Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Kingdom of Heaven Breaking In

The hope of every Christian is that in eternity we will wake up in the arms of Jesus, and see the Lord face to face. There he will gather all the faithful from every tribe and nation to himself. (In other words, heaven will be very diverse ethnically and denominationally). He will dry every tear from our eye. (Heaven is a place of great comfort). And he will be our God and we will be his people. (We will live in his presence for all time).

I am incredibly joyful today because I believe that the kingdom of heaven is breaking in to our own congregation. This morning I met with the Mizo-Chin people from Burma (Myanmar). Sixty two adults and children are coming to join us as members of Zion. While their language proficiency requires a separate service (to be held at 1:00 p.m. Sundays), their desire is to be part of the One Body of Christ with us.

In other words, they are not renters, they are members, with us, in the body of Christ which is Zion.

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church began as an immigrant church over 150 years ago in Des Moines. The first sixty years we worshipped in German. An English service was added monthly to accommodate the needs of non-German speakers. When the Lusitania, a ship loaded with passengers was sunk by a German U-boat and the US began to contemplate entering the First World War, German language worship stopped.

We know something about being an immigrant church and worshipping in a foreign language. So we are wonderfully and beautifully suited to help our brothers and sisters acclimate to their new home in America.

Here are my notes from the meeting today (Saturday, March 12, 2011): Zion’s Board of Spiritual Oversight will meet with the Mizo leaders next Saturday.

Zion will begin a Mizo language service at 1:00 p.m. on March 20. This service is a permanent service and requires the sanctuary, some classrooms and the Fellowship Hall be reserved for the purposes of Christian worship and education until Jesus comes back. There is only one calendar conflict and the Mizo have graciously agreed to worship downstairs that day.

While the service will be in a particular language, visitors are welcome and encouraged to attend. The service is “open” to the rest of Zion and the public.

The Mizo understand that we are one body, united in Christ. They have no desire to be an island, but rather desire to be part of the greater Zion congregation.

The Mizo will be considered full members of Zion. Zion pastors will perform sacramental and pastoral acts. The Lead Pastor at Zion will be responsible for overall teaching, guidance, and direction in full consultation with the Mizo council. The Lead Pastor is the primary communication link with the new Mizo members for the immediate future.

The Mizo will be represented at the Board of Spiritual Oversight meetings by person/s of their choosing.

The Mizo are encouraged to pray and ask that God raise up a pastor from within their ranks. Zion pastors will oversee the training of this person. Outside programs may be used.
In the long term, and as financial resources allow, it is the desire of the Lead Pastor that the Mizo pastor be added to Zion’s staff with the intention that this pastor will serve the entire Zion congregation.

As financial resources allow, Zion will also contribute to the support of the missionary in Burma that the Mizo are currently supporting.

For the immediate future, tithes and offerings collected by the Mizo will be held in a separate account and not merged with Zion’s general fund. The Lead Pastor believes this will help to build trust as we seek to integrate into one body.

The Mizo will join with Zion in outreach to our neighborhood in the name of Jesus. This includes various Vacation Bible School and apartment complex outreaches.

Zion will help to build the spiritual leadership of the Mizo group. This will help create spiritual stability, worship leaders, and future BSO representatives for the Mizo.

Zion will help to establish ESL and citizenship classes at a time convenient for the Mizo.

Zion will assist in the establishment of bilingual Sunday School program for the Mizo on Sunday afternoons.

In addition to our current and on going work in the refugee/immigrant community in our neighborhood, Zion will especially help new Mizo families in our area to establish themselves.

The Lead Pastor, in cooperation with the Mizo, will advocate for the reunification of Mizo families who are already established in our area and now members of Zion.

The Mizo will help Zion clean the building. A certain area will be assigned to them.

The Mizo understand that they are invited to all Zion activities. Because of their current employment obligations, participation in Wednesday night activities will be somewhat limited, but their children will attend as able.

The Mizo have complete access to Zion’s building and van and will use the van on Sunday afternoons to transport people to church who live in Des Moines.

Building and van keys will be given to representatives of the Mizo’s choosing.

Zion will assist the Mizo in working with Merle Hay Funeral Home to establish a burial society.

As part of our busing ministry, Zion will make an extra effort to try and provide transportation to Samuelson Elementary for children in the Mizo group.

Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ

For more information about the Mizo, please see the following links:
Mizo news service:

The Chin people:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Very Special Day

Today was a special day. I just want to thank God for his graciousness and share it with you. Today, my friend, Dick Paulsen, was ordained as pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Des Moines.

It was special for all the human reasons, like: It was a great honor for me to be asked to preach and ordain Dick. It was great fun seeing Mark Vander Tuig, the Service Coordinator for the LCMC, and having him participate. It was great fun seeing Dick’s family and congregation celebrate this great day.

But it was also special spiritually. Redeemer hasn’t had an “official” pastor for years. Dick has served as preaching elder since their last “highly paid, professional, religious person” moved to another church. Redeemer is a smaller church and couldn’t afford to replace their pastor when he left. But Dick is a retired executive and he doesn’t need the paycheck in order to minister full time. Dick is over 70, a former Marine, and father of four, married 54 years. And now this little church has a young minded pastor, newly called to lead, and he’s ready to go. God will do great things at Redeemer.

What happened at Redeemer today couldn’t have happened in the highly bureaucratic structures of most denominations. What happened today was very New Testament. A man, a leader, an elder, became the pastor. Years of studying the Bible (but not in a formal school), years of working with people, years of listening to the Holy Spirit, were recognized today as being just as important as a degree.

Now this isn’t meant to diminish education and it’s importance. Rather, what happened today was a recognition that God can use both a formal education process and an informal life process to raise up leaders. Being free of a structure which must be formally satisfied allows us to raise up leaders where they are and give them recognized “authority” in the form of the office of pastor so that they can do what God has called them to do.

Today’s event shows that Redeemer is serious about being on mission for Jesus Christ.

Zion and Redeemer have collaborated in the past. Veritas, a Sunday evening service for the neighborhood, brought the two churches together and taught us how to work together and share our gifts and resources.

Currently, Dick Paulsen and I pray every Sunday morning starting at 6:00. Dick is familiar with our ministry and with our staff and congregation. We share a love for the Lord and a desire to reach this city in His name.

Redeemer and Zion have great plans together to do just that. Being in the same denomination now allows us to more fully work together without any apologies. This summer, Zion staff and volunteers will join Redeemer in presenting four, one-day Vacation Bible School outreaches to the Redeemer neighborhood. I hope you’ll sign up to volunteer. Having learned some powerful lessons at Douglas Terrace Apartments last year, this year we’re coming with crafts, games, bounce houses, music, food and a solid gospel message.

We also plan on helping Redeemer “re-plant” itself. We believe that in the next five years, it is God’s desire that we send a pastor from Zion and a tithe of the Zion membership to Redeemer to re-invigorate those already at Redeemer and to help further diversify their congregational demographics. This is not a Zion take over. It is not a satellite church. It is simply a breathing of new life into a faithful, existing congregation.

Pastor Mark Vander Tuig from the LCMC is excited about Zion and Redeemer’s past and future together. He said, “I share the story of your two churches partnership all the time. To me, this is what LCMC is all about.” Praise God. It’s time to step out in faith and engage the world with the gospel together. Thanks for reading. PJ

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sticks and stones and sermons

Words. Words have meanings. Words have power. Words get inside our heads and make pictures because words mean things. There are no such things as powerless words. All words convey meaning. But all words don’t convey the same meaning to everyone. Because our own interpretation of words are colored by our own experience.

For instance, when you speak of love with some people, they understand it to mean sacrifice, risk taking, being willing to lie down your life for another who is “loved.” It conjures up images of hugs, of laughter, of warmth and genuineness.

For another, they came to understand it’s meaning differently. Perhaps in a manipulative phrase that meant, “I want to use you for my own purposes. I want you to trust me right now so I can do to you what I want to you.” It conjures up images of guilt, shame, humiliation.

How hard it is to communicate! When you go to another country and intend to stay, you have to learn to speak their language. You have to learn what their words mean. But you also have to learn the non-verbal clues, too, that go along with the words and may change their meaning. For instance, in some cultures, it is impolite to refuse someone by telling them “no.” So when you want to say no, you respond in a vague way that to our ears might come out something like “maybe.” So the hearer has to be savvy enough to understand beyond the mere meaning of the words to the true meaning that the words, word-less-ly, if you will, convey.

So we try to transcend words. We tell people, when other people say words intended to hurt them, that they “didn’t mean that.” That they simply misunderstood. Or, worse, we tell people that they have to toughen up, that the world is full of rough talking, mean people, and you have to grow a protective covering so that words will bounce off you without impact. “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

But it’s fascinating to me how all this advice to others usually goes out the window when someone says unkind words to us, either intentionally or unintentionally. Then, well, it’s a federal case. Then forget about that tougher skin. Then it’s time to either collapse in a heap and weep over the words that were said to us or get mad and get even. There is a third way, I suppose. We simply passive aggressively tell others what was said to us and try to confront the one saying the words to us by saying unkind things about that person to others. Regardless, all three are time wasters and relationship breakers. And we’re called to bring all things “together” under Christ. We can’t just allow things to go on being broken.

As a pastor, nearly every week I speak from the stage to a crowd of people. You realize that much of what you have to say as a preacher is offensive. There is an awful lot that is offensive in the Bible, after all. It tells us that we are all sinners. That none of us is good enough on our own. It tells us to change our behaviors and attitudes. It challenges our complacency. It’s offensive. Top that with the undeniable fact that I am a human being and sometimes don’t say things “right.” They come out jumbled.

Couple the “in your face” nature of the word of God and the humanness of the preacher with the increasing tendency of people in our society to look for reasons to be offended and you have a really horrible situation.

I can well imagine why so many pastors spend so much time writing a sermon that is over in minutes. If the delivery isn’t right, someone will be offended. If the delivery is faithful and right on, it will probably still be offensive. I think this is why so many preachers have stopped really preaching. They are tired of being offensive all the time. It’s in the nature of many preachers to want to be ‘liked.’

Couple this with the uptick in public talk about “civility” in our society. Yes, there are obviously way, way, too many ad hominem attacks these days. If people don’t like your ideas, they seem to take it out on your reputation. That’s wrong. But it’s also increasingly true that any idea that someone doesn’t like is labeled as “offensive.” In short, we are losing our ability as a society to speak truth to one another and even to simply exchange ideas.

Is there any way to overcome the hurt that words cause? Is there any way to ensure that our use of words won’t even accidentally hurt others?

Doubtful. But it seems that Jesus would use words to overcome the hurt of words. He directs us, when we’re hurt by the words of others, but go to them and explain and seek to be reconciled, to seek an explanation, a way of changing the words. You can’t ever take them back, but you can use other words to help mend the damage of words. Words like “I’m sorry.” “I apologize.” “I know I hurt you and I feel terrible about it.” And you can explain what made you use those words by saying things like, “What I meant to say was....” Read all about it in the words of Jesus in Matthew 18.

Jesus urges us to use our words well. Read Matthew 5. “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes,’ and your ‘no,’ mean ‘no.’ Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t be mean. Don’t use your words to hurt people. But at the same time, use your words to speak truth to them because you love them. I guess that means that in order for us to be able to speak, our hearts first ought to be in the right place.

Don’t say bad things about your neighbor, especially things that aren’t true. James 3. The tongue is a fire, a world of evil in the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, the whole person, sets the whole course of our lives on fire. It is a fire set from the fire of hell.

So, if we are truly to be agents of God’s redemption in this world. We will need to tame our tongues. And we will need to be much, much better at asking others either for their forgiveness or for clarification about why they used the words they did. So we can avoiding hurting others, intentionally or unintentionally. And so we can also avoid the senseless hours wasted over the hurt caused by the careless words of others in our lives. Live more and more each day as if the kingdom is coming. Thanks for reading. PJ