Thursday, December 31, 2009

Keep Working for God

The illustration was created years ago by Covenanter Birger Sponberg for Covenant Pressmen, then the support organization for Covenant Publications. It has our Lord in Joseph's carpenter shop, where he was early schooled in that trade.

Even though his calling later took him from that shop, he never ceased working, applying the disciplines he learned from Joseph to the greater mission the heavenly Father had in mind for him. "My Father is working still" he said, and I am working" (John 5:17).

I have been rejoicing this morning in the work God keeps giving me to do, in retirement no less that in what for want of a better term many call their "working years." Ought Christians ever be done working, called and empowered by God to bring praise to his name?
Relief from what often were oppressive schedules demanding more than their share of our time and attention are now welcome, to be sure. Yet to drop creative labor entirely after spending one's whole working life pursuing it is surely not what our Father intends for us. So now, whether in part-time visitation ministry at Salem, disciplined labor on this website wherever I happen to be, continuing contacts and correspondence with colleagues and friends both new and old, as well as spending quality time with extended family, I am blessed to be a working servant of God.

"My yoke is easy," Jesus said, "and my burden is light." Because that is true taking it upon me day after day is not oppressive. It is in fact richly rewarding, for nothing done in God's name ever returns void. It does in fact, as he promised it would, accomplish what it is sent out to do--not always by timetables we set for ourselves but in his own good time and way nonetheless. It is that confidence in him which fuels my labors, even while releasing my spirit from the awful burden of assuming that I am responsible for more than I am.

Is that not every Christian's calling, to keep working for God with both discipline and a continuing sense of urgency, trusting him to honor that work and the yearning it represents to live and remain in him? The day will surely come when time for our working will be no more, but until then keep working with joy for God, and after all your work is finally done trust the results to him as well.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dreams, Greetings, and Heaven Come Down

I woke early this morning having dreamed a dream of Paul Holmer, a Salem boy who became one of the intellectual giants of a generation now past. His mind and heart were in touch with all the great minds and hearts in human history, even while grounded in the simplicity of faith in Christ--a model himself of range in life and thought that humbled me in remembering.

I woke as well to a wonderful email from Paul Swanson, long-time colleague and friend in ministry now teaching in China, ever the "Rabbi" as many of us have come to name him. Though far away he felt near as he told of his students acting out the Christmas story there. Humbled also by the range of his devotion, I was blessed by the news that coming home for a season during the Chinese New Year he will return for yet another term to teach those he feels called by God to serve.

Later this morning we will return to worship at North Park Covenant, my boyhood church, and before that visit another colleague, Dick Swanson, now a hospice patient in the historic home of the Modines and Sonesons, now owned by his daughter Jane Swanson-Nystrom, another valued colleague and friend.

It is all of one fabric for me, a blessed fabric of life still being woven by the Master Weaver, God with us not only at Christmas but forever, surrounding us with his people, continually renewing our spirits, and deigning even to bless and use the fragments of our lives to feed the multitudes.

The day of Christmas is past but its message remains, soon to unfurl again into Epiphany, the season of light. I know God is with us, for once more this morning heaven came down and glory filled my soul. Bless the Lord for the likes of a Paul Holmer and a Paul Swanson and a Dick Swanson, each of whom in their own time and way have brightened and still are brightening the fabric of human life. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rejoicing This Morning!

We woke this morning at 3:00 a.m. to a phone call from our son Paul announcing that Kristin had just given birth to their fourth child, Carson Gustaf Hawkinson, 7# 9 oz.

How thankful we are to God that everything went well. We now have sixteen grandchildren (and six great-grandchildren with a seventh on the way). And we have crossed a new frontier in that all our present great-grandchildren are older than our latest grandchild.

To put it all in conext, today is the Fourth in Adent, and I will be reading in Salem's second worship service Mary's Magnificat from Luke 1:46-55. Just as God was with her in the birthing of his Son so has he been with us in the birthing of all our children and grandchildren, most recently this morning with Paul and Kristin in their birthing process. Through his Holy Spirit, we have confidence that all Jesus came into this world to accomplish through his birth, life, teachings, death, resuurection, and ascension, is now available to Carson Gustaf from birth.

May we as family, and may the church as Christ's body, take seriously together the nurturing role we have been given to bring all our children and grandchildren to see and accept for themselves "the wonders of his love." God is near, indeed--with us in the flesh--and we are grateful!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Be Still, My Soul

This photo from one of my grandsons in ministry (see December Home Page) keeps speaking to me in Advent, not least when life's darker side seems so predominate. I've never calculated it by percentage, but in morning newspapers--not to mention TV newscasts--bad news headlines surely far outweigh the good. People are hurting, even suffering. A dear friend and fellow member over time at Salem died yesterday, as did a fairly young relative of another colleague and fellow-member out east--the one expected and the other sudden.

To keep score on all that is disjointed in our world--the wars, human trafficing, rising unemployment, tribal and racial tensions, woes in national and international economies to mention but a few--often weighs heavy on one's spirit.

Has there ever been a time when Advent's message is more needed among us? To the psalmist's witness millennia ago that "For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him alone comes my salvation" (62:1), we now may add with confidence, "Christ is coming soon!" Why? Simply because, as Scripture declares, he has already come among us in human form to establish his kingdom and is coming soon again to bring it to completion!

We may still, like the psalmist wonder "How long?" But we need not wonder any more whether it is to be, for like him we know that "On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is God" (62:7).

The picture witnesses to my own experience as a believer. For daily and weekly through the gloom of all that is dark in life, light breaks through from the Lord, both fueling hope and deepening my faith. "He is near," as my colleague Mark Pattie reminded us in his sermon last Sunday, and we as Christians are to live our lives in that awareness, looking in every dark cloud for the signs of his appearing.

So sing with the hymn writer, as I am singing early this morning: "Be still, my soul: your God will undertake to guide the future as he has the past; your hope, your confidence let nothing shake--all now mysterious shall be bright at last. Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know his voice who ruled them while he dwelt below (Hymnal, No. 455).

Friday, December 11, 2009


It is an early Friday morning, before dawn. But preparations have long been in the making. A Swedish pancake breakfast table has been set for ministerial colleagues in a small group to which we belong. The broader setting is in early Advent on the way to yet another Christmas season.

But there is more than meets the eye. The table and buffet are long-time treasures in our home and hearts--handcrafted in cherry wood by a nephew of Hannah Lund, from whom we bought them when newly married. Hannah was breaking up home on Bernard Street in Chicago after her husband Nils died. The Lunds were our neighbors when I was yet a boy, he the dean of our seminary, his family by his first wife woven into the fabric of ours through shared faith and shared disciplines

Things old and new also grace the setting. An antique hanging lamp above is a treasure we found in a shop near Paxton, Illinois, our first full-time pastorate. The silverware is also second-hand, though the plates are new. The clock on the buffet was purchased on my way to a Central Comference Annual Meeting in the UP years ago. The painting is an original by Lydia Pohl, an old Covenant friend who was at retirement the art supervisor for the Chicago public schools. The brass lamp was converted from kerosene use years ago, and other decorations--including Christmas ornaments hanging in the bay windows, have been gathered over time. Alyce is, of course, the one in our home who brings it all together, ever the gracious hostess ready to serve our guests with genuine warmth, careful preparations, and wonderful food.

The Lunds will be there--Vern and Elaine (no relation to Nils W). So will Craig Nelson and Marjorie Bradley, glad companions these days following the passing of their spouses. Bill and Judy Solie will also be coming to join us. Paul Swanson, known since Minnehaha days as Rabbi, though absent in person will surely also be present in spirit, all the way from China where he is now teaching for a season.

Thus in Advent, awaiting Christmas, will we delight in memory, the joys of fellowship and conversation, care for one another, and glad anticipation of all that is yet to come from all that has already been.

May God himself, the Triune One, in whom everything past continues to merge with everything present and propel us toward everything yet to come be blessed and praised. And may the table inhabited this morning with our colleagues and friends renew our hope in the One who has come among us and is coming yet again to renew the earth.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Gift That Keeps Giving

Four years ago come Christmas, while serving as interim pastor at Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, then little Erin Shannon came up after worship one Sunday morning in late Advent with a Christmas gift for me.

"I want to give my pastor a Christmas gift," she told her mother, "and I want it to be a really good one." Well, what she gave me was a timeless gift, here pictured, a gift that I have been opening regularly ever since, one that never fails to feed my spirit and bring me back to ground zero in life, which is my relationship to God.

"The wise lover," a Kempis imagines Christ speaking, "regards not so much the gift of Him who loves as the love of Him who gives.... The noble lover does not rest in the gift but in Me Who am above every gift."

My thanks, Erin, for giving me such a wonderful gift that Sunday--a classic gift that does not wear out with use but keeps drawing me and my spirit toward the Gift beyond all gifts. Through Thomas a Kempis you have time and again renewed my communion with God himself, ever willing and ready to feed my hungry soul and supply its deepest need.

Each time I read from The Imitation of Christ I think of you and the wonderful personal note you enclosed with your gift, now inserted in its front cover. And I pray in hope that you yourself and all the generations surrounding you now will find your place in the company of God's people who are longing for and seeking daily, like me, the salvation--that wholeness in life--that only he can supply.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wait for God to Come to You

In one of his "Letters of Spiritual Counsel" Martin Luther (1483-1546) offers some suggestions on how to pray to, of all people, his barber. It is included in a section of letters he wrote over time to "The Perplexed and Doubting."

Stressing the importance of being persistent in prayer, he counsels his friend not to put it off when there are too many things to do. On the other hand, he writes, "it is true that some tasks may confront you that are as good or better than prayer, especially if they are required by necessity. A saying is ascribed to Saint Jerome to the effect that every good work of the faithful is prayer, and a proverb declares, 'He prays double who works faithfully.'"

Confessing times when he himself became "cold and disenlined to pray on account of my preoccupation with other thoughts and matters (for the flesh and the devil always prevent and hinder prayer) I take my little Psalter, flee to my room, or if it is during the day and there is occasion to do so, join the people in church."

The secret then is to wait on God, not talk so much as listen--using models like the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer to focus one's mind and calm one's spirit. Further, he suggests, it is well to go through such models slowly, a phrase at a time, pausing whenever and whenever something seems to emerge and engage one's attention. "When such rich and good thoughts come," he suggests, "one should let the other prayers go, make room for such thoughts, listen quietly, and by no means present an impediment, for the Holy Ghost himself is preaching here, and one word of his preaching is better than a thousand words of our praying."

I am alone as I write this, in my quiet study, away from the noise of media and the hustle and bustle of my daily round. And the silence surrounding is wonderful. It illumines my sense of sin and unworthiness but it never ends there. It also butrusses my trust in God's promised forgiveness and once again heals my self-inflicted wounds.

I do not thus wait enough on God. Do you? If in Advent we are to be guided to where God has already come in flesh and is yet to come in great power and glory, ought we not be still before him more than we are?