Stir, stir, stir

Holy and awesome God, you have called me to preach your Word to your people.  And this is an awesome calling; one that causes me to pause and wonder if I am being faithful.  So God, I ask that you may stir my heart that I may know your Spirit and therefore turn over the controls.  For if this task were left up to me I would surely bring it all to ruin.  

But this calling to preach your Word is not limited to Sunday morning.  And it’s not even limited to me as a pastor.  You have called all your people to preach your Word to everyone.  So in that light I ask that you may bless the children this morning as they preach your Word through their Christmas program.  

But also, bless each and everyone one of us as we head out into the world so that we may not fail to preach, but boldly share our faith whether called to be a pastor or not. For through faith in Jesus Christ, all believers are received into the priesthood of all believers and therefore we are called to preach. Stir our hearts continually so that we may give you glory, continually.

Loving and worthy God, we are here ~ stir, stir, stir…

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The pastor -|—

The under appreciated

Serving as a pastor is a calling of the Holy Spirit, but it is not a calling that is any more important than any other calling people receive.  As a pastor I am called to the ministry of Word and sacrament.  I preach, lead worship, teach, visit the sick and I am the spiritual leader of this flock that God has called me to care for (among many other responsibilities).  It’s a vocation that not everyone can do but that’s O.K.  Scripture teaches us that people are given different gifts for the building up of the Church.

With that said, I want to highlight a group of ministers that too often go unnoticed and under appreciated (unless they do something “wrong”).  These are the people that serve behind the scenes but also are the ones that can receive some of the harshest criticisms. And unjustly I might add.

These people:
~ serve in the kitchen; hosting host funerals and church potlucks.
~ get up extra early in the morning to make sure the sidewalks are clear of snow. ~ come in at night to vacuum and clean toilets.
~ type up the Sunday bulletin and monthly newsletter.
~ change a flickering florescent tube.
~ set up communion for worship.

And there is a whole host of other things these people do.

Sometimes the person sitting in the pew doesn’t know who these “people” are.  All they know is that what needs to be done gets done…and it had better be done and done right.  I can handle the criticism I receive because this congregation has called me and pays me to be their pastor. But the ones who serve behind the scenes often do so without pay and do so expecting nothing in return. So when these silent ministers receive criticism for “not serving well enough” it is often hurtful.

Instead of taking these people for granted, let’s say “Thank you”.  If you don’t know who does one of those many things that just gets done, find out and thank that person.  But know this ~ these people, working behind the scenes, are often people not looking for thanks but if they get it they will gratefully receive it with a smile and go about their ministry.  They may be behind the scenes because they don’t like attention or because they are just doing what needs to be done because it needs to be done.

These under appreciated people need to be appreciated more because can you imagine if these people in your congregation didn’t do those behind the scenes jobs?  Can you imagine if that someone didn’t shovel the sidewalk?  Can you imagine that someone not cleaning the toilets?  Can you imagine that someone not setting up for communion?

Those people you don’t see are also called to ministry.  My calling is to preach, teach, lead worship, etc.  But others are called to scoop snow, clean toilets and serve in the kitchen.  Let’s seek these under appreciated people out and thank them for serving God the way they have been called.

The pastor -|—

Beck and call

My wife had knee surgery on Tuesday.  Nothing serious…actually it was a procedure that took about 25 minutes.  She was able to walk out of the hospital but for 48 hours she had to stay off her knee as much as possible and ice it every hour.  It has been driving her crazy to be so limited.  Today she can start walking more and do more of her knee exercises, but still has to take it easy until Monday.

So for these past 48 hours I have been at my wife’s beck and call. She has not been able to get what she needs as easily.  Going downstairs to retrieve ice packs in the deep freeze would not have been a good idea for her to do. Thank God I live next door to the church so I can run back and forth as needed.

But through this process I have been learning and re-learning a few things that I wanted to share with you.  A few things about serving others in need:
(1) There are people in our lives that can’t get what they need without our help.  Maybe they could find someone else to assist them (or maybe not), but why put them through that.

(2) With someone I love, I haven’t thought twice about caring for my wife in her time of need.  If we truly love our brothers and sisters in Christ why is it that we sometimes whine about or avoid serving them?

(3) Some people find it difficult to ask for help.  When my wife looks at me and asks me to get something, I can see in her face that she is uncomfortable asking.  So I have been trying do things for her before she asks.

(4) Serving and being served is humbling.  I think this speaks for itself.

(5) Serving draws you closer to the one being served.  I definitely feel the pain, discomfort and frustration that my wife is feeling.  I imagine myself in her situation and I don’t like it.  What if we imagined ourselves in the place of the homeless person down the street?

(6) Is this what Jesus meant when he commanded us to “wash one another’s feet”? Actually…I literally did this today after we took the bandage off her knee. She said “I know this grosses you out but can you wash my heel?”  (It didn’t gross me out)  But there have been times where I have felt uncomfortable or avoided “washing someone’s feet”.

(7) The more you serve and help someone the better you understand their situation.

I’m not saying that we are commanded to become the butlers of this world but we are commanded to “wash feet”.  We are to show Christ’s love through our words and actions.  We are to humble ourselves for the glory of God.  Serving others may go unnoticed to most in the world but it won’t go unnoticed to the one being served (or to God).

What would it look like to be at someone’s beck and call without them “becking” (I don’t think that is a word) or “calling”?

Much to think about…but first… it’s time to check on my wife.

The pastor -|—

Doughnut holes

Today I helped serve doughnut holes.  It was nothing fancy just some regular, sugar and powered sugar doughnut holes.

There was also juice and coffee…and a Kleenex or two (which came in handy).

So what was the occasion?

Today was the first day of school for the Jackson County Central school district.  And we served doughnut holes.


You see…Riverside Elementary School is right next door to Salem Lutheran Church and the most convenient way that parents can drop off/pick up their kids is via the church parking lot.  Late August through mid-May; five days a week; and twice a day; dozens of cars (lots and lots of people) are coming to our property.  So I challenged the church council last week.

And they stepped forward.

We (Salem members) set up camp in the church parking lot by the sidewalk that leads to the school.  And there were the doughnut holes (and the juice and the coffee).  And…a box of Kleenex (parents…you can probably figure out why).

We welcomed kids and parents with a cheerful smile and a invitation to enjoy a doughnut hole and a beverage before school.
Some happily accepted.
Some didn’t know what to think of us.
Some declined and wished they hadn’t just eaten.
Some wished they hadn’t just stopped for coffee.

And…many smiles were seen.

All in all it was a good morning.  But none of this had anything to do with us.  It was all for the glory of God; to share the love of Christ with people in a practical way.  I know it may sound like I am tooting our own horn here but that’s not what I am doing.  I want to encourage others out there to find creative ways (as this church council did) in sharing the love of Christ with their communities.  After all…being the Church is about going out into the world and telling people about God’s love through Jesus Christ.

We didn’t preach sermons this morning, we just served doughnut holes….with a smile.  Most people can do that without getting too nervous.

How is God calling you to serve in your community?
How is God calling you to share the love of Christ in a practical way?


Serving at The Banquet

This afternoon we make our annual “pilgrimage” to The Banquet in Sioux Falls, SD to serve supper (see The Banquet for more information on this ministry). Salem, Belmont and Bethany Lutheran Churches bring about 35 to 40 people to serve supper for people who are homeless or just need a hot meal.  When I called last week to plan the meal I was told that The Banquet is expecting to serve about 500 people that day (numbers have been up from previous years).  In the past we have served 465, 421, 363, 396 people.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about the increase of people needing a hot meal considering the economy.

But as I think about making the necessary preparations to bring this group to Sioux Falls I find myself looking at our Gospel text for Sunday from Mark 12:38-44 (“The widow’s offering”).  Scripture commands us to care for the alien, the widow and the orphans.  Now I am not calling The Banquet guest “aliens” or anything of the sort, but they are people we are called (and commanded) to care for.  I mean…for the most part we live lives of abundance.  You have food in your refrigerator and you probably have a good idea where lunch and supper is coming from.  You probably even know what you are going to eat at those meals.  For the guests that utilize The Banquet for the livelihood, they don’t know…they don’t even know for sure if they can even get in to have a hot meal.  It depends if they get in line soon enough and the number of people there.  There are so many questions for those guests, but not so much for us.

A friend of mine has told me that they get frustrated with themselves because they feel they don’t do enough for others.  But maybe, just maybe, the poor widow from Mark 12 can teach us something:  It’s not the amount but the sacrifice.

I am looking forward to tonight; looking forward to what God is going to do through each of us…for His glory.

Praise be to God!


The Passion of the Christ

Happy Holy Week!

That almost sounds strange to say, but someone said that to me this morning…so why not?  I know Holy Week is about the last week of Jesus life; about his arrest, trial, beating, crucifixion and death.  But through all of that we get to celebrate his resurrection and the victory Jesus gives us:

Death has been swallowed up in victory!
Where O death is thy victory?
Where O death is thy sting?
The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the Law;
but thanks be to God for giving us the victory,
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

So…Happy Holy Week…

To kick off Holy Week each year, I have been showing the movie, The Passion of the Christ.  Yesterday marks the fourth year in a row we have done this.  Each year we get new people to come and watch; usually only around 8 to 15 people.  Last night we had 9.  This year I sent an email to the churches in town inviting people to come and of the 9 that came last night 5 were from other churches.  One particular couple stands out though.  I can’t remember their names right now, but the wife is legally blind.  I see this woman around town and have talked to her a few times so I think she can still see a little.  But when I walked into the Fellowship Hall last night I was surprised to see her there with her husband.  After the movie got going they realized that there were subtitles and she could not see well enough to read them.  I started feeling bad for her.  Then I heard something that made me smile and gave me goose bumps…her husband started reading the subtitles and read every single line to her throughout the whole 2 hour plus movie.  Every once in a while he had to describe a scene to her and which character was there and/or speaking.  It was a really amazing display of love AND ministry. There are so many things we take for granted.  The reading of the lines was not at all distracting…actually…it added to the movie for me.

After the movie we had a time of discussion and this woman participated.  She enjoyed the movie and thought is was very moving (even though she can’t see as well as you and I).    In addition to watching the events of Jesus life and death unfold, I got to experience the love of a husband telling the Passion Story to his wife.  I will never forget that night because in a way, I got to experience first hand one way the “passion of Jesus” is displayed and showed to people.  It is one thing to say that Jesus loves you and he died for you, but it quite another to display that love in your life.  This husband did that last night (and I am sure every other day in their lives).

I have seen this movie at least a half a dozen times and each time I get something new out of it.  Last night…I experienced something new…and for that I thank God.

I hope and pray you have a blessed Holy Week as we celebrate the victory won for us through Jesus death and resurrection.  God bless!


Christmas Eve

The hustle and bustle of another busy Christmas season is coming to an end shortly.  And I know I probably say this every year but it seems this Christmas season was busier than others.  For pastors this is indeed a busy time, especially for those who have mid-week Advent worship service (I don’t have those).  And as I look back on the past month I get more and more tired.  But no need to worry…as it happens during Holy Week…on Christmas Eve I get a boost of adrenaline that takes me through Christmas Day worship.  But can you say “Eric will be napping on the way to Iowa tomorrow”.

Today is Christmas Eve and I am preparing for a 5pm worship service at Salem and a 9am Christmas Day service at Belmont.  My sermon is written…I just need to review, practice and tweak it some.  The worship service is set…I just need to run through things and make sure all my “props” are there and ready.  The music will be coming (Connie’s family is providing the brass accompaniment tonight).  And all the worship participants are set to go.  My biggest task I have left to do today is to make some bread in the bread maker for supper tonight (Italian Herb bread is on the menu).  All in all…not too bad of a day coming up (maybe that is the adrenaline).

But before I go and continue my preparations I want to leave you with a couple things:

(1) MERRY CHRISTMAS to you all and thanks for a great year.  I will be posting a year-in-review later on but I just want to say now that I am thankful for the many friends I met through this blog.  I am also thankful for the many commenters and others who stop by.  This blog is for you and that is my motivation for writing this; knowing that God is using me to preach his Word to people all over the world.  What a blessing this has been.  May you experience the love of God through your many gatherings and may you have safe travels and joyous homecomings.

(2) I want to share a story with you I heard on the news this morning.  Check out this Star Tribune link for the complete story.  Basically…there was an apartment fire in Burnsville, MN recently where nearly 200 residents lost everything.  Yesterday a person donated about 1 million dollars to the victims (nearly $17,500 per person…today the people can pick up their checks).  Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville is serving as a collection site to provide for the basic needs of these families.  This story touched my heart as it is an example of the Spirit of Christmas at work.  Praise be to God.

Once again…have a very blessed Christmas and be safe…all the while praising God, always and forever.  Amen!


My blogging call

Wow…it’s been just over a week since I showed up here.  This has been one of my longest blogging droughts since I started blogging just over 2 years ago.  I am not sure what it is…

Maybe a little writer’s block.
Maybe a little busyness with a few funerals on top of everything else.
Maybe it was me just needing a little break to re-evaluate my call to this blog.

It seems strange to talk about blogging as a call, but I truly believe it is a call.  It’s a call just like anything else…

Being called to be a teacher.
Being called to be a doctor.
Being called to be a garbage collector.
Being called to be a parent.

Not everyone has the desire to write about stuff going on in their little world.  I believe I have been called to this unique ministry and the call is still there.  Sometimes we need to go through periods of time when we test our call; when we question if this is what we are supposed to do.  And if we are truly called to a certain vocation, God will affirm His desire to use you in that vocation.  I am not sure what God’s plan is for me, but I am going to continue to listen and see what that is.

In the mean time…I will continue to write and throw ideas, thoughts and pondering out to you.  I will continue to invite you to comment and share your ideas.  I will continue to be challenged through reading other blogs (which I have been doing through this “drought”).

So with that I need to run and get ready for tonight (Wednesday).  Tonight I am taking a group of 30 people to Sioux Falls to serve at The Banquet; a feeding ministry in Sioux Falls, SD.  I am guessing I will be sharing my experience later on.  But in the mean time you can check out the following links.  One is the website for The Banquet and the other two are previous posts that I have written about experiences at The Banquet…so enjoy and I will see you all very soon.

The Banquet
Website for The Banquet.

The Banquet
This is a blog post I wrote in 2006.

Feelings I won’t describe
This is a blog post I wrote in 2007.

Take care and God bless.


Coffee shop ponderings — hospitality

Many of you know that I spend a lot of time at my favorite coffee place, Coffee Choices.  Part of the reason is because I really like coffee, especially the variety of flavors that Coffee Choices offers (Black Raspberry and Blueberry Cinnamon Swirl are my favorites).  Another part of the reason I spend so much time there is the hospitality that they practice.  When I set up camp at my favorite table by the front window on Thursdays to eat lunch and write my sermon, I never have to get up.  They always make sure my cup is full and that I have everything I need (they treat all the customers that way…not just me).  The hospitality keeps me coming back.

In the Romans text for Sunday, Paul urges the church in Rome to “practice hospitality”.  And this is more than making friends and family feel welcome in your home.  But practicing hospitality is making people feel welcome, valued, special, etc when ever and where ever you are.  If, upon my first visit to Coffee Choices, they were not hospitable, I probably would not have returned again, but because they make me feel like a valued customer I have no problem giving them my business.  And because I have developed relationships with many people down there through hospitality, I have had many fruitful and inspiring conversations.

Imagine the impact we could have on people if we showed that same hospitality to all people at all times and in all places.  What if we made people feel like they are to most valued and special person in the world.  People would stop and take notice and want to be around you.  And the more people are around you, the more opportunities you have to show the sincere love of Christ to them.  But don’t let your hospitality be for selfish reasons, as Paul says in Romans 12:9 “Love must be sincere“.  And when love is sincere, people will notice.

The people down at Coffee Choices are not putting on an act to get people to come back again, their hospitality is sincere, and THAT brings me back again and again.  Let YOUR love be sincere for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.


The Banquet

Here I am again.  Yesterday I told you was slowing down a little bit to take a break but I am back again.  Tomorrow or so I will have another post.  I was recently tagged to share 10 random things about myself.  Check back to see that one (I am one strange cookie).

Anyway…there is a good reason way I am back again today.  In December of 2006 I wrote a post titled, Feelings I won’t describe.  It was about our trip to a place in Sioux Falls, SD called The Banquet.  The Banquet is a feeding ministry in Sioux Falls that has been operating and serving the less fortunate for over 20 years.  Groups sign up to come and help serve meals for the people (or "guests" as The Banquet calls them).  Yesterday (Nov. 7) was Salem’s turn (along with Belmont and Bethany Lutheran Churches).  Between the 3 churches we had 32 people serving.  What an incredible experience.  It was the fourth year for us doing this and it never gets old.  Last night we served 421 people, which is pretty average.  They have served nearly 500 people in an evening in the past.  I could go on and on about this place, but check out the above links to learn more about this amazing ministry.

What kind of serving opportunities, like this, do you have in your area?  My confirmation kids are required to serve at The Banquet, do your confirmands have a similar requirement?

"Treat everyone (who walks through those doors) as though they were Jesus" -my dad-