First United Methodist Church – Core Values

A Lenten Journey of Stones

Dear Friends,

The season of Lent is a special time for Christians. 

Every year, these holy, forty days, are set aside for us to reflect on our own brokenness and need for confession, repentance, and forgiveness. The season concludes on Easter Sunday, following Holy Week, with the assurance that, in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, we have been given the promise of new life eternal. This year we will have a powerful opportunity to experience this evolution of emotion, reflection, acceptance, and celebration as we embark together on a “Journey of Stones.”

My weekly sermons will be based on scriptural references to stones that will call us to prayerful and honest repentance. Weekly themes will include: Written in Stone, Rejected Stones, Sticks and Stones, Hearts of Stone, Upon this Rock, Crying Stones, The Final Stone, Stones to Bread, and finally, The White Stone. See the whole schedule and assigned scripture readings here.

To aid us in our reflection and worship experience, each Sunday you will be invited to come forward during the hymn following the sermon, and place a stone at the foot of the cross, as a symbol of our sin and all those things which separate us from God. You can bring your own stones or pick one up outside the sanctuary from some that will be provided. Read more…

Comings and Goings

Dear Friends,

Our lives are full of Comings and Goings, it seems. 

Children and grandchildren are born and bless us with their lives of energy, enthusiasm, joy, and interests. Those same children and grandchildren then grow up and leave home with that same energy, enthusiasm, and joy in order to pursue many of those same interests. Such Comings and Goings happen throughout our lives and at different stages of our lives. People come and people go. Jobs come and jobs go. Opportunities come and opportunities go.

Congregations are not immune from the Comings and Goings of life, either. Members, friends, and pastors come and go. This is often hard because of the change that accompanies such Comings and Goings.

So with that said, on behalf of our Staff Parish Relations Committee I am excited and saddened to share two specific Comings and Goings within our congregation. Read more…

A Fresh Start!

Dear Friends,

Recently, while driving, I saw a billboard advertising a new church. In big bold letters that stretched across the entire billboard it read, “A Great Church for a Fresh Start!”  

In light of 2019 and a decade coming to an end, I’ve been thinking recently about the fresh start for all of us that has arrived as we enter a new year and a new decade. We all desire fresh starts or “do-overs” in life from time to time, don’t we?

The church promoted on this billboard understands this and seeks to attract people who have either had negative experiences in their previous churches or who perhaps are unchurched and have never had a church home. Maybe they are trying to appeal to those who feel as if their church has let them down. Or, that their church is no longer meeting their needs. They want to send the message that “if you come to our church you can start fresh”, or “this isn’t like your old church”, or “this church will give you what you’re looking for!” It’s a great marketing strategy, to tap into the hearts of those seeking renewal.

But as I began to think deeply about that slogan I realized how misleading it seems to be. Any church that faithfully and truthfully preaches and lives out the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a great church for a fresh start, is it not? Every Sunday that you sit in your pew and worship the Lord with gladness and open hearts and minds, I pray you leave that experience renewed, energized, filled, and having been given a fresh start!  Read more…

The Job of Advent

Dear Friends,

Well, congratulations for surviving Black Friday. Unless you stayed home, of course. But, seriously, if you ventured out to shop with the masses on Friday, congratulations for surviving it. Not everyone did. At a department store in California, a shopper used pepper spray to keep others away from the smart TV she wanted to buy. At another, a customer was stabbed over a $2 item; and in the parking lot of a store, robbers attacked some midnight customers on the way back to their car with their purchases. It’s crazy, isn’t it? Here are just a few news headlines I saw over the weekend: “Black Friday is when Americans take the gloves off and fight for their right to shop,” “Black Friday sales resulting in chaos breaking out around the nation, with fights, stampedes and even gun scares,” “Long Lines and Fist Fights On Black Friday”

And yet, such incidents seem not to deter most, do they? Maybe you are one who enthusiastically embraces and participates in the longest and most full-contact annual shopping day of the year. I get it. You wake up early, you meet up with family and friends, you get a rush from the crowds, you probably got some pretty good deals. If you are a manager of a big box store like Target or Wal-Mart, you’re loving it; packed aisles, ringing registers, and stuff flying off the shelves faster than you can restock them. If you’re a local, small business shop owner, you might have felt the hit. Hopefully Small Business Saturday helped make up for some of that. Different people; different responses; different perceptions of the same event. Not everyone sees things through the same lens; that is simply a fact of our human personality.

The same is definitely true when we read scripture. Take, for example, the gospel lesson for the First Sunday in Advent (Matthew 24:36-44). Regarding the coming of the Son of Man, “two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Therefore, you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Read more…

Humble Thyself

Dear Friends,
For years at Bible camp, on mission trips, at confirmation large group gatherings, in Sunday morning worship, and in the quiet of a small group gathered at our home, I’ve led and sung the song, “Humble Thyself.” The song reminds us from scripture to “humble thyself in the sight of the Lord … and He shall lift you up … higher and higher!” It’s always been a favorite song for many and a powerful song to experience the presence of God’s Holy Spirit while singing.
The scriptural reference for that song is from Luke 18:9-14. It’s a parable about prayer in which Jesus holds nothing back, beginning right away in verse nine, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable…” The parable then ends with verse 14, echoing the words of the song, “Anyone who exalts themselves will be humbled, and anyone who humbles themselves will be exalted (lifted up … higher and higher!)”
It’s amazing isn’t it, how seemingly, in all the years since Jesus told this parable, that not much has changed regarding how we act towards one another? Read more…

God Equips Me!

Dear Friends,
We’re in the third week now of our five-week sermon series called, “Claimed: Wildly Loved by God!”. The first week we heard how God claims us – how God created us as we are, full of value and worth, and claimed us as his own. Then last Sunday we heard how not only God created and claimed us, but he loves us, without condition, beyond our comprehension. And now today, understanding we are created, claimed, and loved by God, we learn how, or are reminded how, through God’s Holy Spirit, we are equipped with unique gifts to serve and love God. Again, like last week, remembering just how much we are unconditionally loved by God, knowing and understanding that these gifts from the Holy Spirit that we’ve each been created with, then compels us to use them to serve, love, and uplift those around us. This is God’s purpose for us always – to serve and love him while serving and loving others.
In his book, Dangerous Wonder, Mike Yaconelli writes, “I am convinced that what characterizes people who know Jesus is not their lack of sin, but the presence of a radical, wild, mysterious calling from God upon their life.”
God has a plan and a purpose for each of us. We weren’t saved from a life of sin to simply and only sit in a church pew on Sunday mornings. Christ died for us so that we could tell others that Christ died for them, while loving and serving them in any way we can. While sharing that common goal, each of us has been equipped and prepared differently for unique purposes. Read more…

God Claims Me!

Dear Friends,
The philosopher Immanuel Kant’s lifelong research revolved around four questions: “Who am I?” “What am I?” “What can I do?” “What can I know?” The only unanswerable question of those four, he said was: “Who am I?”
“Who am I?”
In the Bible, Moses asked it, David asked it, Jeremiah asked it. I would think Mary asked herself that question from time to time as she came to terms with being the mother of our Lord.  Throughout the ages people have asked the question, “Who am I?” Many people do not know who they are or why they exist. They try all sorts of philosophies, treatments, religions and sometimes even drugs to find themselves. It’s the one question we all keep coming back to – that we all want the answer to – in the big picture – in this big world – who am I, in the midst of it? That’s the question we focus on this morning as we kick off our five-week series called, “Claimed: Wildly Loved by God.”
While I’m in no position to debate the intricacies of life and life’s meaning with a world renowned philosopher like Immanuel Kant, I am pretty certain, that what he believed to be an unanswerable question, is answered through faith in God and Christ Jesus. Let’s look a bit closer to find out why. Read more…

Do You Know Who I Am?

Dear Friends,
There is a rather humorous story told about the 1st President Bush, #41 – George Herbert Walker Bush. He was out one day doing some public relations work by visiting a nursing home. He came upon a wise old man pushing his walker along down the hall. President Bush took the man by the hand, looked gently into his eyes and said, “Sir, I’m very pleased to meet you. Do you know who I am?” Confused, the old man looked back at the President and said, “No, I’m really not sure who you are” – then whispered, “but I bet if you asked one of the nurses, they could help you out!” 
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:13-20)
In this familiar conversation between Jesus and his closest friends, Jesus was not asking them if they knew who he was because he did not know the answer to the question. Jesus was asking them if they knew who he was so that they could be sure of his identity – and consequently place all their hope and trust in Him as He knew it was going to become more difficult to claim Him as their Messiah — as Simon Peter did so confidently and so boldly in the following verse, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
At this point in Jesus’ earthly ministry, His eyes are set on Jerusalem — the place where all prophets go to die — and if his disciples are going to make that journey with him, they need to be absolutely sure and convinced of who he is. So He asked them if they knew who He was.
The silent screen actor from the 1930’s, Charlie Chaplin, once entered a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest in Monte Carlo. Imagine his surprise when he came in third place! Read more…

Bigger Than A Math Problem

Dear Friends,
Let’s suppose that I bought a horse from a man, and for that horse I had to pay, in cold hard cash, a grand total of six dollars. When I get home with the horse, everyone’s excited. My kids think I’m a hero. My frugal spouse thinks I’m a great bargainer. The horse is definitely a hit with the family. But after a while, problems arise. The horse is too big for the house, even though I’ve told the kids, “no galloping in the living room.” It’s getting expensive to feed this animal, too. Finally my spouse declares, “that horse has got to go.” I take the horse back to the man who originally sold it to me, and he’s gracious enough to buy the horse back for eight dollars. But I miss that old horse. A lot of times at night, after the kids have gone to bed, I can be found staring up at the moon and playing my harmonica, singing cowboy songs. My spouse, bless her heart, can’t stand to see me mope over old Calico, so she finally gives in and says, “Oh all right, go back and buy that horse again.” This time I buy the horse from the same man for ten dollars. You can guess what happened. No sooner did we get the horse back to the house that we began to face all the old problems again. The kids were still horsing around and horse was doing a major number on the carpet. I could see the handwriting on the stall. I was going to have to get rid of old Calico. So, I took the horse back to the same guy and sold him my horse for twelve dollars. I no longer have the horse, but I do have a question. After all my wheeling and dealing on that horse, did I make money or lose money? Not counting feed, or gas back and forth to the farm – did I come out ahead? Did I go in the hole? Or did I break even? And if I did gain or lose – how much did I gain or lose? 
Take a moment to come up with an answer to that question. The answer I come up with is that the man made a four dollar profit. (He spent six dollars and ten dollars = sixteen dollars; He received eight dollars and twelve dollars = twenty dollars; subtract sixteen dollars from twenty dollars and you get a four dollar profit.)
I’m expecting a variety of different answers to the posed questions because of the nature of the story and the sequence of events within the story. I’m guessing coming up with an answer will be confusing, difficult, and maybe even frustrating for some as you struggle with what seems like an algebraic equation that it calls for. 
This word problem was originally printed in a second-grade math book. Knowing that, the answer to this problem should have been easy to arrive at. But was it? If your math skills are like mine, then the answer is definitely no.
I share this classic word problem with you this month as a metaphor to the position our denomination finds itself in right now. The United Methodist Church, its Annual Conferences, and individual congregations (including ours) within them, are trying to solve a problem surrounding the matter of whether or not to fully include the LGBTQIA+ community. Read more…

Our Changing Church

Dear Friends,
As I sit down to write this blog, I do so on the evening of the final day of the annual three-day conference gathering of the MN Annual Conference in St. Cloud. As always the conference was filled with uplifting worship, inspiring speakers, challenging preachers, and a strong connective network of United Methodists clergy and laity from throughout our state. Video and other highlights of the conference are posted here.
The joy of Minnesota Methodists being together stood out for me, once again, this year. However, what set this annual conference apart from previous ones was that it was the first one following the Special General Conference gathering that was held last February in St. Louis. It was in St. Louis that the UMC as a whole voted to continue its ban on LGBTQIA+ marriages and ordinations, as well as voting to strengthen disciplinary procedures, tighten restrictions, and increase the enforcement of any who choose not to abide by this ruling. So among the joy of being together at this annual conference, there was also an increased tension and level of anxiety among clergy and delegates in attendance.
Since the rulings of St. Louis in February, through broadcast, social, and print media, it has become widely evident that the majority of American UMC congregations and members are not in agreement with the St. Louis ruling and many have chosen to begin the process of visioning what God might have in store for a more inclusive UMC. The conversations and debates at this year’s annual conference in St. Cloud made it abundantly clear that the shape of the United Methodist Church will change considerably in the next couple of years. What was also made clear is that nobody knows exactly how that will look. Change will happen, for sure. Read more…

Belonging Leads to Believing

Dear Friends,
A “go-to” book of mine on a bookshelf in my office is entitled, “Growing An Engaged Church: How To Stop ‘Doing Church’ and Start BEING The Church Again” by Albert L. Winseman.
I love this book for many reasons as it helps me understand how to help you, as members of this congregation, to become more engaged, rather than just involved. There’s a big difference between being engaged in a congregation and being involved in a congregation. Mostly that engagement makes one’s contributions feel important, needed, and appreciated. A result of congregational engagement is a feeling of deep joy and satisfaction. If one does not feel that their contributions are making a difference, and that no joy or satisfaction is felt, they are likely involved, and not engaged. A whole other newsletter article could be written about this!
I also love this book for the many direct questions it suggest we ask ourselves in order to determine our level of engagement within the congregation. Some of the questions, in relation to the congregation, include: Why do/don’t people join our church? Why do/don’t they stay? Why do/don’t they serve? What do I get? What do I give? How can we grow? If time and money were no object, what would I do for God? These are questions I would love to hear your responses to sometime. Shoot me an email or call me.
However, while those are great questions, the two most thought-provoking questions the book asks, in my opinion, are, “What do I believe?” and “Do I belong?”
Believing and Belonging. Both impact our daily lives in ways we might not realize but should consider. Read more…

The Legacy of Thomas

Dear Friends,
It was advertised as “Everybody Sunday!”
At a little country church, the worship planners had intended for it to be a worship experience that would meet the expectations of everyone. So they provided poinsettias and Easter lilies on the altar, for those who only come to church on Christmas and Easter. There would be electric fans on one side, for people who criticized the church for being a hot and stuffy place; and quilts on the other side who thought that the church was cold. Rocking chairs were placed in the aisles to address the concern that pews were too hard. And the offering? There was none, so that those who thought that the church was only interested in their money could relax and enjoy the service. You might be interested to know that attendance on “Everybody Sunday” was up a whopping 38%!
Last Sunday was Easter Sunday, and I can tell you that our attendance here at First United Methodist in Lindstrom was up by far more than 38%! With 166 worshipers in attendance that’s an estimated 66% increase, and all of them heard the glorious news: “He is Risen!”
But this week, across the board, and around the world, church attendance will be back to normal. The lilies are fast disappearing and so are the hundreds of visitors who worshiped in churches around the world last Sunday. After worship on Easter Sunday one new friend I met jokingly introduced himself to me as a “CEO” – meaning “Christmas and Easter Only”. We had a good laugh about that and I assured him he’s not alone in that category! I didn’t tell him this, but I really hope he comes back to worship this Sunday. Because on Easter, with all the hype and the hoopla, there is the sense that everybody buys into the resurrection – except perhaps, the CEO’s, that is. They might leave Easter Sunday worship wondering what’s wrong with them? Why is it so easy for everybody else to believe so wholeheartedly in the resurrection, but it’s so hard for them? I wish all the CEO’s would come back this Sunday, to hear of a man who was, perhaps, like them; Thomas, the doubter. Read more…

Up From the Ashes, Beauty Will Rise!

Dear Friends,
I am writing this on the Tuesday of Holy Week.
My heart and mind are balancing delicately somewhere between Palm/Passion Sunday and Easter. I was moved again, as I always am, as I read for you last Sunday the passion narrative of our Lord from Mark’s gospel. In my sermon that morning I pointed out the “obvious and intended tension” that was in the air as we worshiped. Both the triumph and the tragedy of Jesus’ life are necessary in order to fully embrace the promise of the resurrection which comes on Easter.

Notre Dame Cathedral Burns During Holy Week

I’m feeling that tension still as I prepare my sermons for Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday morning.
I know to expect this tension every year in Holy Week as I strive to most effectively help you experience the events leading up to the resurrection in a new way. However, what I wasn’t expecting to add to that holy tension this year, was the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. Read more…

A Routine Resurrection?

Dear Friends,
The cartoon on the right shows a couple leaving church on Easter Sunday and shaking hands with the pastor. The man says to the pastor, “You’re in a rut, Reverend. Every time I come here, you preach about the Resurrection.”
We chuckle at that, but sometimes even those who faithfully come to church more regularly than on Easter have a similar attitude. We want to have a devoted attitude, but instead we fall into, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. I know all that. Same story. Different year.” It’s tempting to turn the most fantastic event of human history into something routine. We cannot let this happen.
Each year, I find I need to slow down and reflect on the events of Holy Week so that I can absorb its wonder. Sometimes just walking through those familiar events stirs my heart to remember all that Christ did for me. Holy Week begins this coming Palm Sunday, which celebrates Christ riding into Jerusalem in great triumph. On this day, all of those following Christ must have been elated. The way the crowd responded to Jesus’ entrance that day was the response they would give to royalty. It truly was cause for celebration. But as we will experience on Sunday as we worship, we will move from this triumphal entrance towards the tragic crucifixion. We will experience again how the crowds quickly changed their shouts of “Hosanna! Lord save us!” to “Crucify Him! He is no king of ours!”  Read more…

Mutual Conversation and Consolation

Dear Friends,
In my previous blog entry entitled, “Good Listening = Good Conversation” I prepared our members for an upcoming congregational conversation that was to be (and was) held on Sunday, March 17 following our morning worship service regarding the February meeting of the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church that was held in St. Louis. The Special General Conference voted to continue and strengthen the UMC’s ban on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ individuals within the denomination.
The title of my previous blog entry proved to be true at our meeting yesterday. I am pleased to affirm the nearly 100 members of our congregation who were able to attend, in their good listening skills, which in turn, led to the important, fruitful, respectful, and good conversation that I was hoping and praying for. I dare say everyone present at that meeting left feeling listened to, encouraged, and fulfilled. God’s presence in the Holy Spirit was felt by all because of how well we listened to and encouraged one another, despite differing theological and scriptural understandings. Read more…

Good Listening = Good Conversation

Dear Friends,
I spent this day with a few hundred other Methodist clergy from throughout the MN Annual Conference at the annual all-clergy gathering at the Marriott Hotel in Mpls. The focus of the gathering this year was to contemplate together the recent decision at the Special General Conference in St. Louis to continue (and strengthen) the denomination’s ban on same-sex marriage and ordinations of LGBTQ individuals.
We began the gathering in worship and prayer which led us into a focused time of confession. Selected individuals confessed publicly before the assembly the ways in which their previously held hard-line stance on both sides of the sexuality debate may have harmed others. It was a moving and emotional time for all present. Read more…

Thoughts on the Special General Conference

Dear Friends,
There’s a wonderful hymn entitled, “God, When Human Bonds Are Broken”. The first verse of the hymns reads:
God, when human bonds are broken, and we lack the love or skill
To restore the hope of healing, give us grace and make us still…
Give us faith to be more faithful, give us hope to be more true,
Give us love to go on learning: God, encourage and renew.
Without a doubt, these words speak to many aspects of our current world. Today they resonate especially with our denomination – the United Methodist Church.
Early this week the 2019 General Conference, the UMC’s highest legislative body, voted to affirm the denomination’s current prohibitions of “ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating at or hosting same-sex marriage.” There are numerous articles you can read about this decision at the official United Methodist Church News website. Read more…

Because of This … I Rejoice!

Dear Friends,
Lent is my favorite season of the Church year. It begins this year on Ash Wednesday, March 6.
I like the opportunity it presents each year to focus on the the wilderness journey of life that leads to the empty 
tomb of victory and triumph on Easter.This is an important opportunity for us not only once a year, but daily, as we place our hope and trust in the new life of resurrection.
Typically, Lent has been thought of as a season of self-sacrifice and discipline that sounds, to many Christians, like a list of spiritual chores. Lenten disciplines become the spiritual equivalent of New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, be healthier, or practice better money management. These promises are easily made and often quickly broken, leaving us feeling like we do not measure up. This is not an accurate or healthy view of the Lenten season.
But what if we approached Lent differently? What if we approached Lent with a spirit of joy instead of lament or despair? Read more…

Inclement Weather Update – February 20, 2019

Due to heavy snowfall, dangerous road conditions, and because the local school districts have closed school and cancelled all after-school activities for today, we will follow suit. The church office will be closed today and all Wednesday evening activities will be cancelled. This includes dinner, confirmation, adult Bible study, and choir and praise team rehearsals. For any pastoral care needs please contact Pastor Dale directly.

Drawing Lines. Erasing Lines.

Dear Friends,
In the midst of my sermon preparation for this coming Sunday (2/17) this cartoon drawing showed up on my Twitter feed. As I quickly scrolled past it, I was drawn to go back up and take a longer, closer look at it. I invite you to do the same now. Take a long, close look at this drawing and determine in your heart and mind what the artist is intending to communicate.
On the surface, I think we would all agree that the message is that Jesus erases the lines of division that we continue to draw. I’ve heard it said before that every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of that line. In the case of this drawing, he not only is on the other side of our lines, but he also is erasing our lines.
I discovered this drawing at the perfect time, as I was studying this Sunday’s preaching text from Luke 6:17-26. In this text Jesus is coming down from the mountain and addressing those who were gathered and awaiting his arrival. He immediately began to teach:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, for your reward will be great in heaven.” Read more…

A Souper Bowl of Caring!

Dear Friends,
Touchdown!! Way to go First UMC Lindstrom! Let’s see your best touchdown dance! You have scored big time!
On Sunday, February 3, our children and youth led us in worship as part of our annual “Super Bowl Youth Sunday.”
This year we added a twist and and a play on words, calling it “Souper Bowl Sundae” as soup and ice cream were served during our tailgating party in the fellowship hall after worship. 
In addition to celebrating the Super Bowl we also, as part of nationwide effort, invited worshipers to donate a non-perishable food or financial gift to be given to our local Family Pathways Food Shelf in Chisago City. And boy did you respond!! Read more…

The Work of Christmas

Dear Friends,
Today marks one month beyond our glorious celebration of Jesus’ birth.
This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany – a day when we will be reminded in worship of the work that Jesus was sent among us to accomplish as we hear what has been referred to as “Jesus’ inaugural address”.
In this address (which are his first words in the gospel of Luke) Jesus introduces and lays out the foundation of his purpose and mission for coming to earth. It is a clear announcement of his mission and an apparent description of the kingdom of God. It is a message of good news as he refers to and announces the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s vision. Speaking boldly, Jesus says,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:14-21)
This was the work and mission Jesus was sent to accomplish. It is important work. It is challenging work. It is our work. Read more…

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

Dear Friends,
Christmas and New Year’s has come and gone. 2019 is underway and my feet have now hit the ground running. 
Tonight we start a six-week study of the book, “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” by John Ortberg. In the first chapter he writes:
“The goal of this book is to help us to grow spiritually. But it is hard to write about spiritual formation in a way that captures the urgency of the subject. Too often people think about their ‘spiritual lives’ as just one more aspect of their existence, alongside and largely separate from their ‘financial lives’ or their ‘vocational lives.’ Periodically they may try to ‘get their spiritual lives together’ by praying more regularly or trying to master another spiritual discipline. It is the religious equivalent of going on a diet or trying to stick to a budget. The truth is that the term spiritual life is simply a way of referring to one’s life – every moment and facet of it – from God’s perspective. Another way of saying it is this: God is not interested in your ‘spiritual life.’ God is just interested in your life.” (John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, [Expanded ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002), 15)
The goal of this study then, will be to help us understand that God cares about the whole of our lives. Our whole life is meant to be spiritual. The book helps us see where our lives are lacking spirituality and how we can weave the two together more effectively. Read more…

Explore More In 2019

Dear Friends,
Unless you possess the confidence of Calvin in the cartoon strip below, odds are you’ve made a few new year’s resolutions over the years.
Many of us are hoping to break some bad habits and/or take up some good ones in 2019.
While resolutions at the start of a new year are good, realistically, the vast majority of us will have given up on them before the first month of the new year is out. However, this doesn’t have to apply to us. We can reach our goals when we know who we are. We know who we are, when we know whose we are. We belong to Christ who gives us the power to do all things when we do them in His name. There is a lot of power in a name, isn’t there?
This past Sunday a worshiper said to me, “Pastor, I’m going by a new name in 2019.” When I asked what that name would be, they replied, “A New Creation!” The person continued, explaining this new name was based on the apostle Paul’s words in his second letter to the Corinthian Church: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17) Read more…

Dawn of Redeeming Grace

Dear Friends,
With the dawn of Redeeming Grace.
What do those three words mean – dawn, redeeming, grace?
In the movie, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, in the closing scene, the old bloodhound sheriff, Wylie Burp, says to young Fivel as he hands him his badge, “One man’s sunset is another man’s dawn.”
Dawn is a beginning – a new start.
I’m not a morning person, but what I do love about getting up early is the opportunity to witness the dawn.
This is a great children’s book, written and illustrated by first-grade students about the tragic attack on our country on September 11, 2001. It’s called September 12th: We Knew Everything Would Be All Right. The book ends, saying, “We knew everything would be all right because the stars and moon came out and America went to sleep. And the next morning the sun (Son) came up again. (NOT) The End.” Read more…

Advent Eyes

Dear Friends,
In January of 2007, The Washington Post videotaped the reactions of commuters at a D.C. Metro (subway) stop to the music of a violinist. The overwhelming majority of the 1000+ commuters were too busy to stop. A few did, briefly, and some of those threw a couple of bills into the violin case of the street performer. No big deal, just an ordinary day on the Metro. Except it wasn’t an ordinary day. The violinist wasn’t just another street performer; he was Joshua Bell, one of the world’s finest concert violinists, playing his multi-million dollar Stradivarius. Three days earlier he had filled Boston’s Symphony Hall with people paying $100/seat to hear him play similar pieces. Watch the video here.
The question the Post author and many others since have asked is simple: Have we been trained to recognize beauty outside the contexts we expect to encounter beauty? Or, to put it another way, can we recognize great music anywhere outside of a concert hall? I’d ask a similar question of us in the church. Can we detect God only when God is surrounded by stained-glass windows and organ music?” What do you think? Can we detect God only when we’re in church? Do you think we have a vision problem? Is God still present, but unrecognized, in all sorts of places? It’s one thing to encounter God in church, or even in your home with your family. But do you also see God in the parking lot, in the grocery store, in the long check-out lines at the mall, in schools and offices, on the highway, by the side of the road, in the mundane and everyday events of life? How can you begin to see God in those places? Read more…

Heavenly Peace

Dear Friends,
We are in the midst of our Advent mid-week worship series entitled, “Calm and Bright: Celebrating 200 Years of Silent Night.” All are invited to join us for worship on Wednesdays in Advent at 6:00 p.m. in the Chapel for a half-hour quiet worship service. Come early at 5:00 p.m. for supper.
Here is my first reflection of the series based on the scriptures, Micah 4:1-5 and Micah 5:2-5a.
“Heavenly Peace”
The year was 1914 and soldiers on both sides of the battlefield somewhere in France were enduring a dark and frozen Christmas Eve night. World War I – the Great War, as it was called – eventually took the lives of more than 10 million people. But without a doubt the young men on that Christmas Eve were contemplating much more beyond their longings for home and warmth and family. When soldiers on the German line placed candles on small Christmas trees and raised them above their trenches it touched the hearts of their enemies. These men – thousands of them on both sides – spontaneously began to sing the carols of Christmas. What began in those moments became the legendary Christmas truce. Weapons were put down, men ventured from their fortifications and gathered in No Man’s Land to make note of the season together. They exchanged small gifts after agreeing to a truce so that all could celebrate the season. And so for a short period of time, no shots were fired. The following day, men who only hours before fought fiercely now stood side by side and buried their dead. Together, with heads uncovered, they held a service to memorialize their fallen comrades. Before departing for another frozen night in the trenches, a solitary voice began to sing Silent Night, in French. He was joined by another voice – this one singing in German – the words of a hymn known and beloved by all. Together they contemplated ‘heavenly peace’. –From ‘The True Story of Silent Night’ by B. Francis Morlan Read more…

Advent Joy or Advent Chaos?

Dear Friends,
Thanksgiving has come and gone.
Christmas tree lots are full and Christmas music is being played 24/7 on local radio stations. Now all we need is a little snow for it to truly “begin to look a lot like Christmas.” I don’t know about you, but this is a conflicted time of year for me. I find myself, in these weeks leading up to Christmas, simultaneously filled with the joy and anticipation of the season, and running from one activity to another, trying to stay on top of what’s next. With all of our family and church traditions, events, and activities, it truly can be a challenge to fit it all in. I am thankful for Carrie who manages somehow to keep our family of five all moving in the same direction! I’m assuming this combination of joyful celebration and chaotic preparation describes the lives of most of you and your families, as well. Read more…

An Attitude of Gratitude

Dear Friends,
Some thoughts on this Thanksgiving Eve, 2018.
The Apostle Paul, shared these words with his beloved Philippian congregation: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” What I like about about these familiar words of Paul’s is that he invites us to rejoice – another way, I think, of saying “give thanks” – always – when things are going well and not so well, when life seems rich and blessings abundant, and when they seem scarce. Paul continues, saying, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:4,6).
His words remind us that gratitude is as much an attitude as it is an emotion. Gratitude, that is, can arise from a determined commitment to see the blessings of this life. An attitude of gratitude happens by way of noticing and focusing on what is good in our families, in our communities, and in our world. An attitude of gratitude positively changes the way we see the world around us.
This TED Talk by Tania Luna gives a powerful example of this perspective.

Unexpected Signs of Life

Dear Friends,
I shared in my sermon last Sunday an experience I had the previous day at Doris Brand’s funeral.
The experience reminded me of our loved one’s (and God’s) constant presence in our lives, even though they’ve gone before us.
I needed a hymnal to officiate the funeral with. Coming from a Lutheran system, I haven’t yet bought my own UMC hymnal 🙂
I grabbed a random hymnal from a random pew in the sanctuary. I opened the front cover to insert my notes and there, on the the “In Memory of … ” nameplate sticker, was the name “John Brand”, given in memory by “Doris Brand”.
I was amazed at the chances of that happening just prior to my officiating Doris’ funeral service. I then began to diminish the odds of that happening, thinking that maybe Doris had donated ALL the hymnals in memory of her husband John 🙂 Read more…

Be the Change!

Dear Friends,
“I voted. Did you? #bethechange”
This is the status I put on my facebook page today to join in with hundreds of others who are posting about voting.
Change is, of course, inevitable – for better or for worse. This midterm election is an opportunity for citizens to stand up, step forward, take action, and “be the change” they want to see, or to make the changes happen that they’d like to see made happen. It is powerful and important responsibility we have as citizens to contribute towards making our nation all the better for ourselves and generations that come after us. Read more…

For Doris, And All the Saints – We Give Thanks.

Dear Friends,
First of all – a note of sadness to share. Our dear friend and eldest member of our church, Doris Brand, peacefully passed away yesterday morning. Doris was 103 years old. I have had many visits with Doris in my short time here as your pastor and I have treasured each one of them. She was a person of grace and love, as you know. We look forward to celebrating her life on Saturday, November 10. Click here to read more.
Secondly, this coming Sunday is All Saints Sunday in the church year. Doris is now among the saints we will remember. We look forward to remembering and honoring her and all the saints who have gone before us during worship. After communion, worshipers will have the opportunity to light a tea light candle in memory of a loved one who has passed away. This can be a moving experience for worshipers and one that I expect many will appreciate. 
Also, as we approach All Saints Sunday, please take time to also remember those innocents in our nation and world who are senselessly killed based solely on race or religion or often for no apparent reason at all. What happened to the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, unfortunately, is only the latest reminder of our need to pray fervently for our broken world. You and I, as Christians who believe in the love of Jesus, have the heavy responsibility of praying for our world and of standing up for the injustices we see happening in our world. A book I’m reading now says it this way:  Read more…

Transformed for Generosity

Dear Friends,
My family and I had a nice visit to Northwest Wisconsin this past weekend. In the midst of visiting Northland College in Ashland, we also visited the Washburn, Bayfield, and Madeline Island area along the Apostle Island National Lakeshore. The fall colors were in stunning and Lake Superior was as magnificent as ever. We have a wonderful recommendation of an Airbnb if you’d like one. Again, I want to thank Tom, Tom and Terry for filling in for me on Sunday – Laity Sunday in the UMC.
I now look forward to this coming Sunday, which we know each year to be Stewardship Sunday – the day we commit – or recommit – an amount of our financial gifts towards God’s work through First United Methodist Church of Lindstrom. We’ll be reminded of the importance of such a commitment when hearing again the spiritual transformation of Zachaeaus and his call to generous giving and living. (Luke 19:1-10) Read more…

The Community Keg

Dear Friends,
What a fulfilling worship experience I had on Sunday morning as celebrated the children in our congregation. It was Children’s Sabbath Sunday. We baptized little Blaine Lloyd, gave 3rd graders, Jackie and Luke, their Bibles, and rocked three little ones into our community of faith as part of our 96th annual cradle rocking ritual. It was powerful. I am thankful that Jesus reminded us to always welcome the children into our midst and be become like them in ways that demonstrate trust, humility, wonder and dependence. Thanks to all who helped make Sunday so special.
As we look ahead to this Sunday – Laity Sunday – First UMC members, Tom Ervasti and Tom Lundberg will be preaching and leading worship. What a gift these two will be to you all who worship on Sunday. My family and I will be out of town on Sunday, visiting colleges with our daughter, Annica, as she prepares to narrow down her school of choice. I thank Tom and Tom for their leadership and willingness to serve in this way.
I’ll be back in worship and preaching on Sunday, October 28 – Stewardship Sunday. A day you will be invited to make or increase your financial commitment to First UMC in order to continue to maintain our general operating needs while adding a new staff position for children and youth ministries and increasing pay for current staff. View the 2018 Stewardship Challenge here. This is an important challenge and decision for all at First UMC to be praying about and making. Do not decide on an amount you are or are not able to give without praying about it. It is crucial that we each ask, in prayer, that God’s will be done at this time and in this place.
To help illustrate the importance of Stewardship Sunday and the vision we hope to follow, I share this classic and timeless story with you. Read more…

Let the Children Come

Dear Friends,

World Communion Sunday 2018 – First UMC

On Sunday we recognized World Communion Sunday in worship with altar and chancel decorations and by celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion. It was a day that joined with Christians around the world in gratitude for who we are – united – as the Body of Christ. We are grateful to Cindy Kopp and Kay Oien for their decorating skills and commitment to helping us most fully experience the joy of special days like this.

Cradle Rocking at First UMC – September 1961

This coming Sunday we celebrate Children’s Sabbath Sunday – a day set aside every second Sunday of October to celebrate children as active participants in the life of the church today. As part of celebrating we will baptize little baby boy, Blaine, and present two of our third graders with bibles promised at their baptisms. 
We will also offer our 96th annual cradle rocking – a custom brought to Lindstrom by Swedish immigrants nearly 100 years ago. The first cradle rock for our congregation was in 1922! We will rock three little ones this Sunday! Read more…

A Busy Month!

Dear Friends,
Wow! The calendar says October 1st!
It’d be hard to believe if the morning temperatures weren’t in the upper 30s and lower 40s. The seasons are definitely changing.
The calendar says a lot more than just it being October. With it being October, comes much more. But before I highlight what’s to come, let’s look briefly at what’s begun in September. On Rally Sunday, September 9, we kicked off our Fall preaching and worship theme, “Together: Created for Community” with a beautiful outdoor worship service in our pavilion. God blessed us with perfect weather! That series concluded this past Sunday, September 30 after looking throughout the month each Sunday how we were not only created for community, but called to community, united in Christ as part of a community, and finally sent out with the Spirit to broaden our community of faith. As we celebrated this theme of community we also spent three weeks at adult bible studies on Wednesday nights looking closely at our strengths and God-given talents and how we might want to use them to inspire our community of faith. In addition, our confirmation program began with an expanded age group including 6-8 graders. We have six students in the program this year. Sunday school is underway thanks to many dedicated volunteers. In a nutshell, that was September. Now, onto October …  Read more…

Together: We Are Sent!

Dear Friends,
Okay, so this week is a crazy one for me – thus a day late on the blog – and a shorter one at that!
Nothing major going on with me, just a combination of events that have limited how much time I’ve had in front of the computer (which isn’t always that bad!). 
I continue to feel grateful for our time in worship together. Last Sunday I was happy to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of worshiping in our current building. It was built in 1968 and the first worship held in it was on Sunday, September 22 of that year. At the close of worship on Sunday we invited all current members who were worshiping that day 50 years ago, to come forward for a photo. Great memories for them and an important milestone in the history of our 160 year old congregation. Read more…

Together: United in Christ!

Dear Friends,
What a hoot!
It was a joy to experience my first Annual Hootenanny at First UMC last Saturday night. There was such joy, much laughter, authentic community, and great food! It truly was a picture of the community that we are celebrating at First UMC this month as part of our preaching and worship series, Together: Created for Community. I would like to express appreciation to all who helped make it happen, on behalf of the entire congregation. Thank you! Read more…

Called Into Community

Dear Friends,

What a celebration of community we had last Sunday as we worshiped outdoors under a beautiful blue sky and warm sunshine! It was spectacular. Thank you to all who were able to join us and celebrate, not only in worship, but also at our breakfast and mission and ministry fair. It truly took our community of faith to make it happen! Well done! We’re not done celebrating community. For the next three Sundays we will look deeper at how Jesus calls us into this community (and for what purpose), how Jesus unites us in community, and how he then sends us out into the broader (global) community with his message of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Read more…