Tag Archives: church

What Is On My Mind Today? Enjoying this beautiful Minnesota Day and a Good Laugh!

 

squirrel

Squirrels vs. The Church

The Presbyterian church called a meeting to decide what to do about their squirrels. After much prayer and consideration, they concluded the squirrels were predestined to be there and they shouldn’t interfere with God’s divine will.

At the Baptist church the squirrels had taken an interest in the baptistery.. The deacons met and decided to put a water slide on the baptistery and let the squirrels drown themselves. The squirrels liked the slide and, unfortunately, knew instinctively how to swim so twice as many squirrels showed up the following week.

The Methodist church decided that they were not in a position to harm any of God’s creatures. So, they humanely trapped their squirrels and set them free near the Baptist Church. Two weeks later the squirrels were back when the Baptists took down the water slide.

But the Catholic Church came up with a very creative strategy. They baptized all the squirrels and consecrated them as members of the church. Now they only see them on Christmas and Easter.

Not much was heard from the Jewish synagogue; they took the first squirrel and circumcised him. They haven’t seen a squirrel since.

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What Is On My Mind Today? What Kind of a Wondrous Love is that? Happy Easter!

cross

While I have taught Christian Education and read the scriptures for most of my life.  I had never actually read the entire Bible cover to cover. I decided last winter that if anyone asked me, if I had read the entire Bible, I wanted to answer in the affirmative. For the past several months, I have been reading the Bible book by book, chapter by chapter and verse by verse.

The New Testament went fast, but the Old Testament is a much slower read.  At least for me.  I am over half way through and am now about midway through the chapter of Psalms.

I have been a very good reader of the New Testament, but whenever I read the Old Testament, I get overwhelmed and a bit freaked out. Parts of the Old Testament truly test me.   One of the stories that has always troubled me was the story of Abraham and Isaac.
That story is about God asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac as a burnt offering to test Abraham’s faith.

The very idea of sacrificing a child is repulsive and terrifying.  As the scriptures tell us, “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.”  My treasures are my children and I cannot imagine how horrible it would be to lose a child, let alone be party to their death.

That is now thinking, not then thinking.

For much of ancient human history child sacrifice was considered the ultimate offering to appease or please an angry God.  At the time that the Old Testament was written many cultures practiced child sacrifice both in the old and new worlds.

The Bible sites many examples of this practice.

2 Kings 17:31 
the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelek and Anammelek, the gods of Sepharvaim.

Psalm 106: 38 

They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood.

Personally, I will never forget a trip to the Papago Indian Reservation, with a member of that tribe, to visit a site where four small children had lost their lives during a ritual human sacrifice.  As the legend was told, there had been an big badger who had dug a hole so deep that it had tapped into a natural spring.  Water was gushing out of the spring into the dry desert.  Fearful of their world being flooded, it was decided to sacrifice four small children to save the tribe.  The children’s small bodies were shoved into the hole, the water stopped, and the tribe saved and therefore, the sacrifice had worked.

Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice Isaac would not have been considered unusual. What is unusual is the strength of Abraham’s faith.  Abraham had been promised by God that he would be the leader of a great nation, have more descendants than there were stars in the heavens and that these descendants would be the result of his union with his very elderly wife Sarah who was past menopause.  Isaac’s birth and life was a promise fulfilled by God.

Genesis 17:19

Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.

Genesis 17:21

But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”

Genesis 21: 12 

But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.

Genesis 22: 2  

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

After reading this Biblical passage more than once, it occurred to me, that Abraham told his servants that “we will come back to you”.  Regardless, of what Abraham had been asked by God to do on that mountain, he believed that both he and Isaac would be returning.  His faith in the promise made to him by God was so strong, that even if Isaac had been sacrificed, he believed that the boy would be returning with him.  God would not break his promise that through Isaac there would be an everlasting covenant, even if it meant raising Isaac from the dead.

God providing the ram for a sacrifice instead of Isaac, certainly symbolizes the sacrifice of Christ.  However, while God was making an example of the unfailing faith of Abraham, God was also setting an example of ending human child sacrifice. In fact, God abhorred child sacrifice and has a history of destroying  nations who practiced it.

2 Kings 17:17 

They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.


2 Kings 16:3

He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, engaging in the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.


2 Kings 17:31 

the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelek and Anammelek, the gods of Sepharvaim.


2 Kings 21: 6

He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritualists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.


Ezekiel 23:37

for they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands. They committed adultery with their idols; they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me, as food for them.

Not only did God abhor child sacrifice, he preferred obedience to sacrifice period.


1 Samuel 15:22 

But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

Isaiah 1:11

“The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

Psalm 40:6
 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—
  but my ears you have opened
  burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.

Psalm 51:16

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

Hosea 6:6

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Hebrews 10:8
First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with
the law.

Mark 12:23

To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Even after being raised in a Christian faith that believes in the trinity of God….Father, Son and Holy Ghost…in my mind God the Father was a much tougher guy and quite different in temperament than God the Son.  Christ’s description of his heavenly Father, I must admit had fallen on deaf ears.

John 8:19 

Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

Luke 10:22 

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

John 14: 7 

If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

These past few months as I have read through the Old Testament, it has become very apparent to me that the God of the Old Testament, is not nearly as angry and blood thirsty as I had believed.  He is, in fact, just as loving and tender as his son Jesus.
The violence of the Old Testament was never the wish or will of a just and loving God, but the result of humankind’s transgressions.  We are the angry, blood thirsty, immoral and vengeful.  Not God. Never God.

The Old Testament clearly demonstrates time and time again that having free-will and the ability to defy God and commit acts of rebellion (sin) has consequences.  As the very first couple learned in the Garden of Eden.

Isaiah 50: 1 

This is what the Lord says: “Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce with which I sent her away? Or to which of my creditors did I sell you? Because of your sins you were sold; because of your transgressions your mother was sent away.

So, it seems to me that Isaac on that mountain is us asking,  “Father?”

“Yes, my child?” 

“The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

“God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my child.”

God did provide a sacrificial lamb for Abraham.  Just like he provided the sacrificial lamb who gave up his life on the top of another hill, shaped like a skull-cap, called Golgotha. There, God kept his covenant with humankind when he provided his own son as the sacrifice to wipe away the sins of the world. Jesus was the ultimate and final sacrifice.

Jesus always knew that his destiny was to die on that cross.

John 10:15 

just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was the greatest expression of love.

John 15:13
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

When I think about the Trinity, Jesus was not the only one on that cross at Calvary.  God the Father was right there with him.  It was a combination of child sacrifice and self-sacrifice.

John 3:16 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

It is awe inspiring to know that God, who abhorred child sacrifice, sacrificed his only son, because of his great love for me, to forgive my transgressions and rebellion.  Really, what kind of a wondrous love is that?

Hymn: “What Wondrous Love Is This” 

“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?

2 When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down, sinking down;
when I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.

3 To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing,
to God and to the Lamb, I will sing;
to God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM –
while millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
while millions join the theme, I will sing.

4 And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on;
and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be,
and through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
and through eternity I’ll sing on.

Tomorrow morning is Easter.  A day to celebrate the risen Lord, and his victory over death and the grave.  He has risen!  He has risen indeed!

Happy Easter!

Good Enough for the Church Ladies Coffeecake

 

coffee cake

We all have those favorite recipes that we take to special occasions, because they’re the best and we know it. My daughter once accused me of never giving her the exact recipe, so my baking surpasses hers.  This of course could not be further from the truth…she just needed more practice.

When I was a recipe editor for a local paper I shared this recipe with my readers. A week or so after the issue was released, a parent of one of my confirmation student’s exclaimed it was the best coffee cake she had ever made, “Why this cake is good enough for the church ladies!”

It is very moist and easy to make.   I like making it for my family as a breakfast treat on weekend mornings or special occasions. So here is this recipe, exactly as I make it.  Enjoy!

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup oil
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs

Topping:

½ cup butter
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

 In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients and blend with an electric mixer until smooth.  Grease a 9 X 13 cake pan and pour ½ of the batter into the pan.  Open a can of blueberry or cherry pie filling and pour evenly over the batter, top with remaining batter.

In medium-sized mixing bowl mix the topping ingredients together until crumbs form.  Sprinkle topping over cake.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 1 hour or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Also, is good without fruit filling and just the crumb topping on top.

 

 

Children’s Christmas Program and Popcorn Balls

christmas church

For well over thirty years I taught christian education.  I have been a Sunday School Teacher, Confirmation Teacher, Vacation Bible School Coordinator, Youth Leader and Preschool teacher.  I enjoyed every minute of it.

Of all of my Christian education tasks, one that always brought me great joy was to create, coach and  watch children’s Christmas programs. Those programs always captured the magic of the season for me. Somehow, children always seem to tell the story of the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, better than anyone else.

Then, too, as a child I participated in many Christmas programs. All of the children in my school class attended a Christmas program at their church. In those days, not attending church was the exception, attending regularly the rule.

When I was young, the Christmas church program became the highlight of my social season, for it came with perks.  There was the annual new velvet Christmas dress accompanied by lacy white tights and shiny new black shoes. The excitement of the evening was escalated by the expectation of the after-the-program-you-did-a-good-job-gifts of a manger scene tree ornament and tasty treats such as salty peanuts in the shell, hard colorful fruity ribbon candy, a spicy candy cane and chewy popcorn balls.

I can still remember my first memory verse from my very first Christmas program as a three-year-old.  It was the first Bible verse I ever committed to memory, and remains my favorite.

Mark 10: 14-16.  “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  ‘Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them.”

Mark 1016This old stained glass church window of my favorite Bible verse
hangs in our living room above the piano. 

I know that many people no longer associate this time of year with the birth of the Messiah. It seems almost daily in the media there is either point of contention about religious rights in the political arena or a story about the the profit margins for commercialization of this holiday. Sometimes, it feels like the real meaning of Christmas has not only been hijacked but lost completely.

Then, I remember the children in all of those many years of Christmas programs.   I can still see the joy and excitement on those precious faces whose parents took the time and considered it important to teach the next generation that Christmas is a Christian religious observance.   To believer’s it is a sacred occasion to acknowledge the birth of God’s Son Jesus Christ.

I believe that the pure joy of a loving God’s gift of eternal life through his son transcends the politics and commercialization of our modern world. The Christmas message from God is rather short and oh, so sweet:

“For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son,  that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”  John 3 16:-17.

I hope everyone will find a place to take their children to worship this Christmas.  After all, it is the responsibility of parents to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas.”Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6. Always remember that least expensive, but the most important Christmas gift a parent can give a child is the gift of eternal life through Christ Jesus the Lord.

popcorn balls

Christmas Program Popcorn Balls

1/2 cup corn syrup
1/4 sugar
1/2 of a three ounce package of jello.  (I would use strawberry or lime to get green and red popcorn balls.)
5 cups of popped popcorn. (If you pop your own, you will need to pick out any unpopped kernels. You can just buy a bag of popped corn)

Bring sugar and syrup to boil.  Stir in jello until dissolved. Pour over popcorn.  Stir well but carefully with large spoon.  When cooled enough to handle, but still quite warm, shape into balls.  Cool and wrap in plastic wrap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recipe: Lemon-Blueberry Tea Muffins

Originally there were three Lutheran churches in my hometown of Grove City, Minnesota, a town of just over 500 people.  There was-First Lutheran (Swedes) , Emmanuel Lutheran (Norwegians)  and Arndahl Lutheran (South of towners).

As a rule our church did not associate with the other two Lutheran Churches.  Emmanual because they were Norwegians and Arndahl because they were south of towners and may have been Norwegian. According to my dad, no one from north of town knew what to expect from folks who lived south of town or Norwegians so it was best just to leave them be.  Therefore, we were to take an example from the animals in Noah’s ark and stick with our own kind. In all seriousness, this was all done in good fun as should any family need assistance all of us neighbors showed up regardless of church or any other affiliation. The care of neighbors was the strength of our small town.

First Lutheran, my home church, was the biggest congregation with the most beautiful church building.  The structure was red brick with a huge steeple and bell tower. The very large stained glass windows  were imported from Germany.  The Biblical scenes depicted in those windows are vivid sapphire blue, emerald green, ruby red and royal purple.  When the sun was rising or setting, its light filtered through those windows and as a child I always felt that they illuminated the sanctuary with God’s colorful and mysterious presence. On Sunday mornings the chimes from our church could be heard throughout the town.

Both of my great grandfathers, Ole Kronbeck and Ole Larson, were on the original board that founded First Lutheran Church well over century ago. Yes, I am so very Swedish and I have  many great memories of growing up in that church that my ancestors founded.

I remember all the fun of playing “Hide and Go Seek”; “Red, Red, Rover”; “Captain May I”; “Simon Says”; “Duck, Duck Grey Duck” and “Any, Any over” in the cemetery during Vacation Bible School. Getting yelled at by the “old ladies” for stepping on the graves.  I can still vividly picture the ice cream socials and church picnics with their extensive potluck buffets complete with homemade ice cream churned at our town’s creamery. Easter breakfast traditions such as “fruit soup” to keep everyone “regular” and the caramel rolls made by the lady that ran the corner cafe.

Then, too, there were all of the Christmas programs with assigned memory verses. Those programs always ended with the congregation singing “Joy to the World” and us children being gifted with bags of peanuts and hard candies for treats.

I can still picture the carved wooded altar with Christ in the center with his outstretched welcoming hands. I also remember the Sunday I got caught playing cards in the balcony and the pastor, from the pulpit during his sermon, told me to hold my cards lower.  Or the time I had my acolyte wick too long and it broke off and started the carpet on fire.  I just stomped it out, but not before my uncle saw what had happened.

As with many small towns in America, our town began to shrink several decades ago and the churches found that their pews were no longer being filled on Sunday mornings.  So the three Lutheran Churches merged into one and it was named Trinity Lutheran. This consolidated flock meets in the First Lutheran Church, my home church.

Once united, the women of this new congregation published a cookbook.  This cookbook is the premiere collection of my hometown’s best recipes.

This recipe comes from the home of Lucille Sundahl.  Her husband Palmer owned the grain elevator right across the road from the church.  Lucille’s Lemon–Blueberry Muffins are the lightest muffin I have ever tasted and definitely one of the best.  Enjoy!

 

Lemon–Blueberry  Tea Muffins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Grease muffin tins or line muffin tins with paper cupcake cups.

In a medium sized mixing bowl. Stir dry ingredients together.
2 cups unsifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

In a large mixing bowl beat together until fluffy:
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar

Add:
4 egg yolks and beat until light   (Save the egg whites for later)

Gradually stir in alternately with dry ingredients:
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon of lemon zest
Do not over mix.

In a medium-sized glass or metal mixing bowl:
beat four egg whites until stiff and hold a peak

Fold in:
1/3 of  egg whites into lemon mixture, then fold in remaining egg whites.

Gently fold in:
1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries.

Fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Sprinkle tops of muffins with granulated sugar.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean.

Yield: Makes 18 muffins