Sunday, February 21, 2016


Earlier this morning, our church members listened to people telling their stories of change and transformation.  The Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir came to First UMC in Worthington and with the Emmanuel UMC and some other members of the community, we heard this group of folks talk about the struggle to overcome addictions and pain and abuse and darkened lives.  It was a phenomenal 45 minutes.  After it was over, the choir sat with people from Worthington and ate dinner with them, continuing the conversation about how this program is helping them to save their life.

I'm not sure that I can always know exactly what these folks are going through, only because my experience of transformation doesn't sound as traumatic as theirs does. Maybe I'm missing a point here on what transformation really is.  Perhaps not so much of where one has been but where one is going... who one has been but who one is becoming.  In that I can see how I've changed dramatically in the past 30 years or so - from being focused on self to fixing my gaze on others.  From living apart from growing in faith to being strengthened daily by God's Word.  In these things, I have changed - been transformed from the person I used to be.  

The folks in this program demonstrate very clearly how blessed we are when we realize that the author of our lives can help us be transformed into people who know they are worthy, loved, cared for, and blessed.  

Check out their stories here and perhaps you will feel that blessing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Guitar Man

I mentioned in the last post that I had purchased a guitar at the church rummage sale for $5.  It isn't the best guitar, but it might be okay for a beginner like myself.  I haven't yet decided on the specific plan to learn how to play this instrument.  I think it might be good to take a few lessons from somebody who knows how to do it.  I downloaded an app that helped me tune the strings and believe me, it sounds a lot better.  But I might need to invest in an instrument that has a bit more going for it and doesn't have that musty smell (#beeninthebasementforyears - #wheresthelysolwhenyouneedit)  It's something that I've always had in the back recesses of my mind and suddenly, for some reason, now it seems to be important to learn how to play it.

I draw some encouragement from the example my father set.  One memory I shall always treasure is the sound of my dad's guitar - a Gretsch model - with its gentle sounds and melodious blend of chords softly invading the night's stillness.  From what I know, he taught himself how to play it.  When he retired, he set about trying to teach others for a time and had some marginal success.  I wish I would have paid more attention to how my dad learned and perhaps how he could have taught me.  But, that wasn't where my heart was at any time in my youth.

Isn't that a part of growing up?  Learning that I could have paid more attention to things that my parents did or could have learned had I not been so wrapped up in my own agenda?  The other day I had a conversation with my son who said that as he became father for the first time, it was as if some of the things that I was all about clicked for him - the light bulb went on.  Nearly overnight, he gets me much more than he knew.  Just because something changed in his life that caused him to look back for a moment and realize that there is redeeming value in what parents are all about.

Exodus 20:12 offers great wisdom in all of this:"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you."  
It's a commandment. It's not a suggestion.  It's not a recommendation.  It's a command - an imperative.  We do this because it's right and it's good and we are commanded by the Lord to do it.  Now, I'm not saying that learning how to play something that your parents played is the end all.  There are countless numbers of things my dad and mom taught me growing up.  I've embraced some of those things and incorporated them into the way by which I live.  Of course, I didn't always do that - I had my rebellious moments.

But in the rhythm of life, there's always a time to learn something new.  It's a nice thing to know that it's never too late to realize that you can learn from those who know you pretty well and love you the best.   

Friday, February 12, 2016

Something Old - Something New

For the past few days, I've marveled at the number of volunteers who have come to the church fellowship hall, helping the First United Methodist Women's group prepare for the annual Rummage Sale which begins today from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and on Saturday starting at 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.  

It's been a joy to watch people give of their time to help others.  It's also been overwhelming to witness the amount of items given to support this mission fundraiser.  So many items from shirts to shoes, Christmas decorations to kitchen items, books to toys... many have donated these items because they can.  Not only that, but a large crew of people are present to help others get what they need, carry it out for them, and just be in friendship and fellowship with these area neighbors.  The proceeds from the rummage sale will be donated - 100% of the funds raised will go to help others in various missions across this nation and the world.  A lot of energy expended to God's glory.

I did something quite unusual for me.  I picked up a used guitar for $5, thinking that I would like to learn how to play that instrument.  I never do things like that, but who knows?  I don't plan on becoming the next Carlos Santana or Chet Atkins (my dad's all time favorite guitar player) but I might learn something about myself.  I might be reminded that I am never beyond being able to try something new.  I might learn that with God I can do all things, even learn how to play a new instrument. Then again, I might learn to not give up my day job.   

What matters is that we be open to try.  That we would have a spirit of adventure in life - that we would be so willing to trust in the Lord that he would lead and guide us no matter what pathway we have decided to chose, especially if that pathway encompasses a new challenge, learning a new skill or moving from one chapter of life to another.  You see, they are all connected.  God is always in the midst of the next new thing.

In fact, He's also in the midst of our old things as well. Just check out a rummage sale and you'll see.

"See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."
- Isaiah 43:19

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Perfect Swing

Every so often in the midst of this cold winter weather I find myself thinking of the warmer days and the perfect golf swing.  The perfect golf swing delivers the proper club head speed, swing plane and impact zone that propels the golf ball exactly where you plan it would go - right down the middle and a good distance down the fairway every time.  That is the perfect golf swing.

It's a swing that is in my thoughts, not usually my golf bag.  Sure, every so often I can catch a close to perfect shot and that keeps me coming back to the game.  But the game of golf is spent dealing with and adjusting to the swings that are not so perfect.

So it is with life and the question of how can we lose our fire for God?  Oft times we take swings of faith at the challenges of life - sometimes they are good swings, perhaps even perfect ones.  the good to perfect ones usually get us to where we hope to go.  But we have to admit that sometimes (maybe most times) our efforts fall short and we become discouraged and downcast when our less that perfect attempts find a hazard or go out of bounds.

One of the things that can dampen our fire for God is when this happens.  When our best efforts fall short and we struggle with how to get back on track.  It's hard.  It's difficult.  It makes life challenging.  It's not easy.

The birth of Jesus comes as the remedy to this problem: a Babe born of an unwed mother – no earthly paternal father. Born in a stable – a place of poverty and uncleanness – animals, dirt, feces, bad smells.  The offspring of Galileans, a people who were not respected or admired even by their fellow Jews.  A child raised in obscurity in a remote corner of a poor land under the heel of Roman Domination.  How less than perfect do you want?

That’s really the point: our faith does not require us to become perfect to attain merit or favor from our Creator.  Through the teachings of the New Testament, we see that perfection is not a prerequisite for entering into a relationship with God.  Instead, perfection is the outcome of our relationship with God.  We are perfected by our faith.  We do not need to do anything to merit it, other than to believe.

This means you are accepted, and acceptable, just as you are.  You are loved, and lovable, just as you are.  You are valued, and valuable, just as you are.

Don't worry about always trying to live the perfect life.  God has you covered.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Soul on Fire

"Tell you what -
over the next few posts,
let's take a look at what it means
to be on fire in our faith."

That's where I left the end of yesterday's blog.  Let's start with one verse that says a great deal about what it means to have a heart for God that is on fire.  Romans 12:11 - "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord."  Words like zeal.. fervor... serving.  They mean something when it comes to demonstrating a heart that is on fire for the Lord. 

Zeal - great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective.
Fervor - intense and passionate feeling.
Serving - to be useful to somebody in achieving or satisfying something

We can't sleepwalk through life, especially when it comes to our faith.  I once attended the Dale Carnegie Course for Public Speaking and one of the great lines we learned in that class was "Act enthusiastic and you'll be enthusiastic."  Granted that axiom may be designed for the business climate, but it holds true in every venue of life.  We may not always feel excited about all things in life and perhaps we might decide to withhold our energetic personality.  Somehow, we need to fight through the lethargy of daily life and demonstrate that we are excited about what our faith has in store for us!  

The second part of that verse is about the depth of that energy - what is the emotional response that undergirds our energy?  What fuels that inner joy that can sustain the enthusiasm when life gets hard?  It's our fervor.  It's that intensity of the emotion - the love that we feel from God's amazing love and grace.  His love and grace matters - it makes a difference.  

As a result of all of these two things, then serving the Lord will be the most natural thing we can do.  Doing all that we can to help others know why we are excited about our faith is about serving God.

Tomorrow, we'll look at what can douse the flames of our zeal and passion.  

Saturday, February 6, 2016

On Fire

As we say goodbye to January, we settle in for the last run of winter's icy grip for the next two months (at least, we hope it will be the as short as the next two months).  According to the Groundhog Day prediction, winter has seen its best.  Spring is on the way. 

One of the coolest (no pun intended) things I've seen is the Ice Castles that are constructed across the Midwest.  I've held a fascination with them since first hearing about them.  The way they are constructed - the amount of time and money required to put them together.  It's a remarkable event.  Looking at them makes me want to turn on the fireplace.

Who doesn't love an open fireplace?   There is a therapy in the flickering light, the crackle of fire, the smell of burning wood, the direct heat of a cheerful flame.  Maybe we don't have such a fireplaces, but God has always had His fireplaces.  The burning bush, the brazen altar of the tabernacle, Mount Carmel, and His Pentecost people -- these are just a few of God’s fireplaces.  The only fireplaces He has today in all the world are the hearts of His people....We are to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

The fire of the Holy Spirit is to burn in the fireplaces of our own hearts

I wouldn't say that I think the church of today is on fire.  We are warm, I believe.  We are trying to do the things we need to do.  But we aren't really on fire.  I can only say that because I think we would know if we were on fire.  We would sense it.  We would know it.

Tell you what - over the next few posts, let's take a look at what it means to be on fire in our faith.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Super (?) Bowl 50

Both teams are getting ready for the 50th
Super Bowl being held in San Francisco this Sunday... I don't particularly care who wins, but I only care about how they win.  Let me tell you what will drive me to watch reruns of "The Reluctant Astronaut" if this happens before halftime.  

Cam Newton is a phenomenal quarterback.  He can do it all - throw laser accurate passes, evade charging behemoth linemen who are faster than snack food disappearing at a diet program meeting, he can run and he is huge (6'5" tall).  He is an amazing athlete who has captured the hearts of every one of the Carolina Panthers fans.  But Newton does one thing that I don't like - whenever he scores a touchdown, he pretends that he is pulling his shirt off like Superman does in the comic book series.  His nickname is actually Superman, which makes sense with respect to the actions that he does.

The reason this troubles me is that football is a team game.  I'm sure that the Carolina fans and Newton's teammates don't really care how he celebrates a touchdown.  I'm certain they want to see him do it many times this Sunday.  But as a team game, I just think that others were instrumental in getting you there if and when you score.  

Maybe I am just old fashioned.  Vikings coach Bud Grant used to fine his players $500 (back when an NFL player actually cared about $500) for spiking the football in the end zone after they scored a touchdown.  He didn’t want them to do it.  He would tell his players, “Act like you’ve been there before.”  Robert Smith (a great running back for the Vikings in the early 90's) would simply flip the ball to the official and head to his team's side of the field.

Now, that's classy.  He's been there before - I would say to myself.  And he will get there again.  Yes, there are many players in today's NFL who have different celebrations in the end zone - Viking players included.  I never said I liked those either.  The one thing I appreciate about football is it is a team game.  Let the team celebrate.

By the way, the team with the most points at the end of the game will more than likely be the Super Bowl winner - quote from John Madden (actually it was Frank Caliendo imitating John Madden - watch his Late Night with Letterman appearance here - pretty good stuff).  My sentimental choice is Denver.  But I'm afraid that Newton's "super powers" might prevail.

"Look!  In the end zone!  It's a bird!  It's a plane!  Nope - it's just Cam Newton."

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Blowing Wind

As I mentioned yesterday, the snowstorm that rolled through the area was met with an indignant attitude from the people from this region.  How else can we explain over 370 car crashes last night?  It can only be the arrogance of drivers who are oblivious to the fact that 8 to 10 inches of snow means "SLOW DOWN"! 

So I had a day to myself.  No traveling.  No meetings.  No sermon preparation.  Just a day to spend to myself.  Nancy was called into work early so there it was.   I'm not certain that I feel as though I was productive at all.  I guess I am so task driven that I need something before me in order to feel as though I've accomplished something.  All I did (really) was shovel my daughter's driveway and entryway several times - so that now it looks like snow never came.  The picture to the left will verify it) not that I needed verification - there is my task driven self again!)

Of course I am thinking of making a comparison to cleaning a driveway full of new fallen snow to some aspect of life.  I just can't help myself.  It doesn't matter what happens during the day - I can make some kind of connection of that event to my faith. 

I remember clearing some snow in Norcross, Minnesota for the first time while serving the Faith United Methodist Church in that small western Minnesota town.  No one told me about the winds of the prairie.  Where I grew up, as it began to snow you went out and shoveled because the snow came straight down and stayed down.  On the prairie, all of the snow you blow or shovel somehow ends up right where you started, which is what happened.  I waited until the wind stopped before clearing the walkway again.

My faith comparison wasn't really a stretch - the wind of the Holy Spirit blows where it will and we do not know how or why, but that it does.  So embrace the wind of the Spirit and go with the direction the Spirit is blowing you (see John 3:8).

That's just been my life over the past 26 years plus.  I try to go wherever the wind of the Spirit is blowing me.  It takes some discipline to pay attention to that direction and I won't tell you that I've been stellar in following it every time.  I've had my rebellious moments when I thought I knew better than the wind.  I was wrong every time.  But I've also had some moments when I've paid attention and in those moments, God was right.

Every single time.

So, pay attention to the wind of the Spirit.  Allow it to blow through your life to where it wants you to go.  You won't ever regret it.

(Incidentally, check out this article about Minnesotans and the snow.
You might agree with some of it.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Reflections from a Snowy Lane

My daughter Liz and her husband Ryan live on a street in Rochester, Minnesota that lived up to its name today... Snowy Lane.  From this morning we got about 8 to 10 inches of snow.  I took a picture of their street sign just to verify the street name and the snowy day.
Today was a great reminder of what makes a Minnesotan special - or maybe different from most other people in the world.  8 to 10 inches of snow?  No big deal.  In fact, it's almost an annoyance to most of us.  We can't believe that school has been cancelled for the second day in a row.  We shovel two or three times because we don't have a snow blower.  If we do have a snow blower, we might decide to help others because we just want to be helpful. 

We are ready to make fun of anyone in the nation who freaks at the mention of a snowstorm and we scoff at the wind chills.  Goodness, did anyone see former Viking coach Bud Grant flip the coin at the Vikings playoff game earlier in January?  Coldest day of the year and there is Bud, wearing a short-sleeved shirt - daring anyone to say something about the cold.  I'm sure the Seahawks took notice.  That is what it is like to be from this state.  We hold a fierce pride to winter and all of the stuff winter presents.  We'd spit at it if it didn't freeze on us first.

8 to 10 inches of snow?  That is nothing to us!  15 degrees below zero?  Big wow!  Let's grill on the barbeque!

Before I add anything further, I'm guessing that anyone from Wisconsin, either of the Dakotas, or perhaps even Iowa could say the same thing about their states.  But I still hold that there is something distinctively different about a native Minnesotan.  You can take the person out of the state, but it's hard to take the state out of the person.  Being a native from the state goes with you everywhere you go.  You cannot escape your destiny (or is it density?).

In some ways, I wonder why we haven't got the same intense linkage with being a follower of Jesus.  I'm not saying that we aren't passionate about following Him, but it doesn't seem to be the most natural thing we do.  We have to work at it a little harder.  Perhaps that's natural.  But I really wonder why we can't have it as a part of our DNA, like being a Minnesotan, or someone who identifies passionately with any other state in the union.   Why isn't it just a part of our framework?  Just a part of who are?  Part of who we claim to be?  Naturally...

I believe I know one part of that answer and it is this: because evil doesn't want us to feel like it is natural and easy.  As a result, so many little storms in life are hurled at us all the time: temptations, sin, greed, lust, jealousy, envy, rudeness, and just being mean to one another.  At some point in our lives, we must come to the realization that these things hold no power over us.  These things cannot impact us in relationship to our identity in Jesus.  Until we come to that moment of clarity, life might always be a struggle.  It will always be a battle.  We will always feel like we are on the outside looking in.

A little temptation and greed?  That is nothing to us!  Lust and jealousy?  Big wow - not part of who we are!  Rudeness and sin?  Forget about it!

That's what it must be like to be a true follower of Jesus... at least, that's what I think as I look out on Snowy Lane and 8 to 10 inches of snow. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

When Tires Go Flat

Today, Nancy and I planned on spending the day together in the Twin Cities.  Initially, we were going to see "Sister Act" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, but didn't know that the theatre is closed on Mondays.  Evidently the cast and crew and support staff of this entire production need to take a day off in order to recharge their batteries.  They need new air in their tires.

So we went to one of our old haunts when we used to live in Lakeland... Ruby Tuesdays restaurant in Stillwater.  We had a nice dinner - used our 20% off coupon and decided to wash Nancy's car.  (It is her car... she lets me drive it every so often).  So we went to a car wash with the older style tire guide.  You know the type, where you move your car slowly toward the center of the guide until the lights scream silently at you.... "STOP! STOP! STOP!"  Unfortunately I was outside of the tire guide and drove over a corner of the guide at an awkward angle.  

Nancy's car has an advanced information panel that informs you when the tire pressure changes significantly.  Almost immediately after driving over the guide, the tire information screen popped on, showing us that our right front tire pressure was going down... rapidly!  21... 18... 15... 11.  No doubt I had punctured the tire.  We finished the car wash and drove one block to a Holiday Stationstore to fill it with "free air" (a term that has always troubled me - who supplies them with the free air?). 

I pulled the car to a parking lot area and started to do something I haven't done in years... change a flat tire.  I was doing very well until I couldn't get the tire off from the wheel hub.  Evidently tires can be stubborn that way.  So we called roadside assistance and about an hour later some burly young man with a brightly colored tattoo on both arms showed up.  He jacked up the car a bit more with his hydraulic jack, kicked the tire with the back of his boot twice and the tire popped right off.  He secured the replacement donut and we were on our way, driving the recommended 50 miles per hour all the way back to Rochester.

It was a normal day for Nancy and I.  For the past six plus months, we haven't had many normal days. Our time spent together has been a few days here and there ... usually each week.  With Nancy working in Rochester and me at the churches in Worthington, any time we get to be together is precious, but it isn't normal.  Sometimes, I yearn for a normal day.

Romans 12:1-2 speaks about placing your life before the Lord everyday.  The Message says it like this ... Romans 12:1-2 "So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering."  

By this measure, a normal everyday routine looks more like what I try to do everyday. Because life isn't about me.  It's about a loving Lord who cares about me so much that he gave me a precious gift of everlasting life.

A gift that puts air in the flat tires of my life.