we looked at how God planted us.  In particular we looked at the parable of the sower or the parable of the soils.  I asked you to think about what the soil of your garden looks.  I gave each of you a bag of soil as an illustration.  I’ve kept mine in my office this week.  I want my soil to produce 30, 60 and even a hundred fold. 

With that introduction let me encourage you to get out the devotion that is in the Bulletin.  We’re looking at watering and fertilizing our garden.  One way to do this is to have an active prayer life.  I wrote a devotion for you this week on prayer.  In the middle is a place to take notes.  I believe god might say something to you that you’ll want to remember.  On the back is a listing of our congregation’s prayer requests. 

            How many of us have lived through a drought?  I grew up in an agricultural area and my parents both grew up on farms, so the amount of rainfall was always important.  During the spring and summer our family would follow this closely.  We lived near a lake and we would frequently talk about how high the lake was or if the lake was low.  This past Friday morning when I talked to them we talked about the level of the lake.  We were always concerned about  the amount of water that came from the sky. 
            But I can’t say I’ve ever lived through a serious drought.  I’ve lived through some times that we’ve had sprinkler restrictions, but that’s not a drought.
            I did some research on droughts this week.  One of the worst droughts in the United States was the drought that hit in the 1930s.  It was known as the Dust Bowl.  There was such a lack of rain that the ground turned to dust.  This was before many methods of soil conversation that we use today. 
            The area of the Dust Bull was immense.  Some say that the Dust Bowl covered a million acres of land in Texas, Oklahoma and parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas.  There would be immense dust storm that were known as black blizzards.  A person could hardly see.  At times the soil reached all the way to the East Coast and was deposited in the Atlantic Ocean. 
            Millions of acres of farmland became useless.  Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes.  Many of them were known as Okies.  They traveled from Oklahoma to California.  And they were highlighted by the writing of John Steinbeck in some of his novels. 
            Fortunately we are not in a drought today. 
SLIDE I did some research this week and discovered a web site that monitors drought conditions in the United States.  Here’s a picture from a few weeks ago
SLIDE            I was most interested in Minnesota.  Only a small portion of our state is in a drought right now. 
            The connection to our own spirit is not hard to understand. 
SLIDE            Without water and fertilizer the garden that we describe as our spirit will become like a desert.  Watering our spirit is not a luxury.  It’s a necessity.  There might not be a more important task that we can do. 
            One of the ways we water and fertilize our garden is through our faith practices.  I think five are important
1) Daily prayer
2)  Daily Bible reading
3)  Weekly worship
4) Service in the community
5) Financial giving
            All five of these help keep the garden of our spirit watered.  They protect us from a drought. 
            For myself I’ve had an active prayer life for over 30 years.  I can’t imagine my life without praying to God.  I know my prayer life sustains me.  Hundreds of times I’ve walked away from my prayer life in a different place then when I started praying that day.  God had done something to me that I couldn’t have imagined.  My garden was watered and fertilized. 
            At Chain of Lakes we give you the tools to pray.  Just as a reminder I would encourage you to use this devotion.  Use it every day.  I would encourage you not to read it all at once.  Open up the Bible reading or find the reading on-line.  Do the reading, read what I’ve written about it.  Use the prayer requests for your time of prayer.  That would take you about ten minutes.  Those ten minutes are a way to water your garden.
            God cares about our spiritual practices, because they water our garden.  What’s very important to God is the connection between our spiritual practices and the condition of our heart.  God doesn’t want us to go through the motions of our faith.  We see this in the reading from Isaiah that we heard today.  I want to try something a little different.  Take a Bible that is underneath one of these chairs and open it up to Isaiah 58.  If you can’t find a Bible I’ll have the words on the screen.  In the Red Bible the page number is 674; in the Blue Bible the page number is 647.
            Let me share some context.  This past of Isaiah was written after the exile.  There are two very important dates in the Old Testament. 
            One is 722 and the other 587.  722 was when Israel was conquered and the people deported; 587 was when Judah was conquered and the people deported.  When you’re reading a prophet in the Old Testament it’s important to know whether the book was written before 722 or after 722; And it’s important to know whether the book was written before 587 or after 587.
            This portion of Isaiah was written after 587.  Most people think that the people were in exile and were coming back to Jerusalem.  The people were coming to terms with why this horrible exile took place.  They felt that God had abandoned them. 
            And they asked this question in verse 3
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice”
Isaiah 58:3

            Their question is similar to a question we might have found ourselves asking from time to time.  The question is why aren’t you rewarding us?  We’re fasting; we’re doing what you asked us to do and we were exiled.  I’ve heard this same question put another way.  Why aren’t you answering my prayers?
            In Isaiah it’s as if the people were saying, “we’re upholding our end of the bargain, Lord.  We are fasting.  But we still got sent into exile.  Why aren’t you noticing our fasting?”  That is question of verse 3. 
            God answered the people
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist.  Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice hear on high.  Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself?  Isaiah 58:4-5a

And then in verse 6 God said:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
            To loose the bonds of injustice
            To undo the thongs of the yoke,
            To let the oppressed go free,
            And to break every yoke?
            Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor your house;
Isaiah 58:6-7a

            We’ve spent a lot of time in our congregation helping homeless teenagers.  In fact our congregation is becoming known in the community as the church to contact if people are interested in helping homeless teenagers.  This month our Presbytery gave us a grant to help support six rooms at HOPE Place, the shelter that is being built for homeless teenagers in Coon Rapids.  The grant was written by Pam Van Meter.  This is a terrific recognition by the Presbytery of the work you are doing.  We are going to have to raise $1,500 as part of this grant.  I have no doubt we’ll do this. 
            When we help homeless teenagers we are living out the words of Isaiah 58.  We are loosing the bonds of injustice, we are undoing the thongs of the yoke, we are helping the oppressed go free, we are sharing bread with the hungry and we are bringing the homeless poor into a house. 
            I want to say, Yay, God!  Yay, God for what we are doing.  For our prayers are matched by our actions.
            So to bring it back to watering the garden.  We water our garden through our faith practices, but our faith practices have to be consistent with the condition of our heart.  If we’re praying in the morning and screaming at our spouse in the afternoon, then we’re missing the mark.  If we’re going to worship on Sunday morning and then pointing our fingers in judgment at our neighbor on Sunday afternoon, then we’re missing the mark. 
            The question I have is do your actions match your heart. 

            We need to water and fertilize the garden of our own spirit, but right now we need to water and fertilize the spirit of our country.  I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but this has been a very hard week for our country.  The shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, and the killings of five police officers in Dallas once again illustrate that the spirit of our country needs to be watered and fertilized.   The names of the police officers in Dallas who were killed were Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarriga, and Brent Thompson.
            I’ve read a lot of commentary this week, but the best comment I’ve heard came from my wife, Amy.  Before she went off to work on Friday she said that we’re at war with ourselves. 
            We’re at war with ourselves.  I have about a thousand Facebook friends.  As I went through my Facebook feed on Friday morning it seemed that every one of them had an opinion about what was happening.  And every one of them wanted to share their opinion.  And the argumentative nature of many of the comments reveals the anger that has gripped the spirit of our country.  
            It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize there significant problems in the relationship of the police to the African-American community.  We have significant issues with the use of guns in our culture.  And race has always been an issue in American and still is today.  Combine these three issues and what do we have? 
SLIDE            We have a drought.
            I certainly don’t have the answers to these three problems.  But I want to suggest two ways that can help.  I think both ways can provide water to a parched garden.
            The first is to recommit ourselves to compassion.  I have to be honest, I haven’t witnessed a lot of compassion in the last 72 hours in our country.  I’m talking about the type of compassion that Jesus frequently illustrated.  It’s the compassion of the Samaritan whose heart went out to a Jewish man who was beaten and dying on the side of the road.  Samaritans and Jews had a long history of hating each other—not unlike the history of white and blacks in America.  The Samaritan illustrated compassion.
            And I’m talking about compassion for all the parties involved.  Compassion for the family of Alton Sterling, for the two police officers involved in his shooting; compassion for the family and friends of Philando Castile and for the police officer who killed him.  Compassion for the five police officers killed in Dallas and the others who were injured; compassion even for the family and friends of Micah Xavier Johnson who allegedly was the sniper who killed those five police officers and wounded others. 
            Is this hard.  Yes.  Having compassion for all the parties is really, really hard.  It takes a watered garden. 
            People in the African-American community are angry.  They have legitimate reasons to be angry.  I think we can be both compassionate and angry.  Many people want to see significant social change.  There are legitimate reasons to fight for social change.  I think we can be both compassionate and fight for social change.  The first idea I want to share is to live into compassion.
            The second idea is to communicate both/and thinking.  It is so easy to put people into either/or categories.  It’s the type of thinking that says if your heart goes out to Philando Castile and his family that you don’t support the police.  The thinking that says if you even have compassion for the officer who killed Philando Castile that you don’t support the issue of African-Americans who have been killed by the police.  The thinking that says if you wonder why we have so many semi-automatic weapons, you want to take away people’s guns.  We so easily want to put people into these either/or categories. 
            Friends it’s the separation of people into categories that has caused so much mistrust in the United States. 
            The idea that you can be either on the side of the police or for African-American males doesn’t work.  Or the idea that you can be either for guns or against guns doesn’t work.  Or the idea that Black Lives matter means you don’t believe that all lives matter.  Either/or categories don’t work. 
            We can be both.  We can support the police and search for justice for African-American males.  We can believe in the rights of gun owners and limit their use.  Our hearts can go out to Black Lives matter and we can support them and our hearts can go out to others too.
            Jesus is our best example.  He called out injustice by the religious leaders of his day and did everything he could to bring people together under a common umbrella of love.  He wanted to unite people.  To water and fertilize the soil of our country, we’re called to do the same.
            So let’s go forth—doing all that we can to water and fertilize our own gardens and to be agents of health and healing for our community.

            Let’s go forth …

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Two journeys One love

Today I’m celebrating the best day of my life, June 16, 2000.  That day I pledged to honor the love that God gave Amy and me.

Amy and I are celebrating what I am calling our Golden Anniversary—16 years of marriage on the 16th of June.  And today is a palindrome—6-16-16.

But most importantly I remember that my marriage to Amy is a call.  Only God could have brought Amy & I together for our first date on the Monday after Father’s Day in 1998.  Neither one of us knew each other; we would have never connected in the networks in which we traveled; we lived busy lives in different places.  I am convinced that God orchestrated our meeting.  God nudged Amy to put a personal ad in the Rochester Post Bulletin; God had been nudging me for a long time through a number of events to consider calling a personal ad.  And voila!  On June 18, 1998 I saw her ad and fell in love as I listened to her voice as she described herself on her message.  With trepidation I left my own message.  She eventually called me back, we talked for a long time, went on a date the next day at Silver Lake Park in Rochester, and on that first date knew (at least for me) that we would be together.  Only God could have maneuvered that.

A year later on the Monday after Father’s Day, June 20, 1999, I got on my knees at the same park and asked her to marry me.  The atmosphere and weather were almost the same as our first date a year earlier.  It was magical

We committed our lives to each other on the Friday before Father’s Day, June 16, 2000, at First Presbyterian Church in Rochester.  The theme for our service was “two journeys one love.”  We celebrated during that service her Catholic identity, my Presbyterian identity and all the ways that we would join hands in one love. 

We’re sixteen years older, but the theme of “two journeys one love” still defines us.  Both of us are fiercely independent people who are fiercely loyal to our traditions.  We continue to join hands to live and love together.  It’s a faith journey.  Today we pause to celebrate.  Yay, God!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Presbytery meeting

The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area had their Annual Meeting this past Tuesday, May 10 at First Presbyterian Church in Stillwater.  I hadn’t been able to attend a Presbytery meeting since last November, so it was very good to be back with friends and colleagues. 

I was blessed to be joined by ten other folks from Chain of Lakes who attended the meeting.  For some of them this was the first time attending a Presbytery meeting. 

After a few opening details, Transitional Executive Presbyter Jeff Japinga shared a report called, “Next Steps: Priorities for the PTCA”  It can be found at:
At the start of the report he wrote, “The report which follows is my attent to provide you with my best insights and recommendations, as developed in close consultation with the Presbytery Leadership Team.”  At the meeting we were asked to share some words from the report which were meaningful.  Many people did.  The report is worth the time to read and to share reflections & thoughts.

A report from the Committee on Congregational Vitality (CCV) was then shared.  This report shared an update on Chain of Lakes and two recommendations.  The report can be read at the above link.

The Chain of Lakes Steering Committee was able to contribute to the first draft of the report and voted to accept the recommendations.  Paul Edgett—a Steering Committee member of Chain of Lakes—and I both spoke about the report.  We talked about how we anticipated a cut in funding in 2017 from the Presbytery.  We believe that the people from Chain of Lakes can make up some of this cut, but we will most likely approach some other churches to help fill in the gap.  We also talked about how the Presbytery’s property intended for use of Chain of Lakes is an important part of the vision of our new faith community.  Any change in the status of the property will have a significant effect on the Presbytery’s new church. 

The recommendations of the report were unanimously approved in a voice vote.

During the report on Self Development of People a woman from CTUL—Center for Workers United in Struggle—gave an inspiring report on their work.

David Lidle, the chair of the legal team for the Presbytery with Eden Prairie Presbyterian Church or Prairie View, shared that the judge in the case ruled against the Presbytery regarding who owns the church’s property and regarding some other issues.  He shared that the team will be making a decision soon about whether the suit will be appealed.  He shared some principles upon which will guide the team as they make the decision.  During a question and answer session, he said that the Presbytery gave the legal team the authority to make the decision about whether to appeal the suit.

After a delicious dinner provided by the terrific folks from First Presbyterian Church of Stillwater, the Presbytery debated a recommendation for the use of funds on the Presbytery’s property intended for use by Chain of Lakes Church.  This item had been pulled from the Consent Agenda.  Anoka County is expanding the road on the north side of the property.  They are putting a pond of a little less than an acre on the property.  A financial settlement of $139,000 was negotiated and paid to the Presbytery. 

The Board of Trustees recommended that $100,000 be spent from that settlement to pay down the $269,000 loan on the property with the rest being used to pay for the costs of a new Conditional Use Permit.

I made a motion to postpone a vote on this for two months.  The Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes had very little input on the use of these funds.  We believe that the Sessions of existing churches would have significant say and would want to have significant say in how eminent domain settlement proceeds on their property would be used.  The Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes developed a reasonable proposal for the use of these funds.  With a desire to share our proposal with the Presbytery and its committees, I asked for a two month postponement of the vote.

After much discussion the Presbytery voted 45-37 not to postpone a vote.  I then asked that the proposal from the Board of Trustees be defeated.  The Presbytery voted to approve the proposal.

It is worth noting that the first principal payment for the loan on the Presbytery’s property intended for use by Chain of Lakes will not take place until September 2017.  Applying the $100,000 to the loan means the Presbytery will only owe $169,000 on the property.

Other important business of the Presbytery took place.  The Presbytery honored four officers who left their positions and welcomed new offices.  We also voted to accept a slate of candidates for committees as proposed by the Nominating Committee.  The next regular meeting of the Presbytery is scheduled for Tuesday, July 12 at Oak Grove Presbyterian Church.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

God's Church

During worship we're looking at one of our eight Core Values in worship every Sunday.  This past Sunday, February 28, we looked at the Core Value, "God's Church."  The following is what I shared at the end of my sermon. 
You can watch the sermon here:
You can see a list of the eight Core Values at Chain of Lakes here:              

         As part of this series we’ve been looking at one of our Core Values in worship.  I think it’s appropriate to look at the Core Value, “God’s Church.”  God’s church connects to the voice at the burning bush that said “I AM WHO I AM.”    
            At Chain of Lakes we understand this Core Value to mean:
"In every decision we seek to discern God’s desire. No leader, person, or ministry is more important than what God wants."

This is my favorite Core Value.  It’s tied for first with the other seven. 
            One reason I love this Core Value is it answers the question, Who owns, leads, and controls the church?  Who owns, leads, and controls Chain of Lakes Church? 
            What we’re saying is that the people don’t own the church, I don’t own the church, no staff person owns the church, no individual owns the church, and even the Presbytery doesn’t own the church.  They own the property, but they don’t own the church.  God owns the church.
            This might be the hardest of our eight Core Values to live out.  Who doesn’t struggle with control?.   
            I remember a story that Bruce Reyes Chow shared a while ago.  A few years back he was the Moderator of the General Assembly.  When he preached at opening worship of General Assembly that was held in Minneapolis in 2010.  He shared a story about how he got in trouble with an elderly woman in the congregation he served.  This woman was in charge of the flowers.  When Bruce said in charge, he truly meant in charge.  This woman liked to have the flowers in the same spot in the sanctuary every Sunday.  The vase for the flowers had been put in the same spot for so long that the carpet had been indented.  It wasn’t hard to know where to put the flower vase in worship.  Just look for the indentation.
            One Sunday the woman wasn’t in worship.  Someone—I don’t know if it was Bruce—put the flowers in a different place.  The woman found out.  Guess what happened?  All—you know wht—broke loose.  As soon as the woman found out she called Bruce on a phone and requested a meeting.  Bruce talked about the fear he had about this meeting—his sense of dread.  The future Moderator of the General Assembly was scared—to talk—to a woman—about flowers.
            Let’s be honest.  It’s really easy for this to happen.  One person does something and we like it and we get used to that person doing it and that person is in control.  This might work for a while, but soon everyone knows this person is in control.  The rest of the congregation doesn’t want to suggest anything different because the congregation doesn’t want to risk a disagreement with this person.  All of a sudden the mission of the church becomes about weird things—like flowers.  
            I think we do very well with this value at Chain of Lakes—but we’re human—so we always have to be on guard.
            Tell me if this has ever happened to you.  We develop an idea or a position or a policy that we think is right.  Another person has an idea, position or policy that opposes our own belief.  Most of us—and certainly me included think, “I am right; you are wrong.”
            I know where the flower vase goes; I know what is best.  We’re going to do it—like Frank Sinatra said—my way
            For myself I know I have control issues, but I really don’t want to control things.  I want God to control things.  I have come up with a test that helps me with this.  This test can be used in church, in family, and our work setting.  The test is this.
            Imagine Jesus coming to us and asking us to do the exact opposite of what we think is right.  Would we let go of our idea, position or policy?.  Maybe that person who has a different idea is expressing the voice of Jesus.
            This shows the value of prayer. 
Let me close with this prayer.
"Lord, I have an idea—I am very sure it’s the right idea.

Help me be open to what you want.  If you have a different idea, give me the openness to change."