Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blessed to Be a Blessing

Prone as we are to trivialize life,
to measure it by nameless scatter'd things,
I long for moments with more permanence.
One such was offered me just last Sunday
when Salem's choir accompanied by
a soloist and instrumentalists
peformed Bradley Ellingboe's Requiem.

The stage was set for me to receive it
by a single phrase in the opening hymn,
Robert Baxter's "O Holy Angels Bright."
Souls at rest and saints who now serve below
were urged in time and space to sing God's praise
"with angels bright who wait at God's right hand,"
each "taking our part with a well-tuned heart."

And what was the phrase that moved my spirit?
"Take what he gives and praise...through good and ill."
How better prepare one's mind and spirit
to enter wholly into what followed?
Requiem--life and death merged in the Light
of divine creation and end-time hope,
what God has prepared for those who love him.

People went away diff'rent than they came.
The Spirit had led us to deeper realms
both within ourselves and outside ourselves.
Our God who was and is and is to be
moved through his Spirit to sanctify us,
blessing our Requiem worship of him
and preparing us to be a blessing.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Open Our Eyes, Lord

Abounding Grace

Flowers are,
like the snow
and the rain,
of divine
love and grace:

Always there
to be seen
and enjoyed
if one gives
time and space
to notice.

in shape and
colored hues
they amaze
one’s senses,
even soul.

Capture them
in your heart
and feed on
them in mind,
that God be

There are no
places void
of divine
God’s grace is


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Don Frisk!

Professor Donald C. Frisk celebrates his 99th birthday today. I was reminded of that when I received this picture of him yesterday with his three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, taken where he now lives at The Holmstad, a Covenant Retirement Community in Batavia, Illinois.

Few individuals in the 125 year history of the Covenant Church have influenced our common life and thought more than he has through life-long preaching, teaching, and writing. His earlier New Life in Christ was especially helpful among the many that could be mentioned. And hie book on Covenant Affirmations amplifying earlier tract and booklet publications on the same themes is a classic exposition of Covenant life and thought.

Clarity of mind and precision in language have always marked his work. So has his disciplined focus on the things that remain in the classic Christian tradition our forebears received from the Protestant Reformation, the later advent of Pietism, and the revival movements that swept them up together in the joys of believing and belonging.

Thirty-eight entrees are listed under his name in Glad Hearts, coming either from his pen alone or in cooperative ventures deeply influenced by him. “There is only one ministry,” he used to tell us in seminary, “and that is the ministry of Jesus Christ." The implications for us were clear. Ours is simply given to enter into Christ's ministry, no matter how or where we serve.” I invite you to re-visit today whatever you may have of his writing. It will both challenge you to think theologically and inspire in you Christ's call to personal, communal, and missional action.

Listen, in tribute, to but one entry addressing church life today and the often neglected power of the Holy Spirit available to us:

 Often one hears the complaint that the Christian church lacks power. But in the Holy Spirit unlimited power is available–power which is released through prayer and through action. Power, however, is a precious gift which God does not bestow indiscriminately. He gives as much as is needed for a specific task. Too often we lack power because we do not accept tasks and responsibilities big enough to merit such strengthening from above. The mediocre lives which multitudes of Christians love do not require great strengthening and hence there is little evidence of its presence, but let a Christian seriously attempt the demands of the Lord in the church and community and strength would be given in proportion to the task. What world-shaking things the church could accomplish if we prayerfully accepted the full responsibilities that now confront us!
                                                          What Christians Believe (1951), pp. 19,20.

Happy Birthday, Don! Pray for us that we may remain as faithful to Christ and each other as you have proven yourself to be--a companion, like your forebears, of all those who fear God and love his appearing.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thank God for My Brother Efrem!

What richness has come into the life of the Covenant Church in recent years through those of different ethnic backgrounds who have become such an integral part of its common life and ministry.

Let this interview of Efrem Smith, well-known nationally as founding pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis and soon to become superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference, serve as but one example of that richness.

What could possibly have pleased our forebears more that listening to Efrem's life story and witness, his passion for being a churchman in ministry, and his manifest desire to be what they first set out to be--"a companion of all those who fear God" (Psalm 119:63).

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways.... For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen  (Romans 11:3-36).

Efrem Smith from rooted wings on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

See the Similarity?

"It takes onw to recognize one," they say. I've long felt that my generation needs some characters like those in former generations I either knew personally or have heard of in the oral tradition that has framed my life. Not to worry, I guess. Some say I fit the bill myself, as having fun in the Como Park Zoo shop recently attests. Though completely unaware as yet,  could it be that my newest grandson Carson, aided and abetted by his father and mother's generation, is already become a character in his? Must be in the gene pool. Why else would he be graced with the same middle name as I bear, "Gustaf"?

Sometime back I asked Carson's folks one day, mostly in jest, what they would do with me when I get loopy and.... Before I could finish the sentence his mother finished it for me. "You really mean loopier, don't you. You are already loopy."

Perhaps so, in which case stories about me are already flowing from mouth to mouth, much as they did about others in my experience. So be it. It is no sin to have a sense of humor. Laugh a little, first always at yourself, and you'll learn as I have--and still am learning--a lot about life.

What Glen Wiberg said abour preaching in my recent video interview of him (see Interviews:Media, May 8, 2009) surely applies here as well: "It is no sin to be interesting!"

Friday, April 2, 2010

What Will Become of Good Friday and Easter Next Monday?

Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, is on a mission to restore in the Christian community "matters of maturity, of spiritual formation, of theological aesthetics, of growing up in Christ 'healthy in God, robust in love.'"

"Not long ago," he writes in Practice Resurrection, his latest book,  "a pastor who has made an art form of pole vaulting from church to church told me I was wasting my time on this, there was no challenge to it, it was about as exciting as standing around watching paint dry."

When Peterson suggested to him that "most of our ancestors in both Israel and church have spent most of their time watching the paint dry, that the persevering, patient, unhurried work of growing up in Christ has occupied the center of the church's life for centuries, and that this American marginalization is, well, American ... he dismissed me. He needed, he said, a challenge. I took it from his tone and manner that a challenge was by definition something that could be met and accomplished in forty days. That's all the time, after all, that it took Jesus."

Peterson wonders if we are not prostituting new birth by failing to draw the new born into new life, the forming of our character after conversion around the mystery of Christ's continuing presence in us, which cannot be accomplished on the fly but requires "growing up strong in God, growing to maturity, to the staure of Christ." He does not find pastors and professors, for the most part, "very interested in matters of formation in holiness. They have higher profile things to do."

And not only so. "The American church [itself] is uneasy in these conditions. Typically, in the name of 'relevance,' it adapts itself to the prevailing American culture and is soon indistinguishable from that culture: talkative, noisy, busy, controlling, image-conscious."

Have I myself lost the wonder of standing quietly before the cross, simply absorbing Christ's spirit in agonizing and dying for all humanity there? How long has it been since the wonder of the open tomb brought me to my knees in silent wonder, love, and praise--not to mention renewed hope? Has faith to me become no more than mental ascent--the personal acceptance of the story of Jesus so that when I die I can go to heaven? Will the living dynamic of Good Friday and Easter be shunted aside next Monday--dissapated, even lost in the commerce and industry of routine daily life?

The church in its wisdom has always seen Advent as a season of waiting on and for Christ's coming. Ought Lent end no less as the season of waiting on his living presence among us and his claim on all our living the rest of our days?

Lord, have mercy! Christ have mercy!