Friday, December 29, 2006

Outdoor Ministry Affects on the Church

Voyageurs Lutheran Ministry reports "We give thinks to God for the number of VLM staff members who have heard God's call to ministry. A number are already serving as clergy and youth directors. Of course, many more do ministry within congregations as active lay members. However, at this time,VLM has an astonishing 14 former staff in seminary study. We give great praise to God for touching their lives and calling them to service in the church."

As a child and teen camper, I looked up to my counselors and aspired to be one of them one day. It didn't happen. I certainly didn't have the right personality and verve as a young adult to do that work. But I know so many young people who got interested in Christian service and became counselors. Or maybe it was the other way around.

It is hard to attract counselors because the camps can't provide pay that is competative to what the young people really need to finance their college education. And camps struggle with attacting enough campers due to all the competition out there for kid's attention. Camps also struggle with fund raising, since in many areas with a high concentration of Lutheran churches there is declining/aging population.

The church as a whole needs to continue to subsidize camps because of the fine Christian support and friendships developed there for the campers and because of the seeds that are planted, both in the campers and in the counselors.

Nurture these seeds. May God bless us with a big crop of pastors!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Faith

I recently called my relative, the one I've mentioned helping out during health problems in the past 6 months. I said, "Will you be lonely being alone this Christmas?" She said, "It will be OK. Jesus was born."

This was both her simple and deep expression of faith.

May God bless her and you this Christmas.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Not a Happy Christmas Story

When I read a news article telling about some sexual indiscretion or alleged misconduct by a person I have no connection to, my reaction is to think in two dimensional terms: How stupid. How could he? How could this person let his urges get the best of him and ruin his career and hurt those around him?

Of course, it is easy to be judgmental. And if I’m in an honest mood, it is too easy to list any number of things that I’ve decided to not do again....for which the resolution lasted all of 15inutes.

In the context of sin in general, I believe that all sins separate us from God, and all sins are forgiven by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. So I am no better when I sin than somebody who does a “big” sin. And I am no better or worse when I am forgiven than any other person loved by the Lord.

But it is true that many sins and actions have consequences that are devastating and long lasting for the sinner and for those around him/her.

Maybe I drive drunk only one time with a horrible result. Maybe someone shoots a gun in the air for joy but the bullet hits a child.

The context of my thoughts: A respected mentor to a person I care about has admitted sexually inappropriate behavior. The news reports state that it wasn’t illegal behavior. The mentor had to resign his position.

Now the people around him have complex emotions to deal with. His institution is tainted in some people’s eyes. And other people he was a mentor to may have some of this reflected on them. All his good work is tainted by one action.

My thinking on this matter is no longer simplistic. This doesn’t mean that I excuse this behavior. But I know that God forgives.

May God work peace in the hearts of all affected by this situation.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Wal-Mart joke for subversives

Wal-Mart joke.

Christmas Decorations

I have an uncomfortable relationship with Christmas decorations and decorating. Mostly, I want, desperately, to be NOT like the world, i.e. the commercial establishments, that decorate even before Thanksgiving and then are so, so tired of these red and green do dads, that they take them down on Dec. 26. Freudian slip: I wrote "red and greed."

But decorating just before Dec. 25 so that my decorations are up until Ephiphany makes me feel like I'm just behind again and dull. Besides, if we travel for the holidays, we don't even get to enjoy our own decorations.

So I compromise by doing some Advent activites and slowly getting out the Christmas related decorations.

And what does it mean to be Christmas related? Now that is a good question. It seems that anything at all that is red, green, gold, or can hang on a tree is Christmasy.

I was looking at my ornaments, most of which I purchased, and asking myself, "What does this have to do with Christmas?" But I found one little tacky plastic ornament that actually has a Christmas message. Glory be to God for His Son!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Are Churches Replacing Altars with Stages? ,,

Pamela Jackson's new novel, On This Side of Heaven, reviewed here

Apparently this author feels that this is a problem because she has started a group called Restore: “I founded the RESTORE Group to help restore brokenness resulting from wounds created in the church, and to strengthen the body of Christ as a whole.”

The title of this book review caught my eye. Obviously, there are denominations within Christianity that haven't used altars traditionally. Since my tradition does use an altar and the speaker's platform, ie the pulpit, is off center, I feel like the "center of attention" is the altar and the cross. When I've visited in houses of worship in other traditions, I find myself wondering, "Why is my worship directed toward the pastor who is in the center of the platform?" Well, obviously, that is just a mind set. But I can see why morphing toward a "stage" with "performers" (in some people's opinion) isn't as great a change for some groups.

I've also wondered, when occassionally seeing TV "worship services" with this set up, do people who sing to God in public have to be so good looking? Do they have to dress to the nines? What about the praise, songs, and worship of the regular schmucks like me? If I were in one of these big "churches" would I be allowed to join the choir?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Working with the Victims of AIDS in Nigeria

I've just posted a new link in the side bar for the Mashia Foundation in Jos, Nigeria. This is a ministry begun in 1999 by a husband and wife who saw the needs among the people, primarily women and children, affected by AIDS. They are doing amazing work, teaching the women skills to increase their income, taking care of and educating children, helping to change the adoption laws so that the children have a chance at a "forever family."

My connection to this ministry is just that I am friends with the founder's mother, who lives in my town. Please check out the link to see what wonderful work this young couple is doing in Nigeria.

"Mashiah Foundation (Hebrew for Messiah) is a Christian, non-governmental organization that reaches out to people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. The ministry began in 1999 when Mary Beth and Bayo Oyebade saw the needs brought on by the devastation of AIDS in Nigeria. They started out in a very limited way funding the programs from Mary Beth's teaching salary. This included various materials, salaries and rent. As word of the ministry spread, donations began to come in enabling them to expand in many areas."

But you O God,
do see trouble and grief;
you consider it
to take it in hand.
The victim commits
himself to you;
you are the helper
of the fatherless.
Psalm 10:14

Monday, December 11, 2006

Trip to The God's Child Project, Guatemala

The volunteer crew, including my family members, at the building site in Guatemala, taking a break. Note the small "footprint" of the house to be built and the condition of the existing home.
Clothing distribution, Guatemala. Donated clothing is shipped from N.D. to be distributed to needy families.
A worship service at the Dreamer Center, Guatemala.

The God’s Child Project

Some of my family traveled in Guatemala in 2002 to do a service project with the Gods’ Child Project. There they met the founder, Patrick Atkinson, saw the needs of the people, helped distribute clothing, and helped build two houses for two families in need.

This organization is based in Bismarck, North Dakota, serves people in Guatemala, El Salvador, Malawi, and in the southern part of the US, including people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

When my teenage son came back, in winter, he was wearing sandals. “Its winter in Minnesota,” I reminded him, at the airport. But he had given his shoes to help the poor people who come to the Dreamer Center in Guatemala. I was impressed that he had seen this need and acted on it. He hadn’t given away “extra” shoes, but the only pair he had taken with him. His shoes at home were too small.

This trip gave my children a small taste of life in another country and an exposure to the struggles that many people, especially children, in other countries face every day.

Follow the links below to learn more.

Please consider a gift, large or small, to this worthy organization. Perhaps even give up something so that The God’s Child Project can help others. Thank You!

The God’s Child Project as reported on ABC NEWS

The God’s Child Project Mission Statement

The God’s Child Project North Central, who we are

The God’s Child Project history and finances

The God’s Child Project awards and recognition

The Dreamer Center

The God’s Child Project El Salvador

The God’s Child Project Africa

The God’s Child Project Help Now

Giving, Giving What?

Ah, the Christmas season…the Christmas shopping season. What to get; what to give? Who do I include on my list? Who do I lop off my list? What a problem: what do I get for the person who has everything?

Well, few of us have “everything” but many (most of us who would be at a computer to read this) have “enough.” Enough stuff. Too much stuff. What do I get rid of now? How can I get rid of that; it was a gift from my dear ___? But I don’t need more things.

I’m not a shoppaholic in the usual sense, but I’ve been known to have my moments. I will seldom come home with “too many clothes” but I’ve been known to buy more for ME than I buy for others if I get pointed in the direction of a store that carries items related to my hobbies.

As I’ve related in previous posts, I’m helping with the situation of a relative who has been ill. She kept everything. If she got new slippers, well the old ones are still there, “just in case.” And she views gifts as somehow sacred. She will never get rid of something that has been given to her as a gift, even if it isn’t her taste, is taking up too much room, is unnecessary to her life, or even when it has gotten old and worn out. I think that by hanging onto excess stuff, she missed opportunities to give useful items to people in need.

And so I’ve been reevaluating my own possessions. Yes, I have too much in certain categories. Compared to the closets of many Americans, my collection of clothes is small, but that is only “in comparison.” After all, I can only wear one pair of pants, one shirt, and one sweater at a time. There is a saying, “She who dies with the most stuff, still dies.”

I actually have been paring down in some other areas. There is a test: if you haven’t used it in two years, throw it out. I’m adding another test: when I have to dig behind too many things on the self to find a certain item, something has to go.

Back to Christmas shopping: How should I reevaluate my shopping in light of the too much stuff stuffing the closets of many of my giftees? Three ideas come to mind: Give the gift of time, give the gift of service, or give to a charity in the name of my loved ones.

A worthy charity that I have personal knowledge of and which puts the donations directly to service is The God’s Child Project. Please consider this group when you make decisions about giving to others this Christmas. We've found that some of our relatives have been pleased and touched when we've given in their name to this organization and others like it.

More about The God’s Child Project in the next posting.