Archives for June 2010

Annual Meeting – What a Way to Start!

Our small denomination is really working hard to be technologically up-to-date and user-friendly. For the past couple of years, we’ve had live video streaming of our Annual Meeting worship services and Bible studies. So, this year, I decided to check it out. Last night’s opening session (though attendance was a bit spotty due to some rather severe storm systems delaying flights from east of Minneapolis/St. Paul – the site for this year’s gathering), was so encouraging. Flags from 39 nations around the globe in which the ECC is working to bring the whole gospel to people and cultures; commissioning of about a dozen short-term and 5 career missionaries for ministry locations on 4 continents; some lovely and intriguing music and dance from students at Alaska Christian College – and a powerful opening sermon from our President, Gary Walter. Here with is my summary of his charge to the church on our 125th Anniversary:

This is the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Covenant church, which began not as a church organization, but rather as a mission society with churches as members. We were formed as a mission society so that together, me might do bigger things for God than we could do alone. We are today still firmly committed to the whole mission of the church. It has been said that, ‘the church has a mission.’ That would be more correctly stated, ‘the mission of God has a church.’

So, what does it mean to be a missional church?


The Galatians 2 passage from which he preached leads to a ‘mission cubed’ picture – a 3-fold mission:

1. to proclaim God’s unconditional love to a world in need of it

2. to take that unconditional love to ALL the world – across cultures as well as across distances

3. to put hands and feet to that love by living out the good news with truth, justice and mercy, especially to the marginalized and the poor

The world at large – and Gary Walter in particular – is tired of “angry, cranky evangelicals.” So our task, as committed evangelicals who belong to this mission society we call ‘The Covenant,’ is to live out this 3-fold mission. We know that we cannot and do not do this perfectly, in fact we would be the first to declare that we are ‘consciously incompetent’ at a lot of it! BUT we are intentional about our efforts to be faithful to the whole mission and God has blessed us with 18 years of consistent growth, growth both in numbers and in diversity.

Gary’s summary of who we are and what we’re about at this point in our history is this:

The Evangelical Covenant Church of the United States and Canada seeks to build more disciples in more populations in a more caring and just world.

This is a big mission from a big God. But what we must never lose sight of is the powerful truth that doing big things for a big God always, ALWAYS involves little things being done for people. THAT’S how it happens – an endless series of small acts, faithfully done in the name of Jesus.

A Prayer for Father’s Day, 2010

In my weekend reading, I was struck by this powerful paragraph written by Ann and Barry Ulanov, in their book, “Primary Speech: a Psychology of Prayer.” Please listen carefully as it is a dense bit of writing, but oh! – it offers us such a rich understanding of what prayer is truly all about:
“Prayer articulates our longing for a fullness of being, our reaching out of the mind for what is beyond it, and [prayer] helps us find and love God and grow with our love. It is like the sun warming a seed into life, like the work of clearing away weeds and bringing water to the interior garden of St. Teresa’s inspired imagery. Prayer enlarges our desire until it receives God’s desire for us. In prayer we grow big enough to house God’s desire for us, which is the Holy Spirit.”

Let us pray together, articulating our longing as we do:
Great God,
Creator of the universe,
Redeemer of our souls,
you are indeed beyond, far beyond what our minds can grasp.
And we do long for you –
as a lost child longs for a parent,
as a lost sailor longs for land and home,
as those who grieve long for those they have lost.
Help us to grasp that all our longings
are really longings for the same thing –
we long for you, O God.
We long to be known,
to be heard,
to be understood,
to be loved.
And something within us knows that what we long for
cannot truly be found anywhere else but with You.
Sift through the weeds of our lives,
the distractions,
the divided loyalties,
the difficult memories,
the demands we place on ourselves that are
unhealthy and unholy and unnecessary.
Water us generously with grace and forgiveness,
refine and expand our desire for you!
Strengthen our resolve,
empower our wills,
transform our minds,
warm us into life,
as the sun warms the seed – warm us into real, true life.
And help us never to settle for anything less than that,
never to give our ultimate allegiance to anything other than that,
never to shirk from offering that kind of life
to those you put in our way.
Many of us today are celebrating – celebrating the wonderful truth
that we have or had fathers
who helped us to see and value real, true life,
whose desire for you was refined and defined and clarified
over a lifetime of devotion,
and who taught us to pay attention to our heart’s desire.
Thank you for loving, believing dads.
Some of us today are missing those dads, those Good Dads,
because they’re no longer here with us.
Help us to celebrate anyhow,
‘to remember them with joy and with gratitude.
Some of us never really experienced that kind of father
in our lives at all,
and we’re still trying to learn how to fill in the blanks
left over from difficult parenting.
Help us to celebrate progress made,
and to recognize the depth of our desire
for you to be our Good Father.
We ask you blessing this day
on all those in our community
who are now dads themselves –
may they feel blessed and valued and affirmed.
May they – and we – seek to
enlarge our desire for you
until we are able to receive” –
miracle of miracles! –
“your own deep desire for us.”

For that is the amazing truth
that is at the heart of our story
as followers of Jesus,
as believers in the God of Israel,
as people of the Book.
For that Book, the Word written,
and your Son Jesus, the Word living,
tell us again and again
that it is your longing for us
that set creation in motion.
It is your magnificent,
life-giving love for us,
your desire for us –
that holds this universe together,
that holds the church together,
that holds our hearts together,
that holds us.
So, Lord God, help us to be people of prayer,
for it is in that heart-to-heart communication,
that sharing of our dreams and desires,
our wishes and wonderings,
that we can,
“grow big enough to house your desire for us,”
to fully embrace and welcome the Holy Spirit,
whose presence in us is life eternal.
In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

A Prayer for Ordinary Time…

Wow. Didn’t realize it had been so long since I posted anything. Here is the prayer from this morning’s worship service – a service which I led, in the absence of our Senior Pastor, who is on a much-needed, long-awaited vacation/study leave in the south of France. (A good friend, John Notehelfer, stepped in to preach as there was no time or energy for either preparation or delivery!) Unfortunately, I’m not in tip-top shape even for worship-leading, as it turns out. Still in recovery mode from a scary bout of blood clots in both lungs, which required hospitalization for a couple of days and a continuing – now 11 day – recovery and recuperation. I marshaled my energies for the morning, and then pretty much crashed all afternoon, more tired than I can just about ever remember being. Our bodies are indeed ‘fearfully and wonderfully made,’ and when they get out of whack, one needs to pay attention.

Today is the 2nd Sunday in the season of Pentecost on the church calendar – also called Ordinary Time. And that’s what about 99% of life is, isn’t it? Ordinary time. Here is a prayer for such a time, beginning with a line from our offertory hymn of the morning:
“…his strength shall bear you up, and nerve your heart, and brace your arm.”

There are days, Lord,
when we truly need
to have our ‘hearts nerved’
and our ‘arms braced.’
There are days, Lord,
when it seems as though whatever it is we are carrying
weighs a couple of tons.
There are days, Lord,
when we need to stop on the road a while,
take a deep breath,
and wait;
wait for your sweet,
sometimes subtle,
yet always reliable
to bear our spirits up.

And for many of us this morning,
today is one of those days.
Some of us have come through
wonderful times of celebration recently –
graduation day,
wedding day,
even a birth-day for beautiful new Isabella Faith.
We’re grateful for milestone celebrations such as these,
because they bring us reminders of your good gifts of
grace and goodness,
faith and faithfulness,
connection and commitment.
But because we are frail creatures of dust,
even parties can wear us out,
can cause rough edges in our relationships,
when schedules have to be set,
tasks have to be done,
deadlines have to be met.
So, will you sit with us,
by the side of the road this morning, Lord?
Help us to breathe deeply of your love,
and to wait for your strength to fill us
for whatever comes next.
For others of us today,
celebration has had to be pushed aside to
make way for more urgent concerns:
failing health,
failing bank accounts,
failing relationships,
exhausted resources.
We are truly in need of a roadside rest,
space to wait,
for our hearts to be nerved,
and our arms to be braced,
and our spirits to be borne up by your strength.

And while we’re sitting here,
on the side of the roadway of life,
it seems important for us to offer to you
some words of apology and contrition.

Because not one of us can manage to get through a single day,
even a single hour,
without revealing the shadows
of sin and brokenness that mar your image in us.
So, please hear our silent words of confession as we offer them to you:


Amazingly, dear Lord, we must also declare that there are moments,
here and there, once in a while,
when we know that you’re with us, at work in us,
reaching through us to others in need,
or simply filling us with deeply joyful gratitude –
because we’re alive,
because we’re loved,
because we are.
And for these moments, we want to say, ‘thank you.’
‘Thank you so much.”

We’ve brought gifts of love today, Lord God –
money that can be used to bring the gospel good news
of hope and healing into needy hearts and bodies,
both here and around the world.
We set these gifts aside for holy purposes today,
grateful that we can bring them,
grateful that you will use them.
Prepare our hearts to meet you today,
to hear from your word through your servant, John,
to hear your song of love to us,
even as we sing songs together,
to taste and see that that LORD is good
as we share together in bread and cup.
And then send us out,
arms braced,
hearts nerved,
spirits borne up by your strength,
refreshed from our
and sitting
and waiting,
ready to hit the road again,
with joy that is contagious,
with grace that is generous,
with thanksgiving that is overflowing,
with Jesus himself, alive and well within us.
For it is in his name,
and for his sake that we pray. Amen.