Tag Archives: community

Running Boston in St. Paul

Today is the Boston Marathon, the premier marathon in the United States.  After last year’s horrific bombing, the marathon has become even more significant. Over 30,000 runners have registered for this year’s race. Two of my running buddies, Mike Johnson and Dan Foster, will be running the 26.2 miles and I am excited for them. A mutual friend Tim Torgerson wrote a great reflection on supporting Mike, Dan and the other runners who will be running today.

Dan and Mike stand behind fellow runners Bob and Gary.  All four have run Boston in recent years.

Dan and Mike stand behind fellow runners Bob and Gary. All four have run Boston in recent years.

Mike J and I were talking on the phone and as we signed off I said, “Good luck at Boston, have fun. I wish I was going to be there with you.” Mike’s response was, “You will be there with me.”

For some reason that stuck with me.

I thought about for the next two days. In reality, because of last year’s tragic events and because it is the way running with friend bond, we really are there.

In some way, we are all connected. That is certainly why this Boston is going to be celebrated like none other. It’s the connection that all marathoners have as we strive to do what a majority of people think is impossible or just plain crazy. In addition to being physically challenging , marathoning is a deeply emotional experience. It’s probably for that reason that most runners can’t just do one!

The most important thing I want to say is Good Luck, Have Fun, Dan and Mike. Enjoy what will probably be the most memorable marathon in your career. You are running for all of us.


Tim Torgerson running TCM a few years ago

Tim Torgerson running TCM a few years ago

I am reminded of St. Paul’s instructions, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Roman 12:15). Today I am rejoicing with Dan, Mike and the other 35,000 runners at Boston.

Lord Jesus, grant strength and hope to all runners this day.

National Running Day

Today is National Running Day.

Running is one of my passions.  I was introduced to marathon running in 1998 and have finished ten since then. I continue to find the training and mental preparation for a marathon stimulating. Though all marathons are a challenge, some are more than others.

Six years ago I ran Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN. It was not a “pretty” marathon for me. Not only did the high humidity and warm temperatures zap the strength of most runners, it also shrouded scenic Lake Superior in fog. The clouds kept it bearable for the first hour, but then the sun broke out and turned the race into a steam bath. I finished in 3:47 but I was not a pretty picture coming across the finish line.

What gave me strength was the community around me. I started off with my friends Steve Libby, Gary Van Cleve, and Bill Treiber near the 3:30 pace group. Steve and I stayed together with the pace group through mile 13; Steve was running strong and hoping to BQ (Boston Marathon Qualifier). I had to drop back at that point due to a four minute port-a- potty break. (I said it wasn’t a “pretty” marathon!) I struggled alone from mile 13 to 22. Then on Lemon Drop Hill, my son Jonathan showed up and ran with me to the finish. His words of encouragement kept my feet moving forward.

In Hebrews 12, the people of God are reminded that we are surrounded by a cloud of invisible witnesses, those faithful people of God who have died and rest with God. They are cheering for us in our life marathon as we race, walk, struggle, waddle, crawl towards Jesus Christ, the race director and pace setter. But I don’t think “cloud of witnesses” is restricted to the dead. Some of those who witness to me are my fellow runners who continue to give words of encouragement and inspiration as I struggle to run life’s course. Many have given me courage and strength. Thank you.

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Thank you Jesus for the ability to encourage others.

Church: Cause, Corporation or Community?

The office staff and I are busy preparing for our annual meeting on Sunday, February 12.  Sometimes it feels like a giant jigsaw puzzle.  Last year  I wrote a post regarding the annual meeting.  In it I argued that every annual meeting needs the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide and challenge us. It remains my prayer this year.

Congregational meeting have often gotten a bad rap because they deal with controversial topics like budgets, mission and staffing. They are the central moment when the corporate business of the church takes center stage. Many (including myself) have a discomfort with this focus because it is not our strength. I did not feel call by God to RUN a church, but rather to preach the Gospel and to shepherd God’s people. Yet the corporate business of the church is necessary.

Twenty years ago Jim Dethmer wrote an article for Leadership Journal that continues to help me. He described the church as having three primary identities: Cause, Corporation and Community. As a Cause the church is like an army with a central mission: to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and to drive back the forces of evil. The model participant in the Cause is the engaged volunteer who works hard to spread God’s love and grace in word and deed.  As a corporation, the church is like a business, seeking to use its financial resources in the most “profitable” ways. As a corporation the church tries to be a wise steward of its assets.  Finally as a Community the church is like a family with the central attribute being love. The focus of that love is often on the weakest among us: the sick, the grieving, the unemployed.

All three identities (Cause, Corporation and Community) have value and purpose. Scripture bears witness to all three circles.  They also can conflict with one another from time-to-time. The Holy Spirit is needed in all three circles so that such conflicts can be creative and energizing, rather than destructive.

Dethmer rightly observed that pastors often have a strength in one of these and a weakness in another. I invested much of my pastoral ministry in the community circle, writing my Doctor of Ministry Thesis on Congregational Care. I also have a passion for the Gospel of Jesus and how it can impact people’s lives. My weakest area is the corporate or business side of the church. I am very thankful for those members of Resurrection who have that as their strength and passion.  With each person using their strengths and gifts, the church can function well in all three circles.

Which circle is your passion and strength?

Lord Jesus, send your Holy Spirit to empower us to your church.

Walkin’ on Water

Even Kids Like Peter's Walk

Jesus walking on the water is a familiar miracle (Matthew 14, Mark 6 and John 6).   In Matthew’s version not only Jesus walks on the waves, but Peter asks to join him.   Many Christian pastors and authors see Peter’s actions as a Christian model of what discipleship and trust means.  John Ortberg wrote a book called, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.  He writes,

Deep within you lies the same faith and longing that sent Peter walking across the wind-swept Sea of Galilee towards Jesus.  In what ways is the Lord telling you, as he did Peter, “Come”?  Out on the risky water of faith, Jesus is waiting to meet you in ways that will change you forever, deepening your character and your trust in God.

I remember preaching an ordination sermon that basically said the same thing.  I preached about our need to take risks, climb out of our comfort zone and step in the liquid uncertainty of life.  But I am beginning to have second thoughts about that being the sole interpretation of the story. The great thing about scripture is its ability to call forth new insights and wisdom.

After all, Peter sinks beneath the waves and needs to be rescued by Jesus.  Peter is chastised for his doubts, not the disciples who stayed in the boat.   And when Jesus and Peter step into the boat, the wind stops and all is calm.

The ship was an ancient symbol of the church, the community of faith.  At the beginning of the story, Jesus compelled the disciples to enter the boat and head to the other side (Matthew 14:22).   At the end of the story those in the boat worshipped him, saying “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33).   I am beginning to wonder, “Should Peter simply have stayed in the boat?”   What do you think?

Do you think Peter’s actions are a model of discipleship or a distraction from Jesus?

Lord Jesus, thank you that you are always ready to rescue me whenever I begin to slip beneath the waves.

In Our Midst

At Camp Wapogasset this week, a college-age counselor spoke during chapel about the significance of Christian community.   She evoked the camp theme “In Our Midst,” based on Jesus’ promise, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” Matt 18:20.  The counselor spoke of the challenges her family faced when her father was laid off from his job and had to search 18 months for a new job in a different state.  She knew that God was giving her strength through the Christian community she experienced on staff at Camp Wapogasset. Her words in turn gave hope and life to those who listened, including me.

Near the end of her talk she quoted from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together, in which Bonhoeffer described his work to build a confessing Lutheran Seminary in Nazi Germany.

But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.  He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.  p. 23

Campers Enjoy Community

God has created us to be in community, but we often resist it.  Our American culture celebrates the rugged individualist who creates success by his or her self: the self-made man or woman.  Yet I cannot be fully human without being connected to others.  God made me to be with others, with my faults and inconsistencies as well as my strengths and gifts.   Only in community with other Christians do I fully experience the vibrant life of faith in Jesus.

I am so thankful the children and youth have the opportunity to experience Christian community, with all its joys, sorrows, sweat and discomfort through mission trips and Bible camp. Remember, wherever two or three are gathered in his name, Jesus is in our midst.

In what ways or places have you experienced authentic Christian community?

Lord Jesus, show me the path that leads me to community with others.

Miami Heat and Pentecost

Wade, Bosh and James of the Heat

I have been watching the NBA Finals this week: Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks.  The Heat made news last summer when they brought together superstars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.  With such individual firepower the Heat was expected to walk away with the championship.  But individual superstars do not make a team so right now Dallas is ahead in the series three games to two.  Even though Miami has more talent, they are not playing together well, especially in the fourth quarter. 

The Finals have me thinking about the TEAM of Pentecost.  One of the amazing things about Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit came mightily to the assembled disciples as a team.  The Spirit did not just “zap” Peter and have him preach.  The tongues of fire were on the whole group, anointing them to be the Body of Christ together. In the Old Testament God’s Spirit anointed individuals like Moses or Elijah.  Now the whole church has the power.

 I think as Americans we struggle with the significance of community.  My college history professor contrasted the colonies in New England with those of Virginia.  The New England colonies were community-based with people living in town together. The Virginia colonists were scattered on large plantation where the individual made his way in the new land.  After contrasting the two models my professor emphasized that the Virginia model became our American ideal of the rugged individualist who makes it through the world by him or herself.

Even in matters of faith we often disparage community. As Americans, we tend to focus on our individual faith and commitment, how our personal faith is a private matter of the heart.  Organized religion is suspect for being “organized.”

Yet we all live in community and our faith is rarely a total individual experience.  We learn from others: parents, teachers, pastors, and spiritual leaders.  We read books written by others, sing songs written by others, and reflect upon questions asked by others.  Our faith can be deeply personal, but needs a community to thrive and live.  The Holy Spirit does not leave us isolated but calls us to trust, live and serve together as the Christ’s body in the world.

How are you living your faith in community with others?

Lord Jesus, keep the Holy Spirit active in us so we can be the Body of Christ together.