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.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Are You an Oak of Righteousness?

My son, Peter, the pastor at Winnetka, Illinois, Covenant Church, wrote a pastoral tribute recently in that church's newsletter to four saints who, though recently expired, have left an indelible legacy in the minds and hearts of all who knew them.

"Together they fell like tall trees
Deep their roots and far their reach,
These mighty oaks among us ....

"How we miss them, among us no more,
Or are they? Could it be that
the acorns of their long lives and deep faith

"are coming to life in us? Is there not yet
more of God's glory still to shine?
Maybe now we are God's planting,

"Spiritual offspring of those who have
shaded our lives with grace and love,
and they brought to life from the faith of others before!"

The tribute glorifies God, the giver for the likes of Doris, Dulcye, Darline, and Wayne. And with it, as God used them, Peter issues a memorable challenge to his people appropriate for us all:

"Time to grow deep, so that we can grow tall,
and shade life coming after
with God's glory."

Lord, waken us all to that challenge, that in our living now and passing soon we may cause those behind us to both glorify God and keep amending their ways. Amen.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Delicate Fragrance

What is there, after all, like the creative genius of God in nature? Just one blossom taken from a neighbor's tree resplendent with multiple others--actually crowned with them.

The tree was years in bearing fruit--somewhat to the dismay of our neighbor brother who sometimes complained about that, even while carefully nurturing it in hope.

He did not live to see it blossom, and his widow, now in a nearby senior nursing facility, will only see it once we get a picture of the whole tree to her where she is.

But we see it, and rejoice in both the lace-like delicacy of its blooms and their marvelous fragrance. Thus do our neighbors, no longer next door, bless us yet with the fruits of their labor finally realized. And we bless them both in our beholding--George for whom we once knew him to be and Virginia yet nearby, though no longer next door.

To God ultimately belongs the glory, as the Apostle Paul once put it. One plants, as did our neighbor, and others have watered and trimmed when he no longer could, but God has brought the increase. All is of him and to him all will ultimately return. Each of us has a role to play in the cycles of natural wonders, and if faithful to that role as our neighbor was, we need not doubt that others will be blessed by the fruits of our labors as well.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Covenant Sub Commander Who Became a Rear Admiral and More

Stan Anderson lives with his lovely Russian wife Lora at Covenant Village in Golden Valley, MN. Both are long-time Covenanters. He grew up at Salem and met her through the old First Covenant Church in San Francisco. Through a lifetime together, mainly in military service, they both have served and led in remarkable ways. Stan's story, captured live in our home this very day, as well as his spirit and character, have been and continue to be deeply influenced by the Pietism out of which the Covenant emerged in 1885, the profound stamp of which continues remarkably to this day.

Careful listening to his story will impress you not only with his spirit and Christian commitment but with his native intelligence and considerable achievements as well. And with a tinge of humor supported by deep respect and feeling he credits Lora with both the love and much-needed support that has followed his every move up the scale in vocational service.

We have so much to learn from so many, and we need to be gathering these stories for posterity. Listen and be blessed by this brilliant, mild-mannered man of faith. Then take my cue and go out to interview someone you don't yet know yourself. You'll be amazed, as I constantly am, by the fascinating life stories that are out there.

Stan AndersonFinal from rooted wings on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Colleagues and Friends in Ministry

Few things bring greater joy to me than being with long-time colleagues and friends in pastoral ministry--ordinary, humble, and loving servants who have faithfully served God's people, often in little known places and--save for the Lord's awareness--little known ways.

The picture above was taken some years ago now at our annual CRIM (Covenanters Retired in Ministry) Retreat at Covenant Pines in McGregor, Minnesota. Just after Labor day every year we gather to study, worship, pray, tell stories, and fellowship at table. The fare is incredibly rich. One or two share their life story with us. Crafts also are shared. And one evening of music involves us all in hymn-singing, choral music, and listening to vocal and instrumental soloists. It ends, as it should each time we gather, with Holy Communion at the Lord's table.

I came upon the picture a day or two ago, just after reading our superintendent's notes on a meeting he and other superintendents had recently with Eugene Peterson, whose life work has centered on ministering to the likes of us. Ponder with me some of the things Jim Freitheim took as quotes from Peterson's presentations, and as you do thank God with me for the whole company of those who have pastored and shepherded you through life:

* We are poets, we live with people who fight demons and are thrown into the lion's den on a regular basis.
* The work of the poet is to get you to participate.
* It is a privilege to be a pastor.
* One of the first things we should ask our leaders, "How is your prayer life?"
* You can't keep the sabbath by yourself.
* There are two words in our culture that people respond to: "Help me!"
* Pastors need to develop a hermeneutic of Scripture through which all of Scripture must be treated.
* People in our churches don't need advice. They need a pastor.

God bless all those above who have answered God's call. And bless too the many coming after us who are answering it still, day by day and year after year.