Category Archives: ending

Prison Prayer

I have always admired Dietrich Bonhoeffer.   Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor who worked for the resistance against Adolph Hitler and was executed in April 1945 for his participation in the plot to assassinate Hitler.  He reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they stood up to the religious tyranny of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3.   Written in prison, Bonhoeffer’s prayer could have been their prayer.  It certainly can be ours.

 O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you;
I cannot do this alone

In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me.

O heavenly Father
I praise and thank you
For the peace of the night;
I praise and thank you for this new day;
I praise and thank you for all the goodness
and faithfulness throughout my life.

You have granted me many blessings;
Now let me also accept what is hard
from your hand.
You will lay on me no more
than I can bear.
You make all things work together for good
for your children.

Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
and in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
when all men fail me;
It is your will that I should know you
and turn to you.
Lord, I hear your call and follow;
Help me.

I remember in your presence all my loved ones,
my fellow-prisoners, and all who in this house
preform their hard service;
Lord have mercy.

Restore me to liberty,
and enable me so to live now
that I may answer before you and before men.
Lord, whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised. AMEN.

(Letter and Papers from Prison, 1971, p. 139)

Recognizing Our Foolishness

As Resurrection Lutheran nears the end of the Old Testament portion of the Narrative Lectionary, I look forward to Christmas and the birth of Jesus. Though I have enjoyed our survey of the Old Testament, I now long for the familiar story of promise held in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The stage is being set for Jesus entrance into God’s drama. Two more Sundays of Advent remain.

This Sunday we will embrace one of the last written books of Old Testament: Daniel. The stories and visions of Daniel are from the time of the Exile when the leaders and skilled labor of Jerusalem were taken to Babylon as captives. The Babylonians wanted to re-indoctrinate the Jews to forget their Jewish heritage and God so as to become productive participants in the empire. Daniel and others resisted such practices.

Daniel chapter three is familiar to many from their childhood. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are to be thrown into the fiery furnace but God delivers them. But our childhood version often misses the humor or farcical nature of the story. As you read the text, consider how the repetition and exaggeration  demonstrate how crazy King Nebuchadnezzar is.

King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.” (Daniel 3:1-6)

Is it not comical to read that a human being could “set up” a god? Yet that is how ridiculous King Nebuchadnezzar has become with his power. But are we not as ridiculous when we “set up” something as having ultimate importance? Whether it be our sports teams (think how “over-the-top” the Super Bowl has become), or our careers, or our expectations for Christmas celebrations or our greed. Such humor can disarm our defensiveness and open us to God’s healing. We need to laugh at ourselves when we try to “set up” our mini-gods and see our foolishness.

Lord Jesus, come quickly and deliver me from my foolishness.

Youngdahl, Pastor Of Largest ELCA Church In Nation, Dies « CBS Minnesota

Youngdahl, Pastor Of Largest ELCA Church In Nation, Dies « CBS Minnesota.   I remember meeting Pastor Youngdahl as a student at Luther Seminary.   Mt Olivet offered a retreat to all senior seminarians during which he and the staff would offer pastoral insights and tips that they had learned over the years.  Though several of my classmates were suspicious of his church’s “success,” I found him to be a gracious pastor who truly cared about each of us as future pastors.   I pray for his family as they grieve his sudden death and for Mt. Olivet as they seek to transition to new leadership.

The Door of Death

In reflecting on the deadly tornadoes this week, one spiritual question arises about which I am hesitant to write. The question has an answer that has caused harm to grieving people. “Is death always a tragedy?”

A Door into Deeper Joy

In C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, the last book of his Chronicles of Narnia, all the children* who once visited Narnia are reunited in a new, wonderful land that resembles Narnia. They wonder how this is possible since the great lion Aslan had told them that they would not return to Narnia. Yet this new land is more spectacular and more real than the old Narnia they had known. Slowly the children come to realize that their last memory of our world had been a terrible train wreck. Unlike previous stories, Aslan had not transported them from our world to the world of Narnia. Instead they have walked through the door of death and entered the outskirts of heaven itself.

Lewis does something incredible in this story. Certainly he could have written about their deaths from the tragic perspective of the survivors still on earth: friends and relative who grieved the children’s sudden absence from life on earth. But instead Lewis gives an imaginative description of their homecoming in heaven, where the joy and delight of heaven grows deeper and more profound each moment.

As Christians we believe in the promise of God that whether we live or die we belong to Christ. In Philippians 1:21, Paul writes, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” The gain in dying is to gain more of Christ and his joy. Death is not something to be feared, but rather embrace as the door to God’s good presence.

So what is the harm in telling a grieving person, “Your loved one is in a better place?” The harm comes from the fact that a grieving person does not want the person “in a better place” like heaven. The grieving person wants the loved one in this life, sharing in the joys and sorrows of their mutual love. In time the grieving person may embrace the truth of “a better place,” yet in the aftermath of death, such words can be biting and harmful. Compassionate silence is better than quick answers.

What perspective do you have on death?

Lord Jesus, help me to see death as the door way into the resurrected life and to be gracious towards those who grieve.

*Susan is not included, but that is a different posting.

The Holy Week Story – Friday

Crucifixion by Mexican Artist Octavio Ocampo

Holy Week Reflections for Friday

Read Matthew 27:32-56

Those who passed by derided Jesus, shaking their heads, and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the son of God, come down from the cross.”  Matthew 27:39-40


Crucifixion was always done in public spaces so that Rome could demonstrate its power.  Thus Jesus was crucified out in the open, naked and humiliated, for all the world to see.  This was no private affair, like John the Baptist’s beheading inside King Herod’s palace.  Anyone and everyone mocked Jesus: the religious elite from the temple, those who passed by, even those hanging on the cross next to Jesus. (In Luke’s gospel, one thief repents, Luke 23:42-43.)  The public humiliation added to the pain and suffering. 

An amazing aspect of the taunts was that they held truth.   Jesus could have saved himself and stepped down off the cross, but instead chose to save us and stayed nailed to the cross.  The sign above his head mocked him as ‘King of the Jews;” yet the cross becomes Jesus’ throne of mercy, his royal decree of forgiveness and hope. He was “the temple of God,” where God’s Spirit resided.  

When I was in confirmation, I remember taking a test that asked for the name of the day on which Jesus died.   The answer had two blanks.  I knew that the second blank was Friday, but I could not remember what word filled the first blank.  I racked by brain, “blank Friday, blank Friday.”  Finally I filled in the blank with the word: Bad, Bad Friday.   My thinking was that it was certainly a bad day for Jesus with his suffering and death.

Of course I was wrong.  We know the day as Good Friday, because it was good for us.  God turned humanity’s total rejection of his love into the final victory for us. 

How does Jesus’ death tell the truth about our lives and world?  How does it give us hope? Where do you see God at work to redeem creation?

Prayer: Lord God, on the cross you suffered the very depths of our human brokenness and sin. Your humiliation on the cross became our path to You.  Help us to remember the depth of your love and the powerful hope you give.

Pie in the Sky?

I like pie

I remember an Andraé Crouch song from my childhood, titled “If Heaven was Never Promised to Me.”  You can hear the song here.  Crouch makes the point that our faith in Jesus offers so much in this life that we don’t need to focus on the “afterlife” or heaven to see the value in our faith.  To know that I am “good enough” as I am, to experience God’s joy, love and forgiveness, to have a purpose in living and to share in the fellowship of God’s people, these all bring value and meaning today as I live on this earth.  I can experience vibrant life in Jesus now.  Heaven is simply the desert.

 This focus on the presence has been the primary focus of my pastoral preaching and teaching, except in one key area: funerals.  Prior to my coming to Resurrection, I did a rough calculations of how many funerals or memorial services I had preached at St. Andrew’s.  It was over 500.  And each one was the opportunity to preach God’s promise of eternal life beyond this life.  

My funerals always have a celebration of the deceased’s life, but the celebration truly hinged on the promise that Jesus had prepared a place for her (John 14: 3) where she is now fully alive and free.  Though the sermon would touch on the deceased and her life, my primary message was always for the family and friends gathered. I invited them to trust Jesus and his promises as they grieve the death.  God’s promise of a new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21) is for all who trust in Jesus.  Funerals give us an eternal perspective.

Preaching about the future glories of heaven is often described as “pie-in-the-sky” preaching, because it places all the rewards in heaven while we suffer though hardship here on earth.  But M. Scott Peck is right, “life is difficult.”   We all experience hardship, pain, and injustice here on earth.  The promise of God’s new heaven and new earth is that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4)   Gehard Forde once responded to the “pie-in-the-sky” charge by saying, “What’s the matter?  Don’t you like pie?”   I do.

How does the promise of heaven impact your faith?

Presidents and Leaders

G.W. - Greatest President?

As an American history major in college, I remember a discussion in which we debated who was the greatest president in our history.  Several classmates argued for Abraham Lincoln because he was able to hold the union together during the Civil War.  Others thought Franklin Roosevelt was the greatest because of his leadership during the Great Depression and World War II.  You may want to add a name or two yourself.  I thought then and continue to think that our greatest president was our first, George Washington, for one simple reason.  After two terms he stepped down.

Watching the current turmoil in North Africa as large crowds protest their countries’ long-time leaders, I am thankful that our nation has a rich history of orderly presidential transitions.  George Washington started that tradition when he potentially could have been president for life.  His advisors were advocates for a longer tenure. They feared that the country would break apart without Washington.  But Washington wanted to step down and go back to Mount Vernon.  After eight years he was ready to hand leadership to someone else.

One danger for any leader is to think that your leadership is indispensable for the organization.   That is true in businesses, congregations, colleges and non-profits.  “The organization NEEDS me,” can become an egotistical justification for remaining in a leadership position long past one’s effectiveness.   George Washington showed our nation how one can gracefully step down from high office.  He modeled  a key characteristic of what Jesus described as servant leadership:

 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.  But (Jesus) said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.” Luke 22: 24-26

What characteristics in your opinion makes a president or leader great?