The Difference Between Worship and Work? Not a Lot.
The high temperature for tomorrow is forecast as +1°. That is better than -1°, but not by much.It reminds me of a Christmas carol:
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
The tune is melancholy, and these words do not make us smile like “Jingle Bells.” I am not lobbying to add “In the Bleak Midwinter” to our Christmas list, but you will love the final verse,
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.
Give Jesus my heart! That relates to his Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). This is where religious-minded people tune in…and the rest of us tune out. Talking about the heart can feel too spiritual or too much about feelings and psychology. That is not me! Yet look at that last phrase—“all your strength.”
This is where I remind myself that before Jesus spent three years as a teacher, he was a hard-working craftsman. Jesus opened the shop every morning and did not close until all the work was finished, and everything was ready for the next day. Sweaty Jesus had heavy-duty calluses and had to balance the account books and pay his taxes. He had to pay his workers and buy new tools and building supplies. Everything for the glory of God.
I am walking in Jesus’ footsteps as we worship together on Sunday morning. And, I will be walking in Jesus’ footsteps when I shovel the path to my house this evening. Everything for the glory of God.
Paul told us that worshiping together is really important: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16). No surprise here, worship is good.
But the very next verse Paul extends our worship through the whole week: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (3:17). Everything for the glory of God.
Moses loved worship. After all, he built the tabernacle! And I borrow from his blessing in Deuteronomy 33:11 when I pray: May the Lord bless all your skills and be pleased with the work of your hands! Early mornings, late nights, sweaty hands and sore muscles…all for the glory of God! Our work is part of our worship.
Pastor Ben Unseth
3 Days of United Prayer
If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, why should we pray?
1. Jesus and the Apostles Give Us the Example of Praying
“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). “Peter went up on the roof to pray” (Acts 10:9). Paul said, “Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers” (2 Timothy 1:3).
2. Jesus and the Apostles Call Us to Pray
“Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). Jesus did not say, “If you pray.” In triplicate, he said, “When you pray…. When you pray…. When you pray” (Matthew 6:5, 6, 7); then he promised, “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (v. 6). Paul said, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). James said, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise” (James 5:13).
3. God Is Overwhelmingly Stronger and Wiser Than We Are
When we work, we work. When we pray, God works! God is the God of grace, or favor. When you are working in the light of God’s favor, it is like sailing with the wind at your back. It is like playing tug-of-war with the 800-pound gorilla on your end of the rope. You become unstoppable. Resources? God owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10). Wisdom? God says, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). God makes a way through “the sea,” through “the wilderness” (Isaiah 43:16, 19), or whatever impossibility rises up against you. “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). When we pray, we unleash God on our problems.
Sometimes we struggle because God does not work on our timetable; we don’t like to read “Wait on the Lord.” We stumble because God, in perfect wisdom, sometimes answers with “No, I have something better for you.” We can trust our Good Shepherd.
As we step into 2020, we know that we need a long-term pastor. We are not sure what great ministry opportunities God has in mind for Our Saviour’s in this new year. Our Saviour’s is part of 750 congregations across the country in Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, which have set aside January 7-9 for Three Days of Prayer.
Please join us at 12:30pm Tuesday-Thursday, January 7-9, as we begin 2020 seeking Christ together!
Pastor Ben Unseth
Approaching Christmas Through Tears
As we stir our hearts about Christ’s 1st and 2nd Coming—Christmas and the great resurrection—I remain enthralled by our worship together on All Saints’ Sunday. Through two younger men’s funerals in one week, I feel face to face with eternity. At Tommy Young’s funeral, more than 100 motorcycles led us to the cemetery! At Scott Olson’s funeral, a song encouraged us to continue in our lives in what we have learned from those we love. And so, I have been remembering everyone we have had a service for since I came to Our Saviour’s: Leland Weber, Arlene Fenske Koons, Norma Hansen, Harvey Poulsen, Frank Obermeier, Elrane McMillan, Alice Kauffman, Violet Andersen, Irene Hansen, Elnora Fett, Ethel Rasmussen, Bertha Mae Nielsen, Cleo Barrett, Maynard Madsen, Lorraine Simpson, Brian Rustvold, Dennis Schwab, Tommy Young and Scott Olson.
As I think about each of these precious souls, God brings special things to mind about them and their family. A year ago December 1, Alice Kauffman visited with me in the Audubon Hospital. As we talked about her funeral, she said that she had marked a couple passages in her Bible. She would show them to me back at home. Twelve days later, her family handed me her Bible because Alice had entered eternity. There were a couple passages bookmarked, including Luke 9, where Jesus says, “Follow me.” Alice gave us clues how to follow Jesus in handwritten notes she tucked into her Bible. May they help you as they have me:
Happiness keeps you sweet,
Trials keep you strong,
Sorrows keep you human
Failures keep you humble
Success keeps you glowing
But only God keeps you going
1. Surrender your heart to God
2. Turn to God in prayer
3. Confess your sins
4. So that God’s love will fill your life and cast out all your anxiety and fear
Our Father, we thank you that you have made us your family through grace. Help us to love you more deeply each day as we also love others. Thank you for our Christian community. Help us to find ways to serve you wherever we are. Help us to realize what is going on around us. Teach me how to share your love with others. Bless and comfort us according to our need. Dear God, help us to read the Bible faithfully so we will know more about you. Thank you, God, that we can come to you to confess our sins and receive forgiveness.
Happy moments, praise God
Difficult moments, seek God
Quiet moments, worship God
Painful moments, trust God
Every moment, thank God
Belief is the consent of the mind
Faith is a choice of the will,
Trust is a commitment of the heart.
The time has come for you to simply trust Him.
Celebrating Christmas through tears,
Pastor Ben Unseth
Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart!
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now (Philippians 1:3-5).” Saint Paul wrote this to a church he had served short term. I am plagiarizing his words because I feel the same way about you and Our Saviour’s.
Thank you for finding me a house to live in. Thank you for lending me a bed, a stuffed chair, flatware and a dining room set. Thanks for lending me a recliner. Thanks for the dresser, and thanks for the secretary desk. As my first winter in a while bit down, thank you for lending me a windshield scraper. Thank you for plowing out my driveway. Thank you for lending me a bicycle.
Thank you for chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, scotcheroos, angel food cake and other yummies. Thank you for lunches and suppers and hot chocolate and coffee. Thank you for homegrown vegetables.
Thank you for stepping up to volunteer in our ministry as Our Saviour’s! Like the body Paul describes, we thrive as each part of the body fulfills its roles.
Thank you, Altar Guild, for your dependability so that I don’t have to check if everything is ready for Communion on Sunday mornings. (Not every congregation is like that.)
Thank you, Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders, for preparing your lessons, welcoming students, and leading them to Christ in his Word. And thanks, VBS volunteers!
Thank you, ushers, greeters, snack volunteers, blood pressure checkers, cooks, bakers and kitchen volunteers, who make long-time members and visitors feel welcome and cared for.
Thank you, musicians, singers, directors, readers and media technicians, as you help us focus on Christ in our worship times.
Thank you, Rock staff, High School Youth Group leaders, Confirmation Guides and Mentors, as you show junior high and high school students how to follow Jesus.
Thank you, custodians, our wintertime sidewalk angel, computer tech volunteers and volunteer cleaners and fixers who keep our facility running smoothly.
Thank you, Committee and Council Members for doing hard, skillful work out of the spotlight, keeping us healthy as a church family.
Thank you to our social media coordinators and bulletin board artists who keep us up to date.
Deep thanks to our worship coordinator and office manager who have patiently trained me in serving Our Saviour’s and showed me grace when I miss par.
Thanks to each one who has encouraged and helped me in ways beyond mentioning here. As Paul says, I am “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).”
Pastor Ben Unseth
“3 Myths about Kids and Teens”
Myth #1: Friends Are Family!
Friends are super important. Friends sometimes understand us when family does not. However, friends are not family.
Every week, when 8-year-old Chase met with Lutheran Services in Iowa Pastor Dennis Bauer, he would ask to pray for “the same old thing: to find a good, loving forever family.” In third grade, he has already experienced trauma most of us cannot fathom. Chase understood that family is even deeper than friends. Children need a safe place where they don’t have to be deserving. Children need a home base, where trouble cannot reach them. Every child needs a family.
During a recent visit with Pastor Dennis, Chase prayed a different prayer: “Thank you, God, for giving me a family.” If this strikes a chord in you, come to LSI’s Foster Care & Adoption Orientation at 6:00pm, Monday, September 30, downstairs in the Social Room. Give God a chance to guide you. RSVP by registering at http://www.LSIowa.org/Foster or call Kendal Esteves at 512-294-5357. Questions, email Kendal.Esteves@LSIowa.org or talk to Pam in the church office.
Myth #2: If You Want a Scholarship, Specialize!
Dr. Mike Clark warns about “the performance paradox.” An NBA physical therapist for 14 years, he says that today’s players are faster, stronger and more athletic. However, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, “What our orthopedics are telling us, is they’re seeing wear-and-tear issues in young players that they didn’t used to see until players were much older.” “Kids are broken by the time they get to college,” said Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, the Director of Sports Medicine Research and Education at Emory Healthcare in the Atlanta area.
In a University of Wisconsin study, 36 percent of high school athletes are highly specialized in one sport and they are twice as likely to suffer injuries to their hips, knees, cartilage or ligaments. The same researchers found that most Division I college athletes were not highly specialized in high school.
When asked about having a student hyperfocus on a sport to earn a scholarship, an NBA general manager said, “At what cost? Do you really want to have your kid limping around the rest of his life?” (These sports comments are based on an ESPN article by Baxter Holmes, “These Kids Are Ticking Timebombs.”)
NBA legend Michael Jordan started in every game in 8 of his 13 seasons in Chicago. What was his off-season regimen? He barely touched a basketball. I plead with coaches and parents: Stop pushing athletes to work out and compete in off-season sports on Sunday. Urge them to spend this one day a week building up their inner self and building intergenerational relationships.
Myth #3: Dating in High School Is Better Than Not Dating
Researchers tracked a large group of students from 6th grade through 12th grade. The students reported their dating habits and their feelings. Their teachers reported the students’ attitudes and behaviors. According to this new research from The Journal of School Health, teachers found non-dating students significantly more advanced in social and leadership skills. Teachers also rated non-dating students as less depressed. Additionally, far fewer non-dating students reported feeling depressed or hopeless regularly than students who dated. So, if you’re not dating in high school, relax!
A church is like a huge Christmas tree, and every one of us is a light on the tree. But there is a big difference between a typical Christmas tree and a “church Christmas tree.” On a typical Christmas tree, every light is part of a single, very long, continuous cord. One plug fits into one outlet, and the whole tree lights up. It is gorgeous! (So, I’m a little early for Christmas. Don’t be a Scrooge. Try imagining with me for a bit.)
With a “church Christmas tree,” every light (every person) plugs into the power source individually. I have to plug in, and you have to plug in. If I don’t plug in, I don’t surge with energy and glow. If we all plug in, the glow is overwhelming.
Jesus describes a similar scene, picturing the church as a giant grape vine. He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). A grape branch has to be connected into the vitality of the vine. Otherwise, nothing happens.
On Our Saviour’s “Christmas tree,” you need to be plugged in to make our tree radiate with the light of Christ. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world…. Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16). Jesus wants us to shine.
When I was a boy, I thought that the pastor was a light, and I thought that the pianist and organists were lights. I was less convinced about the rest of us. I was wrong! Paul tells us, “From Jesus the whole body…grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16). If you are serving and growing, stay plugged in!
If you enjoy our worship service—and that is your whole connection with Our Saviour’s—plug in! You are missing out, and our light is not shining as it should! I am not sure where you should plug in, but Jesus will nudge you. Try visiting a Bible study or Sunday School class. Ask about serving on a committee that fits your gifts and interests.
Don’t burn yourself out, but don’t sit on the shelf! Plug in! If your first try does not seem to fit. Unplug there, and plug in somewhere else. Let your light shine!
Pastor Ben Unseth
“Change Is Guaranteed…Growth Starts in the Heart”
I was a country kid. When I came back to school at the end of August, seeing my classmates for the first time in three months was fun—and often surprising. Some kids looked exactly the same as they had when school ended, but some were quite a bit taller. We were surprised by each other’s changes, and then we went forward together into another year of change, aka growth.
Memorial Day to Labor Day is an arc of growth for students. A few graduated from high school and are now learning to balance freedom and responsibility as they forge ahead with their plans. About ten of our amazing students went to Bible camp and were challenged physically, emotionally and spiritually in a new environment. Christ has marked them for life.
Sometimes these challenges go the way we want them too, and sometimes—not so much. I was out paintballing with our middle school students at Okoboji and decided to halt 15 feet into the woods, then sneak behind the other team. The only problem was that a counselor on the opposing team had the same idea, and besides that, he is a sniper in the US Army. I hid from his shots behind a tree, flopped onto my belly in the mud, and crawled elbow by elbow 30 feet to another tree. It didn’t matter. The sniper was waiting for me when I came up at the next tree, and he marked me. He was too much for me in the game, but he was still my friend, and he was great for our students.
Vacation Bible School is July 29 – August 1, and our kids will learn and change. There will be laughing and singing and perhaps a few tears, and Jesus will work in the students and in the staff members. Yesterday, I talked with an Iowa pastor friend whom I met as a young boy. He asked me about Mrs. Nagle, our VBS teacher those many years ago. She maybe wondered if it was worth it. She likely did not know that she was marking our lives for Jesus.
As VBS ends, older students will report to team practices for various sports. They will change. Students will prepare for the first day of school, and they will meet new teachers, gain new knowledge and skills. They will change.
To our exceedingly generous volunteer teachers and coaches—Thank you! To our deeply devoted school faculty, staff and coaches—Thank you! May Christ make you his ambassadors hour by hour, day by day. We will be incredible change agents as we experience 2 Corinthians 3:18, “The Lord— who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”
What Did People Say in the Congregational Survey?
I was offended. The DMV official asked me what color my hair was, and I said, “Brown.” She responded, “I think it’s gray.” True, it’s pretty gray now, but not several years ago. I told my family,and they laughed. They did, however, agree that my hair was still very brown, not gray.
I think the DMV worker was looking ahead. I would have that driver’s license for several years, and my scattering of gray hairs was going to increase—not decrease.
Understanding ourselves as a congregation takes honesty, and like the DMV official, a little foresight. Not only, “What are we like today?” Also, “What does that mean for the future?” And so, we have taken our pulse—our Congregational Survey. Many thanks to the 103 people who completed the survey, 79 on paper and 24 online. Here is a summary of what we said about ourselves.
A majority of the surveys were from people who have been part of Our Saviour’s for 30 years. About half the respondents were over 60 years old and about half under 60. The most common feature people recommend about our congregation is our “welcoming atmosphere,” followed by children’s/youth ministry and Sunday morning worship.
I was delighted to find that 61 percent said we have “sensed the presence of God or felt touched by God” in the last week, and another 22 percent in the last month. Almost half of us read the Bible outside of church every week. Very exciting news: 38 percent of us are reading the Bible more than we did 2 years ago! This is forward momentum; it gives a positive picture of the congregation that we are becoming.
On the flip side, most of us pray daily. And here’s the evidence of people’s honesty in this survey, a handful of us do not pray monthly outside of church! That’s heartbreaking to see.
A fourth of us are in a Bible class/Bible study. A third of us donate 6 percent or more of our income to Our Saviour’s. (Thank you for that trust.) How do we donate our time/volunteer: 62 in food preparation/serving, 47 greeter/usher, 30 committee service, 22 Sunday School/VBS/Bible study, 21 music, 19 Care ministries and slightly smaller numbers for several more categories. Thank you!
What helps us most in our worship services? 1) Sermon, 2) Liturgy and Communion, 3) Talking with people, 4) Music, 5) Videos, 6) Sunday School.
Overwhelmingly people said that the purpose of Our Saviour’s is to provide a place of fellowship and share God’s love. The second purpose, to make disciples.
People’s handwritten comments fit into four categories: the nature of our congregation, importance of mission, technology and music, and the role of a pastor.
Regarding the nature of Our Saviour’s, there were positive comments about how welcoming we are. Some urged us to stay focused on mission, reaching out with the good news of Jesus. Some people said that continual integration of technology and contemporary music is important; there was also a voice of concern about music volume.
Thinking about calling a long-term pastor, a few people emphasized the importance for a pastor of Our Saviour’s to be visible and active in the community.
Saddest answer: A few people “strongly disagree” with the statement, “I really feel like I am a part of Our Saviour’s.” If that’s how you feel, I would love to visit with you.
Exciting comment: “We would love to be a part of a young couple’s Bible Study.” If that describes you, please talk with me.
Congregational Survey: We Need You!
When a new coach walks into the locker room for the first time, the coach wonders about the team. Will they support me on winning days and losing days? Are we stale or growing? Are we here to help and encourage each other or to tear each other down? Do we love this team so much that we will never quit, or will we walk out when something doesn’t go our way? Who doesn’t yet see their own potential? What is the attitude of these players?
It’s a good thing for a team to take a look at itself. It’s a good thing for a congregation to look in the mirror too. With this in mind, I invite you—I urge you—to participate in our simple, 15-question survey. The Congregational Survey is available as a single sheet questionnaire in the church entryway. It is also available online at http://survey.sogosurvey.com/r/ijbjsp. We need you to fill it out and turn it in by Sunday, June 2.
Who should take our Congregational Survey? Take the survey if you worship with Our Saviour’s and you are an adult or if you have finished at least one year of Confirmation.
This Congregational Survey is anonymous unless you want to add your name. The questions are easy multiple-choice answers so that you can do the whole thing in 5-10 minutes. If you want to write some suggestions, there is space at the end for that too.
The more people who complete the Survey, the more accurate it will be in presenting the team attitude and spiritual climate of Our Saviour’s. A full report of the results will go to our Church Council, Call Committee and Transition Team. We will also report on the Survey results to the congregation as a whole.
The Survey may provide valuable information for pastoral candidates with whom the Call Committee conducts interviews.
We need you! When Our Saviour’s used a Survey a few years ago, 150 people completed the form. Let’s do that again!
Take the Survey today!
Remodeling or Transformation?
I am at Our Saviour’s to see Jesus transform your life. I am not God’s remodeling guy. I am not here to earn a paycheck. I am not here to mark time. I am not here even to learn to speak or to bake in Danish.
Warning: Transformation begins with disruption. God has even better plans for your life than you do. I do not mean “transform” as a cliché, or as “supplement” or “accessorize.” God wonders why you cling to crusts when he offers fresh-baked, why you hold back when he calls you to follow, why you guard weeds when he wants to cultivate you with a fresh start.
I work, I prepare, I plan, I study, I pray. Many of you do, too. But our shared ministry is like farming. We can plant clean seed in rich soil at the ideal time, but we look to God for the sunshine and rain. Without God, there is no harvest. We are here for harvest!
The easiest moment for me to observe God’s work is usually Sunday morning worship. Often I can see that people are with me, or I sense that I need to shift gears to reconnect. When a message has touched people’s hearts, I usually know in the pulpit, and people affirm it verbally as they exit.
One sermon was really disappointing for me. I laid my heart bare as I shared a friend’s story of transformation. I pointed to Jesus who redeemed my friend from abuse and has richly blessed her life. I assured everyone that no matter what has happened, no matter what shadow or darkness they feel, Jesus can bring forth beautiful fruit. They seemed deaf.
The first worshipers to talk with me on their way out were polite. What had gone wrong? Then, Etty took my hand and squeezed with both of her almost 90-year-old hands. She said emphatically, “That was my sermon. That was my sermon.” Then a 50-year-old woman left the building…and came back in…and hugged me…and immediately left again. Then a teacher grabbed my hand very firmly and thanked me. I told her that I had been afraid I had failed because of the lack of response in the sanctuary. She said that the quiet was their response, that the message had hit home. Only God transforms. I pray for God to transform your life and our church.
Dear God, disrupt us. Break our grip on anything that blocks your blessing. Give us your vision. Transform us into your harvest field and then in to your harvesters. Amen.
Pastor Ben Unseth
Those who reach the highest are those who sit on another’s shoulders. “Self-made” men and women are unaware of the people who have carried them, or ignore those who have helped them.
When my dad died in January, I lost the teacher who let me ride on his shoulders to learn about Faith. My mom has carried me and taught me about Love. Others who have carried me into new insight include: Carol Tuntland and her team for Worship, Jim Johnson for Encouragement, Dave Housholder for Communication, Greg Seeba for Service, Lyla Prindle for Thankfulness, Tom Reimers for Leadership, and Bruce Prewer for Liturgy.
I grew up hating liturgy, so it is surprising to include it in this list. However, a couple years ago I discovered Bruce Prewer, a Tasmanian and Australian pastor, online. He died last September, and I have never met him, but he continually encourages and surprises me with his writing for worship services. If you like a Confession, Affirmation of Faith or Prayer that we use, there is a good chance that I have borrowed it from him—such as our Affirmation of Faith in April. As we walk through Lent and Holy Week, his Palm Sunday poem encourages me, and I offer it to you:
“Only One” by Bruce Prewer (www.bruceprewer.com)
Only one king comes to our town
not in a Rolls Royce or BMW
with police bikes all around,
but bareback on a runt of a donkey,
like a comedian, feet brushing the ground.
Only one high priest comes to our church
not led by bishops and cardinals
rich-robed with religious sentiment,
but led by a grubby gang of street kids
screaming their heads off with merriment.
Only one God comes down our street
not surrounded by holy angels
or shining like the sun at noon,
but with tears running down his cheeks
for those who play the devil’s tune.
Only one true-man comes along this way
never looking to be served
or honoured with public praise,
but to serve and give his life
as a ransom for rebels and strays.
When I read that Bruce Prewer had gone home to Jesus, I wrote to his family to say thank you. Whose shoulders have you ridden on? Who can you say “thank you” to during Lent?
Come ride the strongest shoulders in the universe with us as we worship on Sundays, Lenten Wednesdays, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday: “About Benjamin he said: ‘Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders’” (Deuteronomy 33:12). Even though the verse sounds like it is about me, there are room on God’s shoulders for you! One big question for you: Who are you bringing to Easter?
I’m somebody! I grew up on the Avenue on the Saints—US Highway 218 between Saint Paul, Minnesota, and Saint Louis, Missouri, running right through Saint Ansgar, Iowa!
No wonder I’m so saintly, even the mascot in Saint Ansgar is the Saints. But people told me wrong. The Avenue of the Saints follows US 218 but not through Saint Ansgar. I was lied to. I was cheated. Does that mean I am not a saint?
Every week I gathered with the saints in our beautiful old church building. I wanted to ring the bell, but they said that I was too small. I wore a robe and lit the candles as seriously as I could. I sang out loudly as most of these saints did. Almo boomed bass from the back. Verdie led with soprano from the front, and the rest of us filled in. I listened to long Scripture readings and tried to make sense of them. I attempted not to fidget through the sermon.
Listening carefully—when I wasn’t off daydreaming–I learned some pretty important truths. God made the whole world, and he loves me. Sin breaks God’s heart. God sent his Son, Jesus, to conquer sin and make me his child. God is with me everywhere I go, guiding, warning, providing and protecting me. God has put me here with all these other saints to be his hands and feet in my community. God has separated me for himself—made me a saint.
I also understood that I could cooperate with God or get in his way. I could submit my will to his or ignore him and do things my way instead. I heard from the Bible that going my way is difficult, but temptation lies to make it look easy and smooth. Sometimes I didn’t feel like a saint. Sometimes I didn’t talk or act like a saint.
Every spring Lent came. I was reminded that Jesus’ love for me knows absolutely no boundary. I cannot adopt myself into God’s family; that’s God’s work. I cannot wash away my wrong; that’s God’s work. I cannot starve or suffer my way into God’s favor; God already looks at me with boundless favor—we call it grace!
As we walk through Lent together, I encourage you to relish God’s overwhelming favor toward you. His boundless love and grace are ―new every morning‖ (Lamentations 3:23). How can you cultivate, deepen your awareness of this? From now till Easter, what could you alter in your schedule or habits to help you focus more on Jesus and his love for you and those around you?
Pastor Ben Unseth
The Power of Five Minutes
What is the difference between 5 percent and 70 percent? Only 5 minutes!
You can make huge changes in this little bit of time. Maybe not in 5 minutes just one time—but definitely in 5 minutes a day.
When I arrived at Our Saviour’s, I was delighted to see the gymnasium. I have always loved basketball…even when it didn’t love me back. Back in middle school and early high school, I warmed the bench during basketball games. The coach had us shoot free throws every day, and I did well with that. There was no defender trying to take the ball from me during free throws.
After a week or so at Our Saviour’s, I walked into the gym and decided I would shoot free throws until I made 10. Shot after shot bounced off the rim or the backboard, or missed both. Eventually I made a free throw. Argh, I thought, how rusty am I? Very rusty! Lots more shots ricocheted off the backboard, the rim and the wall.
After a while, a couple shots went in, and I thought, Great! Finally, I’m in the groove. Muscle memory is kicking in. But I was wrong. My free throws went everywhere but through the hoop. After several dozen more misses, I was up to 8 made free throws. Curious as to how badly I was shooting, I began to count my attempts. It took me about 40 shots to make the last 2 of my 10 free throws.
All told, it took me about 200 attempts to sink 10 shots. That calculates to 5 percent. I thought about walking out of the gym and never going in again. Instead, I go into the gym almost daily, and attempt 25 free throws. It takes 5 minutes. Making 4 of 25 shots meant forward progress. I was excited when I could make 6 of 25.
Five minutes a day makes big changes. After a month of shooting, at the end of September, I attempted 100 free throws one day, and I made 54 percent. In October, my best day was 64 percent. In November, I nudged up to 65 percent.
In August, I shot only 5 percent. One day in December, I shot 70 percent! The difference between 5 percent and 70 percent is only 5 minutes.
If you have relationships that are not working, invest a few minutes a day. If you wish for a higher level of fitness, invest a few minutes a day. Each of us wants to achieve something, and it can look different for each of us.
My common recommendation for everyone: Open your heart to God and his Word 5 minutes a day. You can set prayer pauses in your day like the psalm-writer who wrote, “Seven times a day I praise you” (Psalm 119:164). Pause to thank God when you get up, at breakfast, coffee break, lunch, coffee break, supper, bedtime—there you have it, seven times. Jump in with us on reading a chapter a day… because 5 minutes will change your life! The Holy Spirit can even shift you from being self-conscious to God-conscious.
Pastor Ben Unseth