Friday, July 31, 2009

Someday Soon

Last September, before preaching on the Wise and Foolish Virgins, Kay Sorvik read the Gospel lesson from Matthew 25 after which she asked me to sing a verse of the pulpit hymn she had chosen and lead the congregation in singing stanzas 2 and 3. The text and tune for "Someday Soon" (The Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook, No. 748) were largely written by my son-in-law Bob Stromberg. Rick Carlson did the musical arrangement.

Arriving at our cabin in the late 1980s Bob asked if I would help him complete the text. Full of the imagery we enjoy each year at the cabin--"whispering pines," "your eagle soaring o'er us," "the spring after winter's snow," and "the seedling's hint of harvest"--all of which heighten our love for God and our longing to be home with him--the song fits well with the theme on which Kay then movingly preached.

Here follows a brief video of our singing together in hopes that it might encourage many to learn the hymn and sing it often as one more way of preparing for Christ's coming. Believers have no need to dread that Day. They have every reason rather to anticipate and even glory in it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ministry: Whoever Said It Would Be Easy?

There's a lot of talk these days about how hard it is to be a minister. I would not make light of that, but I do think it is probably no more true today than it has ever been. Times change, of course, and the scenery of life. But who that follows Christ's call to ministry has any right to assume that pursuing that call will ever be easy?

If truth be told, we are all, after Christ, sacrifical lambs, and in that role we have to learn to suffer for God's sake and others. His claim on us is sovereign over every circumstance we may encounter along the way. And his call to serve in his name by his Spirit allows no protest on our part and offers no room for complaint.

Many of my colleagues have understood this and modeled it in ways I have not had to endure. Don Krause, a seminary classmate, later to become a much-loved and very effective chaplain in hospitals and retirement homes, and now a fellow member at Salem is only one such. Look at what "the Call" required of him and his family, returning in 1952 from extended internships in Randall and Alexandria, MN to finish his seminary training.

One child. No financiial resources, even to rent a truck or trailer. More furniture than would fit in their old car. Headed for very limited housing space. Hard days ahead, not to mention just the logistical maneuvering now required to get this moving monstrosity to Chicago!

In Don's own words, the extended internship--given among other things only out-house bathroom facilities for 15 months of it-- had been "a test of my dedication to 'the Call.'" No wonder! Yet he trusted the One who had called him, and bears witness now to the fact that "God's grace and many subsequent years of ministry have proven the validity of that Call."

The Krauses, like their Father Abraham, are still traveling on by stages--now through Don's recent surgery following retirement and various other family health issues. From a merely human point of view one might expect more complaint. But that is not in Don's nature. His focus is not on the hardships he and Betty and their family have endured. "Thinking of God's faithful promises," he wrote me recently, "the little Gospel chorus comes to mind: 'He knows the way through the wilderness. All you have to do is follow.'"

That's it, my brothers and sisters in ministry. As D.T. Niles once put it in shaping up a young minister who kept moaning about his people, "Don't complain so much about your church. That's why you're there!" Indeed! After all, it is Christ who called us, and Christ knows what he is doing. All we need to do is follow.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

'The Lord Is Your Keeper' (Psalm 121:5)

This "Song of Ascents" is also often called "The Traveler's Psalm," which meshes well both with life itself as a pilgrimage from beginning to end and with every stage along life's way. The promise is that "The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore."

Part of that keeping for me--especially as I get older--lies in realizing that God's promise is communal as well as personal. It extends to family--not only one's individual family but also to God's larger family of people all over the world.

God has kept my own going out and coming in all these years, and now he is keeping the lives of my children and grandchildren--like grandson Matthew Manning in his going out to serve orphans in Ghana this summer and his coming home tomorrow to pursue his education and calling.

Matthew is a wonderful young man, just graduated from high school last spring and soon to be on his way to De Paul University, Chicago, in the fall. He has often spoken of his interest in architecture, which for those who know and love him seems very fitting, given the architecture of his own life. Handsome, talented, and energetic, he could well have become self-centered in the living out of his days until now, as so many teenagers are these days. But the Lord has kept him from all that, nurturing him along the way in the greatest art of all. God has already made him an architect, gathering around him a coterie of family and friends and forming with them a building not made with hands, extending beyond itself to include Ghanian orphans and who knows how many more.

Thank you, Lord, for being Matthew's keeper as well as ours. Thank you, too, for the generous heart you have given him for others. You are teaching us your way through him now even as we have sought to teach him your way through us since childhood. And faithful as you are, we know you will keep all our goings out and comings in from this time on and forvermore. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Blessed Nap!

Returing home late last night from a hurried trip to Northbrook, IL for the funeral of Bernice Brandel--a lovely trip by car both ways!--we were happy to wake up at Hembygden, our cabin in Wisconsin, this morning.

Through the early hours of the day we were putsing, which we love to do--Alyce in the kitchen preparing for Judy and Bob coming in tomorrow and me fixing the railing on the walkway down to the lake. Then we went grocery shopping in town.

After lunch it was nap time for me, a delicious two-hour siesta on the living room sofa--a blessed waste of time, as a historic Christian saint once spoke of prayer itself. We are forever short of time, it seems, in the living of our lives. And part of the reason may well be that our spirits are slaves to calendars and clocks. So, consequently, are our bodies.

When given time to be free of all that for awhile there is no reason not to nap. With nothing ahead demanding (or inviting?) my attention, why not? It was indeed delicious--and rewarding. I'm already looking forward to another one tomorrow.

Take the hint, friend, whoever and wherever you are. Wasteful or even impossible as you might think it to be, give your brain and body a rest. The world around you not only can wait. It will, too, and you'll feel better when you face it refreshed.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tribute to Whom Tribute Is Due

Today I am recalling God's faithfulness in the life--and yes, ministry--of a wonderful woman named Bernice Brandel, whose Memorial Service is coming next Monday at Covenant Village in Northbrook, Illinois. Several years ago, in planning her own service, she requested her chaplain to call and ask if I would sing "He the Pearly Gates Will Open"--in Swedish! Ever since Alyce and I have carried the music with us wherever we traveled--to make sure, she being well along in her nineties, that we would be ready whenever the call came. So on Sunday we head to Lake Geneva overnight and on to the Memorial Service Monday afternoon.

Most Covenanters are probably unaware of how much they owe to the spirit and life of this good woman--as well as her late husband Paul--both of them consumate stewards over many years and benefactors especially of all things Covenant. Paul was the driving economic force behind the development of all Covenant Benevolent Institutions, especially the significant network of Covenant Village Retirement Centers all over the United States.

Bernice, originally his secretary and later his wife after both their spouses had died, shared fully Paul's stewardship philosophy, which also embraced our hospitals in Chicago and Turlock, CA and North Park University and Theological Seminay.

They had means, of course. But what most do not realize is that from the beginning Paul, a lawyer and real estate developer, pledged monies he did not have at the time he pledged, having then to leverage his assests at not a little risk to generate the income to pay those pledges in full. Stories abound on how he challenged others of means to do the same.

In later years, Bernice has pursued such generously on her own, with both passion and wisdom. All of us as ministers are indebted to her for the books she gave us each year at Midwinter Conferences, both to encourage our learning and to prosper our spirits and ministries.

The bottom line in their case was not financial, as some might think. It was spiritual. They gave generously of all they had out of faith in and gratitude to God for what he had done for them. And knowing them personally, I feel certain that on meeting him they spent no time parading what they have done in support of his kingdom work here on earth.

Thank God for the rich legacy the Brandels and others like them have left all of us as generous givers not counting the cost, with open hands and hearts ready to bless countless individuals in need and institutions without which the Covenant as we know it today would not have developed as it has.

Peace to their memory! And thanks to God for their spirit and work!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Little Bit of Americana

It was a little bit of Americana in Minocqua, Wisconsin on July 4--at the annual Indepemdence Day parade down main street. Groups of dancers, muaicians, and mechants--both local and state-wide-- entertained us as they strode or rode by for nearly and hour and a half, with young attendants throwing out candy all over the street for children nearby. Alyce and I thoroughly enjoyed it with our son Paul, daughter-in-law Kristin, and their children Annika, Colin, and Kajsa.

Thought you might like to see how a small town in mid-America celebrates Independence Day, with people from all over the surrounding area joined in the festivities. Children were everywhere, and who knows what lasting impressions the flag waving and cheering might have in their lives?

Several impressions remain in my mind: one, that it was good to see so many together having a good time, a change from the relative isolation of home owners and vacationers in their own normal and limited circles; then too it was renewing to feel a grateful and peaceful patriotism abounding, in a crowd well ordered and uncynical; and finally it was refreshing to get away from the pressure so many are under in daily life to perform for their living--just to enjoy each other as persons, whether old or young, rich or poor, sophisticated or not. It was as if we all were freed up by what was going on to meet, greet, and engage whoever happened to be standing or sitting by.

America is beautiful. And it can be even more so when small towns and their surrounding communities as well as mega-cities gather to celebrate their common ancestry as "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Blessed to Be a Blessing

Independence. Liberty. Freedom. For the most part we Americans take them for granted. Save in times of crisis when someone threatens to take them away, we pay little attention not only to the realities themselves but to all the struggles and sacrifices so many have made to secure them for us.

"Isn’t it alright to be patriotic?” my son Peter once asked me on coming away from Mt. Rushmore on a wistful summer evening. He was but a boy then, but something in the wonder of that sight awakened in him a sense of both awe and thanksgiving. And for him the awe remains to this day as he pursues the reading of U.S. history from Revolutionary and Civil war days to the present. To go with him on a tour to Gettysburg is to be awakened yourself to the dramatic battles there that turned the tides of war to the side of those who gave "their last full measure of devotion” to preserve the Union.

Lest we forget those times and battles, not to mention World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, and our current engagements in the Middle East, we need days and celebrations like the Fourth of July and Veterans Day. And we need also to sensitize ourselves to lesser heralded but equally important sacrifices of people like teachers, lawyers, doctors, farmers, ministers, and yes, politicians, each of whom built America up from the ruins of war to a culture both distinct and admired around the world.

In our time and place, however, we need also to use days like these to return ourselves in mind and heart to the true Source of our good fortune. If in a world of tremendous squalor and need we trivialize our own stewardship of God's blessing by careless and self-centered living, what then shall we leave our children and theirs? (See the prophetic statement by my brother Zenos on the May, 2009 RootedWings Home Page now archived at the bottom of this month's Home Page.)

God has clearly blessed America and each of us as Americans. But he has just as clearly done so, as he did the ancient Israelites, to be a blessing in the larger world he created and loves. God help us to further that blessing going forward. And God help us if we don’t.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wholeness Is More Than Wellness

It has been an extraordinary day with family at our cabin in Wisconsin. Good food, varied activities, an evening watching baseball and "The Wizard of Oz," mostly I think just hanging out.

Arden Almquist, the late missionary doctor in Africa who was to become the leader of our world mission program in the Covenant, once wrote in "Debtor Unashamed" that he learned far more from the Africans that they did from him. Among the many of those things was that "presence is more important than talk." At the end of this remarkable day I am reminded how true that is.

Wholeness in family relations, as in each of our individual lives, is far more important than wellness, desirable as it is to be well. And the sense of wholeness we all need comes of being with others--not least our own family members--and allowing them the space and time in our lives it takes to build relationships and foster life-long memories.

Annika, Colin, and Kajsa, Paul and Kristin's children, have been just delightful this day, from morning till night. And we have been unhurried enough to enjoy their playful spirits. The mutual love they and their parents have over years for Hembygden, the family cabin where we now find ourselves again--not to mention all the stories that have accrued to it over 60 years since my parents first ventured to build it--are themselves part of the fabric that has made and is still making us whole human beings.

It is all to easy, not least when health questions for ourselves and one another vie for our attention, to isolate ourselves in fear and anxiety. What I have been blessed by this day is the way in which just being together in the richness of family experience and memory heals the soul, even if not entirely the body.

One is reminded of that occasion when after healing a certain person in New Testament times Jesus asked, "Do you want to be made whole?" "Yes, Lord," I find myself responding tonight.

Jesus' question is surely worth pondering again and again. You can be well, you know, without ever being whole. And life has taught me over and over again that even believers who are not well physically can be and often are surprisingly whole people.

If given a choice, I would rather be whole than well. And on a day like this, when wholeness moved in on me like waves from the sea, I found myself praying with thanksgiving, "Do it again, Lord. Free me from all lesser concerns in my life that I may yearn more and more for the wholeness you are ever ready to supply.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On Making Music for God

Samuel Miller of Harvard has been much on my mind over the last two years since I rediscovered his book on The Life of the Soul in my library. Using images from that book in two recent Salem Adult Sunday School Seminars on “Practicing Our Christian Faith” and “Covenant Affirmations,” I have since sought out more of his books on the Internet.

A giant in thinking, writing, and reflecting on our faith as Christians, with deep insight and poetic imagination--both of which are in short supply these days and even less sought after by the average believer--he though dead yet speaks in remarkably powerful ways. Consider, for example, the following from his book on Man the Believer in an Age of Unbelief:

As often as I listen to a symphony orchestra I am stirred by the mystery of the event. Think of it: here are a hundred musicians each of whom has spent a lifetime in a passionate and consuming effort to learn their particular instrument. From early childhood, through youth to adulthood, through all the anguish of our mortal dust, in loneliness, heartache, and ecstasy, despite great sorrows and minor distractions and world catastrophes-- each one pouring their very life into skillful fingertips, or sensitive lips, with sure hearing, until every nuance, every subtlety, every insubstantial quaver can be communicated by … violin or horn, flute, or harp, or saxophone.

Then they assemble, not to hear each other’s solos, but to play together what they cannot play apart—a symphony. The souls of a hundred individual people, drawn into mortal life with all its color and drama, its faith and fears—all flowing together into the symphony. And it hangs for a moment in the air, laving our spirits with its transfiguring beauty. It redeems us, lifts us beyond ourselves; it glorifies our common humanity.

Is there no way in a world so magnificently empowered as our own, so magically interrelated, so burgeoning in its startling surprises, its human concern, its lively arts, to redeem us from our littleness and to life us into the symphony of God’s new creation? (p. 49, alt.).

Last night we heard the New York Philharmonic with accompanying choirs perform Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony for a Thousand” (his 8th). It was a farewell concert led by Loren Maezel, honoring his seven years as principal there and over 60 as a conductor. What we heard could clearly not have been heard without either the individual and communal devotion—not to mention discipline over time --of musicians and conductor alike, all serving the music.

We as God’s people and members of Christ’s body are the recipients of the most glorious symphony of good news ever heard. Oh that more and more we might find our way—individually and communally--into the rigors of rehearsing and proclaiming that good news. Make music for your God to hear. Join with his people under his baton and be lifted yourself while lifting others into his eternal presence.