Category Archives: service

Who Is In the Ditch? – Part 2

The Good Samaritan by Aimé Morot (1880) shows ...

The Good Samaritan by Aimé Morot (1880) shows the Good Samaritan taking the injured man to the inn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my last post, I suggested one way to read the Good Samaritan story in Luke 10 is to see ourselves as the one in the ditch, needing care. I contrasted this perspective with the standard view that we are to behave like the Samaritan and give care to those in need. I believe parables are open to a variety of interpretations; that is what makes them surprising and valuable as faith-building stories.

I hinted that there was third interpretation as well (and maybe more). The third view is to see where Jesus fits into the story.

The parable takes place on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. This would be the very road that Jesus will take later in the Gospel narrative when he went from Jericho to Jerusalem (Luke 19:1,28). Just before he started up that road, Jesus reminded the disciples of what he would encounter in Jerusalem,

Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33)

Thus, in a subtle way, the parable points also to Jesus’ coming suffering and death at the hands of the Gentiles. Thus the question comes even more poignant as to how we respond to the story. Will we turn aside and try to ignore Jesus’ suffering (like the Priest and Levite) or will we embrace him as the crucified one (like the Samaritan)?

Taking the story full-circle, as Cathy Seither commented on my last post, Jesus goes one step further. In Matthew 25:31-46, when the Son of Man comes in glory and judges the nations, he will state that the righteous are those who fed, welcomed, clothed and visited him when he was in need.

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:37-40).

When we give love and support to other who are “in the ditch,” we are serving our Lord Jesus.

Where do you see yourself in the story of the Good Samaritan?

Lord Jesus, once again open my eyes and heart to see those who are in need and to respond in love.

Party Afterthoughts

Xmas White Elephant 2012Last evening, my wife and I hosted our annual staff and spouses Christmas party (it could have been called the Epiphany party since Epiphany is tomorrow, January 6th). As we broke bread together and enjoyed a wonderful time of opening strange and bizarre” White Elephant” gifts, I felt a surge of pride and joy. How blessed I am to work with such talented, committed and compassionate people.

Many members of a congregation have an imperfect view of what working at a church is like. Some have a very pious view, that a church staff is engaged in Bible study and prayer all the time. Others may think that we are only really working on Sunday during worship and maybe also on Wednesdays when we have confirmation and music practice. A few may think we simply sit around and “shoot the breeze.”

First off, most of the staff at Resurrection is part-time, less than twenty hours a week. They are hard-working, trying to capitalize on their few hours for the sake of our mission. They recruit volunteers, plan events, communicate with members, organize activities. They plan budgets and try to do creative ministry with limited resources. They also see the “sinful” side of life as well. They often have to deal with the disappointments, stress and complaints that come in any human organization. As Paul states in Romans 12:15, we rejoice with those who rejoice, but we also weep with those who weep.

The staff also meets as a team to plan how we can be effective in the mission of Resurrection Lutheran Church: to call all people to a Vibrant Life of Faith in Christ. At our staff meetings we do study the Bible and pray for our members. This year the staff has embraced a team goal. Our team goal for 2013 is to creatively boost our Sunday average worship attendance from our present average of 286 to 309, a rise of 8 percent next year.

Staff photo

Back row: Brad Kolstad, John Keller, Larry Fredin; Front row: Betsy Hickey, Hannah Koehler, Sue Guck, Sarah Storvick. Missing: Diana Cammack and Becky Bennett

I am so thankful for the staff with whom I work. Like most church staff, they are not doing it for the “big bucks” (no one goes into non-profit work for huge salaries) but they feel called and honored to serve among God’s people at Resurrection. They know that much of their work will not be recognized or thanked, but still they give and give and give.

For those of you who read this blog and are part of Resurrection, I encourage you to discover specific ways you can say “thank you” to your staff. As pastor I receive many affirmations that rightfully belong to my co-workers. If you are a member of a different congregation, I encourage you as well to give affirmation and encouragement to the staff who serve in whatever congregation you worship. As Paul also wrote, Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing (I Thessalonians 5:11).

Lord Jesus, thank you for those who labor for the sake of your kingdom.

Citizens with the Saints

Eight youth and two adults from Resurrection Lutheran Church are on their way to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. They will join more than 36,000 participants from across the country for five days of service, study, and worship. They will gather under the theme of Citizens with the Saints, based on Ephesians 2:14-20:

Jesus is our peace. In his life and death on the cross, Jesus broke down the dividing walls so that we are no longer strangers and outsiders, but we are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God. The foundation of God’s house was built of apostles and prophets, and Jesus, the cornerstone, holds it all together.

Like many of the participants, this will be a mile-stone for our youth. Growing up in a congregation like Resurrection, where their confirmation class is from 15-20 classmates, our youth often perceive the church as a small intimate group. Gathering with several thousand other youth will expand their vision of what the church is and can become. The Holy Spirit power of 36,000 youth singing and rocking the Superdome will energize and renew the faith of many who attend.

A couple of years ago, I attended a similar Christian gathering called Catalyst. About 10,000 young adults gathered from across the nation in a small arena in suburban Atlanta. The packed arena of singing, cheering, stomping, passionate followers of Jesus Christ made my heart sing.

I am so proud of how Hannah Koehler, our first-year youth director, has worked to make this mission trip become reality for our youth. She attended a National Youth Gathering several years ago and the experience transformed her life. She and others on the trip are writing their own blog to keep our congregation informed.

I invited you to join me in praying for all the youth in New Orleans this week as they discover their place as Citizens with the Saints.

Lord Jesus, bless, encourage and nurture all the youth who have gathered in New Orleans this week.

Learning From Others

I read a great blog post from the longest-running Lutheran blog.  Pastor Clint Schnekloth (who serve in Arkansas) wrote Mid-life Lesson #20: Accepting help is a spiritual gift.  I encourage you to check it out.  I think many Americans have a hard time receiving assistance from others because we place such a strong emphasis on self-reliance.   The reality is that we are all interdependent and we need one another.  God created us to love our neighbor, and sometime loving the neighbor means receiving love from our neighbor.

Lord Jesus, help me to be able to accept help from others.

Emotional Service

Last Monday afternoon, I joined others from Resurrection Lutheran Church to serve a meal at East Immanuel Lutheran Church on the east side of St. Paul. The meal is hosted by CURE Ministries and they provide a meal, clothing and groceries to families and individuals in need. Volunteers from Resurrection has been assisting at the meal once a month for the past year.

As I worked alongside the other volunteers, I experienced a mixture of emotions. Since I am preaching on spiritual emotions, I took time to reflect on the mixture of  emotions I experienced during this brief time of service.

The first emotion was a sense of awkwardness. This was only my second time serving at East Immanuel and I did not know all the leaders or duties. The leaders (Mike, Scott, Terrell, Doc) worked hard to welcome, orient and direct us. Still I was outside my normal comfort zone. I am usually the leader and to be the follower is sometimes challenging for me.  Yet as I reflected on the awkward sensation, I remembered one of my favorite quotes from business guru and Christian, Ken Blanchard, “Unless you feel awkward doing something new, you are not doing something new.”

I also felt a sense of pride and joy as I recognized the many volunteers from Resurrection. As a pastor, there is joy in seeing others participate in meaningful service. I was especially proud of Terri Dokken who has taken a strong role of leadership in this partnership. As we prayed prior to serving the guests, I was thankful that God had called so many to participate.

After the prayer, Scott asked for volunteers who were able to help move some canned goods. The post office had collected food in a recent drive, but it was all located in an outside garage. Several of us, both guests and volunteers, began the task of moving the piles of canned goods upstairs. After the first feeling of confusion, I participated moving the food to an upstairs Sunday School room. The task was not particularly challenging or exciting; in time it became rather tedious, trying to sort the food into meaningful categories.

As I reflected on the tedious nature of our service, I realized that service is not always exciting or a “Feel-Good” experience. Often, service is repetitive, mind-numbing work. Sometime I wonder if pastors over-sell service as joyous and fun, when in actuality there will often be elements of toilsome labor.

I also have had some modest feelings of regret. I mentioned that there were some guests who were also helping with moving the food. I now regret that I did not make the effort or time to converse with them, to hear a bit of their story. Part of our partnership is to make such connections.

Finally as I finished up my tasks for the evening, I felt both satisfaction and fatigued. Doc commented on this when I came downstairs, “You look tired.” I was tired, but I also felt a deeper sense of satisfaction of having served in God’s kingdom.

Service involves our body, mind and spirit. People often make judgments about a service by the initial feelings they have. Taking time to reflect on those feelings can help us better understand what God is doing not only with our hands, but also with our hearts.

Lord Jesus, give me energy and passion to serve wherever you call me to go.

Go In Peace?

Every week at the end of worship, I walk to the back of the worship area and after the last song I say, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” The congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.” I have said those words over a thousand times in a variety of settings. I believe in the power of those words, that the congregation is sent into God’s world to be God’s ambassadors of light, hope and love. I proclaim the words with enthusiasm and hope.

Last week I was at our Synod Assembly, where representatives of the 115 congregations of the Saint Paul Area Synod of the ELCA gathered to do the business of the church and to reflect together on what it means to Live Lutheran. We started with worship and at the end I heard the words again, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” Of course, we were going “nowhere,” but remaining at our table and chairs for the Assembly. The oddity of the phrase triggered deeper reflection on the words, especially the idea of going in peace.

Peace in the Biblical sense is wholeness or fullness. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, means that you have everything you need to be whole in your relationship with God, neighbor and self. To “go in peace,” means the worship has filled your cup of blessing and you leave worship whole and empowered to serve.

However in our culture, peace often simply means the absence of struggle or conflict. We are often use peace for a sense of calm and almost passivity. A peaceful lake is calm and tranquil. There are times in our lives when each of us needs a place of tranquil peace.  But such peaceful waters have the danger of becoming stagnant and dead if no outflow occurs.

I wonder if the word “peace” communicates what God truly wants from us? Could it be that instead of going in “peace,” God would want us at times to go with PASSION, the fullness of God pushing us out the door to serve with passion, energy and conviction? The energy and life of a cascading river might be a better picture of what God call us to be in the world.

God’s peace is not passivity but passion.

Go with passion. Serve the Lord.

Lord Jesus, energize my soul with your power and grace to serve you and your world.

Team Work at RLC

I am blessed at Resurrection Lutheran Church to work with a great team. Yesterday we had a day-away planning session to look towards the coming year. The room was a buzz of ideas, reflections and possibilities. We laughed, prayed, ate and celebrated. What a joy to serve with such people as Betsy, Hannah, Sue, Sarah, Brad and Larry.

Team ministry has always been part of the church. Jesus chose twelve disciples to share in his ministry. In the early church, Paul worked with Barnabas on their first missionary journey through Asia Minor. Then Paul and Barnabas split and Paul worked with Silas and Timothy. They shared in the struggles and victories together.

To be a good team, there needs to be not only shared vision but also a deep trust in one another. We need to disagree and argue for the sake of the mission without hurting each other’s feelings. This can be challenging for some of us who think conflict means “you don’t like me.”  Jesus challenged his disciples, yet loved them deeply. It is in the wrestling with ideas and priorities that we discover how God is at work and that we truly can trust and love each other.  As Patrick Lencioni says in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about the team.”

I am so thankful for a staff that can challenge and improve my ministry; I pray that I can do the same for our team. We all want Resurrection Lutheran to be the best congregation possible, by becoming what God called us to be. And together the whole congregation can rise to meet the challenges and opportunities we face.

Lord Jesus, challenge us to become what you created us to be.

Garage Sale Stewardship

Testing a Garage Sale Donation

Thursday, May 10, begins the big Woodbury Lions Club Garage Sale and Resurrection Lutheran will be participating. The church is being transformed into a market place of new and used items.  I took a few minutes this morning to test a donation.

The test remined me of a discussion with fellow pastors about stewardship. It was triggered by one pastor’s comment that his congregation does not “do” special fundraisers like car washes or garage sales. “Our congregation has adopted the stewardship philosophy that all funding comes through the offering plate. Our members believe in the mission of the congregation and they donate directly to its budget.”

I agree that the bulk of the stewardship giving needs to be through the offering plate or direct contributions to the congregation. This has become more sophisticated with on-line giving and electronic fund transfers such as Simply Giving from Thrivent. We recently added QR codes to our bulletins so that people can use their smart phones on Sunday Morning to make contributions. I am delighted with how many members of Resurrection Lutheran stepped up in March to make special contributions for our High School youth who will be attending the ELCA Youth Gathering this summer.  Direct contributions remain the primary way people give to their congregation.

As Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about being generous in giving,

This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone. (2 Corinthians 9:13, The Message)

Still I think there is a place for special fund-raisers like the Garage Sale. It allows a variety of people to participate actively in a congregational ministry, thus building relationships. It promotes the recycling of various items, eliminating some of the waste that goes in landfills, a form of environmental stewardship. It also allows new and old residents to visit our church building; last year I met two people who later came back for our outdoor worship. We also provide a service to the shoppers by having clean restrooms and shelter. The garage sale has become a unique form of ministry for our congregation.

I certainly don’t want our church building and volunteers to do this every week. It is neither our primary mission nor our primary form of stewardship. There will probably come a day when Resurrection will not participate. Still, for three days this week, Resurrection Lutheran will be a place of friendly hospitality and great deals. Check it out.

Lord Jesus, guide each of us to be good stewards of our time, talents and treasures.

The Parable of the Lost Door

Simple, wonderful stories happen every day. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open.

For over a year Resurrection Lutheran Church has been missing a door from a cabinet in our conference room. The small room had functioned as an office for a time with the previous pastor. He asked to have the cabinet doors removed so that the open shelves could function as bookshelves. When I was called as pastor, we determined that the “office” should be a conference room once again and the cabinet doors restored.

Our energetic Property Image Team (PIT crew) took up the challenge to re-install the cabinet doors soon after I arrived. The doors had all been stored in the storage room and were easy to re-installed. However one of the eight doors was missing. The PIT crew looked everywhere for the missing door, then the staff and family members turned offices and homes inside out, searching for the missing door. A few of the PIT crew thought it might have been “used” in some church project, but no one could remember. The door remained missing for over a year.

The conference room had a slightly “unfinished” look due to the missing door. Ministry and meetings continued to flourish in spite of the absent door, but still the room did not feel right. Our office coordinator, Sue Guck, continued to remind the PIT crew of this “blemish” and finally they agreed to create a new door.

The congregation has several talented woodworkers, but they all seemed busy with various projects of their own. Barry Van Ornum agreed to take on the task, but wanted to see if any other woodworkers in the congregation could assist him. Someone on the PIT crew remembered a member who had crafted a Bible stand for our worship center several years ago, so Barry decided to contact him. As Barry explained the project, the member interrupted him.

“You know, Pastor Ted was a stickler on details and he wanted me to make sure the Bible stand was stained to the proper color. He went into the storage room and picked up a small board for me to match. Is it possible that I might have the missing cabinet door in my garage?”

Barry Van Ornum

Within three days, Barry Van Ornum had the missing cabinet door and it is now back in the conference room. The unfinished project is now complete.

The PIT crew and staff also have a deeper appreciation of Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Coin.

“Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it?  And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’  Count on it – that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.” (Luke 15:8-10 The Messsage).

Anyone want to join us for a party in the “restored” conference room after Easter?

Lord Jesus, thank you for seeking us out even when we are lost or forgotten.

Trust Live Serve

Yesterday was Resurrection’s annual Faith-in-Action day, where over 200 members of the congregation served in a dozen different venues. It is a great tradition that reflects our congregation’s mission to Trust, Live and SERVE.  Last year I was inspired to write about it here.

Yesterday was full of Holy Spirit energy.  Children assembled Birthday Bags for the local food shelf, the puppet team preformed at a homeless shelter, and adults worked on a home damaged by last summer’s tornado.  Families were encouraged to work together so that the children could learn from their parents the value of service.

Several of us went to Woodbury Health Care Center to entertain and interact with the residents. I chose the Care Center because my mom recently became a resident there and I wanted her to meet some of the congregation.  Several of our talented youth and adults played piano or lead singing as together we worked to bring the joy of Jesus Christ into their lives.  Naturally many of them brought joy to our hearts as they affirmed our ministry together.

Service is not restricted to one day of the year.  We serve in our daily life.  When my mother was living in a nearby assisted living facility she was visited by one of our high school student who brought her dog along on Sunday afternoon visits.  The two were a big hit with the residents.

Volunteer service is a vital part of our community life together.  Most assisted living facilities and care centers have well-trained and committed staff who invest their lives in caring for our growing senior population.  The staff often works long hours with frail people who are often forgotten by society.  Serving alongside these professional evoked a sense of gratitude and awe at their daily ministry of caring for our aging parents and grandparents.

Community service helps us connect with segments of society that many of us ignore or forget: the 3M manager who helps stock the local foodshelf, the medical device sales representative who sings for a senior center, or the bank executive who pounds nails at a Habitat for Humanity work site.  Jesus calls us to move outside our “normal” areas of influence and control so that we can discover a different slice of the American life.  Service is not simply a band-aid on society’s ills; it can be an opportunity for education and inspiration for real transformative change.  We are changed as we serve.  Our smiles can grow into the deeper conviction for justice and righteousness.

Lord Jesus, teach me to serve as you have served me.