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St. Joseph Guardian of Our Lord




Love this portrait of Joseph and Jesus by Reni.

We probably don’t think about Joseph enough.  Luther pays him some attention in his discussion about his obedience and kindness, and some remarks about divorce.  Today we commemorate Joseph. Here are some Luther comments about the time Jesus stayed behind at the temple while everyone else went home.  What was going through the minds of Mary and Joseph – if you ever went on vacation and left one the kids at a service station bathroom and drove away, you can relate.

“There was no sleeping, no eating, no resting, only tears. We assume that they ran back that same night several miles, but the child was gone. Just imagine what their hearts were telling them. The first day the child was lost and they were unaware of it; the second day they looked and failed to find the child; finally, on the third day they found him. Many thoughts went through their minds those three nights when they were unable to sleep….Joseph…could well have thought, God no longer wants you as a foster parent since you have been negligent in the care of this child who is God’s Son and was entrusted to your care by God.”

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Pastor Charles Johnson 1/22/48 – 3/13/18 R+I+P


On Tuesday, March 13, 2018, the gracious and merciful Lord Jesus Christ called home His faithful servant Reverend Charles Earl Johnson to be with Him in heaven.

Pastor Johnson was born on January 22, 1948 in Watseka, Illinois, the son of Earl and Evadell Johnson. At the age of three weeks, he joined the family of God through Holy Baptism; during this time in the church year, the season of Lent had begun. God had a plan 70 years later to bring Charlie together with the family of saints in heaven during this present Lenten season.

His early life was spent in nearby Buckley, Illinois, where he attended St. John’s Lutheran Grade School. Except for the first two years at a public high school, Charlie attended and graduated from Concordia High and Concordia College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as well as from Concordia Senior College in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Associate of Arts and Bachelor of Arts degrees were received respectively. His seminary instruction was completed at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, awarding him the Theological Diploma and Masters of Divinity degree in 1974. Charlie’s third year of work at the seminary was a vicarage at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Woodstock, Illinois. On June 30, 1974, at the age of 26, Pastor Johnson was ordained into the Holy Ministry of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod at his home church in Buckley.

Charlie and the former Kathleen Krypciak were united in Holy Matrimony on August 12, 1972, at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois, where he did his field work while attending the seminary. They were blessed with four children, two boys and two girls all of whom he baptized and confirmed. Performing the marriage rite for his children was an extended blessing.

Throughout his 40 plus years in the ministry, Pastor Johnson accepted three faith calls serving 13 years at Trinity (Roanoke, Illinois), 10 years at Trinity (Bluffs, Illinois) which became a part of a dual parish with Immanuel, a church about ten miles away. In addition to shepherding his own churches, he was frequently called to serve various vacancies in the Illinois circuits; for this he was given the title of “King of the Vacancies” by his peers. For 17 years, he was pastor of a triple parish in North Dakota which included Grace, Cooperstown, Trinity, Hope, and Zion, Binford. After taking semi-retirement in 2014, Pastor Johnson continued serving both Grace and Zion. For each call, he proudly served as Circuit Counselor for the Bloomington, Jacksonville, and New Rockford Circuits. Serving as LWML Counselor was another privilege bestowed upon his ministry.

Retiring in August of 2016, Reverend Johnson continued to fill pulpit supply for other pastors in the Missouri Synod. Both he and Kathy moved to Moorhead, Minnesota, where they became first time home owners after always living in parsonages.

Pastor Charles Johnson is survived by his wife Kathy of 45 years; children: Matthew (Tammy) of Jacksonville, Illinois; Michael (Dena) of Kirkwood, Missouri; and Rebekah (Nick) Hoffman of McHenry, North Dakota; grandchildren: Kody, Klay, Aubree, and Easton; sisters: Betty (Rob) Verhoeven of San Jose, California, and Mary (Mark) Allen of Monmouth, Oregon. He was preceded in death by his parents, daughter Rachel and stillborn grandson Stanley.

Visitation will be on Friday, March 23, from 5:00 until 7:00 p.m. at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Fargo. A meditation reading will follow. A Celebration of Life will take place on Saturday, March 24, at 11:00 a.m. at the church as well with a visitation one hour prior. Committal will be at St. Adalbert Cemetery in Fairview Heights, Illinois, on Tuesday, March 27, where he will join his beloved daughter Rachel.

In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to Beautiful Savior or any of the churches that Pastor Johnson served during his ministry.

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Building at Nyamira

In January, we celebrated the ground breaking of our new Project 24 site in Nyamira Diocese. Here is a note from Kissinger the Project Manager.

Having just been established as a new diocese, Nyamira is now part of the church project, building their first Project 24 site. Several LCMS missionaries, the bishops of each ELCK dioceses as well as the acting archbishop Dr. Rev. Joseph Ochola attended the ceremony. It was a beautiful day in Nyamira as we took a tour of the grounds that were donated for the new site. The architect as well as the contractor were present, enabling the ELCK leadership and the community to meet them and encourage them in their work. We are grateful for the partnership between the ELCK and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. It is through these two church bodies that the Gospel continues to be shared throughout Kenya. Bishop of Nyamira Diocese, Bishop Aranda said “To me as a bishop, I’m very much blessed and there are some children who are our neighbors and don’t get food. Today I have seen the hand of God, and I thank God that we can reach our helpless neighbors.”

Here is a picture of some of the progress that has been made.








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The More Things Change …..


Just found this interesting little blurb in a journal –

“The remark is heard on all sides that we are living in stirring times, that epochal events are happening in quick succession, that many pillars of the old order are crashing to the ground and great fundamental changes are introduced. In breath-less amazement, often mingled with undisguised terror, the inhabitants of the world observe the upheavals going on in the social and political sphere, and many do not conceal their feeling that humanity is, as it were, sitting on a vast powder-keg with ominous sparks dancing about, threatening any minute to cause a cataclysmic, all-destructive blast. It is not our intention here to discuss (all the “isms), or the bitter struggle between capital and labor, the scrapping of the traditional economic system under which our Republic developed and became strong; the evident ascendancy of Socialism, the existence of want and famine in the midst of more abundant crops than can be consumed, the lure of schemes promising happiness and security without toil by a sort of financial magic, the confusion and bewilderment pertaining to educational aims and objectives, and other topics of a politico-social nature which at present absorb much of the attention of thinking people.” (Slightly altered)

The author went on to talk about denominational confusion which to him was endemic among the Reformed with Presbyterians and Methodists and Baptist losing what he believed to be their identity and sinking into a kind of mushy creed that “we like Jesus”, while the robust confessions of their fathers was relegated to a “limbo of oblivion”.  It reminded me of a day when a stranger came to church and asked to change his membership.  When informed that he was from Nebraska and had moved to our community and wanted to join our church I had a hunch and asked the question, “what denomination was your church in Nebraska?”  He didn’t know.  Thinking it might be my pleasing personality that attracted him to Zion Lutheran in Grafton I was disappointed to hear him say. “I attended Zion in Nebraska.  This is Zion.  I figured I need to join Zion”.  There is a depressing rational there that is inescapable, but depressing none the less.

Anyway the article was written in 1939 by William Arndt at Professor at Concordia St. Louis


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Listen While You Read

There’s a fascinating commercial that talks about how it’s the fact that smart people read a lot. Top CEOs read a lot. Successful people read a lot. Then the commercial goes on to tout recording’s of books that people can drive around and listen to, or of they are of the mind, exercise and listen to etc. The last time I looked there was a big difference between listening and reading. I know that most scholars claim we are in a post literate world and I believe that but I would still think most people understand that there is a difference between reading and listening.  Luther was intent upon the importance of the gospel being preached and heard. He believed in the living voice of the gospel as one human being conveying and communicating to another the grace of God. He was also a strong proponent of reading the word of God and that’s why he translated the Bible into the vernacular. But there’s an interesting thing that he also brings to light and that is how important it is that when you’re reading the Bible in a Bible study or in your own personal devotions, that you read it out loud.

Despite what seems to be a monition against it that had probably accreted over the years but that was never actually written down, Luther believed that the “common man” had, not only the right to read the Scriptures, but the duty.  How can you figure out if there is “right doctrine” if you haven’t read the Bible?  That was the point of the monition.  Only the Pope and Bishops had the right to determine what was “right”.  The thought that weighed heavy on Luther was a question from one of his antagonists.  “After all these years of the magisterial function of the Holy Church, what makes you think you are right”.  His answer was always pretty much the same – the Scripture is the only source for doctrine.

“Faith comes by hearing” Paul tells us.  Luther said there had to be a preacher and the spoken Word of the Gospel and he also urged people to read the Bible aloud as they meditated.  Read it, study it, and inwardly digest it, we used to say.  That last bit means to take it to heart.  I like the sound of “inwardly digest”.  Auditory or written – take it to heart.

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The Blood Avenger and Sancturary Cities and Frederick the Wise

We have been talking about Job and how God’s answer to his “Why?’ was creation.  The “festive impertinence of  nature” to the “whys” of humanity is a part of Jobs story and ours as well.  The other thing that happens in the contemplation of Job and the nature of suffering is humanity’s need to not allow God to be God.  There comes a point for Job, and for all of us that we will demand that God justify Himself.  Job gets to that point and realizes that he needs a “Go’el” in chapter 19.  The picture is of the Redeemer or even a referee that will keep God’s just punishment away and keep Job from seeking to justify himself.

There is someone called the Go’el ha-dam, or the blood avenger or blood redeemer.  The idea was that God had fixed the penalty for murder and that a man who shed a man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.  This was a powerful issue as you can imagine.  It can also be tremendously retrograde as humans get together for political and financial reasons and seek to do commerce or act in any kind of meaningfully creative way.  The blood avenger was duty bound to kill a killer and in some instances kill the killers family too.  The Hatfields and the McCoys come to mind as does the Godfather.  One of the more sad and depressing examples is T.E. Lawrence’s execution of Hamed at the Wadi Kitan.  Lawrence shoots a murderer and a thief with the calculating thought that he would not be qualified for feud and that “no revenge could lie against my followers for I was a stranger and kinless”.  (Seven Pillars of Wisdom – T.E Lawrence).

Against this backdrop is the concept of so called sanctuary cities.  There were six of them in the Bible and you can read about them in Joshua 20.  They were Kadesh, Shechem, Kiriath Arba, Bezer, Ramoth and Golan.  These were cities where someone who accidently killed someone else could go and a wait a trial, to see if  it really was an accident.  If they were proven to have committed the crime on purpose they would be executed.  The point of the sanctuary city was due process without fear of the blood avenger getting to them before the process could move forward.  If someone could show me how sanctuary cities today serve due process I would be willing to listen.

The last time I wrote about sanctuary cities someone wrote and commented that Wittenberg might have been an early sanctuary city.  It may have been but it had basically one sanctuary seeker and he didn’t even seek it.  When Luther left Worms he was determined to meet his fate what ever it might have been but Frederick had him kidnapped and taken to the  Wartburg.   He did give Luther sanctuary and political cover, he refused to extradite Luther to Rome and for this we commemorate him on May 5, his death day.  Amazingly, Frederick never met Luther..

Here is the prayer for his commemoration day.

Collect for the Day: Heavenly Father, You provided wisdom and skill to Frederick, as elector of Saxony during the early years of the Reformation, using His rule and authority to protect Martin Luther and preserve the preaching of the Gospel.
Graciously regard all Your servants who make, administer, and judge the laws of this nation, and look with favor upon all the rulers of the earth. Grant them wisdom and understanding that they might provide sanctuary for Your Church to continue to proclaim the true faith; for You live and reign with the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Collect found in Celebrating The Saints by William Weedon, CPH, page 77)


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Why? Continued

The “festive impertinence to humanity” that was referred to yesterday comes from “Grammars of Creation” by George Steiner 2001.  He is plowing through a marvelous exposition of God’s creativity and the fact that nature seems to be impervious to our understanding and ability to dissect.  The “whys” of our life come when we try and figure out the impertinence, the raw insult, that somehow attacks us or leaves us puffing and huffing not only with pain but down right insult.  A windstorm tore down my barn.  How dare it and why?  Some gene that I didn’t even know that I had has transformed into an enemy that wants to kill me.  Me!  How dare it and why?  Then we go to God if we have any sensibility and we ask Him, why?

We were studying Job in Bible class and it kept getting sidetracked by ice storms and blizzards and ultimately, by Lent.  I remember asking why? several times.  Was God trying to keep us from studying the book?  The book itself is frustratingly reliable in the why’s and irritatingly empty of answers.  Commentators and critics are always left empty with God’s answer to Job from the whirlwind because, it is no answer they say.  That has always been the cry of the truly desperate who get into a debate and ask a question and in frustration say “I see, you have no answer.”  Well yes there was an answer, it just was not the answer that you wanted.  God’s answer to Job’s question of “why” is “Creation”.  It may not be enough for critics and commentators and for you, but if one can step back from our own hubris it is overwhelming and more than enough.

You may be wondering why?  Why is this discussion taking place on this blog?  It has to do with the other quote I had to look up.  The “nefarious brew of presence and absence” come from Gerhard Forde, “Theology is for Proclamation” .  The weight of Forde’s work is that Christ must be preached and the Gospel must be preached, because God not preached, just studied or contemplated will always be a confusing, nefarious brew of presence and absence.  Not preached God will always seem to be a mean policemen staring over our shoulder or a frightening phantom, the hidden God who allows our barns to be blown down, or worse, commands them to be torn down, and then hides in the shadows of the trees at the end of the pasture and watches while we plow through the rubble.

For a preacher this is important stuff.  I have heard more than enough sermons where Christ was not preached.  He was talked about and bragged about but not preached.  There is a difference between a eulogy about Christ, and preaching Christ.  The world more and more doesn’t want a preacher.  It never really has.  When God wants to save people He sends a preacher.  The preachers job is to preach and proclaim Christ as the only God we deal with because He is how God reveals Himself to us, but He has to be preached, not just talked about and that is a huge difference.

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There is a famous story of a final exam in a philosophy class that was one word – “Why?”  Supposedly the answer that got an “A” was “why not?”

There was a skit I saw, or perhaps it is a real memory from my distant past, of a child who answers every statement made by an adult with the interrogative “why”?  Sit down – why?.  Eat your soup – why?  It went on like that ad nauseum.  Irritating it was, and a bit sad.

There is a “festive impertinence to humanity” exhibited by nature.  Like the commercial where a guy escapes a tree falling on his car as he rescues his pizza, only to slip and fall on the ice in front of his house and lose his pizza anyway the random nature of catastrophe is stunning.  Why?

We ask and the ice storm/tornado/hurricane/drought/lightening/fire/wind/insect infestation/flu/ etc. just keep humming along impertinently.

So we turn to God and ask “why”?  Interestingly the ones who ask God the most are the ones who believe in Him the least.  Be that as it may, the question is still asked and the potter seems to have no inclination to explain anything to the clay.  So we sit with our “whys” scrapping our skin with shards of what ever was broken.

A part from the preaching of Christ, God remains as someone said a “nefarious brew of absence and presence”.  I want to explore this some more but first I have to look up my notes and figure out where the quotes come from or someone will ask why I didn’t.

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Eulogy For A Country Church

Skjeberg Lutheran was a gem out on the prairie and was established 135 years ago.  It was well kept and lovely and every time I drove by it  I marveled at the spot where it was placed and the amount of upkeep that was obvious.  On March 4 it burned down in a blizzard/lightening storm and I cannot imagine the trauma of the congregation that woke up and found their church gone.  Congregations like these are scattered across Northern Minnesota and North Dakota.  They are witnesses to me at least, of the pioneer heritage that we so often take for granted, and how the first thing after putting a crop in and building some kind of house to live in was building a church.

To the folks who worshipped at Skjeberg, prayers ascend and I wrote a poem last night called

“A Eulogy to a Country Church”.

They carved a notch out of the prairie that could have raised a crop and at the boundary of the wheat field the plow was made to stop.

Someone saw a vision of songs and hymns and prayers and a place to lay their blessed dead marked off just right there.

They saw a cross topped steeple pointing up to the sky, and maybe a bell to toll the age of the faithful who would die.

They would place them in that hallowed ground that could produce their bread, to await the coming judgment day and the return of Christ their head.

Like corns of wheat they would plant them in that hallowed ground, to await the voice of the Angel and the mysterious trumpet sound that would signal the great harvest of the souls Christ died to save,  and they would see the Savior face to face and dance out of their graves.

Matriarchs and Patriarchs had these visions keen.  How they got to this spot on the prairie and all the things they had seen. How they traveled from their homeland to get to this spot so fair, and what and whom they left behind – loved ones still back there.

But they also had a vision of their sins and man’s disgrace and God’s love for them in Jesus who gave them a name and a place.

He went to prepare a mansion in His Kingdom up above and they meant to build a church to memorialize Christ’s love.

It would be a place where men and women would become husband and wife, and their children brought as babies would be baptized into Christ.

Sins would be confessed, and then forgiven and gone.  Dispensed would be the gifts of the Father and Spirit and Son.

Prayers would ascend and hymns would be sung to give God honor and praise, and balm for healing the sick and bereaved would be offered in this space.

Here the Holy Supper would be given and received and hearts would fill with wonder at Christ’s testament believed.

What started out as vision became a building fit together with care.  Standing on the foundation of Christ it became a house of prayer.

At the center was always the Cross where Jesus bled out and died; a reminder of that blood that for our pardon cries.

People would come in the winter and brave the snow and the sleet, in horse drawn sleighs covered with blankets and heated stones beneath their feet.  In the summer the sanctuary provided some shade, and during the sermon the air would move from the fans the ladies had made.

There are fond memories of Mission Fests and Harvest dinners, home made ice cream and pumpkin pie. If the next generation listens to one that passes away those memories will remain and those memories will not die.

The beauty of the lights at Christmas, the somber darkness of the Tenebrae, the gathered flowers of Easter, the casket draping spray. In our minds eye we can see these things and in our hearts we can believe, that in the cross of  Christ we glory, blessings given and blessings received.

The church built on Christ will always stand even when steeples are falling.  The old hymn wants to give us strength to remember our standing and calling.  The steeple may fall and the bell disappear, the sanctuary burn and blow away.  But the old ones’ visions still remain;  “build on Christ the solid rock for He is our hope and stay”.
















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Popple Ridge Pickers – Amazing Grace

Popple Ridge Pickers!!! Amazing Grace

Posted by North Dakota District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) on Sunday, March 4, 2018









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