Friday, September 2, 2016

A maintenance crew was recently in our neighborhood refreshing the painted lines on the road.  For a couple of years I have been watching a pot hole develop at the edge of the road near my house.  It started out as a small inconsistency in the pavement, but it has grown.  Now is it about three feet long, 14 inches wide, and 4 inches deep on one side, 6 on the other.

The day they painted the stripe I was impressed by the fresh white against the black asphalt.  Until I got to the pot hole.  Then the paint more or less disappeared.  It wasn’t the painters’ job to repair the road, so they just painted right over the hole.  I went back to take a picture of it.  Since the pot hole is made of dirt and mud, the paint hasn’t stuck.

Sometimes we humans just like to paint over the pot holes in our lives.  Instead of really fixing a problem, we hope that some cosmetic touch will suffice.  It won’t.  That pot hole in the road isn’t going away this winter.  In the spring, it will be bigger.

Every road develops pot holes.  Every person has holes that need fixing—holes that tend to get bigger if left untended.  There is one named Jesus who doesn’t paint over pot holes.  He names sin for what it truly is.  Then he fills those pot holes with forgiveness and love.  If anything, Jesus uses the red of his blood to paint us white as snow.

As we enter a new school/program year in the church, people come back in greater numbers.  We are reminded both of our pot holes and of the grace given to us that we may overcome those holes.  We can't ignore the holes.  They only get bigger.  And we can't paint over the holes.  The paint will not stick.  There is a better answer--being made whole in Christ.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Many Miles...To Good Fortune?

They (whoever "they" are) say that it is good luck to see all the numbers on an odometer turn over to the same digit.  Perhaps it is doubly lucky if all the digits are 1s.  It may even be triply lucky if it happens to be on a 125cc Yamaha Vino scooter.

It has been a joy to ride that scooter for 11,111.1 miles and counting.  The 80 mpg helps, but it is the feeling of air rushing past one's face and being alive with everything around you, rather than enclosed in a car or a truck, that makes riding a scooter worthwhile.  Even at 30 degrees.  Though that is quite cold.

While I watched for this number to roll around the odometer, I am not much into "luck".  Into every life comes a mixture of good and bad, celebration and sorrow.  More than luck, I believe in a God who watches over us every step of the way--or maybe every tenth mile of the way.  We don't have to appeal to luck.  We have one who has promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age.  That must be a lot farther than 11,111.1 miles.

Now, it may be lucky if that same odometer turns over at the driveway of a favorite stopping point.  Yes, I celebrated with a Big Mac.

May you know that there is a God who attends to you each moment of each day.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Joy, Joy, Joy

Scores of us had just finished a conference in Palm Springs, California.  (Really, why do we have conferences when it is 100 degrees in California and a beautiful 75 degrees in Minnesota?)

The car in the picture left the conference hotel parking lot the same time as I.  This pastor waved at me with the biggest smile.  We were both headed to airports to fly home.

He was driving a convertible.  I was driving a well used Toyota Corolla with 85,000 miles and the scent of pine wafting through the air.  That's okay.  I had chosen the cheapest rental I could find.  I probably should have looked beyond Oftentimes Successful Car Rental.  But it worked for me.

Back to the convertible.  At the first light I caught up to him.  He was bebopping to the music from his car stereo.  He was enjoying the 100 degree sunlight with the top down.  I suspect he splurged to rent a convertible since we pastors don't drive convertibles as a rule.  Especially in Minnesota.

It was just pure joy.  He had come from a good conference.  He had the world by the tail in his red convertible.  And he was going home to people he loved.

Joy, joy, joy.  The whole world could see his joy, and he shared it.

I hope I didn't look grumpy in my Toyota.  I have joy to share, too.  It is the best news of all.  Better than a convertible on a hot day.  Better than air conditioning with a pine scent.  This joy has to do with a Good Shepherd who goes with us everywhere--one who gives us joy, joy, joy, joy down in our hearts.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Pen

Last Friday I conducted a funeral for my cousin, Sherman.  More than fourteen years separated us in age, and he was always one of the "big cousins" to which we younger ones looked up when we went to family occasions.

We had both chosen to be pastors in the Lutheran church.  As God's blessings would have it, we ended up in the same town, Rochester, MN, for a time at sister churches.  Sherman was a great pastor and a great mentor.  The grace of Jesus Christ was always on his heart and lips.  I was privileged to learn much in his presence.

At his retirement, Sherman needed to choose a church other than his own for worship.  I was humbled and grateful that he and Rachel decided to join Bethel.  These last ten years have been wonderful in singing and worshiping together frequently.  We also worked on stewardship and educational opportunities.  Sometimes he would grace me with some wisdom that would benefit the congregation.

And one Christmas he gave me a pen.  Inscribed on the barrel is Jeremiah 17:7:  "Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD."

I love pens.  Some of my pens are 25 or 30 years old.  Those I cherish I alternate carrying in my pocket.  The morning of Sherman's funeral, I was carrying his pen in my pocket.  I was underlining a passage in the Gospel reading we would use at his funeral, and it ran out of ink.  I scribbled with it to get it going, but it was out of ink.

The pen died on the day of Sherman's funeral.  I decided I would still carry it in his honor through the day.

Later, without thinking, I took the pen out of my pocket to write something--and it was restored in its ability to write.  With I smile on my face, I thought of resurrection.  The pen had died, and now lives again.  That was a much more important message during a funeral an hour or two prior.

Jesus never told a parable about pens.  Maybe this one would do.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

When Darth Vader Came to Church

It came as a surprise to me, too.  My colleague before Christmas was doing a children's word and got the children excited by telling them that someone was coming to Bethel!  Someone was coming to Bethel!

Of course, in December, the universal response to that announcement is Jesus in the manger.

Not this day.  The organist began playing the "Imperial March", and peoples' heads started to twist in the sanctuary.  Soon there were gasps.  A Storm Trooper came into view from the rear of the sanctuary.

The Storm Trooper had a message for the pastor. Someone was coming to Bethel.  She relayed that excitement to the children!  Surely the answer this time would be Jesus.

Not this day.  The organist played the "Imperial March" again.  And greater gasps marked the entrance of a huge Darth Vader!  With his deep and digitized voice, Darth Vader informed that there was a force greater than Star Wars, and that force was going to come to Bethel and all churches.

Genius.  My colleague is a genius.  I pray that children may never forget the force that defies time.  He is the force for all ages.  Finally, Jesus was the right answer.

Amazing what happens when Darth Vader comes to church.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

His Name is Dean

On a cold December morning, a man comes into Bethel while the building is full of children preparing for the morrow's Sunday School programs.

He asks to see a pastor.  Dean tells me that he has been out of prison for two days.  With tears in his eyes he says, "I didn't mean to hurt that person.  I was drunk.  I didn't know what I was doing."  Whatever his offense was, he served seven years.

In the two days since being released from prison, Dean tells me that someone has stolen his sleeping bag and his tarp.  He is hungry and wonders if the church has anything he can eat.  We are blessed to have a pantry of food--a pantry which varies a great deal in quantity depending upon the day.  I tell Dean I will go downstairs and I am sure I will come back with some good food for him.  I say it will take a little while since I need to wind my way through a few hallways to the kitchen.

All of a sudden a look of concern comes to his face, "You aren't going to call the law or something are you?"

It had never occurred to me that someone would be justified in being suspicious of another who might be attempting to help, but who could have other ideas.  I assure Dean that I am not going to call the police but am going for food.

We are fortunate.  There is some good food to share on a Saturday morning.  Dean is so grateful.  He asks if we can pray.  It is common that I offer a prayer and people offer their thanks.  In this case, when I am done, Dean takes over in a prayer of his own.  It is a prayer for me and for the people of Bethel.  It is a prayer that the Christmas message may make a difference in peoples' lives.

Dean thanks me again and walks into the cold December sunshine.

Another man long ago had no shelter--not even for a pregnant wife.  They were forced to Bethlehem by order of the government for census.  Joseph was poor.  Likely he was grateful for whatever was given to him.  To Mary.  To Jesus.

His name is Dean.  He is a child of God who, like all of us, needs the light that will overcome darkness.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Garden of Eden

One Sunday years ago at Bethel Lutheran Church, a visiting pastor from northern Mexico offered a greeting to the congregation as we were partners in mission.  It was late September in Minnesota--our little corner of the world bursting with God's creative impulse of color and beauty.

Through a translator this pastor said, "You people live in the Garden of Eden."

Coming from an area of the world that is more brown than green, more dry than lush, the pastor believed that he had come to a place of immense beauty.

He was right.  It is easy for those of us who live in the beauty of the upper Midwest to take our environment for granted.  Not long ago I took a cup of coffee out onto the deck of a townhouse at Christmas Mountain Village near Wisconsin Dells.  The sun was rising into the morning sky.  The trees stood like vibrant green and brown soldiers. Leaves fluttered in the light wind.

We read in Isaiah 58:  "Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard."

May God grant you a dawn that lifts your spirit and assures you of his loving presence.  It is difficult to look at the beauty of creation and not see God's fingerprints everywhere.

Garden of Eden.  Yes.