There seems to be more talk of “The Spirit” in Christian conversation these days. People have a sense that “The Spirit” is Jesus working in our hearts and experience, and in our influence upon others through “the light” of Jesus’ love in us.
But, we’ve left behind, our conviction that in our church life, our life together, particularly our decision-making, Jesus has promised to play a part by coming to give us guidance. “When two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.”
In the 1970s and early 1980s, we made a decision together about moving our church to a more open and accessible space on the Crosstown Highway in Edina. While not unanimous, our decision made by several hundred people meeting together was made by very wide agreement. It was very clear we were being drawn together and led to a common mind that convinced us we were being led by the Spirit. That enabled us to go forward together, and gladly.
The decisions about where we would build the new church, and what its theme and design would be, were quite remarkable, and in light of the issues and differences involved, seemed clearly miraculous. It was a heady time.
In fact, it took place within a period of two decades in which a widely experienced movement embraced the “Catholic Charismatic” movement, a Lutheran Holy Spirit renewal movement, and a stirring of other denominations in the Twin Cities as well, was happening.
Prayer meetings were taking place not only in the Catholic and Lutheran denominations, but in local churches as well. Colonial’s “Sunset Healing Service” on late Sunday afternoons, brought people for prayer that resulted in a number of physical healings. Our life was alive with the Spirit.
There were also many personal experiences of transforming life changes. Lenten “altar calls” on Ash Wednesday evening and Easter morning services brought people forward to kneel seeking prayer, and brought both physical and spiritual changes.
Resistant hearts melted and came to Jesus in our midst. Relationships were changed. Hearts were changed. Addictions to smoking were taken away.
It was clear to me that leading in all this would involve great risk – professionally and personally. My wife prayerfully encouraged me not to turn back. During a two-week study retreat at St. John’s Seminary, I was lovingly led by three Lutheran pastors to dare to be “baptized in the Spirit.” Gifts of praise in “tongues” and of healing were given me, as well as many encouraging words.
That summer of ’72, I drove north and west and down the California coast and across the Mojave Desert visiting spiritual leaders and communities of Holy Spirit renewal. Then to Europe at Francis Schaeffer ‘s L’Abri community and the Sisters of Mary at Darmstadt, followed by a second round with Molly and our children, also visiting Taizé in France.
The Deacons at home were largely supportive. I sought out guidance wherever I could and determined to be serious about this new Biblical Baptism by the Spirit. (John had said, “I baptize you with water, but He Who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In that day I contracted glaucoma. When my pressure was sky high, Molly and I drove to Mayo Clinic to see Dr. Brubaker. I did not know that a group of praying women of Colonial gathered that day to pray for me. But by the time I was tested at Rochester, the numbers had gone down from the middle twenties to a perfect 11 and 10 in both eyes and remained that way for 50 years. While I finally lost the sight of one eye, the other eye remained a perfect 20/20 with a pressure at 10 or 11.
In the same decade, my dermatologist discovered a malignant melanoma on my left foot. It was excised by an apprehensive young surgeon – and has never returned.
The “prayers of the faithful” have surrounded me many times when I maybe was threatened and in need. Mercifully, I still live. God uses Molly in wonderful ways, from constant prayer to daily care.
High risks did come. I went to Africa when that call came, and Molly went too. When parish ministry ended sadly for me and mine, a whole new call came to learn reconciliation, by God, through our World Vision friends. Molly and I were sent to Rwanda to work for peace and healing there and through the Great Lakes Region, following the horrors of the Genocide there. A ministry that began when I was 65 and lasted until I was 85 is still going on today through our successors.
With it came wonderful, wise leadership for Molly and the high adventure of our marriage. Todd and Mary Bertelson and Jim and Annette Olson have succeeded and greatly grown that Pilgrim Center ministry. And now, the work of reconciliation is more needed than ever.
We have learned, like Joan of Arc, to “dare, and dare, and dare until we die.” The Covid-19 days still demand risk. But, they remind us that the accompanying days with Jesus and His life in the Spirit, bring unspeakable joy. My earnest prayer is that you all will follow on to live daily and deeply with Him.
Your friend on the Way,
On this snowy Friday afternoon, I watched briefly “The Five” as they asked each other, “What do you do to get away from politics?” The answers went from bland to inane.
Politics is difficult because politics is us. It is the people’s attempt to give meaning to our lives, seeking leaders who can give character and hope to our life together.
It is a worthy calling, meant to lift our vision as a people. That is why the Puritan cry as they came to the New World, full of hope for the success of their venture of crossing a great ocean, leaving their native land to find a way out of their sacrifice, was to “do it right.” John Winthrop preached to his people, “WE ARE AS A CITY SET UPON A HILL, WITH THE EYES OF THE WORLD UPON US.” The vision of a great experiment seen first in God’s Word to them in the Bible. The idea that God would use them as a great example of a servant nation.
They were following the Pilgrims who had preceded them in 1620, to found something new. A new way. A way of the people.
Their predecessors gathered in the cabin of the Mayflower, to write out a “Compact,” an agreement to live together in a certain way, where the people would agree together to act and work together for the good of the new colony.
The Mayflower Compact foreshadowed America’s later Declaration of Independence, followed by the Constitution, that amazing document that ordered a life of the people working together for the common good. No wonder we cherish it!
These people were going to work and live by faith. And their worship and work together, gathering in their beautifully simple and symmetric New England Meeting House, gave America and us, would we all follow it, the “Congregational Way” of church life. Where the people gather together seeking to be like Jesus Himself, through His Holy Spirit in the way God led them.
The following of a Way in which, by His Spirit, God leads, is a humbling that bends people toward securing a right way emerging from the Spirit-led conversation, until they are able to say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to do thus and so.” No narrow majority. Nearly always unanimous or close to it.
Enough mystery in that to give ample cause for the daring followers of Jesus to believe His hand was guiding them. And so emerged a recognized form of Congregational Church governance. It called for patience, daring courage. But, it brought faithful people together in a spirit of one mind and heart.
That commitment to the Spirit gave many a congregation practice in following their Lord in deep things. Christ Himself, showed them the way toward what’s right.
Many decades ago, back in the 1960s, the Minnesota Conference of the Congregational Churches challenged every local church to declare itself as open and welcoming to black and white together. We, as a congregation, agreed we already did that in our heart and spirit. But when the vote was taken we could not get agreement to announce this as our policy. But one Deacon leader gathered people to study and pray about this for a year. At the end of a year a meeting was called and a vote taken, and unanimously the vote to announce the same public invitation was taken. Passed unanimously. The vote to declare ourselves open and welcoming to people of all races into Colonial’s worship and life, passed unanimously and continues as stated policy and purpose.
Time, prayer, and a humble heart, led by sincere lay leaders, brought about in the 1960s our declared public welcome, which still stands.
The Holy Spirit does lead us, when we ask Him to. It is a leadership the community wanted to see, and God wanted to see. That as a church, God asked us to be a model, a “city on a hill,” calling America itself to be a “servant nation to the world.”
God has called us into high adventure with Him. He led us into bold partnership to do healing work in our city: To help a young legislator Arne Carlson establish Alpha House for people coming out of prison, to work with State government and a leading non-profit to establish The Colonial Residence for Girls to help teenage girls in the city, to establish The Colony in our Wooddale property as a drop-in center for Junior High drug addicts. To help Sabathani Community Center to get established to serve the black community on the south side. To help a downtown church create an inter-race nursery school called My-Your Nursery with help from Colonial’s own nursery school. And on and on it went.
And now our country is hurt and divided. Indeed, our President was hurt and publicly shamed by impeachment. He is one of few leaders to publicly defend the lives of unborn children. He has stood for religious freedom and rights. He has found strong and dedicated judges for the Supreme Court. He did many good things. He has been told because he is crude and rude that he is unworthy.
We know from scripture that God has chosen bad people to do good things in His strange and conflicted world. How unworthy we all are. Our leader is hurt and I grieve for him and pray for him.
A change will come. I hope we can all have grace to pray for the President and his family. We will see and understand many things as time goes on.
Jesus still is Lord and Savior of us all. He is more than ever, our world’s hope and America’s hope. Good will come. May we all pray for courage to stand with Jesus, at the Cross, and live with love and be bearers of the vision, in our time.
God love and bless you all.
Written on 1/6/2021 -
I sat, transfixed this night of the Great Light, the Star above the City. The Spirit in a tiny child to light the whole world, and watched our country’s capitol being overwhelmed by thousands come from everywhere to protect the electoral college process.
Great legacies are often left from silent service given, faithfully, and patiently over long years, even years of rejection. Life and even service, can be a great mix, even unfair.
A church friend, long gone to retirement in Maine, wrote a poignant piece that was recently sent to us. Under the title, “An Enduring Legacy,” my friend wrote:
“I’m about 82 years old now...don’t know how 82-year-olds are supposed to behave...thinking about all
kinds of possible answers to difficult questions lately...wondering about where I came from, what I may or may
not have accomplished...about what’s most important in these unprecedented times...
“There’s very little that seems right to me these days. I’m worried about my granddaughter’s future.”
We all wonder. But in the end it comes down to ourselves, and to our own commitment, and to the spirit with which we choose to live our lives. If we expect rewards from our work – honors, and approbation, and cheers, we are mistaken.
The greatest man who ever lived, was, in the end and along the way “despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” And in the end, after being betrayed and condemned to death on a cross, dying for the sins of the world, it is remembered that “He never said a mumblin’ word...not a word...not a mumblin’ word.”
He is the One we are sworn to follow. To expect no more than He got. To simply be glad we could do what we could do – knowing that the power came from Him and not ourselves.
Bless you tonight.
When old school alumni magazines come in the mail, I look to read about my classmates, including who has died. This fall I found that my college freshman roommate had died. I was struck by the limited and kind of detail our schools and colleges are interested in noting and passing on to other classmates and the alumni world.
My first-year college roommate had come to our prep school from outstate New York. He was a bright, good student. After graduating from college he served two years in the Army, earned a law degree at a respected law school, whereupon he entered an Investment Trust, rising to become its Chairman. He served on the boards of banks and trusts, and endowed chairs at Harvard in Economics, Russian Studies, and World Christianity. He served too, on the boards of schools and colleges.
How little that list told of the heart and spirit of this friend of my youth. He was hugely generous. He was a devoted Christian. He gave to his Lutheran Church tradition. He supported what he saw as strong leadership in Christianity. He helped the cause of Christ, without ever drawing attention to it. He supported faith institutions he believed in. He earnestly worked to make the world a better place. And in a quiet way urged others to do the same.
We knew each other both in prep school, and in college. We were not close friends. But we respected each other.
Reading my friend’s obituary in our prep school alumni magazine made me realize how these good institutions that educate us, want us to give back. So, we tell the world about the business and institutional interests of our alumni. It is hard to speak of the spirit by which our classmates lived. Hard to articulate the qualities that made them beloved. That made them winsome and wonderful. We let the world know what they did. What they accomplished. But not what made them who they were.
It's hard to get at the soul of people. The things to which they gave their heart. The things that made people trust them, want to be with them, want to tell them about themselves, want to reveal what drew them into friendship and service. Indeed, what made them worthy to be followed and admired.
I have often thought of the remarkable interior qualities of goodness and love and compelling attraction that led Jesus to invite others to follow Him, and made them so ready to do just that – forever. Those first fishermen who heard the call by the Galilean Sea must have realized the danger in following Jesus. Yet, they were compelled to go.
There are reasons why we draw close to the likes of Jesus, and His followers. We can’t help ourselves.
That is the power we have to deal with on our choosing to follow the Christ-Way – compelled by the Christ-love He offers.
May we dare to acknowledge this compulsion of Christ that draws us and that we find in those, like my old school friend, who still chose generously and faithfully to follow.
The universal greeting on this first day of 2021 shifts away from Christmas and Christ’s coming into our lives as wondrous gift of new life, to now a rather more bland greeting. An even more acceptable greeting in these days of the “new culture.” The new greeting of Happy New Year simply pleads for better days ahead, for the hope of change for the better.
It doesn’t call on God for help. It doesn’t reverently wish Christ’s joy to come into people’s lives. It wishes briefly, blandly for happy times ahead. Good luck, so to speak. A year of nothing bad. No tragedy. No sorrow. No suffering.
How much more vital, and earthy, the greeting for Christmas – the Christ child come to Bethlehem and the world – announcing Jesus has come to our heart and our life. To be IN us. To be beside us, leading us day by day.
The key is the daily walk, the new reality for every day: Jesus, come to be LORD of our lives. Come to us to crown our morning. And then to bless us noon-day – especially over lunch with a friend in Christ. And, at night where all about us is dark with the night, and we can lie back and think and pray and be glad for life and love, and be blessed for the night.
I struggle with wanting to be useful, and then realize that Jesus asks me to care, to have a heart, to be a light – HIS LIGHT – in the world. And understand I am saved by grace, by God’s forgiveness of my sins. I cannot earn my way home to heaven. I can’t achieve salvation by good works. Even though we all are meant to serve, to care about others, live lives of love and mercy.
At home, my wife is ever moving about, creating and re-creating the warmth and welcome of our home. She keeps lists of things needing to be done. Of improvements to be made. And she, just about 90, Molly makes those improvements herself. And I, behind my impenetrable mask, can hardly breathe – much less run down to the garage to bring some household things back, or go to the front desk mailroom to retrieve whatever mail might have come today, much less push or pull furniture, or lift chests, or nail a picture to the wall. I save my breath. I do tiny chores. By the world’s standard, I am a sluggard. Molly was quite right when once she said, in relation to the dirty, dusty, heavy things, “I am ‘the man of the house.’”
She works, I know, at keeping me alive. I m so grateful. I work at it, too. I eat and sleep. I try to work at minimal exercise.
What I do is, I think and pray. I write blogs. I write letters. I see people who may want to see me. I listen. I try to encourage. I try to be a pastor while I still can.
Which means, watching the world. Trying to understand it. Trying to help others live in it, as best they can. I urge them to remember Jesus. The DAILY Jesus. The handholding, leading the way, Jesus. The Jesus who walks the wild roads; who was never afraid of the wilderness; nor of the BIG and POWERFUL; or of the cross on which they are trying to crucify Him again.
His brave steps are the ones He calls us to follow: the standing up; the telling of truth; the living out love, so ridiculously simple, and difficult.
How do you really listen to others? How do you respect a human being? How do you hold out a hand to help?
With or without George Floyd, or “Black Lives Matter,” or progressive politicians, there is a path we need to find, a way to BE, that is true to Jesus, for us to live, and demonstrate the Jesus Way of LIfe.
It’s every new day – not every “New Year.” It is this day, this hour, this minute. Doing it, and doing it – until the last day, and the last breath.
So... Happy New Day, happy new hour, and minute. Over and over. Until the end. With joy.
Bless you – all!
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES