Thursday, August 28, 2008

Two Hour Summer Vacation

Carol and her husband Ralph have raised their own biological family; five children, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, each possessing a robust sense of humor, a group who don’t take themselves too seriously. To them, life is an adventure to be lived—lived to the fullest.

While raising their family, they have been foster parents to over 200 children; children from every walk of life. They fit in, but it was not without its problems. This couple with their extended family developed an honest, straightforward approach to life. It is a joy to watch this group in action. Work was accomplished, discipline handed out, all covered with prayer and a sense of humor, genuine humility and love.

Carol wanted the summer off, a vacation of sorts from the continual demands that are placed on her life when you are a Mom. She wanted a break from the foster children just for the summer. As we age, the reservoir for strength for the battle doesn’t refill itself as fast as it did in our younger days. Carol had visions of coffee with friends and family; she looked forward to days she could stay in her nightgown until 1:00 p.m. (or later) if she wanted and just doing things without having a group of little ones underfoot.

Carol was two hours into her long awaited summer vacation when the phone rang. Three young children needed a home; no one else would take them. You know what’s coming—Carol accepted them. Carol’s summer vacation has turned into another summer of work, meetings, doctors’ appointments and driving many miles for parental visitation. Carol said it’s the constant demands placed upon her that drain her physical and mental reservoirs.

Carol complained to friends in her small group at church. Their friend Arnie, a retired dairy farmer who lost his wife about 15 years ago, reminded her that there are many people who live alone and wish someone would be around to “bother” them. Carol felt guilty.

A life of service to the Lord is a busy life. Ralph and Carol see their work as foster parents as a ministry. This ministry has been tiring, frustrating and draining but it is has also been rewarding.

Serving the Lord in such a way brings about attention from Satan and his demon buddies. Jesus tells us in John 10:10a: “The thief (Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” That is Satan’s goal—to kill, steal and destroy. The life of a foster parent is front-line trench warfare against sin and Satan and his buddies. Carol and Ralph know this—they are not rookie soldiers wandering through life with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. They know the purpose of the battle is the salvation of people’s souls. Remember the rest of John 10:10 where Jesus says: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

They are called to minister and they minister unselfishly. If they read this, they will be uncomfortable; uncomfortable because foster parenting is what they do—it’s no big thing. But they must do this, not everyone can do it. God has chosen them to do foster parenting; God has provided and protected them. May the Lord be praised.

So Carol’s summer vacation only lasted two hours. She looks forward to time off but I doubt it will ever happen in this life; she knows that. Thank you Lord, for people willing to sacrifice themselves for others and for Your glory. Thank you Carol and Ralph for your Godly example; a life of service well lived. Remember what Jesus says in John 10:11: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Thank you Jesus, for loving all of us wayward sheep. Amen.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tears on the Prairie

West Central Minnesota is a no-man’s land to many. One hundred and thirty miles from Minneapolis, about the same distance from Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Fargo, North Dakota, the area in some ways falls through the cracks. Things occur on the farms and in the small towns which generate little, if any, coverage in the larger metropolitan areas. That is ok with most of the people out here. We take care of ourselves. We don’t desire the bright lights of the city; that is some of the reasons why we are here. We survive because in many ways we are simple, undemanding and straightforward people. We enjoy hard work, freedom and accomplishment. Yet we get hurt also… This may not be news in the big cities but…

The real news out here is lived out in the lives of everyday people. Little victories, great victories and at the same time sadness is mingled with joy. Caroline Sandell Berg in her hymn “Day by Day” says in part: (The Lord)“Gives unto each day what He deems best, lovingly its part of pain and pleasure, mingling toil with peace and rest.”

I marvel at the common men and women who struggle each day. They struggle to make ends meet, carry out their appointed role as farmer, business person, parent, spouse, child, caregiver, and fellow Christian walking beside us on this earthly journey.

This last week I have been inspired by these people. A businessman and farmer, battling with cancer, loses his best friend and business partner unexpectedly; a shock and surprise to all. In his sorrow he said “I should have been the one who died. I mean people are expecting me to die of cancer but not Bob.” As a survivor, he wanted to give up, sell the business and move on. When I asked him what he would do, he said “Nothing” and then added, “and I would be dead in two years.” As we talked, I suggested he not make any decisions when he is grieving. He agreed that he will go on but through tears he said “Damn, Jerry, it hurts.” Yes, it hurts.

Listen to the words of Psalm 46:1-7: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Also read the words to the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God”. Be encouraged; God is still on the throne.

Last week I met a couple whose farm was hit by a storm. Their farmstead plus fields were hit. The TV cameras didn’t make it to their place; they weren’t asked and they wouldn’t want or expect the attention. Third generation immigrants wrangling out a good but hard life on the prairies of Western Minnesota, they have been through this before. The financial uncertainty, finding the physical will to clean up and keep going is tiring and discouraging. They wonder what God is trying to tell them. Job 37:11-13 says, “He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them. At his direction they swirl around over the face of the whole earth to do whatever he commands them. He brings the clouds to punish men, or to water his earth and show his love.” Through a face streaked with tears, eyes red from crying, the tears flowed and we talked. We held each other in our arms and prayed and cried. We may struggle and get discouraged but God is still on His throne. He loves us and has a merciful heart. Come to Jesus and live.

What can we do? Listen, hope, pray, encourage, and endure. At times I too wonder what God is doing. Not in my life but in the lives of these dear people. I have met more and more people struggling with loss and loss of hope. They tell me no one seems to care. Last night I read parts of the gospels; Jesus was out among them (the hurting people of the world). We must be out among them. We must minister where we are planted. Go out and be among the hurting people. These people need help; not necessarily financial help but some one to listen without judgment or as one lady said, “not with smiling faces that mean nothing and washing over everything with warm fuzzy words that don’t satisfy.” We need to know God’s Word and lead them to God’s Word for Jesus was called The Word. And through the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit Jesus will console, encourage, restore, guide and heal. Keep your head. Time marches on and one day, sweet people, you will rest in peace.

Oh Mighty Heavenly Father, heal, encourage, restore, grant peace and rest to your tired and weary saints. You alone are our hope. Thank you for the cross; the work is already done. Thank you sweet Jesus; stay with us and guide us Holy Spirit. Amen

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Danger of Playing Mini-God

King Manasseh became King of Israel when he was 12 years old. He was a wicked king; he was a mass murderer, he sacrificed two of his sons to the non-existent god Molech and he worshipped everything but the True God. Manasseh led his people, the nation of Israel, astray. It says in II Chronicles 33:10-13: "The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the LORD brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God."

In verse 11, it says “So the Lord…” So the Lord set a plan in motion to bring Manasseh back to Him. Having an army come against you, getting a hook put in your nose, being led off captive to a Babylonian jail doesn’t seem like a positive experience. God never intended it to be a positive experience. He intended it to be the beginning of a process to bring Manasseh back to the Lord.

I spoke on this recently. A woman spoke to me after the service and told me this, “I have been angry with God for things He brought into my life, but now I realize these things were the very things that drove me to my knees and brought me to the Lord.”

We need to be careful when we call certain things in our lives a blessing or a curse. What is often called a blessing can be a curse. We need to be careful for what we ask.

The trial you and I are in right now may be painful and unpleasant. We can’t see the future but a loving God will do what He must to bring us back to Him. Remember, God disciplines, those He loves.

Be careful when we have the desire to play mini-god. When we do, we attempt to assume God’s role in our life and the life of others. It is dangerous ground; stay away from doing it. Offer advice with wisdom. Encourage, forgive and love our fellowman but forget about being a mini-god making pronouncements we were never intended to make.

Manasseh finds himself in prison. It says in verse 12 “In his distress.” In his distress he seeks out the Lord, humbles himself, and prays to God and guess what? God was moved! Yes, the mass murderer, two-time baby killer, star worshipping heathen finds that the Lord’s heart was moved. Manasseh finds mercy. So will we if we but seek God, humble ourselves, and pray. The Lord is merciful and good…There is no need for us to play mini-god.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Is your church a museum to the past or are you a relic of the past?

In a recent email we received from Bill Keller at, he made a reference to Wayne Dyer and it got me thinking. Wayne Dyer was on PBS this past weekend which I watched briefly. His programs are popular; his advice is straight forward and uplifting. The message is this…you can have a happy life if you apply self-help principles (find joy from within yourselves) which, when the veneer is peeled off, is just positive thinking claptrap. This advice soothes for awhile but it doesn’t last. The advice is God-less and will fail you in the end. But…I must give him credit; he knows how to reach the masses. He knows how to tap into a spiritual vacuum and, in the process, makes a lot of money.

In the meantime, we the church, sit huddled in our individual stained glass windowed museums. We are comfortable here, slapping each other on the back, glad we’re saved, but lacking any serious motivation to take the message of Christ to our hurting, searching world.

The reality is, we’re saved (happy for me) but not glad enough to get off our duffs and go to the streets, country lanes, bars, schools, and offices. No, we sit and enjoy our good fortunes (our million-dollar church bank accounts) while around us, our neighbors go to hell…and we sit unmoved.

Do you want a test to measure the impact of your church upon your community? Ask the sheriff, the police chief, the school superintendent and county welfare office administrator this question: If (fill in the blank) Church were to close it’s doors, would that have any impact upon our community or would our church’s ministry be missed in the community? How will they answer?

In Ezekiel 33:2-6 it says, "Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: 'When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.' The church is to be the watchman on the wall.

The church in American knows the truth and we sit and give the Wayne Dyers of the world a free ride. We fail to mount any effective effort to share the message of Jesus Christ. While we sit around a belch like a bunch of over-fed cows, generations are going to hell; some of them our own flesh and blood. Yes, and concerning blood, we have their blood upon our hands and God knows it. We don’t want to see the sword coming. (Ezekiel 33:6)

God help us! May the Lord speak to our hearts. May the Lord stir us to life. May the Lord give us the courage to share the message with the hurting, searching masses of the world.

Dr. Dyer exists because the masses are searching for the truth. Dyer is effective in filling this spiritual vacuum in our culture. We have a spiritual vacuum because we sit cloistered in our sissy-fied, safe churches while the world goes to Hell.

Some people may ask why I seem so pessimistic. If I am pessimistic, it is because every day I live and work in a society that is living out the results of a Christ-less value system. The problems which I deal with on the streets of Minneapolis can become disheartening. In rural Minnesota we have time to make a difference but I must be honest, I see little, if any, effective ministry occurring. We keep looking back to the past wishing what might have been rather than having the courage to minister to the culture we have.

We must mount up and ride. We must invade the culture of the masses. The questions to ask are these:
Is my church an invading army or it is a museum to the past?
Are you a soldier of the cross or are you comfortable, admiring the stain-glass artifacts of the past?
Who am I?
Why am I here?
And where am I going?

Dear Lord, give us the courage to obey you. Amen.