Friday, October 6, 2017

Attending Leadership Institute at Church of the Resurrection

Last week I had the privilege of attending Leadership Institute at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.  Leadership Institute is put on by Church of the Resurrection, the largest Methodist church in the United States.  This church was started in 1990 with four people—Adam Hamilton, his wife and their two young children. 

This is the fifth year I’ve taken a group from Chain of Lakes to the conference, (the tenth time--I think--I've attended myself) and it was the largest group we’ve had from our new congregation.  It was a privilege to attend with Sally Narr, Val Owens, Jonathan Smith, and Pam Van Meter.  Kathy Brevig would have attended, but she had an emergency appendix surgery two days before we were leaving.

This year Leadership Institute was made up of Pre-Institute sessions on Wednesday and then Leadership Institute on Thursday and Friday.  One difference this year was Leadership Institute was made up of five talks or plenary sessions by different leaders instead of a combination of talks and workshops led by people from Church of the Resurrection.  The church had less space to host Leadership Institute this year because of the renovation of one of the buildings.  I would have preferred more workshops during Leadership Institute, but I understand why this happened. 

My favorite Pre-Institute workshop was led by Jim and Jennifer Cowart, founding pastors of Harvest Church, a United Methodist church launched in 2001 near Macon, Georgia.  The church now has an average attendance of 2,000 each weekend.  One part of the workshop I enjoyed was a system of small groups called 3 G’s, grab, grow and gather.  They develop curriculum and then encourage small group leaders to “grab” it.    The small group leader then invites people in his or her neighborhood, work setting, and other networks to join a group.    

I could see Chain of Lakes doing this system during Lent.  Every year our congregation reads through a gospel—next Lent we will read through Mark.  I could see having congregation-wide small groups on Mark.  The groups would meet weekly for six weeks.  I could share six short talks on a different part of Mark and have it put on a DVD or a flash drive; I would add some discussion questions, share the materials and—we have something that a person could grab.  That person would gather their friends, co-workers and perhaps others from Chain of Lakes and have a small group.  If the small group corresponded with a sermon series that I’m sharing on Mark there would be even more incentive for people in the small group to come to worship. 

Adam Hamilton gave two talks and both of them excellent.  He started Leadership Institute by sharing how church architecture is important for Millenials.  She shared how some of the thinking of Church of the Resurrection in designing their new sanctuary.  He also used the metaphor of a restaurant as a way to think of worship.  She shared that ambience, service and the quality of the food make a great restaurant.  Church leaders could think about the quality of the atmosphere of the congregation, hospitality and the quality of worship service. 

Nancy Beach gave a compelling talk about what makes up a healthy church.  She shared that a healthy culture in a church is constructed by individuals.  She then shared and explained eight important parts of that culture.  They are joy, intensity, self-awareness, humility, trust, men & women working together, commitment to speak candidly, and love. 

The best part of time at Leadership Institute is talking to people who attended from Chain of Lakes.  We now have a common experience of learning together.  It’s not as hard to apply new ideas when I come back from this conference because the others who attended with me saw how these new ideas work.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Becoming an organized church--Yay, God!

This past Tuesday evening the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area met at the Presbyterian Church in Red Wing.  For perhaps the last time I set up a table at the entrance to the sanctuary and shared information about Chain of Lakes Church.

The mood of the Presbytery was celebrative.  The Presbytery elected Barbara Lutter as the new Stated Clerk, heard an outstanding presentation on stewardship by Adam Copeland, voted to ordain Hae Ryun Chang as a Teaching Elder.  The Presbytery thanked Bill Davnie for his service as a Stated Clerk and installed Jeff Japinga as the Executive Presbyter.

But the defining memory of the meeting for me will be the unanimous action by the Presbytery to receive Chain of Lakes as a Presbyterian congregation.  Our new church had met the requirements to become a church on Easter 2017.  The Steering Committee soon afterwards alerted Bill Davnie and the wheels were set in motion for this vote.

The vote was quick, almost perfunctory, and marked with celebration.  When I spoke to the motion I shared what a privilege it has been for me to work with the people of Chain of Lakes.  They have literally given their blood, sweat, and tears to establishing this faith community.  I also shared that I hope the Presbytery can review what happened with Chain of Lakes, learn from the successes and disappointments, and soon start more new churches.  At the end of my short talk I shared that becoming a church offers the opportunity of a new relationship between Chain of Lakes and the Presbytery.  Our soon-to-be organized church will soon start praying, thinking about, and working towards putting a building on the church property.  This next season of ministry offers the possibility of exciting collaboration.

At the Rotary meeting on Wednesday I was asked by a community member why this vote was important.  This person is not part of Chain of Lakes and had seen the posting of what happened on my Facebook page.  This is a good question.  Chain of Lakes probably won’t feel any different as an organized church than as a New Church Development. 

The vote is important because the people of Chain of Lakes and the Presbytery have accomplished an important goal.  Ever since Chain of Lakes was started as a New Church Development, we’ve wanted to become an organized church.   When seven families gathered in the Rice Lake Professional Building in February 2009, the group came to learn about how to become an organized church.  Now that goal is achieved.  Check that box off as an accomplishment. 

Being an organized church will give allow Chain of Lakes to operate more effectively—we can actually open up a bank account under our own name (wow!)—and will give our church legitimacy with the wider community.

During my devotional time on Wednesday morning I was thanking God for all the people who have helped make this happen.  And as I was praying I received a whisper from God that said, “you need to thank me.”  And my gosh is this true.  As a New Church Development, Chain of Lakes has faced some very tough and challenging situations.  Some of these situations presented problems that didn’t have easy answers.  Every time the people of Chain of Lakes have figured out how to respond successfully to these situations.  God led us through these moments—many times in ways that many of us didn’t realize.  God has always been working behind the scenes helping Chain of Lakes become an organized church.  Yay, God!


Starting this church has been an adventure of a lifetime.  I can’t wait to celebrate!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Joshua Tree at US Bank Stadium?

This past Friday night I surprised my wife, Amy, by taking her to hear U-2 perform at US Bank Stadium.  I had shared with her that I was going to take her on a secret adventure for her birthday, which was a day earlier.

I waited to purchase the tickets all week, but finally on Friday I pulled the trigger.  Buying tickets on-line felt like gambling.  I knew the prices were going down, but how long could I wait?  If I could have stomached waiting until Friday evening I could have saved another twenty percent.

The first time I listened to Joshua Tree was on a drive out west.  A confluence of events set me up to fall in love with the music.  Wide open spaces, spiritual messages that fit my views, and long guitar riffs by Beck—it felt like heaven.  Driving for days and listening to the music over and over and over cemented the lyrics in my mind.

The downloaded tickets said the concert started at 7:30, so like proper Minnesotans we were in our seats and ready to go.  But as inexperienced concert goers we didn’t realize we had a long wait to hear the main attraction.  Beck started out the concert.  I couldn’t understand a word the band shared.  I told Amy that I needed the lyrics to be projected.  When Beck finished we waited—and waited—and waited.  Poetry was flashed on the screen in back of the stage.  I liked reading the poems the first five times.  By the 20th I was mindlessly using my phone.

Finally Larry Mullen walked down the stage, then the Edge, and the Bono and Adam Clayton.  Soon we were all singing “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”  They played their first set of songs on a small stage without any video.  They didn’t need any extra help.  The songs and the music and the singing lifted me back to that drive out west.

When the video choreography started I was wowed.  Scenes of the desert and more wide open spaces.  It felt universal.

The sound was horrible for Beck; slightly better for U-2.  It would be hard for me to go back to US Bank Stadium for a concert.  I have walked through the doors of US Bank Stadium twice—once to watch the Vikings and once to watch the Blaine Bengals.  The stadium worked for me when I watched football.  I went to my seat and cheered.  As I've written before the stadium works differently than Target Field.  At US Bank Stadium the experience works best when I look at the huge windows and take in the sky.

But to spend hundreds of dollars to hear an iconic band and not enjoy a crystal clear sound?  No.  Why not Target Field or TCF Bank Stadium? 

Plenty of reviews have been written about the concert.  And they are worth reading.





For me the symbol of the night was the Joshua Tree.  The shape of the tree reminded the Mormons of when Joshua lifted up his hands in prayer.  Whatever our view of God, U-2 connects us to something deeper and far beyond ourselves.  And despite the cost and the venue having that moment with Amy was beautiful.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Being blessed by our friends at the Blaine Muslim Community Center


Last week I had the opportunity to go to the Blaine Muslim Community Center to share a statement of support from the Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes Church.

Let me back up.  In early August the Dar Al Farouq Center in Bloomington was bombed.  At about 5:00 in the morning someone threw an “improvised explosive device” into that place of worship.  The office of the Inman was damaged.  A witness said that the device was thrown from a pickup truck.

No matter how many times a place of worship is bombed, we are called to speak up and ultimately resist.  Every…single…time this happens in the Twin Cities we are called to resist and share that this action will never be acceptable.

The Blaine Muslim Community Center is located about a mile north from where Chain of Lakes Church worships.  Last spring at the lobby day for the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition I had the opportunity to sit around a table with many leaders from the Blaine Muslim Community Center to talk about important issues that the Minnesota Legislature was facing.  After that event the leaders of that community invited people from Chain of Lakes to an event where our friends were breaking the fast during Ramadan.

Shortly after the bombing of the Dar Al Farouq Center in Bloomington I wrote a statement of support for our friends at the Blaine Community Muslim Center.  The Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes edited the statement at our August meeting.  The Sunday after that meeting the Steering Committee stood behind me as I read the statement during worship at Chain of Lakes.

Last Thursday I dropped the statement off at the Blaine Muslim Community Center.  I got there about 8:00 and the parking lot was full.  I walked into the building and shared that I wanted to talk to share the statement with Waleed Shady, the Inman of the Community. 

When I arrived he was praying with others.  When he was done praying he greeted me warmly.  I shared with him the letter of support and other notes of support that people from Chain of Lakes had written on index cards.  He put them all on a bulletin board.  Then he invited me to dinner.

The community was breaking a fast that day.  Over two hundred people had gathered for dinner.  Food was strewn on a table that was must have been thirty feet long.  A man who was my guide told me about all of the different foods on the table.  He wanted to make sure I had the food I wanted.  He practically filled my plate with food.  When the two of us sat down to talk I asked my new friend if it was hard to fast.  He smiled and said he was used to it.  He lives in Blaine.  He has a daughter who is in 11th grade in Blaine High School.  He teaches in Minneapolis. 

He was willing to spend time with me—a white Christian instead of spending time with the people he knew.  He got out of his comfort zone.  Even though I walked into the Blaine Community Muslim Center with the intention of sharing a blessing, I was the one who walked out feeling blessed.  I was blessed because the leaders at the Blaine Muslim Community Center were willing to get out of their comfort zone and share hospitality with me.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Learning from the eclipse--our place in the universe

The above picture was taken by a friend of mine who lives in Salem, Oregon.  “The Great American Eclipse” started on the Oregon Coast and cut a southeasterly swath across the United States.  This was the first time since February 1979 that a full eclipse was seen from the contiguous United Stated, but then only five states in the Northwest experienced total darkness.  The moon hasn’t covered this much of the sun as seen in the United States since 1918.  My friend shared that it felt like a snow day in Salem.  Shops were closed, people didn’t go to work, and a lot of special activities took place.    

We weren’t so fortunate in Blaine, Minnesota.  We were told that we could enjoy 87 percent of eclipse.  At 12:30 Sally Narr and I decided to sit outside for our weekly meeting.  The sky was cloudy—no chance to see the moon go in front of the sun.  But it got darker—or did it?  I wasn't sure if this was my imagination.  Sally and I kept saying to each other—it’s getting darker, right?  Some part of us wanted it to get darker as if we were rooting for the eclipse to take place.  Most of the cars driving by our church had their lights on.  Was this intentional or did the something in the car car recognize that it was darker and automatically turn the lights on.  If I hadn’t known that an eclipse was happening I would have thought that the clouds were extra heavy for the day.

I ended up watching videos of people watching the eclipse.  I can still hear the “oohs" and "ahs" in people’s voices when the moon went over the sun.  Their voices expressed a childhood delight. 

We had people from our congregation who traveled to be in the zone of totality.  If I wasn’t working I might have too.  Even if eclipses happen frequently all around the world, I could imagine feeling that something happened when the sun was blocked by the moon. 

For one day I was reminded that we on the earth are not the center of the universe.  We are one small speck in a huge galaxy of time, matter, and space.  Given the our place in the universe, it makes any current troubles that I have quite small. 

The Psalmist had it right.  What are humans in the vast cosmic galaxy of space?  (Psalm 8)  We really are nothing.  Watching an event that we could predict but not control was a helpful reminder of our place in the universe. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Connecting the dots

While driving on Radisson Road in Blaine on a Saturday earlier this year, I pulled out my phone to make a call.  The day was very busy.  I was trying to reach a family who were experiencing serious problems.  I rarely initiate calls while driving; however my own time pressures and my desire to reach this family prompted me to make the call.  As I was driving, the window of a large pickup truck that was traveling besides me was rolled down; the pickup truck decreased speed and veered a bit into my lane.  My initial thought was something was wrong with my car and the driver of the pickup was trying to help me.  I rolled down my window.  When I did the driver of the pickup—a Caucasian male in his 40’s—pointed his finger at me and yelled, “Get off the !@## phone.”  It took every piece of inner strength within me not to flip him the bird.  And let me be clear—I haven’t pulled out my middle finger in decades.  The experience felt like a male mammal marking his territory.

On Saturday, August 5 an “improvised explosive” device was thrown into the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington.  The blast heavily damaged the office of Mohamed Omar, the center’s executive director.  Windows were shattered in the building.  The blast was reported at 5:05 am when about a dozen people had gathered in a room for morning prayers.  The Star Tribune reported that Omar, who was in the building when the explosion erupted, said one worshiper saw a pickup truck speed out of the parking lot after the blast.

Last Saturday, August 12 white supremacists, neo-nazis, and their allies marched through Charlottesville, Virginia.  James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly drove a car through a group of counter-protestors.  Heather D. Heyer was killed and many more were injured.  As I shared on my own Facebook page yesterday I highly commend Brian McLaren’s description of the events that he wrote on his blog (brianmclaren.net).  McLaren shared a trilogy of blogs where he explained why he was participating in the counter-protests, what happened in Charlottesville, and ways to respond.

To me these three incidents are dots on a cultural landscape that seems to be changing.  As a pastor I’m trained to connect the dots.  And I’m trained to help people in faith communities respond to what we see in the wider world.

Last Thursday evening the Steering Committee wrestled with a statement about what happened at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center and how to respond in solidarity to the Blaine Muslim Community Center.  We know that what happened in Bloomington could happen in Blaine.  We took the first draft that I wrote and thought hard about whether it reflected the Purpose Statement and Core Values of Chain of Lakes.  The Steering Committee made suggestions to that first draft.  The final statement was approved unanimously.  The Steering Committee stood in front of the crowd that gathered for worship at Chain of Lakes this past Sunday and read the statement.  After worship everyone was given a card on which a person could write his or her own personal statement of support to the people of the Blaine Muslim Community Center.  I will be hand-delivering this statement and these cards to the Blaine Muslim Community Center this week.

President Trump’s changing response to Charlottesville is a reflection of a multitude of similar dots that seem to be coming to the surface in America.  He is the result of something much deeper. 

I believe that people of faith and communities of faith must respond prayerfully, strategically, courageously and non-violently to this cultural landscape.  Dr. King Jr. is my own role model for resisting injustice.  And we must go out of our way to create multi-racial communities (when possible) whose values reflect the Prince of Peace. 


It’s painful to connect these dots.  The best response I can do is to pray longer and more fervently.  My prayers don’t preclude future action.  But these dots necessitate being connected to the ultimate source of life.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Solidarity with the Muslim community


The following statement was approved by the Chain of Lakes Steering Committee this past Thursday evening.  We will read it in worship tomorrow, August 13, at Chain of Lakes.  We will ask people present to write individual notes of support to the Blaine Muslim Community Center.  Please join us in worship at Chain of Lakes to express solidarity for the Muslim community!

Violence that intentionally targets the people of any religion is unacceptable.  The people of Chain of Lakes are horrified about the recent bombing of the Dar Al Farooq Center in Bloomington and the vandalism of the Al Maghfirah cemetery in Dakota County.  We affirm the comments made by Rev. Curtiss De Young, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches who said, “An attack on a mosque is an attack on a synagogue is an attack on a church is an attack on all faith communities.”

Unfortunately, what happened in Bloomington and Dakota Country could happen in Blaine. 

The people of Chain of Lakes Church support our friends at the Blaine Muslim Community Center (BCC).  We recognize you as an important part of the community.  Your roots and our roots go back to the prophet, Abraham.  .

We are grateful that we live in a country where all religions are free to express faith.  Freedom of religion is a foundation of this country.   Chain of Lakes affirms and supports freedom for all religions.

Most of all Chain of Lakes wants to reach out in sympathy.  We cannot imagine the emotions that are going through the people who worship at the Blaine Muslim Community Center.     

As we move forward please know that the people of Chain of Lakes stands with you during this time and will continue to stand with you in the future.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Solidarity with the Muslim community

Early Saturday morning an “improvised explosive device” was thrown into the Bloomington Islamic center.  According to the Star Tribune (startribune.com) the blast heavily damaged an Inman’s office and sent smoke through the building.  Windows were shattered.  The blast was reported at 5:05 am when about a dozen people had gathered in a room for morning prayers.  Thankfully no one was injured. 

Any act of violence perpetuated on any place of worship is completely unacceptable.  Words can hardly express how wrong this act is. 

Fortunately the community is responding in solidarity.  I especially appreciated a comment shared by Rev. Curtiss DeYoung, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches, "An attack on a mosque is an attack on a synagogue is an attack on a church is an attack on all faith communities."  

Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, said the reward for information leading to the capture of the perpetrator has grown to $24,000.

Mohamed Omar, executive director of the Islamic center, announced the creation of a GoFundMe page which has a goal of raising $95,000 to repair the damage.   I contributed to that page myself, and I encourage everyone reading this blog to contribute.  That site is: https://www.gofundme.com/support-dar-al-farooq-center

In the past year some leaders of Chain of Lakes have started to develop relationships with the leaders of the Blaine Muslim Community Center (BCC).  That place of worship is located about a mile from where Chain of Lakes worships.  At the Lobby Day for the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (JRLC) this past spring, I sat around the table with many leaders of the BCC.  I shared with them the desire of the people of Chain of Lakes to be in relationship with them.  They invited some leaders of Chain of Lakes to be with them as they broke their fast for Ramadan. 

Yesterday I approached some leaders from Chain of Lakes about ways that our congregation can respond in solidarity to the BCC.  I’m guessing that people from that community feel frightened today.  What happened in Bloomington could happen in Blaine.  I anticipate that Chain of Lakes will be reaching out in solidarity with our friends at the BCC in significant ways this week.  I am planning on visiting the BCC in person this week to declare my own solidarity with them. 

I hope that all religious leaders will take some time this week to reach out in solidarity with Muslim leaders in their community.   Religious leaders cannot stop acts of hatred, but we can all share that we will not stay silent when these acts of hatred happen. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Remembering Dean Moore

A week ago today I traveled to Ringsted, Iowa with my parents and sister to celebrate the life of Dean Moore, my dad's brother.  Dean passed away on July 21, 2017 after 79 years of living.

My memories of Dean were always connected to the “home-farm,” a small plot of land that was west of  Ringsted.  Dean lived in a two-story farm house at the entrance of the homestead while my grandparents lived in a small house about 150 yards away.  Dean lived almost his entire life in that two-story farm house.  He grew up in it as a boy with his four brothers and one sister; my dad was the youngest in the family.  Dean then raised his own family in that house and lived there until the last week(s) of his life. 

When I was growing up many family celebrations were held on the “home farm.”  Because I lived in Worthington, Minnesota, I was a “city slicker,”a label Dean would never stop using to describe me.  These family celebrations involved a huge pot-luck dinner after church on a Sunday and then exploring the farm with my cousins.  The farm was Dean’s territory.   With a mischievous grin on his face he would warn me about playing tag on the barn roof, or sliding down the rope on the tree house that was at the top of a tree that seemed at least 50 yards in the air, or playing in the many junked cars on the farm. 

And just as Dean probably wanted these are the “activities” my cousins and I would find ourselves doing. 

As a “city slicker” I fell into the trap that Dean set.  I had to be rescued by my dad from playing tag on the barn roof (farm kids would jump off the barn roof, but a city slicker wouldn’t).  I blistered my hands from sliding down the rope on the tree house.  I had to go to the emergency room when I hit my head while playing in one of the junked cars. 

Dean wouldn’t want me to get hurt, but he loved to remind this “city slicker” of my “mistakes” (and he would remind me in a loud voice with colorful language). 

Dean was a twin—his brother Gene was his “womb mate.”  So the phrase “Dean and Gene” was part of our family lexicon.   The two of them ran the farm.  When I spent a week on the farm every summer Dean and Gene would come into my grandmother’s house at about 10:00 in the morning for a break.  They would solve the world’s problems together—with some help from my grandmother’s sweets. 

I hadn’t seen Dean for a while, but I always carried these memories with me.  And I always knew that on a small homestead surrounded by corn that was literally as tall as an elephant’s eye lived a man who gave his life to farming the land.   His roots ran deeper than that tall corn. 

On Tuesday, July 25 a short family funeral was shared at 1st Presbyterian Church in Ringsted, Iowa (the church through which my own Presbyterian lineage came).  It seemed that the whole town came to pay their respects to Dean.  The line went down the center aisle of the church and out into the warm and muggy July night (good corn growing weather).  After the visitation the community went to the local bar (Dean paid) to pay their last respects.  The atmosphere was raucous and loud.  Dean would have loved it.

Dean wasn’t a religious man, but he always believed in some sort of God.  The Psalmist wrote about him. 

“He is like a tree
Planted by streams of water
That yield its fruit in its season
In all that they do they prosper”

Praise God for the life of Dean Moore!


Monday, July 31, 2017

Leaving Synod School with hope

This past week I had the privilege of attending Synod School at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. 

Synod School is a combination of family vacation (many families come to Synod School every year to spend time together), church camp at a college (all of us live in dorm rooms, eat dorm food, and worship together in the morning and evening), educational opportunities (the workshops and speakers are helpful for people interested in religious leadership and also for people interested in engaging our culture), and Presbyterian love fest (people here have a deep appreciation of the PC(USA).  

Within the Presbyterian Church many people question why Synods exist; however spend some time at Synod School and the need for Synods is obvious.  This year close to 700 people attended Synod School—a record number. 

The highlight of Synod School for me was listening to Rev. J. Herbert Nelson speak.  He serves as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) also known as PC(USA).  I loved what he had to say about the ministry of justice.  One quote of his that resonated within Synod School was “Get off your Blessed Assurance and do something for the Lord.” 

What also resonated with me about his speaking was:
·         His spiritual foundation.  In my memory I cannot remember a national, PC(USA) leader so authentic and open about the importance of prayer, worship, listening to the leading of God;
·         His honesty.  He grabbed me the first day when he shared that the PC(USA) has been in depression.  He also grabbed me when he said that any governing body that has three task forces figuring out the way forward is in trouble;
·         His openness.  J Herbert ate meals in the cafeteria, walked the grounds with the rest of the group, and was willing to talk to people when he was approached;
·         His passion.  This man is committed to significance for the PC(USA).  His passion alone is worth listening to him speak.    

I had the privilege of taking a class by Rev. Mark Sundby called, “The Productive Pastor.”  He is the Executive Director of LeaderWise.  https://leaderwise.org/mark-sundby/
Just taking a class by Mark Sundby is worth attending Synod School.  I came home with all sorts of tools for my own toolbox that will help me be more productive.

Rev. Sarah Dickenson and I led a class called, “Healthy People; Vital congregations.”  Sarah is the pastor of Discovery Presbyterian Church in Omaha, Nebraska.  http://www.discoverypc.org/
The class originated from Sarah and my discussions last year at Synod School.  Both of us are deeply committed to the PC(USA), but last year both of us were frustrated.  We shared our frustrations with each other.  Out of our conversations came a course.  Sarah did much of the work in designing and leading the course.  Both of us were very pleased with how the course turned out and hope that the content of what we taught will be implemented in local congregations.

The last day of Synod School I shared a Facebook post where I wrote that I’m more hopeful about the PC(USA) than I was when I came to Synod School.  The basis of my hope is a combination of the leadership of J Herbert Nelson; the recognition that many of the Presbyterian conflicts about churches leaving are behind us; and the recognition of the gifts of the people who attended Synod School.  There were some very talented individuals who walked the campus of Buena Vista this past week.  The gifts of those people gave me a sense of hope that God is going to do something with a group of people called Presbyterian. 


Thanks Synod School!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Worship at Chain of Lakes with the Cameroonian community

This past Sunday, July 23 Chain of Lakes Church had the privilege of hosting a service of thanks that involved the Cameroonian community.  The joyful noise that was shared in that service still has to be reverberating with everyone who was present.

Edet Afonchwi approached me recently about holding a service of thanks.  Edet has attended Chain of Lakes for almost two years.  She was born in the Cameroon.  For a significant part of her childhood she was not able to live with her mother.  Edet now lives in the Lakes Development of Blaine—within walking distance of the property that will someday (sooner rather than later) have a Chain of Lakes building.  Recently Frida, Edet’s mother, became very ill.  Edet was not sure if Frida would live.  Edet flew back to the Cameroon and to be her mom.  Miraculously Friday was able to live; and not only that she was able to travel to the United States to live with her life. 

Edet is extremely thankful that she can care for her mom in this phase of her mom’s life.

I was touched by Edet’s story.  I believe that one way to think of a local congregation is a collection of individual faith journeys.  I proposed that we share her story in worship—giving thanks for how God helped heal her mom—and also give thanks for the enormous gifts of the local Cameroonian community. 

Many Cameroonians grew up as Presbyterians.  When they came to the United States and started looking for a place to worship the Presbyterian church was the place they looked.  All of the north Metro Presbyterian churches have been blessed by the presence of folks born in the Cameroon.

Our new church (soon to be an established church) has had many memorable worship services where the Cameroonian community is present.   Since coming to Chain of Lakes I have learned that when the Cameroonian community learns about an event they will show up in mass. 

And this is what happened yesterday at Chain of Lakes.  People came streaming through the doors of our facility on Davenport.  At least twice the ushers had to go look for more chairs.  We ended up with 190 people in worship—at least half were born in the Cameroon.  Our worship space seats 100.  Imagine how packed we all felt—Yay, God!!

But the memory of the service wasn’t the number of people who attended—my memory is the fervency (to put it mildly) with which the Cameroonians worshipped God.  A local Cameroonian choir started worship yesterday by singing.  As they sang many in the congregation sang with them.  The songs were known and sung with joy.  The choir was dressed in their beautiful white, yellow and black garb with head dresses.  Many who came to worship were dressed in native, Cameroonian clothes. 

After they sang Edet’s family and other sang for the congregation.  Again they sang songs that the Cameroonian community knew.  Even though many Caucasians didn’t know the songs, we could relish and worship because of the spiritual energy that was being shared.  Imagine people packed together, with joyful and fervent singing, with energy and loud sounds. 

I preached on giving thanks and encouraged us to think hard about letting go of the idea of insiders and outsiders in a congregation.  God owns our life together as a congregation.  Each of us can grab the hands of others as outsiders—because of grace God has turned all of us to insiders.  Our task as congregations is to discern what our owner wants.

Towards the end of worship Frida came forward.  Edet shared how important it was to have her in worship and how significant it was for her to give thanks.  All of us raised our arms and prayed over Frida.


I know I can’t speak for all Caucasians, but I can say that we Caucasians have so much to learn about worship from our Cameroonian friends.  As a pastor I am extraordinarily grateful that I can could lead worship yesterday—being present and participating with our Cameroonian friends.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Eugene Peterson fracas. How wide is our biblical tent?


Image result for eugene peterson
At a Communications Team meeting of Chain of lakes Church last week I shared that I would come back to blogging.  My initial goal is to blog three to six times a month. 

Last week Eugene Peterson was interviewed by Jonathan Merritt, award-winning columnist for the Atlantic and Religious News Service.  The interview was shared in three parts.  Peterson was asked questions about why he was stepping away from public life, his thoughts of Donald Trump, and whether he is afraid of death. 

Peterson is the author of “The Message,” a translation of Scripture that is widely used and sold.  I have a copy of the Message in my library and refer to it almost every week I preach.  Peterson has written many books.  One of my favorites is his memoir called “The Pastor.”

Eugene Peterson is one of my heroes.  I regret that I haven’t read every word of what he’s written.  I would change my schedule to hear him speak.  I have tremendous respect for him as a person and for his writings.   If I’m in a tricky situation in my work I have asked myself the question of how Eugene Peterson would respond. 

The last part of the interview became controversial and prompted many responses on the Internet.  This part of the interview can be found here:  http://religionnews.com/2017/07/12/eugene-peterson-on-changing-his-mind-about-same-sex-issues-and-marriage/

The following is an excerpt of that interview:
Eugene Peterson:            I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.

Question:                            A follow-up: If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?

Eugene Peterson:             Yes.

The fallout from this comment was immediate and swift.  Lifeway Books, the publishing arm of Southern Baptist Convention, immediately announced they would stop selling his books.   See more: http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/july/lifeway-prepared-to-stop-selling-message-over-eugene-peters.html

The next day Peterson came out with the following statement.  It’s worth reading the statement in its entirety.  I found this at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/07/13/popular-author-eugene-peterson-heres-what-i-actually-think-about-gay-marriage/?utm_term=.d4c0601986aa

I included the statement at the bottom of this blog.

The bottom line of this statement is Peterson shared that he would not officiate a same-sex wedding.

Many excellent blogs have been written about what happened. 
Here is one written by an Irish pastor who worked with Eugene Peterson.  Thanks to Neil Craigan for sharing the blog.

Here is one written by Dennis Sanders that I found helpful.

This is a complicated story that illustrates the fracture of the church.

Because of my respect for Eugene Peterson I give him the complete benefit of the doubt on the shift of his position that was reported.

My hunch of what happened is Peterson was surprised by the initial question, wasn’t comfortable with his first answer, reflected some more, and shared his belief.   I would call this this discernment.

Peterson lands at a different place on his willingness to officiate at a same gender marriage than me.  But his position doesn’t diminish my own respect for him.

A question I haven’t seen asked about this controversy is how large is our biblical tent?  Can we accept that some people look at the Bible differently on issues that each of us care deeply?  And does another person’s different biblical views make the person any less of a Christian?  And who am I to judge another person for their view?  I believe judgment is left to God.

I get that the idea “come let us reason together” is not guiding us.  The sense of coming together to pray, talk, and ask hard questions about how the biblical witness and ultimately Jesus Christ guides each of us rarely takes place.  

One reason I love the Presbyterian Church (USA) is we are not a subscriptionist denomination.    Ever since Jonathan Dickinson helped develop the Adapting Act in 1729 religious leaders have the freedom to develop their own views.  This freedom comes under the authority of an appropriate governing body, but nonetheless the freedom is essential.  The issue in 1729 was whether Dickinson was going to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith; the issue in 2017 is whether Eugene Peterson is going to subscribe to someone’s view of same-sex marriage. 

I’m glad that both have had the freedom to their own views.  How wide is our biblical tent?

Here is the statement from Eugene Peterson:
“Recently a reporter asked me whether my personal opinions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage have changed over the years. I presume I was asked this question because of my former career as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which recently affirmed homosexuality and began allowing its clergy to perform same-sex weddings. Having retired from the pastorate more than 25 years ago, I acknowledged to the reporter that I “haven’t had a lot of experience with it.”

To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.

It’s worth noting that in my 29-year career as a pastor, and in the years since then, I’ve never performed a same-sex wedding. I’ve never been asked and, frankly, I hope I never am asked. This reporter, however, asked a hypothetical question: if I were pastoring today and if a gay couple were Christians of good faith and if they asked me to perform their wedding ceremony—if, if, if. Pastors don’t have the luxury of indulging in hypotheticals. And to be honest, no is not a word I typically use. It was an awkward question for me because I don’t do many interviews at this stage in my life at 84, and I am no longer able to travel as I once did or accept speaking requests.

With most interviews I’ve done, I generally ask for questions in advance and respond in writing. That’s where I am most comfortable. When put on the spot by this particular interviewer, I said yes in the moment. But on further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that.


That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage. That said, I would still love such a couple as their pastor. They’d be welcome at my table, along with everybody else.

When I told this reporter that there are gay and lesbian people who “seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do,” I meant it. But then again, the goodness of a spiritual life is functionally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

We are saved by faith through grace that operates independent of our resolve or our good behavior. It operates by the hand of a loving God who desires for us to live in grace and truth and who does not tire of turning us toward both grace and truth.

There have been gay people in a variety of congregations, campuses, and communities where I have served. My responsibility to them was the work of a pastor—to visit them, to care for their souls, to pray for them, to preach the Scriptures for them.


This work of pastoring is extremely and essentially local: Each pastor is responsible to a particular people, a specific congregation. We often lose sight of that in an atmosphere so clouded by controversy and cluttered with loud voices. The people of a congregation are not abstractions, they are people, and a pastor does a disservice to the people in his care when he indulges in treating them as abstractions.

I regret the confusion and bombast that this interview has fostered. It has never been my intention to participate in the kind of lightless heat that such abstract, hypothetical comments and conversations generate. This is why, as I mentioned during this interview, I so prefer letters and will concentrate in this final season on personal correspondence over public statements.”



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Welcoming Jonathan Smith, new Music Director at Chain of Lakes

This past Sunday the Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes hired Jonathan Smith as their new Music Director.  His first time in worship at Chain of Lakes will be Sunday, June 4.  A special thanks to Karen Bakia, Sally Leitch, Paul Edgett, Becky Booker, Jolene Altrichter, and Amy Moore for their work in hiring Jonathan.  Can't wait to see how the Spirit works through Jonathan at Chain of Lakes!

Jonathan Smith is a teacher, performer, composer, and leader from the Central Wisconsin area. He received a BA in Music from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in December of 2015. Since age fifteen, he has been called upon to lead groups of people in children's theater, community theater, and church music settings. He has previously been in the role of Praise Band Director at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Wausau, WI, and at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stevens Point, WI. He has vocal directed 16 theatrical productions, usually as Vocal Director. He has been recently nominated for a Tommy award for Outstanding Vocal Direction for "Spamalot" at Marshfield High School. In addition to his work as a leader, he has taught many students how to sing through private voice lessons at various schools in Central Wisconsin.

As a performer, he has performed for over 25 operatic and musical theater productions and over 60 weddings and special events. Through the years of being involved theatrically, his passion for acting and directing shows turned to writing musicals meant to be performed by young actors. His first musical, DMV The Musical, received a grant from UW-Stevens Point and was also performed in the New Works Theatre Festival. It is now published on mmusicals.com and is available for future performances. 


He is very excited to be working in his new role as Director of Music for Chain of Lakes Church! He is available for private music lessons also at Chain of Lakes Church for a special rate for church members. He is also available as an instructor at Spark Music Studio in Osseo, and St. Paul School of Music in West St. Paul. 


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Eulogy for Bill Ward


What a privilege for me to share this Eulogy yesterday for Bill Ward.  


           My name is Paul Moore.  I’m the pastor of Chain of Lakes Church a new Presbyterian church in Blaine.  I got to know Bill through Rotary.  On Wednesday mornings at 7:30 the Blaine-Ham Lake Rotary Club gathers in this space for a meeting.  I’ve been a part of it for three to four years.  Bill was a member of the club for the past 18 years. 
            One of the philosophies of Rotary is service above self.  That was Bill—service above self.  In his soft-spoken way he always looked for ways to serve.  When Rotary had a breakfast meeting before doing a program at a school—Bill would bring the food; when a group from Rotary went on a special project in Guatemala, Bill took Kim and served.  It didn’t matter to Bill that at the time he had cancer in his body.  It was service above self.           
            He loved to help.  A couple years ago his singing group offered singing Valentine’s for anyone who wanted to purchase one.  Bill told us about it at a Rotary meeting.  I bought a singing Valentine for my wife, Amy.   Bill brought his group to sing for Amy, at her office.  I’ve seen the video many times.  As he  was singing Bill couldn’t stop smiling.  It was a smile we’ve all seen many times; I’m guessing we can picture it without even seeing a picture.  As Bill sang he had his hand in front of him.  He wasn’t conducting the group; he was so into the moment.  He was fully alive—enjoying the happiness that his group was bringing to Amy.  His hand gesture was more than just a movement.  He was serving; he was helping—it was a helping hand.  That was Bill—smiling—helping—serving.  Service above self.
            It was certainly shocking when Bill told us at Rotary about 22 months ago that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  He was honest with us.  “I have probably have six months to live,” he said.  “Maybe less.”  A few weeks later we gathered at Rotary and prayed for him.  We prayed with all the spirit that we had.  Those prayers were answered.  Bill would often tell us what was happening with his cancer (such a role model of honesty).  He would tell us when he was concerned; he was blunt at how hard it was to go through treatment; he would often ask if any of us knew of special treatments for the cancer.  When he lived past six months he told us that with a smile.  He shared that he wasn’t supposed to be here, but he was.  He was here for 22 months.
            It might be easy to say that Bill lost his battle with cancer—but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Bill encountered something that humans haven’t figured out how to beat.  That had nothing to do with him.  Bill won every day—when he laughed, when he helped, when he served. 
            And when he gave hugs.  You ever experience a bear hug from Bill Ward?  I told Bill often at Rotary how I was praying for him.  We listed him on our congregation’s prayer sheet, so a lot of people were praying.  He thanked me and often he hugged me.  He would circle me like a bear and squeeze me so tight.  He literally took my breath away.  I can’t imagine someone stronger than Bill—and it wasn’t his physical strength.  It was the strength of his spirit.  He never lost that spirit.    
            As I shared just last year Bill and Kim traveled with others from Rotary to help in Guatemala.  Another example of service above self.  I didn’t go, but I saw the pictures.  Pictures of Bill grinding coffee beans; pictures of Bill helping out at the work site, Bill sitting on a boat draped by a gorgeous blue sky.  And then there was the smile.  There he was—winning.  Showing us how to live. 
            A lasting image I’ll carry with me of Bill was this past Christmas Eve.  Bill came to worship at Chain of Lakes.  As part of the service people brought gift cards for homeless youth in Anoka County.  During the service everyone brought the gift cards forward to put in a Christmas stocking.  Bill sat in an aisle seat and watched and smiled and rejoiced that people were being helped.
            Bill wasn’t perfect—he was a Packers fan for goodness sake.  He loved to wear that godawful Packers jacket.  When the Packers beat the team in purple Bill would let us know.  He wasn’t obnoxious about it.  He just smiled. 
            I had the privilege of being with Bill and his family the night before he passed.  Kim called me on Friday night and asked me if I would come pray.  So I drove to the hospital.  Bill was asleep.  Kim asked if we should wake him up.  “No, let him sleep.”  I anointed his forehead with oil.  Kim and their three kids and family and I grabbed hands around their bed.  We prayed.  I prayed that God might take him—for it was time.  When the prayer was done Kim shared a story.  Then she asked if anyone else had a story and everyone did.  For we all had stories about Bill.  It was beautiful.  It was like we were serenading a man who so blessed us with his songs. 

            We’re sad today.  Not for Bill for he’s singing in a better place.  We’re sad for what we’ve lost.  Wednesday mornings at Rotary won’t be the same for a while.  But Bill is still with us.  We carry his spirit inside of ours.  And despite our sadness we can rejoice.  That each of us had the privilege of knowing a man who was so willing to help and was so willing to serve.  Thank you, Lord for giving us Bill Ward.

Monday, January 9, 2017

I will be responding to the many questions that were shared at the Chain of Lakes Christmas Eve service.  This response was the sermon that was shared yesterday, January 8 at Chain of Lakes Church.

Question:  Can we be forgiven for all if we are truly sorry for what we have done?  Even regarding the 10 Commandments?

Today I’m beginning a January sermon series called the “The 1 Question.”  At Christmas Eve worship I asked each person present to share one question about God, the church, or personal faith. 

I was personally thrilled that 24 questions were submitted.
I was also a bit dazed that 24 questions were submitted. 

When our worship team was talking about this series, they suggested I write a blog about each question.  I said “yes.”  I said “yes” before I knew that 24 questions would be submitted.  This series is going for four weeks.  That means I have 20 blogs to write. 
Lord, in your mercy!!  Would you pray for me.

I encourage you to read these blogs.  You can find links for them from the Chain of Lakes web site and the Chain of Lakes Facebook page.  You can find a listing of all 24 questions on the blog.

This series is significant because illustrates the point that we value questions at Chain of Lakes.  We’re authentic, so we’re willing to listen to people’s questions. 
If you have questions about God, personal faith, why things happen the way they do in a church, relationships, please ask the question.  Don’t be Minnesota Nice about your questions.  Ask hard ones. 

These are the questions we are going to look at in this series. 
SLIDE
Sunday, January 15     What does it mean to be “full of the Spirit?”  
Sunday, January 22     Can a child or someone who has never heard the Word go to heaven?”
Sunday, January 29     Does God really have a plan?  Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?

Today the question is: “Can we be forgiven for all if we are truly sorry for what we have done?  Even regarding the 10 Commandments.” 


The answer to this question has everything to do with our view of grace.  G-R-A-C-E.  To help all of us understand G-R-A-C-E I wrote a Bible Study on G-R-A-C-E.  I strongly encourage you to use it this week.  I know that many of us are reading through the Bible.  Put this devotion in your Bible and read these readings.  In the middle is a place to take notes.  I believe God will say something today that you’ll want to remember.  On the back is our congregation’s prayer requests.

I just gave the answer to this question.  But there’s something more important than the answer.  What’s more important is how we get to the answer.  I’m going to spend the rest of this sermon sharing how we land on G-R-A-C-E.



At Chain of Lakes we want to help everyone who comes here in four ways.  We want to help you:
SLIDE
In your faith life
In your relationship life
To recover from past wounds
To discover your Inspirational Intersection or your identity in Christ.

To have a rich faith life, we must understand grace—G-R-A-C-E. 

I can’t help reflect on grace without thinking about a traditional song.  We sang a contemporary version of the song today.  The traditional version
SLIDE
Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see..

SLIDE            The words to the song were written by John Newton.  Newton served the Episcopal tradition as a priest.  He collaborated with the poet William Cowper to write these words.  They were a sermon illustration at his church New Year’s Day of 1773.  The congregation probably didn’t sing the words that day.  Most likely they chanted the words. 
           
It wasn’t until 1835 that the words were combined with the tune. 

Amazing Grace is a song of Extraordinary Blessing.  It has been big and bold. 
It’s performed about 10 million times every year.  During times of crisis—during the Civil War & the Vietnam War—it had a surge of popularity.  A lot of people recorded a version of the song—Judy Collins’ Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson—even Elvis. President Obama sang the song at a funeral for a victim of the church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina.

The song provides the answer to today’s question.  The answer, of course, is grace.  G-R-
A-C-E. 
SLIDE
Grace that is FREE—grace is a gift and costs us nothing.   
Grace that is unconditional—God offers it to us at any point in our life no matter what we’ve done.  There are no strings attached to grace.
Grace that is undeserved.  The point of grace is none of us deserves it—and grace is still given by God to us.    

One controversial lyric is “it saved a wretch like me.”   

John Newton identified himself as a wretch.  It’s worth knowing some of his story.  His mom died two weeks before his seventh birthday.  His dad was a sailor, so he ended up living with his step-mother.  Unfortunately John Newton’s step-mother was like the step-mother in Cinderella.  It didn’t go well.   He was sent to boarding school.  At the age of eleven he was sent to spend time with his father at sea.  JN became a tough, raunchy, and disgusting sailor.  At 18 he tried to desert from the crew he was serving.  He was caught and punished.  He was stripped to the waist, tied to the ship and whipped 96 times.  He responded by simultaneously wanting to murder the captain and kill himself.
           
Five years later, at 23, he was part of a crew sailing off the coast of Ireland.  There was a terrible storm.  John Newton awoke in the middle of the night.  The storm caused a hole in the ship.  The ship was filling with water.  It seemed like it would sink.  John Newton cried out to God.  The cargo shifted and filled the hole.  The ship drifted to safety.  He and the crew were saved. 

This was the beginning of his shift to the faith.  He eventually became a priest.

John Newton always knew he was a wretched man.

I have a question.  How do you think God viewed John Newton?  God viewed John Newton in the same way God views all of us.  God knew everything about John Newton.  God knew the worst and raunchy and filthy desires of his spirit he had.   God judged John Newton.  Do you know what the judgment was?  Forgiven. 

It’s fair to ask the question—and remember we encourage questions—how do I, Paul Moore, know that God forgave John Newton.  This question is tied into today’s question. 
SLIDE            Can we be forgiven for all if we are truly sorry for what we have done?  Even regarding the 10 Commandments.    I know this because Jesus came to share and illustrate Grace-G-R-A-C-E.    

When Jesus died he died between two people.  The gospel writers, Matthew and Mark called the two people on the other crosses, bandits. 

The Greek word was lestai.  I’m not trying to teach you Greek, but I’m trying to teach you the type of person that these two people were.  A lestai is a person who  plunders and pillages – an unscrupulous marauder (malefactor), who exploits the vulnerable and doesn’t hesitate to use violence.  The gospel writer Luke called them criminals. 
           
“One of the criminals who was hanged there kept deriding [Jesus] and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?  Save yourself and us!”  But the other [criminal] rebuked him saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then [the criminal] said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’  [Jesus] replied “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” Luke 23:39-42

According to Luke these were the last words that Jesus said to a human being.  The last words that Jesus said to a human being were words of forgiveness.  Grace!
           
Another story about Jesus.     

Two men were praying in the Temple.  One was a Pharisee. 
SLIDE
“God I thank you that I am not like the other people:  thieves, rogues, adulterers or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”

Tax collectors were hated in the days of Jesus.  We might have opinions about the IRS, but our opinions are nothing like the opinions of Jews towards tax collectors when Jesus was alive.  Tax collectors operated like independent contractors for Rome.  They gave a certain amount of money to Rome, and then they were free to collect money.  in that they would give money to Rome and then collect money.  As long as they gave the money to Rome, they were free to collect as much as they wanted.  Often tax collectors were unscrupulous.  They would do whatever they could to get as much money as they could.  Not only that a tax collector represented a foreign country that was hated by most people.  The tax collector was a wretch.
           
The tax collector had something that the Pharisee didn’t have.  The tax collector knew he needed grace—or mercy.  The tax collector knew he needed forgiveness.

‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Maybe we’ve heard this story often.  If we’ve heard the story often we run the risk of losing the astonishment of the story.  Who was the hero of the story? 
Was the pious man or the wretch? 
The righteous man or the unrighteous man
The follower of the law (what we might call the 10 commandments) or the breaker of the law.
           
The hero was the tax collector. 
SLIDE
“I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Luke 18:14


To truly have a rich and robust faith we have to start with having an understanding of our own need for grace.  If we don’t have an understanding of our own need for grace, then we will always run the risk of being like the Pharisee. 

God gives grace freely.   The answer to today’s question is grace.   To take it to the next step we have to ask ourselves—how deep is my own understanding of my need for grace.   John Newton, and the lestai and the tax collector knew that they needed grace.  For them grace wasn’t an academic exercise they debated in their minds.  Grace was burning in their heart because they knew they needed it.  The question that I want each of us to ponder about ourselves is how deep do each of us know that we need grace. 

We can’t talk about grace without bringing in some other words about faith that have tripped people up.  One of the words is sin. 
Unfortunately the church has done a poor job of talking about sin.  In general when preachers talk about sin we’ve made one of two terrible errors
We’ve made people feel so bad about their sins that they won’t approach God
We’ve made people feel so good about themselves that we never talk about sin.  Then people believe that they don’t need God. 

The reality is that each one of us have been given wonderful gifts and are capable of being an extraordinary blessing.  We are good.  And the reality is that each one of us is capable of doing terrible things and even doing evil.  We sin.

One of the reasons that we exist at Chain of Lakes is to be authentic.  Part of being authentic is acknowledging that we sin—that we fall short.  We miss the mark.  Sometimes we sin even when we don’t know that we sin.    Acknowledge our own sins prevents us from living as prideful people.  We won’t be like the Pharisee. 

The key is recognizing we fall short—we sin—without beating ourselves up.         

I pray in the morning and use a prayer sheet.   On my prayer sheet is a place where I list the ways that I messed up the previous day—the ways that I sin.  I’ll either write these sins down or reflect on them.  Sometimes it’s hard.  I’m putting a mirror in front of my own spirit and take a hard look at what is happening. 

I do this not with a sense of dread, but with a spirit of anticipation.  I’m not happy that I sin or fall short, but I don’t bludgeon myself.  I’m very sorry that I mess up.  But I look at confession as opportunity to grow.  Through my own acknowledgment I anticipate becoming more like Christ, that’s one goal of faith to become more like Christ.    

There’s no secret formula to confession.  It’s very simple.  I find three words to work.  “I have sinned.”  The Apostle Paul put it this way:
“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Jesus gave us access to grace.

If we go back to the question.  And here it is:
SLIDE            QUESTION

We can go down all sorts of rabbit holes when we think about confession that don’t ultimately help us.  What happens if we confess and aren’t truly sorry; or how do we know if we are truly sorry.  Do we need to confess something more than once.  Or is there a magic number in confessing.  Am I truly sorry if I confess something twenty times instead of once; or do I need to confess something a thousand times.  Do I need to prove myself to God.

Here’s the thing.  God is on our side.  God is not against us; God is not waiting to pounce on us for and make us prove that we are truly sorry; God never created a litmus test for sorrow.  God is on our side.  Grace.  G-R-A-C-E. 

Grace leads us to think about our own image of God.  This is an important question for our faith life. 
SLIDE            What is your image of God.
Is God like our worst critic waiting to jump on us when we mess up?
Is God like a bad teacher waiting to go through the lessons of our life and say, “uh, uh, uh” you didn’t confess this sin?
Or instead is God like Jesus on the cross.  Looking at the bandit who waited until the end of his life.  Jesus responded to the bandit by saying, “today you will join me in paradise.”  Essentially saying, “I forgive you.”

I hope that our image of God is Jesus giving grace on the cross. 

In the Scripture that ___ read, the Apostle Paul said that at the right time Jesus died for us.  What this means to me is not matter what we’ve done in our life, Jesus wants to forgive us.  That’s the image that we carry with us.

In my work on this sermon I reaquainted myself with the story of Jeffrey Dahmer.  Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the worst serial killers in the history of the United States.  I went to his Wikipedia page and had to stop reading it.  It was horrible.

One part of his story that is worth lifting up is at the end of his life, while he was in jail Jeffrey Dahmer started a conversation with Roy Ratcliff.  Roy Ratcliff is a pastor.  He started having a weekly conversation with Jeffrey Dahmer in jail.  Jeffrey Dahmer confessed his sins.  He was baptized at the end of his life.  Ultimately Dahmer was killed by another inmate.  At the funeral service Roy Ratcliff said this about Jeffrey Dahmer.

SLIDE
“Jeff confessed to me his great remorse for his crimes.  He wished he could do something for the families of his victims to make it right, but there was nothing he could do.  He turned to God because there was no one else to turn to, but he showed great courage in his daring to ask the question, ‘Is heaven for me too?’  I think many people are resentful of him for asking that question.  But he dared to ask, and he dared to believe the answer.” 

Did God forgive Jeffrey Dahmer.  I think he did.  I don’t say that easily.  JD was the worst of the wretches.  I can understand if people could never forgive JD for what he did.  If I was a family member of one of JD’s victims, it probably would take me a lot of therapy to forgive him.  I’m not God.  Jesus looked at the bandit shortly before his death and said, you will join me in paradise.  You are forgiven. 

The task is how do we let this forgiveness/grace/G-R-A-C-E infuse our life. 

Let me close with this story.  How many of you have seen the movie, “Rogue 1.”  Amy and I saw it a week ago.  There is a scene in the movie where a character named “Chirut” has to make an extraordinary action.  He risked his life in order to advance the cause of the rebels.  And as he took this action he said to himself, “I am one with the Force; the force is with me.”  He said this over and over and over.  It was his mantra.

I’d like to leave you with a mantra.  I’d like to encourage you to say this mantra this week.  I want to encourage you to say it over and over and over again during your week.  The mantra is this:

SLIDE            I am forgiven; I am forgive; I am forgiven; I am forgiven.


Take this mantra; say it many times this week; experience the power of grace.  I am forgiven.