Monday, April 30, 2012

Faith of a Farmer

When was the last time you wondered if spring would ever come? Not in the ironic sense - really wondered if winter might last forever, something like the 100 years of winter in Narnia. For most of us probably never.

In Alaska I sometimes feel as though spring may never come. The days growing lighter and “break-up” arrives. It’s not really winter, not yet spring, it’s just one giant ugly mess. Breakup is finally coming to an end as the snow is rapidly melting daily.

 Most of America lives in the reality of four seasons, and expect the Earth to naturally cycle from winter to spring to summer to fall. We expect trees to unfurl new leaves this time of year because they're supposed to. But what if they didn't? What if the trees bloomed in winter when their new leaves would freeze, or what if their flowers matured into hornets' nests instead of apples? What if they didn't bloom at all?

I think of my dad, the farmer. He and many like him are at the mercy of the weather. He must wait for the ground to be not too wet, not too cold, then plant! Plant like mad to get all the seed in the ground in a timely matter only to sit and wait. Hurry up and wait—that’s the farmer’s way. It’s no surprise to me that the Christian faith has much to say about farms and farmers, crops and harvests.

I often wonder why so many have such a rough time with faith. Honestly I don’t know how anyone can survive without it. As a farmer, my dad really leans on his faith. Maybe that's why I see his faith lived out daily, because as a farmer one must live a life of faith. From crops to machinery, it’s a lot of work, all done in faith.

One cannot see the end result in the beginning. When a my dad is plowing the field to plant a crop there is nothing tangible to reap. It hasn't even been seeded yet, but there's a faith that a good crop will result. There's a faith that timely rains will come during the growing season. There is faith that the machinery will not break down [too much] and delay the process. There's a faith that the harvest will be good! All faith, believing in things we cannot see at the time. But one believes and gets started.

In many ways, our churches are also like farms. We plant the seeds of belief in the hearts of our children in the hope that those seeds will become fruits of faith. We are also given ministries and missions to tend, so that Christ’s work amongst us can grow and expand in our community. And we are each expected to bring a faithful harvest to God at the end of our lives, showing Him that we have shared our faith with others, and planted new seeds of belief in the hearts and minds of those we leave behind. We are each meant to be hardworking farmers of faith, so that we might expect the bounty of God’s blessings and receive an eternal share in Christ’s Kingdom.

As I wait for spring to return to Alaska, I can't help but look outside and be amazed. There are mountains galore. When was the last time you took a look outside? Consider that "the heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalm 8:1) and the Earth is the work of his hands.

“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20)

ORLC 50 Years and Counting...

Things around church have been rather busy. On the top of the list is VBS planning and 50th anniversary of Our Redeemer. This mean's that I am fully swamped. Decorating, games, powerpoints, rehearsals, cleaning, arranging--but it all will come together.

50 years is quite a substantial amount when you consider that Alaska has only been a state for three years longer (Entered in statehood 1959). The history of Our Redeemer is unique. It all began with eighteen people gathered in worship back in 1960, seeking to form a place where they could share their faith together, and make an impact on their community.
The rented Emmaus Chapel during church construction 
Complete building-the iconic cross ready to go up
From small gatherings in homes, to a rented chapel, recognition by the LCMS as a congregation in December 1962, to the first service in a new building in 1964, several additions, a series of pastors and other church workers, we have now arrived at the 50th anniversary of what is known as Our Redeemer Lutheran Church.
The church in 1972
This upcoming weekend is the big shindig. We are anticipating upwards of 200 people to which we will have to use every space the church building has. The celebration begins with a potluck dinner (of course we are Lutheran so pot-luck is a must). From there we go into activities and games for the kids and a live polka band.
The church today
This past Saturday I made a run to Lowes to get 20 baby spruce trees. I fit them all in my little two door, ford escort. None of them fit in the trunk because the trees were too tall so I had 20 trees in my back and passenger seats. Who needs air freshener when you can have 20 live spruce trees? Why did I put 20 spruce trees in my car? For the 50th anniversary of course.

Such potential I just pray the ground is not still frozen when we dig on Saturday
Each year ORLC cuts down a live Christmas tree, a tradition that has been going on since the start of the congregation. A much as the 50th anniversary is about looking toward the past it is also a time of forward looking to the future of this congregation.

On Saturday as part of the festivities I have coordinated the youth to plant these twenty trees as a way of looking toward the future for twenty Christmas and beyond. The anniversary as a time to look forward; a time to prayerfully consider where God would take this congregation in the next 50, 100, or however many years He intends Our Redeemer to exist.

The future is in God’s hands; in fact, God is our future. As Christians, we look forward to an amazing day when we will be with God. Jesus, our Savior, has given us an everlasting opportunity to enter God’s Kingdom here on earth. May the Lord bless the future of Our Redeemer and the future that He has for your life.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mother’s Day Creations

This past Sunday was one of finger painting. Red, yellow, purple green paint on over a dozen little hands. Call me crazy but I think the stress of managing tiny humans with paint on their hands outweighs the fun and excitement when it’s all done.

With mother’s day a couple weeks away the kids were busy on their mother’s day creations. This year it’s a reusable canvas bag with the handprints of the children. There is one bag made for each family that way a mother of four does not end up with four of the same craft. This gift, I feel, is one that is both practical and sentimental.
Adding yellow and red thumb prints for bumble bees & lady bugs

Each of the handprints serve as the top of a flower. The children also put thumb prints of yellow and red which will be transformed into bumble bees, and lady bugs.

Next week—after the paint has dried—the children will draw on the stems to the handprints, and fill out the bugs. In the meantime Ericka and I are going to iron on the quote “Mothers hold their children’s hands for a while, but their hearts forever”. I think it will turn out very cute and the mothers will cherish it as they can look back at how tiny their son or daughter’s hands once were.

Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him. ~ Psalm 127:3

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Winkle in Kenai

Yesterday was a big day. Having come straight off the three day middle school retreat I awoke at 5:00am to meet Jamie and Larry to head 4 hours south to the town of Kenai. Once a month the pastors and DCE’s of Alaska’s LCMS congregations gather for a meeting called Winkle. We share our thoughts, struggles, and ideas in ministry, and have a time of fellowship. The place of meeting this month was in Kenai.

We left at 6:00am and began the beautiful drive south. Along the way we saw many mountains with receding snowlines. In the fall I watched the snow march from the top peaks downward to mainland. With spring arriving the opposite is happening.

"Ghost Forest" All those dead trees are from the great earthquake of 1964. The land dropped 15 feet and the trees were preserved due to salt water.
We also happened upon a Boar Tide. This is the second Boar Tide I have seen since being in Alaska which is rare as one must be in the right place at the right time. A Boar Tide is a tidal phenomenon in which the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave of water that travels up a river or narrow bay against the direction of the river or bay's current. As such, it is a true tidal wave and not to be confused with a tsunami, which is a large ocean wave traveling primarily on the open ocean. Bores are unique in that they occur in relatively few locations worldwide. Lucky for me, the Turnagin Arm of Alaska is one such place.
Boar Tide!
We were driving faster than the Boar Tide

Four hours later and we arrived in the town of Kenai.

We met for our Winkle meeting at Star of the North Lutheran Church. This month we shared what curriculum/resources we use in ministry. Sermon series, confirmation, Bible Studies, VBS, Sunday School etc. It was good to hear, and I got some ideas for future ministry when I take a full call. After Winkle we headed out to Louie’s for lunch as a group.

Following full stomachs our carload drove to the shoreline to catch a glimpse of the three volcanoes that are within 90 miles of Kenai—Mt. Redoubt (Which recently erupted in 2009), Mt. Iliamna, and Augustine (last erupted in 2006). I also got to see the immense amount of glacial silt along the coast. This fine silt often gets caught in cars as it’s so fine it goes right through the filters.

Mr. Redoubt

Glacial Silt

We drove back another 4 hour ride of breathtaking scenery. It was a long day but one with stunning views.

Monday, April 23, 2012

"Slinky Faith"

This past weekend we has out spring middle school retreat themed “Slinky Faith”. The idea came about when ACYB (Alaska Conference Youth Board) was sitting in a meeting and we needed a theme, Larry has the song “Lions” by Lost and Found in his head. The song has a fun “SLINKY” exclamation in it and we then decided to do a whole retreat based upon a slinky.
The song I wrote for the retreat--the kids liked it and laughed at my "rap skills"

It’s interesting how something so simple as the slinky is so versatile. Invented by Richard James in 1945 and patented just two years later it still remains a source of entertainment. Our middle school boys spent well over an hour of their free time having slinky races down the stairs of the church.

The theme verse for the weekend was Luke 9:23-24 which says “Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.’”

The idea is that we must take our faith outside of the church walls and DAILY be disciples for Christ. If you've ever seen the old Slinky commercial it was the base for our Bible studies. The commercial retorts several times “Everyone wants a slinky!” The idea here is we should live out our lives for Christ to make those around us wonder what we have that they don’t.

We may be the only Jesus that some people see so we must live our faith DAILY willing to share the our slinky (contagious faith) at any moment. The different Bible sessions for the weekend were so cleverly entitled as follows…

Upward Spiral-Growing in faith is a journey with the goal of connecting with God.
Back and Forth-The paradox of the faith journey is that we grow most when we give ourselves away in service to others.
Stretched-The faith journey is one that requires being stretched beyond our comfort zone in order to grow. 

Each motion—spiral, back and forth, stretched, are maneuvers that can be done with a slinky and thus serve as a great visual image of an object to explain our Slinky Faith.

In addition to Bible study we also did several service projects in order to give back and live out our faith. It’s break-up in Alaska which means TRASH everywhere! The students divided and conquered the bike path that runs right past the church covering two miles (1 north, 1 south) and picked up 11 bags of garbage in that span. We stumbled upon an entire car wreck, carpet, and a PS2!
The Ford logo from the car wreck remains we found

The kids also went shopping and stocked the food pantry at the church, and bagged rice for clients. They also scooped snow in the back field for ORLC's upcoming 50th anniversary so we can plant trees for use at future Christmases.

Shopping at Walmart at 11:30pm!

Finally they swept out the church parking lot since it had a lot of gravel from this past winter. Later during free time the girls even decorated the parking lot with sidewalk chalk creations reminding those who came of their own “Slinky Faith”

On Sunday morning the middle school students led the 8:00am SONrise service. They picked out scripture readings, songs, wrote a skit, and sang the theme song from the weekend “Lions” by Lost and Found.

Leading Worship
Of course the retreat wasn't all serious we enjoyed an hour and a half of "Minuet to Win It" challenges, sprinting races against Larry, and swimming at the Chugiak pool.

Minute to win it-stack 5 dice on Popsicle stick in held in your mouth.
Minute to win it-shoot marbles through a pool noodle at markers 20 feet away.
Minute to win it-get a cookie from your forehead to your mouth only using your facial muscles.
Minute to win it-knock over cups using a ball in nylons placed on head.

Middle Schoolers vs. old man Larry!

Might I add that I LOVE Middle school students! Well I enjoy all ages really but there is something so fresh, enthusiastic, and willing about middle schoolers that makes them my favorite age group. They even taught me a thing or two about life, being energetic and tips for my very white rap tendencies. I love my internship!