Saturday, August 29, 2009

An Early Benediction

You never know when God is going to move in on you. Sometimes his benediction comes earlier than one might expect, programmed as we are to hear it proclaimed at the end of worship.

I know that of course, and should have thought of it as we near the end of a marvelous two-month leave of absence from our home and ministry in Minnesota. To wait to the end of anything for God is to forget that he always waits first on us.

It is Saturday morning as I write, and in two brief days we head home. But God's benediction on our stay here at our cabin in Wisconsin came already two evenings ago in a stellar sunset that so evidenced his handiwork as to leave us speechless.

The picture I took from our deck on the hill does not do it justice, given the fact that it was taken through the trees immediately in front of me. But even that became a parable on his grace. The trees in the foreground represents all the days we have been here and the few that remain. And the cascading glow in the sky beyond is a perpetual reminder of his presence in all that is yet to be.

It will be no struggle to go home. For his benediction on our time away, just as the pronouncing of it in a service of worship, is never meant to signal an end to faith and ministry. It is meant rather to so stir our hearts by the sense of his glory that we yearn all the more, leaving rest or worship, to share his benediction with others.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lord, Teach Me How to Pray!

Centuries ago, John Montgomery (1771-1854) gifted the church with a hymn on prayer (The Covenant Hymnal, 1973, No. 345), whose images came back to me on awakening this morning.

Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, unuttered or expressed,
the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.

Sincere desire and hidden fire ... that trembles in the breast. How true of prayer in my life, not so much the assembling of words as the giving of wings to my hung'ring spirit. Often, in fact, I have no words to offer, which Montgomery goes on to describe. Sometimes prayer is only the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear, the upward glancing of an eye when none but God is near.

More images abound. Prayer is the simplest form of speech ... the contrite sinner's voice, returning from his ways ... the Christian's vital breath and native air, his watchword at the gates of death, he enters heav'n with prayer.

I could well in my own life parody the words of one in Scripture who once cried out to Jesus, "I believe, Lord; help my unbelief," by saying here and now, "I pray, Lord; help my lack of prayer." And so, with James Montgomery, I begin this day as he ended his hymn: O thou by whom we come to God, the life, the truth, the way; the path of prayer thyself hast trod, Lord, teach [me] how to pray.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Light a Candle!

“I’ll light a candle,” my brother often said
whenever life seemed to tumble in on someone.
It was his way of standing by, expressing sympathy.
It may also have involved his distaste for disruption,
especially threatening and unwelcome change.

Early morning this day I’ve lit a candle too,
perhaps and even likely for the same reasons.
It burns in sympathy for life at a distance,
so many imponderables people are facing,
as well as my own distaste for disruption.

Could it be that the lighting itself of a single wick
posts a faith supplied by a steadier Light
that remains beyond my life and that of others,
Sovereign over all human change and disruption?
I believe that, and God invades my unbelief!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Noise and the Rest God Offers

Years ago, in Seminary, Dr. Fredrick Pamp gave us in a class on pastoral orientation a word from Isaiah for use in hospital visitation. For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength (30:15).

How true that has been in my life, not only as a minister but as a human being. All the noise around me competes daily for my attention--not to mention devotion. And it is often enticing. But what it promises is short-lived and I am left no better than I was when it first engaged me.

Life is full of noise these days and it is easy to lose the kind of reliable perspective that only God supplies. One never turns to or rests in him without being saved. Nor does quietness and confidence in him ever fail ever to render strength and consolation.

In Psalm 73, one of my favorites, the point is driven home. Tempted away from purity of heart by envy over the prosperity of the wicked--not to mention the high regard in which they are regarded by others, he confesses that his own feet had almost stumbled and his steps had almost slipped. Even his attempts to understand all this seemed to him a wearisome thing. It led him in fact to wonder if trying to keep his heart clean and his hands washed in innocence was really in vain.

All this anger and confusion "until I went into the sanctuary of God," he confesses. "Then I perceived their end." The wicked have set themselves in slippery places and God makes them sooner or later to fall to ruin. They are in fact "like a dream when one awakes; on awaking you despise their phantoms."

I'm tired this morning of chasing phantoms, as well as all the noise of those who entice me to do so. And I thank God that in returning and rest I have been time and again saved from their grip. If now in quietness and confidence I keep finding God's strength, and honor his sanctuary, then with Isaiah and the psalmist I will leave behind me a witness as helpful to others as theirs has been and is to me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Young Man on a Mission

Matthew Robert Manning (19 in October) graduated from the Twin City's Southwest High School in May, after which he volunteered more that six weeks this summer as an athletic director at an orphanage in the bush country of Ghana. We are very proud as his extended family not only of him but of his parents, Mary and Bob, and his sisters Jessica (16) and Charlotte (14) as well.

This 22-minute exclusive RootedWings interview explores in brief Matthew's childhood roots in Sweden, his grade and high school education in South Minneapolis, his reflections on the Ghana experience, and his life goals soon to be pursued as he moves on to college this fall at De Paul University in Chicago.

Very mature for his age, as are both his sisters, Matthew has a servant heart--which he attributes to his strong faith in God's love and providence. As he pursues what he terms "my call," pray with us as a family for God's continued guidance and blessing. And as you pray, be encouraged by the witness of this young man on a mission, not focused on himself first but on serving those he knows from experience now to be "far less fortunate" all over the world .

Sunday, August 9, 2009

'Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise'

Life is a process of living, full both of wonder and mystery. Last night two of our grandchildren, Matthew and Charlotte Manning arrived with Matthew's friend Sam (Samantha). This morning I woke to an email invitation from another grandson's wife, Jill in California, to be a friend on Facebook. Later this morning our son Paul arrives with his wife Kristin and their children, Annika, Colin, and Kajsa, plus Gunther, their hundred-pound Lab. And tomorrow morning our Son Peter arrives briefly with his Bonnie's brother Kurt Peterson and their families for lunch, after which they take Charlotte with them to Winnetka Covenant Church's Family Camp at Covenant Point in Iron River, Michigan, a bit over an hour away.

"They come and they go," as Alyce's mother used to say of her seven children and their families. We're seven in all with our five children, though through them we have fifteen grandchildren, with another on the way, plus six great-grandchildren!

What blesses Alyce and me is our whole family's commitment to being together whenever there is opportunity. And though that is a challenge for us at our age, it is nonetheless an untold blessing. Who can explain the wonder and mystery of it all?

Better to heed the biblical injunction concerning God's superintending grace: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5,6).

You can sing it, too, you know. There are two musical settings in The Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook, both crafted in one way or another by brother Covenanters. One (No 406) is a canon that invites you to sing and others to respond. It is by Californian Roland Tabell. The other (No. 423) is by Rick Carlson, newly arrived as a pastor of one of our churches in Florida.

To try analytically to figure everything out in life--much less seek to control it--is surely a dead end. Much better to live into the wonder and mystery of it and acknowledge day by day the Sovereign One who alone both understands and superintends it all.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

'In Liberating Strife'

America has been much on my mind these summer days. Barraged by media events--all the way from "America's Got Talent" through the release yesterday of of two American hostages from North Korea to what seems more and more like an unending war in the Middle East--there seems nowhere to hide from competition and human strife.

Perhaps our greatest temptation in the events that thus engage us as a nation--personally and socially--is simply to wish they were not so, to hide ourselves as it were from the competition and strife they represent, thinking somehow they have little to do with us. But in reality there is no hiding. "No man is an island, entire of itself," as the poet once put it. We are all as human beings both involved in and part of the human struggle all over this world for freedom and meaning and hope.

Somehow or other, I don't know why, I woke early this morning with "America the Beautiful" on my mind. Just phrases at first, like "liberating strife," sent me to seek out the whole of it (The Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook, No. 737). And in the seeking I found comfort in the perspectives it offers--not only of "spacious skies and amber waves of grain," and "purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain," but also in "heroes proved in liberating strife," and "patriot dream that sees beyond the years."

Only the God who created us all can renew in us that ability to see beyond our years the meaning of it all. And surely, once seeing, we must come time and again to understand, as Abraham Lincoln so beautifully put it, that "we cannot escape history." Our role, rather, especially as those who believe and live in him, must be to learn that the life we so much seek requires our full participation in the struggles of our time and place. Only then will we experience for ourselves and leave behind for others the sense of liberation our forebears endowed to us.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Thought-Provoking Encounter


Hornets are not
exactly kind
when one invades
their domicile.

They can and will
sting, as one did
when I threatened
to kill its kind.

Come from outside
its family
had invaded
my domicile.

A two-fold plan
was concocted
to meet their threat
and guard my turf.

Hornet spray first,
then screening off
the outside vent
to end their reign.

myself low to reach
the neutral vent
I launched part one.

Quick as a wink
a hornet dove
and sting my ear
to guard its turf.

The sting is slight
but thought remains
that hornets too
need domicile.

And the God who
created them
has not spared me
the reminder.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Every Sunday morning, while house-bound in old age, my parents would sing a Sabbath song from memory--in Swedish--a song well known and loved by our Covenant forebears:

Sabbath Day of rest and cheer,
Day divine to me so dear,
Come, O come to old and young,
Gath'ring all for prayer and song.

How pleased they both would have been to hear what Alyce and I first heard this week, a very moving sermon just preached by young Catherine Buckley at Rice Creek Covenant Church in Lino Lakes, MN. Grown up in that congregation and now a middler at North Park Theological Seminary. it nearly took our breath away to hear with such freshness and passion God's call to rest in him.

Take time now or make time later to listen to God's Word through Catherine. You don't have time not to. And as you listen look on the Catherine we have come to know and love, gifted and giving in so many ways. Pray for her, seeking her own Sabbath, and give thanks to God for his gracious invitation to rest in him again yourself with all his saints.