Scotcheroos, coffee and sermon prep

Ah…sermon prep time at my favorite location in Jackson ~ Coffee Choices.

Each day at 10:20am I pack up my laptop and sermon prep materials and head downtown.  I walk into Coffee Choices and I feel like Norm walking into Cheers.

O the joy of small town life.

I setup camp and greet my scotcheroo that is waiting for me (See lower left part of photo. I have a standing order every Thursday).  I also order a cup of coffee (of course) and then place my lunch order to be ready at 11am.

Each Thursday ~ the same routine (unless I let Coffee Choices know ahead of time).

Some days it is busy and noisy.
Some days it is quite peaceful (like today).
Whatever the case I don’t care. The Holy Spirit can work in any condition.

If this routine is disrupted, though, I almost panic ~ thrown for a loop.  But the sermon still gets written.  I don’t know how.

(actually I do…refer to my previous Holy Spirit comment).

But what makes Thursday sermon prep so special (outside the Holy Spirit working through me to prepare a message from God to preach to God’s people)  is…well…

…the scotcheroo, the coffee and the Cheers like feeling.

O the joy of small town life.

And now…lunch time 🙂


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?


A concern…please advise

Last Wednesday a parent approached me and asked me if I had heard of Wicca.  I said that I know of it but am not too familiar with it.  I then asked her why she asks and she said that there are students at the high school that are practicing this.

This concerns me.

Since that conversation I have learned that there are middle school students tinkering with this as well.  I am worried that there are students here in Jackson heading down a dark road and I am not sure what to do (other than pray).  I am not all that educated on Wicca.  I did an Internet search and there seems to be a lot of information out there but I don’t know what to trust.  Can anyone help me with a reliable source of information to learn more about Wicca so I can help answer questions and talk with my students? I am also in the process of compiling some scripture to use.  What would you recommend I have on my list?

Please advise.

Thank you.


Exciting news!

“Leadership in the small church”

When I heard about the above continuing education opportunity I was intrigued.  I serve two small congregations in SW MN.  So an educational event about leadership in a small congregation sounded good to me.  But then I heard it was at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, VA.  At that point I lost some enthusiasm.  I mean…that’s a long ways and would be a spendy continuing education trip…something my congregation might not be able to afford (let alone me).  But the title still intrigued me so decided I checked it out…to satisfy my curiosity.  I learned that this opportunity was fully funded by a Lilly Grant (travel, lodging, pulpit supply…everything).  Now my interest was peeked again.  Then I learned that only 25 pastors (and spouses) are selected from across the country.  There was a lengthy application process for me, my spouse and congregation to fill out.  There would be homework before, during and after, but it would be something that would enhance my ministry, offer support for my wife and encourage my congregation.  It seemed like a long shot but we decided to go for it.

And oh by the way…my bishop is the one who put me on to this and encouraged me to go for it.

So I gathered a team from Salem to fill out the church’s part of the application.  I gave Connie her information and I went to work on mine.  We were all very excited but still reserved.  After all…only 25 couples get selected, but what did we have to lose.

I got my stuff turned in by the deadline (Dec. 15, 2009) and we began waiting…and praying.  We would know by sometime in early February.

Well…today is February 1.  The phone rings and on the other end is a woman from Virginia Theological Seminary.  I knew right then and there they probably weren’t calling me to say I did not make it…and I was right.

My wife and I are going to Virginia for the Summer Collegium at Virginia Theological Seminary (check out the link for more information); June 23 – July 1 of this year.  Out of 175 applicants we were one of 25 elected.  PRAISE BE TO GOD!  My wife and I are humbled to be chosen and excited for the opportunity; excited for us and for our congregation.  Now the real work begins.  A packet of information will be coming my way shortly and I am sure you will be hearing much more about this throughout the year.

For right now…Connie and I are super excited and praising God for this opportunity.  I can hardly wait to see what God is going to do with us (and our congregation) through this event.

Praise be to God!

To be continued…


God is good!!!

If there was ever a time when I needed to be reminded that God will never give us more than we can handle…it is now.

Here’s the situation in brief:

–As I have mentioned before this weekend is Salem’s 125th anniversary and there is an open house at the parsonage tomorrow (Saturday).

–The bathroom is being remodeled.  We ordered flooring but as of Thursday is just arrived but no one was available to put it in = messy house for open house = stressed wife = stressed husband (me).  Help!

–[Here’s God intervening] One of my trustees has a son who installs flooring (why I didn’t remember is beyond me).  She heard about our setback and called her son and he said he could come on Friday to install the flooring.  PRAISE BE TO GOD!  He just left (Friday morning) to get is tools so he can start.  The  bathroom will now be done by the open house = less stress for my wife = less stress for the husband (me). PRAISE BE TO GOD!!!

–[Here’s God intervening again] Project #2…the patio.  One parishioner is working on this (former landscaper) all by himself = lots of work.  Yesterday and this morning people have been calling me left and right saying they are coming over to help Joel and get this done (Joel is happier).  PRAISE BE TO GOD!!!  And now I am feeling overwhelmed by God’s greatness and faithfulness.

–[The priesthood of all believers] People from the anniversary committee, the congregation president, various other council members, parishioners, and friends from the community (a friend of mine who happens to be the council president at the other Lutheran church in town) have stepped up to make this weekend happen.  Thank you and PRAISE BE TO GOD!!!

In response to this all I can say is “God is good…all the time.  All the time…God is good!!!”



Faster Pastor

Saturday night was a night I will not soon forget.

Here in Jackson, MN we are blessed to have the Jackson Speedway.  Races are a big deal here in town.  On Saturday nights one can hear the races going on…sometimes until 11pm of after. Our mid-summer celebration is called “Race Days”.   But in my five years here I had only been to the races once (now I will be going more often).

The track promoter we have has done a phenomenal job this year with a variety of creative promotions.  Saturday night was charity night.  As part of charity night the track sent out vouchers to all the churches to hand out to people.  For every person that bought a ticket and turned in a voucher, that particular church got $5…half the ticket price.  I handed out about 80 vouchers…that’s a good chuck of change for Salem Lutheran Church (if all those people showed up).

One of the feature races on Saturday was the “Faster Pastor” race (that’s right…it is just as it sounds)…and I was in it.  They put seven of us pastors in these hobby stock cars and turned us lose.  And let me tell you…it is quite an experience to be in a powerful piece of machinery like a race car.  I was given a quick orientation on how to drive this car and tips on how to maneuver around the track.  It was a little unnerving though, not being able to turn my head to see who was around me and not having any mirrors.  It was just me and the race car (by the way, we never got over 55 to 60 mph).

We drew numbers for our starting positions and I was fortunate enough to draw #1…the pole position.  I got strpped into my car and started it up.  The roar of the engine was deafening but exhilarating.   After we got out on the track they gave us a few practice laps to get familiar with our car.  I quickly realized that it took some strength to drive these cars and hold them on the turns.  I also quickly realized the feeling of adrenaline coursing through my body…what a rush.  After our practice laps the green flag was waved and off we went.  I hit the gas and felt the power of this car.  I held up in the turns as advised and hit it on the straight aways.  While in turns 3 and 4 on the second to last lap of this 4 lap race I saw my first competitor on my right side…my friend Chris from the Presbyterian Church.  As soon as I rounded turn 4 I hit the gas again and off I went.  I didn’t see Chris again until I got to the pits.

By the way (and I know you are probably curios)…I WON!  I got to go to victory lane; have my picture taken with the checked flag and be interviewed in front of the grandstand.  What an incredible experience.  I will not soon forget this night.  Most little boys dream about being a race car driver (as I did) when they grow up.  For me…this was a chance to fulfill a childhood dream…even if it is the only time I do this (but hopefully this race is an annual event now).

Thank you to the Jackson Speedway…not just for letting us pastors race live out a boyhood dream, but for supporting this community and for supporting the churches.  I am not sure what we are using the money for yet, but I do know that it is going to go to good use…helping others.  Living and serving in a small town definitely has it perks…and this is one of many reasons why I love serving in Jackson.

Praise be to God!



VBS (Vacation Bible School) is almost upon us here at Salem Lutheran Church.  Our coordinator has been hard at work for a few weeks now.   It is fun to see her excitement and energy as July 20 fast approaches.  And if you want evidence of Emily’s excitement just walk through the lower level of Salem and see the decorations…it looks like a swamp…very fun.  Right now we have 30 pre-school kids registered with more expected to just show up on Monday morning.  I am in charge of the Bible story each day which I am looking forward to with much excitement.

In the afternoons we have a VBS style program (or daycamp) going on for our K – 6 graders with Shetek Lutheran Ministries.  Salem is hosting the pre-school VBS and our ELCA neighbors down the street is hosting the daycamp program.  Daycamp has about 55 kids registered. All in all it is going to be a fun week.

My dream and goal for next year is to get most if not all the churches together in Jackson to put on a VBS program together.  There is so much we can do if we combine our resources, gifts and talents together without having to re-create the wheel (which we seem to be doing this year).  Salem, Our Savior’s and Belmont Lutheran Churches are together this year but I envision a much greater ecumenical partnership in 2010.

So here’s to VBS:  lots of energetic pre-schoolers…cool aid…games outside…crafts…singing…Bible stories…and hopefully some seeds planted.  Thank you to our volunteers, parents, and congregations for your support, time and committment.

So here’s to VBS and the Holy Spirit working in the lives of our kids.

Praise be to God!


What a blessing

I feel incredibly blessed…

Yesterday the congregation I serve celebrated the 5 year anniversary of my ordination (which is on July 2).  There was a special recognition of this occasion during worship in addition to a number of other surprises my wife and others cooked up (and let me tell you…as a pastor who is used to leading worship, it was a little uncomfortable not knowing what was going on in worship…but I still really enjoyed and appreciated what they did).  Connie’s very musical family was there to provide special music and brass accompaniment during the hymns and offering.  My mom read scripture and the church presented me with a gift.  After worship there was a cake/coffee reception for me (something the community was invited to, along with worship).  These were all things I was truly unworthy of, but it was nice to experience this affirmation of my call here.  I feel incredibly blessed for God has done amazing things here through all of us.

So many people were involved to help make this a special day and they tried so hard to keep things from me (which was tough considering we live and serve in a small town and small congregation), but they did a great job.  So if you are one of those people reading this…THANK YOU!…yesterday will be a day I will always remember and treasure.  But the main we all need to remember (and something that people highlighted yesterday) is that through it all…in everything that happens good and bad…PRAISE BE TO GOD!

Thank you to Salem and Belmont Lutheran Churches and to the community of Jackson.  Connie and I are very happy to be part of these communities.  PRAISE BE TO GOD!


Youth ministry vision

For a couple months now, myself and a couple other people here in Jackson have been talking about the future of youth ministry in Jackson County.  At present, there is only one church in Jackson County that has a youth director (1st Baptist in Jackson) and that person is only part time.  We see a huge mission field that needs to be tapped.

Right now the vision we have been playing with and praying about is to have a ministry set up with a full time person running the ministry.  This ministry would be run and supported by a board of directors (representative of all the churches).  We believe this ministry needs to be located outside of our church buildings and in a neutral location (possibly an old store front downtown).  We have toured other community youth ministry programs to get an idea of what we might be able to do.  We visited The Connection in Canby, MN and the Youth For Christ center in Fairmont, MN.  In the Dawson, MN area there is a rural youth ministry network that just started this past fall called Route 212.  They don’t have a building, but that is something they are praying about.  And I know there is a community youth ministry program/building in Olivia, MN.

Is Jackson next?

The main thing for us (and the other ministries we have looked at) is that this ministry needs to be a Bible based, Christian ministry.  We recognize that our different denominations have various beliefs and practices, but when it comes right down to it, we believe that Jesus Christ is our salvation.  There are many things we can agree upon and we want to celebrate that.

This vision started with Salem and Our Savior’s Lutheran Churches talking about sharing a youth director…now it has grown to this.  So today at 1pm a bunch of us are getting together to pray.  We know that if this is God directed and ordained then we can not fail…but we need to be faithful and listen to God’s voice.  So we are committed to praying about this and listening.  We don’t know how this ministry will look or if we are even called to do this, but one thing I do know…there is a lot of excitement about this among our small group.  Our hope is that, if this is ordained by God, this vision will catch on with others.

So my questions for you are these: Is there anyone out there that has a community youth ministry program in their area?  How is it set up?  What is your experience with it?

Like I said, I don’t know where this will go and there are a lot of questions to be asked and answered, but where ever it does go, it will be all for the glory of God.

Praise be to God!


Monday morning check in — Sewing day

Coffee and coffee cake with the sewing group is a time I look forward to every month.  On the first Monday of each month, the sewing group gets together to make quilts.  These quilts end up in the cities and get distributed to people who need them (sometimes these quilts head over seas).  It’s a sacred time…one that never gets messed with (unless of course there is an emergency.  Even then…it has to be a life or death situation).  At 9am Lucille emerges from the Fellowship Hall and calls out from the bottom of the stairs “IT’S READY!”  At this my secretary and I make our way downstairs (Lucille’s coffee cake is not to be missed (unless, like I said, there is a life or death emergency).  Each month, Lucille says that she tried something new with the recipe (who knew there were so many ways to make coffee cake).  And each month her coffee cake is absolutely delicious.  Even though I want to have more, I know I need to behave myself.  If there is enough left, Lucille will sometimes send a couple pieces home for Connie and I (which rarely makes it back to Connie…sorry honey). 

While we have our hot cup of coffee and warm piece of coffee cake, we discuss the “important” matters of the day.  “How is so and so doing?”  “Did you hear about that <news from the radio> this morning?”  Sometimes they look to me for some “inside information” (which I rarely give unless the other party has given me express permission to divulge the information).  It’s a sacred and intimate time even though to the untrained ear it looks and sounds like a gossip time, but it is so much more than that.  Some months it is just casual conversation.  But other times I hear questions that I normally don’t get to hear from people.  These question are sometimes hard, but always honest questions about what is going on in the church.  I guess they figure they have the pastor’s ear for a moment…and I am always happy to listen.

That is the morning gathering time.  At noon they have a little potluck where the husbands show up to eat and, of course, I am there.  It is during this time I learn the most about people.  It is where I learn who is related to whom (I am always amazed at what I learn here).  It’s where I learn about the church’s history.  I hear stories of the good ole days.  And, of course, there is the typical BS that is often heard when guys get together.  This is a sacred and intimate time.

Now…as I sit here typing this, I find myself getting more and more anxious about lunch; when the guys will show up; great food will be served; and stronger connections are made over coffee and hot dish.  We won’t solve the world’s problems today.  We won’t get into deep political discussions.  But one thing is for sure…this sacred and intimate time won’t be wasted.

Got to love sewing day 🙂