I don’t know what makes an exciting day for you. Accomplishing an important task, coffee and conversation with a good friend, perhaps. Those often really “make my day.”
But, I had been looking forward to doing Lent. Ruminating about LIFE. Jesus’ life. And my life.
I have a handful of dear friends who have made up a little company of friends who loved to gather early morning, mid-week, at a local restaurant during the seasons of Advent and Lent, to be together, to have a light breakfast of a roll and coffee, to greet each other with news of their lives, to read the Bible, hear the life and love stories of Jesus in His ministry, pray for each other, and find the presence of the Spirit among them in real and personal ways.
This went on for a decade or two. But suddenly, in this year of pandemic, it wasn’t so simple. An enemy was abroad in the form of a hostile virus. We could only meet wearing masks and keeping a 6-foot social distance from each other.
For a while we discontinued. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Epiphany came and went. Our churches were closed with only high-tech “zoom” contact. It was too hard. We missed church. Social and political change overtook whole cities. And peaceful protests turned to riots. Stores were burned. Police precinct stations were burned. Calls were raised to “defund the police.” The news was about violence. About racial tensions. About America as a white racist society.
Churches tried to respond. To have discussions of race and racism. We were called to “cancel culture.” To wipe out precious traditions. There was anger by church leaders, and by protesting responders. Many felt grief about their churches, their communities, their own lives.
With COVID vaccines being given to thousands, it seemed possible we could try and find each other again.
We found the Hilltop would take us again for four early Thursday mornings of March, heading straight for Holy Week and Easter.
We explored tentatively trying again to gather as a Lenten discipline. Ten or fifteen said they’d be game. They would welcome an abbreviated Lenten gathering at dawn, facemasks, social distancing, and all. To those who didn’t want to take the risk, we would send by email the presentation notes all written out, after each of the four gatherings, so we could make our Lenten Pilgrimage together.
This week the day came – March 4th – for our first gathering. A woman who lived in our part of the city volunteered to pick me up at 6:30 am and so she did. We drove through dark streets at first light, talking of many things.
As we arrived at the restaurant, other cars were already pulling in. As 7:00 am approached we walked toward the door, not yet opened. But waiting there to hold the door was a dear friend, one of the cities’ most distinguished dermatologists. He had never been before. But as the sun rose, he was there to be part of our little company.
His wife was in the gathering crowd, as were others, determined to share this early morning experience with their fellow Christians.
Soon, 7:00 came. The door opened. And amid early greetings and introductions, the comrades of the “Dawn Patrol” poured into the restaurant to gather by the fireside on the inside patio.
A few tables were moved so we could see and hear each other as we came together, and read, and prayed together. Cheerily a group of first-timers helped with arrangements, found seats, met others they didn’t know – all the while everybody talking excitedly.
I found my place, greeted those dear Christian friends, and welcomed them all to this time of friendship and faith together.
There were more than 10 or 15. By final count our crowd was 26 – all glad to be there, sensing they would not be alone, but very much in the presence of the Lord Who had invited them.
We went round the room, one man remembering the March day when he with his family and a boatload of fellow Latvians, fresh from their refugee camp in Berchtesgaten, Germany, had steamed into New York Harbor and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time. Another, just in from Arizona told how this gathering had so nurtured her, that she had come all that way for the first gathering. Her grown daughter was there, too.
My own “boss,” President Jim Olson of the Pilgrim Center, had driven across two cities to come. Members of my first Confirmation class were there – my friends of over 50 years. A flight attendant just in from far places spread her lighted smile across the room, saying what this meant to her. One man told of the stroke he’d suffered and his children who called 911 and got him to the hospital in time to forestall the effects of a stroke. He praised the Lord.
And so, on it went. We talked of Jesus’ journey of three years, ministry to every sort of person with a need on His way to the climax of His life on earth at Golgotha and THE CROSS outside Jerusalem.
I found trying to imagine Jesus’ life and the many confrontations with Pharisees and other leaders of the church, as He followed the instincts and insights of the love which God had given Him, breaking through to meet the deepest needs of the broken world around Him. It was an exciting journey for me among these friends who needed to see the absolute claim of Jesus’ life of courage for each of them.
I felt the same spirit of God’s love reaching out to all of us “in that very room” as we talked and confessed the love of Jesus we were each feeling.
Well! - It “made my day.” It lifted my spirit. It gave me the restored sense of purpose for my own life as I was privileged to be among these brothers and sisters of faith in the single most important thing in my life in these days of its final stage.
Here was my own reason for living writ large for me. It made the whole day one of exhilaration and exultation in being blessed by Christ, Lord of my life. And, it has continued in the days since. A way to live. A recognized gift of God – seen so clearly in the lives of these lifetime friends who were finding their own lifetime call as we were privileged to walk together with the One Who gave His life, to be our Lord.
Wonder. And privilege. Along the trail of Jesus’ own walk to the Cross.
Bless you all.
The deep mid-winter is the birthday season in our family. That means that someone you love’s day of birth comes swooshing along – truthfully – when you least expect it. When you’re not ready for it. As a big surprise.
It’s the grandmother who thinks about presents – the right, the perfect present. And the daughter.
My job always, is to write a birthday letter. To make it half-card, half-letter. To tell the birthday person who they are to us. What their character, their spirit means to us. What they mean to the world. What their “presence” means in our life.
And, you have to get it right. To be sure your description rings true. For the young especially, need to be affirmed. To be reminded you really know who they are. That you know their heart, and helping them be true to that inner self. That spirit that they recognize.
The grandmother, who makes the assignment, doesn’t really read the letter, I’ve discovered. “Well, what if I get it wrong?” I’ve protested. She just looks knowingly at me, and more or less says, “You get it, don’t worry.” So, I do it, each year, hoping I don’t repeat myself.
This year, a granddaughter who lives at the other end of this country, turns 15. Oh, so many thoughts – and memories – about being a dead-center teen-ager.
At a Sunday lunch at a restaurant we love, I turned to the 63-year-old birthday person, and said, “Do you remember 15?” Without a moment’s hesitation, she shot back “Yes!” Which could have meant a lot of things.
I remember 15 as a trying time of a first girlfriend, of being uncoordinated, of going away to a private school, and being lonely but saved by going out for crew, and learning to row, and singing in the Glee Club of that boys’ school.
Even learning to write, happened there, where Porter Dean Caesar made us memorize Shakespearean sonnets and other poetry. It was a new world of literature I wouldn’t have had at home in Portsmouth.
I remember that the body sort of came together that year. Both rowing and wrestling helped. And – strange for me – I began to win. On the water. In a racing shell. Even gaining the stroke seat in that four-oared shell, a leading of others. It all just changed for me.
And now, at 91, things are different again. My body won’t do just what I want it to do. Parts hurt – hands, back. Many muscles shrunk away. Molly and I work at figuring out this stage. The dying decade, most likely.
It is what people where we live are doing: dying. And staff folks help us “go easy into that night.” From chaplain to exercise people.
You can do something with hair in this decade. It’s all white now. You can let it grow long – or short. Or – grow a beard.
It’s a time to stand straighter – regaining a few of the six inches you’ve lost.
What means much to me, is thinking. Including praying. And writing, like these weekly, meandering blogs. Oh, bless Laury, who types and computes, and makes communications work.
Writing and thinking and helping the body change and grow were part of that decade where 15 comes in the middle. It wasn’t quite so serious as the twenties. The nineties are most like the twenties; very serious.
Because now, it’s for keeps. It’s forever. There’s a finish line up ahead. But, you don’t know where it is. I want to cross it with my head up, and my heart full. And my faith more and more wonderfully alive. Filled with Jesus. That’s the most serious part. The forever part. My dear partner in life helps me cling to that.
Is it different? Oh, yes. What about change? It’s all around me. My job is to love. And so live. And keep going, till the “roll is called up yonder.” High adventure I tell you. - As actually, every age is.
Love you, pals!
This bright February afternoon, that fills our little apartment home with sunlight, has brought America to heart in a fresh way for me. I am reading a Pulitzer Prize-winning history called “The British are Coming.” The author is Rick Atkinson.
It had been slow going at first. (A very thick book!) The book is deeply researched, with infinite details of life in Britain and life in America. Now that I’m half-way through, I can hardly put it down. The author does character study of British leaders – Army and Navy, and American leaders from George Washington on down.
Much of the fighting was done in New England, New York, and places familiar to Molly and me. Greenwich, Connecticut and nearby New York were home territory for us growing up.
One of America’s few victories in the early years of the Revolutionary War was a coastal battle involving ships of war as well as ground troops. But much of the rest of the story were tales of terrible deprivation and defeat for American forces fighting in Canada, and Washington’s own ignominious retreat from Manhattan Island, Hudson River towns, and into New Jersey.
“Providence” was very real for General Washington and his officers. They knew they were fighting now for the great ideas of America, for the establishment of a country that would be free, where the people constituted government and leadership. The Continental Army, when finally established, was hardly an army. Much of it was local militias. Much of the struggle was over barest necessities of clothing, food, and shelter, exposure to rain and winter snows, and the fact that soldiers were signed up for short times, so fighters were constantly leaving to go home. They hadn’t realized they were involved in an eight-year war that was to fulfill a dream of something that did not exist anywhere else in the world.
Conditions for both armies would seem to have become almost unbearable. To sleep on the cold ground, to march without shoes or socks, to have food that was hardly edible, and to be, for Washington’s army, daily desertions of troops, simply leaving for home when their short-term time was up, was discouraging for Washington and his officers.
And yet there was a strange, almost inexplicable commitment to this war that seemed often so hopeless.
“Yet for those who had come this far and endure this much,” the historian Rick Atkinson observes, “sardonic humor and stubborn defiance would get them through the night, and the next day, and the day following. The British, after all, had to win the war; the Americans had only to avoid losing it.” “Never was finer lads at a retreat than we,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Blachley Webb, a Washington aide who led and fought valiantly at Bunker Hill and been wounded at White Plains. “No fun for us that I can see; however I cannot but think that we shall drub the dogs.” (p. 493)
It was Washington himself who called his army to rise above their longing for home and family to see the profound.
Washington had made the point that they were not just fighting for their own land, and family, and property, but for the first time in the world’s history, the people themselves were fighting for a great vision, the cause of liberty, so denied across the globe, to all people in all countries. It was a call that stirred their hearts and made the visionary call to liberty and freedom a spiritual quest, worthy of their devotion and even their lives if it came to that.
He spoke it true when, in his “General Orders of August 23, 1776,” he declared, prophetically, “The hour is fast approaching on which the honor and success of this army and the safety of our bleeding country depend. Remember, offices and soldiers, that you are freemen fighting for the blessings of liberty.”
Which makes it all the more important for us who cherish this vision to understand that it was built upon the radical understanding of their own voyage to the New World from the oppression of England in its State church, on the Puritan movement of faith that had called this band – first of Separatists and soon after, the Puritans themselves – to leave home and country, to claim the Biblical call of being “a city set upon a hill, with the eyes of the world upon us,” as they in the early days of the 17th century acted on that call to build communities like Plimoth and Boston in a wilderness land, but to live out the spiritual vision of a free faith under God, that brought the idea of covenant communities of commitment to each other, in which churches committed their whole congregations to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit through their church meetings led not by dominant clergy or by a handful of lay leaders, but by all the people waiting upon Jesus Himself to come in His Spirit to show them how they could unite in following a common way forward, confident that “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”
So came the original Mayflower Compact which prepared the way for another generation to declare their independence and to articulate it through a sacred constitution.
So, we hear the same call to us, in our time, and see ourselves as people of “the Way,” led together in unity by Jesus.
One of my own books tries to articulate this through a series of sermons given on Thanksgiving Days and Independence Days. It is a thin volume called “A PASSION FOR AMERICA.” I would love to share some of these with friends who let my colleague Laury Baars know of your interest. Free to the first 25 who write to email@example.com with their name and address.
Let us be about Americans, who rejoice in our heritage, and seek to understand it more clearly, and live it, in our time, more truly.
Written on February 14, 2020
It’s a sun-filled, desperately cold Sunday afternoon. In fact, it is St. Valentine’s Day, the day of the spirit of love. He got hold of the love idea, and practiced it. He made a practice of deeds of love and mercy.
It’s not much when we give one day in a year to thinking about living in the love way.
It so happened that the TV preacher from Texas whom we have watched on the Sundays of this long pandemic, when we have so needed churches, was talking about “emptying out the negative.” His descriptions were brilliant of how easily we fall into dark thoughts – about ourselves. Thoughts about our own inadequacies, our inabilities, our penchant for defeatist thinking about our health, about our work, about the world around us, and how easily the pandemic has exaggerated that darkness.
But Joel the preacher’s point is that God is thinking just the opposite of us. He, after all, has made us. He has plans for us. He sees strength in us, and success in us, and that our job is to lay hold of God’s view of us, of the goodness, even greatness He sees in us, and for the good things He plans for us and has waiting for us up ahead. He wants us to claim that picture of ourselves. To talk to ourselves about goodness and greatness.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been on our minds this month. He was a man of faith, of believing the best, for himself, his people, his country. “I have a dream,” he famously said. A dream of different people coming together. A dream of all people living, loving, and working together. He preached the dream, and gave it to America, and its divided people.
And his dream came from Jesus. Of a way of living that Jesus taught, and lived for all people.
Jesus was his model. He was Valentine’s model, too. He offers Himself as model for all of us. “Follow Me,” is what Jesus said to all those He met on the road of His life. That long journey of His so short three-year ministry in the world, was calling people to follow Him. To see the world His way. To not be self-centered like the rich, but to be humble, like the poor, the children, the sick, the broken, the hurting.
It was to take up the burden of the life of sacrifice, of doing good to others, the life of bearing the cross. He calls all of us to that. From the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.”
What brother Martin knew America needed for the children of slaves and the children of slave-holders was to sit down together at the table of reconciliation on the green hills of Georgia, WAS FORGIVENESS. Love, lived out.
What a person we have to be to go to that table. To serve the others at that table. To have forgiveness in your heart. The spirit of God’s children – the humble-hearted, the good and the great. That can be all of us. It needs to be all of us. It is the big thing, the great thing that we become, in following Jesus. Never losing sight of that man or woman of love that we dare to be.
Let’s all help each other to be those people, with a selfless mind and heart. Living for others. Serving others. In the Jesus company! Who share “the dream,” and live it together.
Bless you, friends, in this season of the “saints” of love.
It really was a day like any other day. The 90-year-old was up, cleaning up our apartment, straightening out our life – and incidentally hers – and moving on in it until those precious celebratory evening hours at the home of our oldest daughter: telling life stories, remembering shared adventures, thinking of each child and grandchild in our wonderful family.
Our eldest, the retired Minneapolis Police Sergeant, now on Florida’s east coast with his wife, watching dolphins play through field glasses; of our second daughter, the front-line nurse, living through the pandemic with Covid-19 so close you could touch it. Of the youngest of our daughters, our artist, mothering her college-student son while meeting the world at the end of a check-out line.And our youngest son, now a Virginian, with a new house and a new job near the heart of America.
Even of our foster son from Viet Nam, who still counts us as family. And “the oldest daughter” herself, having prepared wonderful stew for four and presented an art-piece birthday cake.
It was all about love – of a person absolutely critical to us all, who birthed each one of these five children, and spent her life serving them, opening doors of possibility to them, sitting by the fireside at Ossipee and listening to nascent dreams spilling out and offering the encouragement only a wise mother can.
It was rehearsing the answers to “How do I love you? Let me count the ways...” And hearing again the deep reasons, the traits and “habits of the heart” that have built love into the lives of each child, now gray and grown, with their children to think about.
It is something to even get to grow old – with another dear to you, in a lifetime of children, and challenging adventures in places far and near. In the first little town among Berkshire hills. Among people of faith who both watched this important, wise young woman, and learned from her, but grew their love learned from their own years. All the years of adventure among the lives of people, even as she taught them and shared her life with them. Miracles of relationships!
And, as God would have it, adventures that called our little partnership out across the world – even into the dark lands of the African Genocide and the broken hearts it left behind. And she – this 90-year-old in only her vital 50s and 60s, and then 70s and 80s, that got her to 90- trusted God to show her what to do, how to heal hearts, how to mend broken lives, and hold out Jesus’ love which was the healing balm.
Upon arrival in Rwanda she asked God why He had brought her there and heard His answer: “I have brought you here to ask their forgiveness for what you and your people of the West did to divide them from each other.”
She taught all of us who were with her about ministry on your knees; washing feet, holding sobbing souls, standing by, being, Jesus’ light.
Our whole Manual for Retreat Leaders she wrote, designed the progression, remembered the scriptures needed, told the stories that would help fellow leaders and see how to do the delicate thing that became our life.
She never took credit for the genius of her creation. She turned away thanks and praise. She was utterly humble. She learned forgiveness early and became one of its greatest teachers. And in her own daily life, with its hurts and heartaches, she never held a grudge. She lived forgiveness, the Christian way.
I suppose that’s how she got to be 90, by forgiving many. Until some caught on and realized what an innate and God-sent teacher she was.
Just before 90, she posed a Christian Visitors ministry of house and home visits between white and black churches. It comes from Africa. But it’s working already to make friends in churches here.
She is a wise one, a “Lady of God” as a woman in our residence has described her. Quiet and humble, but following when Jesus calls.
She is ripe and blossoming in her old age, as scripture says. Her days are quiet, but exciting, as her Lord finds more and more use for her.
What a good way to live out your days. Doing the work of the Lord you love. It is an example that blesses me every step of the way.
Old ladies and old men can influence others still, to step out, trying new ways of Gospel-bearing; and new ways to be bold for Jesus. Look for the right one – new or old for you – And KEEP GOING.
It seems almost impossible after so many weeks and months of lockdowns, closing businesses and schools, restaurants and churches. Civic leaders have tried hard to do the right thing, trying to determine what would protect health and save lives, and as citizens we have tried to keep distance, wear masks, wash hands, and otherwise keep going as well as we could.
The youngest in our family, two engaging little great-granddaughters, have stayed at home from school, the six-year-old greatly missing teachers and classmates while their parents have done yeoman service to teach and lead at home as best they could.
One grandson has started college, while two young teen-agers of our St. Louis household, not only stayed home to study, but left school, house, and friends to move halfway across the country to Virginia, and start their new school without even seeing its inside. All in that family are happy, including their dad with his new job – done at home.
We miss church terribly but have followed a gifted young TV preacher who has encouraged us, gone to chapel here in our senior residence, and had occasional visits with our nearby children, worked at writing – like these blogs, hoping for better things.
And one has opened up to us for four Thursdays of March as Lent moves toward that final “week that was,” and gives us, in their restaurant (The Hilltop) the patio fireplace room where our little company of Christian friends can receive a light breakfast, talk together, pray together, read the Bible together, and BE TOGETHER – distanced and masked, but together.
If you want to come, 7:00 to 8:30 am, on any or all those Thursdays – the 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can alert The Hilltop. It’s been a long tradition, to which we are returning, mostly to be a COMPANY OF LOVE, in these still tense and divided times, for remembering the GREATEST TRUTHS (that Jesus came, and is among us), and finding healing in our fellowship of love.
The unwelcome pandemic has inadvertently reminded us how deep is our need for each other, and so much more our need for Jesus.
He promised to be with us always. And then at the end, to come and get us, and take us to the place He has been preparing for us in heaven. What a comfort and a strength for living out these interesting and unexpected days of life here, with so much we must go through, and oddly finding that, when each day is done, we were privileged and honored to be alive in it.
All the work of our dear Lord - Let us all celebrate that together.
Love you all, wherever you are!
The days come back to living the life. And more and more as the years go on, I think about that. About how any of us does that. Of how we look to Jesus and try to pattern our lives after His – knowing full well that, earth-bound, and sin-laden, we will be only glinting reflectors, sending back rays of the Son that land on some pond of our being and send a flash of something from beyond, that others see.
In the midst of all our work at faithfulness we know we are marked by the smudges of dirty, muddy planet earth, and so, at best, are only partial.
My children are dear to me, each one so different, and they know my fathering failures, and yet are so forgiving.
The church I served the longest in my life, gave me opportunity for the greatest adventures in ministry, yet in the end a couple of dozen of my friends worked to get me gone. There would be no talk of second chances, nor even departure packages. I didn’t know how to ride out that last year or so. In five or six “listening sessions,” I heard the complaints, and the things I stood for that were failed leadership in their eyes. The biggest issues were spiritual ones – my leading the church into the things of the Holy Spirit, the Baptism. The gifts. The power for change. I preached on, as faithfully as I knew how, and went to the sick and stood by the dying, and married, and buried, and baptized (in the lake, yet!) and taught the dear 14-year-olds in Confirmation. And left, as I promised, with 32 years completed, and nowhere else to go.
And discovered that, out there, waiting for Molly and me, thanks to World Vision, was a mission to the world, of reconciliation, and a few friends gathered ‘round and raised funds enough to establish the whole new ministry call The Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation.
And in going to the dark places of betrayal and hurt in Rwanda in the Great Lakes of Africa, there was healing for hearts and lives and families, and countries of the Genocide. And the Africans, in their need, taught us. And we realized that to do it right over there, we had to face “the beloved” of the church I’d hurt so much, and say sorry, and ask forgiveness. And my successors, David from Boston, at great risk, labored to make possible an evening service of 400 - 500 folks, and repent, and receive from them the anointing oil of forgiveness. Which began our own healing, and helped change so much.
Twenty-five more years of ministry awaited us and blessed us – and our family, and, I believe, that wonderful Colonial company.
Life, of course, goes on, and people struggle and churches struggle. And God heals hearts and allows ministers to be forgiven and go on, and for churches to do the same.
Until, 25 years later the world turns upside down in pandemic, and murder, and a country looking at its own heart and trying to repent, and change.
And, who know what’s ahead for the country we love, and the church we love, and so many people we love. And, we struggle to again “live the life.” And pray to understand what life is to be, for all of us, in our time.
Molly and I live in an 800 sq. ft. apartment in a gracious senior living place. It is a new phase and stage for us. It is really the dying place, for that is what us old folks are about: How to live as we die. How we receive the help of young doctors and nurses, and of our own grown children. And live with grace and love.
We pray mightily for so much: for our children and grandchildren. For the life we left behind. For the places and people so dear to our hearts.
And looking always to Home. The life that awaits us on the other side. For the repenting and forgiving and caring and loving that needs to mark these years.
May we be privileged to walk with precious friends and dear children, in faith.
May we all, help each other to do that. The Way of Jesus that He gives us, for “the living of these days.”
Loving you all,
Getting along with others – especially the nearest and dearest – has always been hard work.
So hard to say, “Sorry, I was wrong.” Even harder to say, “please forgive me.”
It calls for a humility we really mean. It also calls for a sensitivity that enables us to realize when, and how, we have hurt someone.
Words do hurt. Especially the thoughtless ones, where we didn’t really consider what our words would mean to the other person.
That pitfall could push us to think much more about the other person. About his or her life. About his or her character. About what he or she stands for and is trying to “be” in this world, in his or her own life. Most of those close to us, whom we care about as friends, as family – so important to us.
Our work in life is partly trying to help others be what they want to be – the best that they can be. I live with someone who never holds a grudge. A hurt or wound, she just lets it pass over her. She “does not let the sun go down upon her anger,” as Jesus so wisely taught.
It can be learned. It is deeply worth trying. How much happier all our relations can be. Thinking about others. Having a care for them. Changing our own way in order to help the other live out her or his way.
Having gratitude helps. Saying thanks to each other, and to God.
Jesus’ way. It can be ours.
Bless you, friend.
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.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
|Arthur Rouner Ministries||
ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES