The Pillar of Cloud Has Lifted

On Sunday, December 8, the congregation that I serve – Living Word Lutheran Church – held it’s final worship service in a space that we have rented for nearly 10 year. On Sunday, December 15, we begin a new chapter of worship and ministry in our newly purchased building. It was a bitter sweet day for us but we are excited to see what God is going to do through us. And so, as we closed worship on Sunday, I led the congregation in the following prayer/blessing/benediction that I wrote for the occasion. To God be the glory!


Psalm 122:1 (ESV) ~ I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”

For nearly 10 years, Living Word has been echoing that sentiment – joyfully coming into this building to worship God our Father through Christ Jesus our Lord. This has been our house of the Lord – our place of worship. Joyfully we came here to hear the Word of God. Among other things: baptisms were done to the glory of God, men and women were joined together in marriage, people confirmed their faith, families and friends mourned – with hope – the death of loved ones. We enjoyed meals together, watched our children present the Christmas story, we met together to discuss and debate issues but always with respect and we gifted the community with the Living Last Supper a number of times. So many memories with much laughter and tears. This place has meant a lot to so many people. And even though we are excited to begin this next chapter of our lives in Graham, we sadly say goodbye to nearly 10 years together in this house of the Lord. We’ve been glad to enter here, but now we are glad to enter a new house next week. Please join me as we pray and bless this place:

Holy and awesome God, ten years ago, this congregation embarked on an unknown adventure of faith. Faithful men and women followed You into a brand-new mission field. Very quickly You gifted this congregation with this place to worship. For that we thank and praise You. Now You have said it is time to move and thus we follow You boldly and faithfully. Whatever congregation moves in here next; may You bless them mightily as You have blessed us. Bless their pastors and leaders. Bless their ministry. Oh God, we give You thanks for the many Meridian Habitat staff people that have hosted us over the years. Bless the staff that work here as they serve as hosts to others. Thank You for the opportunity to get to know them. And now, oh God, I ask that Your Spirit continue to move in this place as it has moved among us for 10 years. Yes, this is a secular building and location, but it has been holy ground for us. Thank You, God, for the memories here and the memories yet to be formed in Graham. And now, as the pillar of cloud lifts from this holy place this day, we pack up and follow You. Bless our journey, as You have done for 10 years, that You and You alone are glorified. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior we pray, Amen.

And now, for the final time in this place, receive this Benediction:

As a pillar of cloud and fire led the Israelites by day and night through the wilderness without fail, may the Holy Spirit guide and bless you in through your wilderness. As their resources and strength never failed know that God will never fail you. As God fought for them, know that God fights for you. As God brought them into the Promised Land, know that through faith in Jesus Christ, you will enter His Promised Kingdom. As God remained faithful to them, Go in peace knowing God will always be faithful to you.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Church

Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.
[Augsburg Confession, Article VII: Of the Church]

We sometimes forget that the Church is not a building. The Church is people – the congregation of saints. People are made “saints” how – through the blood of Jesus. And thus the Church is wherever and whenever saints are gathered together – where the Gospel is rightly taught/proclaimed and the sacraments are rightly administered.

We also sometimes forget that a building does not and can not save us. The Church can exist without a fixed place to gather on a regular basis. No where does it say that the Church is a particular place or structure. Does a building help? Yes and no. Yes – if our eyes are on Jesus Christ as our savior and our worship is in Him and Him alone. No – if are attention is on a structure that in the end will not last. Buildings fail, but Jesus never will.

I am not saying buildings are bad, but when people start to focus on the building rather than Jesus, then they cease to be a Church. Brothers and sisters in Christ are people – saints – and therefore we need to remember them and care for them. Those who do not know Jesus – lost sheep – need to be sought out and fed. But more importantly we must remember and worship the One who makes us a family through Jesus Christ.

By Faith

I walk by faith and not by sight,
And cling to Him with all my might.
In Him I find my life’s delight.
With Him I know I’ll be alright.

I walk by faith and not by plans,
And not to gain those worldly fans.
For God is with me through life’s span.
I’ll walk with our Lord hand in hand.

So walk by faith and with our Lord.
To walk with him is great reward.
May we be all of one accord.
Let’s walk by faith as one great horde.

A Great Adventure

Three and a half years ago, You called me to follow You on a great adventure.
I left a land I grew up in (Minnesota) and moved to a new land (Western Washington).
You called me from a congregation that I gave my heart to for 12 years and sent me to a “church in a box” – a people unknown to me.
To say that I was nervous is to put it mildly, but my family and me went and followed You — and You have been faithful.
The call was to help build a church – in more ways than one. In one way I have been doing that for 3 1/2 years, but now You, oh God, are getting all literal on me.
You are now calling me to new territory again: Moving a congregation to a different community and losing our “church in the box” description.
To say that I am nervous is to put it mildly, but I will go and follow You — and I know You will be faithful.
Oh God, as You led Abraham to an unknown territory so lead me.
As you have led this congregation for 10 years, please continue to do so.
I don’t know what I am doing but You know and that is all that matters.
Even though I confess my nervousness here and now, I know You won’t abandon me.
I believe, help my unbelief.
And so, oh God, I give this all to you.
Let us go, once again, on great adventure together.
To You be the glory, oh God, always and forever.
Amen.

Getting Dirty

I wrote the following article for our LCMC NW District newsletter that just came out (Aug 2019).

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I serve as the pastor of Living Word Lutheran Church in Puyallup, WA; a congregation that is known as “a church in a box”. That is just a fun way of saying that we have a large covered trailer that stores all our equipment; a trailer we unload and load every week for worship. You see, for 10 years, this congregation has been renting space; most of which has been at a county community center in a park. The building used to be a church building, so it is perfectly suited for us, except that it is not ours. So, for 10 years, this congregation has been searching for a home of their own. Well, our search may be over.

A 5-acre property with a church building, about 15 to 30 minutes away from our current location, has been presented to us. Currently, we are in a 60-day feasibility study phase to determine if this building will be “feasible” for us. It is nearly move-in ready (with some upgrades and minor repairs to be made) but eventually a sanctuary will need to be built. In the meantime, the fellowship hall will work. There are so many possibilities with this building along with many challenges. I admit, it has been hard to keep my emotions in check and resist the urge to mentally move into the building prematurely. The congregation is excited and believe me, I really want this for them, but I am still cautious, because this may be the worst thing for us.

What in the world are you talking about, pastor? We’ve been waiting for this for 10 years. (I can already hear my congregation asking that question).

There are many who think that if we get this building we will start to grow. They believe our stagnant numbers are due to us not being as visible. There may be some truth to the stagnant numbers theory, but we also must be careful. You see, a church cannot take a “Field of Dreams” approach when it comes to ministry in a community. There is no ghostly voice saying, If you build it, they will come. It worked in the movie but that’s not reality.

What needs to happen is the church needs to be the church. We need to live out our faith in our everyday lives. We need to be willing to get our hands dirty. Jesus never set up camp in one location for very long; he moved around and went to the people. Church buildings are great, but they can’t be home. Church buildings are a ministry launching pad not a clubhouse. Church buildings are a place to gather for corporate worship but then you must be sent out, and thus my prayers. I am not praying that God give us this building. (WHAT?!? — Just hang on a bit here). What I am praying for is that God prepare the hearts of this congregation to do the ministry that is required for HIS kingdom to grow. As a farmer needs to prepare the soil before planting so must our hearts be ready. Along with that, I am praying for what Solomon asked when God said to him, Ask what I shall give you. Solomon replied, …Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people? (1 Kings 3:5 & 9) God help me.

Churches with large member numbers in large auditoriums can make a huge difference. Small, country churches can make a huge difference. Churches meeting in tiny downtown store fronts can make a huge difference. Churches meeting the living room of the pastor’s home can make a huge difference. Churches meeting in a tent with a dirt floor can make a huge difference. It is not the location or the building or the size or anything of this world that matters. What matters is the Holy Spirit working in the lives of the people. The church is the people, not a building made of bricks, mortar and wood.

This is not a popular notion with many, and some may even think I am turning my back on this congregation’s dream. Believe me, I am not. I am trying to see the bigger picture. And so, my prayer is for the hearts of the people here; that they may hear the clear voice of God leading them and empowering them to be the church. If this property is going to be ours, then we will need to get off our butts and do some serious Kingdom work, God help us. If people just want to build a clubhouse, then please, let’s abandon this process. Wherever we gather, wherever we worship, we will glorify God. The Church is not comprised of buildings. The Church is the people. So, be the Church, wherever God places You and bring glory to His holy name. Let us pray…

Oh God, give me wisdom to lead Your people rightly. Give Your church faith and courage to follow you wherever You lead. Prepare the hearts of Your people to do some serious Kingdom work for Your glory. Oh God, if it be Your will for Your church to exist in a building, then so be it. If Your church is to exist in a tent, then so be it. Wherever we are to exist, may Your Spirit be with us to guide, strengthen, encourage and to send us out. Oh God, it is all about Your glory. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

We Will Praise the Lord

Praise the Lord ! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.” [Psalm 111:1 ESV]

I pastor a congregation who can be described as a “church in a box”. What I mean by that is each and every Sunday a trailer is backed up to the building we rent at a county park. The trailer is then unloaded so we can set up for worship. Following our 9:00 AM worship, the take-down crew gets to work as we need to vacate the building by 11:30 AM. As long as this pastor doesn’t get too long winded, we still have plenty of time for Sunday school/Coffee fellowship time. For 10 years this congregation has had that routine. I’ve been part of that routine for the past 3 years.

Now, we are investigating a former church building that is up for sale. The location is a little farther away, but the size is great, the lot is big enough for expansion and the price is in our ballpark. There are still many questions that need to be answered, but the excitement is high. What is God up too? That is the question we are trying to discern. Is this God gift-wrapping a property for us that He may be glorified or is Satan presenting a stumbling block to trip and derail this congregation? Questions, questions and more questions. God help us.

Whatever the outcome I echo the psalmist in the verse above. Praise the Lord ! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Yes, Sundays are a challenge, especially considering this is an aging congregation. We don’t have the freedom to do certain things when we want to do them because the building is not ours (i.e. When funerals happen, we have to make phone calls to find a venue). But where ever God places us, we will worship and praise the Lord. We will praise the Lord in the company of the upright. The upright made that way through our common faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We will worship corporately as a congregation because we love the Lord and we love to be together:

– whether it is at a building in the park or in a school or in someone’s pole barn, we will praise the Lord.
– whether we have to meet in living rooms, basements or garages, we will praise the Lord.
– whether we have to share space in someone else’s fellowship hall, wander from place to place, or meet in a tent outside, we will praise the Lord.

With that said, my prayer is that we keep our eye on the ball and remember who we are and whose we are. We are not here to build our kingdom but we are here to advance THE Kingdom. I can not say that enough. If this place is being gift-wrapped by God for us, I will gladly unwrap it and give glory to God. If this is Satan putting a stumbling block in our way, then I say to him, “Go back to hell. We will worship the Lord where ever God places us.”

Praise the Lord where ever you are, for it is right to give God thanks and praise in all places and at all times. Praise the Lord, all you people – the upright, the congregation – praise the Lord.

Psalm of Discernment

Oh Lord, Your voice seems so far from me,
Your voice seems so distant.
The sound of Your voice is so very quiet,
Their words are lost on me.
I strain my ears to hear You,
I lean in to catch Your voice.
Oh Lord, why can’t I hear?
Why is the air so silent?
But I know You are not far,
For You are closer to me than I am to myself.
I know Your voice is not weak,
For Your created with a powerful word.
I know that You won’t leave me hanging,
For Your will, will be done.
Oh Lord, the silence is deafening,
it is loud in my ears,
but to You I cling,
and therefore I find my peace.
I know You will speak to me,
In You I place my trust.
To You be the glory,
forever and ever.
To You be everlasting praise.
Oh Lord, I will wait for Your voice.