Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Treasures Emerging

How can it be, save by grace? Pure grace, and unalloyed! God's gifts emerging now in grandchildren like Jessica, Charlotte, and Matthew, captured in this Christmas Eve photo on their way to church in the late afternoon and a family celebration at our home that followed.

It was a Christmas celebration this year without little ones--quite different in character for that reason. Time around the table with Judy and Bob Stromberg, Mary and Bob Manning, and these three was festive--with food, of course, all the Christmas goodies, and inviting holiday decorations--but much more as well this time around. Animated conversations moved back and forth between us all, age differences no matter, in the sharing of life stories, memories, and dreams common to us all as family, yet unique to each of us as persons still emerging. What a feast!

Gifts followed, of course, somewhat simpler this year by common consent, and more quietly enjoyed, yet no less rich for all that. We were all wrapped up in more than giving and receiving gifts. We were embracing each other and the goodness of God to us all, and celebrating others in the family far away but close in stories being shared about them.

These remarkable grandchildren of ours--now young people--are African American, born in Sweden, citizens also of America, and integral parts of the Hawkinson tribe who happen to be Mannings. Each on their separate way to futures they have in mind, they all are tied nonetheless by family bonds that have secured and matured them beyond their years.

What a blessing they are in our lives--each a treasure given us by God--as all our grandchildren--"without money and without price." We are grateful for their spirit and life and excited to see them mature.

With Christmas now past and Epiphany upon us--that great season of lights--we pray for the wisdom and love of God to mirror the light he is constantly shedding abroad in our family to all the families of earth.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What Goes Around Comes Around

A friend at church surprised me recently with the gift of several books and publications from his library at home. Among them were two issues of The Covenant Home Altar, one of which, dating from 1976, carried a meditation of my own for this time of year. Based on Hebrews 2:14-16, it read as follows:

"The incredible wonder of the incarnation is that God's concern is not primarily for himself or his rights but for each of us. His will was to identify in Jesus Christ with us 'in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of his people.'

"If, understanding and accepting this, we might begin more effectively to reflect the same Spirit in our lives, no doubt others would come to know him too.

"Let us remember that as Christians. We are to be like our human brethren 'in every respect,' i.e., we are to experience with them and feel with them the terrible trauma of their lost and hopeless condition, understanding them in the light of God's love and concern even when they are not able to understand themselves.

Why can he help to the uttermost? Because he himself has suffered and been tempted. And because he never grows weary of seeking the lost he came to save.

"Dear Father, thank you for your identifying love. Help me, by your Spirit, to identify with others. Amen."

Thus do the words I wrote 34 years ago now return to address me. I thank God for their reminder that even as his Son laid aside his glory for me, he now calls me to lay aside my privileges for the sake of others.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pretense and Reality

I was offended by the silly, tasteless, and often senseless ads that set the stage for a recent Monday night football game on TV. Glitz, glamor, and brazen power, mixed with not a little sexual innuendo--all meant to arouse excitement in us for what was soon to come--actually turned me completely off. What in the world is all this about? Where is it leading? If the media is the message, we're in real trouble.

Samuel Miller, a wise mentor in a former generation, speaks directly to the issue: Advertising has become the religious expression of ... secularity. If manufacturing is about producing more things, then things must be justified, given value, their glory (or glance--the name for superficial glory) revealed. The advertiser becomes the poet in our culture. In his imagination the product becomes the most desirable thing on earth, filled with extraordinary fascination, potent with a magic capable of transforming drabness and dullness to ecstatic heights of success. If such a gadget can be possessed by any means, by painful denials and endless installments, then all the harrowing frustration of being just one more human being lost in the anonymous mass is transcended (Samuel Miller, The Dilemma of Modern Belief, Harper, 1963, p. 9).

More and more, it seems, we as human beings are "lost in the anonymous mass." Rather than truly turning to God, whose image in us lies buried under layers of insecurity caused by our doubts, rebellions, and self-concerns, we become pawns for cynical horse-traders in idolatry that don't give a damn for our souls.

Wretched men and women that we are, who will deliver us finally from this bondage to sin? One thing is for sure. It will not be advertisers for this or that, even so-called religious ones. Our help must come from God himself, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not limit God's only begotten Son this Advent and Christmas to a manger where you can manage and take care of him--re-creating him in your image and the false images of our culture.

Behold him also crucified on a cross, then buried, only be be raised on the third day and ascended into heaven. See him even now sitting at the right hand of the Father, who has given him all authority in heaven and on earth to re-create you before he comes again to judge the quick and the dead, separating finally his sheep from every false pretender to his glory.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Song Goes On

In his book Sing with Understanding (Covenant Press, 1966), James P. Davies writes that "when Martin Luther, under God, defied the exisitng ecclesiastical hierarchy and restored the belief in the universal priesthood of believers, he made available two great tools to insure the practice of this relationship: the Bible and the hymnal.

"He gave his countrymen the Bible in their own tongue," Davies writes, " that God might speak directly to them. He gave them the hymnal that they might answer directly. He said, 'Next to theology. I give the first and highest honor to music'" (pp. 1,2).

Many have said, in fact, that the hymnal is the instrument through which we form our theology in response to hearing the word of God. It belongs next to the Bible in our hearts and homes, addressing as it does not only the rhythms of sacred story in our communal worship year after year but the full range of our human experience as individuals as well.

If the Bible remains the norm--"the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct" as the Covenant Constitution puts it--the hymnal might well be thought of as our tutor, prompting us where and as we are to listen, pay attention, be encouraged, and above all be formed by receiving God's Word.

Yesterday we had two rich Advent and Christmas hymn sings during normal Sunday School hours at Salem. People were invited to choose what they wanted to sing and tell us why. The explanations were rich in both feeling and experience. But the hymns lifted up, bathed in biblical narrative, delivered once again to those gathered the substance of our faith.

There is no substitute for the "faith once delivered by the saints." Fresh joy flows into our hearts and minds every time we enter those streams--lasting joy and forming, the kind that, born of the Spirit, livens faith and increases our desire to spread the good news we have received to others.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

'A Little Child Shall Lead Them'

Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like him welcomes me (Matthew 18:4-5).

Johnny’s mother looked out the window and noticed him “playing church” with their cat.

He had the cat sitting quietly and he was preaching to it. She smiled and went about her work. A while later she heard loud meowing and ran back to the open window, only to see Johnny baptizing the cat in a tub of water.

She called out, “Johnny, stop that! The cat is afraid of water!”

Johnny looked up at her and said, “He should have thought about that before he joined my church!”

Are You Listening?

On Receiving Glory

‘Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise each child of earth,
born to give us second birth.’

No wonder the angels sang,
‘Glory to the new-born King!’
Why do we forget so soon
such unbelievable news?

It pertains to us, you know,
meant for each to see and hear,
to take to heart and ponder
what Heavenly Hosts announce.

Glory then is Glory still,
even while lesser glories
bereft of lasting promise
compete for our attention.

There is little gain for us.
in momentary glories.
Our eyes must be lifted up
to see the Glory of God.

Veiled in flesh the God-head see,
hail th’incarnate Deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Awake then, soul, and worship,
with bowed knees and open heart
forsake your altar buildings
and focus on God’s Glory!


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Snow Had Fallen, Snow on Snow'

It is hardly "Bleak Midwinter" in Minnesota, as some might think who have been spooked by recent recent weather reports. Actually it is very beautiful today, as you can see--with bright blue sky, sunshine, and caverns of snow all around.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," the saying has it. From a distance all this may seem bleak indeed, much too cold and confining. But you should gaze on it as we do, both from without our home and within. Its actually invigorating and beautiful, a true "winter wonderland of snow."

Don't feel sorry for us. The coffee is on. There's milk and coke in the fridge. And Alyce's cookies are even now fresh from the oven. You may not make it up the front walkway, but call ahead and we'll let you in from the garage. You won't believe how blessed you will feel looking out on it all.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Reflections on Reflecting

"There is life for a look at the Crucified One," an old hymn says. "Not thy tears of repentance or prayers can atone, but the blood which avails for thy soul.... Then come with rejoicing to Jesus today, life eternal he freely will give.... Look! Look! Look and live.... There is life at this moment for thee" (The Covenant Hymnal, 1931, No. 138).

These words came to mind when opening a older volume in my library today I discovered a random scrap of paper on which I had written the following some years ago: "The Christian life in all its aspects is a reflecting life--i.e., its power lies not in man's ability to achieve but, if at all, in his willingness to reflect his experience of God."

It was a wonderful reminder that spiritual power and influence, far from being an achievement of our own, is a gift of God--like life itself. Only as we reflect on and mirror in our daily walk the power of his redemption, his holiness, and his love are we enabled to spread the same abroad.

Absent that mirroring of the Triune God in our lives, all our human strivings for power and influence are but losings. Spiritual power and influence must be generated and given us from above.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Saturation and Inspiration

On many occasions throughout church history people have tried--even for noble reasons--to defend the Bible, as if somehow its inspiration was under question and it needed to be defended. An early Covenant historian and preacher named Hjalmar Sundquist ( 1869-1949) had his own take on inspiration, more in keeping with a Pietist understanding of the issue. Warmly personal and less argumentative, it never fails to feed my spirit and soul. Hopefully, it may both feed and challenge yours as well. Listen:

What ... is inspiration? It is the Spirit of God taking possession of an upright and devoted soul who listens for the voice of God, using him and all his mental faculties as his messenger. The writers of the Scripture are not like water pipes taking water from a distance to bring it a long way and deposit it for you without you taking the trouble to dig for it or to go and get it. Writers of the Bible are more like the mountainside, saturated with water which pours from its sides in springs for everybody to come and drink. The Bible writers were saturated with Divine truth; then out of that saturation the truth sprang forth into utterance. That is inspiration.

Much in the same spirit, Herbert Palmquist (1896-1981) once wrote:

The more I read the Bible and put faith and trust in it, the more it reveals itself to me to be true.... I do not wave the Bible. I press it to my heart. It is my time table, my light shining in a dark room ... my travel guide. I trust it implicitly and I am never let down. I find that 'all the sages said is in the book my mother read.' And I have no greater desire in all the world than that others shall find such treasures in the Bible as I find every day of my life.

"Take up and read," the unconverted Augustine once heard children chanting nearby. He did just that, was converted, and only then became the saint we name him today. The Bible does not need our defense. It needs our attention, our devotion to reading it, and our trust in its message.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Yearning Heart

Advent is a season for yearning. Don't miss it by trying to take it by force--thinking that preparing the way of the Lord requires you to do something for him. All any of us really can do is wait on his coming, allow room in our hearts and minds for what he is coming to do. Only those who yearn for him will receive both the comfort he is coming to give and the power he holds in his hand to save.

"Humankind," Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said, "wishes to remain Lord of the world, the Lord of the future.... [But} without his doing anything this wonderful happening draws near, in the time of God, in the future of God, in his coming on the earth. Here the future becomes for him a living reality, here he lives today under the shadow of the coming, not some kind of threatening misfortuine, a fate, but the righteousness of the coming God, of love, and of peace. Not that he goes self-assured on the path into the future of God; no, he takes the future from God. He knows that he cannot go to God but that God must go to him in his inconceivable grace, otherwise he has waited in vain and will lose his life. He can do nothing else but watch and wait, which means enthusiastically, totally taken up, deaf toward everyone who would make him confused with doubts, blind to every force that comes between him and that future of God. Only one thing is of importance to him. He wants to see God; he wants to hear God; he wants to receive God; he wants to know God; he wants to serve God. He wants inconceivably nothing else, in any case nothing like he wants God" (A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 324).

O God, save us from our prideful heart. Help us not to hide from all our yearnings. but give them full expression as we await your coming to deliver us. Amen.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Coming of Advent

Covenant Communications is doing a wonderful thing just now--inviting Covenant photographers to submit photos that relate to each of the four weeks of Advent and the texts for those Sundays. Today's is from Isaiah 2:1-5, prophesying that "in days to come the mountain of the Lord's house will be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it."

I've seen a lot of mountains lately on the tour my son Peter and I took together to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. Biblical mountains were everywhere--living witnesses to earthbounds like us of things that once were and are yet to be.

Andrew Larsen's submission this week (above) illuminates for me the place of such mountains--in no way worthy of worship as things in themselves, massive and great as they are. We lift our eyes to them in vain unless we remember with the psalmist that our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth (121:1). In this case the swirling stars above lift one's sights to realms where God himself dwells who waits to "teach us his ways ... that we may walk in his paths" (Isaiah 2:3b).

If Advent does no more for us than help us prepare for our little Christmas celebrations its true purpose will surely escape us. No matter earth's greatness, it will never in itself suffice to satisfy our deepest needs. Only when we lift our eyes beyond ourselves--to mountains, stars, and the galaxies both seen and unseen beyond can we grasp the hope that the God beyond them, our Creator and Redeemer, intends for us all.

Saved by grace we must also be sustained by that hope. God will indeed "judge between the nations ... beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." That is Advent's true vision and it calls each of us, less we miss it, to live and walk not by sight but by faith "in the light of the Lord."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Only a Dream?

It was only a dream--or was it? Something or Someone was stripping away--destroying actually--the landscape of our lives. All the places and activities that fill our schedules and occupy our time and energies were disappearing, one by one, systematically. It was frightening to watch, almost scary. Commerce and industry, traffic jams, metrodomes and megamalls--our temples for sport and acquisition--were all crumbling before my eyes. So were the walls that divide the rich from the poor, the halves from the have-nots, and sacred institutions from the secular.

All the terror notwithstanding, half-way through the dream (?) a certain calm took over. One could see distant things again, hidden earlier from view. Distractions now being destroyed were bringing perspective to life, freeing one somehow from what earlier seemed so essential to it and now no longer was.

How prone we all are to lose life's essence by missing its meaning. Striving to be winners and make names for ourselves we become only losers until, stripped of our illusions by the God who made us, we open ourselves finally to his love and grace.

Dreaming, clearly, is not only a nighttime activity. Tragically, we often engage in it by wishful thinking when fully awake. Last night's dream (?) stripped away many daytime illusions for me, transforming fear of familiar things being destroyed into the calm that only comes of realizing more fully the essence of life and therein its glory.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Holy Joy!

When he cometh, when he cometh to make up his jewels,
all his jewels, precious jewels, his loved and his own.
Like the stars of the morning, his bright crown adorning,
they shall shine in their beauty, bright jems for his crown.

He will gather, he will gather the gems for his kingdom,
all the pure ones, all the bright ones, his loved and his own.
Like the stars of the morning, his bright crown adorning,
they shall shine in their beauty, bright gems for his crown.

Little children, little children, who love their Redeemer
are the jewels, precious jewels, his loved and his own.
Like the stars of the morning, his bright crown adorning,
they shall shine in their beauty, bright gems for his crown.

The Hymnal
(1950), No. 536

Monday, November 15, 2010

On the Sea Together

While still sorting through my impressions and pictures of our recent trip together to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, our tour leader posted this picture of Peter and me on a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee.

In truth we are both crossing seas every day--changing seas. of age, circumstance, the joys and challenges of ministry, and our continual need for personal and communal growth. Somehow, on that day, a calm sea calmed also within us the stresses and strains that daily life at home often create. It was as if the Lord himself were near, in climes where he bore burdens much greater than ours, beyond our imagining.

I was reminded again of T.S. Eliot's description of him as our "still point in a turning world." And a prayer went up that by his grace both of us--not to mention all those to whom we belong in our extended family as well as the larger family of faith--might better portray his calm in the troubled seas through which so many are passing these days.

It is good to be ministers on the sea of life together. And it was especially good to be thus ministered to on the Sea of Galilee.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Joys of Believing and Challenges of Belonging

Some of you will recognize the title above as the subtitle of Glad Hearts, the book I gathered and edited over five years with 700 readings from the literature of the Covenant Church. It comes to mind as I begin to reflect on my son Peter's journey and mine to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel recently. The Dome of the Rock pictured above brings focus to a number of things going on in my mind as I seek to absorb all we experienced together.

Diversity was surely one of them--from the temples, churches, and synagogues of three unique and diverse religious cultures to all the peoples engaged along the way. So also, was the range and diversity of people with whom we journeyed--best evidenced in the life stories they shared with us as time and circumstance allowed.

Even more moving for me was the humanity we all share in common, no matter the differences between us in experience and perception. Therein lay both the joy and the challenge of journeying together--affirming our commonalities and seeking to bridge the differences.

It will take some time to give voice to all we experienced together--not to mention record in our memories all the places visited and pictures taken. For now let it simply be said that two weeks in that part of the world not only enlivened for us the whole of biblical narrative but broadened, as it surely should, our awareness of our common need for God in these tenuous and tumultuous times.

My wife Alyce recently came on a letter once written from Vienna by Mozart in September of 1778 that seems appropriate to quote: A fellow of mediocre talent will remain in mediocrity whether he travels or not; but one of superior talent will go to seed if he always remains in the same place,

None of us would dare claim for ourselves the brilliance Mozart not only claimed but exhibited. Yet we do sense even better after traveling together our need for those greater perspectives on life that only come to those who open themselves to the challenge of exploring the broader world beyond their own.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Time Toward Home

This day marks one more transition in family life from our roots to the wings they were meant to supply. It begins with the sacred reminder that the soil from which we have sprung and the rich nourishment it continually supplies goes far deeper into the rich loam of earth than the Hawkinson name itself. We are more deeply rooted, in fact, in a family of faith that extends all the way back to Father Abraham and even before him to Adam and Eve.

Tomorrow my son Peter and I return to all those yesterdays as we embark on a journey together to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. There for the first time in our lives we will stand and walk together, only one generation apart, on terrain we have each been taught to be our inheritance over thousands of years. Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, all the prophets and kings, Jesus himself--the only-begotten Son of our God-- and the twelve apostles there nurtured and first sent out to proclaim and evidence good news all over the world will no doubt come alive in fresh and new ways. "Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name," Jesus once said, " I will come and be with them."

We are both aware, given this extraordinary privilege, that "unto whom much is given, much will be required." So when we leave tomorrow afternoon our thoughts and prayers will range far beyond personal concerns for blessing and safety. They will be gathering rather round a charge my son issued his congregation recently that lingers in my soul as a challenge to us all: "Time to grow deep, that we may grow tall, and shade the lives of those coming after!"

Friday, October 15, 2010


It was a word
coined by my son
when but a youth,
or so I thought
until I found
that it was real.

A charming word,
referring to
an ev'ning gone
and yet not gone,
full of mem'ries
still lingering.

Nor yet one night,
but yesternights
still much alive
through many years
in many climes
where life has led.

Thank you, dear Lord,
that this morning
finds me looking
not only forward
but backward too,
down mem’ry lane.

If truth be told
life looks better
moving forward
when yesternights
thus remembered
return to bless.


Monday, October 11, 2010

'Motivation When You're Too Sad to Pray'

The title above was penned by a dear friend who lost his life partner to ovarian cancer recently and is no doubt often himself "too sad to pray." Imagine the encouragement that came with this wonderful picture of his grandson at bedtime, not alone but with his dog alongside, both with eyes shut as if praying in concert.

"A little child shall lead them," Scripture says. Might not even a loyal dog? Cynics may rationalize all they want about whether dogs actually pray. But surely they sense what is in their little master's mind and heart. And they can certainly also mimic postures and sense emotions being expressed.

Would that we each could be more like these two--bound not only to each other as creatures but to God as Creator, Redeemer, and Friend. Oh for the day when the lion shall lay down with the lamb, when every enmity known to us will be laid aside, and the peace that passes understanding will prevail. Come, Lord Jesus, come--to my bereft friend, to the simple pleas of his grandson no doubt missing his grandmother, and to all God's creatures whose devotion to those who love and care for them is also a witness to your presence and grace.

As that lovely anthem has it, "Stay with us, Lord Jesus, stay with us, it soon is evening and night is falling.... Let your light pierce the darkness and fill your church with its glory."

Amen and Amen.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

'Go Get the Keys!'

Carson Crawling from rooted wings on Vimeo.

Change is a perpetual challenge at every age. Carson Gustaf, our nine-month-old grandson is struggling with it as he emerges in his infancy from simply sitting--waiting for life to come to him--and crawling, venturing out to seek whatever he sees that he wants. "Go get the keys." his mother challenges him. And so he does, only by stages at first, bumping and grinding along the way, even falling on his nose and face as he seeks control of his body. Yet he proceeds nonetheless until he finally gets the keys, after which he rolls over, giggles, and shakes his legs in delight.

Aren't we older types often bumping and grinding too--trying to grasp keys to the exponential change all around us? And aren't we often just as awkward in that process? Stumbling our way along, often hesitant and complaining, almost ready to give up, ought we not at least be as determined to get to "the keys"? Maybe, as Carson Gustaf demonstrates on arriving at his goal, we will turn over too if we persevere in engaging change. Maybe we will even end up kicking our legs in similar delight and ourselves that we finally got hold of something that earlier seemed unattainable.

The lesson is clear. To "Go get the keys" to whatever, we just have to mobilize ourselves and our whole being. Better to try, however difficult, than sit forever waiting for life to come to us.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Longing for Balance

Often in the life we share as human beings one longs for a renewed sense of balance--socially and politically to be sure, yet perhaps even more in religious interchange. Threats to clear thinking, not to mention creative and lasting solutions, seem ever to be increasing--fed by misinformation from parties bent more on securing power and privilege than serving the common good.

Charges and counter-charges are made without concern for verification. Insinuation replaces truth in the stirring up of mistrust, some of it in the broadcast media and some through anonymous emails forwarded over the internet.

No doubt parties on all sides have legitimate concerns needing to be voiced and heard. The problem rises when, in voicing them, the old Machiavellian principle that "the end justifies the means" takes charge. Minds made up before the voicing, motivated both by pride and fear, see no need to listen. Hate for one's opponents trumps civility. Winning over others becomes the ultimate goal, and diminishing them the means.

"If the foundations are destroyed," the psalmist asks, "what can the righteous do? (11:3). Clearly very little if they themselves forsake righteousness. Have I done that? Have you? We religious types have a special obligation in the public arena, which is to seek truth on the way to understanding and lend balance to human interchange on every level.

Well might we remind ourselves and others that all interchange based simply on winning power and influence is short-sighted and ultimately self-defeating. Ours is an enormous responsibility to both evidence and witness to the fact that in all life's relationships a third party must be recognized and honored. Job's witness to his would be comforters can serve us well as a model: "As long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit.... For he [God] said to man, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding (27:3,4; 28:28).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vain Labor and Real

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? The Lord once asked his people that question through his prophet Isaiah (55:2). Why, indeed? Might he not be asking the same question of us today?

The question is probing and timeless. raised by a Sovereign God whose gracious invitation both precedes and follows the probing: Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price (55:1). ...Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David (55:3).

There is nothing wrong with labor. We are all called to it by the Lord. The harvest he so much desires to reap in his world is plentiful, his Son later said, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Luke 10:2).

But real labor, Scripture reminds us, is never for its own sake. To have meaning and lasting purpose, all our labors must be tied to our reason for being as Christians, to glorify God no matter where we labor or at what. Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved sleep (127:1,2).

How better to start every new day, then, than ascribe ourselves and all our labors to him, as my brother-in-law Dusty Larson did so habitually that on what was to be his last day in this world, on entering surgery, he said quite naturally, This is the day which the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Who Speaks for God?

It is Sunday afternoon, and I have been reading The Christian Century for September 7. Coming to the reading with some uneasyness over the triumphalism of so many in religious life today, over-confident in themselves and their spirituality, I was especially refreshed by an article on writing titled, "Taking Pen in Hand." Its author, Parker Palmer. the founder and senior partner of the Center for Courage and Renewal, is also a well-known and widely heralded author of many books, who reflects from a Christian point of view on a life-time of writing himself.

What I found especially engaging in this article was a refreshing sense of humility, one could almost say of passion not for success but for faithfulness in pursuing his craft. "When people of any religion insist that the treasure cannot be carried except in their earthen vessels," Palmer writes, "they get into serious trouble--with themselves, with others, with the world and, I suspect, with God."

There is a great paradox between the treasure we seek to illuminate in our writing and the earthen vessels we remain as supposed illuninators. Palmer writes: "If we become attached to the vessel in ways that obscure the treasure, we must discard the vessel and create one that reveals more than it conceals.

"If we fail or refuse to do that, we are failing to respect the treasure, which is not our possession to have and to hold; it is the love and the power that has and holds us" (italincs mine).

"Why believe in God," he concludes, "if the God we believe in is so small as to be contained and controlled within our finite words and forms? The aim of our writing about faith, and of our living in faith, is to let God be God: original, wild, and free, a creative impulse that drives our living and our writing but can never be contained within the limits of who we are or what we think and say and do."

A good lesson in humility for all of us who dare to write, as well as for anyone who dares to speak for God.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Then and Now

We sang then, in days long gone with Augustana’s College choir,
J. S. Bach’s What Can Life be but a Shadow upon Earth,
a motet arranged for a double choir, performing in Carnegie Hall
to an audience of aristocrats come simply for an evening concert.

We were in the bloom of life ourselves, and led by a saint
who reminded us before coming on stage
that this was to be more than a performance,
indeed, a witness to the things that remain.

Then followed Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Dwelling Place,
a double choir setting of Psalm 90 by Ralph Vaughn Williams,
calling forth the glorious majesty of the Lord our God,
and invoking him to prosper his handiwork among us.

We were ourselves reminded that night how fleeting life is,
and witnessed nonetheless to how freeing it can be
to own up to our mortality, confess our faith,
and glory in the power and promises of our God.

That was then but now, soon sixty years later, is now,
and we, no longer the choir, have become the audience.
We sense the shadows lengthening over our own lives,
yet breathe from deep within the same prayer of faith.

God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform,
he plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.
You fearful saints fresh courage take, the clouds you so much dread
are big with mercy, and shall break in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace,
behind a frowning providence is veiled a smiling face…
Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan his work in vain,
God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain.

(The Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook, No. 418, stanzas 1,2,3,5)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Faith and Imagination

Carlo Caretto, in I, Francis (Orbis Books, 1982), his imaginative attempt to let St. Francis of Assisi come alive again in him, has that saint speaking powerfully to the anomalies of our time--the painful dislocations that mark life for so many today, feeding the chaos around us rather than healing it. I quote him, speaking for St Francis:

Just think what would happen one day if you became non-violent, and took the huge sums of money you spend to defend yourselves against fear and used it to help the people you fear.

When your young people, wasting away today in dejection, unemployment, and drugs, find their joy and their calling in the task of running hither and thither in the countries of the Third World, not only will you have solved the problems of others, you will have solved your own.

You will know peace then.

Is it too much to hope?

Perhaps someone is listening to me!

I, Francis, tell him or her: Courage!

Remember nine years ago when Senator Bob Dole offered an alternate solution to bombing and invading Iraq? "I think," he said, "that we would do better to shower food and other resources for living from our bombers to witness our good will and concern for the people there."

Thankful and sensitive as we must remain to the terrific sacrifices our soldiers and others have made and are continuing to make in the Middle East--not to mention the justified need to confront tyrannic realities in this world--have we as Christians the will to imagine and give ourselves to alternative incentives more in keeping with new life in Christ?

Scripture itself declares that the foolishness of faith is wiser than the wisdom of this world. Do I believe that? Do you? And are we encouraging each other as much as we ought to be imaginative in manifesting that faith, no matter the cost?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pure Joy!

How's this as a picture to start your day--or end it? Grandson Carson Gustaf greets you with his wonderful smile and laughing eyes under that crown of unruly hair--glad at nine months just to be alive, surrounded by love as he is in this new world of sight and sound.

What a lad and what a picture! Both renew my sense of joy. May looking on him renew yours as well!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Enough of Contempt!

In what is called "A Song of Ascents" (Psalm 123), the psalmist pleads for God's mercy "upon us" (note the plural), "for we have had more than enough of contempt." The plea, no doubt, is deeply personal, perhaps with reference to those who were seeking to do him and his people ill. Yet there seems almost to be a double entendre here as well. Is the psalmist equally weary of "the scorn of those who are at ease" and "the contempt of the proud" among his people?

I awoke this morning to a wonderful Covenant Newswire article referencing the Christian/Muslim impasse occupying so many on every side these days. Andrew Larsen, one of our Covenant ministers "who helps congregations foster interfaith dialogue, says that vitriol aimed at Muslims betrays the love of Christ." Take note, everyone who participates in such, either in person or by forwarding emails that breathe such vitriol.

"Why is it so important to mimic Jesus as we relate to Muslims today?" Larson asks. "My simple answer: the alternatives have not worked.... We betray the Jesus we claim to know and follow over and over again by our action or inaction, by not engaging Muslims in friendship or by acting as if they were the scourge of the earth."

Larsen is practicing reconciliation, both in constant contact with Muslims locally and by offering eight-week seminars on "Extending Hospitality to Muslim Neighbors" in surrounding churches. His local Imam "constantly denounces terrorism and wants me to be sure I know it has nothing to do with legitimate Islamic teaching." Taking texts from the Koran out of context," Larsen says, renders one as unbalanced in judgment as one would be in pointing to the imprecatory psalms "as evidence that Jews and Christians must be violent."

Especially refreshing to me is his insistence with many others now reaching out to Muslims that conciliatory efforts need not--and do not in fact--preclude sharing the gospel.

Enough of contempt! Better to begin all the days of our lives and all the challenges therein as the Psalm itself begins: To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy on us.

Lord, teach us your way!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Which Way Ahead?

It is a wistful summer evening at home, the kind one loves to spend reflecting--especially on this historic day. All seems peaceful here--even if not entirely quiet. A slight breeze moves the white bear weathervane on our back deck westward.

The sounds of traffic on a nearby Interstate are heard in the distance, as are those of occasional airplanes moving in and out from the Twin Cities where we live. Pieces of blue sky are laced with white clouds passing by as the sun begins to set.

Often what appears to be, of course, as the old song has it, "when you are come to the end of a perfect day," is by many measures far from perfect. For in this viewer's mind linger memories of how two stately twin towers in New York crumbled to the ground nine years ago today and a seemingly impregnable symbol of American power in Washington DC was also compromised by terrorists. To the west even of these tragedies was another in the making, aimed at the White House itself, thankfully averted by a few brave souls who conquered its terrorists only to lose their own lives near Pittsburgh in the process.

Even on this very day in 2010 a thoughtless pastor almost brought off a terrorist attack of his own, threatening in reprisal to burn copies of the Koran in Florida. Thankfully the whole nation rose to that occasion and stopped him in his tracks, though the effect of his plan lingered to further anger Muslims all over the world.

What shall we make of it all? Which are the roads forward on this earth that common folk of every tribe and nation long to find--the roads that lead to reconciliation and peace? How shall the angers so close to the surface in all of us be calmed under the common skies of the earth we share?

Most Christian know in their heart of hearts. So do most Jews and Muslims, whether in North or South, East or West. Only a few are out to stir those masses. May God show the latter how to calm the former, each lending perspectives beyond themselves and their faith traditions that the God they confess is waiting to supply.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Food for the Body and Food for the Soul

Few things delight our son Peter more than time on the dock fishing, More is involved than the casting, time after time. More, too, than the catching, all of which is more for celebrating than eating. Though I cannot speak for him, it seems like the essence of it lies in gathering food for his soul in the process.

Watching him fish and being alongside this summer when he cooked on the grill was food for my soul and body as well. Just as our Lord once told his disciples in Samaria that he had food they knew not of, so has it often been with me. Much as we all need regularly to eat from nature's store, our souls require even richer fare, in ready supplies God offers to those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

Peter is now on a well-deserved sabbatical until Advent. Next week he will be with us in White Bear Lake, eating at table with us and extended family. He will also be fishing through many of the personal effects of his grandfather and grandmother Hawkinson--gathering food for his soul from memories of his forebears, just as Jesus drew it from Jacob's well as he sat down, weary, in Samaria. Later next month and early into November he and I will travel together to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel--a first-time experience for both of us. No doubt there will be plenty of food for our bodies. Yet what we anticipate most is experiencing together first hand the food for our souls that surely awaits us there to satisfy our deepest needs and renew our ministries.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Wandering and Wonder

Last night was special. We were treated, with many others, to a trial run presentation of “Mr. Wonder Boy” by Bob Stromberg, our son-in-law. Written and performed by him, and re-crafted over time, this unique one-man theater show is essentially a personal narrative, centered on the keen sense of wonder over life that has captivated him since childhood.

All too many of us as human beings are wandering aimlessly these days--void of that sense, lonely and without meaning or purpose. We are "amusing ourselves to death," as Neil Postman once said in his book by that title. as if life had little meaning apart from entertaining ourselves and being entertained by others. Bob uses his skills as an entertainer to ride that crest, inviting us now into a sensitive, thoughtful world of wonder he has always known life to be. And, in his own two-hour narrative, one is captivated and challenged to open mind and heart to the wonder of both ordinary and extraordinary experiences in one’s own pilgrimage.

Soon to be premiered in an East Coast setting over several weeks, it will be interesting to see how “Mr. Wonder Boy” is received. Surely it will provide ample reasons for belly laughs, even as it did last night. Call it comic relief, which we are all in need of these days. But to be true to itself and its deepest appeal, critics and audiences alike will need to hear and heed the serious call within it to re-discover and nurture their own sense of wonder.

Isn’t that what good theater is really all about? Performance is for more than entertaining. Absent the meaning it is meant to convey, it will soon be forgotten. Bob is giving us here a gift of perception, brimful of good reasons to experience wonder in our own lives. Hopefully, we will not miss opening the gift again and again, in whatever future we are allotted.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Spanning the Years!

Under the same sky, fishing as boys love to do, we see here my grandson Michael (left) as a boy and years later his son Peyton (right), this year at Hembygden, our cabin in Wisconsin.

Who could have thought it years ago, when Michael was a curly-headed blond, that his son Peyton would be standing in nearly the same place, olive-skinned with trim, black hair? Thus does God work over time and generations to enrich our lives, ever watching our comings and goings and infusing them with grace and surprise. Only he remains the same, endlessly creative, always present, and forever loving--even when, for one reason or another, we lag in paying attention.

An old Swedish hymn that neither Michael nor Peyton know, one I grew up with and hope yet to teach them, comes to mind and streams from my lips and heart:

Thanks to God for my Redeemer, thanks for all thou dost provide!
Thanks for time now but a mem'ry, thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime, thanks for dark and dreary fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten, thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that thou hast answered, thanks for what thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered, thanks for all thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain and thanks for pleasure, thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure, thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside, thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside, thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow, thanks for heav'nly peace with thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow, thanks through all eternity!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Which Way Ahead?

A recent series of satellite pictures on patterned life as seen from a distance are really fascinating. This one deserves commentary on a Sunday morning. Imagine a church in the center--surrounded, indeed almost fenced in by a circle of homes whose inhabitants it is seeking to reach. Prescribed place, well-ordered--with the church at the center. Mission well defined.

But what of the randomness outside the circle--of homes no less, plus commerce and industry, some clearly randomly placed, with most not observable at all, lost in the surrounding shadows. No less needy, perhaps even more so. Random life, rootless, undefined, outside the circle.

The picture came to mind this morning as I read John Notehelfer's "Sunday Musings" for today, lifting up images he has been getting from his summer reading. In one of those books, authored by Covenant pastor Tim Morey and titled "Embodying Our Faith: Becoming a Living, Sharing, Practicing Church" (IVP), the author cites a comment by Howard Snyder in his book on "Liberating the Church" that is very telling and worth our pondering:

"Church People think about how to get people into the church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world may change the church; kingdom people work to see the church change the world."

It may be an over-simplification, but there is food for thought in it nonetheless. Which of the two are you and am I on our way to worship this morning?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers"?

The quiet surrounding as this "time away" nears an end is redemptive in more ways than one. While it is comforting to be thus un-engaged, it is also shaping, requiring one to face things in oneself that one pays little attention to when busy with other things.

On waking early this morning the familiar saying quoted above came to mind. Why, after the quote, the question mark? Because I wonder if is really true. In one sense it is, of course, as any child finding a penny on the sidewalk knows. When I was a boy, you didn't ask questions about whose it really was. You just rejoiced in the penny candy it would provide for you.

But a boy is a boy is a boy. And now that I am older I realize how tempting it is to be thus self-occupied, as if life consists in providing for us, even at the expense of others. More often than not, when you hear "Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers" used, the tone in the users voice is pretty revealing.

I wonder how God feels about my own spirit this morning. Of his love I have no doubt. Yet I confess to a certain pain I feel in having less of his mind than I ought by now to have. And without detailing that all out, I am certain that God is speaking to me this morning about it.

I feel broken and contrite, with far more to condemn in me than commend. Yet having in the stillness to admit that I am also being healed. How can it be? Well, Scripture reminds me that "a bruised reed he will not break," and one of our hymnwriters adds, "Ne'er a sin but he'll forgive it, nor a sorrow he cannot heal."

God has a way as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of confronting us--upsetting our prideful towers and neat little apple carts, if only to bring us back again to ground zero in him. And that is good, for therein--and only therein--lies also his forgiveness and healing, even empowering. Could it be that the self-serving common wisdom of "Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers" also needs to be turned on its end?

I'm finding it so this morning, that losers like me, when they confess and admit it, are the keepers in God's sight. It's the self-absorbed finders, less in touch with their need of him or others, that are the real losers.

Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bridge Over (and Under) Troubled Waters

Sad news today, of a young family friend who took his life and left us bereft. All who knew him are grieving today, not least because while we sensed his depression--recently retired at an early age to care for his widowed mother--we knew he felt alone. Contacts from a number of us made clear that loneliness--having lost not only a number of loved ones but wondering if in light of so many things needing attention he had retired too early. Missing co-workers and friends, each with their own needs but surrounded by family, he clearly felt isolated.

His mother, even at her advanced age, wanted him to return with her to Sweden, her roots there and family-owned land. He wasn't sure, and the burden of seeking visas with all that entailed--in short taking charge when not ready to commit--no doubt added to his sense of isolation. Thus do many deal in life with mountains that seem immovable.

I was reminded of the bridge that has so often captivated me--spanning the waters between the city of Kalmar in southern Sweden and the island of Oland--a bridge in full daylight that descends before arriving on the island into the dark sea below. What might we have done to be such a bridge for him, from the sunlight and fresh breezes of so much in our lives these days to the subterranean depths so real in his? How might we have reminded him that no matter the darkness he was going through there was loveliness and sunshine on the other side of the bridge?

We know. We have been to Oland's island, a charming place, which the bridge now renders more easily accessible. Lord, forgive our insensitivity to the burdens of others. Waken us to gifts you have given us to carry them with us to a wholesome, warm harbor that you have created for all who feel alone. Help us going forward to journey better with them through the agonies they experience when light seems to have disappeared from view.

Open our hearts and homes to the bereft, and help us set before them the clear hope that comes from caring friends whose doors are always open and tables set with fresh bread and good food.

Above all, Lord, take our family friend into your open arms and bring him to rest in you. We trust in your mercy and commend him to your grace.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Sometimes little things
consume our minds
that other times
do not matter.

We are offered
new perspectives;
a sense moves in
of greater weight.

The sweep of life
captures your mind,
perhaps only
for a moment.

“Stop your fretting,”
it seems to say;
“Untie your soul
and let it breathe.”

“Is not life more
than breath, clothing,
and all the things
occupying you?”

Indeed it is!
Thank God it is!
Let truth sink in
to bless your day!


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Still Life

What does one do when there is ample time for doing nothing? On the other side, now, of being with family at our cabin in Wisconsin and enjoying thoroughly all that entailed, we find ourselves alone with each other. Nothing is entirely still in the forest, of course, yet with time on our hands to observe it apart from any distractions, we seem to be almost in limbo. Reflection, reading, and rest are not the whole order of every day. There is golf to watch, there are games to play, meals to be served, and garage sales to search out. Yet in the midst of all that life now seems almost to be standing still.

One evening as the sun was setting in the west, the above caught my eye--a still life picture of light streaming through our kitchen window, capturing on the wall beyond our table, chairs, and an ever-present kerosene lamp--engraving them on our sight and memory.

I wonder as I look on that picture again: is not reflecting on such as symbols of life given and received what time away is all about? Activities come and go in ever rapid succession, but the gathering places around which they have occurred are ever in need of further reflection. Time needs to stand still in order to see it more fully in perspective.

My nephew Timothy Hawkinson preach a wonderful sermon in Boulder Junction some years ago now on "Jesus at Table," exploring texts throughout the gospels illustrating how often his ministry went on in such settings. It should not surprise us that he ministers there still, in our homes as well. And we do well in reflecting back on our lives to rejoice in the many memories of his doing just that at our table in this place.

Time away is never time wasted on those with eyes to see and ears to hear. One doesn't always need to be doing something to make time worthwhile. Sometimes our lives are best seen in perspective when time stands still. To disengage, as we are now doing in the last weeks of our time away may well prepare us better to reengage if we have the patience--and courage--not to run away from the quietness that true renewal requires.

There's an old saying that goes, "Don't just stand there, do something!" I'm finding in my own spirit that there are valid times and reasons for reversing the order. Might I encourage you to do the same? Wherever you are as you read this, try it: "Don't just do something, stand there!"

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ah, Strawberries!

We have been feasting a lot on strawberries this year, rich and juicy fare. The picture, taken by my granddaughter Stina on her mother's camera, celebrates that richness, inviting one to take a bite of some cut up morsels.

Don't let the richness and juiciness of them fool you into believing they just descended from heaven. The Swedes have captured their essence in naming them jordgubber, "old men of the earth." No earth, no aging of plant in the soil, no waiting for the fruit to appear and there are no strawberries. The same can be said for all fruit--blueberries, peaches, pears, tomatoes, or whatever.

There are parallels here to all of life. In what Elton Trueblood once called our "cut flower culture," we are forever being tempted to forget that. "Just give me the fruit," many say. "Forget the soil, the rich nutrients and time frames in nature that are behind its appearing. Strawberries can be had without all that. We know. We bought some this morning."

It's like saying, forget history and the cycles of life that have worked over time to produce life in all its forms. Can anyone have a baby without a time of pregnancy? No thing and no one, John Donne reminds us, "is an island entire of itself." Though everyone "is somewhere," as my mother used to say, they are never there wholly apart from all that brought them there.

The lesson is clear. To forget your own history and pay no attention to nature's is to lose the true richness of life. Sugar and cream may be used to add taste to strawberries--as nice clothes and other accoutements to adorn our bodies--but by themselves they have little to contribute. The real essence of stawberries lies in their being jordgubber. So does ours! We are of the earth, earthy. As graveside commttals keep reminding us: from dust you have come and to dust you shall return.

Monday, August 2, 2010


PeteandBonHembygden2010 from rooted wings on Vimeo.

Family time at Hembygden in Late July, pix taken by Bonnie (Peter's wife) and her daughters. Present also briefly were Charlotte Manning (Mary's youngest), just returned to US with Hannah from a Winnetka Covenant Church Mission Trip to Mexica, and Ken and Bonnie Fenton (Bonnie's aunt), who were with us briefly for two days.

Peter, Bonnie and their girls--Hannah, Sarah, and Stina--stayed through last week. We had a wonderful time.

Paul, Kristin and their kids--Annika, Colin, Kajsa, and Carson were with us briefly earlier in mid-July, taking and bringing home their kids from camp at Covenant Point in Iron River, MI.

And Eric, Patty and some of their family--Carrie, the newly weds Michael and Abby--wrere here for eight days before we came, returning to California by way of the Twin Cities to celebrate with all our kids my 80th birthday.

So it goes, two full weeks now for us into time away! God is good!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Brother Sun, Sister Moon

God is ever watching over his creation and his creatures, all in light of his will as Creator, Redeemer, and Friend. Another view of one of Yosemite's waterfalls, illumined from above, was for me last month and is for me yet a living reminder.

It is Day 16 of Time Away and the sun is already up in the east. The daily cycle of God's faithfulness in lighting our way--the sun by day and the moon by night--continues unabated. Later this month, on the 27th at 12:30 a.m. I am told, we will actually see two moons, as the Planet Mars comes to within 34.65 million miles of the earth and appears next to the moon, a phenomenon not to be reapeated until the year 2287.

Brother Sun ansd Sister Moon daily offer the perspective we need to see our lives in the larger contexts of cosmic time and eternity. One more assurance this Sabbath morning of God's sovereignty and love. One more reminder that we are never alone in time and space, ouside the orbit of his providential care. Anxieties often fill our minds and hearts, but they are no match for the promises of God.

Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of Glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory (Psalm 24:7,10).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Wise and Warning Word!

John Notehelfer's most recent "Sunday Musings," which he distributes by email weekly, is worth passing on and pondering by anyone reading my blog. Society has a right to expect of us as Christians a sense of balance that is sadly missing these days. At the very least it is much in need of civility in our common discourse, and who living by God's grace should be more dedicated to that than disciples of Christ? John's quote from C. S. Lewis might well be a litmus test for us all. Could it be describing you--or me--more so than the Spirit of our Lord?

"Greetings to all of you on the front lines of kingdom work abroad and at home.

"This Sunday musing is premature because we are leaving on summer vacation(s) in August. But this one I had to get off my chest -- digest it next Sunday afternoon or whenever.

"An editorial in our local paper is headed, “How a good woman was thrown to the wolves.” It was triggered by the overreaction of both the press and government to some blogger’s edited video of what Shirley Sherrod, an African-American USDA worker, said some years ago – she was wrongfully fired on the spot for those remarks about race which had been taken completely out of context. The immediate result: all the ugly finger-pointing about racial hatred consuming our talk-shows and blogs.

"The writer of the editorial is as puzzled as I am about the current trend of knee-jerk overreactions. I caught his words, 'This sorry episode shows the extent to which we’ve lost sight of the most basic elements of fair play, responsible reporting, and common decency in this society.'

"So I find myself reading this week in A Year with C.S. Lewis (July 27) his excerpt from Mere Christianity entitled -- The Real Test!!

“'Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible?

'If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black.

'Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything—God and our friends and ourselves included—as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.'”

Thank God for C.S. Lewis!!! Take his cautions and his test to heart, my friends."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Stop, Come, Sit

A dog is
man’s best friend
it is said.
Could it be
that dogs are
mentors too?

Say come to
Gunther and
he does come.
Say stop and
Gunther stops,
also sits.

Would that we,
told to stop,
would do so.
Or told to
come and sit,
also mind!

Gunther is
as a dog
a living
of my need
to obey.

When God calls,
asks me to
stop, come, and
sit by him,
am I as

God’s will is
when we see
in nature
and take note.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Passing of a Saint!

On April 12 (see My Blog on that date) those who knew and loved Donald Frisk were celebrating his 99th birthday. Glen Wiberg and I, two of his students, admirers, and colleagues in Covenant ministry, even sang the Swedish Birthday song to him from Salem, his home church!

Today we are grieving his loss, together not only with his grandchildren here pictured again but with the whole family of faith that is the Covenant Church--and, as God alone knows, all those around the world who have been influenced by his life and thought.

Donald Frisk as preacher, teacher, and writer remains one of the foremost theologians in Covenant history. His clarity of mind, great heart, and devoted spirit have rendered him among the first both clergy and laity have turned to for help in understanding and promoting their faith. And they never turned to him in vain.

About a year ago now I called him with a theological question and was amazed at the quickness with which he responded in dialogue--offering insights from a wide range of sources with which he was recently in touch in spite of being almost blind. Listening to talking books, his mind was as fresh and precise as ever.

When Glen Wiberg and I were last at Batavia remembering the life and spirit of Dr. Paul Carlson, I saw the servant side of the man I had valued so much as teacher. Before and after each session he was wheeling the infirm in and out so that they could participate. I shall not soon forget how moved I was as I watched him doing that.

We have lost another giant in the earth--a man of great mind and range who, like so many before him, was not bent on using those gifts to his own advantage but one who gladly accepted the call of his faith community to serve it in Christ's name, small and seemingly insignificant in the larger scheme of things that the Covenant has seemed to many others.

May we have the grace to follow in his train, blooming where we are planted and trusting God to work his larger will through each of us, wherever and however we are called to live out the rest of our days.

Peace to the memory of Donald C. Frisk! Heaven and earth are joined this day is praising God for the life he lived and the legacy he has left us in its wake.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Time Apart - Day 3

A psalmist's declaration wakens me very early this morning, looking out our cabin windows on a serene forest outside, full of life yet to come--even today--but for the moment still, as if waiting on God.

The psalmist said "I will awake the dawn," a strange claim if indeed he thought he had the power. Another translation has it, "I will prevent the dawn," an even stranger claim if taken literally. What he meant, of course, was not that he had the power to awaken or prevent a new day. He knew by faith and experience that only God can do that. His intention simply was to get up before dawn and his daily round to honor God's faithfulness and seek his presence.

Ought I do any less this day? Restlessness abounds in me--all the things I long for in my own soul and the life of my family--not to mention the whole human race. Who but God, if only we acknowledge him, can calm that restlessness and render life whole?

I am deeply conscious this morning of my need to wait on him--to honor his sovereignty, to seek his wisdom, to rest in his love. What better time than now, when all is still in the household, loved ones each with their own yearnings and need still sleeping, as well as neighbors all around?

Another of the psalmist's prayers flows out of memory, giving wings to all I feel: O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like a weaned child that is within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore (131).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Time Apart - Day 1

Day 1 of our six-week leave of absence from Salem and our duties there has proven itself to be pristine. After a long night of heavy rain it is in the low 70s under clear blue skies with a warm wind out of the west. The sign welcomes you as it welcomed us yesterday and will welcome our son Paul and his family yet again about 1:00 a.m. tomorrow.

It has been a good day, shopping to fill the larder for days with family, planting flowers to regale the deck and dock, and a sumptuous nap followed by coffee with an ever-remarkable Paul Bunyan sugared donut. "Valkommen till Hembygden and Nybygden," the old (1949) and newer (1987) cabins joined now into one. History abounds here, as years of guest registers will attest, and sacred memories flow through every year of that history, not only to bless and refresh us but--as all things sacred should--to prepare us for life and duties that await us at home.

Not far off to the left as you drive in up on the hill is a tree planted as a seedling a few years ago by our grandson, Matthew--then a grade schooler in the south of Minneapolis, soon a sophomore at De Paul University in Chicago. Every year taller, it is one more living reminder of God's grace to us, as well as our responsibilities to him for nature, our own loved ones, and the whole human family. Unto whom much is given, much will also be required.

This evening we will dip warm chicken egg rolls in sweet and sour sauce, and mix it all with rice, feasting on yet more of God's good provisions. And we will remember as we always do to give thanks--to bless the Lord with all our souls and forget not all his benefits. Then we will go down and spend the evening at lakeside, taking in what will likely be a wonderful sunset as we await the coming of our family's first wave to sweep in for a few days.

The Dutch door that Grandpa Eric made years ago in old Hembygden, hand-painted by his beloved Lydia, sums it all up--past, present, and future. Quoting Eric Gustaf Geijer, the Swedish hsitorian, he wrote of Hembygden in his childhood tongue: Ma dess minne vara som ett solsken i mitt brost, which being interpreted says: May its memory be as a sunshine in my breast. It was for both of them and is still for us, as well as our offspring and guests.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Only God Is Worthy of Worship

Standing on a beautiful day last month before Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, one could hardly imagine a better ending to a weekend celebration with family, marking the wedding of one of our grandsons.

Having last seen it from below with my sons several years ago, while together for a few days of golfing in California--and decades before from greater distance when pastoring the Hilmar Covenant Church two hours away--this was my first gaze on it from above. The experience from whatever point of view is truly awesome, however different in intervals of time and space. God’s grandeur puts everything in perspective—sheer heights, massive breadth, and solid depths beyond believing. One cannot fully capture it with a camera. Nor can one fully even in one’s soul. To behold it is simply to worship the Creator--to be drawn by his grandeur and creative power in whatever moment of beholding, from whatever distance or angle.

My late brother Zenos once commented on my pathetic attempts at capturing the Grand Canyon in a slide show. “Jim, there are some things you just have to hold in your heart.” How right he was! Captured by it, as I surely was, it was beyond my capturing.

So it is with all God’s creation, from its farthest reaches in space to its smallest detail on earth. Every part of creation expresses his sovereignty over us. Mountains and hills, flowers and snowflakes are purely of his doing, even as we are ourselves. Eugene Peterson puts it well in his paraphrase of Romans 12: The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and what he does for us, not by what we are and do for him.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth
(Psalm 121: 1,2).
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits (Psalm 103:1).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

'Be Still ... and Know'

It was a Staff Retreat, right? In July, thinking ahead to fall and our common work at Salem. “Bring your Bible, a pencil, and a note pad.” Thus far predictable. “We’ll meet at church at 9:00 and go together to Silverwood Park for a couple of hours.” Why there, I wondered, away from all the ministry surroundings so central to our work at Salem? We were soon to find out.

Arriving on a lovely, warm, and breezy day at our destination nearby, we walked a bit to a sheltered area on a hill overlooking lovely Silver Lake surrounding us on several sides. Our pastor lead us in a morning prayer, after which we read several psalms, each reading a verse out loud from whatever version we had brought. It was all about how God is to be praised in all of his creation, by all of his creatures.

Salem’s theme over the last several years has centered on Drawing, Developing, and Deploying Disciples Devoted to Jesus Christ. Setting before us the scene in Acts 2:42-47, our pastor then offered a few random thoughts on what that looked like in the early church, asking us to reflect a bit also on how it might impact what we are seeking to do at Salem.

Then he asked us to go off by ourselves for an hour or so to observe our surroundings and reflect on the following: one thing in nature that brings glory to God and why; one thing in ourself that does the same;, and one thing about Salem that makes God smile as it too brings glory to him.

Before returning we were to ask ourselves what our observing might mean personally for us in our life as a human being, as well as what its implications might be for our specific role in ministry this year at Salem.

I was not prepared for this kind of retreat, fully agended as most such staff meetings have been in my experience. But gathering my thermos of coffee and a water bottle I had also brought along I took off to a shadowed tree nearby, looking for something on which to fix my gaze as I sat down to reflect. What I saw was the tree before you now, and what I wrote about that tree and about myself and about Salem and our common ministry follows.

I see a tree, all bent out of shape, leaning every which way. trunk and limb somewhat directionless, hardly thriving, yet bearing green leaves nonetheless--obviously still being fed from nourishing roots in watered soil.

The tree is not growing straight like most trees, partly because it is too close to flowing water, i.e. it is being shaped by the flow surrounding rather than by how it was meant to be shaped as a thing in itself.

At the same time I hear a wind blowing and feel its gentle influence on my body and brow. It is a warm wind, as if sent from God, yearning to bless the tree and heal its brokenness, if not in fact its stance.

I too am a tree, alive yet and green, even at my advanced age. For all my brokenness, bent out of shape but not out of mind, I too am sprouting green, feeling the warmth of God’s gentle wind and enjoying his presence.

Could it be that in my weakness is my strength? Is this tree a living reminder that it is to brokenness and disarray in people’s lives that I am called, those who for whatever reason have not yet felt the presence of God in the warm breeze, nor even sensed their need of him?

Salem, like the tree and like me, is not uniform either. Its branches and leaves are in many ways random too, like all of humanity save for the warm winds of God over time that have gathered it as a community of faith and gather it still.

Lord, open us all to embrace our humanity, our essential brokenness in sin and need, and heal us of all our efforts to save and justify ourselves. Ride toward us on the gentle, warm winds of your Spirit and do a new thing among us.

Make me to be an instrument in the hands of that wind, a shaping tool in your mighty hand to sustain life in its brokenness, bloom where I am planted, and bring glory to your name.

On rising to return to the shelter I noticed that our pastor was nestled on a limb of the same tree reaching out over the water. As he descended from his perch we reflected together on how that tree had drawn both of us to itself. And faces aglow, we were reminded--as were others of our staff in their own later reflections--that God is indeed everywhere, and that ministering for him must always proceed first from the glow of his presence in us and ministry to us.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How Do You Hold a Moonbeam in Your Hand?

Her name is Greta, and given her penchant for style, she is likely to clothe herself in many outfits daily, even in some cases hourly.

She is full of energy, and fiercely independent, making one wonder what might be forthcoming in her teenage years. She is also full of fun and joy, as the broad smile illustrates.

She and I have had a very special relationship, ever since I shared in dedicating her to the Lord a few years ago.

In spite of Greta's exuberance, she can be shy of people, as was evidenced at a wedding recently. Prepared well in advance by her parents to be the flower girl, when the doors finally opened on a large waiting congregation, she turned aside to her father and handing him her basket of flower petals she said, "Hold this awhile. I'll be right back!"
Then she proceeded down the aisle, head bowed in covering hands until, peeking through her fingers near the front she spotted her grandmother, who had been planted there "just in case."

"All's well that ends well," the saying goes, and she did finally go forward when prompted to stand in the place assigned her for the ceremony. But by then, having asserted her independence, she seemed docile and content.

Could anyone wish for a funnier, more feisty great-granddaughter? Hardly. But if you think she is something you should meet her older brother Benny, and hear the stories gathering around him. Makes you wonder where all that comes from. Surely not from docile people like us!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Life Together Under the Cross

My heart this night rejoices after an incredibly rich experience at the 125th Annual Meeting of the Covenant in St. Paul. It is also heavy with concern for the sufferings of so many in this world who need from Christians the illumining comfort and hope of the cross and empty tomb that have shed their light on us.

Clearly God is doing a new thing in the Covenant. In multiplying numbers and converging cultures the joys of believing and challenges of belonging our forebears knew in their time are now cascading among us into whole new joys in believing and challenges in belonging. Thankfully it is all happening under the shadow of the cross, on which Christ died to forgive our sins, only to rise again after three days to secure our redemption.

His is a work once for all done. It needs never to be repeated, and in that lies the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. Yet clearly to those with eyes to see and ears to hear, his whole work needs no less to be continually announced in this world and thus extended, for shadows remain in which many--both inside and outside the church--feel lonely and bereft.

My wrist tonight bears the wrapping of a string round it, tied by a missionary brother of many years--meant to bless and prosper me. But in with and under the blessing came, as I tied another on his wrist, a clear sense of his personal pain in losing recently his life-long companion in Christian service. Lord, stay by David!

Two Ukrainean brothers encounted outside the hotel one day are battling those shadows where they live, in their case ministering to orphan children. And a bright young brother whose ordination transfer from another part of Christ's body was finalized today, told me before morning worship of his passion to confront the human trafficing so prevalent where he is ministering in Arizona.

Mercy needing to be shown and justice needing to be served, all in the name of our compassionate heavenly Father who through his Son and Holy Spirit has commanded us to minister to every human need under the shadow of the cross.

I suffer especially tonight in my joy for a young couple on the brink of divide, with a lovely child in between, innocent of it all and so far as I know largely unaware. "Lord," I cry, "have mercy upon us." And I cry once more, "Christ have mercy."

Fill us, Lord, with your grace and power. Fill my hurting brother with your consolation. And give my Covenant brothers in the Ukraine and Arizona the wisdom and influence that comes only to those who dare to live in the shadow on the cross. And help me, Lord, to bring my young friends to you and your cross, where hope remains for them as much as me.

Shine on us all, that we may illumine the way for others as you continue to illumine it for us.