Showing posts from 2015

Where Are We Going?


In 1999 Time magazine named Albert Einstein the Person of the Century. They considered him the preeminent scientist in a century dominated by science. His name is synonymous with the word “genius.” Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of every passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn't find his ticket. He reached in his trouser pockets. It wasn't there. He looked in his briefcase but couldn't find it. Then he looked in the seat beside him. He still couldn't find it. The conductor said, “Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I'm sure you bought a ticket. Don't worry about it.” Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket. The co…

A Money Meeting at the Kitchen Table

It was there that we made the decision. When I was a new pastor serving my first, full-time appointment, my wife, Joy, and I had only been married a few years. Like many young couples, we were struggling financially. I remember well our money meeting at the kitchen table. Things weren’t going very well for us financially. It was there that we made the decision to commit our money to God. We literally got on our knees at the kitchen table and asked God to help us handle the money entrusted to us in a faithful way, and we committed to tithing, giving 10% of our income to the church. Our financial situation didn’t completely change overnight, but it did begin to change for the better.  That was twenty years ago. Today we live with no debt except the mortgage on our home. The first thing we do with our income each month is give to the church. We have two daughters in college, braces on the third girl (finally!), and a car that’s older than all of them, but we give more than ever to support …

Help Equip Seminary Trained Leaders

On June 3, 1994 I graduated from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, located on the north side of Chicago on the campus of Northwestern University. Commencement was still a few hours away. Senior Chapel was just beginning, and I had been asked to preach. In my three years I had never seen so many people in that large hall of worship. As the grand procession moved down the center aisle, I looked into the many faces and felt the fervor rising in me. The sermon started with a prayer that God might breathe life into my words. And then when I put my hands to the plow, I never looked back. At times when I was preaching I felt like I had taken a step back from the pulpit, as if I was watching myself preach. In that hour I felt the power of God’s Spirit surging through that place of worship as it surged through me. In a speech to a group of teachers, Martin Buber once said that if he ever met the great Christian theologian Karl Barth, there was only one thing this bearded Jewish scholar w…

Making a Difference

A helpful question for a church to ask is, What difference would it make to our community if Salem closed? Of course, it would make a big difference in the lives of people who are a part of Salem. But what about in our community? Does anyone know we’re here? Are we making any difference? After all, our mission is to make followers of Jesus who transform the world. When I am on vacation, I like to take the opportunity to visit other churches. I like to see how they do things and whether they’re making a difference in the world. So when I had a vacation Sunday in June, I visited Veritas Church which meets in a hotel in downtown Cedar Rapids. “Veritas” is a Latin word that means “truth.” I arrived with a steady stream of people going into the hotel and followed along to the ballroom where the worship service was held. There as a table in the lobby for children’s ministry and there was an information table outside the ballroom. The greeters at the door smiled and said hello, but after that,…

Catching Up

Terry Hershey tells this story: “There was once an American traveler who planned a safari to Africa. He was that typical Type-A American tourist, who many of us may be and who I admittedly am when I travel. We do our research about this travel destination and we have a timetable, maps, and a clear agenda of the things we need to see and do. Some local people had even been hired to carry some of the traveler’s supplies as they trekked throughout the land—it was that level of planning.

“On the first morning, they all woke up early and traveled fast and covered a great distance. The second morning was the same—woke up early, traveled fast, and traveled far. Third morning, same thing. But on the fourth morning, the local hired help refused to move. Instead, they sat by a tree in the shade well into the morning. The American traveler became incensed and irate and said to his translator, ‘This is a waste of valuable time. Can someone tell me what’s going on here?’ The translator looked at hi…

Vision for the Future

An interesting thing was decided at the Leadership Board meeting a couple weeks ago. It wasn’t a big issue. It wasn’t controversial. But it was a decision with vision.

When we purchased our current property in 2010, we also acquired a small, triangular piece of land between our property and 33rd Avenue. It’s just to the front of our land. It runs along 33rd Avenue and comes to a point where Wiley and 33 Avenue split and then follows 33rd Avenue to the west.

We went through the process of putting the two parcels of land together. This made sense as we would have just one deed. Also, we didn’t want someone to come along and purchase the land and put up a billboard in front of Salem or put some business in front of us.

Recently we sold a small strip of land to the City to put in a sidewalk along 33rd Avenue. When the City sent us the new paperwork, showing how much our property is worth after selling the sidewalk land, we received two documents. Even though we previously filed to do so, app…

Consecration on May 17

Come celebrate the Consecration of our new facility on Ascension Sunday, May 17. Bishop Julius Trimble, who oversees the Iowa Annual Conference, will join us to consecrate, preach, and celebrate Holy Communion. It is a joy and a privilege to have our bishop with us. Our District Superintendent, Rev. David Crow, will also be with us.

Consecration sets apart a person, object, or place for the worship and service of God. On May 17 we will set apart our new place of worship as a holy space dedicated for the gathering of people to hear the Word of God, offer prayer and praise, and to celebrate the sacraments. While the church building is not the Church, it does stand as an image of the Church in the world.

In the Orthodox tradition, consecration has roots in Baptism. It is the Baptism of the church building, so to speak. Just as a person is changed in baptism and becomes a new creation, the consecration changes an ordinary building into the house of God. Likewise, this change takes place thr…

Now What?

The wrapping paper lays crumpled and thrown haphazardly about. Bows and ribbons are stacked on the arm of the couch. Boxes left opened. It’s hard to walk through the room. The dishes still dirty on the table. The food has just been put away. Everyone is tired. It’s a moment to sit down and relax, look at the glorious mess and smile, reminisce. Take a nap.

You’ve been there. Whether it’s Christmas or a birthday, you know what this looks like, feels like.

Perhaps that’s how it feels after a glorious Easter grand opening at Salem. We’ve been waiting and watching, anticipating, and working—not just for months but for years. And then our moment came. It was powerful, meaningful, beautiful. A new facility. 369 people! Lots of new people with more coming regularly.

Now the downtime. The glorious mess. The need to sit down or take a nap.

Is that it? Now what?

Our bishop will be with us on May 17 to consecrate, to set apart our new facility for the worship and service of God. As we’ve talked about …

Party Invitations

So go into the streets and invite anyone you see; invite everyone you meet. Matthew 22:9 (Voice)

Jesus liked parties, getting people together and celebrating something in the community. Jesus even told a story, saying the kingdom of God is like a party, a wedding party a king gave for his son. The guests were invited, but when the servants went out to get the guests, they chose not to come. So the king sent his servants out once again saying, “So go into the streets and invite anyone you see; invite everyone you meet.” Everyone gets invited to the kingdom of God party.

We’re throwing a big kingdom of God party at Salem on Easter Sunday, April 5. We’ve built a new facility. It’s ready. But this hasn’t only been about a building. In order to live out our mission, we’ve created ministry teams to help us with prayer, discipleship, and outreach (the mission team was already in place). We have more ministry teams to implement along the way, but we’re ready to go.

Now our Grand Opening is upon …

A Matthew Party for Jesus

"Then Levi gave a great banquet for Jesus in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them." Luke 5:29

Our youth director, Mac Cain, recently shared a story on Facebook. He takes classes at Kirkwood Community College. A couple days ago he was in his math class and a man sat down next to him. The guy asked Mac about his tattoos and about his Noah's Ark tattoo, specifically. So Mac asked him about his tattoos, especially his swastikas and various other Nazi symbols including the SS he had on his face.
The two of them talked for a good hour. During that time the man asked about God. Mac said he told him everything he knew. He asked if anyone was welcome, and Mac told him that no one is too far gone. The guy wondered how that could be true. So Mac told him, “Come to church with me on Sunday and find out.” Mac said it was great, aside from the fact that neither of them did any math that day.
I often get to hear stories like t…

State of the Church 2015

2014 was a great year! Each year, in assessing the state of Salem, we take a look at some benchmark statistics. Our membership now includes 227 people. We also have 34 baptized infants and children— so 261 total. This past year 6 members died, 3 transferred to other congregations, and 8 were received as new members. We have received 66 new members since arriving at our current location a little over four years ago!

We actually put the brakes on receiving new members this past year as we worked on our new discipleship pathway. We have several wonderful people who have been waiting to become members and we will receive them this year.

Our worship attendance increased again. We averaged 185 this past year, up from 177 the year before. That equals 71% of our members and baptized infants/children! While that is fantastic, our goal is to have an average attendance that is higher than the number of our members. I believe that could happen this year. Keep inviting those you know who aren’t acti…