Monthly Devotional, June 2020
Now it is June. We’ve been dealing with the pandemic for over two months now. It is no longer new, but still the end is not in sight. We are somewhere in the middle. So far, the middle is not a very nice place to be. Some of our businesses, organizations, and houses of worship are reopening and some are remaining closed. There is disagreement and hostility between levels of government on what is acceptably safe or unsafe. Sadly, people around the country feel compelled to choose one side over the other, and be for something and against something else, even though there truly is only one side that we are all on – humanity. This middle time is proving to be a time of frustration, impatience, anger and division, and I worry that the middle is going to last for a while. The middle is messy.
In times of messiness, we turn to scripture for comfort, perspective, and wisdom. The Bible tells us about times when people experienced hardship and uncertainty. The book of Exodus teaches us about people living through a middle time. We learn that Israel wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. If we look at a modern day map, we can see that they didn’t really have that far to go, but it took them 40 years. For long stretches of time it seemed like they weren’t really going anywhere, or making any progress. Previously, when they were living in slavery, the agenda was clear- escape Egypt and go to the promised land. The beginning was clear and the end was clear, but the middle was uncertain. Once they were freed, things became murky. They only had food for one day at a time, and their only guidance was a cloud by day and fire by night, and neither the cloud nor the fire explained where they were going. They became frustrated and angry. They yelled, grumbled, and were rebellious. Indeed the middle was not a nice place to be. The middle was messy and stressed them out.
But God was with them in the wilderness during the middle time. God guided them. God inspired their leaders. God provided food and water. God healed their sicknesses. God disciplined them and taught them and loved them. God taught them how to be a people, how to be a community, how to treat each other, and God taught them about faith. Just so, God is with us in our middle time. Even when we disagree on what to do next and how to do it. Even when we get frustrated, impatient, or even angry, God will remind us that God is in our midst, continuing to lead and care for us. And God will eventually bring us to where we need to be. Remember – God makes promises and God keeps those promises.
My prayer to God and my request to you is to be abundant in grace. Be generous to each other. Be patient with each other. Listen to each other. We should constantly be asking ourselves, “What does all this mean, and how can we use this time to further our relationship with God and our neighbors?” God does work to bring something good out of the bad times.
As we prepare to emerge from this messy middle time, I am assembling a new committee of people who will work towards making plans for how to assemble safely for worship and ministries for the coming months or longer. This team will also work closely with other churches and leaders to discern when it safe to gather again for worship. Notably, we will not gather until is safe to do so.
Your co-worker in Christ- Pastor Erik
Devotional: Memorial Day Weekend
John 10:10b I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
This Monday is Memorial Day here in the United States. It is a day often honored by getting together with groups of loved ones. This year, many people will honor it a bit differently because of restrictions on travel and gathering. Perhaps though, with a bit less noise and busyness, we can ponder more of the somberness of the day and where God fits in with it.
First, some context, Memorial Day was officially declared a national holiday in 1971, but dating in practice back to shortly after the Civil War. It is a time to rest from work and the routines of our week in order to create an intentional time to remember and honor those who have died in service to their country. Also, it is a time to hear and tell stories about the sacrifices of actual people which enables the younger generation to attach a face to a name. Importantly, making this day more than just a series of memories will help us all to keep from making war an abstraction. Hopefully, when we hear and tell these important stories we will be inspired to actions of peace, patience, and solidarity so that in the future others will not have to make the same sacrifice.
In this sense, Memorial Day should not be merely a vacation, a time to go to the lake, or a long weekend, but a time to renew our sense of gratitude for those who have served their country, and for the freedoms we enjoy because of that service and sacrifice. And it can also renew our own sense of commitment to working for a world that is committed to justice and peace.
Sincerely~ Pastor Erik
Devotional, May 15, 2020
Today’s Devotional is from Pastor Erik ~
Philippians 4:6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer let your requests be made known to God.
Ephesians 6:18 Pray in the spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.
1 Thessalonians 5:17. Pray without ceasing.
James 1:5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you.
James 5:13 Are any among you suffering? they should pray.
James 5:16 The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
When we don’t know, pray. Strange times in which we are living. The uncertainty of this time bothers me. It bothers me as a pastor. It bothers me as a father. It bothers me as a son. It bothers me simply as a person who lives and participates in society. This past week, I’ve been speaking with people about church and the question that keeps coming up is, ‘When will we gather again for worship?’ This question is being asked along with several other follow up questions like: “When we will we be able have communion again? What about confirmation this next year and other youth events like the youth gathering next summer. What about the stuff sale and 25 cent clothes sale? When…
Perhaps the hardest thing for me and I think most people is to say the words and admit the fact, “I don’t know.” But that is the truth. I don’t know right now. What I do know is that you are experiencing this too. You are experiencing this uncertainty as a parent, grandparent, friend, businessperson, caregiver, student, and faithful follower of God. We are used to checking our calendars and making plans for the future. We are used to looking forward to events where we see our friends. We are comforted by having a routine in life of work, social and religious activities. But, we’re no longer able to reasonably assume the future and make plans. We don’t have control of the future. We’re living in the present in a way we’re not used to doing. As my kids say, “the virus is ruining everything.”
So what do we do? Give up? Throw our hands up in despair? Wallow in self-pity? No! We are Christians. When we don’t know, we pray. When we’re worried, we pray. When we’re confused, we pray. When we are scared, we pray. When things seems lost, we pray. In all things we turn to the One who does know, the One who is not confused, uncertain, worried, or scared. We turn to God. One way I’ve been turning to God this past week has been to pray Psalm 86 everyday. I read/pray it out loud even though no one else is around. I do this so that not only do I read it, but I can hear it too. Psalm 86 specifically communicates to me God’s power and certainty and it is helpful during times when I am feeling powerless and uncertain. Pray Psalm 86 or any other scripture that speaks to you.
So, fellow co-workers in Christ, keep praying. Pray for your loved ones. Pray for care givers. Pray for me and other pastors and religious leaders as we seek wisdom from God. Pray for all those guiding the lives of this nation. Pray for a vaccine. Pray that we all can become more humble, gentle, patient. I do know that prayer works and prayer is needed, but keep in mind that prayer is the companion of action. For example, Pray for those who are lonely or scared, and then give them a call. Pray for the church and then generously act on behalf of God’s mission. Pray for patience and then watch a beautiful sunset or take a nice walk.
May the peace of the Lord be with you always. ~Pastor Erik
PASTOR’S DEVOTION FOR THE MONTH OF MAY:
I never thought 2020 would be like this. In fact, since 2019 brought challenges to OSLC due to staff changes, I was planning for 2020 would be a year to take a breath and, relax, worship and simply enjoy each other’s presence. Not to make light of the situation, but I I’m reminded of the saying, “when people make plans- God laughs.”
This past week I was following the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA mostly out of curiosity because Rocky Mountain is where I was previously rostered in before moving to Minnesota. They were having their annual assembly and they used internet meetings to conduct their meeting. I mainly wanted to see some familiar faces and I wanted to hear what their guest speakers had to say in this time of the coronavirus. I was especially taken by one speaker who asked, “Is this an interruption or a disruption”? He posed this question to help everyone consider that the impacts of the coronavirus represent a fundamental shift in the way our society and therefore our churches will now operate. The reasoning was, if the coronavirus was just an interruption, then we would be looking forward to getting back to normal. But if this is a disruption, “then we must recognize that our normal is a thing of the past and make room for a new way of operating in this world.”
We’ve all experienced disruptions in our lives, and some are big, some are small. For example, we now stream our videos from Netflix and Amazon instead of renting videos from Blockbuster. This week I had all my dog’s food and chew toys delivered to my house by the UPS man rather than driving to the store, putting the food in the cart, buying it and bringing it home (amazingly, delivery is even cheaper than the old-fashioned way). Another example, after 9/11 people stopped greeting their loved ones at the gate at the airport and instead we all wait patiently in the cell phone lot. Everyone knows we must remove our shoes when we go through airport security and we can’t bring liquids in our bags. Our travel routines were disrupted, and we have now been living in this “new normal” for almost 20 years.
So, church has not simply been interrupted, it has been disrupted. Church is going to change. (Read that last sentence again and think about it for a moment before you continue reading) “Church is going to change,” is not a sentence I like typing. It’s not something I want to say or hear. I want to make plans for going back to normal, but the fact is we’ve been disrupted. Our worship will be different in the locations we can sit, the way we partake in communion, pass the peace, collect offering, and interact with others. As you all know, I love to give hugs, and that can’t happen anymore. But it is not all lament, I think some changes will enhance our ability to participate in God’s mission. I don’t know exactly what all those changes will be, but I’m ready to make the changes rather than get left behind and become ineffective in doing what Jesus has called us to do. One change that is permanently with us, for the good, is online worship. We will continue to have an online worship experience for people. Not just for health reasons, but when people are out enjoying the beauty of Minnesota on the weekends or out of town they can still worship and be connected to the community. I’ve also been humbled to hear from a couple folks who physically haven’t been able to worship in person for a couple years how grateful they are for this ministry. Having virtual meetings is also an opportunity. For example, our Synod’s Global Mission team, which I am part of, will have more frequent meetings over Zoom instead of occasionally having everyone drive to Duluth. This will cut down on travel, time and expense and hopefully bring more people into involvement. The folks from I-Falls have no excuse now. Our own congregation can use this technology to be more efficient and invite more people to participation.
Let us pray: Gracious God, we know that disruptions can be difficult to adjust to, but we also know they can bring new opportunities. Continue to guide us and reveal to us the majesty of your world.
Your co-worker in Christ- Pastor Erik
May 1, 2020
Psalm 116:1–4, 12–19
I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”
What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!
This psalm really spoke to me this week. During a time of uncertainty and difficulty, I gain confidence and comfort knowing that God is a God who listens and responds to my prayers. God also listens and responds to your prayers too. Lately, several people have asked me to help them or teach them how to pray. It seems like the difficulty in beginning to pray is just figuring out what words to use. It seems strange to talk, especially out loud, if there’s no one else in the room. Laughably, I speak to an empty room all the time- just check out the worship service videos. Remember, there isn’t a wrong way to pray, and if you want to do it silently, it is ok. But even if you don’t mind talking out loud, it can be hard to know what to say, or how to “start the conversation” with God.
Well, the first thing to do is be comforted: you don’t have to perform for God in your prayers with perfect words or long speeches! God much prefers honesty to style. And if you only have enough to say to fill up one minute, that’s ok too. Another source of comfort: you already have a lot of experience praying. You have said and heard many prayers in church. Even if you don’t have them memorized, your brain is used to the language of prayer. Once you start to do it, it will feel perfectly natural. If it helps, you can begin with the Lord’s Prayer. You probably know it by heart, and it will help you relax a bit. You can also find a Psalm, or read another part of Scripture to loosen you up a bit! Another possibility is to start like you would a letter and say, “Dear God…” Whichever way you begin take heart knowing that we all end our prayers in the same way- “AMEN!”
Stay safe and God bless~ Pr. Erik
April 24th, 2020
I invite everyone to open their bibles and read Judges chapters 6-8. It is the story of Gideon. I’ve always liked the story of Gideon, and I’m highlighting this story now because some of the themes and issues that Gideon dealt with seem very pertinent for today’s struggles.
Chapter 6 tells us about a time when the Israelites were experiencing terrible suffering by the Midianites. Everything they valued and everything they worked for was either stolen or destroyed. Our main character in the story is Gideon, and when we are introduced to him he is hiding in a wine press, trying to thresh wheat in order to keep it from the enemy. Basically, he was working from home, and trying his best to preserve a future for himself and his loved ones. (A familiar place where many of us find ourselves these days) Then, an angel of the Lord comes to him and declares, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Notably, Gideon doesn’t boldly stand up and reply “Here, I am.” Instead, his response is something more realistic. Gideon said to the angel, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off and given us into the hand of Midian.” Gideon is honest. He’s fearful and feeling unsafe, and he’s wondering where God is. Where is God while people are suffering? Where is God while he’s trying to thresh wheat in a wine press? Where is God when we’re working from home because it is unsafe to be out? Where is God when the schools are closed? Where is God when jobs are lost and money is tight? Where is God when the church is unable gather to worship? Gideon’s question is, “Why has God allowed this happened?”
Whether it is Covid 19 or any tragic event during the course of our lives, we find ourselves asking the same question as Gideon. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that God invites us to ask and converse with God about our lives, joys and struggles. Another thing that I do know is that no matter what, God is with us. In fact, that was the angel’s greeting to Gideon. The Lord is with you mighty warrior! I doubt Gideon felt mighty and he doesn’t seem like much of a warrior. But God called him to be a leader and do great things. God believed in him and saw in him something he didn’t see in himself. I think the church is a mighty warrior too, and because the church is not a simply a building, but because the church is people, you are also a mighty warrior.
Through the oppression of the Midianites, people experienced fear, despair, anxiety, selfishness, and isolation. But God hears the cries of the people and God gets involved which leads to victory. Similarly, the virus has also caused fear, despair, anxiety, selfishness and isolation. God hears our cries and I am confident God is involved and is present. Gideon trusted God in the midst of hard times, and we can too. No matter what comes, know this: God is with us and is stronger than anything that threatens us.
Your co-worker in Christ. Pastor Erik
April 17, 2020
There are so many people to thank for all the ways people are stepping up during this difficult time and making a difference in the lives of God’s people. We are in ministry to walk with others through their joys as well as struggles and to equip others to fully participate in God’s mission. That mission remains t17 he same even when we can’t physically gather in our Sanctuary. My heart overflows because I see the congregation fully embracing God’s mission. Thank you for continuing to support the mission of our church with your generosity. Thank you for sending in your offerings through the mail or through our online giving. Thank you for sharing our worship service with your friends and family. There are some powerful stories coming to light about how people who hadn’t been in worship for years are engaging their faith through online worship. Thank you for your notes of thanks and encouragement to me during this time. Thank you for making phone calls and checking in with one another and expanding our congregational care. Thank you for being you and not letting the challenges of the world diminish your hope, commitment, and grace.
Above all, my main focus of thankfulness and awe is directed to God. God is the one who sustains us through this time. God is the one who is always present and is with those who are alone. God is the one who will guide us through these confusing and frustrating days and weeks. God is the one who raised Jesus from the dead so that we are fully redeemed and can live our lives with complete confidence in God’s grace. Therefore, we can devote ourselves in responding to this grace with good work to our neighbors. God is the one who gives us life and purpose and a peace that passes all human understanding. I take heart that the last thing we said and proclaimed as a physical gathered congregation was “go in peace, serve the Lord,” “Thanks be to God.” I take heart because we have done exactly that.
Your co-worker with Christ~ Pastor Erik
GREAT ARE THE WORKS OF THE LORD
LORD said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.’ ”
The concept of a year of rest for the land is an ancient one for farmers. God commanded the people to give their land a rest every seven years. No plowing or planting, no harvesting. Just let the land be. We know now that this is important to help the land be productive, to allow it time to recover from being farmed. We are in a time of rest now. The difference is we didn’t choose this and we didn’t have much time to prepare; we have to stay home, distance ourselves for the sake of our neighbor. Like the land during the fallow year, many of us simply have to let ourselves be.
After calling many of you to check in and see how things are going, I know most of us are at home now running out of things to do and occupy our time. The weather is still a bit cold and outside is wet and muddy so gardening and yard work are not options yet. We’ve already organized our basements and cleaned out our closets. Now what? I can’t help but wonder what God is planning to do to redeem this slower time for us. Could this turn into a time of rest and renewal? I hope so. I know I am spending more time with my kids now and feeling the bonds of our relationships strengthened. We’ve been reading a lot more kid’s books together and I can tell that my daughter is strengthening her reading skills everyday. I’m also really glad I enjoy the company of my wife, and I feel our relationship flourishing as we work together to meet these challenging times. I think maybe, God is redeeming this time.
As many of you know, I am passionate about the environment and being a good steward of God’s creation. I’ve been interested to see that pollution is way down across the globe. There are some amazing videos on youtube that show dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice and other wildlife coming out of hiding. Maybe God can use this time to teach us about what our planet can be like, again. Please don’t misunderstand me. This virus is real and it is bad. But I think God has a way of revealing God’s self in the midst of bad situations to illuminate God’s love and grace.
I am inspired by hearing stories of brave and talented people who work in essential services like healthcare and knowing that those people are using their God-given talents to do amazing work. These stories prove to me that God is here with us. God is with the nurses and doctors on the front lines. God is with those who are doing their part by staying home. God isn’t just with us; God is working through us and among us. For those of us who find these days to be quiet and still, God may just be doing the work of renewal deep in your soul. What is God reminding you of? How is God giving you new life? Pay attention and embrace God’s work, even when it’s invisible.
Bless you now and evermore~ Pastor Erik
SUSTAIN THE WEARY WITH A WORD.
The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.
I know I am weary. I am weary of watching the constantly changing news, weary of not being able to do things and go places, weary of missing my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, weary of worrying about loved ones. “Sustain the weary with a word.” Sounds like just the thing for this week.
And not just any word, but the Word. The word of God. In times of weariness and uncertainty, these verses from Philippians are right on. They teach us and remind us of God’s character, who God is, and God’s strength. It shows us Jesus becoming fully human and entering fully into the human experience. Not only is Jesus one of us, but he is the best of us.
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Let the words from Philippians enter your heart and mind. In a time when we often feel powerless in the word, take comfort in knowing that God is powerful and in charge. When we can’t “do stuff” out in the community, know that the word is can and will “do stuff.” I love this quote by Martin Luther. He fully trusted the Word to go out and do God’s mission. “I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word…did everything.”[i]
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
Happy February everyone,
On January 26, we read psalm 27 in worship. It is one of my favorite psalms. Simple, beautiful, uplifting. I have often gained comfort and courage by reading verse 1 and letting the psalmist’s word dwell in my mind.
Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Whenever we have scripture that invokes words and images of light and dark I remind myself that in psalmist’s time, and most of human history, people have had two types of light in their daily lives- the sun and the lamp (oil, not electricity lamps) . The sun is so powerful that it can’t be stared at. It gives light, warmth, and enables plants to grow. The sun is certainly a gift from God. In Genesis 1:3 God said, “Let there be light” and it was so. 1 John 1:5 wonderfully tells us, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
In the psalmist’s time, people had small oil filled lamps that they would occasionally light at night. Several examples of these lamps have been discovered by archeologists and can be seen in museums today. I have a replica of the most common lamp on a shelf in my office. It is small and can fit in the palm of your hand. It is filled with oil and has a 2-3 inch wick coming out. I’ve lit my replica lamp a few times in order to see how it works. It works well, but with just a single small wick it casts just enough light for someone to see a few feet in the darkness. I am reminded as well of the words from Psalm 119, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path.”
Reflecting upon light, lamps and psalms I feel the wisdom of these words teaches us that we do indeed receive God’s light in our lives and God’s light illuminates our path by our feet, but it doesn’t show us every detail of the path ahead or which direction it is going to go in the next mile or the next year. These thoughts can be applied to our individual lives, or our congregation, or even to the wide universal church. In essence, we learn that we live as people who honor the past, try to discern the future, but ultimately are called to live fully in the present as God’s hands and feet in this beautiful yet broken world.
So, as we prepare for Lent at the end of February, (metaphorically or literally if you like) light your lamps and let your light shine as a beacon of hope to others.
Your co-worker in Christ, Pastor Erik