Only God knows the future…

In July, our Brookdale youth attended a Pulse Revival Night outdoor worship at Minnehaha Falls Pavilion.  It was a beautiful night! Minnehaha Falls were flowing fast and fantastic praise songs flowed from the pavilion and pulled onlooker in. This worship gathering is student led, a Minnesota based outreach mission with purpose to connect today’s student generation and awaken culture to the reality of Jesus. The praise songs in the park were amazing!

Some of our wise and curious youth student’s captured notes on their smart phones during the event. These notes directed some great questions and allowed us to explore and dive deeper into important truths about who God is and how God wants to be in every moment of our lives.

Sharing a couple highlights with you from our youth. These takeaways are from the message shared in the park…

1. First fun Smart Phone Student Note we explored.

The evangelist speaker boldly asked us all this question. I think we all leaned in to hear with blank faces. So glad our students were curious.

Wise Question:

          “Do you know why the devil always brings up your past?”

           God’s Answer:  Because the devil doesn’t have a future.

Only God knows the future… this we can celebrate. The devil does not know what God has planned. God guides us in the present and into our future. This shows how powerful God is and how much He loves us and desires good for us all. God will not lead you toward an opportunity that contradicts what he clearly says in his word. God will give you strength and courage and the power to do good. (Joshua 1:9)

So, we must ignore the self-critical thoughts (from a sneaking devil speaking). The devil will always try to stop you from doing good or being joyful. Any unkind names or things people, coaches, teachers, adults or even strangers have said to us in the past, we must speak God’s truth and blessing into. The devil may want us to keep thinking about them or keep holding us back because of a mistake or sin we did or was done to us. But we as believers is Jesus must Stop! Pray, ask God for truth about who he created us to be. Stop thinking untruths that limit us or keep us from joy and doing good. And we must Believe the truth that each of us, we are good because God created us and God looked back and said, “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

Jesus has already forgiven us and Jesus forgives others so we need to find our best attitude, forgive ourselves and others and ask God about our futures and what he desires for us as we walk joyfully, humbly, love mercy, and do justice. We believers should remind each other to seek God to equip us, and knock for God to open new doors for us because as Christians we are sons and daughters of a mighty God who loves us, forgives us and makes a way (even when we can not see the way or we can not see all the amazing good God has created in each of us).

We decided that every time the devil brings up our past, makes us think less of ourselves, we will just speak firmly God’s promise over it:

“For I know the plans I have for you (speak your name),”
declares the LORD,

“plans to prosper you (speak your name)

and not to harm you (speak your name),

plans to give you (speak your name) a hope and a future.”

(Jeremiah 29:11) 

Remember, how does God increase our faith?
Faith comes through hearing, hearing the word of God (hearing Jesus). (Romans 10:17, Hebrews 4:2) What happens when we hear our name in the Words God speaks? Spiritual transformation where God changes our thinking, creates new perfectness in our hearts and makes new things start happening!

Only God knows the future… Believe. How wonderful is this truth for you? I invite you to stop and pause, breath deep and know in your heart God hears the devil speaking about your past, God is with you, God is always speaking and the holy spirit is guiding because God has a wonderful word for your present moment and an amazing plan for your next step into your future.

Only God knows the future… (quite simply the devil does not know your future).
Thanks be to God.


2. Second fun Smart Phone student Note we explored.

What is Fasting? What did he mean fasting in today’s times?

The speaker was talking about how even in difficult times where his parent failed in leading the family and mentoring love, healthy guidance and faithfulness. He shared about having a dad who believed in God but made a cascading series of some poor choices leading to drug addiction and a separated broken family. He knew his dad loved him, but some things are too hard for us to understand in why people leave good people or fail in relationships. Deep, moments where I am sure everyone walked with God into some part of their own story paralleling with a deep need for God to come in and smother with love. So the speaker spoke of how he prayed with fasting.

Students read this smart phone note back to me and asked, “What is fasting?”

Fasting as a spiritual practice with God, the speaker explained is different from old testament days where fasting is what the people of God did in prayer when they need God to come down.

The speaker confidently claimed we live with Jesus here, our reality today is after Jesus has powerfully conquered death on the cross and for us as believers Jesus forgives all sins and blunders. So fasting today …. He said is that practice where we give up something we love and desire purposefully to direct us to seek God to focus on how powerful, almighty and loving God is and ask God for help every time our body or thoughts desire food or whatever we are fasting from. What we select to fast from, in honoring putting God first, can be a good thing like eating, or can be abstaining from a tempting not so good thing like swearing, drinking, complaining, murmuring… Maybe God loves to see what we choose to give up each time we fast to honor loving Him!

Smart phone interesting note with fasting…

Fasting is about “believing” and increasing our faith. The speaker spoke about how God so deeply desires for us to believe.


Did you know that the Bible Gospel Book of John is focused on the theme of believing in Jesus? The speaker said something jaw-dropping, he said the word “Believe” is mentioned 90 times in the book of John!” No kidding, we thought “What? 90 times!” so we googled it on the way home, we tested the evangelist and sure enough, he is right.

Activity you may like to do…
Challenge part one, if you choose to accept it, is to read the book of John in the bible and count occurrences of “Believe”.

Fun Faith building Facts:

  • John, Gospel book of John, used the verb believe at least 90 times which is more than all the uses in the Synoptic Gospels … through the reading of the Gospel of John than any other book in the Bible!
  • The main purposeful message in the book of John is so that,
    “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31, also John 19:35).
  • The Greek verb (pisteuo means believe) ‘believe’ is used about 90 times, the adjective pistoV ‘believing’ twice. But interesting is the noun pistiV ‘faith’ is not used at all in the Gospel book of John. Aside from the Bible books second and third John, the Gospel book of John is the only book in the New Testament not to use the noun form of believe “faith”, but by far the Gospel book of John has the greatest frequency of the verb “believe”. Faith as a verb implies faith is an action, something the holy spirit helps us do.
  • No wonder John boldly called himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in the book of John (John 13:23, John 19:26, John 20:2 and John 21:7, John 21:20)

Do you call yourself “the one whom Jesus loves?

Challenge part two, if you choose to accept it, Go a whole week and for a minimum of 3 times each day speak out loud, “I (speak your name) am the one whom Jesus loves”. Remember faith grows through hearing, hearing the word of God. Wonder what the Lord your God might speak to you.

Quick Summary, we learned that fasting for in today’s times is different than before Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. Today, we fast as a spiritual practice to help us put God first and believe in Jesus. When we believe in God the eyes of our hearts open up and we see more, we see God is faithful.

Believe. Remember praying and fasting for people who love God is cool and life-giving and faith muscle building!

We are all called into the mission of awakening culture to the reality of Jesus. We must remember we are all needed, and our youth and children are a key part in this mission.

The mission of awakening culture to the reality of Jesus, starts with self and believing!


Where Do We Go from Here?

I always get a little sad about saying goodbye to summer.  I so appreciate the calmer pace, the longer days, the beauty of creation all around.  For me, summer is best spent on, in, or near “the lake,” and I get renewed with every trip there.  Already though, the northland is experiencing the earliest hints of fall.  Our Beautiful and Blessed study is winding down too.  All summer we explored the beautiful nature of our God, and the invitation to draw near was ever before us.  My prayer throughout was that you experienced God in some new or important way. 

“Where do we go from here?” someone asked recently.   It was a bigger question than it may appear…it was said with that worried look you get as you watch the news or read the paper.  It was an anxious response to unwelcome and uncomfortable events – a guarded way of asking if things were spinning out of control – a good grounding question, one I’ve been praying often lately.

Sometimes –  when you ask the right question, in just the right way, it starts providing a good answer: Where do we go from here?  We get going.  What better way to get going than with our Rally Weekend Car Show.  We’ve got a band new parking lot and a brand new entrance….let’s fill it up with classic cars, and Tov garden produce, crafts, music,  food and fun.  We want to let the neighborhood know our doors are wide open, and we’ve got places to go, and we would love to invite them along for the ride.

This fall we will be taking a road trip.  It starts with the All Church Retreat on Sept 6-8.  If anyone knows about traveling, it’s our recent immigrants!  They will start our fall by talking about their spiritual and physical journeys from Ghana and Nigeria.  See the website for more information.  Then, we will spend our Sundays with the “travel narratives of Jesus” as found in the Gospel of Luke.

Luke 9-19 are some of the most unique chapters in the gospels.  They document the final time Jesus traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem; they conclude with the final week of Jesus’ life.  The narrative begins like this:  As the time approached for him to be taken to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem (Luke 9: 51).  We are going on that road trip with Jesus, even though it requires going through hostile territory.  The end game will be his arrest and crucifixion.  Along the way Jesus speaks constantly  in Parables, many of which are recorded nowhere else. Why tell so many stories when the time is so short and the stakes are so high?  Each week we will use this context to look at the parables and locate our own faith journey along the road that Jesus walks. The stories Jesus tells are remarkably ordinary, but somehow they get under our skin and invite participation in kingdom life. As Eugene Peterson writes, this road trip is preparing them (and us) to “live in a world that neither knows nor wants to know Jesus.”  

So that’s where we go from here.  I’m packed and ready.  How about you?


An Inspiring Word (about carpet)

Our year of Fresh Starts continues. We made it through a harsh and intense winter, and what once seemed impossible, that the snow would melt and the spring birds would come and sing again, it’s happened! Lent has had its way with us, a somber and serious time, and Easter is just around the corner. I think we’ll be ready! The building sure will be. It’s been a daily excitement to see the out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new carpet project. For weeks the building has been full of workers, their radios blaring out classic rock and now baseball games! Alive, alive, this place has felt alive.

There’s so many people to thank for this latest face-lift, starting with the people who made the first decisions about style and colors and companies, then people who contributed generously and the people who asked them to do so, then people who did the heavy lifting, organized moves and shuffled furniture and boxes. It has been a joyful project, watching our dear old house get updated and renewed. It’s a statement of faith really, a belief that this house of the Lord has standing in the community and has a reason to be dressed and ready. It’s a physical statement of Vitality, a commitment to be who God calls us to be and serve who God calls us to serve and provide for who God asks us to provide.

But can I share one amusing side note? I found a little scrap paper belonging to my husband Tim. It had the lot numbers and names of the carpet that had been selected months ago. Both carpets are from the “Cool Calm” collection. Ever been here on a Bridgebuilders Wednesday night? We‘ve got plenty of cool, but calm would be an amazing addition! The downstairs carpet has a name: Perception. The upstairs carpet is named, Awareness. That’s too good to ignore. As some of my Pastor friends say, “that’ll preach!”

Perception and Awareness: I can turn that into a prayer, no problem.

Lord, every time our kids walk from classroom to classroom, let them perceive the presence of God through the love of their devoted teachers, mentors and friends. Let them know the power of God, hear the word of the Lord and receive the love of Jesus for each one of them.

Lord, every time we come into this building and enter your sanctuary may it be with full awareness that you are inviting us into worship and shared life with you. May we be fully aware of your transforming grace in our own lives and may we be relentless in sharing that love with others who are yet unaware of your love for them. Amen

You’ve heard me say it many times before: God is always speaking, always speaking, always speaking. Seems God can even speak through our new carpet.


That season Again…. (Lent)

I stumbled upon an article I wrote for the  Covenant Companion, in February 2010.  It felt oh so current as I reread it this week.  It was spot-on for Lent: heavy with themes of death and resurrection, and as is always true, the scriptures spoke deeply then and speak deeply today.  It’s Paul saying: We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  So here I go again.

I have officiated or participated in 5 funerals in the past 10 weeks.  You do the math.

One was a father of the church in his 90’s, another was a mother of the church who almost reached her  90’s, both of them well known and much beloved.   One was a woman I only recently meet, but longed to know better, she too, in her 90’s, but had only been attending a few years.  One was a man who I had never met, but he had connections to the church from his childhood.   He lived with cognitive disabilities all his life. His was a very solitary existence as dementia further eroded his limited capacities.  The latest funeral was for a friend, a mother of a young child, he 12, she just 40.  We were the birthplace of her faith, this was her spiritual home.  Her husband wanted her to be honored here.  She had lived with the debilitating physical assaults of MD:  the symptoms first becoming evident as a teenager in our youth group.  But more importantly, she possessed  deep, enduring  spiritual faith and  the tenacity to allow her countless talents and personal skills to flourish.  Her influence was deep and wide.  Her service taxed every seat in the house, demanded that we open all the sanctuary doors so the overflow crowd in the narthex could participate. 


Four of these five services involved the whole church family.  The kitchen crew,  who should really be known as the Hospitality Ministry, do the hard work.  They cook and clean and prepare and serve, and then clean again.  As they do this, I know they pray that the peace and comfort of Christ will be poured out in coffee cups and eaten in the bars they cut and serve.  Inevitably, someone I don’t know seeks me out in the church basement, and over the muted conversations around various tables they thank me for what we all have done. In their own words they say something like how they sense a certain feel, or  atmosphere that pervades the church, both in the Service that happens upstairs, and the service that happens downstairs.  I know what they are feeling, I know what they are trying to describe.  They are noticing that they are surrounded by the love of Christ which is so powerfully  present in the face of grief. They are being ministered to, whether they know it or not, far beyond what a message or a simple refreshment can do.  They are being ministered to by the Holy Spirit.  Some can name that, some can’t. 

 As I said in my article many years ago: I know that holding funerals is NOT a church-growth strategy: but it surely is a faith-growth strategy.  The Apostle Paul wrote this: We always carry around in our body the  death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  2 Cor.  4:10  

That’s the thing.  What our guests are trying to say I believe,  is that even in the face of painful and sometimes tragic loss, they feel, they experience,  the reality of the living Jesus revealed  in our midst.  Because we do.  We experience the life of Jesus revealed in our body. Upstairs, we remember the loved ones we have lost as we sing again their favorite hymn or hear their favorite scripture.  We remember them downstairs as we anticipate a cup that needs refilling, or as we make new connections in the sharing of simple food.  In this season we can’t help and wonder about our own deaths as we receive cross-shaped ashes on our foreheads.  We proclaim the victory of the cross, and the certain hope of the resurrection in word from the pulpit and in deed as we ready the food, or shovel the driveways, or set up and take down tables and chairs. After one of the services, which happened to coincide with one of our many snowstorms in February I watched as Tom and Mark went outside once more to shovel the walks.  They had already shoveled several times  because  the snow was piling up so fast.  We had to delay the start of the service because a family member just couldn’t make it through the storm.  “Thanks, Tom”, I said, and he simply replied,  “Well, you’ve got to do it for Arnie.”  How true.  We do it for love of who they were.  We do it with confidence in the mystery of who they have now become.  We do it because God breathes life back into our lungs, and we don’t have the luxury of taking that for granted.  We always carry the reality of death around, and this somehow feeds our desire for Christ’s life to be  present and active.  As we move through the season of Lent this year, dear family, may it stir in us the powerful longing for life!  Full, abundant, fruitful life.




We (Brookdale Covenant Church) got a thank you note this week. It’s addressed to me, but really, it’s to all of us. It’s from our denomination, signed by Donn Engebretson and Cat Knarr, thanking us for being a part of the Congo Kids 6K. Together we joined 80 other Covenant teams, 4,000 other people, and raised $340,000 for clean water. 6,800 people will gain access to clean water, and we got to help! I feel like we ought to send back a thank you note. Thanks for letting us participate! We had a ball. Thanks for letting us be a part of a hopeful solution! Thanks for letting us feel like we are actually doing something. Take a moment and imagine one of the Congo Kids looking you right in the eye and saying “Merci Mingi”, as they take a first sip of clean, cool water. (By the way, we can do it again next May 4. Are we game?) We joined in this effort, of course, because we are all connected. We are connected to our larger Covenant family here and abroad and we are connected to our Congo Kids. Someone asked me recently if I was ever going to go meet my Congo Kid. Wow, I’d never even thought of that! We are connected to God’s enormous family that spans geography and time. In church language we are referred to as “the communion of the saints”. I was reminded again of the amazing connection we have as followers of Christ on our recent family vacation out East, where Tim spent his childhood summers on Cape Cod. That’s where all his early connections with family and church and summer camp are. Then we headed north to explore coastal Maine. Book storeOne day we stumbled upon a used bookstore late in the afternoon in Northeast Harbor. We “stumbled” on this quaint Harbor town, simply by following the road we were on. Turns out, at the turn of the century it was the very elite summer vacation community of America’s most powerful and influential: people with last names like Rockefeller and Aster. You know, people not like us. The store owners were retiring after some 40 years and you know what that means: deep discounts. (Two of my favorite words.) Sometimes used bookstores are a little haphazard (a nice way of saying they are a piled up mess). This one was pristine: these were fine used books all with laminate covers and most more than a few decades out of print. I walked around the stacks and pulled a few off the shelf…most were collector editions and way out of my league, but a slender volume caught my eye: The Golden Book of Psalms and Prayers. Inside the store owner’s note said it was “published between the 1960-70’s” and that it had “annotations and original sketch by the artist-owner”. I looked at the front flyleaf: in impeccable and artistic handwriting was the book owner’s name: “Betsy F. Melcher”, who received the book as a gift from “Aunt Winifred”. I turned to the back; sure enough: an ink pen sketch of a “Pot of Red Geraniums” signed on June 10, 1975, Mt. Desert Hospital. So Ms. Melcher was in the hospital when she penned that drawing!
Sketch of Geraniums
This little book had been her companion for some time; because like me, she underlined and dated some Psalms that must have spoken deeply to her. Some of the notes were dated ’66. I paged through and was immediately struck by this: Betsy Melcher, whomever she may be, underlined many of the same Psalms I have underlined in my Bible. Connection! She dated and put little red hearts in front of prayers. These private notes hinted at the story within the story. The store owner told me she was indeed a famous local artist of some renown. You bet I bought the book.
I did my research when I got home. Born in 1900 Betsy Melcher was not just an artist. One of her portraits hangs in the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art. (And I have her little drawing of geraniums in her prayer book!) One little bit of internet sleuthing led to another. Her father was a world famous architect named Ernest Flagg. He married a cousin of the Vanderbilt family. These are people I have zero connection with!
Except for this: the communion of the saints connection. When Betsy was elderly, when she was in peril, she was lying in a hospital, reading the Psalms. The very same Psalms I read when I am struggling. The Psalms she underlined, or commented on, or drew a little heart in front of, are Psalms that I have underlined, or commented on, and have let my heart be changed by too. We both underlined: Be still and know that I am God. We both underlined: my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches…
Her translation, still in the poetry of King James, mine in the New Revised, but both of us, a generation and world apart turning our hearts over to the same God, who was and is and is to come.
This woman of substance, born in 1900 and passed 91 years later, was in possession of skills and story that are utterly different than my own. Yet, we have this timeless connection. Grass withers, flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. We are bound in relationship with people who move in affluent circles that we only read about in history books and with little kids in the Congo, who take a sip and discover that Jesus is the living water.
I close with a prayer my new friend Betsy underlined in our little book:
We thank Thee for our deep sense of the mysteries that lie beyond our dust, and for the eyes of faith which Thou hast opened for all who believe in Thy Son. May we live altogether in Thy faith, and love, and in that hope which is full of immortality. Amen


Brookdale Water Walkers

When I was growing up my family sponsored a young Korean boy through World Vision. His picture was always on our refrigerator, and we often prayed for him before bedtime or meals together. We never forgot that we were sitting down to a home cooked meal and there were children all over the world who couldn’t do that. We prayed that God would provide for them too.
I would look at the World Vision magazine that came in the mail, and see the world in grainy black and white images. As a kid it boiled down to this: the world looked like a hard place for a lot of children, but there was always something I could do to help. I guess you could say I grew up with a “world vision” thanks to my parents’ commitments. I also grew up highly aware of the Congo. Jody LeVahn was Brookdale’s bush nurse and missionary to the Congo, commissioned just before I was born. Her picture was on the refrigerator too. Every 4 years she would come back and show her slides and tell us stories about life in Africa.
When our denomination was asked to join up with World Vision in the Congo it was like two pieces of my world coming together seamlessly. The CongoKids page on the ECC website says this:
The Evangelical Covenant Church and World Vision have collectively spent over a century working with our friends in DR Congo. For about 80 years, the ECC has walked alongside the Covenant Church of Congo (CEUM), witnessing the creation of strong and vibrant church life that enriches communities in northwest DR Congo. Additionally, World Vision has been working in other areas of DR Congo for over four decades. Their proven community development model for sustainable long-term solutions is built on 60+ years of experience building a better world for children. World Visions ability to communicate with people on the ground as well as donors with relevant, timely, and transformative insights has caused them to become a world leader in community development efforts. Together, the ECC, World Vision, and the CEUM are taking the best they have to offer and committing it to a holistic journey to transformation for DR Congo as well as for us, the ECC.

Emmanuel Konzi Dati
Emmanuel Konzi Dati Brookdale Covenant Congo Kid
Brookdale Covenant Congo Kid
Brookdale became one of the early and eager churches to sponsor a Hope Sunday in 2012, when individuals took on the sponsorship of nearly 40 children and together we as a church sponsor one child who is now 10 years old: he was four when we first “met”: look at him now! World Vision and the Covenant’s commitment to the Congo are in my blood. But here’s the 3rd leg of the stool: I’m a born and bred Minnesotan. I love being from the land of 10,000 Lakes. I love water. I love to drink it, swim in it, fish from it, listen to it and just stare into it. Water is life. So the very simple fact that by joining in walking the World Vision Global 6k I can help bring our kids in the Congo fresh, healthy water is a full-on no-brainer. Join us in spirit (sponsor one of our walkers) or sign up and show up on May 19 with your walking shoes, strollers, or skates! We’ll meet in the parking lot and make our way together to Victory Memorial Drive and celebrate when we get back to church. An “event” trek for us: a daily grind for too many. I am so grateful there is always something we can do to help! With joy we will draw water from the wells of salvation…Isaiah 12:3