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.