Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Them Changes

Facebook made some changes recently, and more are on the way. Not everybody is pleased.
Change is hard, even when it is for the better. And, change is not always for the better.
With regard to Facebook, I think that the current changes will be absorbed, and 3 months from now most people will look at them as embodying “the good old days”.
What we regard as “traditional” is sometimes nothing more than what we’re used to.
God, however, never changes.
Our perceptions may change, but God does not.
This is why we can never come to think that we “know” God in any intellectual sense. God is wholly “other”. God is our Creator, and we cannot “know” God any more than a clay pot can know its potter. The end of the Bible’s book of Job, the great story about the meaning of human suffering, ends with God’s declaration, in effect saying “I’m God, and you’re not.”
And yet, in another paradox of the Christian faith, we seek to know Gid, as we have been fully known. To know God in this sense is not to understand God, but to be in a personal, even an intimate relationship with God.
The only way we can know God is in our relationship, the same way we are known.
Our world, at least our understanding of it, is changing all the time. Some say change is the world’s only constant.
Yet God, who never changes, the Creator of the universe, who is both engaged with the world and outside it, is therefore always present with is through whatever changes in our lives.
Human perception of God may change, but God never changes. God has come and revealed God’s self to us in Jesus Christ, so that even children can “know God”, shaming those who presume to be wise.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Souveniers and True Selves

Sally and James and I were in Alaska last month. It was a sort of a “finished law school and completed the bar exam” trip for James.
While we were there we got some souvenirs: a birch bark basket from Skagway, a watercolor painting from Juneau, and a story from Ketchikan.
We were taking our own tour of the city on foot when we came to Creek Street. We felt drawn to the first building, the shop of a local native American-Alaskan artist named Norman.
Norman spoke with us at length about his faith. He spoke of a time when God spoke to him, when he was on a commercial fishing trip with a friend. The seas were rough and he made a mistake in the way he tied himself to the ship.
He found himself pitched over the side, disconnected from the ship. His heavy winter clothes soak-up the cold water and he struggled to stay on top of the water. His inexperienced friend didn’t know what to do. Norman was unable to propel himself closer to the ship and he thought, “I don’t want to die this way.” He knew what was on the bottom of the ocean: crabs that would pick his body clean to the bone.
Just then, he said he heard a voice, not through his ears but in his true self. It said, “Norman, tell your friend to tie the life preserver to a cleat and throw it to you. Then sit on it and rest.”
He called to his friend and did just that. His friend tried to pull Norman toward the boat but couldn’t. Just then, the seas rose and through Norman toward the ship. He grabbed the gunwale and pulled himself in.
Norman said he never questioned the source of that voice. It did not originate from within him, though that’s where he “heard” it. Though one man had scoffed at his conclusion and thrown him out of the man’s shop. Norman had a clear sense that God had cared for him.
He honored us by opening his heart to us, and we were blessed to be in communion with another believer.
Souvenirs help us remember, but they are eventually lost to us.
The communion of believers is forever. Like Holy Communion in our worship services that includes the words of Jesus, “Do this in remembrance of me”, communion is both a remembrance and an eternal reality.
We are bound together in our common relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus both helps us remember and experience him as the source of our true selves.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Power Source

I learned recently that our electric bill for July at the church was $2,333.45 (!).
This includes the daily use by our school, which reimburses us for their part, our regular usage, and our Vacation Bible School usage.
That’s a lot of money, though, and it started me thinking about the source of the church’s power.
The weekend after we installed air-conditioning in the old church we had a wedding. It was summer, it was really hot, and the church was packed. I told the congregation that I imagined they were really glad they were there on that particular Saturday, instead of the one before. Afterward, I spoke with a guest who told me (I think only half-joking) that he didn’t think churches should be air-conditioned. He thought that people should have to sit there and consider the alternative.
I don’t know that that’s the best way to get our message across.
We have a power-source that is inexhaustible and 100% clean. The power of the Holy Spirit leads us to the faith that takes us to heaven.
It is embodied sometimes as wind in the Bible, Acts 2:2 for example.
It “has called me through the gospel,
enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy
and kept me in the true faith, just has he calls gathers, enlightens, and makes holy
the whole Christian church on earth
and keeps it with Jesus Christ
in the one common, true faith.” (Luther’s Small Catechism)
That’s pretty cool!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Come and Worship

Worship is the open-hearted, fully engaged, Spirit-led communion with the one, true living God.
It is work. It is the work of the people.
Worship is our once-a-week expression of thanksgiving, prayer and praise, our repentance and our joy as a Christian community.
It is not an obligation to God. It is an obligation to one another.
It is not a club meeting where we have to show up once and awhile in order to maintain good standing, it is a gathering of the people of God.
It is not something you do if you don’t have anything else to do, or if you have out-of-town company.
It is majesty. It is beyond cosmic and beneath humble humanity.
It is love expressed and received.
It is the outpouring, overflowing, transformational encounter whose only practical value is in the communal expression of humanness before God.
It is more being than doing.
We are a worshipping community at Faith Lutheran Church. We are connected and our common relationship is an expression of our uncommon relationship with God: worship.
Come this week and sing (or just listen), hear the Word, share communion with God.
We need you.
Come and worship.
Come and worship.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Let's Talk About It

Here’s an exercise to help develop your Spiritual Relationships, the mark of discipleship on which we are concentrating this month:
Find a way to include, with their Christian meaning, any of the following words in your conversations this week:
Jesus, church, Bible, justice, God, integrity, struggle, forgiveness, faith, and grace.
If you can do this without blushing or feeling really weird, you are probably engaged in a spiritual relationship.
I read an article recently (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/may/footwashers.html) about a doctor in Ethiopia who attended a lunch meeting for people who were interested in addressing a newly discovered disease. As the food arrived, he asked “if anyone would mind if we thanked God for the food.” People immediately approved and, as they talked, they found that they all were “fully vested Christians.”
Our relationships only take on a spiritual character if we are intentional and specific in listening to the voice of God within us, and give voice to that presence to others, and listening to that voice in others.
We are witnesses to what God has done and is doing in our lives. Let’s talk about it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Spiritual Relationships

How do we live as Christians in a world that is not our home? What does it mean to be in the “already-but-not-yet” Kingdom of God?
One of the ways we answer these, and other “big” questions is by cultivating spiritual relationships. They are what we were created for.
The largest and most significant spiritual relationship we have is our connection to the Body of Christ, the Church. We cultivate them within our congregation at FLC in particular.
Being a part of a Bible Study, a worship service, or community service activity does not necessarily embody spiritual relationships. That takes intention. It takes conversation about faith issues, our relationship with Jesus, and our daily walk with him.
But the relationships we form at Faith Lutheran Church can be among the most meaningful in our lives. Here we learn, and grow, and hold one another accountable in a community.
In addition, our friendships, our mentoring, our life as Christ’s disciples, the Biblical shaping of our ethics and our morals that we share are what constitute spiritual relationships.
Spiritual relationships are a mark of what it means to be a disciple.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Daily Prayer Time

What does daily prayer do?
It provides an opportunity to speak and, more importantly, listen to God.
It brings us into the transforming presence of God.
It connects us with a community of praying people, each seeking to accomplish the mission God has given to it as a whole.
It makes us aware that we are connected to something much larger than ourselves.
How do I make time? It’s not difficult if you believe it’s important.
Consider praying when you first wake up, and when you just go to bed. That’s twice a day.
Pray before meals, that’s likely three more times a day.
Pray after each meal, that’s three more.
That’s eight times a day, and it’s doable! :-)
Do you have a watch or cell phone with an alarm function. Set it for certain times a day, whenever and however many you like.
When the bell sounds, pray. That’s one reason church bells were invented, to call people in the surrounding area to stop and to pray.
Daily prayer is an expression of whose we are in Jesus Christ. It is one mark of being his disciple.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dancing With The Stars

Sally and I were at the live taping of Dancing With The Stars for the premiere of Season 12 Monday night, March 21, 2011. Our faces were onscreen very briefly. The recap and results will be broadcast next week. Maybe we’ll get our milliseconds of fame again.
We were offered tickets by someone we know in the business who knew that Sally had studied at Juilliard and in France, and now teaches liturgical dance and movement as a Christian expression.
We were told to report by 3:30 p.m. Monday, March 21st, to a gate at the sidewalk next to the studio where the show would be taped. We arrived at 3:05 p.m.
We went through security, got scanned, checked our cell phones, and were ushered inside where we were highly encouraged to use the facilities. We were then told to go back outside where we waited in another line.
We were soon ushered into the set. I grabbed Sally as we crossed the dance floor, spun here around and we danced a couple of steps so that we could say we danced at Dancing With The Stars. We then found our way to seats with our names taped to their backs.
The set looked smaller than I had imagined it would be. The miking was clearly not designed for those in the studio, which made it difficult to hear anything clearly, including the fabulous band.
We were located across from the judges, on the dance floor, in the fourth row back. Former DWTS dancers and their guests were in a banked section of seats to our left. Friends and family of the celebrity dancers were seated in the first row in front of us and across the dance floor.
A staffer whose job it was to whip the crowd into a suitable frenzy for live television was sent in to work the crowd before the taping, as well as during commercial breaks. He offered T-shirts that would admit the bearers backstage after the show to meet the cast, with martinis, to those who showed the most love and enthusiasm during the warm-up. We didn’t want martinis, and I have plenty of T-shirts, so I showed my normal appreciative but restrained Norwegian and Lutheran enthusiasm. Needless to say, I didn’t get a shirt.
As the time to start the show approached, “Live at five!”, the celebrities rolled in. We were four rows behind Dana Delaney and friends. Around us were current and past football players from the team beaten by the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl this year (was it the Steelers? I forget.), including Franco Harris. They were there to support a teammate in the dancing competition.
Within 20 feet to the left of us were Steve-O, Corky Ballas, Florence Henderson, Jennifer Gray, Buzz Aldrin, Brandy, Joanna Krupa, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Kyle Massey all from previous shows.
And, of course, we were four rows back from the dance floor, where we would see the current celebrity and professional dancers.
The three rows directly in front of us were filled, front to back, by Hugh Hefner, one or two of his women, an older woman, and two or three body guards.
As it came time to start the two-hour live taping, one of the interns came around with a plastic cup and asked everyone chewing gum to spit it out.
It was wonderful to see the professional dancers doing what they do so close, even though we only saw bits and partial pieces of them in between the heads and shoulders in front of us. Instead of spray tans, many of the dancers seemed to have something sprayed on to resemble their own skin tone, only with a surface that would be picked up better by TV. Kind of like stealth airplane technology, but in reverse.
Mr. Hefner was there to support one of his former girlfriends, a contestant. After she danced, the cameras turned to him for a reaction shot, and then another. There in the background were first, Sally, and then David. Us!
And then it was over. The judges’ votes had all been cast. Since we were in the “special” section, but not among the “VIPs”, we were gently and professionally asked to first leave the building, and then the lot.
We got home in time to catch all but about the first forty minutes on TV. It’s disorienting to hear a show in L.A. start with the word “Live!” and then see yourself on it in your own living room. It’s taped live, and then shown to take into account various time zones, I suppose.
What I liked best was something you can sometimes see on TV, but not feel as intensely as when you see it in person. That was the look many of the professional dancers gave their celebrity partners just before the music started. That look of strength and encouragement, begun with laser like eye contact, said “You can do this.”
Sally and I also enjoyed our conversations before, during and after the show with a young woman seated next to Sally with whom we found many things in common, including our faith. We had an exceptional experience at the taping of Dancing With the Stars, and found once again that the most enduring thing in life is the human connection that God gives us in our common faith in Jesus Christ.
As the three of us walked back to the parking lot, we talked a little about the show, but more about the state of the world.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Where I live, I can see nearby mountains and foothills, covered with a skin of snow or foliage, depending on the season.
Jesus grew up close to a small mountain (is that an oxymoron?) near Nazareth. It is the traditional spot for his transfiguration. When Jesus went up there (Matthew 17:1-8) and Moses and Elijah appeared with him, he was transfigured, he “shone like the sun” with his heavenly glory.
Peter, one of the disciples along with James and John, whom Jesus had brought up there, wanted to build something to commemorate the event.
But, when God spoke from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” they were “overcome by fear”. Jesus said, “Get up and do not be afraid”, and he led them down the mountain.
They had seen a vision beyond time. The event took place in the present. Moses and Elijah represented the past, life under the law and the prophets. Jesus shone in his future heavenly glory as the one who could, and would, save the world by his sacrificial suffering and death. In the end, Jesus stood alone.
I’ve been to that actual “mountain” top in Israel. It’s just a really big hill, but it stands out on the flat plain all around it. You can see a lot of that surrounding plain from there, though.
And, I’ve had mountain-top experiences. The stand out from ordinary life because they have allowed me to see the bigger picture of things.
Like Jesus showed his disciples, we can’t live in those mountain top experiences. At least, not yet. And, we can’t really commemorate those events. They are, by definition, singular experiences.
That is the way it should be, I think.
I look at the mountains near me and I know why. Nothing grows at the top of the really tall ones. Growth takes place in the valleys, where the fertile soil is.
Mountain top experiences give us a vision for what is now, and what is to be, in the Kingdom of God. Change, transformation and growth happens now, down in the valleys of life, where God makes things grow.

Friday, March 4, 2011

What Shapes You?

Daily Prayer is one of the Six Marks of Discipleship.
We have many things that fill our time, and we try to get control of them. In the end what we chose to do with our time shapes who we are.
That is why it is so important to fill our time with things that build us up in positive ways, like a healthy relationship with the living God.
The primary way God speaks to us is in reading the Bible.
The primary way we speak to God is in prayer, and even in prayer, God may speak to us.
The time we set aside for prayer, therefore, has a lot to do with the quality of the relationship we have with God.
You may have had a different experience but, like eating or exercise, I think it’s best to spread prayer out over time, and not try and pray long prays just to make up for lost time.
That way we do not have to be concerned about shaping our prayers, or even what we will say. Time ceases to be a factor. Prayer ceases to be an obligation, and becomes a blessing.
Daily prayer shapes us by building our relationship with the one true living God in a natural way. It is both an expression of and a builder of who we really are.
We are shaped as persons by how we spend our time. What shapes you?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Weekly Worship

What would it be like for you to worship every week? Would it be a new experience, or an established part of who you are?
When we worship together, we enter into the presence of God.
Our worship is centered on prayer, praise and thanksgiving, all directed to God.
Worship is our time as the people of God to speak with God, to experience God’s presence in the Word and in the Sacraments, and to know Him and his untamed love for us.
It is not about us, it is not for us, and yet worship is a profound expression of who we really and truly are. We come to know who we are in the presence of the One whose we are.
Weekly worship is a gift from God.
Our worship invitation card includes the verse from the Psalms, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”
The third commandment is “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8.
This is not one of God’s suggestions, it is a commandment. The commandment itself is not what saves us, but it is a gift from God to show us how to live a real, whole and wonderful life.
Just as tithing is a statement about who is Lord of our finances, keeping the Sabbath is a statement about who is in Lord of our time.
Who, or what, do you worship?
Come and let God take your hand in comfort, transform your heart with awe, and speak to your mind through His Word.
Come to either of our Sunday services (8:30 a.m. (piano), or 10:00 a.m. (worship band)) and/or, if you can’t be here on Sunday, at one of our two Wednesday night worship experiences (6:00 p.m. potluck supper with Holy Communion, or 7:00 p.m. Evening Prayer & Bible Study).
Make plans now to meet to worship the one, true, living God every week and to encourage others to do the same.
We are better together!

Who Is Your God?

Why do people come to Christ, or join particular churches?
Every study done for the past 30 or so years has found the same thing.
Between 82 and 86 percent, depending on the study, come to Christ and join a Christian church because they are invited to do so by a credible witness.
That witness could be a close friend or a relative, someone they know and trust. It is someone who is credible.
How do you gain credibility as a Christian? Like any other relationship, you build it over time.
Our Six Marks of Discipleship emphasis in 2011 is designed to help us do just that by living in a way that reflects what we believe.
They are a means in which we embody the Christian life in a way that sets us apart, both by the way we live and the “why” we live that way. They help us live the abundant life that Jesus seeks for all who live in faith in Him (John 10:10). They are a visible answer to the question, “Who is your God?”
The Six Marks to not lead us to salvation. They are an expression of it. They help us lead others to Jesus Christ.