Friday, December 26, 2008

Do you have any dreams for 2009?

The winter brings a special problem to us in the property management business—snow. It does not cooperate with our schedules. We clear seven blocks of sidewalks in downtown Minneapolis each snow event. The snows have been coming early in the morning or during the evening rush hour. When we have people around, we cannot use some of our blowers because of potential injury to pedestrians. All this brings me out early in the morning.

I like doing snow in the early morning; surprisingly, early morning street traffic is busy. By early, I mean between 5 and 6 a.m. Every morning AA meets at the Dunn Brothers Coffee Shop down the street. People who come to AA meetings are a cross section of our society. One man I notice drives a Jaguar car, dresses impeccably, he carries himself with dignity and class; an obvious success. He looks like a successful businessman.

Other mornings on the same street in the loading dock, “Mike”, the homeless guy, rummages through our dumpster to find food thrown out by Eddie’s CafĂ©. Mike is a little weird but friendly. He has been on the street by choice for over 10 years. He definitely is not a success by our world’s standards.

I ask a question: Is the homeless man a failure? I think it depends. Most of us believe that he is a failure. But, we can achieve our dreams like the man with the Jaguar (my assumption) and yet not feel fulfilled. We can have accomplishments, possess the symbols of success and yet feel unfulfilled. Dreams accomplished don’t necessarily bring contentment and fulfillment. (Notice: The well dressed man driving the Jaguar is going to an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting.) He is still searching for something but what is it?

We see the dumpster-diving Mike with his stark hollow look, his disheveled life and presence, and view it with sadness. What’s he really looking for; probably something not much different than the Jaguar driving successful businessman. We just don’t see the scavenging going on in the businessman’s life, searching for meaning in his successes and accomplishments but we very openly see Mike’s scavenging.

Where are you today in a dumpster or a Jaguar? What dreams do you have? “None” you say; you’ve accomplished it all yet you’re looking for fulfillment and hope in drugs, booze, food or whatever.

I think many of us don’t have dreams because we are bored. Ravi Zacharias once said “We know that hopes come and go and that life returns to the common and the repetitive. If that fluctuation and disappointment were only momentary, we could endure it. But life is not what we thought it would be. The problem with life, then, is not that a man ends up burrowing through garbage looking for something to fill his stomach but that no matter what we have achieved or attained in our life, we still find ourselves burrowing deep within, trying to assuage (diminish) the hungers of our soul.”

We are bored to death. We lack passion for life. We lack passion for our family, work, our faith, and our community, whatever!

Do you have a dream? We should have. I believe the more impossible the better. The secret is this—serve someone else. Jesus said in Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Serving other people takes the focus off ourselves and our problems; purpose and meaning return to our life when we become Christ to others. Let’s go and serve one another. Jesus is our example.

Joel 2:28 says: "And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” Yes, we all need to dream.

Remember this, dream your dreams, but their fulfillment may not satisfy. Only a transformed Christ-centered life satisfies. Hold on to that in these perilous days.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hope on a cold December day in Western Minnesota

Friday, December 12th was Barb Miller Slagter’s funeral. I’m sure that in hundreds of different towns across the prairie they had a funeral also. This Friday morning broke cold and raw even by Minnesota standards. I walked to the car to drive into Danube. The snow crunched under my feet and the west northwest wind was starting finger drifts from the west side of the road. The wind blew serpentine drifts we call “snake drifts” across the road in an almost soothing manner.

This week Barb, 62, lost her long battle with Parkinson’s disease. A year ago November her husband Gary died from a genetic lung disease. It’s been a tough year for the Slagter kids.

Barb was a Miller. They lived north of us; she rode the bus with us—No.6, always driven by Elgin Kurtz. My first memory of the Miller’s was when the tornado hit their place. It came out of the southwest, nicked the Freiborg place and then wiped Miller’s place off the map. It was a stormy night. When a tornado rumbles on the prairie during the night, it is extra scary; especially if you are a 7 year old girl like Barb was.

Her Dad, Otto, farmed and worked construction. He was killed in a construction accident the week before she graduated from Danube High School in the spring of 1964. She married Gary in 1965. They were a good pair, raised a good family, worked hard, and kept their noses clean. Yesterday as I sat at the funeral, I had a nagging feeling, “This isn’t fair.” God forgive me. I know You are sovereign, you do as you please and I have no problem with that. But, I must be honest, I wondered why.

I saw the procession move towards the south cemetery, thirty cars and trucks. It was a good day; she is with Jesus. Gary and Barb are back together. It was a sad day as children and grandchildren wept.

When Barb was confirmed, her class sang “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” We sang that as a closing hymn at her funeral. On this cold, dark blustery December morning, hope seemed hard to find. I left Danube with the words of the hymn ringing in my ears… "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus love and righteousness."

I had to go to Renville to drop off a donation at Mentorworks Too-Kinship run by Lori Dobmeier Clasemann. Lori’s a local girl, an eternal optimist in ministry to the down and outs in Renville County. The store front she works out of is unmarked. It is a conglomeration of boxes of food, clothes, and other goods. It is cold in there, not warm in the least bit. Its noon, Lori sits in the back room eating soup with a smile from ear to ear. She is a dreamer; she loves the poor and ministers to them quietly without much help from the traditional church. We like to talk about ministry more than we like to minister. She ministers rather than talking about it—she just ministers.

Across the street, Dan is the manager at Maynard’s Grocery. A relocated Nebraska corn husker, he’s built low with an open smile. He does it all and doesn’t seem to get the least bit flustered. He has the pulse of this small prairie town community. Dan loves to minister to men. Recovered drunks and drug addicts are comfortable in his presence. He’s busy most nights of the week, ministering beyond just the local community.

I had left Danube with a somewhat sad, empty feeling, only to find the hope being lived out just five miles away in downtown Renville. God’s plans are never thwarted. His message will reach His people. No, He’s not God at a distance but God with us—Immanuel. Yes, He was at Barb Slagter’s funeral and He is also in the backroom of Mentorworks with Lori and across the street with Dan, grinding meat in the grocery store.

God is with us. I need not be afraid; God is with us this Christmas—Immanuel; a light for the Gentiles and the only hope for the future. God bless you this Advent season.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

America as I know it, slips away

Isaiah 3:8-9: "Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling; their words and deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence. The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves."

We have entered into the annual spendathon—Christmas shopping season. Yes, I have the privilege to drive all over the country, wait in line to buy cheap, Chinese junk that I really don’t need. In reality most of it will (or should) be in the dumpster in two years.

The “good news” about this is that I can put it on the credit card and according the ads bombarding my desk, I don’t have to pay the bill. Yes, I can avoid bankruptcy, settle with the credit card company for 20 cents on the dollar and preserve my somewhat damaged credit rating. Isn’t this America great? I can have my pie and eat it too.

I also see ads on TV on how to settle delinquent taxes for only a fraction of the original cost. A fifties something woman with jacked-up hair sitting next to her docile, somewhat ashamed husband, chortles, “I settled my $115,000 tax obligation for $7,500 with the help of ‘Tax Busters’.” Not a bad deal. I mean with the money I save by not paying my credit card bills and taxes, I can have a good old time this Holiday Season.

As I listen to these ads, I hear our core values being eroded away. In our culture there always seems to be an out for ridiculous, immature, irresponsible behavior. People, it’s no free lunch, the rest of us pay the bill. We pay the bill with higher prices for goods and higher taxes to ease the insurmountable deficit.

On Channel 4 News the other evening, a woman psychologist reported they are doing a land office business with people struggling with economic issues. The Doctor said, “What is sad this time is the people who have done everything right, worked hard and saved their money, are now losing it. The system has failed them.” A sobering comment in these days.

On December 10, 2008, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said "The federal government of the United States of America is broke.” “What they are proposing to do is pay credit card debt with more credit card debt." "They are engaged in a very elaborate Ponzi scheme," said Pawlenty. "It is a house of cards and it is eventually going to collapse, I will predict to you, sooner rather than later." If this will come true, it will be sobering.

America, I hardly know you. In these days we would do well to remember the words of Scott Wesley Brown in his song, “This Little Child.” In verse two, it says in part: “Yet in the midst of this darkness, There is a hope, a light that burns. This little child - the King of kings – Some day will return!” (Click on the Blog Title above)

Speaking of Jesus in John 1:1-5: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” Church, rise up—be the light in this dark, dark world.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Do Not Be Afraid – Forever More

Luke 1:28-30: “The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.’

Many times throughout the Advent Season we hear the encouraging words “Do not be afraid.” In numerous scriptures beyond the Advent story we also see the hopeful words in one way or another. In other parts of scripture we are told to fear God. In Proverbs 1:7 it says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

Taking all this into consideration, is God talking out of both sides of His mouth? I think not. To fear God is to have a loving reverence for God that includes submission to this Lordship and to the commands of His word. The Lord is our King and Savior and as we stand in awe of His presence we can rejoice at the same time.

A part of us knows that God’s awesome wrath lingers in the background. This makes us uneasy waiting for the Hammer of God’s Wrath to drop. The good news for believers this Advent Season is this: “The Hammer of God’s Wrath” has already dropped. For us believers, we need not fear God’s wrath because Jesus Christ upon the cross took all of God’s wrath that should have been directed to us. Yes, Jesus took it completely, bore all the pain and suffering and in return, we get undeserved forgiveness and grace. We need not be afraid anymore. Yes, we stand in God-fearing awe and reverence when we consider what Jesus has done for us but we need not be afraid. This is the good news of the gospel.

When the God of the universe says “Do not be afraid”, we need not worry about any lingering wrath of God because Jesus paid for my sins. Can we stand in awesome fear and reverence? Yes, but we no longer need to be afraid.

Sleep well Christian, your sins are forgiven and you have been rescued from the coming wrath through Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10: "for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” And Christians remember Jesus watches over you. Be not afraid. Oh Jesus, thank you again. Amen.